ASK DR. BOLI.

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Dear Dr. Boli: Why do I hear so many crackpot conspiracy theories lately? —Sincerely, Arethusa Rathermore, Bilderberg, Netherlands.

Dear Madam: Dr. Boli believes that the profusion of conspiracy theories is actually the result of a vast conspiracy by the governing powers to conceal their own incompetence. Consider it for a moment: suppose—merely for the sake of argument—that the world is run by lazy feckless unqualified clock-watchers who want nothing more than to collect the largest paycheck for the least work. If that were so, then we, the ordinary people who hold the real power, could simply vote them out, or overthrow them if they refused to go (for we outnumber them by a fair margin), and hire competent professionals to do their jobs.

But suppose—again merely for the sake of argument—that we, the people, who hold the real power in our hands, could be made to believe that the world was actually run by an ancient and sinister cabal of such ruthless and efficient power that nothing can stop it, and that the seemingly random events which a judicious observer would put down to the incompetence of our governments were actually cogs in the great machinery of the worldwide conspiracy. Why, then, believing we could do nothing, we would indeed do nothing, but rather fall into despair and apathy, leaving the lazy feckless incompetents to watch their clocks and collect their paychecks in peace.

We can see the benefit to the rulers of instilling such a belief in the ruled—a benefit so great that they might indeed be persuaded to rouse themselves to the fifteen minutes or so of effort it would take to post an anonymous rant on a conspiracy-theory bulletin board every once in a while. When looking at conspiracy theories, we should always ask the important question, Cui bono? (which is Latin for “Who gets the gravy?”). Dr. Boli believes he has found the most satisfactory answer to that question.

THE DARWIN DIET.

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From Dr. Boli’s Scientific Journal.

“Peer-Reviewed for Your Protection.”

Although Dr. Boli himself contributed much in the early stages of the work (a private trans-Atlantic cable having been laid for the telegraphic correspondence involved), it was really Charles Darwin who earned the title of father of the theory of Natural Selection. Nevertheless, Dr. Boli has continued the work more actively than his friend Darwin, being deceased, has been able to do; and furthermore, whereas many other researchers have been content to examine Evolution from a merely historical perspective, Dr. Boli has concentrated his attention on practical applications.

It has long been the dream of every self-described “nutritionist” to discover the perfect human diet: the regimen that will lead to optimum health and longevity. This can only be achieved by discovering the foods that human beings were adapted to eat.

A brief explanation will suffice. Natural selection, that marvelously efficient mechanism of creation, ensures that every creature is perfectly adapted for consuming the food that best sustains it. Thus, for example, hummingbirds have long bills perfectly adapted to probing the nectar-bearing spurs of sweet flowers; anteaters have snouts and tongues perfectly adapted to rooting out ants; herring gulls have beaks perfectly adapted to snatching bags of potato chips from unwary beachgoers; and so on. Each creature is necessarily endowed not only with the equipment for consuming its perfect food, but also with the instinct to seek that food.

Nature creates nothing in vain; everything has a purpose. It is clear, then, that the human sense of taste must have its purpose, and that that purpose must be to identify for us which foods we ought to eat and which things are not in fact food. This is the astonishingly simple solution to the problem that has baffled nutritionists for generations. Pure reason shines its light where countless ridiculously contrived studies and metastudies have only deepened the darkness.

To eat a perfect diet, we must eat exclusively food that tastes good.

As an illustration, observe the following two lists:

Things that taste good:

Fresh blueberries
Yunnan tea
Stilton cheese
Stayman apples
Rhone wine
Home-grown tomatoes
Whole-grain bread

Things that don’t taste good:

Sewing machines
Mortar
Plastic bags
Kerosene
Light bulbs
Bureaucrats
Aluminum siding

Now observe that we could, without altering the lists at all, change the headings above the lists to “Things That Are Healthy to Eat” and “Things That Are Not Healthy to Eat.” The correspondence is perfect. Things that taste good are things that are healthy to eat. It follows, of course, that the things that taste best are the healthiest to eat.

The Darwin Diet, which Dr. Boli has named for his fondly remembered friend, consists, therefore, in making use of the adaptations by which Natural Selection has ensured the survival of our species. To follow the Darwin Diet, one must restrict one’s food intake to things that taste good, ruthlessly rejecting everything that does not taste good. By this entirely natural method the body may be brought to the peak of health.

Much more work remains to be done. The principle has been established, but Dr. Boli will not rest until he has been able to compile a list of the things that, according to this revolutionary discovery, are healthiest for the body. He has an Ethiopian restaurant on his research schedule this evening, and an Italian bakery tomorrow morning, and he will be keeping careful notes.

THE SINGULAR ASPECT.

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In honor of the thirteenth anniversary of his migration to the World Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting the first story he ever published in electrical form.

A MAN WALKED into Abelard’s office the other day and announced that he had a singular case. Our morning had begun with tea, as usual, but I had hardly poured the first cup when the office door opened and the man with the singular case walked in.

It is well known by now that Magnus Abelard deals only with singular cases, so everyone who walks through the door announces that he has a singular case. Nevertheless, the door is, by Abelard’s explicit command, never locked; and this case really did turn out to be singular. I have taken the trouble, therefore, to record it among Abelard’s most remarkable achievements, in the hope that the record will serve as an imperishable monument to Abelard’s genius.

We began with the usual formalities. I informed our visitor that he would have ten minutes to convince Abelard of the singularity of his case. I also explained the payment schedule in the unlikely event that Abelard did pronounce his case singular. Abelard did not speak during the proceedings; he never does speak until some singular aspect of the case has caught his attention.

“Mine is a singular case,” the visitor began as I took notes. “Indeed, it is so singular that I have not spoken with anyone about it until now. I have lived for ten years in fear for my life—a fear all the worse for being secret. I have not dared reveal it to anyone, and yet it eats at me, day after day, hour after hour, like a kind of parasitic creature that gnaws but cannot consume.”

“You have nine and a half minutes,” I reminded him.

“Ten years ago, my wife, to whom I had been married only a month, announced that she had a few purchases to make, and declared her intention to walk to the drug store on Murray Avenue. She would be gone for about an hour, she said. I bid her farewell; she walked out the door; and that, Mr. Abelard, was the last time I ever saw her.

“I shall not weary you with the details of my inquiries. Over the years, I have found opportunities to interrogate our neighbors and the clerks at the drug store. From their statements, I have discovered that my wife did indeed reach the drug store; that she left and turned right on Murray Avenue; that she was last seen walking on Phillips, the very street on which we lived, in the direction of our house. But she never arrived.”

Here the visitor stopped; and, as Abelard was still silent, I knew the narration had not interested him enough for him to take the case. It was therefore incumbent upon me to disappoint our visitor.

“Disappearances such as the one you describe,” I told him, “while exceedingly regrettable, are not extraordinarily uncommon. Perhaps the city police, or a less specialized private agency, might be able to render you some assistance.”

Our visitor sat back in his chair and sighed. “I have not yet revealed to you,” he said slowly and quietly, “the singular aspect of the case.”

Abelard leaned forward. This statement had at least caught his attention.

The visitor took a deep breath, appeared to think for a moment, and then continued, picking his words with care and deliberation.

“About an hour after my wife left, a woman entered my house by the front door. She entered boldly—as if she owned the place, you might say. Now here is the singular and remarkable thing: in every particular, this woman was the exact image of my missing wife. Even her clothes were the same as the ones my wife had been wearing when she left. She proceeded to make herself quite at home; she treated me as though she were actually my wife.”

Here the visitor leaned forward and lowered his voice about a fifth. “For ten years, Mr. Abelard, that woman has inhabited my house, living in every respect as though she were my wife. For ten long years, I have lived in fear, utterly convinced that this woman in my house is somehow deeply involved in the mystery, and afraid even to sleep at night—afraid I might fall prey to the same sinister forces that took my beloved wife from me. The fear is tearing at my soul, sir, and I have at last resolved that, whatever the cost to myself, I must unravel this mystery.”

A moment of silence followed; then Abelard spoke for the first time.

“And how exactly was it that you knew this woman was not really your wife, returned from her shopping trip?”

The visitor started forward; then he sank slowly back in his chair, staring straight ahead.

“Good lord,” he whispered hoarsely.

Abelard observed him closely.

“Good lord,” the visitor said again, somewhat louder this time. “I never thought of that.”

He sat upright in his chair with a new air of confidence. “Well, sir, you certainly have earned your reputation. I never would have imagined that a mystery of such devilish complexity could be unraveled in such a short time. I shall certainly be recommending your agency. You may expect a check from me in the morning, although you must be aware that no remuneration could ever express my profound gratitude. I bid you good day, and once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Abelard watched him walk out of the office with a jaunty confidence that had been completely foreign to him only minutes before.

For some time after, Abelard was silent, as though lost in thought. At last he turned to address me.

“Perhaps,” he said, “we ought to reconsider the idea of locking the door.”

ASK DR. BOLI.

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Dear Dr. Boli: As a young voter doing my best for the country I love, I must confess that I was a little confused by the choices that faced me in this, my first election. Do you think you could help me understand the positions of the various parties? —Sincerely, Britney, a student at Pennsylvania University of California.

Dear Madam: It gives Dr. Boli great pleasure to assist a young patriot in understanding the mysteries of the democratic process. He hopes that his explanations will help you and many other young voters make responsible choices in future elections.

The Democratic Party believes that most problems can be solved by government.

The Republican Party believes that most problems can be solved by government, provided that the government is run by Republicans.

The Tea Party believes that most problems can be solved by government, and specifically the problem of too much government.

The Libertarian Party believes that government should be operated for the benefit of a small privileged class of business leaders.

The Socialist Workers Party believes that government should be operated for the benefit of a small privileged class of union leaders.

The Green Party believes that nothing should be red or blue.

The Bull Moose Party believes that it is still 1912.

Dr. Boli is confident that, armed with this information, you will be in a very good position to make responsible political decisions in the future. He encourages you not to lose heart if the party you choose sometimes loses at the polls, assuring you, from the point of view of his uniquely long experience, that the end result will be much the same either way.

THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF.

From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.

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Once there was a boy who had a keen pair of eyes and a particularly loud and piercing voice, so he was employed by a syndicate of sheep-owners to watch over their flock. “And if you see a wolf among the sheep,” the leader of the syndicate told him, “you shout ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ at the top of your lungs.”

The boy solemnly swore that he would keep a careful eye out and warn everyone the moment he saw a wolf, and he went to work watching the sheep with unflagging vigilance.

He had been watching most of the afternoon with nothing to report, when suddenly a wolf sprang out of the underbrush and, to his horror, began devouring one of the sheep.

“Wolf! Wolf!” the boy cried at the top of his lungs.

Immediately the leader of the syndicate came running.

“Look here, boy,” he said sternly, as the wolf continued his meal, “what are you trying to do? Do you want the whole village to think we don’t know how to take care of our sheep?”

“But the wolf is eating them!”

“That’s no excuse for such an unseemly ruckus. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” And the leader of the syndicate turned and walked away, leaving the wolf to eat mutton until he was satisfied.

The next day the boy was in position again, and once again the wolf leaped out of the brush and began tearing a sheep to pieces.

“Wolf! Wolf!” the boy cried in his piercing soprano.

The leader of the syndicate came running even faster than he had the previous day.

“Now, what did I tell you?” he demanded angrily. “You’re making the whole village think there are wolves about! Do you think that makes them feel secure?”

“But the wolf is right there,” the boy explained.

“I don’t want to be bothered with details! Now, not another peep from you, or there will be serious consequences.” And he turned and stomped away angrily, once again leaving the wolf to eat sheep until he could eat no more.

The next day, the boy was in his place, and once again the wolf leaped out of the shrubbery and began gobbling up sheep.

The boy was not at all certain what to do. He seriously considered just letting the wolf go about his business unmolested. But in the end he remembered that he had sworn a solemn oath to watch over the sheep, and he did what he knew was his duty.

“Wolf! Wolf!” the boy cried.

This time the leader of the syndicate simply called the police and had the boy arrested, and he is now serving six years in juvenile detention for disturbing the peace.

The wolf, meanwhile, ate all the sheep at his leisure; but the members of the syndicate decided that they had never liked sheep very much and were better off without them.

Moral: A comfortable lie beats immoderate truth any old day.