SCIENCE IS NOT OUR FRIEND. Or if it is, it’s the sobering, semi-snooty one nobody really wants to pay attention to even though he’s saying yards of interesting and useful things — it’s just that you don’t want to encourage the arrogant, little know-it-all. I recently crossed over to the pages of Discover Magazine from Wired via the writings of Steven Johnson. Instead of the thinly veiled hype that science and technology will either doom or save us all in the next five years, which seems to be Wired’s editorial bag, Discover is full of examinations into how humans are basically muppets, with thousands of years of evolution and biology pulling the strings — but, hey, the Universe is so big and so full of impossible stuff we’ll never comprehend there’s no reason to dwell on the fact that we’re just educated slime mold to begin with and — ooh! look at that crazy chemical reaction! — neato.

Anyway, this month I learned that nice and fuzzy are basically invented PR terms if ever applied to the natural world. Big, male chimps will kill little, baby chimps if they’re not quite sure who’s their daddy – which is just another observation in the long string of observations regarding the complexities and conflicts of parenting (“The Hardy Sarah Blaffer Hrdy”). Dogs only like us because they’ve been pre-disposed by evolution to cast their lot with ours, so their affections seem nearly as mechanical as AIBO, Sony’s robotic version of my favorite kind of cuddly canine quadraped (“AIBO as Research Tool”). And, here’s a good one, the deer population is exploding to the point where the ravenous, inconsiderate Bambi-monsters are ravaging the ecosystems of forests across the country – and have to be hunted and killed in big, big numbers. This is a plan conservationists are for, and, oddly enough, both the Disney-fied public and hunters are joined very much against (“Oh, Deer”).

Undoubtedly, the conclusions I’ve drawn here are not perfectly in line with the original intentions of the article’s authors, but this is what I learned into my excursion into science – and which actually happens to be a reoccurring theme after any amount of targeted study into any specific area of human understanding: Nobody knows anything. Or to put it another way, we’re only guessing here. We think chimps are cruel and barbaric, and then we read that some other poor human mother has left her newborn in the garbage. Dogs (our “best friends” for pete’s sake) only like us because we know how to operate the can opener, and before that, because we knew how to spear a wooly mammoth. Save the deer, kill the deer — Bambi is the enemy. I’m sure next month will tell me more about how life is basically hard, cold, and cruel and the only real difference between us and the rest of the universe (so far) is that we agonize a little more over it.

But now I forgot to mention the bit in the magazine about the Aztecs and their obsession with violent deaths and human sacrifice (“Empire of Blood”). Apparently, one way in which this played out in their culture was that high priests would basically make jump suits out of people – wearing the dangling, bobbled flesh as part of a spring ritual celebrating renewal. Why don’t they ever get into this stuff in school?

P.S. – Oh yeah, the war started. Forgot to mention, but I’m sure you noticed. So disregard the previous post. Bush is a crazy mofo, no doubt.

POKER FACE OR EGG FACE? Either way, with wily Bush sitting at the table, the results seem likely to be the same – bombs, death, and mayhem. But maybe, just maybe, he’s smarter than we think. Maybe these last few months have been part of a brilliant and daring tactical strategy (“It’s dangerous, sir — but, by golly, it just might work!”) that only makes him appear like a war-mongering nutbag. Massive military build-up, ignoring public outcry, constant evil eyes – all part of a plan to bluff Saddam into thinking, “This crazy bastard just might do it. Holy crap.” He’s got everyone fooled. (After all, aren’t you pretty much convinced that Bush wants nothing but war?)

What if war is somehow averted and Saddam miraculously gives up? Or what if he simply makes wider concessions to the inspection team than he would have otherwise (an inspection team that, by the way, wouldn’t even be there if it hadn’t been for Bush’s rabidity for Saddam)? At the end of the day, Bush might miraculously emerge as the gutsy, get-the-job-done American hero who we celebrate in our myths and movies. But even so, is it worth compromising the U.N., not to mention the overall loss of value in Brand America? Or, perhaps, the U.N. is simply playing the role of the admonishing police chief who has to protect the interests and appearance of the department, but who ultimately relies on his renegade cowboy cop to get the job done. Good U.N., bad Bush. You need both parts to be well-played for the drama to be believable.

Alternatively, Saddam may think the same thing of Bush as we do — nothing will stop this man from pressing on with war — so I might as well give him war. (Saddam, after all, no matter what, is still clearly the crazier of the two. But then again, who’s to say who’s the crazier one here? The man who doesn’t turn away during a game of chicken, or the man who starts a game of chicken with a known lunatic in the first place?) The worst of these scenarios, however, is that after all the blustering, Bush simply can’t stand down, regardless of what progress the inspectors make or what concessions are given, and he turns out to be the crazy mofo we all thought he was to begin with, bringing the world to war for no good reason except for wounded pride or to fulfill a personal agenda.

WHAT ARE YOUR FIVE FAVORITE MOVIES? Oh, what a waste of time, they’ll say. As if there’s no fun in agonizing over a silly list. And as if movies aren’t important. And as if five is nearly enough:

  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. The Cable Guy
  3. 12 Monkeys
  4. Brazil
  5. Dancer in the Dark
  6. Superman
  7. Planet of the Apes
  8. Grave of the Fireflies
  9. Solaris
  10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  11. After Life

A RANDOM CHINESE POEM, translated, in memory of a family friend who recently passed away.

The spring color in the garden
faded too fast
and too soon

It was because of the cold rain in the morning
and the strong wind during the night

Dreaming in your farewell tears
I wish I could share your joy and your sorrow
once more

But life is fleeting
just like a river has no return

I’VE GOT THIS IDEA FOR HUMAN CHEESE. Rest assured, this isn’t like the other near-great ideas I’ve had: The heated umbrella. The waffle sandwich. The modern day bed pan—for those insufferable early mornings when you can’t seem to muster yourself to the bathroom and can’t fully fall back asleep either. (Despite how it sounds, it was all going to be very hygienic, even pleasant: A chemical reaction triggered by the uric acid would conjure the soothing aroma of flowers . . . lilacs maybe. See? Not disgusting at all! Great for mom!)

Granted, these flashes of genius also have their weak spots. How do you put away a self-heating umbrella without hurting anyone? Or, in the case of the Sweet Dream Pee Machine,™ where does the tube go?

But human cheese has none of these shortcomings of technology or logistics. No, human cheese is perfect in its simplicity.

The idea goes like this: Rich people are weird. They like weird things. Take caviar. Fish eggs. The unborn spawn of another living creature. Rich people gobble it up like cheese doodles. In China, monkey brains. An honest-to-goodness delicacy, no kidding. You’re privileged if you get to eat it.

The weirder the better. Because weird means exclusive. Not just the “where am I going to find a monkey to bludgeon on the way back from work” exclusive or the “tasty monkeys are so expensive these days” exclusive. More like the shocking, alienating, snivelling kind of exclusive, i.e., “Of course, you don’t have a hankering for sweet-and-sour grey matter and simian stir-fry. Your palette is totally unrefined.”

Which brings us back to the cheese. Sparing you the tiresome production details (milking, fermenting, etc.), this is guaranteed to be the height of exclusivity. Because not only is it human cheese (way more weird than goat or yak), but it will also be available in a celebrity variety. That’s right: Celebrity Human Cheese. How much would you pay for Julia Roberts-and-crackers? I’m betting quite a lot.

THIS ISN’T THE GOOD PART, or the best part. This is the sentimental part. There are much better, much funnier, much more inventive examples of his writing than this. No, this is the part that made me dog ear the page like a schoolboy who looks for life’s answers in a comic book (and who quickly learns to believe more in the solitude and alienation of the alter ego than in the grandeur of the super hero). It’s also the part that makes me question why I picked up the book in the first place. It had been on my Amazon wish list for more than year, but just the other day while I was wandering around Union Square, a strange compulsion got me to go into Barnes & Noble and buy it. Then I come across these words, and they seem to perfectly echo some thought I’ve had just under the skin these last few months. I don’t know if I would have even recognized their meaning if I had read them at some other time in my life. Not like I do right now, anyway. Is there some strange coincidence that governs when we read the things we read? It’s either very good writing that makes the words seem as if they were written just for you just at that moment. Or it is simply our own weakness for sentimentality, which I willingly display here as evidence of my own:

RUTH: You know, the sad thing . . . The sad thing isn’t that love comes to an end. Or that people go out of your life, or die. The really sad thing about the world is that you get over it.

– From “Ancient History” by David Ives

SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ have an interesting cultural effect I never considered. Some guy on NPR the other day interviewed a CD shop owner in Iraq who complained about how difficult it is to get all the latest rap and hip-hop music. Apparently, he has to rely on trade through Sudan and Jordan for block-busting beats and slim-shady-ness. I’m sure, however, that Saddam gets all the rap, hip-hop, and techno he wants. Yet another example of how the sanctions only hurt the little people.

IRRATIONAL STANDARDS, from “The Art of Literature and Commonsense” by Vladimir Nabokov:

. . .[I]t is one thing to beam at one’s private universe in the snuggest nook of an unshelled and well-fed country and quite another to try and keep sane among crashing buildings in the roaring and whining night. But within the emphatically and unshakably illogical world which I am advertising as a home for the spirit, war gods are unreal not because they are conveniently remote in physical space from the reality of a reading lamp and the solidity of a fountain pen, but because I cannot imagine (and that is saying a good deal) such circumstances as might impinge upon the lovely and lovable world which quietly persists, whereas I can very well imagine that my fellow dreamers, thousands of whom roam the earth, keep to these same irrational and divine standards during the darkest and most dazzling hours of physical danger, pain, dust, death.

What exactly do these irrational standards mean? They mean the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole, of the little thing which a man observes and greets with a friendly nod of the spirit while the crowd around him is being driven by some common impulse to some common goal. I take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor’s child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy. I remember a cartoon depicting a chimney sweep falling from the roof of a tall building and noticing on the way that a sign-board had one word spelled wrong, and wondering in his headlong flight why nobody had thought of correcting it. In a sense, we all are crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an amoral Alice in Wonderland at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles – no matter the imminent peril – these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness, and it is in this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good.

LOVE’S PROMISE, from The Zig-Zag Woman by Steve Martin:

THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: You must miss her.

OLDER MAN: I do.

THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: How long has she been gone?

OLDER MAN: Twenty-three years. (Pause.) Divorced me, married an actor. In the beginning of something, its ending is foretold, and we met in an elevator going down. After she left, in my travels I would sit in hotel lobbies expecting her to appear, telling me what a mistake she’d made. I would land at airports, thinking that she got my flight number and would be waiting for me. When I went to a show, I would buy two tickets in case she had found out where I was and quietly joined me, nothing having to be said. I never figured out why she went away, but I did figure out this: love is a promise delivered already broken.

THE ZIG-ZAG WOMAN: I should go back in the box.