Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Fly to Paris, sneak into the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, and shave a piece off the standard meter.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Provide beef that can be eaten without guilt by those who are vegetarian on moral grounds. You don’t kill the cow or inflict pain on her at any time. You administer a general anaesthetic and surgically remove a small amount of tissue—about one serving of steak. Then you give the cow the best available post-operative care, and return her to a meadow rich in top quality grazing and inhabited by handsome but considerate and family-minded bulls.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
We often forget that everything in the world has an origin. If a feature of our life has been around for a long time, we easily fall into supposing that it's always been there.
Take hats. However far back in history you go, people were already engaged in the practice of placing contrivances of various sorts on the tops of their heads. We’re apt to take this state of affairs as an indication that there have always been hats. We don’t, of course, consciously believe that this absurb proposition is true. But it's lodged somewhere in our cognitive machinery from which place it has various effects on our behavior. One of these effects a lack of curiosity about the origin of hats. If hats are already present at the start of every historical era, what follows is, of course, that they originated in prehistoric times.
One thing is certain: there was a time when the world was devoid of hats. In fact, there was a time when the world already contained human beings but was still hatless. There had to be a First Hat, and it had to be conceived and constructed by a First Hatter. The hat is some unsung prehistoric genius’ invention.
There’s a whole stratum of basic amenities that seem always to have been with us and without which modern life would be impossible. What, for instance, would we do if there were no bags? We’d have to take our groceries home in our arms, which would drastically curtail the variety of foods we can purchase. Long-distance travel would be prohibitively difficult—for a suitcase is just a fancy kind of bag, and traveling without luggage would require us to carry our shirts, underwear, and socks on and off the plane in a loose pile, and to stuff the pile in the overhead compartment. The inevitable result would be that our clothes would get inextricably mixed up with the clothes of other passengers. Under conditions like these, it's doubtful that commercial aviation could ever have gotten off the ground.
Similar remarks apply to many other prehistoric inventions such as the blanket, the cloak, and the door. Second-generation devices include the sleeve, the window, and the doorknob. Our prehistoric ancestors who conceived of these devices were preceded only by the very first biologically human beings whose lives were essentially the same as those of any large land mammals. Starting from scratch, they had to invent the idea of inventing. Under these conditions, to conceive of a hat or a door is as dazzling an intellectual feat as to conceive of the theory of relativity.
The grandest prehistoric achievement, effected by the cumulative work of countless generations of field researchers, was undoubtedly the project of testing the edibility of every substance on Earth—every herb, every fungus, every crawling, creeping, and swimming thing, wood, sand, clay, mud, feces, urine, pebbles, … . One imagines these intrepid researchers puking their guts out, being attacked by swarms of bees, breaking their teeth, and going off on unscheduled psychedelic journeys, so that we may know what’s safe to eat and delicious, and what spells disaster.
Then there are the social innovations—the meeting, the holiday, the incarceration of deviants, the idea of winning or losing a game, personal names, jokes, respectability, designating some words as profane and being scandalized by their utterance. Like hats and bags, these institutions seem to have always existed. But the lives of our very earliest human ancestors were esentially like the lives of rabbits or bears, and there’s never been a respectable rabbit or a profanity-spouting bear. Like hats and bags, these things had to be invented.
Finally, we have to acknowledge the unclassifiable achievements that have enriched our lives in miscellaneous ways. Kudos to the first person ever to whistle, snap his fingers, do a handstand, wipe his ass, or engage in foreplay. Thanks for showing us the way.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Cast of characters: Caveman 1, Caveman 2.
Caveman 2 sits cross-legged on the ground in front of his cave, devouring a bloody piece of raw meat with grunts of satisfaction. He wears ragged animal skins, after the manner of Alley Oop. Caveman 1 runs on stage from the left, wearing similar skins. He starts to talk before coming to a halt in front of Caveman 2.
CAVEMAN 1. [excitedly] Hey, your mate’s just been eaten by a saber-tooth tiger!
CAVEMAN 2. Oh my gods!
CAVEMAN 1. Take it easy, It didn’t really happen. She’s okay.
CAVEMAN 2. Then why the hell did you say it happened?
CAVEMAN 1. It seemed … I don’t know. It made me feel pleasantly odd to say something without regard for its truth.
CAVEMAN 2. It made you feel pleasantly odd! What the hell kind of a reason is that to say something?
CAVEMAN 1. You try it. You’ll see what I mean.
CAVEMAN 2. Sounds crazy, but okay … Hey, antelopes do not exist!
CAVEMAN 1. [rolls his eyes upward and cocks his head in introspection] It didn’t seem to work that time. Try another one.
CAVEMAN 2. Look at me! I'm eating stones!
CAVEMAN 1. [after introspection] I think I felt a twinge that time. Did you feel something?
CAVEMAN 2. I didn’t feel anything. This is totally crazy!
CAVEMAN 1. Let’s try it just once more. Why don’t you say a whole bunch of things—maybe one of them will hit the mark. But leave the “hey” in—I have a hunch that it helps.
CAVEMAN 2. Hey, it's night time! Hey, I have three legs! Hey, the Great Turtle doesn’t protect us from the evil River Spirits!
CAVEMAN 1. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
CAVEMAN 2. I have an idea. Hey, your mate’s just been eaten by a saber-tooth tiger!
CAVEMAN 1. Now that's very strange. It didn't work at all this time. It must be how you tell it.