Worms, bugs, and kisses


Q: Any truth to the old tapeworm remedy of fasting for three days and then holding a bowl of food (soured milk?) up to your mouth so when the hungry worm smells it and crawls out of your mouth to eat, you just yank it out?J. Child

 A: Makes a great story, J., but it's folklore, says Australia's Dr. Peter Darben, "worm man" and erstwhile parasitologist. Tapeworms have little in the way of sensory apparatus, and wouldn't be able to smell the milk or go searching for it. They just hook onto the human intestinal wall and stay there, absorbing nutrients through their skin and growing to 70 feet or more.

So, why the myth? One possibility is confusion with the roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides, 15 inches long and fat as a pencil, and known when starved to wander up through the stomach and esophagus and trigger the vomit reflex. "Folks have been horrified to see themselves throwing up what appears to be several decent-sized earthworms."

Then there's the slightly "bluer" version of the cure– a joke involving biscuits and teasing the tapeworm out the other end of the alimentary canal. "Fasters may in fact pass long tapeworm sections at times (not the head), and the popular myth may just be a sanitized version of this joke."

For a real cure, the drugs praziquantel or niclosamide will poison the parasite, and it dies.


Q: Why is kissing so popular? What's the theory? Tell us so we can all go out and put it into practice. ­A. Jolie

 A: Every kiss from infancy onward reverberates with deeply felt echoes of pleasure and attachment, says Leonore Tiefer in Sex Is Not a Natural Act & Other Essays. "The lips and tongue have large representation in the brain– every infant must suckle to survive. As we suckle, we feel, and we don't forget."

Vertical posture and eye-to-eye add potency to the kiss. It's been said two people looking into each other's eyes more than five seconds will either make love or fight. Even in cultures where tongue kissing is frowned on, the need for security and attachment produces the eros of cheek to cheek, nibbling lips, inhaling the aroma of the beloved's face.

With their overriding intimacy, kisses deeply bond– "It's you and me against the world." A theme of Western literature is that where people cannot choose their own mates, or free expression of sexuality is denied, kisses come to symbolize social chaos.

"For Romeo and Juliet, kissing was dangerous, mortally bonding the wrong pair." The kiss supreme is the wedding kiss– at once symbolic and sexy. "It's both clean and dirty, both forward looking and backward looking, both universal and particular. I love theory," says Tiefer, "but the real kisses are best."


Q: Which came first, the computer or the computer program? What was the first computer "bug"? How many wings did it have? ­W. Gates

 A: First program was by British mathematician Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), while she was working with Cambridge's Charles Babbage on his visionary "Analytical Engine," says UVA's own Louis A. Bloomfield in How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life. This was long before any computers had been built.

Much later, American mathematician and rear admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) became one of the first programmers on a real computer, Harvard's Mark I in 1944. "Hopper was the first to apply the word 'bug' to an unexpected computer failure, when she referred to some moths that had infested the Mark I."

So you can make that four wings, counting pairs fore and aft.


(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich strangetrue@compuserve.com)