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Of mice and men 

SWM into garbage, carcasses, twitching. Nonsmoker. Genetically altered to remain faithful. No psychos.

Based on the third sentence, a lot of women might answer that ad eagerly, never dreaming the acronym stands for Single White Mouse.

That's not as scary as the fact that mice really are getting fixed up on dates. While you and I have to Helen Keller our way through the single life, mice have highly paid, Ivy League-educated behavioral scientists performing Chuck Woolery detail on their behalf. It's enough to make anyone want to climb into a big plastic ball and run until they get stuck under the couch and die there.

But they had to fix up the mice. According to the San Jose Mercury News, it was part of an experiment that will help scientists understand "conditions like autism and ... schizophrenia where there is an impairment in the ability to form intimate connections." This seems to imply that fear of intimacy is one foundation garment on which rests the big, crazy ball gown of mental illness. It's a relieving insight. If your guy doesn't want to snuggle or even sit still for five minutes you can think, "Mmm-kay, 'Rain Man,'" and know that it's not you. His DNA just contains the basic ingredients for fruitcake.

Chemical dependency

The reason science played yenta to a bunch of vermin is that male rodents are divided into two types: sluts and stay-at-homes. This behavior is differentiated by a single long strand of DNA. For the experiment, the loyalty gene in monogamous voles was implanted into their sleazebucket cousins, the mice.

To see whether it worked or not, "they were set up on dates." One imagines heavy-eyed lab assistants, wearing those barbecue aprons that say "For this I went to college?" passing notes back and forth between cages: "Do you like Squeaky? Check yes or no." But amazingly, a moral makeover took place. The spliced mice became bigger family men than Clark Griswald. They aped the voles, "bonding with their mates," and not chasing everything in a tiny skirt.

Really, it's one of those great '50s sci-fi brain-transplant movies come to life, and it suggests that even very complicated behavior, the stuff we think is dictated by childhood, environment or self-esteem, is really just chemical. It sounds good first crack out of the gate. After all, it could be possible one day to weed out cruelty, selfishness and whatever deformed gene it is that makes people talk on the cell phone while they drive.

But it kind of sucks, too. If chemicals are the reason we act the way we do, then what happens to blame? Guilt? Finger-pointing? It all goes out the window. And where's the fun in that? If someone knows it's in their programming to be an ass, then you can't say, "You're such an ass," and make it have any impact at all. It's like saying, "God, you're all covered with skin" -- it's utterly meaningless. If judgmental name-calling becomes obsolete I don't know what I'm going to do for a hobby.

Scientists were quick to subvert over-concern about the implications of the report, pointing out that "mice aren't men." Just because you can make rat boys angelic with DNA transplants doesn't mean frat boys would respond the same way. Human male sexual behavior is more complex than that of rats, contend the vermin yentas. Yes, you might say, it's worse, because they can speak.

Still, don't be surprised if once word gets around, you start to hear stories involving "a vole, a pair of jeweler's scissors and a glue gun." Since women most often complain that men are emotionally unavailable and incapable of commitment, the answer would seem to be getting some of the DNA from the loyal vole men, splicing it on to the unfaithful rat men, and viola, a world of contented women, stay-at-home dads and the instant disappearance of Dr. Laura. Peace on earth.

Impure thoughts

I know a lot of women will want to revoke my estrogen for saying this, but I don't like the idea of starting a Habitrail for Humanity.

A world of loyal, pure Stepford Guys sounds as interesting as the day room in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The bastards are bastards, but there is something about them we like -- just look at Bill Clinton, an admitted rat and female favorite.

The attraction could be explained by something I heard on a nature show: "The deer isn't sleek and strong because the wolf is absent, but because the wolf is present." There's something to be said for the intrigue of never getting too comfortable.

When you're done with the wolves and want a nice vole, chemically installed virtue might seem like a great idea. But some lab-created "Clockwork Orange" freak would be kind of like having your faithful cousin deign to be your prom date. Surgically implanted loyalty would be a hollow victory. Gods, after all, demand that humans act decently of their own free will. I can't see why any woman's standards should be any lower than that.

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