Chiyo Miyako died last week at 117. For three years, she had been the oldest woman alive and had just recently become the oldest person alive, period. Way to go Chiyo!
These sorts of things fascinate me. I just turned 69. How might I feel if it ever happens that I “just turn” 109? Will I find myself thinking, “only eight more years and I’ll tie Chiyo?” Am I in line to have a shot at the brass ring? After eight more times around the merry-go-round, will it be my turn at the fleeting glory? My turn to say “I owe my longevity to daily bourbon, hot sauce and garlic?” My turn to be the oldest person in the world? And if so, for how long? Three months? Three years?
Science says at any given time there’s only one person who is older than every other living person. That continues until that person dies and the next oldest person takes over the title. Science also says the transition will be widely reported in the news, usually with a positive spin.
Naturally, I have studied the mathematics of this. The obvious mathematical question is: How long can the average oldest person be expected to retain the title of oldest person before they die and give the title up to their successor? The answer turns out to be: Forget about it! It’s a paradigm for unknowable. You can almost prove you can’t know it using marbles, chewing gum and a stick. The mathematical theorem actually says, “Are you kidding me? Get the heck outta here! No! You can’t know that. I won’t let you.”
Speaking of science, it turns out that Mars has gobs of water and we knew it but didn’t know we knew it. This is hard to explain. Basically, a Mars probe found a big lake (of water, slush or wet mud) under polar ice right around the time Chiyo became the oldest woman in the world, and we only just now noticed, because it takes so much time to notice anything.
Noticing things takes time. Not many people know this, but there is a limit to that, just like there’s a limit to the speed of light. The speed of noticing things is roughly the maximum speed of smart. Smart can only go so fast until it trips all over its big red shoes and a dog licks its face while it’s lying on the ground and there is raucous laughter, which never helps.
I try to notice everything I can, but I am constrained by the universal speed limit of noticing. It isn’t so much about how much I can notice but how soon I can notice it.
For example, it never occurred to me until this week that new trolleys for the connected Seattle line would or could be too large for existing rails. When I heard this I felt dizzy from the veritable rush of events. How can I keep up with this maddening rush?
As I said last week, I am completely in favor of trolleys. I like trolleys so much that I have gone out of my way to ride the South Lake Union Trolley and/or Streetcar. As I’ve said, the attraction of trolleys is clear: They hardly have any seats, so when I do ride one, I’ve practically got it to myself.
Returning to the shock about the trolleys being too big. I read the reports. The biggest problem is just the weight. The new streetcars that have been ordered are longer and heavier than what we’ve been used to, and, as I understand it, driving them over the existing tracks will shmoosh the tracks down and we’ll all be sorry. I don’t know why. Something to do with stress tensors and gravity, I’m guessing.
I still want trolleys, streetcars or whatever you want to call them. I want them because I know they will go where they are supposed to go. Trolleys don’t ever just change their minds and hop off their tracks and go wherever they feel like going. They don’t take wrong turns.
Trolleys don’t chase squirrels up trees. Trolleys go where their rails say they go.
In conclusion, what I think is important about this whole situation is the reminder that we still live in a Republic, where we are governed by elected representatives who don’t have any idea what they’re doing. We should wake up and notice that and feel good about it, for lack of any other reason to feel good and, perhaps, hope to one day outlive them all.
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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