Tall tales

The average height of a man was five feet, five inches, about 1969. Do not ask from whose authority I gleaned this information, for I can’t remember. I think it was in some statistical manual of world affairs, for I was addicted to such publications, then.

I would guess that the average height of women was shorter, and of children if separately measured, shorter still. That the averages have been increasing, almost everywhere but exceptionally in Asia, I would also guess, but on still less authority. You see, statistical surveys no longer entertain me.

Nevertheless, they may entertain some readers. I read somewhere that the average height of a Persian had increased by more than six inches over the last century. I’m not sure whether to credit the nutritional skills of Shahs or Ayatollahs; or perhaps Iranians (including their minorities?) just expand over time. Everyone is doing it, in modernity, I hear. (Too much sugar?)

But I shall drop these particular speculations, for they will lead to distinctions of race and sex, which trouble some of our other contemporaries. Suffice that, without them, all of our numbers are meaningless: even if our average might happen to be spot on.

Hélas! … the trouble goes deeper. The truth requires context.

I mentioned inches, at the outset, thus implying my use of British Imperial, or American Customary, units of length (approximately the same), in both of which we have twelve to a foot. I would therefore exclude classical Chinese fractions of a chih, or classical Greek, which chopped the foot into sixteen daktyloi, or the modern habit in the Oriental building trades, of counting three “feet” to each (Système International d’Unités) metre, each consisting of ten round, but still illegal, “inches.” Even with the more conveniently divisible twelve, I might have chosen this metre for the length of my yard, giving it thirty-six parts.

Alternatively, my own joyful adaptation of the nautical mile. By this, it is divided into sixty plethra. Each of these is subdivided into ninety-six feet, so the foot is precisely one five thousand, seven hundred and sixtieth of a nautical mile. (It was designed, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, to defeat glib decimal calculations.)

This even before we consider variations that might offend “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (or DEI might stand for “Divide Et Impera,” as they said in ancient Rome). Or we might consider the matter as an average over the time since humans were invented. For even at its most objective, context can be rather subjective; as well as unknowable (to humans).

News agents, or “journalists” as they call themselves, seldom deal with anything so cut and dried. Most of their concepts are wet and slippery.

In writing about Ukraine, for instance, I am not surprised that they get nothing right, in any context. True, Putin is unreasonable and psychotic; Zelensky is unreasonable and corrupt; and there is a background history of sinfulness on both sides, and elsewhere. (Father, forgive!)

We suffer a brutal war, in consequence. What we don’t have, and cannot hope to get, is any reliable information.