The Great Leap Forward

A professor from Dublin told me twenty years ago, with an Irish twinkle in his eye, that ‘ignorance is no excuse not to lecture.’

I was going to paraphrase him, telling you that New Year’s Eve is no excuse not to blog, except we should take a moment to consider the day itself.

First off, this day is of interest to less than 0.3 percent of the earth’s biomass. The bit that is human. Ok, and to a few dogs who howl at fireworks. Not a problem in China, since on this day there are few fireworks, and even fewer dogs. If I had to have a quick go, I’d say that six billion people times fifty kilos would work, so three hundred million metric tons. There are a bunch of answer.duh sites out there―in passing, that wouldn’t be a bad domain to consign idiots to. The net is badly in need of a bit of pruning, and now the leaves are off the trees…

I was on one of those answer sites yesterday and found out that a flight from JFK to Amsterdam took two days and three minutes. They must be practising for the go slow carbon tax. Or maybe it’s  via Samoa. Some good answers are to be found to that classic question ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Apart from the old saw ‘How Long is a Chinese man’, I like:

does it really MATTER?!go find something productive to do rather than ask stupid questions.
and ignore the string.
Good advice, if a trifle serious. And I’ve always found it easier to make friends inside.
Yes, we have plenty of friends, both inside and out. Google Answers puts human tonnage at about fifteen percent lower than my estimate, and reveals that ninety percent of the world’s biomass is plant material (no prizes there, Google, and there’s plenty of dead wood in the animal kingdom too). Incidentally, a balanced protein diet should contain about 60% plant and 40% animal. FAO estimates the world average is 63% to 37%. In the developed world the figures are 44% plant and 56% animal. I feel a sovereign debt coming on.
So how does all that biomass stack up? In the US, population 307 million, there are 455 million chickens, of which 340 million are layers, each one averaging 269 eggs per year. Beef cattle? About 93 million this time last year. That’s a whole lotta biomass. In 2010, Americans consumed 26.4 billion pounds of beef. At 2.2 kg to the pound, that’s 12 billion kg. Forty kg per capita. Wow!
But on a planetary scale, we are apparently accompanied by five hundred million tons of krill, the little crustaceans than feed baleen whales, and by forty-five billion tons of bacteria―and that’s just in the ocean, I’m not counting the ones that live up your nose.
Some websites have particular axes to grind, for instance Superants claims fifteen percent of world biomass are (unsurprisingly) ants, and seventeen percent are termites. For full disclosure, I don’t have a lot of time for insects, which is one of the reasons I like marine  science. Our six-legged friends are yet to conquer the ocean. I was going to contribute to the answer.duh community with my reply to ‘Are there any insects in the ocean?’ with ‘Yup, dead ones’ but I’d need an account. Like Groucho Marx,
I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
Okay, enough of the Guiness Book of Google. So this is a day which is celebrated for its astronomy. In parts of the world, since the Far East and the Muslim countries consider the New Year to start at a completely different date. Both the Islamic and Christian calendars are bizarre, since they are a fusion of the religious and the astronomical. The problem of course is that time never stops, forward or backward, so you have to place zero somewhere.
Contrary to the profusion of  good wishes received for the New Year, in the coming year I will be one step closer to the grave, and who knows if in fact I’ll be around at all?  Look what happened to Kim Jong Il! The last Stalinist has joined Uncle Joe in the great plenary. Kim’s son Un, a youth with plenty of spare biomass, doesn’t look like the man who will finally lead his people to economic prosperity, let alone freedom. I hope I’m wrong.

The traditional oven at the Cozinha Velha restaurant, where meals fit for a king were once prepared.

For me today is always special because it was my mother’s birthday. For years we used to go to a wonderful restaurant, in a palace built in the XVIIIth century on the outskirts of Lisbon. My family went there today in remembrance of the Rabbit, and there was not a single other party in the great room. Most of the waiters have gone, and the great dessert table, once filled with the traditional cakes and sweets of Portuguese Christmas, was a shadow of its former self. In leaps and bounds, the good things are disappearing.
I don’t know what 2012 will bring, but I do know it will present us with a panoply that is entirely unexpected. I suspect many of those will be bad things, but I’m sure some will be good. One bonus is that it’s the third leap year of the millenium, so New Year’s Eve will be on a Monday. I can confidently predict that there will be a shortfall of productivity, and that our IMF friends will be less than happy.
Oh well, fuck ’em! Have a great year.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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