The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, April 17, 2004

GIRAFFES HAVE NO VOCAL CORDS, which, given that they so seldom have anything very interesting to say, is probably just as well. I learned this particular bit of zoological trivia from a bottle cap, the bottle said cap was on having contained a popular brand of spearmint flavored iced tea. The brand shall remain nameless here, given that they haven’t paid me to advertise the company’s product (write a check, guys; I can be bought!). Bottle caps are much more educational than they used to be. When I was a boy bottle caps and box tops did little more than promote contests to win your very own super decoder ring or maybe some fake space monster tattoos that glowed in the dark and caused skin cancers in laboratory rats thirty years down the road. There was not too much you could do with a bottle cap, although Ted McGuire down at our local firehouse took a big piece of plywood and created a ten by twenty foot mosaic of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence for the Bicentennial using nothing but bottle caps (usually from beer bottles; Ted, may he rest in peace, was not a big fan of soft drinks) and chewing gum wrappers. That was something you don’t see everyday.

In any case, this iced tea has taught me that pigs sunburn, that mosquitoes have forty-seven teeth (of which more anon), and penguins are the only swimming bird that cannot fly; apparently all other swimming birds can fly either on their own or use their frequent flyer miles to get to Cancun for spring break. Now, can bottle caps be wrong? You bet they can. The dictum that mosquitoes have forty-seven teeth is not true. I have searched here and there, hither and yon, high and lo, who slapped me for being fresh, and I still can’t find any evidence that mosquitoes ever had teeth, much less forty-seven of them. Mosquitoes have two needle-like structures in their noses: one to pierce skin with and the other to drink the blood. They don’t have teeth; the little bastards are stabbing you, not gnawing on you. But then, all new educational technologies have these troubles; it’s part of the testing process.

For example, it took years for teachers to accept chalk over the hammer and chisel in the classroom; many teachers thought that students wouldn’t learn anything if there weren't actually chiseling their lessons into the schoolhouse walls, even if all that hammering and chiseling undermined the schoolhouse's structural integrity. People believed in education then and were willing to pay for it. Building contractors loved the hammer and chisel method as well, especially since an upscale school district could go through three or four schools in a year. Those days did not last; they never do, unfortunately. As always, an increasingly misinformed public's smallminded demands for lower school taxes took priority over educating children and school districts everywhere abandoned the hammer and chisel in favor of chalk. Not coincidentally, the price of building a new school skyrocketed after the introduction of chalk, as building contractors, used to building several schools a year, dropped the economy of scale practices they used up to that time and now charged huge amounts for a single school.

But even with its many problems the bottle cap may represent a great leap forward in education. For years teachers have tried, usually without success, to pass some of humanity’s collected wisdom on to the nation’s young. The reason for this failure is self-evident; the purpose of school, especially high school, is to keep kids off the streets and provide them with a social life in the idle hours between spells of watching television and going to the mall. If someone manages to beat the odds and actually acquires an education along the way so much the better; it keeps the parents from getting too suspicious.

But relief is on its way to the beleaguered taxpayer. These new educational technologies mean that more students can be educated in less space and for less money. The coming of the informational bottle cap, and its extension to box tops, beer cans, and candy bar wrappers, means that the thousands of teachers now working are no longer necessary and and can be replaced with minimum wage lunchroom workers. The American public will shortly see a return to the one room schoolhouse, that room being the cafeteria. SAT anxiety will become a thing of the past for high school seniors; rather than go through a labor intensive application process college admission offices will require a recent picture of the applicant; any kid who doesn’t look like a sumo wrestler can forget about getting into Harvard. Parents anxious about their child’s future will know that a skinny child is just not applying him or herself. The new technologies will effect other industries as well. Broccoli and spinach farmers will go bankrupt, as will many health food stores, as parents demand that their children eat more junk food. Medical supplies salesmen will get rich selling weight scales to America’s banks. Any student loan applicant who can see their feet without bending forward at the waist can forget about getting a loan. They are too great a risk. Yes, education will be a serious subject then, you’ll see…well, maybe not. To be honest, I’m still wondering whether or not educational bottle caps are a good thing. They could be, but I might be wrong. It’s been known to happen.


  • At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    They do have vocal chords, just rarely use them.


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