Zero and Other Perils of the World

Zero is a good thing. It means nothing and it means everything

By Anil Madan

There has been a recent spate of articles informing us that Mexico City is not in a spate* (* English for experience a deluge of water) and apparently in danger of heading in the other direction toward “Day Zero” which is when the taps will truly run dry and deliver nary a drop. Greater Mexico City is one of the world’s megacities with some 22 million residents. As one might surmise, the area has seen severe drought conditions for months. City officials have restricted residents’ access to water to about an hour every few days.

Climate Crisis Peril: Climate Crisis: What are we doing wrong? Pic – Doral Family Journal

The articles caught my attention for several reasons and had me thinking about Day Zero. As I was ruminating about nothing … er Zero …, I received the Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s bill for the past month. It shows that my water consumption jumped from an average of around 400 gallons to 9747 gallons or 1303 CF. I called to ask what was going on and the Customer Representative cheerfully offered that I must have had a running toilet. I assured her that the last I checked, all the toilets were still inside the house, and none had escaped. Ah well, she suggested I could dispute the bill, so I said: “Certainly!” I guess they’ll investigate and let me know that it is water down the drain.

Getting back to the articles about Mexico City, the major culprit the authors latched onto was climate change. Of course, we are all aware of rising temperatures and disruptions in precipitation patterns and intensity around the world. Who doesn’t remember the severe flooding in Pakistan? Or in Australia, Germany and many parts of Europe, Britain, India, Bangladesh, Japan, USA … where shall I stop?

But Mexico City’s water problems go way, way back, long before we humans first drilled for oil. An article that apparently originated on CNN, discussed some of the contributing factors including its location (apparently, it’s not a place where one would build a megacity today), sprawling thoughtless urbanization, a leaky water infrastructure system. Add to that, years of low rainfall, droughts, heat, El Niño, La Niña, and you have the modern-day disaster.

Well, it’s always great to go back in history and find a culprit, extolling, in the process if one can, the indigenous inhabitants of yore who, as we know, can do no wrong. So it is that the article praised the Aztecs for having chosen this spot (where no one would build today) when it was a series of lakes. They built networks of canals and bridges and expanded the city outwards. Of course, they didn’t have to deal with 22 million Mexicans or toilets that wouldn’t run. I don’t know if the Aztecs had toilets. We’ll let that pass.

The culprits? Why, it was the Spaniards who 400 years ago, tore up the city, drained the lakebed, choked the canals with landfill and ripped out forests. Apparently, they thought water an enemy. What were they thinking?

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Imran Khan’s Zero and the Perils of Democracy

On the other side of the world, as you are undoubtedly aware, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has been languishing in a jail cell. Nevertheless, representatives of his party won the most seats in the recent election.

One of the perils of democracy is that if a party does not get a majority of the votes, it can be truly out of luck when it comes to getting things done. We have seen how, in the US, House Speaker Mike Johnson gets to control the agenda of the House of Representatives. As a result, aid for Ukraine is at Zero, aid for Israel is at Zero, and humanitarian aid for Gaza is at Zero. This kind of Zero is not a wonderful thing.

Imran Khan is out of luck. It is reported that former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif —  who was in jail for seven months but released — has cut a deal to form a coalition with a third party and this will shut Imran’s party out. Imran’s party won more seats than any other party, but not a majority of seats, so his supporters’ 95 seats are effectively reduced to Zero. The former cricket star must rue the day that the rules of cricket allow one to be the leading scorer but not out.

A curious note is that one of new PM Sharif’s priorities will be to negotiate with the IMF for assistance in paying off billions of dollars of debt due this year. The answer? Get a loan of $6 billion to pay off the old loan and reduce it to Zero. What a wonderful concept this Zero is?

To compound matters for Imran Khan, a Pakistani court indicted both him and his wife Bushra on charges that they received a plot of land as a bribe when he was Prime Minister. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll be allowed to share the same cell.

As I was thinking about this whole Zero thing, I was stuck in traffic on one of the two bridges that I must cross to get to downtown Boston. Things were not moving, so my speed was down to Zero, duly registered so on the digital speedometer display. A Subaru crossover pulled alongside and then slightly ahead. I saw the letters PZEV and remembered that it had something to do with “Zero Emissions Vehicle.” So, I looked it up. Turns out it stands for “Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.” How does one get “partial” zero?

According to, a partial zero emission vehicle (PZEV) is a category established by a California environmental board in 1998 as part of an effort to get more zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road. A 2003 target to get at least 50% ZEVs on the road came and went. It didn’t happen. After the 2017 model year, California issued updated requirements that changed the name from PZEV to “transitional zero emission vehicle” (TZEV). Transitioning from partial zero to transitional zero is a wonderful thing.

Well, so far, this sounds like Zero progress to me. This Zero is indeed a wonderful thing. A vehicle can emit partially and still have the word “Zero” as part of its name. Or it can be transitioning to Zero and be somewhat like a running toilet.

Fear not, there is more. In California’s regulations, a super ultra-low emission vehicle or SULEV, is intended to reduce smog-forming emissions. We are told that these are distinct from greenhouse gases. Or, the explanation goes, greenhouse gases mess up the global climate. Smog-forming emissions are what might make the air tough to breathe where you live.

Who thinks these things up? Presumably people with zero brains.

*  *  *

Russian Roulette and Zero Aid

Speaking of Zero aid for Ukraine and Israel (oh, and Zero humanitarian aid for Gaza) it seems to me that the world is playing Russian roulette here. Alexei Navalny’s death (murder, if you will) tells us that Putin is playing Russian roulette for real — his victims are given a loaded gun and fire it at themselves or are “shot” by someone. It seems that opposition to Putin is a Zero-sum game. Putin’s adversaries have a way of disappearing, dying in freezing prisons, in aircraft blowing up, falling out of windows, being poisoned.

What of roulette? If you’ve ever bet on Roulette (it’s been more than 25-30 years since I last did), you know that the wheel often has a Zero and a double Zero. Your odds of winning are decreased because there are now 38 numbers instead of the standard 37. And I have learned that there are roulette wheels with a triple zero, used mostly for charity nights. Trust a charity to make your odds even worse than they already are. This Zero is a wonderful thing — for charities.

This morning, I heard an interview on NPR with a gentleman named Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative. The NPR host, a chap named Inskeep asked a question that has become all too familiar:

INSKEEP: Let’s set aside for a moment the term terrorist or terror group. You would reach an accommodation with the group that attacked Israel on October 7 of last year, killing something around 1,200 Israelis. Are you comfortable with that?

BARGHOUTI: As much as the United States is comfortable dealing with Israel that killed 37,000 Palestinians, including 11,000 children. What’s the difference?

A bit more of the conversation is illuminating:

INSKEEP: I guess our latest figure is – not to quibble – our latest figure is 29,000. Do you have a larger…

BARGHOUTI: OK, yes. But because you don’t count the 7,000 people missing under the rubble, that nobody can get to the bodies of people. But let it be only 29,000. Is that acceptable? Where does that put Israel? I think if you deal with Israel, we have to deal with Hamas.

Methinks, Mr Barghouti has a point.

President Biden is calling for a ceasefire — well, he won’t call it a “ceasefire” but rather “a temporary pause” which sounds to me like a “Partial Zero Killings Period” or PZKP if you are a California regulator.

Barghouti’s other statement bears repeating: “The reality is that we need to stop violence. We need to stop war.”

Iran and Zero Communication

It seems to me that Iran must be brought into this mix. So long as Iran promotes the idea that destroying Israel is its goal and should be the goal of Arabs, we cannot make progress. Right now, the US has Zero communication with Iran. Zero communication means Zero agreement. That Zero is not such a wonderful thing.

The origin of the concept of Zero (I say “concept” rather than the “number” zero because it is not a number unless you say it is the average of -1 and +1) goes back to Babylon. That was a long time ago. Zero in India may have evolved from a philosophical concept to a mathematical one, as a number. The earliest recorded use of Zero appears to go back to the 3rd or 4th Century. The philosophical concept is one of emptiness, a void. The mathematical concept is one of reducing everything it multiplies to zero and everything divided by it to infinity.

There is a concept of Zero Emissions Day. That is approximately September 21st which is dedicated to getting people to abjure fossil fuels. Except, of course, those burning in the background powering everything.

Somewhere in between these two concepts Zero could be a good thing. For example, Zero deaths for a day might be called Zero Day.

Zero is a good thing. It means nothing and it means everything.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 1 March 2024

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