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The Straight Dope


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Every so often I see a car with a license-plate holder that says "Los Angeles" above the plate and "KMA367" below it. The first time I encountered one of these things, I assumed it was a ham radio call sign. Having come across the same thing on dozens of other cars, however, I've discarded that interpretation. The most plausible explanations I've heard are that it is a license-plate dating service or a system for identifying the personal cars of law enforcement officers. Neither interpretation is diabolical enough for my tastes. I'm counting on you to spill the horrible secret. --Alan Levin, Los Angeles

Cecil hesitates to address these purely local issues, preferring to devote his attention to questions that at a minimum affect an entire galactic sector. But I used to wonder about this myself, and besides, let's face it, the LA cop situation, which is in fact what we're talking about here, has achieved a certain global notoriety.

KMA367 is the call sign of the main LA police radio transmitter, something most cops know but most ordinary folks don't. So some shrewd entrepreneur began selling KMA367 license plate holders through the LA police academy store. An LAPD spokesman tells me the purpose of the plates is merely to identify your personal vehicle to fellow cops while not advertising it to the world at large. Similar license-plate holders are used by other SoCal police orgs. But some cynics out there believe that at least one or two of the cops who bought the holders figured other cops might give them a pass next time they got a little heavy-footed on the freeway.

In time, word of the KMA367 code began leaking out to the civilian (i.e., noncop) population. Folks began buying used KMA license-plate holders at garage sales and such, and you can always walk into the police academy store and pay full retail. Whether because the identificatory value of the holder is diminished or simply because all LA cops are virtuous, the LAPD spokesman says a KMA holder isn't going to do a damn bit of good preventing you from getting pulled over for traffic violations. Still, these days you'd be foolish not to take advantage of any break you can get. I bet Rodney King wishes he'd had a KMA license-plate holder. I bet most of LA wishes he'd had one too.

Garlic cures emphysema, impotence, cancer, and wards off vampires. It also makes you stink like a sonofabitch. Since I have major doubts about substitutes (tablets, non-smelling juice) I only take the real thing and feel confident I'm getting the best results. Yet even after a shower the odor seeps out the pores. Is there a surefire cure? --Gary Begey, Santa Monica, California

Cecil approached this question in the scientific manner with which he undertakes all his research. He had one of his minions read it over the air to a public radio audience. Say what you will about those NPR types, they come through with the facts (or at least they can fake it convincingly). Within minutes we learned that the odor of garlic is caused by sulfur-containing compounds found in most abundance in the core of a clove of garlic. Excise the core and you'll nix the worst of the smell, too.

Unfortunately, my perusal of the literature suggests that the more pungent compounds are precisely the ones that do you the most good healthwise. A backup plan, recommended by the Saturday Evening Post so you know it's as surefire as they come, is to munch some parsley. Supposedly the chlorophyll in parsley acts as a natural breath freshener, the breath being the principal carrier of eau de garlique. Worth a try.

In the interest of perfect accuracy I should point out that garlic is most commonly recommended as a high blood pressure and high cholesterol remedy, cancer preventive, and antibiotic. Its effectiveness isn't 100 percent certain; one recalls the oat bran bubble of a few years ago. I can find nothing to support your idea that garlic cures emphysema; on the contrary, there is some suggestion that repeated exposure to garlic dust can trigger asthma. The idea that garlic cures impotence is of course a myth. In re vampires, I am obliged to tell you that medical science has neglected the topic entirely, so if you lay off the garlic be prepared for a few pallid visitors. Frankly it sounds like you could use the company.

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

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