So, all you people who’ve done that joke where you’re hanging out with a rhinoceros, maybe getting something at a White Castle or something, and you tell him he has something on his nose? And he keeps trying to wipe it off, but the thing you’re talking about is his horn, so obviously he can’t wipe it off however many napkins he grabs, and he finally goes into the bathroom to wash it off and sees? Yeah, real funny, guys. You know because of you there’s no way of telling a rhinoceros when he has got something on his nose? Why, the one I had lunch with today even took one of my jalapeno cheese burgers as payment for the inconvenience. So, good one all around.
I bet you didn’t realize this is an historic year, what with most of it still being in the future. But it doesn’t do to say this is “an futuric year”, as the particle just doesn’t fit there at all. It should be a long-lived neutral kaon instead. That’s the sort of kaon which lives for as much as fifty nanoseconds before it expires, at the hands of natural kaon predators such as the lesser Malagasy snarking W+ boson or to creeping deforestation. This reminds of us why it’s important for pop historians to keep informed on group theory and the value of gauge invariance.
“So, I couldn’t help noticing your horse there … ”
“Yeah, he gets a lot of attention.”
“Don’t see many horses that cluck.”
“He’s very sure he’s a chicken.”
“And you’d get him treated but … ”
“Yup. Need the eggs.”
“Figures. Now, me, I’ve got a chicken that thinks he’s a horse.”
“Going to take him to an animal psychiatrist?”
“Never. I like him thinking he’s a horse.”
“You need your chicken to pull stuff?”
“No, I just hate eggs.”
[ Thanks for indulging me. I’ll try to do better in the future. ]
If there’s anything we learn from the study of past animals, it’s that animals in the past were a lot cooler than the ones we have today. I don’t want to dismiss the general coolness of modern animals, since so many of them know where I live and have heard that I’m made of meat (not wholly: parts of me are made of vanadium, and parts of me are an after-market add-on stereo that never worked right, which is why I never hear people’s names when they’re given to me and must instead rely on checking their name tags), but the general rule is, the farther in the past you go, the cooler they were.
Take sloths, for example. Today the average sloth is a pleasant enough creature, sweet-looking and not bothersome in its ways. But back before the recent Ice Age, there were sloths with amazing features: giant ones, for example, ones the size of minivans. And this was a time when minivans were gigantic, with accommodations for up to forty people, or forty-four if they were feeling alliterative and had clean outfits on, with side-impact airbags and well over 150 cupholders. The modern sloth of today, meanwhile, is extremely vulnerable to rolling over at highway speeds, and has only the two cupholders, and if you try taking your cup without the sloth’s being ready for you they get all bitey. You would have to signal them appropriately, using the telegraph, because they like the old-time feel of that.
I always knew Australian wildlife was colorful, by which I mean far more crazily deadly than it has any business being. It’s a continent whose fauna includes snakes poisonous enough to stun South America, koalas that can shoot four-foot machete blades up to the length of four rugby fields away (except during time-outs), laser-guided dense-impactor bilbies, tree kangaroos with the explosive force of four tons of TNT, and neutron wallabies. What I didn’t realize is just how lively this makes the area. It turns out that until 1958, Tasmania was connected to the Australian mainland, but then something jolted a currawong and by the time the time the retaliatory fire was done there was this channel nearly 150 miles wide. That’s amazing.
And now that stand-up comic I hired to keep squirrels off the bird feeder is causing problems. I agree, there’s only so many jokes a white guy can tell about southern bog lemmings before you start feeling like the guy has a weird agenda. I want to give comics a fair chance at exploring edgy material, but you can’t argue with letters of protest from over 36 Ogilvie Mountains collared lemmings. It’s controversial material that isn’t working, and now I have to spend time dealing with it. Everything would be so much easier if the squirrels would just eat out of the squirrel feeder instead.
So before the hamster wheel were people just trying out, say, putting a lever in their cage and seeing what a hamster made of it? “Look, I can shuffle cedar chips around some.” The inclined plane? Perhaps an Archimedean screw? Or were they thinking of more obviously useful tools, possibly as the first step in training hamsters to do all sorts of light carpentry and home repair, and tried putting in little shovels and rakes? And would a ladder fit in as just a general mechanical device or as a potential hamster tool? If even one hamster living in 1948 had shown some proficiency at using a screwdriver we might be living in a very different world today.
What do you suppose the hamster community thinks of the person who invented the hamster wheel? It’s not an obvious invention, the way the cat motorcycle, the gerbil paddle steamer, or the wallaroo Quadricycle are. You need to have a vision of wheels alongside rodents, if hamsters are still rodents. They keep finding out different animals aren’t actually rodents. Just last month a report in Nature showed that the horse was definitely not a rodent, following an investigation by biologists who didn’t want to work too hard that day.
The first hamster to make the wheel work was some kind of genius among hamsters, too, though. I imagine hamsters to this day squeak her name when they want to talk sarcastically about the smart one in their group.
I need to clear out some books and so offer these samples of my eclectic tastes to any takers. Please contact this or any department if you would like it sent gratis, or contact me if you would like it sent to you.
An Incomplete History Of The Cold War, by Daniel “D D” Davison “Hall”, accepts that any history of a complicated event will be incomplete, and so for this popularization it includes only the years 1947, 1953-55, 1964-67, 1978, 1980, then goes back to 1972 because of some stuff it thought about, and 1980 again; and it omits completely all reference to “Poland” or “Belize”, the latter of which the author insists was merely coincidence. 325 pages.
I found this article in the science section — any science section; I can’t imagine editors turning this one down — about how research has shown that dung beetles can use the Milky Way to navigate. I have to applaud the effort there. That’s more than I ever do with the Milky Way. If you left it to me I’d probably let the whole galaxy clutter up the scary drawer above all the pots and pans, and maybe take it out just enough to feel guilty about how I should be using it more. Navigating would never cross my mind, much less helping dung beetles navigate, so it’s good the beetles seem to have worked that out on their own.
The dung beetle navigation thing finally makes sense of a lot history, which is better than most history does for itself. You always imagined that people looked at Christopher Columbus funny for his refusal to adjust the heading until he’d had a flock of dung beetles on deck during a cloudless, moonless night, but he did all right for himself, and left his beetles in charge of Hispaniola while he was busy getting tried for treason.
But as ever we shouldn’t have been surprised. Folklore’s talked about how animals have astounding abilities for thousands of years now, although folklore also talks about how witches are baking little children and how it’s good luck for the Red-Leafed Arrogating Murderberry Vine to crack your house’s foundation and how this snowstorm is the very first time the university ever cancelled class for anything less than the death of a President, so maybe the trouble is folklore needs to be more selective about what it says. We can’t go listening to everything. There’s too much of it.
We’ve got a bird feeder, so we’ve been feeding squirrels. But I know the only effective way to keep squirrels off a bird feeder is to put up some squirrel exclusion device, which they find so hilariously ineffective that the squirrels roll up into balls of cackling fur, and drop from the bird feeder, then roll downhill. So I hired a guy to stand out by the feeder and tell them jokes.