February 28, 1996
Do you ever find things that make you wonder where civilization is headed? Yesterday I was digging around in my file cabinet looking for some ketchup, and I found one of those little packets of salt that they sometimes give you at fast food places. I’ve seen some idiotic things, but this one pretty well topped them: instructions on a packet of salt! It said, "Tear along top. Add to food to improve taste." Who the hell came up with this? Who said, "You know, not everybody will know what salt is for"? And why didn’t they stop to think that anyone who doesn’t know what salt is for will probably not be literate in the first place? Or were they expecting aliens, who had learned our language by monitoring our TV and radio broadcasts, to be unfamiliar with the Ways of Salt? I can see this guy sitting in Salt Lake City saying to himself, "I must take time out from my monumental History of Salt to make sure people who go to fast food restaurants don’t misuse it." Yes, this man whose History of Salt goes from the days when Roman soldiers were paid with salt (how he would like to have been one of them!) to the present, and even contains a final chapter in which he looks hopefully to the future when everyone will have a proper electrolyte balance.
Pardon me for that obligatory rant. Let’s not dwell on salt anymore, and I promise to even avoid speculating about why pepper didn’t have the same instructions. Instead, enjoy two more little bits that will make you wonder even more about where society is headed.
1960’s Arithmetic test: "A logger cuts and sells a truck load of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fiths of that amount. What is his profit?"
70’s New Math test: "A logger exchanges a set (L) of lumber for a set (M) of money. The cardinality of set M is 100. The set C of production costs contains 20 fewer points. What is the cardinality of set P of profits?"
80’s education reform version: "A logger cuts and sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost is $80, and his profit is $20. Find and circle the number 20."
90’s version: "An unenlightened logger cuts down a beautiful stand of 100 old growth trees in order to make a $20 profit. Write an essay explaining how you feel about this as a way of making money. Topic for discussion: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?"
IDEA FOR THE DAY: We have enough youth, how about a fountain of SMART?
One of the primary reasons cat flaps are called cat flaps is that they’re flaps specifically designed for cats, as opposed to dogs, or giraffes, or humans. All of this became abundantly clear to teenager Jason Evans, of Eastleigh, Hampshire, when he recently spent six hours stuck in one after using it in an attempt to get into his house. He was eventually cut free by firemen. In Germany, meanwhile, Gunther Burpus remained wedged in his front-door cat flap for two days because passers-by thought he was a piece of installation art. Mr Burpus, 41, of Bremen, was using the flap because he had mislaid his keys. Unfortunately he was spotted by a group of student pranksters who removed his trousers and pants, painted his bottom bright blue, stuck a daffodil between his buttocks and erected a sign saying ‘Germany Resurgent, an Essay in Street Art. Please give Generously’. Passers-by assumed Mr Burpus’ screams were part of the act and it was only when an old woman complained to the police that he was finally freed. "I kept calling for help," he said, "but people just said ‘Very good! Very clever!’ and threw coins at me.