Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Monday, April 26, 2004
Friday, April 23, 2004
Saturday, April 17, 2004
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.
Friday, April 16, 2004
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
An ugly rumor credits Benjamin Franklin with the idea of daylight savings time. This is a foul calumny against a great American. Recent research by French scholars at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris suggests that the infamous Marquis de Sade was responsible for the idea. An examination of an early draft of Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, a draft recently donated to the Bibliotheque by an anonymous German named Schmidt, clearly puts the idea at page 167, between the Marquis’ recipe for brownies and instructions on how to play “Frere Jacques” on the strumpet. The idea appears in the manuscript as a way of allowing the Marquis, a late sleeper, to pick up streetwalkers during the daylight hours. The Marquis originally proposed the concept of daylight savings time to the government of the Bourbon monarchy, then to the government of the First Republic, and then to the government of the First Empire; all of them threw the Marquis into prison. Napoleon tossed Sade into a lunatic asylum, where he spent the rest of his life staging avant-garde plays and appearing in movies with Kate Winslet.
Given the provenance of this vile concept one would expect that no true blue American would ever try to implement it; daylight savings time, like many French ideas, such as deconstructionism and eating garden pests, seemed too irredeemably silly to the Founding Fathers to be really dangerous, and one would think that the imposition of such a depraved idea stood no chance in the highly moralistic American marketplace of ideas. If you thought this, you were wrong. American politicians, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to abandon their usual caution vis-à-vis odd French ideas, and in state after state passed daylight savings time into law, with the exception, as mentioned, of Indiana and Arizona. I don’t know how these two states managed to avoid jumping on the bandwagon, but they did, and now people from out of state complain when they call these states because they are an hour ahead or behind, as the case may be. But daylight savings time, I fear, is going nowhere. Having passed this foolish notion into law, politicians would be loath, as if they were not loathed enough as it is, to admit they made a mistake; they don’t want to explain why the emperor not only has no clothes, but is falling asleep as well. And let’s face it, no politician wants to admit that he swindled his constituents out of an hour’s sleep simply to get a contribution from the coffee lobby. That wouldn’t be right.