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Do you know how to decode the following acronym-laden sentence?  WoW is a MMORPG.  If you said “I do,” then by the psychic power vested in me by the state of overconfidence, I now pronounce you young.  I say that because the sentence translates to World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.  In WoW, each player controls an avatar who roams the realm fighting monsters, encountering built-in characters, completing quests, and interacting with the avatars of other players.  My personal interest in the game is only this:  you can operate your avatar in first-person or third-person view.  You can look through its eyes or see it as others do.  The split self, “I” versus “me,” is so firmly ingrained in each of us that game designers, to stay competitive, must build in both views.

The me that I know and love is a virtual self, an evolutionarily expedient feature of my brain-created reality.  In short, I am my genes’ avatar in the multiplayer role-playing game called life.  I’m the brain processes by which a virtual agent, moi, is dispatched to monitor, interact with, and master its environment.  And reproduce.

Kittens in the Ceiling

Dotsie is helping me type this story.  Dotsie is a cat, and as anyone with a cat knows, they love to help out by walking around on the keyboard.  Dotsie got her name because she has two distinctive dots on her pretty face, while her sister Foosball, who looks almost exactly like Dotsie, is dot-less.  As kittens they were hard to tell apart except for the dots, so we called one kitten Dot and the other NotDot, but when we started affectionately calling Dot “Dotsie” we had to find a new name for NotDot, because “Notsie” sounded bad.  (Nobody wants to hear, “Look at that cute little Notsie.”)

A Modest Proposal to Fix Health Costs

“A Modest Proposal to Fix Health Costs” is a second-place contest winner.


Stand down.  Steven Brill was just the messenger.  Brill didn’t invent the stomach-turning revelations laid out in his 2013 TIME cover story “Bitter Pill – Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.”  Brill bared the ugly facts via diligent sleuthing, but it’s hard to thank him for an exposé that sickened us, because – and Brill should know this better than anyone – we can’t afford to get sick.  When Brill doubled down during his appearance on The Daily Show our hearts sank again, hopefully not into cost-prohibitive thrombosis.

Animal Magnetism

During the 1770s, German physician Anton Mesmer used magnets to treat, among other conditions, mental illness.  Mesmer believed that a magnetic fluid permeated the entire universe, including our bodies, so he would have patients drink a solution containing iron, after which he’d  use magnets to manipulate their internal fluid.  Symptoms sometimes improved, but Mesmer at some point decided that it wasn’t the magnets after all, but his own “animal magnetism” that had effected the cure, so he doffed the magnets.  Instead, Mesmer had patients stare into his eyes as he waved his hands over their bodies.  He found that this treatment produced results that were—and no one could have predicted this—just as effective as magnets.  The term mesmerism, a forebear of hypnotism, originated in Mesmer’s approach, and indeed Mesmer may have been one of the inspirations for the fictional hypnotist Svengali, who seduced and controlled women using only the power of his will.  (And I’m not talking about the modern-day practice of promising to make her your heir.)  Magnetic remedies are dubious at best, which is why in our era Amazon’s Health & Personal Care department refuses to carry more than 1,320 different magnetic bracelets.

Laws of Attraction

In 2009, CNN aired a story called “The Laws of Sexual Attraction,” in which sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman stated that, “We are innately all puppies in heat.  There’s a whole realm of unconscious scents that we’re not even aware we’re smelling.”  She tells us that women can smell a man’s testosterone level, that men can smell when a woman is fertile, and that there’s a difference between love and raw chemistry (ya think?).  In one study Berman had women smell men’s T-shirts, and found they were most attracted to the shirts of men with a different major histocompatability complex (MHC) than themselves.  (MHC is a collection of genes related to the immune system.)  According to Berman, “We unconsciously want to mate with someone who has a different immune system than ours, because that helps with the survival of our offspring.”  And what could be steamier than that?

Pop Quiz for Women:  Prior to sex, which manly attributes do you take into consideration (check all that apply)?    ☐His jawline    ☐His torso     ☐His body hair    ☐His penis     ☐His major histocompatability complex.

Pop Quiz for Men:  Prior to sex, which womanly attributes do you take into consideration (check all that apply)?    ☐She’s breathing.

Science has revealed that men and women are different.  Whereas women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place.

A Career Path for Jellyfish

If you seek immortality, your second option is to masquerade as a Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish (not making this up).  Turritopsis dohrnii can, after reaching maturity, slowly revert back to its youth and begin the entire cycle again, a process that in theory can go on forever, though most of the jellyfish succumb to predation or disease.

I suggest there’s another viable cause for jellyfish demise, one that relates to the philosophy of eternal life, to the story of moi, and to a possible career path for jellyfish.  Simply put, I think Turritopsis dohrnii dies of boredom.  As journalist Herb Caen has pointed out, “The only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever.”

Consider the life of jellyfish.  First, they’re not fish; they’re not even vertebrates; they’re spineless.  Second, their nervous system is comprised solely of nerves that stretch along the outer body, with no brain; they’re brainless.  Third, nobody likes jellyfish; they’re unpopular.  And finally, they’re gelatinous blobs that float around; they’re do-nothings.  That’s why I think jellyfish would thrive in the United States Congress—as spineless, brainless, unpopular, do-nothing gelatinous blobs, they’d fit right in.  And whereas a typical Congressperson, being human (more or less), can serve for perhaps fifty years at most, an immortal jellyfish could serve forever, thus sparing constituents the hassle of thinking about whom to vote for.  And for the jellyfish, though saddled with immortality and Beltway traffic, they at least would have good perks, like interns and free airport parking.  (If comparing Congress to jellyfish seems disrespectful, I’d like to apologize to the jellyfish.)

The Virus

In 1959, German scientist Wolfhard Weidel wrote a book called (get ready for an ingenious title) Virus, in which he avowed that a virus is, “midway between brute matter and living organism.”  The book’s cover proclaims, “Nothing brings us so close to the riddle of life—and to its solution—as viruses.”  Scientifically speaking that may be true, but I prefer to think of life not as a riddle to be solved, but as a mystery to be lived.  On a less philosophical note, each of us has had to endure more than one up-close and personal confrontation with a virus.

For the last hundred years or so, science has flip-flopped back and forth as to whether a virus is alive.  Although viruses exhibit heredity via DNA or RNA, and meet five of the other six criteria of life, they have no cells.  Instead, viruses parasitize host cells, such as yours and mine, for raw materials and energy so that they can carry on with their miserable little lives, and reproduce.  The fact that viruses are able to adapt to their environment makes them all the more dangerous and all the less lovable, plus viruses are quite amenable to genetic engineering, uncaring of its purpose, and they don’t play political favorites.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem

I was taught in middle school that given an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, the monkeys would eventually produce all the great works of literature.  I’m still not certain if that’s true, but I now know that the Infinite Monkey Theorem has been around for a long time, even as a publisher’s business model.  In a Simpsons episode, Mr. Burns chains a thousand monkeys to typewriters, tasked with writing a great novel.  Burns doesn’t take it well when one of the monkeys types, “It was the best of times.  It was the blurst of times.”

Bad Things Happen

Bad things can happen to good people, like when a drunk woman kept wrecking Lindsay Lohan’s car, but the title of “Divinity’s Most Abused Mortal” has to go to Job, whose ill fortune has been chronicled in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Mormon Church, and the “Cartmanland” episode of South Park.  (“All of Job’s children are killed, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies.  There isn’t a God.”)  The scriptures agree that Job was a good and faithful man, tested by God, yet when Job demanded that He explain Himself, the Almighty beat around the proverbial (but in this case not the burning) bush.  God might as well have told Job exactly what he told Larry, not in the Old Testament but in the Old Joke.  After a run of appalling luck, Larry humbly petitioned the Lord for an explanation, to which God replied:  “I don’t know Larry, there’s just something about you that ticks me off.”