Politics and longevity

So what do we think, is Hillary Clinton staking the future of her candidacy on Obama having a large enough “gaffe” to derail his campaign? Because that seems like the only realistic chance she has of winning the nomination, and thus her only justification for tearing apart her party with a never ending nomination fight. No one likes giving up.

Or wait, is the eventual Democratic strategy going to be a twist on Clinton’s, namely hoping for a McCain health problem to sour the public to his candidacy? If so, they may be in for a shock, since the odds good at this point that he’ll live at least another ten years.

There is a really weird but excessively interesting New Yorker article called Mine Is Longer Than Yours about life expectancy. The author calls it “the last boomer game.” I’d quote at length, but life is (I guess) short, so here’s a morsel that might encourage you to click through:

We are born thinking that we’ll live forever. Then death becomes an intermittent reality, as grandparents and parents die, and tragedy of some kind removes one or two from our own age cohort. And then, at some point, death becomes a normal part of life—a faint dirge in the background that gradually gets louder. What is that point? One crude measure would be when you can expect, on average, one person of roughly your age in your family or social circle to die every year. At that point, any given death can still be a terrible and unexpected blow, but the fact that people your age die is no longer a legitimate surprise, and the related fact that you will, too, is no longer avoidable.

With some heroic assumptions, we can come up with an age when death starts to be in-your-face. We will merge all sexual and racial categories into a single composite American. We will assume that there are a hundred people your age who are close enough to be invited to your funeral. Your funeral chapel won’t fit a hundred people? No problem. On average, half of them will be too busy decomposing to attend. As Max Beerbohm noted in his novel “Zuleika Dobson,” “Death cancels all engagements.” And why a hundred? Because it’s easy, and also because it’s two-thirds of “Dunbar’s number,” of a hundred and fifty, which is supposedly the most relationships that any one set of human neurons can handle. We’re crudely assuming that two-thirds of those are about your age.

Anyway, the answer is sixty-three. If a hundred Americans start the voyage of life together, on average one of them will have died by the time the group turns sixteen. At forty, their lives are half over: further life expectancy at age forty is 39.9. And at age sixty-three the group starts losing an average of one person every year. Then it accelerates. By age seventy-five, sixty-seven of the original hundred are left. By age one hundred, three remain.