Bee healthy: Honey's a natural healer


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q.This natural substance has demonstrable healing properties, particularly for burns and ulcers, and has been used medicinally since ancient times– Roman soldiers were issued some in their first-aid kits. It also helps cut healing time for Fournier's gangrene, aids against respiratory problems, and helps halt the development of senile cortical cataracts. This well-stocked "medicine chest" can contain alpha-tocopherol, alkaloids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene, flavonoids and peroxidase– all antioxidants helping to fight arthritis, strokes, some cancers. And since oxidative or pro-oxidant chemicals can cause DNA damage that hastens aging, this sticky stopper is one of Nature's sweeter fountains of youth. What is it? –Samson

A. It's a honey of a thought that something so natural can work such wonders for the human body, says University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign entomologist May Berenbaum, author of Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs.

Q.If you don't know about "leetspeek" you're probably not "speekin'" it. Who is, and what's the point of 133t5p33k, aka !337$p34k? –J.B.Hingeley

A. For starts, it's found in IM, chat, Usenet, but not the Web, says University of Michigan linguist John Lawler. It's a nonce phenomenon, like jazz or rap, but it isn't spoken: The "speek" part is a joke. It's strictly written, a way of using ASCII characters– the ones found on every keyboard– to sound out words and make up abbreviations, such as "133t5p33k" (elite speech) where 1 stands for L, 3 for E, 5 for S, and so on. Get it?

So why do it? It's great for teenage chat-room geeks, gamers and wannabe h4x0r5 (hackers), answers columnist Cecil Adams. It has its roots in the same kind of necessities as telegraphic prose and 'Net abbreviations– bandwidth, says Lawler: If it takes a minute to type out and send all the letters of a properly spelled phrase at 300 baud, abbreviations make sense. Then these get stylized fast. And once you've gotten in the habit, it functions also as an ingroup identifier: If only the hip can figure out what you mean, you can dump the uncool folks fast, just as with teenagers using slang, adds Lawler.

And that's what leetspeekers are doing– being cool and keeping their parents (or anybody else looking over their shoulder) guessing. Other Leet words (from Microsoft.com): d00d, joo or u, n00b or newb, phear as in "ph34r my l33t skillz," and w00t ("we own the other team" = we're victors). Kewl!

Q.Joggers who have been injured often find themselves running in their dreams. Can these somnolent workouts in any way help them stay fit? –J. Fixx

A. The answer is both "no" and "yes," says Harvard psychologist Jason Mitchell. During REM sleep (for "rapid eye movements") when most dreaming occurs, the body's muscles are paralyzed, presumably to keep us from acting out the events of our dreams. So you can forget a "body" workout during dozing– sorry!

On the other hand, evidence is mounting that sleep aids "consolidation" of new memories, probably including procedural memories like those involved in learning to play golf, swing a tennis racket, or ride a snowboard. How sleep does this is unclear–I s it the dreaming or something else?

Still, there's a good chance dreams are useful as a sort of run-through mental rehearsal for new motor behaviors. "But since you probably already know how to jog, and your muscles generally don't move during REM sleep, you probably want to switch your nocturnal sport of choice!"

Q. A newspaper horoscope blows in through your open office window: "Once you make up your mind, you take a firm stand," it says. Might this affect how you talk with your colleagues and family the rest of the day?

A. Don't rule it out, unless you have stout resolve and already know about the "Barnum effect," named after circus showman P.T. Barnum who said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

In an experiment by Richard Petty and Timothy Brock, volunteers were given a phony personality test, then half were told it revealed their firmness after making up their minds, the other half that "You're open- minded, able to see both sides of any issue." Though these were applied totally at random, almost all the test-takers felt the traits fit them to a tee. And guess what? They then turned right around and put the characterizations into practice!

In the final part of the experiment, the volunteers were asked their views on two controversial issues. Those pegged as open-minded now tended to give arguments on both sides, while those described as firm and resolute tended to stick to points supporting a single side. To social scientists, this is the "subjective validation effect." For all of us, it's a caution about surrendering our own personalities in favor of social beliefs and expectations coming from the outside.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.