People ask me lots of questions, some good and some not so good.

  • Is this illness I caught contagious? (How would you have gotten it otherwise?)
  • Is this medicine going to destroy my liver? (Yes, your wife paid me lots of money to bump you off)
  • What do you think about the odd pattern on my toenail? (I think it is a prophecy written in ancient runes).

There are times that I handle these questions skillfully;  I feel like I am an athlete "in the zone," where everything I do comes out right.  Other times I feel like the skinny boy in PE class facing the dodgeball firing squad.  There is no way to handle questions fired at me with unexpected speed or from unseen angles, and so I am left to plunge to the floor hoping to sustain minimal brain damage.  It can be terrifying.

But these aren't the only questions I face; some questions I ask myself.  They are questions that are usually deep, like:

  • Why am I here?
  • What can be done to save our health care system?
  • What if Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive slug?
  • If Pluto is a dog, what is Goofy?

There are no good answers to these questions, I know that.  But still I foolishly try, and I end up with a really bad headache and a strong desire for lots of beer.

So is there such thing as a good question?  There is, in my opinion, only one good kind of question: ones that nobody asks.  Here's why these are the best:

  1. They put absolutely no pressure on me because nobody is waiting for the answer.
  2. I have minimal risk of concussion, brain damage, or future alcoholism.
  3. There is no awkward pause while I consider whether to laugh out loud, cry out in pain, or stay silent.
  4. I can dream up a question that nobody cares about and then devote a blog post to answering it.

This last reason spawned a whole series of posts in my previous blog, a series I called Ask Dr. Rob.  Some of these posts were actual responses to actual questions from actual people, but my need for questions was far more than my readers' supply.  Or maybe they just wanted me to stop.  In these posts I answered questions like:

And many more.

It's time to take the cover off of the car, put the key in the ignition, and give the old baby a whirl around the block.  Here is today's incredible question:

What's the deal with the the ring of fire thingy?

Before I answer this fantastic question, let me first explain what it isn't asking.

This question is not about that ring I discovered last summer after I got lost in a cave.  Since finding it I've been stalked by tall men with beards and creepy slimy guys with bad reflux.  It' quite prec...uh.. it's a really nice ring.  Don't even think about it.

I am sure that the thing that actually came to mind for most of my readers was the Ring of Fire Handbell Choir, that played at the presidential inauguration in 2005. They do a pretty hip rendition of "The March of the Baby Elephants."

But they seem to have disbanded, so that's not what the question is about either.

So what about "Ring of Fire Chicken" made famous by Alton Brown on the show "Good Eats?"

 While it is a culinary masterpiece with full-bodied flavor and an acidity that nicely balances the sweetness, it's not the "Ring of Fire" referenced in this question.

Surely then, the reference is to the famous Johnny Cash song entitled "Ring of Fire."

Love is a burnin' thing, And it makes a fiery ring Bound by wild desire I fell into a ring of fire.

I fell into a burnin' ring of fire I went down, down, down And the flames went higher, And it burns, burn, burns, The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

It's kind of interesting to note that he co-wrote this song with his wife.  If I wrote a song with my wife it wouldn't go over well to suggest that our love is a burning ring of fire.  I think things would actually get quite cold if I did that.

No, the "ring of fire" in the question refers to the recent annular eclipse, a type of solar eclipse also known as a "ring of fire" eclipse.  Please don't confuse the word annular with another word that has to do with people on commercials sitting uncomfortably in movie theaters only to be called out in front of everyone by a friend talking about an ointment to sooth the burning and itching (although "ring of fire" would be an accurate description for that problem).  The word actually means "circular, or ring-like."  An annular eclipse happens when the moon gets in front of the sun, but because the moon is further from the earth, it doesn't block the entire sun.  This creates the appearance of a "ring of fire."

 We have recently had an annular eclipse, which is a very rare event indeed.  Some say it is so rare that it is an omen, or a in from the heavens to warn us.

Warn us about what?  What is the significance of the "ring of fire" eclipse?  Ancient Mesopotamian prophesies (found mummified toenails) talk about the "ring in the sky" that tells of the coming of the "being of pure evil," or the "droopy eared Satan."

Dante', in his tale of the circles of hell (rings of fire), tell of the demons that come to torture lost souls.  Some scholars believe that Dante' wrote this book after he saw an annular eclipse and caught a glimpse of  "a horror of wrapped in a shroud of cuteness."  Some feel this idea was captured in the famous painting depicting Dante's hell:

Others have noted a secret code hidden in the words of the Magna Carta, which was signed a mere week after an annular eclipse.

The message hidden in this celebrated document, seen by many as one of the greatest documents in the history of civilization is this:

Beware of the beagle.  Beware of the cursed beagle.  Ring of fire brings the puppy of the apocalypse.  Flee from certain death.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what that means.  It's probably just fables and fairy tales.

Puppy of the apocalypse?  Who would believe that?

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