MAD DOG: Bigger! Better! Faster! Moronic!
Every decade has its identifying label. The '60s were the Age of Aquarius, the '70s the Years No One Wants to Own Up To, and the '80s the infamous Me Decade. Finally, as the '90s draw to a close, it looks like it's official: these are the Superlative Years.This doesn't mean they've been the best years of your life. Those were sometime in your childhood (if you can believe your parents, and I'm not sure why you should start now). If you're not convinced I suggest going to a regression therapist. Just make sure you don't make the same mistake I did and accidentally go to an aggression therapist. That really pissed me off.The '90s are the Superlative Years because everything has to be The Biggest! The Best! The Fastest! The Tallest! Come to think of it maybe we should change it to the Exclamation Point Years. Either way, it's gathering momentum. Maybe it's the approaching millennium, but people seem to be getting more and more into this decadian motif, as if they're afraid that when the 00's hit and it's officially the Zip Years it will be too late to start any big projects.Take Chicago. A builder there is planning to erect a 112-story skyscraper. Why? Because he can. Unlike George Mallory, who said he was climbing Mount Everest "because it is there", these guys are more interested in putting the "there" there, then taking an elevator to the top.They say it's civic pride. You see, until 1996 Chicago had the Sears Tower, which was the tallest building in the world. Actually, they still have the Sears Tower only no one cares since Malaysia, in an effort to convince people that Kuala Lumpur is their capital and not a Thai noodle dish, built the Petronas Tower, which is a whopping 33 feet taller than the Sears building. The new Chicago skyscraper, which is tentatively being called A Dumb Idea, is all of 54 feet taller than Petronas. Obviously these builders don't believe their wives and girlfriends when they swear size doesn't matter.They're not the only ones who think bigger is better. Norman Nixon, a Florida engineer, is trying to build a ship that's 4,320 feet long. Yes, a ship. To put this in perspective, that's almost three times as long as the proposed Chicago skyscraper is tall. It's the length of fourteen football fields, eight city blocks, or 12,960 Snickers bars. The plan is for it to contain 17,000 condos, 3,000 offices, a golf course, 200 acres of parks, an airport, and more tubes of waterproof caulking than you've ever seen. One thing about Bigger! Better! Faster! Taller! is that it takes Money! There's no estimate of how much the Chicago building will cost, though "more than I'll ever see" is an accurate approximation. The ship, on the other hand, is expected to run about $6 billion. Give or take a few billion. Sure, at his most recent net worth Bill Gates could build 16 of them and still have enough left over to buy Malaysia and raze the Petronas tower, but he didn't get rich by casting his money like, well, ships on the water. He saves his, unlike Elton John who recently had to borrow a few quid -- okay, $40 million -- because, well, he just plain spends too much. You know, like racking up a reported $400,000 a week on his credit cards.It's tempting to tell Elton to just cut back, but why should he? Another component of the Superlative Years is deficit spending. This started when the United States government became a role model, something no one ever expected to happen after George Washington left office. The thinking is: if the government can do it, why can't we? Bad argument. After all, just because the government bombed Kosovo doesn't mean we can all go out and do it, even if we have been practicing our paint ball shooting on Saturday mornings.Internet start-ups -- some of the Biggest! Fastest! Most Virtual! businesses to come down the pike in years -- have chosen deficit spending as their financial model. And why not? Investors are throwing money at companies which not only aren't making money, don't have workable products, and whose 5-year plans don't even bother mentioning the word profit. These companies are the David Copperfields of the '90s -- all smoke, mirrors, and illusion. Except, of course, their CEOs are too late to snag Claudia Schiffer. Hey! I'm not making any money and it doesn't look like I'll make much more in the foreseeable future. Anyone want to invest in me? The quest is also on for Smallest! Scientists are manipulating atoms one at a time to spell IBM and make a nano-sculpture of a guitar. Others have figured out how to send secret code embedded in DNA but don't know what good it will do except to annoy future generations of DNA readers. Right, like they won't be using Cliff's Notes anyway.Fastest!, now that's been an important part of the '90s because they say time is money. I, for one, like this concept because it means I'm a pretty rich guy since I have a lot more time than I have money. To save time, everyone walks around with a cell phone on their hip because they can't imagine having to wait until they get home to check their answering machine. Recently, two companies put out products which let you pause live TV broadcasts, then jump past the commercials. That's got to be twenty minutes of time saved every hour! People are getting so impatient that if the Psychic Friends Network doesn't hurry up and open ESPizza ("We know what you want before you do") they're missing the opportunity of a lifetime. This one and their next two.Now a battle is brewing over who will be the First! to broadcast the dawning of the millennium. Scientists at London's Greenwich time center (motto: "Got a sec?") figured out that the first sunlight of 2000 will be seen at 3:59 am on Mount Hakepa, which is on Pitt Island, New Zealand. The New Zealand government offered the land's owner $190,000 to film the event but CNN reportedly bid $270,000. Excuse me while I yawn, but it's a sunrise. There's one every day and they all look pretty much alike. Some are sunny, some are cloudy. Just wake me when the ATMs get back online, will you?The problem with being Biggest! Best! Fastest! Tallest! is that the only apparent reason to do it is to be Biggest! Best! Fastest! Or Tallest! As Godzilla proved, size doesn't matter, substance does.But there might yet be hope. In Italy they recently decreased the lean on the Tower of Pisa, reducing it by about 40 centimeters, which is, well, a bunch of inches. That's right, they decreased it. Maybe they're just not as hip as we thought. Or maybe they're being retro, which is out-hipping our hip. Personally, I prefer to think that they're forward thinking and it's an indication that the new millennium is going to be the start of the Calmer Years. Well, that's my Biggest! Best! Quickest! guess anyway.