Death by numbers [archives]

[This piece was originally hosted on my now-defunct MA course blog.]

Somewhere in earth’s history, we solved all our problems. Well, nearly all of them – some people tend to always split the infinitive but there’s little anyone can do to completely stop that. So we rid ourselves of poverty, hunger, religious strife1 and built a harmonious society – a society that was one with nature. Once the scientists figured out a way to mass produce food pellets using e-waste as fertilizer, nearly all the issues sort of disappeared. The drop in population following World War Four2 helped. There being enough land for the much-reduced human populace (and no more than 7% of all the species that existed fifty years ago still around), we had peace all across the globe. For a good seventeen years.

Peace, however, came at a price. The Federation of Earth’s Nations unanimously banned private-use computers and all public records were maintained in ink. There were a few protests, but overall people had always looked at computers with a certain amount of disdain. It stemmed from the days when computers made it easier to airbrush models to make them appear flawless. And strings of e-mail forwards meant that it was hard to tell a déjà vu from just reading the same text over and over again. So computers were banned for private use and we had peace all across the globe. For a good seventeen years.

Then it happened…

It started as an innocent exercise in team-building at a local school in Reclaimedia3. At wits’ end as to how she should split her fourth grade children into two groups, Ms. Dunaksmi resorted to statistics. “Statistically, there should be approximately an equal number of children born on even days and odd days of the month. Let’s do that, then.” And she asked the kids born on even days to step to her right and those born on odd days to step to her left. Surprisingly, and statisticians have pondered this turn of events ever since, there were an equal number of children on both sides. If you would allow me to digress, I would like to draw attention to the chances of such an event taking place, but sensing the furrowing of your brow, I shall move on4.

Before you could recite the Pledge of Allegiance to The Federation of Earth’s Nations, war had erupted, as the Even-dated took on the Odd-dated5. It is hard to describe the initial stages of the war – several uprisings were recorded all over the world; some localities were dominated by the Even-dated and some by the Odd-dated. More nations declared independence, broke up, were annexed or invaded in the first thirteen months than ever before in human history. Families were torn apart; many were given the choice between joining their appropriate sides and dying with their different-dated family members. Some resorted to forgery to smuggle their loved ones into their own camps – changing a 5 to a 6 or the other way round wasn’t hard, since all records were now maintained in ink. Parents saw to it that their children were born on the same date types as them and C-sections were the norm, rather than the exception. Each Date-type formed their own regional armies and had regiments based on religion, sexual orientation, economic views and political leanings, depending on which of the four most concerned you and your identity.

The one group of people who refused to take sides were those born on February 29th. “We have enough problems from as far back as our school days – do you think it’s fair for a child to celebrate her birthday once every four years when she watches all her classmates do it every year? We have to deal with keeping track of the years to make sure they are divisible by four but not by a hundred (with the exception of those years divisible by four hundred)! It’s enough to drive anyone loony. Which is sort of our point,” said noted Feb29thist Renu Wabanatski. “We declare our indefinite neutrality, subject to negotiation if and only if either side supports our demand for the abolishment of the Gregorian Solar Calendar in favour of a Lunar one.”

The other Date-types (both partial to the Gregorian Calendar, for some reason) responded by calling a temporary truce to eliminate all pockets of Feb29thist Neutrals. After The Purge of The Painful (as the event was later named)6, the Date-types resumed their confrontations. They also ensured that no one ever had children on the 29th of February.

The next century saw the price of e-waste rise to a record $17 trillion a kg7, as both Date-types tried desperately to monopolise the food pellets market. This century also saw the rise and fall of many factions of each Date-type, such as the Odd-dated Multiples Of Two, Even-dated Multiples of Three and Even Multiples of Primes among others. There were some surprising turns of events, including the treachery of the Two-borns, who joined the Three-borns, the Five-borns, the Seven-borns and other Prime-borns to form the lethal Prime Force in the second century of warfare. The Prime Force was anarchist in nature and indiscriminately attacked members of either side.

The formation of the Prime Force has been cited by all sides as the main reason for the eventual cooling down of tensions. A common and unpredictable enemy often has a way of uniting disagreeing groups. And so, after over three centuries of what might be best described as arbitrary warfare, we had peace all across the globe.

Until an innocent recess-time game of Which Colour Do You Choose?

[Written on 2nd June, 2009.]

  1. People greeted their brothers from other religions with a bright smile and a “Good day!”, although they were courteous enough to leave out the accompanying “… hell-bound infidel!” They looked at one another with mildly amused expressions and didn’t bother bothering them with religious propaganda. The Atheists were most pleased by this, though the fence-sitting Agnostics never really figured out why their backsides continued to hurt. []
  2. Known as Yet Another War To End All Wars, World War Four reduced humanity’s numbers from 13 billion to 560 million in just over eleven years. []
  3. Pronounced ree-klaym-dya, Reclaimedia is one of the new nations formed by land reclamation following the Great Flood of 2057. Its main export is Genetically Modified Turtles, which shed their shells twice a year. The shells are sold as protection for toddlers. []
  4. For an interesting, non-trivial treatment of this fascinating concept and its implications to the world of Econobiology, refer to the paper Scholastic Statistics and the Probabilistic Class Division Problem by J. K. Really et al (2164). []
  5. Of course, the entire Pledge being as long as it is, its recitation takes up to three weeks. The short version, containing only the first 103 lines, is preferred at all official ceremonies. []
  6. Ms. Wabanatski, the first to be publicly executed, had the following last words: “I’d rather die on my feet, than follow the Solar Calendar on my knees.” Her request was fulfilled swiftly by the firing squad. []
  7. The former United States of America, to-day called the Federated Provinces of America, agreed to give up their insistence on using the Imperial System of measurements during the formation of the Federation of Earth’s Nations, provided the Dollar be adopted as the official currency of earth. “We have no opposition to this MKS (metre, kilometre, second) system, so long as we have a universally accepted standard unit of Currency as well,” said their representative at the pre-Federation talks, much to the amusement of all the world’s scientists. This is the origin of the MKSD system of measurement used to-day. The standard unit, called the April Dollar, is defined as the value of the US Dollar at precisely 1402 hrs GMT on April 21, 2187. All subsequent variations of the Dollar’s value are measured with respect to this April Dollar. The complications that have arisen from this standardisation have made it more difficult for Economists and Mathematicians to manipulate the world than was recorded in the late 21st Century. []