QUESTION: Why did the South lose the Civil War?

ANSWER: In elementary school we learned that the Civil War was not, in fact, the Silver War and that the North won because it had more men and weapons. How logical! It was a despicable lie, though, part of a broader educational policy in America to teach children wrong things, forcing them to proceed to higher levels of education to have the wrong things refuted.See, the North did have a manpower and wealth advantage, but that was outweighed by a strategic disadvantage. The North could win the war only one way: by invading the South, crushing the rebellion, occupying the states and pacifying the populace. The first part was a major hassle, since offensive fighting is more difficult and costly than defensive fighting. The South did not challenge the North's right to exist. It didn't have to beat the North into submission: A tie would have been as good as a victory for the Confederacy.

So we need another theory. Here are two popular candidates:

1. The South lost the will to fight.

2. The North had better leaders.

We do not recommend you talk about the first theory in, say, South Carolina. About 260,000 Southerners died in the bloodiest war in American history. That's about one in four military-age white men.

The 1986 book "Why the South Lost the Civil War" points out, however, that this effort "seems feeble" compared with that of a South American underdog, Paraguay, which lost 80 percent of its military age men during a war against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in 1865-71.

As for the North having better leaders, it certainly had an advantage with iron-willed Abe Lincoln in charge, insisting on absolute victory. But the South may have had superior battlefield leadership, especially early in the war.

Neither of these preceding theories is terribly satisfying. Maybe the real answer is that the North got lucky at the right time. History is a chancier business than we like to admit. James McPherson, author of "Battle Cry of Freedom," says, "Most of the theories about why the Confederacy lost assume an inevitability. But it wasn't inevitable that Gettysburg, Antietam, Atlanta and Chickamauga came out the way they came out."

In the summer of 1864, he says, the war had become so unpopular in the North that Lincoln appeared to be heading toward a defeat in the fall election. His opponent was running on a peace platform. The South needed only to hold the line on the battlefield for a few months and they would likely have achieved the draw they needed. Luckily for Abe, Sherman captured Atlanta and Sheridan destroyed Early's army in the Shenandoah Valley. Public opinion about the war suddenly changed. Lincoln won re-election. Only then did the superior resources of the North gradually doom the Confederacy. End of story. Though we should sign off with, To Be Refuted . . . .QUESTION: Why do people hate pictures of themselves but don't mind how they look in the mirror?

ANSWER: We are told that when portrait photography first began, people were horrified at their visages. Photographers remedied this by printing the pictures backward. It seems that people are used to their mirror image, which transposes their features. They aren't used to seeing how they really look.

There must be more to the phenomenon than that, though. We guess that our image has more of a three-dimensional appearance in a mirror than in a photo, where it is flattened out, adding phantom pounds.QUESTION: Why can't you buy National Geographic on the newsstand?

ANSWER: No law prevents the magazine from being sold on the stands, but the marketing strategy is to pass the magazine off as the journal of some special society, a clubby kind of thing that you have to "join" rather than buy.

"We are traditional," says Barbara Moffett, spokeswoman for the National Geographic Society. "We could probably sell more copies if we were on the newsstand."

At the same time, competing head to head on the newsstand might point out the cushy position National Geographic is in. The society is "non-profit," though it rakes in millions of dollars a year. The term "non-profit" also means "doesn't pay much tax." It's almost an embarrassment, all that money, and the society has to do something with it, and so it pours it back into this lavish, beautiful magazine, produced for something like $14 million an issue.

The expense accounts are legendary. You can imagine the assignments: Go to Antarctica, stay in the nicest hotel for six months, build your own private city if you have to, something that looks like Superman's Fortress of Solitude if absolutely essential. Just make sure you get the penguin pictures.