Here Today, Here Tomorrow

August 22, 2003

I understand fads in clothing. One day kids are wearing baggy pants that expose about eight inches of underwear; the next day they’re wearing really tight pants that they’ve pulled up just enough to show that they’ve stopped wearing underwear altogether. I understand these fads because clothing is relatively inexpensive, compared to, say, cars, and while it might be unacceptable to wear the same thing that was being worn last year it is acceptable to wear the same thing that was being worn twenty years ago. I first learned this when I was a teenager and went into the attic where my parents’ old clothes were kept. "This is what you used to wear?" I said. Then I turned on MTV and there were people my age on there wearing the same hideous crap that was dry rotting in the attic.

What’s baffling to me, though, is fads in automobiles. Take the recent eruption of Mini Coopers all over the place. I started out thinking the Mini was cool. It was an unusual car, driven by such paragons of coolness as Michael Caine, some girl in a Mentos commercial, and Rowan Atkinson. Who wouldn’t feel cool in a car that you can drive under a table? What’s not really hip about a car that doesn’t need a jack when you have to change a tire, because all you have to do is lift it with one hand and pop on a replacement with the other? You’re going grocery shopping, but it’s raining and all the good parking spaces are filled? No problem – drive your Mini right in through the door because it’s about as big as a shopping cart. The Mini is probably the only car a guy can drive that says, "I’m image-conscious, ambitious, have a good job, and yet not insecure about the size of my penis." And of course there’s something unspeakably groovy about a car that, in highway collisions, automatically turns into a can of spam (the pork product, not the e-mail plague), with similar effects on the passenger.

Yeah. I thought the Mini was cool until I saw 20,000 of them in one day. Wait a minute, Chris, I hear you say, maybe you’re just seeing the same car. You’re right, it could be the same car, and you’re also right that it’s time for me to take my medication when I hear voices coming from my computer. Here’s the thing, though: each one of those 20,000 cars was a different color. I didn’t know cars came in so many colors, but if there’s one thing my interest in art history and my habit of flipping through mail-order catalogues in search of things to make fun of have taught me it’s how to tell aubergine from aquamarine.

But I digress. The Mini is everywhere, and has been ever since it was prominently featured in a movie that was such a dismal failure I can’t remember the name of the movie, but I do remember seeing five or six Minis in the commercial. How did this happen? The last time I went to the movie theater there were vending machines in the lobby that held soundtrack CDs of the movies that were playing. If you liked the soundtrack, you could buy it on your way out. Maybe there were also vending machines filled with Minis. People came out thinking, "Well, the movie sucked, but those cars are cool. Hey, look, I can buy one right here in the lobby!" But, like all other fads, this one will pass. The Mini will suffer the same fate as bellbottoms and lowriders…and then, like all fads, it’ll come back around again in twenty years or so when teenagers go digging through their parents’ closets, and say, "This is what you used to wear?" and "This is what you used to drive?"

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Teaching Math in 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." The set "C", the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set "M." Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in 1990: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels "feel" as the logger cut down the trees? There are no wrong answers.

Teaching Math in 2002: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $120. How does Arthur Andersen determine that his profit margin is $60?

Teaching Math in 2010: El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es………….

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