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Dear Matthew Alice:

Plants are supposedly able to feel the vibes of the people who take care of them and those of other plants in their proximity. Do plants in the kitchen feel any remorse when vegetables are being cut up and cooked for dinner?

  • John Kent
  • Leucadia

This was one of the first questions investigated back in the '60s by New York polygraph expert Cleve Backster, one of the men generally credited with getting the plants-are-like-people ball rolling, To test whether the lie-detector tracings he got from his dracena plants were similar to emotional reaction he got from his human subjects, he decided to threaten it with a lighted match. No sooner had he formulated the idea in his mind than the pen on the lie detector went crazy; he got the same response from normally docile heads of lettuce, bananas, whatever. Backster even claims to have used a polygraph-wired philodendron to identify, from a police-style lineup, a student who has just murdered another plant. Sparing you the details of how Backster arrived at this conclusion, I'll say that he also noted a swoon of swoon that plants go into when they are about to be cut or otherwise harmed, leading him to hypothesize that sympathetic, soothing vibes from the chef can lull the plant into a hypnotic state before it's minced to pieces. Backster went so far as to speculate that plants might be pleased to be eaten, if the cooks makes a sort of loving ritual of the of the preparation. And in Backster's experience, plants pay more attention to people than to other plants, since they don't perceive other plants as threatening. Need I add that the deadly serious Mr. Backster and his terrorized produce have been the subject of many a scientific laugh ever since? But that hasn't stopped people like the Japanese electrical engineer who taught a cactus to do simple arithmetic or the Denver housewife killed African violets with piped-in Led Zeppelin music. Why, even Charles Darwin played his bassoon to a mimosa tree in an effort to get some response. But he only did it once and gave it up as a bad deal when the mimosa seemed unimpressed. For further details, see the classic book on this subject, The Secret Life of Plants, by Tomkins and Bird.

• • •

After considerable head-scratching, we have the answer to our big tide question: why California's extreme low tides come at night in the summer and in the day during the winter. In the process, we drew on the experience of Ron Flick, an oceanographer with Scripps Institution's shore process laboratory and the California Department of Boating and Waterways; Bernard Zetler, one of the country's best-known tide experts; and several others of equal repute. (Dr. Zetler, by the way, wrote the entry under "Tide" that appears in the Encyclopedia Americana. No credential problems here.)

If you're expecting some arcane astronomical explanation for the phenomenon, I'm sorry to disappoint you. The interactions of forces resulting from the orbits of Earth and moon, the declinations of sun and moon, and the Earth's rotation, all relative to our point on the globe, do account for general, cyclical patterns in our tides, But if these were the only important forces at work, then tidal patterns at all other shoreline locations along the same degrees of latitude as the Southern California strip would duplicate our tidal pattern - but they don't. Not even the nearby Gulf of California matches San Diego's tides, and Florida alone has three distinct tidal regimes. The determining factor, according to our experts, is the influence of the ocean-bottom and shoreline configuration on the water movement created by these astronomical forces, so in a sense, it's a chance occurrence.

More than 20 constituents go into the formula used to calculate San Diego's tidal patterns; some places on the globe require 60, 80, or more to get an accurate prediction. So there's rarely a simple answer to questions about tides. Two more points before we leave the subject: Spencer Luke, who asked the question in the first place, retires for all time the coveted Matthew Alice Maalox Medal, with Excedrin cluster for interrogational perversity, having asked one of the toughest questions ever.

in the first place, retires for all time the coveted Matthew Alice Maalox Medal, with Excedrin cluster for interrogational perversity, having asked one of the toughest questions ever, And acknowledgment should also go to Jack Ross of Encinitas, the only Alicelander with nerve or knowledge enough to attempt an answer to the big tide question, Jack's explanation was well reasoned and quite correct, as fur as it went, Unfortunately, it missed the mark by just a hair, But as reward for the effort, I'll answer the P.S, to Jack's letter:

Why does Larry Mendte, the, Channel 8 weatherman, show snowflakes with eight points on his weather map? Is it some subliminal message to watch Channel 8?

What an eye, Jack, Those Channel 8 flakes really are eight-sided, defying all laws of nature, which dictate six-sided ice crystals. Channel 10's flakes have the proper number of points; Channel 39's have six points plus what appear to be two little knobs where, perhaps, someone has lopped off the extras - maybe the result of some newsroom budget cutbacks?

Larry disavowed any knowledge of subliminal messages on Channel 8's weather map, He did confess, though, that occasionally the words "Watch Leitner" are flashed on the screen at levels below the threshold of your conscious recognition. And news director Jim Holtzman added that if you play the 5:00 news backwards, you'll hear satanic messages, And if you play their answers backwards, you'll hear that they're not taking me or you seriously, Jack.

In truth, the graphics for Channel 8 weather map are part of a package sold by a company in Boston, Clearly, the snowflakes are designed by an artist, not a scientist.

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