Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2003 / 4 Teves, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Can the colorblind see rainbows?; What causes moles? What's the difference between moles and freckles? | Q: Can colorblind people see rainbows? I don't know if you're colorblind, but if not, will you find out for me? - Shannon, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Shannon, when I was a kid, my favorite color was plaid.

Unlike actual colors, it never played tricks on me. I always knew when it was there.

I didn't know just how colorblind I was until an Air Force recruiter gave me a test. (Pilots often need keen color vision because of the many lights in a cockpit.)

He showed me cards covered with colored dots. Supposedly there was a pattern in each one forming a number.

(To test your color vision, take a test online at

"You really can't see any of these?" he asked, impressed.

"Is that a seven?" I said.

"Are you guessing?" he said.

We went through dozens of his cards before I clearly saw a number.

"Can I fly a plane?" I said.

"Son, you might not be able to drive," he said.

Yet I can see rainbows. I always rush outside and look for the white arc.


I see the colors. But maybe not as many as you, or in quite the same way.

Very few colorblind people see the world in black and white. Most just have a hard time telling the difference between certain colors. I seem to have trouble distinguishing green from gray and tan, and red from purple and pink. Colorblind people often confuse greens and reds or see them as more neutral than they actually are.

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So what causes color-blindness?

At the back of the eye is the retina. About the size of a stamp, it contains millions of cells that are sensitive to light. Some of the cells are called cones. These let you see color by combining red, blue and green to make thousands of colors. If you don't have the correct chemicals in the cones, they may not let you see enough colors.

Colorblindness is almost always inherited, and is much more common in men than women. About one in 12 men is colorblind, to some extent.

We see colors a little differently, but we do see rainbows, and the colors of teenagers' hair. And I love to color with my little girl.

But I would find it comforting if Crayola made a plaid crayon.

Sources: Kim Rutherford, M.D.,

Q: What causes moles? What's the difference between moles and freckles? If moles are created by sun exposure, how is it that I now have moles in places that rarely, if ever, saw the sun? - Margaret Dula, Lenoir, N.C.

A: Margaret, you and your moles are not alone. Everyone has them, sometimes 40 or more.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, moles are caused by an abundance of pigment cells in the skin. Sun exposure does increase and darken them. But moles often appear where the sun don't shine.

Some women get new moles, or their moles grow or darken as a result of birth control pills or pregnancy.

Freckles are different in that they're smaller, and may fade completely in the winter. Freckles ordinarily are limited to sun-exposed areas.

So why is it that a small mole on the face of a great beauty like Marilyn Monroe or Cindy Crawford seems to only add to her attractiveness? "Beauty marks" and even piercings to give the same effect have been fashioned by those wanting this look.

Experts say it's because our idea of beauty is based on symmetry - everything is perfectly balanced. On a face like Monroe's or Crawford's all the parts seem exactly even.

Then a sexy little dot slightly throws off that balance, adding mystery and sex appeal. The mole becomes the dot below an exclamation point.

The majority of moles are not cancerous. But you should see a doctor about any spot that changes in size, shape or color, or that becomes painful, or first appears after the age of 20.

Sources: Dermatologist Vail Reese, American Academy of Dermatology


1. In time, the Rockies may tumble, Gibraltar may crumble. They're only made of clay. But these brothers' songs are here to stay.

2. Duke Ellington gave pianist Billy Strayhorn directions to his Harlem apartment. Using that theme, Strayhorn wrote this jazz standard.

3. My smile is my makeup I wear since my breakup with you.

4. She wrote "The Locomotion" for her daughter's baby sitter.

5. Time magazine says this gritty cowgirl poet is the best songwriter in America.

6. This Michigander rapped: "You think I give a damn about a Grammy? Half of you critics can't even stomach me, let alone stand me."


1. The Gershwins,
2. "Take the A Train,"
3. Smokey Robinson
4. Carole King
5. Lucinda Williams
6. Eminem

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here.


12/22/03: It's all lunch to me
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11/25/03: Diner lingo; How do chickens know what size eggs to lay?; a computer input device is called a mouse, what is the plural?; more
11/19/03: Did Betsy Ross sew the first official American flag?; Do the 9 numbers in our Social Security number have special meaning? Will they run out of numbers or have to re-issue them?; more
11/11/03: How to be a Nielsen rater; Why did Charles Schulz name his comic strip "Peanuts"?; Was Chef Boy-ar-dee a real person?; Why are Georgetown University teams called the Hoyas?
11/05/03: Decoding the laws of buoyancy; What actually happens when you crack your knuckles?; origin of the expression "three sheets to the wind
10/30/03: Buttoning on the 'correct' side; when you breathe on your hand it feels warm, but when you blow on your hand it feels cool?; Why do dogs eat (and enjoy eating) dirt?; more
10/23/03: 'American Pie' explained; Why are tennis balls seamed like baseballs?; more
10/14/03: Origins of comic strips and hush puppies; a college football quiz; dogs that don't bark
09/24/03: Why do snooze alarms go off every 9 minutes?
09/17/03: Glad You Asked: Fun with college football
09/09/03: What's so great about Wiffle Ball?
09/03/03: What kinda wine goes best with heartache?; What did people do before alarm clocks were invented?; which has more caffeine: coffee or tea?
08/26/03: These inventors were just toying with us
08/12/03: Why do wheels appear to turn backward on film?; showdown over high noon
08/07/03: Wood'n you know it? Money doesn't grow on trees; all we are is dust in the wind
08/05/03: Where have you gone, Calvin, Opus and Cow?; fine feathered friend pecking on itself
07/31/03: How a dashing hero became a notorious traitor
07/29/03: Little red caboose rolling outta sight; From my 'I'll be a monkey's uncle' file
07/24/03: Road scholar: A lesson on asphalt; when identical twins marry
07/23/03: The sweet science of Life Savers' sparks; how do Pop Rocks work? ripping newspaper

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