Feb 25, 2009

Fool me thrice...

I should confess that most of the following is unoriginal ranting. Smarter and funnier people than I have skewered classic stupidity like the Quarter Pounder decades ago. But, consider this a refresher course. 

Much as we should occasionally listen to ELO's Greatest Hits to prove how stupid and catchy the band was, we should periodically remind ourselves how ridiculous - and thus, fun - everyday life is.

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Sometimes I feel a little sorry for my kids - and not just because their father thinks Daffy Duck is a good role-model for crisis resolution.

It's about the world they're inheriting.
Swine-flu pandemics? Suitcase nukes? That stuff will sort itself out. No, I'm talking about the minutia - the stuff they ingest every day in the form of ads, government rules and school curricula.

Granted, kids don't have to remember that an acre is one furlong by one chain, but look at how little the system has improved. Most of us know that a 'two-by-four' is not really 2 inches by 4 inches. It's 1.5" by 3.5". (I guess if you're bucking the metric system, you might as well lie, too.) What we don't question is why there are inches at all.

On the first day of school in 1979, our grade-six class was issued our standard kit. In addition to the Pink Pearl eraser and HB pencil (the latter immediately sharpened and thrust into the former) we were presented with a brand-new wooden ruler that had
metric on it. It was fascinating. Not just because it introduced us to such now-arcane units as the "decimeter", but because it had a sharp metal edge, which heralded a new era of blade-related injuries.

It didn't help that I was in French-immersion against my will, but I believe this was the day I began to seriously mistrust my elders. I mean, nobody gave a pico-crap that 100 meters was also 10
decameters. I still wasn't trying out for track.

So here we are: thirty years since the acquisition of my ruler-shiv, and things are more confusing than a Cantonese episode of Lost.

Example: a friend of mine in waste-management (non-mafia division) routinely uses
kilograms per cubic yard as a unit. Let me say this: I have no problem with any system, so long as we agree on just one. Whether a nautical mile is 10 cables or a cubit is the length of the king's penis, let's just pick a lane.

They say Canadians use Fahrenheit when it's warm and Celsius when it's cold - this allows us to complain twice as often. If you like tricks, my wife has a handy conversion: "82 is 28 and 61 is 16"... which, although catchy, doesn't explain why our house 16 in the winter and 82 in the summer. I suggest a new paradigm: "If your husband can see his breath under the covers, stop twisting the thermostat like you were opening a jar of olives."

There's a quaint irreverence in using both modern and archaic systems. At it's extreme, geeky designers call it
steampunk. And you know as well as I do that somewhere, a grade six student is using his iMac on a desk with an inkwell.

So if metric and imperial can be roommates without the whole system collapsing, who should we actually evict? How about some of the liars?

Exhibit A:
The Quarter Pounder. Unlike the 'two-by-four', the Imperial stormtroopers actually got this one right. Healthy or not, that McPatty is 1/4 of a McPound. Four ounces. On the nose. But that's before frying. Why not call it the Thousand Pounder? After all, that's what the cow weighed. 

Exhibit B:
Coca Cola is marketed globally and recognized instantly by the mere shape of its bottle. You know, that narrow glass bottle that you can't buy anymore. Tsht! Clink! Ahhh!  It makes you feel like teaching the world to sing - right after staging a sit-in at at Kent State.  Although, to be fair, it's understandable that the world's biggest peddlers of fructose prefer to evoke an era when kids did not consider the SuperBigGulp to be stingy.

But Coca Cola has nothing on
Air Miles. You might be able to track down a glass Coke on eBay, but you certainly won't be strapping yourself into the plane they show on the card. Points or no, the last time this thing was airborne, the Nazis were playing hide and seek with the Ark of the Covenant. And what a magnificent era. Cramped, 30-hour flights on the acoustic equivalent of a flying lawnmower? Point me to the smoking section, Indy.

There comes a point, though, when the lies become indistinguishable from the stupidity. Note that FedEx has really put the pedal to the metal. Most of their vans now read "FedEx Express" (emphasis added). How fast is that, you ask? If the van were to turn on its headlights, would it go back in time? Would you be able to hear a PIN-number drop? "FedEx... Ex.When it absolutely, positively has to be in an alternate universe."

Then there's Amazon. Their CEO, Jeff Bezos once bragged on the Daily Show that Amazon Prime rewarded you with "free shipping" once you paid the $79 premium. [I'd like to say that he relayed this with a straight face, but if you've ever seen Bezos in interview, you know that this is physically impossible.] 

What could be more surreal than "free shipping" for $79? How about a book-churning juggernaut that's named after a depleted rainforest? That's what you call ballsy.

And finally... can we please do away with the "pre-tax price"? Why is it even remotely legal to say that something costs $19.99 when you have to part with $22.79 (in after-tax dollars) to acquire it?  

Mind you, if you're of the Aboriginal persuasion, I believe there's a tax loophole.  If only there were a way to avoid the metric system, too. I might consider asking someone about converting. 

Call me Dances With Scissors.


Note:
Apropos of all things metric, this is my 100th post!