News & Politics » Straight Dope

The Straight Dope

by

comment

If you're going to have to eat someone from The Flintstones TV show, it's gotta be Betty. Why, then, is Betty Rubble the only character missing from bottles of Flintstones chewable vitamins? They've got Dino, they've even got Fred's car, for Chrissake, but no Betty! Wilma? Ecch! I've had to resort to Pebbles and I feel a little guilty about it. I ask you, what in God's great name am I to do? --Randy Strother, Hawthorne, California

I'm not sure what your problem is, Randy, but I strongly suspect it isn't a vitamin deficiency. As near as anybody at Miles Laboratories, the maker of Flintstones vitamins, can remember at this late date (the product was introduced in 1969), Betty was left out because she was a subsidiary character who could not readily be distinguished from Wilma when reduced to tablet size. Her husband, Barney, made the cut, however, as did adopted son Bamm Bamm, along with Fred, Wilma, their daughter Pebbles, pet dinosaur Dino, and yes, Fred's car.

It's clear Betty is a tragic victim of second-woman syndrome, which also afflicted Trixie Norton in the old Honeymooners TV show. The main character in both cases is a loudmouthed male, and the plot revolves primarily around his dealings with his wife and/or his buddy. He just doesn't have much opportunity to interact with his buddy's wife (remember, this is a family show), so she doesn't get much airtime.

Still, you have to wonder what kind of warped moral values people would need to bump Betty to make room for Fred's car. Miles Laboratories says it's gotten a few complaints, but evidently not enough to make them put this injustice right. Clearly a concerted effort is called for. If you're not up for the torchlight rally or the hunger strike, the least you can do is write Miles at P.O. Box 40, Elkhart, Indiana 46515.

Is it true Albert Einstein's brain is kept in a bottle in a small-town doctor's office near Kansas City? --Listener, Mike Murphy Show, KCMO radio, Kansas City, Missouri

You heard right, friend. What's more, for a long time the doctor kept the brain in a cardboard box behind a beer cooler. You'd think the mind that unlocked the atom would rate something a little fancier--a place up there with the bowling trophies, at least--but that's not how things worked out. For 30-some years Big Al's noodle has been in the somewhat casual custody of Thomas S. Harvey, MD, of Weston, Missouri. Harvey was the pathologist at Princeton Hospital in New Jersey who performed the autopsy when Einstein died in 1955.

Why the brain was preserved at all is not clear; the rest of the body was cremated shortly after death. One biographer says Einstein wanted it to be used for research; the executor of his estate denies this, and says the decision to preserve it was made by his son. At any rate, plans to examine the brain never really got off the ground. One of Harvey's associates blabbed prematurely to the press and the ensuing publicity antagonized the family. Then Harvey and other researchers couldn't agree on the best way to proceed with the dissection. The brain eventually did get sliced up (it's kept in several bottles today), but after that things just sort of fizzled out. Despite repeated promises, neither Harvey nor any of the other original investigators has published anything to date.

The whole episode might have been a complete waste of time except for the efforts of two neuroanatomists at UC-Berkeley, Marian Diamond and Arnold Scheibel. Several years ago they learned of the brain's existence and persuaded Harvey to send them some samples. Diamond had done earlier research in which she found that rats who were raised in an intellectually stimulating environment (for a rat) had larger than average brains, and she was curious to see if something similar occurred in humans. Sure enough, she and Scheibel found that one portion of Einstein's brain contained significantly more "glial" cells than a sampling of ordinary brains. (Glial cells perform various support functions for the neurons, which do the brain's thinking.) Ergo, it's possible that if you use your head more, your brain becomes more developed. That may not sound like a real breakthrough, but it sure beats what anybody else has come up with.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Add a comment