»  Taki's Magazine

January 15th, 2015

  Quarterly Potpourri: 2014, Q3

The Age of Krapp.     There went another year swirling down the plughole — one of the best ever, according to one salaried commentator.

I don't know about that. It was the year I turned 69. Salacious connotations aside, what interests a Samuel Beckett addict is that it was the age of Krapp in the play Krapp's Last Tape:

Crawled out once or twice, before the summer was cold. Sat shivering in the park, drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.

I don't like that play as much as I did 40 years ago. Why is that, I wonder?


Spongebob Squarefree.     An emailer asked me whether there was anything mathematically interesting in the number 2015.

I pulled down my go-to source for this kind of thing, David Wells' Book of Curious and Interesting Numbers. Nope: no entry for 2015. The only thing I could spot at a glance is that it's square free, i.e. not divisible by any perfect square.

And that is hardly unusual. Here's a factlet of the kind that makes non-math types squinch their eyebrows. Pick any whole number, as big as you like — in fact, the bigger the better. What is the probability that it's square free?

Answer: six divided by the square of pi, or 0.6079271.

Thence comes the eyebrow squinch. What does ratio of circumference to diameter have to do with divisibility of integers? No room for a proof here: see Hardy & Wright's Theory of Numbers, §18.6.


Stupid impulse purchase of the year.     Water dancing speakers. Yes, I'm ashamed of myself. Although, in certain moods, to a YouTube clip of the 1812 Overture … (Daughter's boyfriend, trying not to roll eyes at possible future father-in-law: "Great. Now you have your very own Bellagio.")


Smart impulse purchase of the year.     You know how with a regular power strip there's always some damn fat adapter that blocks the outlets on each side? Here's the solution: the PowerSquid.


New taboo word.     A conservative friend told me the following.

She was in conversation with a liberal acquaintance, also female. The liberal lady was talking about a child she knew who'd been born with an unsightly physical defect.

"The upper lip was deformed. It was … split. I mean, like … cleft. Or should that be'cloven' Anyway …"

My conservative friend interrupted. "You mean the child had a harelip?"

The liberal lady was outraged. That was a disgraceful thing to say, she sputtered. My friend should be ashamed of herself for using such a horrible term.

And so the rectification of words marches on. One more generation, and no one will understand what Slim Pickens says to the bomber crew in Dr. Strangelove: "I'm gonna get those bomb doors open if it harelips ever'body on Bear Creek."

Nor will anyone be able to tell the harelip joke. To the best of my knowledge there's only one, and everyone seems to know it.


Woodchipper humor.     Speaking of jokes:

Late fall Mrs Derb prunes her fruit trees. That leaves two humongous piles of branches on the lawn. My mission is then to drag my wood chipper out of the garage, spend an hour or so fiddling with the wretched thing to get it working — it's temperamental, and I have a lousy memory for things like fuel stabilizer — and reduce the piles to 500 pounds of chippings.

I don't mind the work. For a desk jockey, physical work is healthful and mind-clearing. The wood chipper humor gets tedious, though.

So a neighbor comes by and sees me chipping. "Got the old wood chipper out, eh, Derb? By the way, I've been meaning to ask: I haven't seen your wife around for a while. Has she gone away?"

Feeling I have to keep up my end of the joke for the sake of cordial neighborly relations, I wearily reply: "Yes, she's gone to stay with relatives in China. She won't be back for quite a while."

Is it even true that criminals dispose of corpses like that? Wouldn't it leave a lot of DNA evidence in the mechanism? Do they strip it down and clean it afterward, or what? Uh … Next topic.


Animal crackers.     The Thai word for "cat" is meow. The Cantonese word for "duck" is ngaap, in a high rising tone. "Goose" in Cantonese is ngo, same tone.

I just thought I'd throw those out here.


Who are we?     I'd never heard of blogger John Agnew until last week, but I totally agree with this piece he wrote in mid-December, title: "We need to bury the phrase 'that's not who we are.'"

It's self-serving, pious and doesn't require an offer of proof.

Right. "That's not who we are" drips with sanctimony.

It is a great favorite with our sanctimonialist-in-chief, who imagines that it expresses a lofty exceptionalism. He used it most recently when commenting on Sen. Feinstein's report on CIA interrogation techniques, then again when scolding Sony Pictures for backing off The Interview. His BFF Eric Holder also likes to remind us of who we — presumably not just his people, but all those other people too — are not.

"Not who we are" was sitting in the public forum oozing treacle way before Obama showed up, though. Google's Ngram viewer shows it going into sudden sharp ascent around 1983, the frequency sextupling by 2007, the latest date they show. It had a little frequency peak around the Civil War, I notice.

That latter date is three years after Samuel Huntington brought out his book Who Are We? Says the late Prof. Huntington, in a passage that scandalized Alan Colmes when I quoted it in We Are Doomed:

The [American philosophical-constitutional] Creed is unlikely to retain its salience if Americans abandon the Anglo-Protestant culture in which it has been rooted. A multicultural America will, in time, become a multicreedal America, with groups with different cultures espousing distinctive political values and principles rooted in their particular cultures.

That's who we are: a nation with a philosophical-constitutional Creed rooted in Anglo-Protestant culture. Like it or not.