Friday, November 25, 2005


History and sports have moments that will immortalize people for just being there at the right time or the wrong time. When Steve Bartman, a lifelong avid Cubs fan touched the fly ball that could have been caught, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the right time, changed a potential return to the World Series into a pivotal, momentum shifting Divisional Series loss. That poor man has been vilified, received death threats, and has gone into seclusion for fear of his life. Back in 1908, the last time the Cubs won the World Series, they got there by virtue of an event that was even more controversial. Try to think of combining Steve Bartman's touch, with Don Denkenger's call, Billy Martin and George Brett's pine tar incident and Bill Buckner's ball between the legs and you will start to get the flavor for the "Merkle Boner"

This is a very long post, so you may want to copy it, print it, and read it at your leisure. This is the best description of the account I have ever come across, and it is taken directly from Frank Deford's book THE OLD BALL GAME. I'm not sure this is strictly legal because of copyright laws, but I have to believe this is good free advertising as it gives you a taste of Mr. Deford's book about John McGraw and Christy Mathewson, the original odd couple of baseball. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of baseball history.

First, let me define some nicknames. "The Big Six" and "Matty" refer to Christy Mathewson. Muggsy is the nickname for John McGraw. and "Ironman" is the nickname of Joe McGinity. "Cranks" are what we would call "fans" today. So, enjoy!


The Cubs won handily in 1907, too, piling up 107 victories. They were a marvelous fielding team, featuring the double play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance (the "Peerless Leader," who also managed Chicago). At a time when poems were a staple of the sports pages and sportswriters were not afraid to use words like "gonfalon," the most famous sports rhyme ever was written by Franklin P. Adams in the Evening Mail, immortalizing the six-four-three double play:

These are the saddest of possible words—
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of Bear Cubs and fleeter than birds—
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Thoughtlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

The Cubs also possessed one truly great pitcher, Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, who was born, as you might imagine, in 1876 and was called "Three-Fingered" Brown because, when he was seven years old, he had stuck his hand in a corn shucker. He lost most of his index finger, and one other digit and his thumb were mangled, but professionally this turned out to be a blessing because his mutilated hand somehow helped him break off a curveball that Ty Cobb called "the most devastating pitch I ever faced." It was certainly a match for Mathewson's fadeaway, and indeed, Three-Fingered was Matty's greatest rival.

In 1908, though, Matty was at the height of his powers, and Three-Fingered had a fabulous season, too: a 29-9 record with a 1.47 ERA. Mathewson, though, was even more magnificent. He was 37-11, 1.43; he completed thirty-four of forty-four starts, throwing a dozen shutouts. In 391 innings pitched, he struck out 285 men and walked only 42, barely one per nine innings. The Giants were improved at the bat this year, too. largely because Turkey Mike Donlin had returned after a hiatus in which he had devoted himself to traveling with his bride, Mabel Hite a beautiful chanteuse. In 1908, though. Turkey Mike was on the wagon and so well behaved that McGraw even made him captain. He hit .334, drove in 106 runs, and kept the Giants in the pennant race. Not only did the Cubs fall back. but the Pirates also moved up in what turned out to be a three-team dogfight as good a pennant race as ever there has been- The Giants drew 910,000 fans, a quarter of the league total, and a major league attendance record that lasted until 1920, when The Babe and the Yankees passed a million.

On September 23 the Giants and Cubs were only six percentage points apart, just ahead of the Pirates, when thirty thousand fans showed up at the Polo Grounds to watch Matty face off against the lefty Jack Pfiester, who, for his uncommon success against New York, was known as Jack "the Giant Killer " The Giants needed Matty's best. They had lost a doubleheader to the Cubs the day before and the team was hurting. "How are the cripples?" McGraw asked as he came into the clubhouse "Any more to add to the list of identified dead today?"

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Fred Tenney, the yeoman first baseman, had woken up with an attack of lumbago, so McGraw had to put Fred Merkle into the starting lineup for the first time all season. Merkle was a big Wisconsin farm boy who had come up to New York the year before, but he was still only nineteen years old.

But "Big Six," in his greatest season, was up to the challenge holding the Cubs to just one run. Jack Pfiester had good stuff too, though, and the wounded Giants themselves had managed only a single run as they came to bat in the home half of the ninth And here came the most spectacularly controversial inning ever

With one out, Art Devlin, the third baseman, singled. Moose McCormick—like Mathewson, a Bucknell man—forced him at second, but then young Merkle took Pfiester the other way, lining a single to right, sending McCormick to third. Al Bridwell, the shortstop, then swung at Pfiester's first pitch and laced a clean single dead up the middle. In fact, the field umpire, Bob Emslie, had to fall down to escape being hit by the line drive. He got up and dutifully watched Bridwell run safely to first. The plate umpire, Hank O'Day, saw McCormick touch home for the winning run: 2-1, Giants. New York was back in first place, and the fans poured out of their seats. As one reporter wrote: "The merry villagers flocked onto the field to worship the hollow where the Mathewson feet have pressed."

Matty himself ran out to embrace the happy Merkle and escort the young fellow off the field.

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, Johnny Evers, the Cubs second baseman, was standing on second, calling for the center fielder, "Circus" Solly Hofman, to chuck him the ball. Evers was a fidgety little guy who stood at no more than five-feet-nine and weighed only 125 pounds. Nobody, including his teammates, much liked him, but he was a heady ballplayer. Also, he had noticed this same situation only weeks before, in Pittsburgh, but had been unsuccessful in prosecuting his charge then. But here it was again: Merkle, the man on first, was required to move up a base once Bridwell hit safely. No matter how quickly McCormick, the runner on third, crossed the plate, if Merkle didn't touch second, then he was forced out, the inning was over, the run didn't count, and it was still a 1-1 tie.

Three different pitchers - McGinnity, Wiltse, and Mathewson - all seemed to have later remembered that they were coaching first. Since it was the first base coach's responsibility to tell the runner to be sure to go down and touch second, it's odd that anyone would claim that dubious honor. Anyway, almost surely it wasn't Mathewson; he was pitching, after all. McGinnity is the likely choice, because only he of all the Giants seems to have caught on to what Evers was up to.

Apparently the Iron Man ran out and wrestled the ball away from little Evers (or from a Chicago pitcher, Rube Kroh - details of the chaos differ in almost every account) and hurled it as far away as he could, into the stands. Maybe there was even a fight. "Fists flew on all sides, eyes swelled up and blood flowed," wrote the World reporter. Did a Cub reserve pummel the fan who caught the ball in order to retrieve it? Whatever, undaunted, Evers somehow regained possession of that ball or, more likely, simply produced another, hailed Emslie, stepped on second, and claimed that Merkle was out. Emslie said he couldn't rule; he hadn't been watching Merkle. But prompted by the indomitable Evers, Emslie asked his colleague, O'Day, if he had seen the play at second. Indeed he had, said O'Day, and, yes, Merkle had turned round on the base path before reaching the base. Therefore he was now forced out and McCormick's run for the Giants didn't count.

By now the field was overrun with the merry villagers and the early autumn gloaming was coming down. Most everybody left the park believing Matty and the Giants had won. Mathewson remembered that even when the Giants, in their clubhouse, heard about O'Day's call, they at first "laughed, for it didn't seem like a situation to be taken seriously." When they realized that O'Day really had called Merkle out and the game a tie on account of darkness, the mood grew darker. Mathewson was bitter. "If we lose the pennant thereby, I'll never play pro ball again," he declared. Muggsy, of course, was angrier and more profane, snarling: "That dirty son of a bitch. O'Day is trying to rob us."

Poor Merkle was utterly distraught. In the days that followed, Mathewson would write, "He moped. He lost flesh" - twenty pounds - "his eyes were hollow and his cheeks sunken." The kid was lacerated in the press. W. A. Aulick, the Times baseball reporter, wrote simply that it was "censurable stupidity on the part of player Merkle." The home fans would hiss upon his appearance on the field. It was, wrote the Sun, "a situation that has baseball cranks all over the country by the ears." The "boner," it was called - the Merkle Boner, the dumbest mistake ever made by a player. Never mind that Merkle was only following the fashion of the time. He had done exactly what that Pittsburgh player had weeks earlier, as Evers watched. The Giants' first base coach, whoever he was, must surely have been at least as culpable. The kid was still a teenager, for goodness sakes. Mathewson admitted that, joyously, he had run to him. Mathewson didn't tell him to touch second. McGraw didn't shout it out. In fact, ironically, this was exactly the sort of rule-book intelligence that McGraw was famous for exploiting. And for all the bleatings and threats of the Giants and their fans, even the owner, John Brush, had to admit that "technically" - always technically, not "actually" - Evers and O'Day were right.

Harry Pulliam, the "boy president," was once again forced to rule in a Giant maelstrom, and, after a week, he upheld the umpires. Tie game. Terrible hate mail poured into his office.

Merkle, meanwhile, was so depressed that rumors of this suicide began to float about, In fact, he did beseech McGraw to farm him out. "Lose me," the kid pleaded. "I'm the jinx."

McGraw was steadfast. "It wasn't your fault, Fred," Muggsy said, consoling him. Indeed, so supportive was McGraw that he gave Merkle a raise for the next season.

Since New York and Chicago had finished with identical 98-55 records, the tie game of September 23 must be played off to determine the league champion. (Pittsburgh would finish tied for second at 98-56 with whichever team lost).

Great tales are now told about the Giant-Dodger playoff of 1951, which ended with Bobby Thomson's home run, the fabled "shot heard round the world." In fact, that best-of-three series didn't attract a single sellout. Only 34,320 fans - a mere two-thirds of the Polo Grounds' capacity - showed up for the finale. Famous as it is, that '51 playoff pales before the Giants-Cubs showdown on Thursday, October 8, 1908.

Estimates of the crowd that stormed the Polo Grounds ranged as high as a quarter million. Probably it was closer to a hundred thousand, but however many were left outside, at least forty thousand managed to squeeze into the park, filling up the bleachers and grandstand hours before Matty threw the first pitch. Police reinforcements had to be called, and a hundred more "bluecoats" rushed up to Coogan's Bluff. But nothing stopped the crush, not even fire hoses and drawn pistols. Barbed-wire fences were scaled, pushed down.

Scores of people were injured, and it was probably fortunate that only one man lost his life. That was an off-duty fireman, one Harry T. McBride, who tumbled twenty-five feet from a vantage he had taken at the 155th Street elevated train station. "His vacant place was quickly filled," it was duly reported. Indeed, every telegraph pole that offered any view of the field was climbed by intrepid onlookers. One spectator fell out of the grandstand itself but, luckily, only broke a leg. When attendants rushed to carry him off to an ambulance, he beseeched them not to remove him from the premises until after the game.
The Cubs, of course, needed considerable protection. They were mad enough as it was, as loud and unruly home team fans had encircled their hotel the night before for all hours, seeking to keep up such a racket as to prevent the Chicagos from enjoying any sleep. McGraw then added to their nerves by keeping the Giants on the field beyond their allotted practice time. Frank Chance and Iron Man McGinnity nearly came to fisticuffs as the dispute raged. Later, Chance would be hit in the neck by a soda pop bottle hurled from the stands. Three-Fingered Brown, who was posted to the bull pen, felt that the Polo Grounds on this day was "as close to a lunatic asylum as any place I've ever seen."
Mathewson, meanwhile, tried to keep his composure. After all, he had a secret that he had shared with Jane before he left their apartment. What he told her, simply enough, was: "I'm not fit to pitch today." The long season had worn him down, and when Matty warmed up, it only confirmed his fears. "I never had less on the ball in my life," he would say. He thought the Cubs would clobber him. "I'll go as far as I can," he told McGraw as he took off his linen duster and headed, disconsolately, to the mound.

As it was, Mathewson put down the Cubs in the first inning, and then the Giants lit into Jack Pfiester, the erstwhile Giant killer. When the Giants scored a run, Mathewson sneaked a peek down the bench at Merkle and saw that "for the first time in a month, Fred smiled". Pfiester was clearly on the ropes. He was nervous and bitching at the umpire's calls. But Buck Herzog got caught off first, and Frank Chance didn't even wait for the inning to end. He brought in Three-Finger, and he put out the fire before the Giants could score any more.

And, really, that was it. Mathewson's suspicions were realized in the third inning. Joe Tinker, who earlier in his career had enjoyed no success against Big Six, had then taken to hitting against him with a bigger bat. With that, he had become, as Hooks Wiltse said, "the only hitter I know of had a jinx on Matty." And it was Tinker who made the hit that broke the game open. It was a triple over the center fielder's head. Fans of Matty made excuses that he had told the center fielder, Cy Seymour, to play back, but Mathewson said no, it was just a curve that didn't break. Even then, under normal circumstances, Seymour might have caught up with Tinker's hit, but he lost the ball in the mass of fans who had climbed on up the tower behind home plate. The Cubs scored all four of their runs in that inning. Mathewson was only surprised by "why it took them so long to hit me."
Somehow he held on till the seventh, when McGraw took him out for a pinch hitter after the Giants loaded the bases against Three-Finger. Laughing Larry Doyle, who hit Brown well, was the pinch hitter, but he fouled out to the catcher, Johnny Kling, who cornered the pop-up even as a bottle tossed from the stands whizzed past his head. That was the Giants' last chance.

In the clubhouse, the smile was gone from Merkle's face. "It was my fault, boys," he moaned. He went to McGraw and once again told him to get rid of him. McGraw was never more standup. "Fire you?" Muggsy asked. "Why you're the kind of guy I've been lookin' for for many years. I could use a carload of you. Forget this season and come back next spring. The newspapers will have forgotten it all by then."

And then he slipped away. Matty heard Merkle say: "He's a regular guy." The Cubs went on to beat the Tigers in the World Series. It would be the last time they were champions, ninety-six years on. And, of course, for Merkle, the newspapers - and everybody else - never did forget his lapse. Yet for all the abuse Merkle suffered for his boner, for all his life, McGraw was right: he was a tough kid. No matter how often he heard someone scream, "Hey, Merkle, touch second base," he never packed it in. Merkle would play another sixteen hundred major league games, making a last at bat in 1926 when he was thirty-seven years old.

On the other hand, no one can be sure how much the ramifications of the end of the 1908 season affected Harry Pulliam. Surely, though, it was a great deal. He was a nervous man, fragile, something of an idealist, and the brutal criticism he endured for sticking up for his umpire obviously told on him. A few months later, in February, at the winter meeting of the National League, there were more disputes where Pulliam found himself in the crossfire. He suffered a breakdown. He returned to the job soon enough, but he seemed more detached and unsettled than ever.

In the middle of that season, on July 28, 1909, Pulliam took a room at the New York Athletic Club. He put on a fancy dressing gown, lay down, and blew his brains out. The "boy president" was thirty-nine years old.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Anyone who is a fan of baseball history knows the name John McGraw. He was the third baseman on one of the greatest teams of the "dead ball" era, the National League Baltimore Orioles team of the 1890's. He then went on to become a hall of fame manager spanning a 34 year managerial career. His 2,840 wins as a manager is second only to his rival Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics. For one year, 1900, John McGraw played for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 1890s were not stellar years for baseball. Gambling was rampant, play was very dirty, and fully 1/3 of the 12 franchises were never in contention (just like today). For the last decade of the 19th century, only three teams had a chance to win the pennant, Baltimore, Boston, and later Brooklyn. There were no rules about how many teams one person could own, so, in the age before the minor league farm systems, the owner of one team could buy another then use one team as the "A" team and the other as the "B" team. Trying to break the Boston-Baltimore stranglehold on the pennant, the Robison brothers, who owned the Cleveland Spiders, bought the ailing St. Louis Browns. Chris Von der Ahe, the original owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, (named the Browns at the time) sold the team to the Robison brothers after six dismal years since joining the N.L. The Robisons sent all the worst players to Cleveland while sending all the best players to St. Louis. Among the players that went to St. Louis were future hall of famers Cy Young and Jesse Burkett. Those hapless Spiders went on to have the worst record in baseball history. In order to distance themselves from the poor previous seasons, the Robisons renamed the Browns to the "Perfectos" and changed the color of the trim on their uniforms to red. By the end of the first year, they took on the nickname of the Cardinals and by 1900, the name was officially changed for good.

They probably would have made a good run at the pennant but Ned Hanlon, the manager of the Orioles, did the same thing. He bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Bridegrooms and renamed them the "Superbas". He and most of his best players (including "Wee" Willie Keeler") moved to Brooklyn and left John McGraw in Baltimore to run that team. Even with the leftovers, McGraw's team made a run for the pennant and was in contention up until the end of the season.

At the end of 1899, besieged with poor attendance throughout the league, the National League decided to buy out Louisville, Washington, and the two "B" teams, Cleveland and Baltimore, then ruled that no one could own interest in two teams. The National League was now an eight team league.

When the Baltimore team was disbanded, John McGraw and the catcher Wilbert Robinson were supposed to report to Brooklyn, which they refused. Their contracts were then sold to St. Louis but they refused to report there either. There had been talk of resurrecting the old American Association League and McGraw and Robinson were poised to put a new team back into Baltimore, but commitments never came to fruition from the potential backers. On May 8, 1900, McGraw and Robinson ended their holdout and signed with the Cardinals. McGraw was paid a record $10,000 and both contracts had the unheard of deal of the reserve clause being crossed out, freeing them to leave at the end of the year.

So what about John McGraw and the 1900 Cards? Well the problem is, I have yet to find hardly anything about McGraw with the Cardinals. Even though no one disputes the fact that he played with the Cardinals in 1900, many sources, including his baseball hall of fame plaque, omit that McGraw ever played for the Cards.

We know he started late (after May 8th) in the season. He had a pretty good season, finishing with the league's 5th best batting average and first for on base percentage. Apparently, in August, the manager Pat Tebeau resigned. Louis Heilbroner replaces Patsy but the team refused to take orders from him, preferring to listen to John McGraw instead. In October, the Cardinals withheld the final month's pay on all but five players, including John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, citing late hours, dissipation, and gambling as reasons for the poor showing of the team. The Cards finished 19 games out, tied for 5th place, with a 65 and 75 record.

According to Frank Deford, in his book "THE OLD BALL GAME", at the end of the season, McGraw and Robinson caught the first train out of town. As they were crossing the Mississippi they opened up a window and threw their St. Louis uniforms in the river. In 1901, Ban Johnson started the American League and talked McGraw into managing a new Baltimore Orioles team.

So that's it. In 1900, the newly named St. Louis Cardinals had Cy Young, John McGraw, Jesse Burkett, and Wilbert Robinson, four future hall of famers, playing in a year full of turmoil. Three of them jumped to American League teams the next year. Burkette jumped the following year. Well then, that's not very exciting is it? Somehow, I have to believe it would be an interesting story to know all the drama that went on in the clubhouse that year. To have John McGraw, Jesse Burkett, and Cy Young all together on one team for one year has to have a great story behind it. If I ever find it, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Brian writes...

So tell me Jim, what exactly is a flying fish? How do they fly, and where do they come from?

Flying fish are tropical fish belonging the Family Exocoetidae. They have long, large pectoral fins. Some also have large pelvic fins. Another feature they have are deeply forked tails having a lower lobe much longer and larger than the upper lobe. In preparation for flight, flying fish swim quickly towards the water's surface and leap out of the water. Once they are out of the water, the fish use their large wing-like fins and the large lower lobe of their tail to glide through the air. The enlarged lower lobe of the tail acts like an outboard motor, the speedy sideways motion of the tail allows the fish to gain height from the surface of the water, and extend the flight time. Fish can glide as far as 300 feet and as high as three feet above the surface of the water, but most flights are shorter.

There are over 50 species of flying fishes. The largest flying fish can reach lengths of 18", but most species measure less than 12". High-speed photographic studies have shown that flying fish hold their enlarged pectoral fins relatively steady, and glide through the air in a manner similar to other gliding animals like flying squirrels, lizards, and snakes. They use their unusual flying talent to escape predators such as swordfish, tunas, and other larger fishes.

Of course, I may have misunderstood your question. Flying fish is also the name of a brewing company in Cherry Hill, NJ. They don't really fly, but they probably drink like a fish.


Alan writes...

Jim- Is it true that there is an 86% chance that you get killed if you stand at least 50 ft away from a maple tree when it explodes?

For those who don't fully understand the question, tree legend has it that if a sugar maple tree is not tapped for maple syrup, the sap will built up to create internal pressures high enough that the tree could explode. I really think the question should be "If a sugar maple tree explodes in the middle of the woods, but there is no one there to see it, can the sap still be boiled down into syrup?"

The answer to the question at hand is...

Oh, yeah, an African maple maybe, but not a European maple.


Ownen writes...

So Jim, after much contemplation about the questions facing humanity and me being a mere college student in this large world, I was wondering.... how did the dollar get its name. I mean I have to use so many of them for college; I should know why we call them dollars as opposed to, oh I don't know... greens, or name them by the presidents who are on them

Well, Owen, welcome aboard. Coinage, itself has a "rich" history. Many terms in the English language comes from money. A "touchstone" was used to tell how pure gold was which was the first step toward making coins reliable for barter. Before there were American dollars, colonial Americans used coins from England and Spain. The Spanish produced a silver coin in Mexico often referred to as a "reale" or a milled dollar. It became a very common part of the colonial monetary system. It was made to easily make it's own change by cutting into pieces. It could be cut into eight equal pieces, so it was often called "pieces of eight". Each piece was called a "bit" so a quarter would be "two bits". Half a reale was a "picayune". The reale is often given credit for having the first milled edges, those lines on the edge of dimes and quarters, which were first there to prevent the common practice of shaving metal off the edge with the intent of keeping some of the silver.

However, I totally digress...

The term "dollar" has it's roots in the medieval county of Bohemia. During the Renaissance, a vast amount of high-quality silver ore was extracted from a mine in Joachimsthal, or the valley of St. Joachim, in what is now known as the Czech Republic. A large coin produced with the silver taken from this mine was called a "Joachimsthaler;" and, as time went by, the first part of this name, "Joachims," was dropped, leaving simply "thaler." Because of the various dialects spoken, pronunciation varied from one region to another. In Holland, for example, this word was pronounced "daalder," from which the English "dollar" is derived.

The United States fashioned there first silver dollar after the Spanish reale, though it was made to have 100 cents rather that eight bits. Of course, the U.S. was not the first to use the term "dollar". "Dollar" pops up in several of Sheakspear's plays. You will probably remember:

Macbeth Act I, Scene 2

Rosse: "That now Sweno, the Norway's King, craves composition. Nor would we deign him burial of his men, till he disbursed at Saint Colme's Inch, ten thousand dollars to our general use."

OR - The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1

Gonzalo: "When every grief is entertain'd that's offer'd, Comes to th' entertainer -

Sebastian: "A dollar."

Gonzalo: "Dolour comes to him, indeed: you have spoken truer than you purpos'd."

The last remark by Gonzalo was, of course, a pun since "dolour" is an old-fashioned word for pain or grief, like the modern Spanish word dolor, which also means pain. Oh that wild and whacky Sheakspear!

Of course, the greatest literary allusion to the dollar is from the funniest movie ever made: the 1933 Marx brothers production of Duck Soup:

Minister of Defense: "Your Excellency, General Cooper says Sylvanian troops are about to land on Fredonian soil. This means war!"

Minister of Finance: "Something must be done! War would mean a prohibitive increase in our taxes."

Chicolini: "Hey, I got an uncle lives in Taxes."

Minister of Finance: "No, I'm talking about money... Dollars!... Taxes!."

Chicolini: "Dollas! There's-a where my uncle lives. Dollas, Taxes! Atsa some joke eh, boss?"

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Adam writes...
How come we can't eat raw meat? I mean, I know there are germs and stuff on it, but humans used to be able to eat uncooked animals way back in the day. All other carnivores can eat raw meat. Why do we have to burn ours? If you don't give me a convincing answer, I'm going to eat an entire raw pig.

We can eat raw meat. People do it every day. Sushi? Steak tartar? Oysters on the half shell? They are all raw and they are eaten every day. I assume the question is why can we get sick from eating raw meat when other animals don't.
The simple answer to that is tolerance and immunity to the bacteria and parasites in the meat. Salmonella, trichinosis, and tape worms are all diseases we can get from organisms living in animals that are killed when the meat is cooked. Meat is not the only thing that will make you sick. Travel the world and there are many places that you will get sick from drinking the water. Animals can drink the same water and they are not susceptible to those diseases. Local people drink that same water and don't get sick. They have built up immunities to those organisms.

Many people believe that Kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws, are simply primitive health regulations that have become obsolete with modern methods of food preparation. Pork and shellfish present health problems if not handled and prepared properly. E. coli, which is one of the most common problems with eating raw beef, does not live in the meat. It lives in the intestines and can be transferred to the surface of the meat during processing. Once you have cleaned the outside of the meat and separated it from the area of processing, you can fairly safely eat it raw. Mistakes can happen, especially in large meat processing centers. Even with strict guidelines being followed, e. coli can pop up, so why take a chance?


Eric writes...

Enough with the atomic questions and here's a new category. Is there an anatomical reason why LAND mammals aren't able to reach such enormous proportions like the dinosaurs did?

There is an anatomical reason that land mammals don't grow to the size of dinosaurs. We have growth plates on the ends of our bones that limit the length that they will grow. The growth plate, also known as the epiphyseal plate or physis, is the area of growing tissue near the end of the long bones in children and adolescents. Each long bone has at least two growth plates: one at each end. The growth plate determines the future length and shape of the mature bone. When growth is complete, sometime during adolescence, the growth plates close and are replaced by solid bone. This, of course is preprogrammed by our genes.

Some animals seem to keep growing for as long as they live. Fish for example will keep growing, however, the growth in length decreases every year. According to the Alabama Department of Natural Recourses, a largemouth bass in an Alabama reservoir will, on average, grow to 6.9" in one year, 10.6" the second year, 13.3" the third, 15.4" the fourth and 17.2 the 5th. This growth, again, is determined by it's genes. Fish will also grow to their environment. Put a goldfish in a small fishbowl and it will remain small. Put it in a large tank and it will grow larger, but you can put it in a swimming pool and it's size is still going to be limited.

We might want to ask the question "Is there and evolutionary reason that animals were so much larger during the age of the dinosaurs than they are today?" I researched that and I came up with many theories, many of them conflicting each other, and none of them without gaping holes in them. Of all the theories, the ones that seemed the most credible to me deal with the change in environment. Oxygen and radiation levels have changed. Weather and temperatures have fluctuated. Species have changed, therefore, both food sources change and the competition for those food sources change. Dinosaurs may have had more oxygen, better weather, more food sources, and less competition than animals have today.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Annalita writes...

So Jimmy-Joe, what's the difference between saltwater and freshwater fish? Since all fish breathe through their gills, why can some only survive in saltwater, and others only survive in fresh water? Are there any fish that can survive in both? Please answer my question. I don't think I can continue without the answer.

This is what I love about Ask Jim. I get great questions, some of them I already know the answers, some not. Those that I don't know, I research and then I get to learn cool things I never knew before. I already knew the answer to the second part of the question but had no idea about the first part.

The reason fish are usually one way or the other has to do with the way kidneys function in order to keep the proper equilibrium of body fluid. Apparently, with saltwater fish, the liquid in its body is less salty than the water it swims in. So, the water inside the fish moves out through the fish's skin to the saltwater. Saltwater fish drink enormous amounts of water to keep from drying out.

The opposite happens to freshwater fish. Liquids inside freshwater fish are saltier than the water around them, so the fish absorb a lot of water. To prevent becoming waterlogged, freshwater fish excrete the extra water.

So.... saltwater fish are always thirsty (who'd have thunk that?), they drink a lot but pee very little. and freshwater fish never drink and always have to pee! How could I have gone this long without knowing that!

Sea creatures who live in tidal pools and estuaries, are constantly dealing with changes in the percentage of salt in the water, but they are basically salt water fish that can tolerate some variability. As far as fish living in both fresh and salt water, about two percent of fish do that. They are "diadromous". The term diadromy refers to fish that migrate between fresh and salt water. There are three types of diadromy: Anadromous (pronounced "ANNA" dro mus) fish, such as salmon, smelt and lamprey, spend most of their adult lives in salt water and then migrate to fresh water in order to reproduce. A few species, such as the American eel, are catadromous - that is, they spend most of their adult lives in fresh water and then migrate to salt water to reproduce. There are also amphidromous fish, such as the goby, that migrate between fresh and salt water, not for spawning but to feed.

Not all salmon have to get to the ocean to live. As a matter of fact, rainbow trout are land locked salmon. That is, they are steelhead salmon who live their entire life in fresh water.

All of these fish must make gradual changes from fresh to salt waters. If you were to take a salmon from a river, and throw it into the ocean, it would quickly die.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Eric writes...

Jim: Now how big would the explosion be if only 1 unstable atom was split?

Let's keep things simple and look at the reaction from the fission in Uranium-235.

When we take an atom of Uranium-235 and shoot a neutron into it's nucleus, it will become U-236, which is a very unstable atom. That atom will proceed to decay into an atom of barium-141 (Ba-141), an atom of krypton-92 (Kr-92) and three neutrons.

The resulting particles and atoms all have kinetic energy. This energy comes from converting a little of the mass of the original atom into energy and can be measured using E = mc2. When this is done, the amount of energy typically released in the case of U-235 is around 200MeV (0.00,000,000,003,204 joules). That, it seems, is a very tiny amount of energy. However, it is about a million times more energy than is released by the burning of one molecule of gasoline in a car's engine. Put another way, if you currently use a tank of gas each week but could use the energy provided by one tank of uranium-235 fission instead, you wouldn't need to refill your car for over 19,000 years!

To put this into even better perspective, it would be about the same amount of energy that would be created by spontaneous human combustion due to burping, farting and hiccuping all at the same time.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Eric writes...

Here's one I've always wanted to know: I know how a nuclear bomb works, but in the case of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" how much matter was needed to be split in order to create the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I realize that fission bombs are VERY inefficient, and because of that much more matter was needed, but how much matter had to be separated?

The Hiroshima bomb used about 132 pounds of highly-enriched uranium-235. It exploded with a force equal to 13,000 tons of TNT over Japan's seventh largest city, on 6 August 1945. Some 90% of the city was destroyed.

The explosive charge for the bomb detonated over Nagasaki three days later was provided by about of 18 pounds of plutonium-239. While Little Boy was a uranium gun-type device, Fat Man was a more complicated and powerful plutonium implosion weapon that exploded with a force equal to 20 kilotons of TNT.


John writes....

So, I was taking a ridiculously hot shower the other day and found that I actually set off the fire alarm- not with my hotness- but with all of the steam the hot water was producing. I knew smoke detectors were sensitive, but why would it confuse steam with smoke? How exactly does a smoke detector work? I fear I may have blinded the electric eye in mine.

There are two types of smoke detectors. One type is the photoelectric detector that uses a beam of light to see minute particles in the air, and the other is the ionization detector.

The photoelectric detector uses a beam of light and a photo sensor. When smoke (or other particulate as you observed) passes into the light beam, some of the light reflects onto the sensor sending the unit into alarm.

Ionization detectors use an ionization chamber. Inside is a small amount (perhaps 1/5000th of a gram) of americium-241. The radioactive element americium has a half-life of 432 years, and is a good source of alpha particles. The alpha particles generated by the americium ionize the oxygen and nitrogen atoms of the air in the chamber. To "ionize" means to "knock an electron off of." When you knock an electron off of an atom, you end up with a free electron (with a negative charge) and an atom missing one electron (with a positive charge). The negative electron is attracted to the plate with a positive voltage, and the positive atom is attracted to the plate with a negative voltage (opposites attract, just like with magnets). The electronics in the smoke detector sense the small amount of electrical current that these electrons and ions moving toward the plates represent.

When smoke enters the ionization chamber, it disrupts this current -- the smoke particles attach to the ions and neutralize them. The smoke detector senses the drop in current between the plates and sets off the horn.

Most household detectors are of the ionization type. They are generally less expensive and are better at detecting flames. The photoelectric detector has the advantage of detecting smoke better so if something is smoldering, the photo detector is more effective. If it is flaming, the ionization detector is better. For the best protection, you should have both.

Yes, the detectors will detect smoke, steam, and even dust(Bonny will often set the detector off with her hotness). On construction sites, when we are remodeling an existing structure, the first thing we do is disable the system or cover the detectors in the area that we are working so as not to set off the alarm. And, yes, it is possible, though not probable that you could have "blinded the eye" of your detector. The best way to tell is to push the test button on your detector. If you really want to make sure, light up one of those cigars your always puffing on and hold it under the detector. Some fire marshals will not pass a system by using the test buttons though many do. There is a product that is a spray can of simulated smoke to test alarms. The one time I installed a system in a federal building, it was specified that each detector had to be tested with real smoke. The alarm company had a fancy device that used a stick of incense to deliver smoke for testing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Eric writes...

So Jim, How exactly do we harvest silk from worms?

The process of harvesting silk is a simple one using the same general techniques that have been used for thousands of years. The actual techniques vary from one country to another, but those are mostly a matter of using different species of silk worms which lend themselves to using more natural methods or more mechanical methods.

The first step is to grow silk worms. Of course, silk worms are not worms at all, but caterpillars. Just like most caterpillars, at a certain stage of their lives, they build a cocoon. A silkworm spins approximately one mile of silk filament. When the cocoon is finished, it is dropped into hot, almost boiling water which kills the larvae plus melts away the "glue" that holds the cocoon together. Workers will often eat the cooked worm. The good news is it is a very good source of protein for the workers, the bad news is that is two reasons that put silk on the Vegans "do not patronize" list. (I'm not a vegan so I'm not sure why it is all right to exploit people but you shouldn't exploit other living things. But I digress...)

In any case, if you are making silk, you just find the end of the filament and spin it onto a spindle. Those threads are then respun into larger threads and woven into cloth. The other thing you can do is to take that cocoon and stretch is out forming silk batting.