The Straight Dope

In cartoons bulls are always depicted with rings through their noses. Being a city kid whose idea of farm life mostly comes from watching Green Acres, I have never had the opportunity to inspect a bull up close. Do they really have nose rings? If so, why? I have a hard time believing it's all due to teenage rebellion.

-- Phil Gemperl, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Well, I guess I'd better not try that line of humorous development then. How about this: The ring represents not rebellion but... discipline! It does, too. You've heard the expression "led around by the nose"? You were thinking maybe this was just a figure of speech? Uh-uh. Even if you're a mighty hunk of rock 'em, sock 'em bull flesh, if some little slip of a farm girl comes along and hooks a rope to your nose ring, you're going to go where she wants you to go. Male humans understand this concept too, even if what they are led around by is not necessarily the nose.

Now, your animal-rights type of person might think putting a ring in a bull's nose is cruel. I'm not saying it's a day at the racetrack. Usually it's done when the critter is six to eight months old. You put the bull in a restraining device called a head gate, then you get a long, pointed steel rod and possibly some local anesthetic. One presumes the anesthetic is for the bull, although if I were about to pound a nail through some bull's schnozz, I might want an anesthetic myself. The ring, which is brass, can be as heavy as six ounces and as big as three inches in diameter for larger bulls. (There's a hinge in it, in case you're wondering how they get it on.) So we're definitely talking a major fashion statement.

The question is whether it bugs the bulls. My personal feeling is no, because not every bull gets a ring. It's reserved for animals that are going to be handled a lot, typically those shown in livestock exhibitions or used for breeding. So a ring, to a bull, means: (1) I'm a stud, (2) I'm dangerous, and (3) I look good. You think he's going to be ticked?

Kidney Punching
With reference to your April 23 column about losing a kidney after a party, check the May 12 San Francisco Examiner and see the story "Poor Robbed of Kidneys in India." Urban myth, heh?

-- Dave Barry via the Internet

So, Dave, taking time off from the humor business to harass your fellow columnists? This story was an urban myth when I wrote about it, but in today's fast-paced world the truth has a shelf life of about three weeks. Dave refers to an Associated Press report from New Delhi stating that ten people, including three transplant surgeons and a hospital owner, were arrested after a patient claimed he'd been lured to the hospital and robbed of a kidney. Supposedly the hospital had promised the man a job in Singapore and told him a medical exam was needed to obtain a visa.

Aspects of this story strike me as fishy -- what did the surgeons think, the victim wouldn't notice he'd had major surgery? However, similar allegations about the hospital had been made earlier. In one case a mentally retarded boy disappeared only to show up three months later $750 richer and a kidney shy.

Even if these accusations turn out to be true, there are big differences between organ theft in India and the stories circulating in North America, in which guys get picked up by beautiful strangers only to awaken kidneyless in a tub of ice. In parts of India it's still legal to sell a kidney, and clinics openly remove organs from the poor and transplant them into the rich. (Maybe not for long, though. In 1995 the Indian parliament forbade organ sales except to close relatives, but this has not been ratified by all states.) In the United States and Canada, organ sales are illegal, and the delicate business of matching donors and recipients and doing the transplants would have to be conducted entirely underground. That's highly improbable and hasn't occurred here as far as we know. Then again, you read about Jack Kevorkian removing kidneys from people he helped to commit suicide, and you think: Just wait till tomorrow's mail.

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver "The Straight Dope" on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago, IL 60611; e-mail him at cecil@chireader.com; or visit "The Straight Dope" area at America Online, keyword: Straight Dope.

 
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