THIS is a true story.
In this university, known slightly more for its distaste for religion and all forms of orthodoxy than for its scholarship, water bottles line up along one corridor.
For a while, it was assumed that this was an art installation making a political statement whose profundity was not as clear as the water or liquid filling the plastic bottles.
The mall-weary suspected a commerce-oriented reason behind the march of water bottles, which remained undismantled long after the usual span of novelty stirred up by advocacy or advertising.
Finally, when a class was desperate enough to try to postpone the submission of a paper no one had made a decent stab at, a student asked her professor if he knew the story behind the silent brigade of bottles in the corridor.
The professor was once a student walking down the same corridor. He saw through the guile and collected first the papers, which was generally only worth recycling to save the environment (the paper, not the ideas on them).
Then the teacher explained what janitors and other specialists at keeping sanitation and order know: the bottles, with contents so clear they serve as mirrors, prevent the cats from peeing in the corridor. No cat will desecrate its own image, which it loves next to nothing.
The university, aside from harboring atheists and moon-worshipping liberals, also supports a growing population of cats, who did everything that the humans did except flunk courses or acquire intellectual pretensions.
Lest the reader thinks the morale of this tale is that a university education can still surprise, I want to share another true story. It concerns a moth, some very learned ignoramuses, and a barefoot savant.
Among southern upland families, some scientists introduced a fast-growing, high-yielding, commercially desirable vegetable. The farmers were convinced to shift from planting corn for their sustenance and try the vegetable in the hope that their first harvest will turn them into millionaires, their children into professors, who can then whip these pushy outsiders for forcing the ill-educated poor to test their ideas for them.
Predictably, it did not happen as everyone expected it to happen. The trial sowing did not just fail to produce a bumper harvest of millionaires (not even the dwarf variety), it did not even reach the budding stage.
The learned gentlemen immediately saw the problem: a diamond back moth whose eggs, deposited on the leaves, unleashed ravenous larvae that instantly ate up everything protruding from the ground.
Finding the solution, though, was a little tougher. Being civilized, the scientists did not bombard the plantations with chemicals. Why poison the farmers, who were very good unpaid lab rats for experiments in agricultural science and social justice?
So the men of science tried, gave up and tried again many forms of biological warfare to defeat the moths that were freeloading on their precious crop. Nothing worked. The moths kept flying around and reproducing. Their young ate up everything as soon as they got out of their cocoons. The hungry farmers looked at the frustrated scientists and wondered if they could swap sides.
Fortunately for everyone, a farmer found a way to level up with the moths. The savants immediately descended on his tiny farm and watched as the farmer, who never finished first grade, coated the leaves of his plants with soapy water left from his wife’s washing.
Someone wrote a paper and published it in a scientific journal. He did not remember the farmer’s name. The foreign aid donors were happy to disburse funds to distribute seedlings of the now impervious vegetable, and even happier to report that the farmers remained poor and dependent on foreign aid and consultants who will never let farm soil touch their pallid soles.
These stories have a moral, believe it or not. Cats learn, humans maybe. (Written to honor the victims of New Year revelry.)
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 6, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column