So, wazzup? What’s going on, huh? Qué pasa, hombre?
That’s the question of questions, the one we need to make to get into the game, to find out where we stand and what’s coming down the line. And to whom do we turn to find out? Even local television news people sometimes don’t seem to know. They just call the police to see who’s been bad and who’s been arrested — for them, that’s what’s happening.
It might just depend on whom you’re asking. For a wrangler, it’s how many cows you’ve roped. For a mailman, it’s how many boxes you’ve stuffed. If you’re me and my kind, it’s the number of ants that have crossed the sidewalk in front of our bench on the Plaza. So who decides what’s happening, and what are the reasons they use to make the call?
A headline on the “Onion” website put it this way: “Nuclear Energy Activists Insist U.S. Reactors Completely Safe Unless Something Bad Happens.” That’s good to know.
Bumper stickers wax philosophical with their reminder that “S___ Happens,” apparently referring to the “spit” that forms in some politicians’ mouths when they give speeches. Some things just keep on happening.
Our president and others say we must develop alternative fuels, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create a clean energy future for the nation. Republicans, though, are intent on fighting this all the way. So far, there’s not much that is happening.
When things change, clocks tick, water drips, and horses wail. Things are happening. So what’s happening now? What’s up and around, what’s goin’ on? What’s ticking?
In geometry’s Minkowski space, one needs four real numbers (three space coordinates and one time coordinate) to refer to a point at a particular instant of time. That point, specified by the four coordinates, is called an event. The distance between two different events is called the spacetime interval. That event is what’s happening. Oh, boy, is that ever exciting.
To a geometry geek, everything looks like a coordinate. To a mathematician, everything looks like a number; just like to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To an ant, everything looks like a foot trying to step on it on the sidewalk.
In days past, I thought weathermen were bonkers. Then came the monster storm last winter. The snow piled up on my windshield like whiskers on grandpa’s jaw. I had to drive so slow, three turtles on the sidewalk laughed at me as they beat me home. The weathermen and women were right. That’s what was happening.
The weather watches the world change — all the events and spacetime intervals of it. Then humans stick their noses in and count up time and make things come and go, and grow. With three points of space and one of time, like Minkowski must have said, something is happening, and do it again and you’ve really got it moving. Some people make things, others destroy them. Some play games, sing songs, cook food, tell stories, help their neighbors, drive to Seattle, sleep in beds, make love, pay taxes, and get stuck in the snow. Others sit around and just watch.
Lions spend 21 out of every 24 hours sleeping. Giraffes sleep only a half hour a day. There’s a lot more happening if you’re a giraffe than if you’re a lion. In general relativity (and in the movies), an event horizon is a boundary beyond which events can’t touch you. So whatever is happening there is just peas and gravy — it’ll never show up on the weather report or the news, so who cares? Everything else, though, has its time and place: grandpa’s whiskers, speedster turtles, ants on the sidewalk — you name it. That’s what’s happening. It’s comin’ down.
There are things that have to happen — develop alternate fuels, protect the environment, work for justice among people, educate our children. If not, we’re like lions sleeping, caught in an event horizon, moving like ants on a sidewalk. It’s spit that happens, but that’s about it.
Kozeny works for Socorro Mental Health Inc. His views are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be reached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.