Carl Wernicke: Waste Not

Dec 6, 2017

Credit IHMC

It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact of the Internet on our lives. It came to life toward the final third of my career at the News Journal, and I very quickly went from never having used it to wondering how I was able to do my job without it.

Perhaps the biggest impact is how it has exposed us to each other, in ways both good and bad. For instance, many of us have been disheartened to discover how deep racism and other forms of prejudice remain in this country as people have felt emboldened to come out online.

On the other hand, it has sped up the process of helping us realize in how many ways we are alike. One thing keeping people apart is the feeling that if others realized what we were really like they would not like us. So discovering that many, if not most people think like we do helps us overcome our fears of each other.

OK, my wife still insists that amazingly few people think like I do, but I still find comfort in discovering the existence of like-minded thinkers.

I recently discovered one in a long piece, I think it was in the New York Times, about the economics of those tiny drink napkins they hand out on airplanes.

The writer noted that they are pretty much useless, and on a long flight mostly end up littering the cabin. Yet when he tried to discourage flight attendants from giving him one with every drink or snack, they pushed back, practically insisting that he needed to take one.

What, he wondered, is their purpose? Flight attendants seemed to worry that if he spilled a drink he would need one, but they are so small as to be useless for sopping up more than few drops. He finally decided that their main use is preventing those moisture rings from forming under your drink, and maybe keeping them from slipping on the trays.

He then engaged in a long discourse on the environmental impact of all that wasted paper, as well as the question of how much more fuel is burned by carrying stacks of these things on the thousands of flights every day around the world. Carrying one napkin might not make a noticeable difference, but how about four or five billion of them over the course of a year?

I’m sure you agree with me that this is fascinating stuff!

Anyway, on a recent trip I managed to bore, I mean, fascinate my fellow travelers pondering the economics of the vehicle we rented. We got a large, seven-seat passenger van for four days for $200. I just can’t see how they make any money on it. I looked it up, and the purchase price can run anywhere from $30,000 to over $40,000, and while they certainly get a discount, the rental companies usually don’t get bare-bones models, and this one had fancy leather seats, remote controlled side and back doors, satellite radio and other goodies. And they have to wash the vehicle and clean the interior after every rental, not to mention doing regular maintenance.

OK, I know they can take depreciation on its value on their taxes, and they follow a formula to tell them when to sell it.

Anyway, all this was making my head hurt, and I finally decided that if they were losing money, they wouldn’t have rented me the vehicle. At least they don’t hand out tiny napkins when they do.