Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I find Californians in general to be bright people. I live in a town, for example, where if you opened the phone book at random, you’d have an excellent chance that at least one person on that page would be a rocket scientist. Of course, you’d also stand a good chance of finding at least one person without a job because they’re waiting for the Mother Ship to come back and can’t be away from their HAM radio for more than a few minutes at a time. Come to think of it, you might find somebody who’s both.
Being smart does not, however, make you wise. Californians on occasion distinguish themselves in the category of the Famously Foolish. If you think it was a low IQ that led to the invention of bungee jumping, for example, you’d have the wrong idea. Combine a high IQ with a high FQ (foolishness quotient) and the results can be hilarious.
Aliso Viejo, a small town in Orange County, demonstrated how powerful this combination could be last week with its attempt to ban a dangerous substance that is known to be harmful or even fatal to humans. Indeed, it’s not just a dangerous substance; it’s also addictive, cheap and easy to get. When the town found out that almost everyone had been exposed to this substance, known as dihydrogen oxide, it decided that enough was enough and that it was time to ban the sale of foam cups made with this substance. The vote was scheduled to take place last week and looked sure to pass.
Then suddenly the whole issue was dropped. City officials admitted to being embarrassed to have raised the issue at all. Why the change? Did they get pressure from the dihydrogen oxide industry?
Not quite. Someone looked at the potential new law and thought it might be good to mention that dihydrogen oxide has another name.
So just days before banning foam cups made using water from being sold in Aliso Viejo, somebody finally asked what the heck they were about to vote for. From there, it didn’t take a high IQ, as Aretha Franklin might have said, to see what they were doing wrong.
The press picked up on the story, too. The City Manager, David Norman, admitted it was embarrassing and explained that “we had a paralegal that did some bad research.”
This is where the foolishness comes in. Unbeknownst to the hapless paralegal staff of the City of Aliso Viejo, the “dihydrogen oxide” thing has been hanging around the Internet for several years. Pranksters have put up several very official-looking websites that try to scare the bejabbers out of the paranoid when talking about good old-fashioned water.
But was it right for Norman to pass the buck and blame the $8.50 an hour paralegal? I think not. After all, people at higher pay grades must have seen the information as it made its way to the vote. It’s foolish to consider a blanket ban on something when you don’t even really know what it is. Remember, there’s an excellent chance that the honorable members of the city council of Aliso Viejo would have sat down last week and voted ‘yes’ to this crazy new law. I don’t blame people for not knowing right away that dihydrogen oxide is water. Chemistry class is pretty far in the rear view for most people. What makes this whole episode funny is that the prank didn’t just work on a harried, underpaid paralegal, as Norman would like us to believe. It worked on the whole council.
So I thought I’d see if I could slip an idea or two past them down there in Aliso Viejo. It’d be fun to see if one of my ideas could actually get passed into law rather than just almost passed into law. My method simply involves thinking of really simple harmless things that, with the help of a thesaurus, could be described with $2 words like “mastication.” Then, just talk about them in ways that sounds scary. Here’s what I came up with:

· Ambulatory mastication. Did you know that this condition causes the mentally disadvantaged to stop in their tracks or even fall flat on their faces? Can the city of Aliso Viejo continue to allow this dangerous practice to continue? Maybe, but don’t tell them it means walking and chewing gum.
· Photosynthetic radiation. Just a few minutes of exposure to photosynthetic radiation can cause skin to blister and over a longer period of time can lead to cancer. You’d think Aliso Viejo would be keen to ban sunlight within its city limits.
· Numismatics. Imagine people who hide in normal jobs, living next door to you now. They want you to believe that they’re just like you, but while you sleep, they’re figuring out diabolical ways to sell a nickel for a dime. Aliso Viejo might want to put a stop to these activities until they find out that a numismatist is just a coin collector.

I’m sure you can play along at home. Email me your results if you come up with some. In the rush to improve our lives, I wish politicians would stop long enough to find out what it is they’re outraged about.

Or I might have to contact that paralegal with some of my ideas.


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