1. Archive

The meaning of the "-stan' suffix

Question: What does the "-stan" suffix mean in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkistan and Kazakstan?

Answer: The Urdu word "stan" means district.

Potato diplomacy

Question: A recent item reported that Mexico had banned imports of fresh U.S. potatoes because of a microscopic worm that burrows into the tubers. What's the story on this?

Answer: Mexico's action is seen as more of a trade decision than a response to a health issue, U.S. authorities say. Mexico and the United States have long fought over the import of agricultural products, sometimes for pest reasons, other times to protect their market.

The recent potato incident concerns the Columbia root knot nematode, which is harmless to humans. It's one of nearly 20,000 species of nematodes, the most numerous animals on earth. A handful of soil will contain thousands of the microscopic worms.

Depending on the species, the worms feed on insects, plants or animals, including other nematodes. Columbia root knot nematodes feed on potatoes, creating bumps and other blemishes that cause an unappetizing appearance.

Mexico's ban will be lifted as soon as U.S. growers can prove that their potatoes are worm-free, said Pascacio Taboada, a spokesman for Mexico's agriculture department.

The "Mad Bomber'

Question: Is it my imagination or was a series of bombs set off in stations in the early 1950s, attributed to a mysterious "Mad Bomber"?

Answer: The case of the"Mad Bomber" began in 1940, when an unexploded bomb was discovered at a Consolidated Edison building in Manhattan. Inside, police found a note signed "FP." One year later, the Mad Bomber placed a second device, also at Con Ed. Then his bombs stopped for years.

When he was arrested years later, he told police he stopped as a show of patriotism during World War II. He resumed his activities in 1951 and during the next five years placed about 30 bombs and widened his targets from Con Ed to libraries and theaters.

The case gave birth to the modern science of criminal profiling. Dr. James Brussel, a psychiatrist, pored over the bomber's letters, in which he referred to his chronic illness and blamed Con Ed.

The file led police to the Connecticut home of a toolmaker, George Metesky. He confessed immediately. The first question police asked Metesky was what "FP" stood for. He smiled and answered, "Fair play."

Who has seen a calorie?

Question: How is the number of calories determined in food and drink?

Answer: The calorie (or more correctly, kilocalorie or kcal) is a measuring unit for energy, which is defined as the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of a specific amount of water by 1 degree Centigrade.

Chris Rosenbloom, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and chairwoman of the department of nutrition at Georgia State University, explained that a device called a bomb calorimeter is used to measure the heat energy in a food. A food is placed in this device and is ignited by an electric spark to burn the food.

The rise in temperature in the water chamber of the bomb calorimeter is recorded and used to calculate the amount of heat generated by the food, and this is then translated into calories.

After taking into account that not all of the energy in food and drink is available to the body _ because the process of digestion and absorption is not 100 percent efficient _ experts know that a gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories, a gram of fat provides 9 calories, a gram of protein has 4 calories, and a gram of alcohol contains 7 calories, Rosenbloom said.