I saw a comedy routine once - it was these American Indian guys making fun of white people - you know, shooting fish in a barrel. They would stand up there on stage and one of them would roll up his sleeve, look at his wristwatch, startle, and inform the other: "Hey, Bob, look! Time to be hungry!"... Try the same thing with Hispanics, or, God forbid, blacks, and see where it lands you. You'll be telling your story to Mel in nothing flat, 'cos no one else will acknowledge you exist...
But, as ususal, I digress... The US poplulation is gong to hit 300M at 1146 GMT Tuesday morning, Oct 17, 2006. Of course, by 2006 tghe majority of Americans are way out of their depth understanding the relation between GMT and their local daylight savings time, but the notion that the moment is meant to signify something momentuous about meat-accounting is, I am sure, not lost on most who find out about it...
I am a little uncomfortable with the idea of understanding, in my head, what that means in the first place. I mean, I think visualizing 300M is doable, but not for the faint of heart, to start with, and then there's the nasty business of the planets. I mean, if we can't trust officialdom to count to 9 in our stead, how the hell are we supposed to believe a bunch of lower level bureaucrats about a bigger and harder number in the first place? I mean, stop & consider it for a second: - OK - I need to digress again.
So the truth is,my life is beautiful in some ways but not so in others. Specifically, I made the titanic mistake of marrying someone who, shall we say, has issues, a while ago. This particular wife of mine, who shall remain nameless, of course, has laid every obstacle from lying about residences to threatening me and our daughter, all to get a taste of power. The bottom line is that I have a net worth that is negative enough that I don't want to go into it, and she has a tidy little nest-egg inherited from dad's knowledge of who to slip a bill to and mom's judicious use of divorce lawyers - if the number started with a one, it would have seven zeroes behind it.
Ok - so the point of the digresson is that hypothetical wife has a hypothetical lawyer who routinely threatens me with horrible things. If she existed, I'd worry. For example they're trying to figure out how to get finanical sanctions against me for being poor about now. Beautiful, classic, it's own reward.
Point being that although I am infinitely more fortunate, I think I have an inkling of how the average homeless guy feels pushing that shopping cart against the traffic during rush-hour, and you know he was not really happy about being counted at all, let alone having some stiff census worker ask a bunch of personal questions.
The old ways are best, and there are certain countries where the population is virtually unknown because of the social stigma against beign counted. African nations are often a reality check because they have been around in the form of neighbourhoods long before the faddish notion of the nation state caught on. The point is that if I have a motive for wanting to disappear from a machinery that supports dishonest people with bad motives, while I have 6Mbit broadband at home, I believe it's fair to assume that 9 out of 10 people living in the streets will actively avoid this particular form of accounting, lest they have to endure similar and much more damaging affronts.
So the official anniversary of the US reaching 300M this morning gives rise to several interesting questions:
- How many people really live in the US?
- How unreliable is the official estimate?
- Is the number knowable?
- Are there observational factors that render it unknowable more so than political/cultural factors?
- If we knew how many people live in one place at one time, would we know how many planets there are in the solar sstem?
- Why does everyone freak out about this number (of people in a given space).
- Is there a number that is "too much" - based on what?