smason edit.jpg (23187 bytes)Look At It This Way
by Dr. Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things
In new ways



Doing Dumb Stuff

Archeologists occasionally dig up strange artifacts that make no sense. Carefully crafted in gold or silver, they obviously served some significant purpose but what was it? You can see many such relics in museums labeled religious totem or sex fetish...a good guess but who really knows? And if you think about it, how many equally strange beliefs and traditions do you suppose went along with those artifacts? Perhaps that's part of being human...doing dumb stuff.

Even today, we maintain lots of weird ideas and insist on counterproductive practices. For example, why doesn't the United States get on the ball and adopt the metric system? There was an attempt 30 or so years ago when, I suspect, some government official's brother-in-law was in the highway sign business because I recall not being able to drive 10 feet without seeing a posting for the next town in both miles and kilometers. Said brother-in-law must have either gone out of business or - more likely - retired on all the federal funding he received because one day all the signs were gone. The nation didn't go metric except for just a few exceptions. Because liters are smaller than quarts, all the wineries converted to the less-bang-for-the-same-buck packaging. Soft drink companies then followed suit. So here we sit, an industrial nation in the 21st Century, clinging to a 12-inch foot based on some dead king's shoe size while rejecting a system of weights and measures that makes sense and can be taught even to dummies in about half an hour.

And here's another example: How many times have you seen a row of clocks in a travel agency set for New York,London and Tokyo? So what good are they if they don't tell morning from afternoon? As it happens, I just got back from Australia and my watch is still on Sydney time but I don't know if it's AM or PM. I once phoned a guy at what I erroneously thought was 3 p.m. and he hasn't spoken to me since. So how difficult would it be to convert to a 24-hour clock?

But now for an even bigger mystery: How many minutes will you spend on a plane if you fly from 3:55 in the afternoon until 10:30 at night? The reason that the answer isn't readily apparent is because somebody somewhere decided that time should be divided into units of twelve. Why, when we have ten fingers and ten toes and have spent tens of thousands of years thinking in terms of tens, should this be? Why not take one complete rotation of the Earth and divide it into a thousand units with a hundred of those hours and a hundred of those minutes and a hundred of those seconds? How do you think we wound up with the length of the meter? The distance from the equator to the pole was put down and then divided by ten again and again. This would, in one fell swoop, eliminate the need for AM/PM and make computing the number of minutes you're going to have to spend on a plane as simple as making change for a dollar.

Look At It This Way

Daylight Saving is my final example of Doing Dumb Stuff...pushing and pulling all your clocks back and forth every six months. Despite all the talk about being good for farmers, it isn't. They operate according to the sun and couldn't care less what time you say it is. Ditto for just about every other group that's supposed to gain some benefit from making believe their watch is an hour off. This is almost as archaic a notion as when the Pope - who's infallible in case you didn't know - insisted that the Sun goes around the Earth and not vice versa. I read the other day about how it was possible to go through eight time changes driving through certain towns between the western boarder of Illinois and Ohio's eastern edge. Isn't it time we gave up such nonsense? What are future archeologists going to think of a civilization that sported a 12-hour Rolex on a 24-hour planet?

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