Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hello, Newman! Welcome To the New Decade…Almost

And why seest thou the speck that is in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?
—Matthew 7:3

Admittedly, I’m one of those guys that tends to see the speck in the eye of my brother while missing the beam in my own eye. It’s one of my imperfections, and, as familiar as I am with the Sermon on the Mount, I too often yield to this temptation toward superiority.

I have to work on that.

But I’m just a weak, stupid man, and consequently spend a good deal of time fighting off temptation. The best way to fight temptation is to avoid it, but these are the times that try weak, stupid men’s souls.

I first ran head-on into one of these times at the close of 1999 when I was editing a children’s newspaper geared for grades kindergarten through sixth.

We had an editorial board consisting of educators and parents, and at one meeting I asked if the schools were teaching students that the year 2000 was not in fact the start of a new millennium, as was popularly being trumpeted, but rather the last year of both the 20th century and the second millennium.

I got a collective, silent, blank stare from the board. Not one educator knew that mathematically, the year 2001 was the start of a new century and a new millennium.

I was flabbergasted! (Do people still say flabbergasted? They should; it’s delightfully onomatopoeic.)

Our newspaper’s Production Department chief leaned over and whispered in my ear, “See, I told you that you were the only one who cared about this.”

Why wouldn’t teachers (and parents) want proper mathematics taught?

Maybe it was my years of arithmetic instruction at the hands of the IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) nuns that gave me an appreciation for sums, quotients, divisors, multipliers, ratios, proportions, and the elegance of this perfect science; but to find that today’s “educators” didn’t even know what the devil I was talking about…well, the Mighty Macs (as we lovingly referred to our IHM teachers) would have never stood for such ineptitude.

The 10 ensuing years (1999-2009) had temporarily dulled my memory of those days of unawareness, but that troublesome “9” on the end of the waning year back in 2009 stirred up those feelings once more, and I found myself again concentrating on that speck in my brother’s eye.

In December 2009, a popular TV sports-talk show commentator spent the morning asking fans to submit their choices for greatest athletic accomplishments of the decade, when a responder noted that we had one more year to go in this decade (he must have had the Mighty Macs).

“Oh, don’t be that guy!” the commentator demanded in a tantrum. “Don’t be that guy that’s always correcting people about the year starting with one, and not zero. You’re like Newman in Seinfeld.”

As I felt the old rage returning, I kept telling myself that sports was his forte, not math. I shouldn’t expect him to know that a decade is 10 complete years, not nine.

But, having followed sports all my life, I am acutely aware of how critical statistics are to sport fans. Did he think that 11 home runs equaled a dozen? Does first-and-10 mean you need nine yards for another first down? When you list the 10 best of anything, is the first one number zero and the last one number nine?

I suppose I can forgive him his computation trespass, for like me, he is just a weak, stupid man.
But…to mis-allude to a Seinfeld reference! That borders on profanity.

Newman, you see, was not the guy who corrected the error of believing that the new millennium began in 2000 (see episode 20, season eight, entitled, “The Millennium”). He was the guy that made the mistake by mis-scheduling his ‘Newmanium’ party.

It was Jerry Seinfeld himself who executed the counting coup d'état by explaining to the irrational postman that there was no year zero, hence the new millennium would begin in 2001.

Newman’s reaction was predictable—he seethed as he realized his mistake, noting that Seinfeld had bested him once again. Yes, even Newman, the representative TV sitcom loser of the 90s, immediately recognized his error. It needed only to be explained to him—mathematically.

What a shame a sportscaster can’t see the forest for the trees, and what a downright disgrace that educators can’t see the sum for the numbers.

So when newspapers and TV gossip shows parade out their ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ the past decade at the end of 2019, I’ve decided to overlook those specks in their eyes and let them revel in their inaccuracies. I’ll just augment my reading with a little more Matthew 7.

And wonder if Newman had the Mighty Macs.

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