By Tom Standage
Clever, savvy solutions to common questions, from the hugely well known Economist Explains and day-by-day Chart blogs, a deal with for the understanding, the uninitiated and the downright curious
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Additional info for Go Figure: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
In China the picture is further confused by the fact that one written form unifies Chinese-language speakers (though mainland Chinese write with a simplified version of the characters used in Hong Kong and Taiwan). But this written form is not a universal “Chinese”: it is based on Mandarin. The confusion arises because many people consider written language to be the “real” language, and speech its poor cousin. The same reasoning can be used to classify Arabic as a single language, though a Moroccan and a Syrian, say, cannot easily understand each other.
That is bad for accuracy, but it means the mechanism is unlikely to jam, no matter how clogged it gets with Sudanese sand or Nicaraguan mud. Designed to be operated by Soviet soldiers wearing thick winter gloves, it is simple enough for untrained recruits (including children) to use. These features explain why the gun has remained in demand. But its success is also down to supply. The Soviet Union wanted to standardise military equipment among its allies, so it shipped giant caches of the weapons to friendly states, where it also established factories to churn out the rifles by the hundreds of thousands.
Besides, abolishing the leap second would mean that the two forms of time-keeping begin to diverge irretrievably, although the effects (such as the sun and the atomic clocks disagreeing about whether it is noon) would not be obvious for decades at least. At the Geneva conference, the delegates were split: Australia, America and China were all in the abolitionist camp; Britain, Russia and many of its ex-Communist satellites favour the status quo. In the end they decided to delay a decision until 2023.