On Turning 50
Published on: June 16, 2012
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  • Kenny


  • Glenn

    First, congrats to the creator of the world’s most interesting blog. I would point out, though, one minor caveat: [quote]
    “Is thinking of your age in hexadecimal, base twelve numbers a form of denial?” [end quote]
    Actually hexadecimal is base sixteen, and decimal 60 is hexadecimal (base 16) is 3C, so WRM is still in his late thirties. (Of course, in base 54, decimal sixty is 16, barely old enough to drive…)

  • Soul

    I always get a kick out of my father. He was born on the 31st of December. When talking about his birthday he can confuse people on how old he is by one year. He’s pretty good at it.

    As I like to joke though, my father was a special blessing to his parents on the day he was born. He was a tax break the day he came into the world, and the next day too! Way to go grandma!

  • Anthony

    Whether base 16, base 12, or base 10 calculations, it is what it is. The tragedy and truth of the human life cycle (to borrow a phrase) no matter how we numerically label it remains what it is. Autumn can be a splendid season without revision – perhaps we utilize the favorable changes wrought by life’s progression via adaptation rather than reclassification.

  • vanderleun

    Wonderful. Happy birthday. But remember that at your age Mozart was dead. So have your cake and then say, “Okay, break’s over. Back on my head!”

  • Eric from Texas

    Happy 50th!

    This column is a great example of why this blog is one of the best around. Always something insightful and interesting to learn. Keep up the good work!

  • MaleschMorocco

    All the best for many more to a great blogger and thinker!

  • ms

    I’m showing this to my husband, who also turned “50” a few days ago. It was a bit of a crisis for him, but I think you are right, we are living longer and better now, yet without the knowledge of our own mortality, life would not be nearly so rich. Have a wonderful birthday, whether it’s 50 or 60! I always appreciate the wisdom you dispense.

  • Jim.

    Happy Birthday, and thanks for the perspective about the older end of aging!

    One caution, though – base twelve probably doesn’t apply to the female biological clock. A woman in her 20s or early 30s (decimal) is still by far more likely to have healthy children (and have the energy and resilience necessary to deal with the kids) than a woman in her early 36-48s.

    The West has not come to terms with this reality, and doing so would help our demographic challenges immensely. (Here again, more traditional Westerners have a huge advantage because of our cultural assets / expectations.)

  • John Barker

    “I’m learning new things, engaging new ideas, working with new colleagues and exploring a new medium.”
    And many of your readers are doing the same, I think, inspired by this blog. Happy Birthday, WRM!

  • All the very best wishes to you — and, to be a bit selfish: may you have many many more productive years of blogging ahead!

  • Corlyss


    Happy natal day, what ever number it is.

  • ddh

    Happy birthday!

    I had a momentary thrill that I, too, can be 50 again next year, but then I realized that the joke doesn’t translate into Japanese or Chinese. To my Japanese wife, I will still be “roku-juu-sai” (six-ten years old).

  • Kris

    You are old, and yet you incessantly post on your blog; do you think, at your age, it is right?

    “I have no plans to dye my hair and buy a Porsche.”

    Nah, that’s passe. Instead, you should launch into twitter.

    Nitpick: Duodecimal. I do wish you as much vigor when you reach 50 (let alone 60) in hex.

    Then again, if you learned about base systems in the “New Math” fad, I can hardly blame you for much. That fad took mathematical ideas that could have been of interest to a minority of students, and made them wearisome and unintelligible to all.

    “Zbigniew Brzezinski is not far behind.”

    I seem to recall an expression beginning “Vade retro”… 🙂

  • Cathleen

    Congratulations, WRM. I almost never forward things around, but I’ve sent this onto a bunch of friends. An instant classic. Thanks so much.

  • Ed Snyder

    Fifty schmifty. Whatever, the whole point is having the birthday. As opposed to, you know, not having one.

    Happy Birthday to you sir. And thank you for sharing your gifts of insight with so many. 🙂

  • Russ

    Incidentally, I read the other day that sperm GAINS telomeres the older the man gets, directly resulting in generally-improved longevity the older your father and grandfather. If we can continue to safely extend the age at which our wives can bear children, then we can in theory keep pushing that horizon further and further, one sparkling little munchkin at a time.

  • Steve

    Walter remember…
    Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut
    P. J. O’Rourke

  • Ann

    New math ended in 1980, so you just missed the reintroduction of the new old math. Since I was taught new math, I’m all for your calculations.

  • Ann
  • > In base twelve, ’30′ turns into ’24′

    Alas, no; it’s 26. Two twelves and 6 ones. 🙂

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Rolf Andreasson: an intern’s afternoon has suddenly become very unpleasant…

  • PJ/Maryland

    Congratulations on reaching three score, whether you write it as 60 (base ten) or 50 (base twelve).

    As someone who found the New Math useful, for a few brief shining years when working with machine code for early PCs, permit me to point out a math error. In your tenth paragraph, you equate 30 (base ten) with 24 (base twelve). In fact, the base twelve number is 26.

    Happy Birthday, and long may you wave!

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @PJ/Maryland: Thanks, and note the reply to Rolf below. When the interns can’t handle a simple math problem, the staff disciplinarian waxes seriously wroth.

  • DaveZ

    Interest article!

    I know you blog on the various professions at length–it appears that some of them (my experience is in law) have somehow missed the memo. Even though a young lawyers career may not be commencing until they are in their late 20’s, and may not reach it’s zenith until they are in their late 30’s; for the vast majority of lawyers (especially true for those in the superfirms), their careers are coming to the end by the time they are in their mid- to late-40’s. Very rarely are they able to reposition themselves in the profession. As you have noted and given the high cost of the education required, entering on a career path under these parameters should be taken with care!

  • Robert Dammers

    The metric system is, indeed, French in origin. But we owe positional decimal notation to Indian mathematicians. We used to call them “Arabic numerals” because Europeans learned of them a millenium ago from North African Arabs.

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