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A Simian Simile, Perhaps?

June 01, 2003

Researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan, which knows a thing or two about monkeys and their cousins, recently completed DNA studies showing that chimpanzees are a lot like humans, genetically speaking. In fact, humans and chimpanzees share 99.4% of their DNA, they said. This disturbing news came on the tail of a 2002 report that in the DNA area, mice are 99% like humans; they are, however, much smaller and they rarely brush their teeth. What can people look forward to next in depressing genetic proximity, feral dogs?

Researchers suggest the genetic similarity is so strong that chimps should be reclassified into the genus Homo, meaning we're closely related, evolutionarily speaking. Two thoughts immediately come to mind: One, who cares? As long as the cage doors stay locked. And two, how do we check with chimpdom on its interest in being reclassified closer to us humans? Given humanity's inhumane track record through history, would any thoughtful ape dream of giving up free bananas and fake rocks to commute in the human world?

It's true, chimps and people have similarities. Both have thumbs, like hugging and procrastinate on chores. Both smile a lot, converse with neighbors and favor family groups where relatives share child care. Some of both like to sleep in the sun, while others climb a lot naked. Both overly criticize spouses and use sex as a weapon and relaxant. Both have poor posture. Male apes and male humans both refuse to read directions. Both look stupid in shorts. And both thought the "Planet of the Apes" remake did not match the original.

To test the theory that an infinite number of monkeys on a like number of typewriters would eventually produce literature rivaling Shakespeare, researchers at the University of Plymouth in England, which knows a thing or two about Shakespeare, put a working laptop in a monkey cage at Paignton Zoo this spring. Even before the first error message, angry monkeys began bashing the computer with a rock.

Eventually, monkeys including Elmo, Gum and Rowan played with the keyboard, especially the S key. They wrote lines and lines of SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS and cleverly dropped in an A, a J, an L and an M as a closing flourish. Over time they produced a magnificent piece of monkey literature. Though indecipherable to humans and apparently devoid of sex and murders, it drew laughs and handclapping from peers.

Of course, since monkeys are very clever, the seemingly meaningless SSSSSS work could be a trick, designed to keep humans at a distance, let them feel confident in their superiority for another century or so and keep the free bananas coming.

Elmo -- You'll blow the whole sssssecret. Be sssure to cut that lassst paragraph before sssending it to The Times. -- Rowan. A J L M

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