Did you know there is a website called “Math is Fun”? Do you suppose there are people out there who actually believe this?
I mean, I suppose there must be. Some people, perhaps even people I associate with, although I might never admit this in public, make numbers their avocation. They not only understand them, but revel in them. Why is it, do you imagine, that I would freely associate with such types?
Well, the first reason would be to have someone to turn to to do the hard math for me. That’s a very good reason right there. Maybe you don’t even need a second reason with a great reason like that.
Which is how I found myself at mathisfun.com this morning, there being a dearth of People of Math (much politer than “math people,” an anachronistic term found only in the ancient texts, now considered rude) around me at this hour.
On my own, I couldn’t remember the term I wanted, which is “exponent.” As a word, it’s a fun one: it has an X in it, and the syllables fit nicely together: ex-po-nent. It even has a non-math meaning for Word People (not as offensive as “math people”: “In the beginning was the Word”), and it’s a good one: someone who speaks for or advocates. As a math concept, though, it makes my head hurt.
I was fumbling for this term the other day, when I was on the Colorado Public Health site, where they have stopped putting covid cases in terms of per-100,000 people (People of Disease). At the time, I don’t remember how many confirmed cases the state had (5,000-ish?), but the site noted that the actual number was probably 17-18,000, or .01-.02 percent of the state’s population.
[It turns out Gunnison County has a population of 17,000-ish, so there you go: we are .01 percent of the state’s population.]
But then Governor Polis held a press conference extending our statewide “stay at home” order until April 26 (it’s a moving target; now it might be April 30, and don’t bet the rent on that, if you can even afford your rent). In providing coverage, 9 News noted the state’s chief medical officer for public health said he expects 30 to 40 percent of all Coloradans to eventually become infected with covid-19.
That certainly seems exponential. From .01 to 40, despite all this mitigating? That’s not just exponential, it’s downright depressing. And I’m going to leave it to all you People of Math to figure out how many exponents are needed to make those kind of calculations.
In the meantime, I found a far more interesting example of exponential expansion — and people in big disagreement as to whether this has been a good exponent or bad. I’m talking, of course, of the “cocaine hippos” of the country of Colombia.
Get this: I read about them in, of all things, the Crested Butte News. Mostly, the News concerns itself with the goings-on in our valley, but every week on page 2 are little paragraphs on items of interest from the state, nation and world, and last week the cocaine hippos got mentioned.
Once upon a time in Colombia there was a major drug lord — you know he’s major when his name is famous worldwide — named Pablo Escobar. Not really trafficking (har) with major drug lords, I can’t tell you anything about Sr. Escobar, except that he appears to have had some exotic interests. Exotic as in hippos, as in hippopotamuses, or potamii (you’d think a Word People would know which is correct).
Sr. Escobar was shot and killed somewhere by someone in 1993, and the Colombian government took over his estate in northwest Colombia. This estate included an illegal (because drug lords often seem to concern themselves with legalities) personal zoo. And in this zoo were four hippos, imported from Africa.
While many of the zoo’s inmates were repatriated or otherwise appropriated after their owner’s death, the hippos turned out to be big. And mean. They got left in place, apparently with free run of the zoo and the estate.
And here the exponents came into play. So far, my vast 15 minutes of research (I spared no effort!) have failed to turn up the sexes of these four hippos (one and three? two and two? perhaps four impregnated females?), but whatever, these four have been profligate as they have propagated and propagated and wandered farther afield, or ajungle.
Now no one knows how many hippos are wandering the highlands (or lowlands — I’m afraid my geographic knowledge of Colombia is sadly lacking), but the estimate is around 100. The climate agrees with these creatures, obviously, and they are busy claiming the Magdalena River for themselves.
What no one can decide so far is if this is for the better or worse. People using the Magdalena for one function or another (it’s the country’s main river) probably are leaning toward “worse.” While we like to think of hippos as benign antediluvians, they were quite feared in ancient Egypt, where they caused more than one death on the Nile. Colombia’s hippos haven’t killed anyone — yet — but they do chase people.
On the other hand are some who think the hippos may be restoring Colombia’s ecosystem. They don’t mean restoring yesteryear’s ecosystem, however: they mean an antediluvian ecosystem, one reminiscent of the area 20,000 years ago, when the toxodons roamed. (Ah, we remember it well.)
Or maybe when the tapirs ruled. There are still tapirs, although apparently they’re in decline. Who knows if the hippos will stop the tapir decline, or replace them as a keystone species. At the rate the hippos are reproducing, the estimate is that while we got 100 in the first 25 years, the next 25 could beget thousands. Think of that: thousands of hippos tromping through the Colombian wilderness, probably not staying on developed trails.
One hippo was killed back in 2009, but the ensuing public outcry put an end to that nonsense. Another was moved to a zoo, which had been the plan, sort of, with the original four, and my extensive research didn’t explain why, but getting that one hippo to the zoo cost 15 million pesos. Which sounds substantially more than its U.S. equivalent of $4,500, but which could increase exponentially should all the hippos become zoo-bound.
For now the cocaine hippos (branded for life by an act they didn’t voluntarily take part in) roam unfettered, procreating freely and muddying the waters both literal and figurative in their adopted homeland. And all because one man with exponentially more money than sense could do whatever he wanted.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.