Math & insects

BY BEAU ELLIOT | APRIL 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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I don’t watch network TV or cable TV, not because I’m some elite liberal snob (though I probably am) but because my TV doesn’t receive any TV signals.

(What kind of TV is that, you ask, that doesn’t pick up any TV signals? Well, I suppose it’s the kind of TV that you get for free. You gotta admit, you can’t beat the price.)

So my TV, I suppose, is not exactly a TV but more a DVD player with a screen.

All of which means that I learn about what occurs in the foreign country named TV from friends and people such as Gail Collins, who is much better connected than I am. (Well, Collins is a New York Times columnist, so of course she’s better connected.)

And so you can imagine my astonishment when Collins told me (Well, via one of her columns; it’s not as if we get together and chat on the phone or anything. Besides, I don’t have a phone. Yeah, I know. Some of my friends accuse me of still living in the 20th century.)

Anyway, Collins told me recently about an episode of something called “Celebrity Apprentice” in which two contestants, if that’s what they’re called, debated whether this was the 21st or the 20th century.

And my friends think I’m behind the times.

This goes hand-in-hand with the news that U.S. students rank 23rd in the world in math and science. No. 1? Students in Shanghai. (Yes — China has Shanghai-ed our math scores.)

And so it comes as no surprise that Transocean, part of the crew that contributed (at least reportedly) to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, has awarded some of its executive big bonuses for — wait for it — the company’s safety practices.

No, really.

So you’re correct: Vonnegut and Kafka (along with Borges and Cortázar) are still collaborating on creating our times.

I love those writers. I just wish they weren’t so right all the time.

Couldn’t they be wrong just once in a while?

Meanwhile, Dutch researchers contend that by 2050, with the world’s population at around 9 billion, meat will be in short supply, and humans should turn to insect meat.

No, really (not to repeat myself, though I, along with most humans, often do — just listen sometime instead of, say, oh, texting).

Yuck, you say (or text). Insects. Cockroaches (cleaner than human beings, according to some scientists), grasshoppers (a delicacy among some societies), eels (well, not an insect, and smoked eel is a delicacy in northern Germany, among other places, as I can attest — even though the last batch also involved some grub worms; my digestive system dealt with them quite fine).

The Dutch scientist I heard on BBC Radio pointed out that some tomato sauces and peanut butter invariably contain some insect meat, and your digestive system does quite fine, too.

And you still do not want a firsthand knowledge of how sausage is made.

Just a thought.

On the cheery side of life, there were 14 “near-miss” incidents at U.S. nuclear reactors last year, according to a recent report.

Which leads us to 1997, when nine U.S. nuclear reactors were shut down by the NRC for the year to fix safety problems. This didn’t sit well with the nuclear industry, so its representatives went to Congress in 1998 and said, in the words of one expert on public radio’s “Science Friday,” get the NRC off our backs. So Congress, in 1998, told the NRC to stop being so picky about enforcing its safety regulations or face a 40 percent budget cut. The NRC, staunch regulatory agency that it is, backed off.

Kind of makes you want to eat insects.

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