A Seattle Times headline last week informed us that “Semi filled with 40,000 pounds of chicken feathers overturns on I-5 in Federal Way.” My first thought was to ask why was there a semi carrying 40,000 pounds of chicken feathers on I-5 in Federal Way?
I came up with an answer within seconds. Of course, they’ve got to go somewhere. I mean, look at all that fried chicken Americans eat. That’s a lot of bird, and that has to mean a lot of feathers.
Indeed, the USDA says Americans consume 92 pounds of chicken each per year. Research shows more than 3 percent of that is feathers. So “doing the math” tells us that more than half a million pounds of chicken feathers get plucked from all those chickens per day.
So, what are you going to do when you’ve got more than half a million pounds of chicken feathers piling up in bins every day? Hire shipping companies to take them away, that’s what. Take them to a port, and from there to a landfill in China.
Speaking of things no one wants: No one wants to hear another politician’s theory about what really is causing the oceans to rise. I’m specifically including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-California) statement that the rise of Earth’s oceans is due to rocks falling into them.
When I first saw that statement in the news, my thought was, “Don’t do it, Wes. Just as much as no one wants to hear Rohrabacher’s stupid theory, likewise no one wants to read your napkin calculations proving Rohrabacher’s theory is loony tunes. Spend your time calculating how many tons of chicken feathers have to go to landfills, instead.”
But then a friend of mine, Theo “The Couth(est) Buzzard” Dzielack, who runs a bookstore cafe and so also has too much free time, posed the following question to the general online public: “Question for my engineering and math friends. How many people would it take to join a ‘Rock the Potomac March’ with their pockets and packs filled with stones who threw them into that river to flood Washington, D.C.?
Seeing this question I thought, “Why waste rocks when we could use Republicans themselves?”
Now, I don’t want any actual Republicans to be hurt. This is only a thought experiment to get a sense of the difficulties of flooding places with rocks, etc. Remember that it is only imaginary Republicans we are talking about.
So the first thing I did was Google the dimensions of the problem. How big is the District of Columbia in area and what is its maximum elevation? Since I want to sound sciency about this I looked up the numbers in metric; 177 square kilometers, 125 meters, respectively. Then I took a look at a topographic map, and eyeballed the ratio of volume of land mass in D.C. to the total volume over the base, estimating the ratio to be at least half. So we would like to add a volume of water at least 177,000,000 times 125 times one-half meters cubed, or about 10 billion cubic meters.
Water has a mass of 1,000 kilograms per cubic meter, and the specific gravity of an average Republican is around 1.01. Assume that the average mass of a Republican is 100 kg (they eat pretty well) yadda yadda, and we’ll need 100 billion Republicans, roughly as many as 13 times Earth’s population. That’s more Republicans than we have.
Then as I was checking my answer I happened to notice that the Potomac doesn’t have enough water to begin with, so the “flood” that would be created would consist almost entirely of Republicans, and I started working out alternative approaches such as using the (imaginary) Republicans to dam the river. I’m convinced that would work if we gave it as much attention as they give to walling the country off from Mexico, or coming up with crackpot theories.
Which reminds me: There are other ways to deal with discarded feathers besides throwing them away. People are working on it. Chicken feathers can be used to make paper products and alternatives to plastics. People are working on making disposable diapers from them.
Knowing all that work is being done gives me hope for the human species. One day we may figure out good uses for what we thought was landfill fodder, if we just try.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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