Sir: It is univerally agreed, and adopted as a principle thoughout our legislation and the court system, that no bad things should ever happen. Therefore, when bad thngs do happen, it is our first and most pressing duty to determine responsibility, so that the guilty parties may be held accountable.

Now, I have been analyzing the news for some time, and I may lay claim to a fair amount of personal experience of my own, so I am in a position to speak with some authority. It has become clear through my researches that one party in particular is responsible for more of the bad things that happen in our city, and almost certainly in the entire world, than any other agent. I will not shirk my duty: when I have discovered unequivocal evidence that this party is guilty, I will allow no timorousness or fear of reprisal to cloud my judgment and stand in the way of my speaking the truth. The agent responsible for more bad things in the world than any other is gravity.

Consider the notorious Fern Hollow Bridge collapse. Making every allowance for poor maintenance, and without ignoring potential design flaws, it is clear that the primary agent in the collapse was gravity. This is true in spite of the fact that the entire bridge was nothing but a machine designed to resist gravity. Think of the millions of dollars that were wasted on that ultimately fruitless endeavor!

Just yesterday I tripped and fell on the sidewalk, and my knee yet preserves the memory of that unhappy event in the form of a somewhat painful scrape. Again, making every allowance for the other circumstances, including the uneven brick surface of the sidewalk and the fact that I was reading a very funny story about my second cousin’s cat on Facebook at the time, it is still true that without the agency of gravity I would not have fallen. I would have remained suspended in the air until I had found the sidewalk with my feet again, and then I would have continued on my way.

Some charitable but mistaken souls may object that there is much to be said in favor of gravity, that its benefits outweigh its risks, and that we are better off with it than without it. But this flies in the face of all legal principle. As a community, we have decided that mistakes and tragedies must not be tolerated. We have a zero-tolerance policy for bad things. Are we to make an exception merely because the culprit has some good qualities as well? Do we pardon serial killers who are kind to their mothers? Is an embezzler let off the hook because he gave a quarter to a street musician? Do we tolerate rain merely because the same clouds gave us pleasant shade? No, we must stick to our principles. No matter what the cost to us in the short term, gravity must be held responsible, or the forces of nature will think they can get away with whatever they like.

This is why I have introduced Bill No. 2023-B-954.88G, entitled, An Ordinance to Prevent Tragedy and Loss Through the Agency of Natural Forces, in the city council. I believe we have enough votes to pass the bill, and Mayor Gainey has promised to sign it, although we did more or less leave him with the impression that it had something to do with transit improvements in Upper Lawrenceville. So don’t get too specific with him when you remind him of his promise. But please do write your own representatives on city council if you are not in my district, and if you could leave your note attached to a six-pack of Duke outside your council representative’s office, that will probably help a lot.

This is only a start. I hope our legislation will serve as a model for action at the state and even federal level. But at least we are making that start. We are showing gravity that we will not stand aside and let it have its way with our best-laid plans. And once we have accomplished that, we shall have a precedent to rely on when we train our sights on momentum.

—Stacey Whatsername
City Council, 11th District


Our readers seem to be interested in the notion of cultural neoteny, so Dr. Boli will proceed with his planned series of articles, publishing another one every so often when he has nothing else to say.

But first, a possibly related phenomenon was brought up by our frequent correspondent “James the lesser,” who asks, “how often do you hear someone whistling to themselves? The good Doctor is old enough to remember the art.”

Indeed, Dr. Boli is a practitioner of the art, though he keeps an alto recorder, otherwise known as an English flute, next to the desk for occasions when more advanced forms of whistling are required.

But it is not hard to guess why whistling is nearly extinct. Here is a sociological experiment you can perform yourself, as long as the ethics committee doesn’t hear about it. In fact, it can be made into a kind of competitive game. Simply ask friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers, “What is your favorite song?” Once you have received the answer, “follow up” (as the journalists say) with the question, “Why is that your favorite song?” If we are playing this as a game, the winner is the first person who finds as much as a single subject who mentions anything at all about the music rather than the lyrics. It may take quite a while to finish this game, but the winning strategy would probably be to conduct one’s interrogations in retirement homes noted for a high centenarian population. For people under the century mark, the purpose of a song is to convey an idea, the music being a sort of unfortunate necessity without which the words are less effective.

Does this phenomenon have something to do with the juvenilization of culture? Possibly, although Dr. Boli would be more inclined to say that it is the ultimate triumph of American puritanism. A century ago, the average educated American sneered at the Methodist fanatics who insisted that the only legitimate music was the stuff listed under “8787D” or “CM” in the metrical index to your standard hymnal. Today the average educated American has become one of those Methodist fanatics. Art must have a practical function, or it is not only useless but evil. Music by itself has no function. Therefore the only acceptable music is that which, by accompanying and emphasizing words, makes it easier to convey useful discourse. The idea of an “instrumental,” as songs without words were called in the first half of the twentieth century, is nonsense to a puritan, and whistling is a kind of instrumental performance without an instrument.


Neoteny is the persistence of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. It is a useful term in biology, and one could hardly talk about axolotls without it. Many evolutionary biologists believe that the human form is the result of neoteny: we preserve traits into adulthood that are found only in the juvenile phases of other primate species, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and European royalty. We are apes who failed to grow up.

Dr. Boli finds this term so useful that he would like to apply it to the arts of civilization as well. Although a few anthropologists and whatnot have used the phrase “cultural neoteny” to describe various aspects of human behavior, they have used it sparingly and inconsistently. We may therefore regard the term as up for grabs.

Cultural neoteny, then, as Dr. Boli defines it, is the persistence of behaviors formerly considered juvenile into adult culture and discourse. It seems to Dr. Boli, who takes a longer view of cultural history than some people do, that the twentieth century was the century in which the culture of the United States, and to a lesser extent Western Europe, and perhaps to a greater extent Japan, refused to grow up.

This process has been gradual, and some of the steps have been bigger leaps than others. We might say it began right after the First World War, when the Flaming Youth of the 1920s began to dictate what was profitable in entertainment. There was a great leap forward in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when perhaps for the first time in history the repudiation of adulthood was adopted as a stated principle by a large part of a generation. To be fair to that generation, the Nixon administration was not a good advertisement for adulthood. But the process has continued since that time, and a wholesale juvenilization of culture has resulted.

We propose, therefore, to deal with the phenomenon by noting some of its manifestations in a series of occasional articles. Here are some of the topics we have in mind:

  • Comic books and superhero movies consumed by adults
  • The interrogative tone in declarative discourse
  • The rise of the tragic backstory
  • Big rims and other trends in automotive design
  • The loss of honorifics and the abandonment of surnames

Why begin with this announcement, rather than just shove the first article out there? Well, for three reasons. First, Dr. Boli has not yet written the first article. Second, the term “cultural neoteny” is likely to require some explanation, at least if we wish to be understood. If we wish to publish an article in a sociological journal, it is probably all the better if we write complete gibberish, but Dr. Boli can manage only incomplete gibberish at best. Third, it gives our readers a chance to make suggestions. Have you noticed, among your adult acquaintances, any behaviors or tastes that you consider egregiously juvenile? This is your chance to document your observations and push back the frontiers of science.


“Think ahead” is the motto of the construction company that makes holes and trenches in our streets. Think ahead for quality, think ahead for safety.

Always moving forward.


Sir: It seems to me that there are entirely too many people these days who take trees for granted. Trees don’t grow on trees, you know. What I mean is, you can’t just plant a seed and have a tree pop out of the ground. It’s obvious just from looking at the things that each one of those trees had to be crafted by dedicated artists, and the amazing thing is that they make each one by hand, even in our mechanical age. You can tell because each tree is different. Imagine the skill that went into carving and assembling each one of those artistic masterpieces! Now you see why I say we shouldn’t be taking trees for granted. And don’t even get me started on grass! —Sincerely, Ruby Shadwhistle, Arbor Day Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.


In two installments (the first and the second) we made it all the way through to the end of The Beekeeper, but we promised to deal with the lingering implications of the book before sending it off on its way. We were, you recall, asked to “place this copy in a space for others to read.” We were thinking of leaving it on the streetcar, but it is very difficult to lose a book on a Pittsburgh streetcar. Some kind passenger will inevitably pick it up and say, “Excuse me, you dropped your book,” and hand it back in such a way that it is impossible not to say “Thank you” and take it. One will have to be sneaky about it.

The best way to understand The Beekeeper is as a religious text. Not as a scripture; it is not as ambitious as that. It is more like those books you find at the Christian bookstore with pictures of sunsets on the covers, the ones that promise to deepen your faith through shallow platitudes. They are not aimed at atheists or Shintoists or Jains or even Episcopalians. They are aimed at Evangelical Christians who want to feel good about the particular kind of Christianity they already profess.

We are having the same experience when we read The Beekeeper. It is not written for heretics or infidels. It is written for people who already know that there is more wisdom in the latest management buzzword than in all the works of Plato, and its purpose is not to change their minds about anything but to strengthen their faith in what they already believe.

Perhaps the most obvious indication that we are dealing with a religion is that it is impossible for wisdom to be sought outside the cult. Imagine an evangelical Christian publishing a book for the Family Christian Stores in which his hero visits India and learns valuable wisdom from a Hindu philosopher. It would not fly. When he presented his book to his target demographic, the author would be tarred and feathered and made to watch music videos by contemporary Christian bands until he broke down and confessed that he had never truly been saved at all, after which he would be welcomed as a lost sheep and given a bath. But it would be quite all right if he went to India and learned the wisdom of Indian tradition from an Indian Baptist. The author would simply have to make sure to indicate that the Indian had been converted some time ago, or had come from the only Baptist family in his village, or something like that, and then his readers would trust him completely.

The same is true here. If the authors had suggested that a business-school graduate needed to learn something from a farmer—or from an airline pilot, or from a poet, or from a race-car driver, or from anyone who was not a member of the cult—they would be denounced as heretics and their book would go into the shredder, which it would break in a spectacular way because it is a hardcover book. Outside the business world there is no salvation. Business-school graduates tell farmers and airline pilots and poets and race-car drivers how to do their jobs, not the other way around. This is why it was vital to establish at the very beginning that the farmer was a retired CEO of a marketing company. If a certified businesswoman is going to learn from a wise mentor, it had better be someone with the authority to teach, and that means either a business-school graduate or an insect.

Where even generic nondenominational American Evangelical Christianity has an artistic advantage over the faith of the MBAs is in its willingness to admit that human beings fail. The standard drama of Evangelicalism requires a conversion story: the protagonist must reach the lowest possible point in order to accept Jesus as his or her personal savior and go through the triumphant conversion experience. This is drama. We can argue about the theology if you like, but there is the germ of entertainment here. Contrast that with Catherine’s conversion story. At the beginning she is very successful, and the only problem she has to deal with is too much success. At the end she is a little more successful and a lot more smug. That is the archetypal conversion experience of a business-school graduate. It does not make a good story.

One other difference between Evangelical Christianity and Evangelical MBAism is that MBAism is very clerical. There is a priesthood, and they are the only people who matter. At the beginning of the story, the problem Catherine identifies—the one that comes from too much success—is a problem of relations between managers and employees. The employees feel as though they don’t matter, as far as we can make out through the jargon: “our employees felt that our company values of recognition and connection were nonexistent between managers and employees.” From then on, Catherine deals only with managers, as if employees did not exist. The Leadership Team are the only people who have any effect on the world. All Catherine’s wise little emails from the farm are sent to the Leadership Team. When she comes back to work, she is greeted by the Leadership Team. She speaks only to the Leadership Team: she doesn’t say hello to the security guard on the way in or have a friendly word with the janitor. “The beekeeper is responsible for all the bees, their growth, and their ability to do the jobs that they were placed here to do,” she has told the Leadership Team in one of her posterworthy “quotes.” (We could write an essay on the use of the word “quote” to describe something you just made up yourself but are particularly proud of, but we have other dead horses to beat.) That means she, the Be Keeper of Be Keepers, never has to deal with anyone below the level of supervisor. If you do not have MBA after your name, you are a grey blob in the hallway.

It really sounds as though the MBA priesthood could learn a few lessons from the Popish Church, which, in spite of its top-down business model, has been trying in the past few years to emphasize the importance of the lay members. This is especially useful when there is a shortage of qualified management, but then of course there will never be a shortage of qualified management in the business world, because managers will determine their own qualifications in such a way that they already meet them.

So we have found The Beekeeper very instructive, though perhaps not in the way the authors intended. We have learned quite a bit about the religion of business, which is the only religion that matters in America, all the others being tolerated only so long as they do not inconvenience the official state religion. All that learning has taken us three days, but perhaps we have spared other readers quite a lot of work. If you should happen to receive a copy of The Beekeeper at your place of business, with a similar request to leave a review on line, you need not take all the trouble Dr. Boli has taken. Artemus Ward once printed this endorsement of his lectures attributed to “Old Abe”:

Dear Sir—I have never heard any of your lectures, but from what I can learn I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like.

Yours, respectably, O. Abe.

You could easily adapt that for an Amazon review.

Dr. Boli would like to conclude by making an offer to authors: if you have written a leadership fable that needs publicity, you can send it to the celebrated Publishing Empire, and if his secretary pulls it out of the stack on a day when Dr. Boli is feeling benevolent, Dr. Boli will review your book as thoroughly as he reviewed The Beekeeper.