The Blob has been trying (very trying indeed) to promote some critical awareness of numbers: that a billion is a thousand millions not two of them, that sort of thing. If you can train yourself up for this, then you can reliably guesstimate even quite large, or indeed small, numbers. A tuthree weeks ago I had occasion to look askance at the statement that 2 million people from the Baltic SSRs held hands to help achieve their own freedom. Even though great change requires great effort, that number seemed a little too big but not insulting-the-intelligence too big.
The Catalans are on the streets. I've pointed the finger of scorn at a group of Irish pundits for aping the antics of their cross-channel puppet-masters. What is a clever idea the first time it's dreamed up, can seem tired and derivative when somebody else does more or less the same thing elsewhere. I was giving tribs to the Balts last month for mobilising a million peoplein 1989 to hold hands for freedom by forming The Baltic Way. So my admiration is but muted when I report that 1 or 2 million Catalans were out two days ago to form a human chain across the region in SW Europe where that language is spoken. Via Catalana followed the route of the old Roman road Via Augusta and everyone seems to have had a lot of fun. I do like the fact that Diada on 11th September commemorates a 1714 defeat for the Catalans in the War of Spanish Succession, it shows a sense of irony and humility. And I like the geekiness of having official hand-link time set for 17:14hrs. I wasn't aware that ICANN had approved a top level internet domain .cat in 2005 so that Catalans don't have to acknowledge their de facto existence in .es or .fr - the language is spoken N of the Pyrenees.
In 2004 and 2006 I was a teeny cog in the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin. In 2004 before our little internecine meltdown, our Samba school was really together. So much so that we won a nice piece of Waterford glass for being best in show (or best band in Cork/Derry/Louth/Tyrone colours, or band with the nakedest Brazilian dancers, I forget). Here's a picture (you can see my face lower-centre in the sea of red - the trousers and shoes were white) of me being real serious playing the chocahlo. I had to be real serious otherwise I'd fluff the beat and never get back in time with everyone else - it was hard work for me but I persevered in a way I never did with swimming. So I know exactly how long the Dublin StPs parade route is - 2.5km.
At about the same time, an innumerate spokesperson from Bord Failte or Dublin Corporation claimed (big us up why don't you?) that half a million people had watched the Dublin parade. And not on the telly - on the street in the Irish weather. Could that be true? We know that there were 4.5 million people in the country, 6 million on the island, and more than 1 million of them lived within an asses roar (or a DART journey) of O'Connell Street. Furthermore, the hotels were heaving with tourists. If the Balts could muster 2 million for freedom, is half-a-mill not possible for a party?
Some bright spark at the time (I've tried to track-back to name this canny chiel, but can't turn him/her up) looked at the statement critically. Not as what might be possible from the population available, but rather what was physically possible on the street. Those million Balts in 1989 were stretched over 600km and three countries, whereas Bord Failte's putative gawkers were spread over just 2.5km and three Dublin postal districts. The parade route has two (E-W or L-R) sides to give a viewing front of 5000m, the bright-spark reasoned, so every meter would have 100 people craning past each other's umbrellas to catch a glimpse of me shaking my elbows loose. I was on the inside looking out and it just wasn't like that - it wasn't a fifth of that. 10 seconds thought and the back of an envelope exposes the claim as nonsense.