Fangs for nothing

The news wires went crazy last week with stories that the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had been contaminated with ricin, a toxin twice as deadly as cobra venom. For one thing, there was the immediate fear of bioterrorism to contend with. And of course, it was a time to reflect on the anthrax scare, a national nightmare whose mysterious mechanic is still at large.

But while other media outlets were veering off on these predictable tangents, we were focusing on a more pressing issue: Who knew cobra venom was such a weak-ass liquid? Seriously, you only have to hear the phrase "twice as deadly as cobra venom" about 700 times before a little bell goes off in your head. And when that bell goes off, you start to realize that you've been living a lie. Like everybody else we know, Dog grew up assuming cobra venom was something to be mortally afraid of, mostly because of two attributes it advertises right up front:

1) Venomous.

2) Comes from cobras.

Now we learn that it's only half as dangerous as ricin, which sounds like something Uncle Ben likes to cook up on top of a stove. (And remember, cobra venom is half as dangerous on a good day. We won't even get into how bunk the stale stuff must be.)

Think we're soft-pedaling the risks? Guess again. According to a report we found on, even the dreaded ricin has historically "done little real damage to warrant its fearsome reputation," and is most deadly when it's injected directly into the bloodstream. Under that line of thinking, cobra venom would be some serious shit indeed if you could somehow manage to configure it into bricks and build your house out of it.

Do a web search for the words "cobra venom," in fact, and one of the main things you'll find is a mention that this alleged toxin can be used as a painkiller in racehorses. So not only is it a poor excuse for an assassination tool, it even has, like, life-giving properties and stuff. And that, my friends -- despite the implied chance to combine the standard "hung like a horse/suck out the poison" jokes into one handy-dandy, vaudeville-night snack pack -- is reason enough to ask for your money back. Or at least to demand that this second-string specimen get a new official slogan: "Cobra Venom: The Poison for Pussies."

On the other hand, you never want to write off a noxious substance too quickly. Just look at how many times Liza has come back. So just to be sure that we weren't treating the issue too cavalierly, we turned the reins of inquiry over to Orlando Weekly's Poison Evaluation Team. (Actually, they're unpaid college interns who were originally hired as sales assistants, but nothing looks better on a résumé these days than the willingness to take a little venom for the team.) And what they found has serious implications for weekend campers and snake handlers alike. Take it away, kids!

Blind taste test -- In comparative studies held in the beverage aisle of a randomly selected Winn-Dixie, eight in 10 shoppers were unable to distinguish cobra venom from Peach Faygo. When asked the question, "Would you be surprised to learn that this drink contains 10 percent real fruit juice?", six in 10 responded that they would be either "not terribly surprised" or "not surprised whatsoever." Additionally, four in 10 praised the liquid's pleasant aftertaste, and two asked if it was permitted on the Atkins Diet.

You're soaking in it -- Posing as trained manicurists in an area beauty shop (Sister Wanda's Weaves, Wigs 'n Tats), we spent the better part of an afternoon surreptitiously immersing customers' hands in cobra venom. Careful monitoring of our guinea pigs revealed no ill effects -- no violent nausea, no rise in bodily temperature, no loosening of a single spaghetti curl. When informed of our ruse, every customer seemed to take it in good humor, with one laughingly admonishing, "Now if it was dishwashing liquid, I woulda had to put my foot in yo' ass."

The backyard challenge -- Could the ill effects of cobra venom be transmitted via clothing? We wanted to find out. So we had a trained snake spit all over a toddler's jumper, then set the child loose in its backyard for an hour of unsupervised play. When the time was up, the adorable moppet had enjoyed its usual high-impact frolic, with not even a runny nose to show for the change in routine. As a postscript, we later deposited the soiled jumper in an ordinary top-loader washing machine, only to discover that the venomous additive was actually better at breaking up the accrued grass stains than the liquid detergent favored by the child's mother.

400-meter freestyle -- For our final test, we took over the recreational area of an apartment complex off Sand Lake Road, emptying the swimming pool and refilling it entirely with cobra venom. On our invitation, some of the best competition swimmers from our respective schools then descended on the deep end, splashing about with athletic abandon. No one experienced extraordinary cramping or dizziness, and all swimmers were able to complete a cycle of 20 laps in their customary time or better.

In the interest of full disclosure, one of the participants did later inform us that he had emerged from the pool certain that he was a man in a woman's body and intent on undergoing gender-reassignment surgery. But we have reason to believe that this epiphany had been brewing for a long while, and should in no way be considered venom-centric.

Well, there you have it. Some of the best (unpaid) minds under the age of 21 have spoken, and they say cobra venom is more wuss than scourge. That's good enough for us. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank our intrepid researchers for their diligent service. We'd be doing it in person, except that every one of them called in sick this morning, complaining of some kind of "stomach flu." Honestly, it's a shame when otherwise hard-working kids have to resort to such transparent excuses to get out of a day's grind. And whatever it says about life in these United States is a lot more unsettling than some white powder in a senator's locker, as we're sure you'll all agree.


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