New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for January 2015

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


By Bart Geraci

Well, it’s 2015 (more or less depending on when you’re reading this).

We had a wonderful time holding the end of the year party at our house. We wish more of you could have joined us.

It’s the start of a new year in New Orleans. January 6th (Twelfth Night) marks the beginning of the Carnival Season. Mardi Gras is February 17th, so the NOM Night (and EXCOM) will be moved to the 3rd Saturday that month.

This September we’ll have nominations for offices for New Orleans Mensa. So if you feel like running for something, talk with us.

Weatherwise, we haven’t been all that cold. Most days are enjoyed without a jacket - some even in short sleeves.

Our beloved Saints haven’t done that well this season. Ah, wait until next season. But in the meantime:

Let’s Go Pelicans!

So the Story Goes Like This

By Bart Geraci

So I was over in West Texas when I worked one summer for a recycling company.

The owner showed me around the place and introduced me to the employees. Most of them were very cheerful and happy. What brought this to mind was when I met Harry, his demeanor was quite different. Rather glum and sullen. He said “Hi” with a quick gruff and went back to his work which was taking these soft drink cans, placing them under a lever in order to flatten them to a thin sheet of metal.

The owner later told me that he had never seen Harry in a happy mood.

I said “It’s easy to see why ...”

“...his job is soda pressing.”

News & Notes for Young Mensans

Lisa Van Gemert

Happenings & Celebrations:


Did you know …

It’s Your Birthday!

If you were born in January, you share your birthday month with

Paul Revere & Betsy Ross, both born on New Year’s Day; J.R.R. Tolkien (3rd); Joan of Arc (6th); Elvis Presley (8th); Benjamin Franklin (17th); the creator of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne (18th); Declaration of Independence big signer John Hancock (23rd); Mozart (27th); and Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States (30th).

Benefit Highlight:

If you would like text reminders of what’s going on for Young Mensans, sign up for free here:


Lisa Van Gemert Youth & Education Ambassador |

get resources:

find more:

From the RVC

By Roger Durham, Region 6 Vice Chair

The good guys won! By the time you read this, most of you will probably know that a motion to increase dues next year was soundly defeated at the December Board of Directors’ meeting in San Diego. As I told you last month, there are some substantial new expenses confronting us next year, and I was not optimistic that a dues increase could be averted. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, however, the Finance Committee went through the expected expenses for 2015 and was able to identify sufficient cost-savings to enable us to get through the year with a projected surplus of nearly $40,000. Nonetheless, they requested an increase to $73, on the grounds that the proposed reductions would not be enough to get us through both 2015 and 2016 without additional dues revenue. I am happy to say that I, along with several others, was able to persuade a majority of the Board that if we could get through next year without an increase, it should be possible to find enough additional savings to get us through 2016 as well. In pursuit of that goal, since I am pretty much the only Board member who is in a position to do so without cost to Mensa, I have arranged to spend some time at the National Office over the next month or two, looking for more cost-cutting opportunities. I plan to present my findings at the March Board meeting in Indianapolis.

On another subject altogether, we learned at the Board meeting that the Post Office has announced that its long-delayed “Intelligent Bar Code” system will finally be deployed sometime in 2015. When this new system goes into operation, it will no longer be possible for the National Office to print mailing labels for those groups that use any kind of mailing permit for their newsletters, since the new labels will have to include the date and location of mailing. Sometime this year, therefore, the distribution of mailing labels by the National Office will be discontinued for all groups, and the address information will be sent out as a data file. The software to print your own labels locally is available at a very small cost, and plans are already in place to increase local group funding to cover all additional expenses of local label production.

Finally, I offer my thanks and congratulations to those members who are taking office this month as newly-elected local group officers. You are the glue that holds our organization together, and your contribution to American Mensa is greatly appreciated. If there is anything I can do to assist you at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me at

BrainFork: A Mensan Talks About Food

By Bart Geraci


”Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home"
- Harry Belafonte, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” --

Let’s talk about an a-peeling food item: the Banana.

We are not a-mused. We are Mus-a

“This ... is bananas
- Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl” -

A banana is an edible fruit, botanically a berry (which means it is produced by a flower with a single ovary). The word itself comes from the Wolof language in West African (Senegal, the Gambia, Mauritania) “banaana”. The Wolof language has also given us “nyami” which means “to eat food”, which has been converted to “yam”, the familiar tuber in these parts.

The taxonomy:

Kingdom Plantae
(unranked) Angiosperms
(unranked) Monocots
(unranked) Commelinids
Order Zingiberales
Family Musaceae
Genus Musa

The plants in the family Musaceae are native to sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Within Musaceae, there are only two genera: Musa and Ensete. Musa is the genus that includes bananas and plantains.

Now bananas and plantain plant stems are not “woody” like a tree, but they have leaves and stems that die down to the ground at the end of the growing season. So by definition, they are considered to be one of the largest herb plants (even though they won’t fit in your little windowsill herb box).

Bananas versus Plantains

“Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”
- Bill Gates -

The most familiar differences between bananas and plantains are that plantains are more starchy and less sweet, have thicker skin, and are cooked before being eaten. Another approach is to divide the two groups into dessert bananas and cooking bananas, with plantains being in the cooking banana group. But in Southeast Asia, these divisions won’t work; many of the diverse varieties of bananas are used both raw and cooked.

When they were first classified by Carl Linnaeus in the mid 1700s, bananas were Musa sapientum and plantains were Musa paradisiaca and the classification was based on food usage. As more varieties were discovered (many in Southeast Asia), more species names were added.

In 1947, Ernest Cheesman showed that these two species named by Linnaeus were actually cultivars (cultivated variety) that had been propagated. The two original species in this genus were wild seed-producing species named Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.

Now, both commonly-seen seedless bananas and plantains have a little bit of both these species (acuminata & balbisiana) in them. They have been cultivated to produce tiny seeds instead of large seeds for human consumption. The cultivated bananas are made to have the fleshy fruit swell and ripen without seeds being fertilized.

The common banana comes from the cultivar AAA, which means three sets of the chromosomes from the Musa Acuminata. The common plantain comes from the cultivar AAB, which is two sets of chromosomes from Musa Acuminata and one set from Musa balbisiana. There are cultivars consisting of 2, 3, or 4 sets of chromosomes.

Glowing in the Dark

“Something will pop up in my head. It could be like the weirdest thing. Like all of a sudden like I have like a jumping banana in my head.”
- Ryan Lochte -

Ripe bananas fluoresce when exposed to UltraViolet light whereas green bananas do not. It has been hypothesized that animals which can see in the UV wavelength can distinguish ripe bananas from unripe ones.

Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive, more so than most other fruits, because of their high potassium (K) content which has a little bit of the isotope K-40. The half-life of this isotope is 1.25 billion years. It decays to stable Argon (Ar-40) by electron capture or positron emission or to stable Calcium (Ca-40) by beta decay. The decay of K-40 to Ar-40 can be used in dating rocks.

Now before you don a hazmat suit to eat that banana, this isotope is commonly found in the human body. In fact we have more K-40 than C-14. For a person weighing 150 pounds, every second about 4,400 nuclei of K-40 decays.

Well, that's Gros

“A book without potty humor is like a banana split without hot fudge. It can still be good, I suppose, but you kinda get the feeling that something is missing.”
- Dav Pilkey -

Because modern seedless bananas are cultivars, in order to maintain the desired characteristics, each plant is essentially a clone of each other. Along with the benefits of consistency, the drawback of this monoculture is that all it takes is one disease to wipe all the plants out.

Gros Michel or "Big Mike" was the main cultivar of banana exported to the United States from the late 1800s up until the 1950s. That’s when the fungus Fusarium oxysporum (Race 1) was first discovered to attack the banana plants. It proved to be resistant to fungicides and it wiped out most of the Gros Michel plantations. Banana growers found out that the Cavendish variety was not attacked by this fungus, so they converted the crops to Cavendish.

Whew! Disaster averted. Okay, so we're not going to have the same problem again, right?


Well, in the 1980s, Malaysia started to grow Cavendish bananas. Within a few years, the bananas started to die out. It turns out while the Cavendish is immune to the particular fungus strain found in the Americas that devastated the Gros Michel crop, this new fungus strain (Tropical Race 4) found there can and does attack the Cavendish bananas.

Ok, so as long as it stays in Malaysia, we’re okay….


As of 2014, Tropical Race 4 has spread to China, Vietnam, and Australia. What is most alarming is that it has been discovered in Jordan and Mozambique - without appearing in countries in between.

So what’s our backup to the Cavendish?

Uh… we’ll get back to you on that….

United Fruit Company

“There’s always money in the Banana Stand”
- George Bluth Sr., “Arrested Development” -

I work across the street from an entrance facade marked “1920 United Fruit Company”. In the worlds of New Orleans and bananas, the United Fruit Company is the link. New Orleans was the major port city for bananas coming from Central America. Two books talking about this history are “Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World” by Peter Chapman and “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King” by Rich Cohen.

Banana Defense

“Sgt.: Now, it's quite simple to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana. First of all you force him to drop the banana; then, second, you eat the banana, thus disarming him. You have now rendered him helpless.”
- Monty Python's Flying Circus, “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” -


“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana. I said 'No, but I want a regular banana later, so ... yeah.”
- Mitch Hedberg -

The two recipes are at the two extremes of temperature.

Frozen Bananas (or 1-ingredient ice cream):

Peel banana, cut off bad parts, place in bag, freeze it (at least a couple of hours). When cut into pieces and placed in a blender or a food processor, the high pectin content of the banana will create a substance with a consistency very much like ice cream. Other berries and sweeteners and flavors can be added to the processed bananas as well.

Bananas Foster (bananas on fire):

In 1951, Owen Brennan challenged his chef Paul Blange to come up dishes using bananas. The famous Bananas Foster, named for Richard Foster, is the result of this challenge.

(Note: This is not the original version, but my interpretation of it)

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These pages and all content Copyright (c) 2014 by New Orleans Mensa, all rights reserved. Mensa ® and the Mensa logo (as depicted for example in U.S. TM Reg. No. 1,405,381) are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by American Mensa, Ltd., and are registered in other countries by Mensa International Limited and/or affiliated national Mensa organizations. Mensa does not hold any opinion or have, or express, any political or religious views.
Last edited: 5-Oct-2014. Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at