4-20-10: When Counting is Life or Death


Sometimes I feel like my ignorance knows no limites. Besides not speaking French, I am more than clumsy with numbers. Actually, I am a mathematic imbecile and suffer from math-phobia. My ignorance and idiocy were even further apparent when I just recently learned that the French don’t literally say “eighty” or “ninety” but rather “four, twenty” for 80 and “four twenty ten” for ninety.

My initial reaction upon learning this snippet of “culture” was one of utter ethnocentrism. In other words, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. It was inefficient, pompous, antiquated, backwards, and alienating (it prejudices against the mathematically-challenged). Then I decided to be less harsh. I consulted with a few French speaking friends. I even brought up the matter with colleagues and discovered that the same numerical construct existed in Euskera as well. So after more calm and collected deliberation and an attempt at being more open minded and tolerant, I began to slowly accept the Francophones’ inalienable right to self expression.

Now I have accepted it, but that doesn’t mean that I am totally comfortable with it all. The reason why? It is a dangerous world, and besides being ignorant and mathematically challenged, I am also naive. Allow me to explain.


I have seen a lot of movies. Mel Gibson, 007, and a bunch of other cinematic heroes always get caught up in life or death situations where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people depend on the hero’s sang froid to save the world from the imminent peril of a time bomb.

There’s our hero, hunched over a sinister device planted and engineered by some sinister Doomsday evil monger. The sweat pours down his forehead. His hands are trembling. Sometimes he has to decide which wire to cut. If he cuts the wrong colored wire, the bomb explodes and all are killed. Other times, he has to type in the correct numbered combination to deactivate the bomb. And there is never enough time. The counter shows only seconds left, and our hero looks around for his handy sidekick.

“I need the combination!” There are babies crying, women are screaming in the background. People are scrambling to evacuate. The bomb raid horns.

“I can’t hear you,” our hero yells out. There are only a few seconds left before detonation.

Now, imagine this is a French movie. Or this is real life, and we are in France, Montreal, or one of the many former French colonies scattered around the globe. The seconds are clicking away. It’s not just our hero’s life that is at stake or those in the explosion’s potentially destructive periphery, but the entire delicate balance of life as we know it.

Clousea, quickly, the code!”

Clousea fumbles through his pockets to find the piece of paper with the number that will save hundreds, thousands of lives, not to mention the American way of life. He finally locates and unfolds it. He looks, it reads 493. The bomb’s timer indicates there are only five seconds left until damnation.

“Clousea!!! The number!”

“The number to deactivate the beumb is 400-4-20-10-3”.



“But there is only room for 3 numbers!”


“Just give me that damn piece of . . .” Booom!!!!

At times like this, I think it is much safer if the bomb squad is English speaking, ignorant, mathphobic and naive.



Filed under Digressions

3 responses to “4-20-10: When Counting is Life or Death

  1. Eric Fromm will set you free: Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself.

  2. eric

    Does Erich Fromm know how to deactivate a bomb in 5 seconds? LOL. At least he isn’t French speaking!

  3. Nein, der mann ist ein Deutschlander, er Deutsch gesprochen.

    He has the ability to “illuminate” the conflict of being human and living in an inhumane simulacra. Quite stimulating actually.

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