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Jewish World Review
Oct. 4, 2006
/ 12 Tishrei, 5767
Award to the wise
Throughout the calendar year the American public is treated to the release of
various lists of prominent people who have distinguished themselves in some way.
Just a few examples are the Forbes 400 richest Americans, People Magazine's 25 Most
Intriguing People and the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. To date the only person with
the distinction of making all three at the same time is Martha Stewart.
My favorite accolade, however, would have to be the so-called "Genius Grants"
awarded annually to a couple dozen Americans deemed by the MacArthur Foundation to
have shown "exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in
the future." After all, what's not to like about a well-funded organization that
unexpectedly calls you up to say, "We think you're a genius and oh, by the way,
here's $500,000 to blow any way you like."
So how are MacArthur fellows selected? Unfortunately, I don't know. The process is
undertaken in complete secrecy, following the example set by the obscure evaluation
methods involved in choosing such other eminent personages as Supreme Court
nominees, the Pope and contestants on Survivor.
As a result, the presumptive geniuses have no idea they're even under consideration
until they receive a phone call out of the blue with the good news. And while I'm
sure recipients are always pleasantly surprised, this system seems dangerously open
to abuse. I mean, you know how self-absorbed some of those academic types can be.
And while I'd hate to plant an idea in the heads of any overworked and
underappreciated graduate students who may be looking for a way to get back at their
dictatorial advising professors, but could you imagine a better prank phone call?
"Hello, is this Dr. Nasenhaare, of the Harvard University physics department? Yes,
this is Haywood Jablome, executive director of the MacArthur Foundation. I'm calling
to inform you that you've been selected for one of this year's Genius grants. We
were very impressed with your work in the area of subatomic particle retrieval,
specifically with regard to all the particles you were able to retrieve from your
nose during office hours when you thought no one was looking. Psych!"
With such a secretive selection process, pretty much anyone can feel they have a
shot at making the cut. Which explains my shock and disappointment when this year's MacArthur fellows were announced and my name was not listed. And
yes, I did call the foundation to make sure there hadn't been some sort of
So what makes me think that anyone would ever consider me for the title of "genius,"
particularly in light of the fact that on more than one occasion I have driven away
from a self-serve gas station with the pump still attached to my car? It's a fair
question. For one thing, this past year I've been barraged with direct references to
my apparent genius, often from complete strangers. I can't count how many times
people have said to me, "The door is marked 'Exit Only,' genius," or, "Hey genius,
the toaster doesn't work unless it's plugged in," as well as, ironically enough, "
'Genius' is only spelled with one 's,' genius."
I guess I may have also deluded myself into believing I was in the running because I
could really use the $500,000. The money is offered with no strings attached, and is
intended to help relieve recipients of financial concerns because, according to the
Foundation website, "we believe that talented people are in the best position to
decide how to allocate their time and resources to follow their creative vision." In
my case, it will be difficult for me to follow my creative vision and keep churning
out these columns if I don't come up with the substantial sum I owe to my bookie,
Vinnie "The Tenderizer" Stromboli, who has threatened to send over a few of his
associates to, as he put it, "make mashed potatoes out of my fingers."
So my genius may go unrecognized for another year. And as a result, I may also lose
the use of my hands for a while. But why dwell on the negatives when there are so
many other, as yet unannounced, tributes to shoot for? Assuming I can learn how to
type with my nose, I should definitely be on the short list for a Pulitzer Prize for
commentary. The selection committee can't possibly have missed this column's many
courageous stances, whether railing against the lackluster quality of what passes
for fortune cookie "fortunes" these days or my call for mandatory paper-based
ballots to restore the nation's faith in the voting process on American Idol, to
name just a couple.
And failing that, well, I'm sure I can count on a groundswell of reader support for
my run at People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive title.
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JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
08/24/06:Phrased and Confused
08/09/06: We're Gonna Party Like it's $19.99
07/19/06: Just Singing in the Brain
05/24/06: Who says you can't go home again?
05/11/06: When nightly news stories go off script
04/26/06: Cents and sensibility: A thought for your pennies
03/16/06: The day the Muzak died
02/23/06: Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
02/15/06: Today's toys: Where learning means earning
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner
Richard Z. Chesnoff
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