THE MARGIN OF ERROR, AND ITS PARADOXICAL RELATIONSHIP TO ZENO
Raven has been unusually quiet this morning. Instead of his usual cacophany of four-letter epithets emitted while scrolling through the news on the screen, a soft breeze of concentration has been stirring the dust projectiles that mysteriously (except maybe to Galileo) form parabolas here over the South Pacific. Suddenly, the breeze stops. Raven scratches his head, and one of his feathers remains vertical. Like an exclamation point.
“If one bomb is more than sufficient to kill one person, why does Baby Bush believe that 3,000 are necessary to kill Saddam Hussein?”
What are you doing, Rave—trying to invent Zeno’s Fifth Paradox?
“No, but I have occasionally thought of dazzling the world by becoming a living representation of his Arrow Paradox. Instead of the arrow in flight at any given moment appearing to be frozen in its trajectory, I will be the perfectly motionless bird.”
Hanging in space?
“And in time. Like a bomb. Over Bagdad.” Raven beats out the words like a rapper.
Okay, Rave. I’ll bite. If one bomb examined at one point in its fall appears not to be moving, then if all the projected 3,000 projectiles can be examined at specific points they will appear not to be moving either. And will never fall on Bagdad?
“If Zeno had been right, there would be that hope. Unfortunately, although Zeno was very imaginative at manipulating mathematical operations, he was compulsively wrong. But that was not the point I started out to make. I was concerned about another paradox: If the new belligerent technology has indeed produced intelligent weapons, why should it be necessary to drop 3,000 bombs in a situation where one would be more than sufficient? Even in the Middle Ages they ran with a lower margin of error than that. Imagine having to pour 3,000 vats of boiling oil over the castle ramparts in order to discourage one guy from beating your gate down. With the need to build in a margin of error like that, on the space/time continuum we would still be in the 12th or 13th century. Not to mention the logistical problem of getting enough oil to fill the 3,000 vats. British Petroleum and Exxon weren't even trading on the Big Board yet. So I believe something must be very wrong with the Pentagon’s calculations.” Raven is narrowing his eyes.
I see. Are you saying that needs are being manufactured where none in fact exists? Or that the budget for waging war against Saddam Hussein is 3,000 times what it should be?
“Only if the same margin of error that was built in for the bombs is being applied across the board.” Smug little guy, Raven. But he looks a little nervous, too.
Well, Rave, I fear it may be the case. Or possibly even more extreme. There have been a number of scandals in the past—during the few moments of peacetime that have occurred since 1945, the Pentagon’s budget for supplies and installations was so inflated that screwdrivers were costing hundreds of dollars and toilet seats in the thousands. If the same trend applies to numbers of items as it does to the cost of each individual item, Bush will bankrupt the US economy indefintely. When, in fact, he could wage war on Saddam Hussein for the cost of a few thousand screwdrivers. (I think I’m with him now.)
“Or they could just drop 3,000 toilet seats on Bagdad....”
I should have seen it coming.
But it was just hanging there in the sky.