You can imagine this sort of thing happens frequently, although I don’t remember ever before seeing “oldest living American” specified. It’s always been the presumed oldest living human or oldest living man or oldest living woman. I guess this country is getting more into only itself. Well, OK, if that’s what we need to survive emotionally.
This reminds me of the issue I have with popular math jokes.
Popular math jokes are hideous. For example, there’s the extremely annoying one where the pun-line (I’m sure you’ve heard it) goes, “Pie NOT squared. Pies are round!”
Or the countless variations of “[A fire breaks out or some other concern emerges] in a room where a physicist, an engineer and a mathematician are,” and the joke proceeds with how they would each handle it. I think all these jokes are composed by engineers, because they always get the best lines, like “close enough for all practical purposes.”
As a mathematician, I hate all these kinds of jokes. They’re just not funny to me.
My favorite math joke is “17.” Now that’s funny. You’ve got your set-up and punchline all in one number. You don’t have to say anything more. That joke kills.
Here’s the joke about the idea of the oldest living person in the world: “Calculate the expected time an oldest living person in the world retains that title.” It’s not a knee-slapper right away. It’s a thinker. It creeps up on you. Then it’s guffaw-city.
Back in college, I had a professor who would do things like assign an exercise to be turned in by the next Oct. 35. That’s real math humor.
There was a math book in the 1970s that ran about 731 pages, and the index had a line that, if I remember correctly, was “self-reference, p.729.” It was on page 729. I may be mis-remembering the page number, but that conveys the gist of the gag. There was no other mention of “self-reference” in the book.
Just today on Facebook, I went out on a limb and stated, without proof, “264 > 5,” given only the axiom “a farm has 264 chickens.” I may have overstepped the limits of the system I was working in.
No, I’m sure of it. Knowing nothing more than a farm has 264 chickens doesn’t tell you that 264 is more than 5. It doesn’t even tell you that 5 is a number.
In fact, it doesn’t tell you 264 is a number. It could equal the expression “Rhode Island Red.”
Speaking of not telling you anything: To me, the latest and most interesting big-time court case here in Washington is the one joined by former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is the doppelgänger of “Dennis the Menace’s” dad, and my hero, to put a stop to “title-only” bills.
I had never heard of such things until I heard about this legal challenge a week ago.
The suit concerns the practice of legislators introducing bills that are only titles and contain no text, and then filling the text in later.
The example the suit focused on started out with the title “An act relating to revenue.”
From which you could not deduce that the number 5 was implicated.
My immediate reaction when I read “an act relating to revenue” was to blurt out, “No! You’re an act relating to revenue!” High school still lives in me.
In fact the actual idea of the bill, as only its authors could have known at the outset, was to impose a tax on out-of-state banks. But the details of the bill were only introduced two days before the end of the legislative session, and GOLL-ee! Our state constitution is so smart! It says that’s too late — the bill has to be set down 10 days before the end of session.
It turns out the practice has been commonplace for ages, but no one has ever challenged it in court before. I suppose no one wanted to make a big deal about it, because we all want the same thing, namely, a license to procrastinate.
Someday a bill should be introduced with the title “A bill relating to certain legislation,” and later have it mandate its own repeal immediately upon enactment.
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. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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