Toward A Nonarbitrary Calendar
(Or Not)
by Aquadale Bitty, Chaplain, Generic Discordian Sect

Everyone knows the problems inherent with numerical calendars (well, everyone except the people who don't know, and if you're one of those, maybe you'd like to view the paper to which this is a rebuttal to find out), but the Goode Pope Icky isn't like the rest of us who just sit there and complain about it! No sir! He goes out and creates the Just Say No To Round Numbers calendar (hereafter referred to as Jusanotoronotation)! What a guy!
     I hate to rain on your parade, fellow Discordians, but this calendar is not the be-all and end-all of timekeeping. You see, in his haste, Icky overlooked a flaw in his system similar to the base-10 problem. Yes folks, the problem with letters is that they spell words!
     Yes, the same people who fawn over round numbers will go gaga over years that spell out words. In the near future we have the years CUM, CUP, and CUT. These years aren't real big hazards, but what happens when we get into years like WAR, RENAISSANCE, FINDESIECLE, and even ITSTHEENDOFTHEWORLDASWEKNOWITANDIFEELFINE? We're right back where we started, with those menu-eaters proclaiming all sorts of gloom 'n' doom. What's even worse, people will start milking year names for comic and/or dramatic potential, which is always good for raising your blood pressure. Soon we'd have stuff like ``Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may recognize me from such films as In The Year DEADLY.'' In short, Jusanotoronotation is a lot better (and more fun) than the current numerical system currently forced upon us by the boring, but it doesn't prevent people from attaching undue significance to certain years.
     I have concocted many a calendar since this revelation, but none of them are satisfactory to me. But never fear, I have come to a conclusion. Observe the fruits of my efforts, or just skip to my conclusion:

The Counting Backwards System: In which this year is x, next year is x-1, etc. Doesn't work because the negative sign can be ignored; what's worse, if x is a positive number, we have a year 0 which is clearly a sign of total global destruction!

The Random System (Hail Eris): Not only does this defeat the point of having a calendar in the first place, but patterns appear even in random data. What's more, people are more inclined to attach undue value to interesting data when said data was randomly generated than if it had been determined, well, deterministically. I'm reminded of some dusty tomes I was perusing recently, in which someone made a big hullabaloo over a random word generator having generated the word ``fnord.'' It's certainly not a big deal if I the somewhat conscious organism types it. Fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, fnord, baked beans, and fnord.

The Half-Random System: In which each year consists of a deterministic part and a random part. Doesn't work because the random part can pretty much be ignored, even if the deterministic parts are allowed to repeat.

The Overkill System: In which the only numbers assigned to years are those with obvious significance. Hopefully people will begin to notice that the world doesn't end every year. Looks good on paper but would be impossible to implement, since any number can be shown to have significance.

The Overkill in the Opposite Direction System: In which Jusanotoronotation is used but word-years are cut out. Doesn't work for the above listed reason; any string can be a word in some bizarre language, and this is censorship besides.

The System of the Unknown Year: In which this year is referred to as ``this year'' and only after the year is over will it be decided what the year's number/string actually was. I like this one, and it wouldn't be too bad, but it takes away a lot of the flexibility of the date system (i.e., being able to do date subtraction).

The Freakish Chinese-Type System: Basically Jusanotoronotation without the letter stigma. This started out as ``Make up new symbols and use them to keep time,'' but I like the following silly idea better.
     Round up 30 or so animals. Use a cute little picture of the animal in question to represent a digit. Have a looping point, and choose some animals whose names begin with the same letters so as to discourage reducing the pictures to letters (it'll all be fruitless anyway if there are more than 26 animals, muahahahaha). So we'd say that this year is Hedgehog-Squid-Tortoise or something (which actually contains the same number of syllables as ``nineteen-ninety-six,'' and one fewer than ``thirty-one-sixty-two,'' so no complaining that it's too hard to say).
     Another cool thing about this system is that people would have to draw little pictures on their checks, and if we used a power of 2, say 32, for storing the various animals, dates could be computer-stored fairly easily. Having written date-handling code for those pagan Christian dates, I can safely say it couldn't be much harder.

Now this last system would probably also work, but there's the danger of boring Aneristic types eliminating the fuzzy-wuzzy animals from the system and using the powers-of-2 system that would be used in computer code. And also it's a lot easier to remember that the year after FTS is FTT, or that the year after 3964 is 3965, than it is to remember that the year after Buffalo-Shoggoth-Barnacle is Buffalo-Shoggoth-E. coli. Which, by an incredible coincidence, leads into my brand spanking new theory:

The feature that makes calendrical systems useful is the very thing that leaves them open to abuse by ignorant people!

[It's incredible! Come over to your local Fnord dealer and see the theory! Free no hot dog buns for the kids!]
     You see, the reason we have a calendar system in the first place is so that we can keep track of time. Even if we have some weird abstract calendar, people are going to say ``Hey, remember 4 years ago when Uncle Henry got electrocuted?'' This is because numbers and number-like systems do the best job at representing the way we perceive time. Time line, number line.
     Number systems and letter systems and such are easy for us to grasp. The problem is that we also have so many other conceptions about numbers and letters that if we're not careful, these other conceptions will reach over and t(a)int our conceptions of time. Why do people get riled up about odometer years? Because warranties are good for 30,000 miles and not one millimeter more. Why would (this is a hypothetical question for reasons that should be self-evident) people get riled up about word years? Because they would mistake HORROR the year name with ``horror'' the word. It's a case of projection; all the systems that we know well enough to hang a date on have so much baggage already attached to them that some mixing is inevitable.
     Even if we could create a new system exclusively for dates and learn how to use it, all systems have a basic built-in algebra. A symbol is either the same as another symbol or it's not the same. Let's say that the character % is now a squiggle with no meaning other than to be a date placeholder. Even with all this in mind, the year %%%%% looks pretty suspicious.
     In conclusion: No matter what we do (until we can refer to time directly without the use of a metaphor, and possibly not even then), people's instincts to find patterns in things will always cause them to attach undue significance to undeserving dates.
     If you'll recall, that was the problem that Jusanoronotation was supposed to solve. So, now that Icky Fundament solved the problem and I've (hopefully convincingly) unsolved the problem, it's time to throw the problem out the window. Who cares if people think the world is coming to an end on account of a critical mass of zeroes? That just gives us another reason to make fun of people like that. And anyway, if we had a system immune from outside interference, we'd hardly be able to have holydays on the 5th and 50th of each month would we?
     On a side note, I realized in writing this paper that there is a five-step system of problem solving. I've only been able to identify four of the steps, though (ask the question, answer the question, unanswer the question, unask the question). I'm sending out a general call for more research on this topic. I think there may be some parallel with the Five Stages of Grief, but I can never remember those either and I seem to be in Acceptance already on this one.