January 17, 2021

Nine more inventions I’d love to “uninvent”!

By John Guy LaPlante

This is my second list of “uninventions.”  It was inspired by essays called that in The New  Yorker. You “uninvent” when you believe that something we use or do that is popular and taken for granted is now regrettable and we should turn back the clock on it. You could probably come up with a few.  Here are nine fresh ones from me.

 Our Way of Keeping Count.

 Our brought-from-England system of inches and yards, and pints and quarts and miles,  water freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212 and so on, is clumsy and crazy. Well, that’s undeniable to anybody who has seen the metric system which is standard to countries big and small all around the world now.  We are the big and stupid stand-out.

Metric was a French invention in the late 1700’s. It has swept the world. The metric system is infinitely better because it is based on 1 and 10 and 100 all the way up into the zillions.

How better? By making it easy for us to weigh bananas and mattresses and anything else not in ounces and pounds and tons, but in grams and kilograms and on up.  To drive not in miles per hour, but in kilometers per hour.   To measure a board or a distance not in inches and feet, but in centimeters and meters and on up.  To recognize that water freezes at 0 Celsius and boils at 100. Applicable to everything countable.

We can see this for ourselves just by crossing one mile, excuse me 1.6 kilometers, into Canada or Mexico. Which said goodbye to our antiquated system and went modern long ago.

We nearly went metric. That was in Jimmy Carter’s presidency. We voted to go metric.  But not whole-heartedly. There was massive and angry political obstructionism by vested interests and we were given a choice. We could use English—isn’t that what our alternate to metric is called– or metric, as we liked. A nasty and foolish compromise.

It is then that our cars began rolling off the assembly lines with every speedometer calibrated in both systems, but with the English markings bigger than the metric. I remember that vividly. Habits die hard. Most Americans chose to use the English markings. Maybe today’s speedometers are still equipped for both systems. I don’t know. Hey, even foreign cars began coming over from metric countries set up for English!

The same choice was permitted in every sphere of our life.  So, many people continued to think in miles rather than kilometers. Metric was doomed. Today it is used only by our scientific and technical folks and manufacturers who also appreciate its superiority. I don’t think they’d go back to using English for a million bucks. Nowadays there is zero talk of our smartening up.

All that said, we’ve had a long interest in metric way back to the 1860s.  Many efforts were launched to make it our national system. All of us use metric in some ways—we are used to liters of beverages and grams in our medications and so on.  The astonishing fact remains: the U.S.A. and Liberia and Myanmar are the world’s only metric hold-outs!

Imagine how our going metric would have facilitated our trade with those two neighbors of ours as well as so many others around the globe.

Why did Jimmy Carter’s big, brave push fail? Because Washington never proclaimed that we would be totally and forever metric as of 1 minute after midnight on January 1 of whatever year got chosen!

So I say. Uninvent that antiquated English system of ours!

 Foolish academic class designations..

In my previous list of uninventions I sent to you, I harped on education.  In that vein have another complaint: how senseless it is to call the high school years the Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. Ditto the college years.

Maybe those names made sense years back.  Maybe back then they had some relativity to real life, though I can’t imagine it.

Why not get realistic and call them something simple and clear?  How about just First and Second and Third and Fourth?  You would say, “My son is in high school and is starting Second.”

Someone in a community college would say, “I’m starting my Second in September.” And we’d understand that he or she would be approaching graduation there. Or, “We’ll be taking our daughter back to college this weekend. She’ll be in Third.”  And we’d know she has another year to go.

I believe this would be far clearer and more in keeping with our times.

 So I say: Down with foolish class names. Uninvent them!

Those awful, dangerous, crazy flashing lights on police cars at night.

I ran into the flashing strobe lights a few nights ago.  Very dark night. 9:15 p.m. I was driving home on two-lane Highway 154 north-bound here in Connecticut. I went around a curve and was blinded—yes, blinded–by the dazzling red and yellow and white flashing, pulsing lights.  Two police cars were parked, one behind the other, engines running, their lights screaming at us.

A cop had had pulled over a driver and another cop had rushed over as a back-up.  They had parked 10 or 12 feet from the shoulder, one behind the other, but offset. All to protect themselves while standing and checking the offending car. Makes sense. I understand that.  But it made it so difficult, so dangerous for me—and the drivers behind me—to squeeze by.  That was bad enough.

Worse were those awful, crazy lights.

Hey, the lights on our cruisers 15 years ago or so would work just fine. And I’ll bet they’d cost far less, If anybody is thinking about expense.

So I say, Uninvent those lights!


I know this is going to get me into trouble but here goes.  My marriage was a romantic marriage. You know what I mean.  I fell in love with a great gal, Pauline, and she fell in love with me and we got married. Most likely yours was the same.

That’s what we all do just about here in Western countries.  But many couples in other parts of the world wind up in arranged marriages.  From what I’ve seen, arranged marriages can be smarter … more enduring.

Think of what a dismal marriage is possible for some people in a romantic marriage.  They vow “till death do us part!” Well, they used to. Not sure about that today. But that promise goes down the drain when their relationship is falling apart and the two decide to divorce. And so many couples do split.  As we know, our divorce rate – call it what it really is, our marriage failure rate—is huge.  Divorce has become common. No argument there, I’m sure.

What is soaring are the couples who don’t bother with vows and live together, but that’s a separate matter.

The reason so many marriages founder is simple. Young people do not have the maturity—sufficient life experience–to choose a spouse wisely.  They dive into a relationship blinded by their physical passions and the wonderful romantic notion peddled in novels and movies and TV and that we grow up with.

In arranged marriages, it’s the father and mother who have the big say about the son or daughter’s choice of spouse.  That is a solemn responsibility for them. Not all arranged marriages turn out perfect. Of course not. But their batting average seems to be higher.

I have friends—they happen to be immigrants from India and Bangladesh–who have thrived in arranged marriages. I have seen this. And what they’ve told me about marriages back there has impressed me. Furthermore in my travels through India I have  met a number of couples brought together through the negotiations of their parents and in-laws.

Sometimes arranging a match ain’t easy—let’s face it, some of the young people involved don’t have much to offer. But the parents must do their best to achieve the best match. What about the notion of romance? “Love will come,” they say. Well, not always, I suppose, but I’ve seen that take place.

What I’ve observed is a mighty small statistical sample. I admit that. But the system seems to work better than ours.

So I say: Uninvent Romantic Marriage!

 Dual citizenship.

Which is a crazy idea!  I’ve already written about this, but I must include it in this list.   It’s surprising how many people are citizens of two countries. I know of one young fellow who is a citizen of three.

How come? Most often because the dual citizen is the child of parents who are citizens of different countries.  The young fellow was the child of a parent with dual citizenship.

Different countries have different rules, I’m sure.

I’m not sure how dual citizenship became a viable and accepted concept. I suspect that authorities kowtowed to people clamoring for it. And of course because they craved it for self-serving reasons.

I first heard about it years ago when two couples—immigrants from Greece who had become American citizens—had returned to Greece to retire.  Uncle Sam delivered their Social Security checks over there every month and they lived rich in their villages. And Greece enjoyed that American money pouring in every month—the couples I knew about were just a few of a huge number pulling the same strategy.

I know also of a young man who had American and French citizenships. France has compulsory military service. When he turned of age, he was facing the French draft. That’s when he dropped his French citizenship.

Some people would love to buy dual citizenship. It’s such a great perk. Hey, maybe that’s possible in some countries.

Gosh, I’d love  to be a citizen of six or seven!

I’m sure you remember our Pledge of Allegiance:  “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, and so on.”   To our one and only country. Not to two!

Please tell me, how in the world can a person pledge allegiance to two countries? From an intellectual and patriotic point of view, impossible! This will disappear when the day dawns when we are One World, and we’re equal citizens of it, all of us around the world.

Meanwhile I say:  Uninvent dual citizenship!

Cemeteries / Burial .

 Historically people all over the world found a satisfactory way to dispose of their dead. They would tie them to a tree and let the wild beasts and birds eat them up. Burn them on a pyre. Put them to rest in a cave.  Toss them into the sea or a stream. Found other ways. Some of these practices go on.

For three centuries or so, burial has been our solution.  In the early days maybe behind the house or beside the barn, or under a tree, or in the nearby woods. Cemeteries became the answer, in church yards or some designated corner of the community. Burial is still our most popular practice.

Some cemeteries began running out of room. What to do? Construct a mausoleum—a fancy building with a central corridor and crypts lined up on both sides. The design might have four or five crypts built one on top of another.  And the bodies could be laid to rest there, much like shoes in shoe boxes on the shelves of shoe stores.

Cemeteries have not been the perfect answer. Cemeteries take up room, often the best acreage in town. Burials can be difficult in winter in northern parts—frozen ground. Burial is expensive– embalming, casket, interment, a monument, and so on.  And so is “perpetual care.” Which, by the way, sounds preposterous to me.

Think for a minute of currently used cemeteries near you. They get few visitors. Families go for a year or two and that’s it. Think also of the old, old cemeteries that we have. Many have no room left for new graves. Never a visitor.  Simply because people don’t know anyone close buried there.

When cemeteries began filling up, that’s when a clever idea came up—mausoleums! Think of how many cemeteries now boast a mausoleum. A fancy, ornate building typically with a small chapel and a corridor with crypts on both sides. Single and double crypts, ranged four or five high, much like shoe boxes in a shoe store.  \

Mausoleums seem to be doing well. For the moment. Eventually they’ll fill up, even if expanded. How will our communities look 50 or 100 years from now, with closed mausoleums in this neighborhood and that one.  And hey, how permanent can a mausoleum be?  What happens to the bodies then? Can a mausoleum remain standing for a hundred years, five hundred?

The new answer has been a very old one, but modernized—cremation.  It’s a practice long abhorred in some societies, even considered sinful in others. Now it’s culturally accepted and quite popular.

For many Americans, cremation has become The Answer.  It costs, but it’s cheaper. The ashes—the “cremains”—take little space. Sanitary. No possibility of vandalism.

Cremation has skyrocketed. Look at the figures.  Here in the U.S., in the year 2,000 they were the solution 26% of the time. In 2010, 41%. Just a year ago, 49%.  Given this trend it’s safe to say cremation soon will become the choice of a big majority of us.

In my research, I found the top cremation state is Nevada, 76%!  Number 5 was Maine, 71%.  Number 10 was Vermont, 66%.  I did not get to see the percentages for my Connecticut or Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

It’s interesting to speculate why the numbers vary so much in our states.  I’ll let you do your own speculating.

I expect I’ll be the first in my family to be cremated. It’s my preference for solid reasons. I will be the first in a lineage of ancestors who are all underground. So I will be a pioneer. Gosh!

I have a good friend who just died. He had willed his body to a non-profit for anatomical research and medical education. I saw the good sense of it.  He was useful to the very end. His widow tells me she’s planning to do the same.

So I say, cemeteries and mausoleums no longer make much sense. Uninvent them!

Living till we die.

Still on the subject of life and death, a related topic.  As I’m sure you’re aware, some people aren’t interested in living until they die naturally.  Of old age, so to speak. Some people have true reason to call it quits. I have seen that in several instances.

In fact, we now have three states—maybe it’s four now?– that make that legal. With more states considering it. The idea of a planned death is accepted in an increasing number of countries around the world. The idea makes sense.

So I say, Uninvent the notion that we should all live to our final breath.

The wanton profiteering of our airlines nowadays.

I just ran into it. I’m flying from Hartford to San Luis Obispo, Calif., Dec 19. I found a good deal online on a short flight to Philadelphia, then a long  one to San Francisco, and a short one south to San Luis.

Because I was late, my seat choice was limited—middle seats on all three. I called, explained I’m old, and wanted an aisle seat close to the toilets, especially for the long flight.   Sure, but the price for an aisle seat would be $36. (True also for a window seat…my certain choice in my younger days.) In fact, more than $36. They would charge $50 for the privilege of opting for that! Ouch!

That’s the latest on airlines “modernizing”:  no free flight-changes or cancellations any more, no free meals, not even peanuts, no free baggage, no free speak-to-live reservation clerk, no free on-flight magazines…maybe no free other things.  Oh, for the good old days!

I don’t like that gouging.  Uninvent this rapacious dollar squeezing!

On a lighter note, popcorn.

I mean microwave popcorn, the kind of pre-flavored kernels ready-packed to slip into the magic oven and push Start for a quick snack. No fuss, no bother.

I have been eating popcorn since I was a kid. l fun food.  In fact, also a fantastically nutritious food.  My mother made it once in a while. What a treat to go to a movie and also spring for a bagful. My wife made terrific popcorn. Never did she burn it.  We’d enjoy it while watching TV or with the kids homebound on a snow day. I learned from her.

I’ve been making popcorn for myself for years.  Always with the plain, natural kernels, usually the cheapest popcorn in the market, by the way.

Sometimes for lunch I pop a bowlful and enjoy it with a banana or apple.  No butter. No cheese.  Just salt.

I make terrific popcorn. So simple.  Pauline used solid Crisco. Delicious, but not considered wise nowadays. Peanut oil is best, but not essential. Just one layer of kernels in my pan. My electric burner set just short of  half way on the dial. The pan cover on good and tight. In four minutes or so, pop, pop, pop. What fun. A glass of juice and an apple or some grapes and I’m all set. No doctor will wag his finger at you about a lunch like that.  And what nice memories it brings back.

So I say, uninvent those so-called convenient popcorn kits!

Some of my uninventions may bother you, I’m sure. May sound extreme. They go against popular thinking. Heavy stuff especially now in our merry Santa Claus season. But things have been busy and I’m late in getting this out. I look forward to your feedback, pro or con. Your con comments may force me to re-think. That appeals to me.  I’m not a great sage. But spare me anything nasty, please.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (You may hear from me before then.)  The French version that I grew up with had a third wish: “Et le Paradis á la fin de vos jours.”  “And Paradise at the end of your days.” What a nice wish.

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