»  Taki's Magazine

July 11th, 2013

  Quarterly Potpourri: 2013, Q2

Oops, I did it again.     I'm so out of touch with the zeitgeist, I'm always honestly surprised when something I write stirs people up. "You've done it again!" chortled Alan Colmes after introducing me on his radio show following my June 13th column about sexual harassment. Had I? Why?

The case against mixed-sex military units is solid and straightforward. So is the fact that extremely few women are suited to the most strenuous kinds of combat units, mixed or not. So is the damage being done by the sexual-harassment hysteria:

At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships …

Likewise the ambiguity of the rape charge and its use by some women for spite or money. So … what'd I say? The truth, I guess — radioactive in an age of pretty lies.


Hank's last drive.     I once started off an article about Hank Williams with this sentence, which I was very pleased with:

Hank Williams died in either 1952 or 1953, in either Tennessee or West Virginia.

As a host of readers e-jeered at me, Tennessee and West Virginia are noncontiguous, which spoils the effect. I e-jeered back: "Everybody's a critic."

My opening continued:

The confusions arise from the fact that he was in the back seat of a car, late on New Year's Eve, being driven from Montgomery, Alabama to Charleston, West Virginia, by a young student hired for the purpose. At some point, most likely before midnight, Hank Williams died, from a combination of booze and pain-killing drugs …

That young student's name was Charles Carr. He himself died this July 2nd. Another tiny fragment of the old, weird America falls into the dust and is lost.


Pure randomness.     This is a classic in its genre.

[Added when archiving in 2019:  The original link no longer works. I have substituted the nearest report I could find.]

The genre itself is abundant: Tune in any night to your local TV news. This is just a particularly choice specimen, with all the "points" (as they say at dog shows) very highly developed.

The white pussification, for example. Check out this weepy broad at 0m44s:

I just wish we could all be nice to each other [sob] … It's just time to be kind to each other and take care of each other [voice breaking]. Stop it [sob]! There's no reason for it [sob, sob]!

Poor thing! What happened to her?

Tania Smolinski was a victim of a random attack. Police say she was walking to her car … when a man punched her in the face several times and took off without taking anything.

A random attack! For no reason whatsoever!

Her boyfriend at 0m58s, an employee at a wine bar (metrosexual alert!) was taking a break in an alley when "a group of about 14 teenagers ambushed him."

One teenager punched him in the face and ran off. Then more teens started attacking him for no apparent reason.

For no apparent reason!

Ms Smolinski has learned a lesson, though: She "encourages everyone to be alert and aware of their surroundings at all times." But what particular aspect of our surroundings are we to be alert to? The randomness, I guess.

For readers unfamiliar with randomness, here are some random digits: 5286 8019 3368 4706 6932 6393 8978 1995 8940 5697 …just so you'll know the randomness when you encounter it.


What happened in the fifties.     I'm having great fun reading David Kynaston's books about the social history of postwar Britain: Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain. They could have been written for me: Kynaston starts the story where I started my existence, around VE Day.

Two strong impressions from the narrative so far (I'm up to 1956): the terrific burst of affluence and the revolutionary nature of TV.

The advent of TV probably effected some major and permanent rewiring of the human brain. It sure did things to social life. Kynaston quotes John Fowles' diary for 1956:

The drinkers in the pub sat in silence, watching, not drinking. Transfixed by the shimmering screen, like the first cavemen to make fire. Agape. And such rubbish … Desecration of most sacred themes — death, birth …

The affluence likewise transformed us irrevocably. I can clearly remember, yet hardly believe, the bareness of pre-affluence life. Now we are overwhelmed by cheap manufactured goods — great tsunamis of them. And the future comes apace: 3-D printers, autonomous cars. Where are we headed?


The coming Midas plague.     I think we all have a rough idea.

Fewer Than Half Of Americans Have Full Time Jobs … 101M Get Food Aid from Federal Gov't; Outnumber Full-Time Private Sector Workers …

We can produce goods, and increasingly services, in colossal abundance without the need of many people. We still need plumbers and dentists, but not production-line workers, supermarket-checkout clerks, telephone-switchboard gals, or travel agents.

So what shall we all do? The logical answer is: consume. That was the premise of Frederick Pohl's 1954 story "The Midas Plague." From Kingsley Amis's synopsis:

We open with a wedding reception in the quarter-acre, fountain-studded ballroom of the gigantic mansion owned by the hero, Morey Field, complete with its nine special-function robots. The bride's parents, wearing rented garments, eventually drive off in a miniature runabout to their five-room cottage, full of foreboding about the advisability of rich folks marrying poor folks.

The joke is that they are the rich folks, while Morey is poor: "for in this society the poor man is he who must consume more than his neighbor."

Neal Stephenson worked up a more sophisticated version of this theme in The Diamond Age. The future will not be exactly like either story, but the broad theme is right. I can recall my dad riding to work on a bicycle because we couldn't afford a car. Now cars are a prole thing, while yuppies ride bikes.