QUESTION: Why are armadilloes always getting squashed by cars in the Deep South?

ANSWER: Armadilloes define what we mean by the term "aggressively stupid." These slow, witless beasts have survived for millions of years only because of the combination of a hard exoskeleton and nasty-tasting flesh. Their major predator seems to be cars, and it is virtually impossible to drive a Southern road early in the morning without having to dodge a few messy blotches of 'dillo viscera.What happens is that the headlights of a car freeze the creature in the road. The good news is that the undercarriage of the car is high enough above the road to pass over the low-slung armadillo without striking it. The bad news is that, almost invariablsye, the armadillo waits until the last possible moment before the car arrives and then leaps straight up into the air, precisely to fender level. (Your Sound Effect Here.)

QUESTION: Is Hawaii part of the United States?

ANSWER: In case you hadn't noticed, one of the 50 states is a chain of islands separated from the rest of the country by 2,000 miles of open ocean. For some native Hawaiians, this is nothing less than colonialism.

"We're an occupied country," says Haumani Trask, director of the Center For Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii. "We are hostages of another country."

Human habitation in the Hawaiian islands dates to about 2,000 years ago. Europeans first arrived in the late 1700s, bringing with them so many new diseases that much of the native population died out. The American missionaries that came in the 1800s tried to get the surviving natives to believe in both Christianity and private property. Descendants of the Americans gradually became the most powerful landowners, controlling the sugar and pineapple trades, and they wanted Hawaii annexed by the United States so that they could more easily sell their products without trade barriers.

Money. The answer to all questions is, ultimately, money.

Hawaii remained an independent constitutional monarchy from 1840 to 1893, when, under circumstances that to this day are controversial, Queen Liliuokalini was overthrown. The behind-the-scenes villain was the American minister, John L. Stevens, a former Maine newspaper executive (which should tell you right away that he was a psychopath devoid of human empathy). Stevens and his rich friends from the pineapple and sugar plantations managed to invent a grave constitutional crisis requiring to stabilizing presence of U.S. Marines. The queen, fearing that Hawaii would be stormed by the American soldiers, abdicated. The new puppet government, led by Sanford P. Dole - wouldn't you know - hastened the sellout, and in 1900 Hawaii was formally annexed into the United States. Only American prejudice against Polynesians held up statehood, which finally was achieved in 1959.

Not until the 1970s, after Alaskan Eskimos and Native Americans won battles for reparations, did the Hawaiian resistance movement kick into gear. Activists convinced the Congress to appoint the Native Hawaiians Study Commission, but in 1983 the panel concluded that no reparations were in order because the Marines were not acting on official government orders, but rather on the command of Stevens and his co-conspirators. The three Hawaiians on the nine-member commission dissented.

Hawaiian activists are still pressing for the same rights as other Native Americans, including land, sovereignty and reparations for past crimes.

"They essentially stole our country," says Trask.

The harder question is: Who is Hawaiian? The U.S. government maintains that a person must have at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood, but relatively few Hawaiians meet that standard. "The decision of who is Hawaiian is up to us, not to the American government," says Trask, who is one of many natives with a "haole," or white, surname. She argues that anyone with a genealogy that includes a Hawaiian ancestor should be considered Hawaiian. That's about one-fifth of the population.

We had to point out that by that tenuous standard most people in the United States could declare themselves to be of any ethnicity they preferred. Most people have mixed blood. She said we couldn't understand her point of view because of "cultural barriers" and accused us of asking "American questions." She is, of course a U.S. citizen and a professor at a major American university with a big-time college football team and who knows how many fax machines, but she says, "I am not an American. I detest the American government. I say it over and over. All my students say it."

(Ah, college. When in doubt, parrot the teacher. give those kids a bunch of As.)

QUESTION: Why do they call it "dry" cleaning?

ANSWER: Dry cleaning uses a chemical cleaner rather than soapy water. But it is by no means "dry." It's a liquid. It is therefore "wet." Something can be "wet" even if it doesn't contain water - mercury springs to mind - though in such cases it might be more precisely accurate to say the substance is an "anhydrous" liquid, meaning, it contains no water. Scientists say that ethyl alcohol, for example, is "wet" if it contains water and "anhydrous" if it doesn't.


Among the piles of questions, we sometimes find - Eureka! - actual information. David L. of Auburn Hills, Miss., has sent a clipping explaining why perfume is so expensive. Unfortunately the clip doesn't include the name of the magazine from which it's from, but we'll quote it anyway and hope it's true: A perfume manufacturer spends only $10 to fill a $130 bottle of perfume. The rest of the cost breaks down like this: $20 for the bottle, $10 for the pretty box the bottle comes in, $20 for promotion and advertising, $50 to the department store that sells it and $10 to the famous designer who allows his or her name to be put on the bottle. This fits into our larger world-view (Life is Packaging).