"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

A Cross-Eyed Between



Cadillacs used to be found on

both driveways and desktops.

Pre-Accord, you could assert the

superiority of anything - say, a

stapler - by announcing it as

the "Cadillac of staplers." In

1996 only Cadillacs are called

Cadillacs, as nobody wants to

evoke the image of struggling to

find new appeal now that one's

traditional customer base is

dying off. Besides, in many

cases the metaphor is no longer

apt; staplers don't have half

the desk-hugging weight that

they used to. (Considering that

desks don't have half the weight

they used to, this is probably a

good thing.)



Given the Cadillac's current

position, it's easy to forget

there was a time when country

club parking lots were filled

with nothing else. But Cadillac,

the brand name, was already on

the skids in the late '70s. It's

no accident that the demise of

the DeVille coincides with Jimmy

Carter's diagnosis of "a malaise

in the land" - if we didn't have

a name for the top of the heap

anymore, how could we aspire to



[Large Mouth]

Still, nature must not abhor this

vacuum so very much, as the sad

truth is that no other brand has

taken the place of Cadillac as

the name for all that is

superlative, excessive, and

American. No matter; we've

graduated to touting things as a

cross between two other known

quantities. While the Largemouth

Bass might simply be a "cross

between two species," Diamanda

Galas is a cross between "Bela

Lugosi and Shirley Bassey."



Hybrid-hype sounds better, anyway -

the best of both worlds is

always preferable to either

world by itself. Plus, you're

automatically something new if

you're a mix of two things that

no one ever thought of mixing

before - in this way new math,

1 + 1 = 3! And the more

incongruous the two are, the

better, as that makes you all

the more outrageous. What else

can explain the description of

New Orleans as a "surrealistic

cross between Disneyworld and

Calcutta" - though with SIGGRAPH

coming up, perhaps one should

throw "Burbank" into the mix.


The best advantage of all,

though, is that a mixed breed

doesn't even have to resemble

either of its putative

progenitors. Calling something a

cross is an opportunity to

massage the truth so smoothly

that no one sees any stretch

marks. Kids don't necessarily

look just like their parents,

after all.



Speaking of kids, consider XY

magazine, trying to carve out a

new niche as a lifestyle

magazine for gay youths. The

front cover of the third issue

tells us it's "[a] cross between

Details and Wired for young gay

men." Sounds like a winner

already - those magazines sell

lots of copies, don't they? But

wait, what sorts of features

would you expect in a magazine

spawned by Wired? An attempt at

trenchant commentary on life at

the dawn of the digital age? No,

but XY has plenty of photos. All

manner of color? Nope - half the

pages in XY are black and white,

for goodness' sake. An

advertiser-enticing affluent

readership? Well, depends on

whether or not their readership

is actually "young gay men," or

if XY is simply Barely Legal in

chaps. But not to worry - it's

no problem if you've hitched

your wagon to a star with the

most tenuous of threads. The

scam is painless when you say

you're a hybrid. After all,

maybe there's truth in XY being

something like Details.



It helps that no one expects

anything resembling truth in

advertising. All the 17-inch

monitors measure 16 inches

(diagonally), and no one could

care less. Two-by-fours aren't.

Most SLR camera lenses have a

somewhat smaller aperture than

their spec. But, the photo mags

remind us, "They're all within

accepted industry tolerances."

Sure - and just coincidentally

all on the minus side, yes?

Technology-intensive consumer

goods have created an

unprecedented opportunity for

sellers to fudge the

descriptions of their wares.

What consumer is going to check

if their new 6x CD-ROM drive

really spins at 6x? How many

even know what it's supposed to

be running six times as fast as,

anyway? Not that retailers - or

pundits, for that matter - know

any better. Those who get their

technical information about

device speeds from the New York

Times are in big trouble. The

"Personal Computers" column

recently "explained" that a

millisecond is one millionth of

a second. (That darn metric

system is so confusing.)


The worst thing about most fudged

specs isn't even that they're

dishonest, but - whether they be

measured cross-ways or merely

cross-referenced - that they're

so boring. It doesn't take 28

grams of creativity to lie about

a number. On the other hand,

there's an art to finessing the

issue by transcending specs

altogether. One can't help but

appreciate the wry humor in

Rolls-Royce exempting itself

from plebeian pissing contests,

saying only that their car

engines' horsepower is

"sufficient." At your next job

interview (the one where they

want you to be a cross between

Sisyphus and Horatio Alger) give

that answer when they ask for

your salary requirement. And the

quality of your work? It's

within accepted industry


courtesy of Seymour Cranium