Hearty congrats to Marla Spivak, the U of M scientist who got a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work with bees. I got stung on the mug by a stupid bee this weekend, and my face looked like Popeye after he'd chugged a can of spinach into one cheek. So I would support a genius grant for anyone who figured out a way to tell bees to CHILL OUT. Work some Doolittle on the guys and ask why we can't all get along.

That said, stories about the annual Genius Grants are a bit depressing. You thought this was your year. It's possible! You're at the gas station, and the bill is $19.87, and you give the clerk a $20 bill and 12 cents, and the clerk figures out you get a quarter back, and he's stunned, as are other people in the line. Whoa! How did you do that? It's like he has a calculator in his head! And then the last guy in line whips out his cell phone and whispers "I have a candidate. No, seriously. The man's a genius. He can arrange commercial transactions to get the smallest number of coins in change. Look, I've been following him around for weeks, I know what I'm talking about."

On the other hand, if you did win the award, you'd be paralyzed by inaction for the rest of your life. You'd bring doughnuts to the office, and people would look at the box, and see that half of them are peanut-covered, which no one wants, and someone would say "nice doughnuts ... genius." Everything would be like that. People would expect you to know things. What's the square root of Madagascar? How do you convert Fahrenheit to meters? You shrug, and they get downright mean. So they paid you $200,000 for what, exactly? Being a painter? Are you serious? What do you paint, bridges?

No, not worth it. Except for the money part. Still, I'm bitter and resentful -- sorry, I meant crestfallen and rueful. It's like you lost a contest you hadn't entered. You sink into a funk. You realize no award has ever gone to a funk-sinker, and this makes it even worse.

You brood: Do they really need that money? If they're so smart, they should be rich. But you never hear a recipient say "no thanks -- I've used my enormous brain to manipulate commodities markets for 10 years, and the amount of money you're offering wouldn't pay the monthly bills to trim my topiaries in the shape of theoretical atomic particles. The bills are high because the science is constantly changing on this subject. Give the money to someone who needs it."

Just kidding, Genius Committee! Ha, ha. Seriously, you guys do a wonderful thing. Philanthropy is a great deed. We used to have a millionaire around here who threw silver dollars to people. He got even more popular when he took them out of the rolls and didn't throw them so hard. I'm just wondering if you might come up with a program that gives everyone else a chance. It's always someone whose experimentation revealed that mice, when hooked up to electrodes and given small shocks, don't like it very much. Or someone who makes brilliant TV shows for HBO, like David Simon. Good choice, but I don't think he was paid in Bazooka Joe comics, if you know what I mean. No, you could hand out some grants for absolute idiots, because they don't get enough press coverage. Such as:

• $150 to the guy who cashes in all his lottery tickets and buys more lottery tickets

(payable in lottery tickets).

• 67 cents to every YouTube commenter in the world.

• 32 cents to everyone who actually reads them.

• $1.98 to everyone who approved a mortgage for a guy wearing a suit made of newspapers and who asked for bus fare during the application process.

And so on. People would get the grant, be humiliated by the glare of publicity and change their ways. Just save some cash for the guy who blew his chances of ever getting an award with an ignorant, churlish article that sounded like pouting. Give him 10 bucks. No, make it $12.50. Last time I checked, the price of peanut doughnuts went way up. Don't know why! What do I look like, a ...

Don't answer that.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858