Humble Pie

The Internet’s ability to sustain the Long Tail, to provide enough space to cater to the interests of what would otherwise have been a small and scattered group of people sharing similar interests, has allowed not just communities of perverts, but connoisseurs of esoterica to flourish. For example, there are a strangely large number of sites devoted to Last Meals. For some reason people seem very interested to know what people ate, or chose to eat, before they died.  The motivation for this morbid curiousity ranges from the exalted sociological and culinary investigations of the Last Dinner on the Titanic, a best-selling book which has inspired numerous historical recreations of the final meal served on that Night to Remember, to the more inexplicable fascination of with menus selected by the Death Row prisoners on the final mile.


One source of interest is probably the unanswered question of what we ourselves would order if our last hour had come. The Edwardian elite on the doomed Titanic might have preferred Veuve Cliquot believing they going to live, but what would they have chosen knowing they were about to die?  Would they have dulled themselves with drink? Or would they as so many others have done, opened the windows to look their last, with senses undulled at the sky and the sea. Although the policy which denies alcohol and tobacco to condemned men (because prisons are now alcohol and smoke-free zones) may distort choices, a large number of those condemned to die on Death Row prefer soda and comfort food — bars of chocolate, ice cream, beef enchiladas and the like, to pate de foie gras and lobster americaine, as their last meals on earth. Society may pretend to run on champagne but maybe it really travels on Dr. Pepper.

There’s something about comfort food that takes us back to when it all seemed right. The longing for the food of our childhood may explain the popularity of an obscure pie shop in Woolloomooloo, which has served Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Marelene Dietrich, Kerry Packer and more recently, Sir Richard Branson, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Brook Shields, Pat Rafter, Olivia Newton-John, Jerry Lewis, Billy Crystal, Pamela Anderson, Sara O’Hare, Lachlan Murdoch, Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Adrian Greiner, Anthony Bourdain and Colonel Sanders — served them a meat pie topped with mashed potato, pureed peas and brown gravy. It may explain why the loco moco or plate lunch is popular in Hawaii, because when you come right down to it, what could be better than having two scoops of rice and one of macaroni salad plus a hamburger topped with a fried egg?


In times of trouble we go back to the old ways, the criminal with his simple food to the time before he was a perp and societies with their Tea Parties to the time before cool and sophisticated wrecked it all. Societies like individuals have a way of reverting to checkpoints in the same way that a database administrator goes back to a known good configuration when all the current data is sour. When we are lost we instinctively return to a place when it all worked before things went wrong.

America is now in the middle of a crisis but it has still not reached the point of ordering its last meal in the sense of trying to get back to the place it was before. On the contrary, as Mark Steyn points out, it is still ordering champagne it can’t afford on the basis that the future is anything Europe does; and therefore anything Europe does it must copy. The irony that Europe is literally in the midst of a “Greek tragedy” — with Greece pulling at the financial strands that will unravel the EU — is lost to Washington. It is in the grip of the need to flatter itself by imitating others and has ordered full speed ahead. The result will not only be a Greek tragedy, but a ersatz one, with fake columns of styrofoam. Writing in the Washington Times Steyn says of Greece:

They’re at the point where the canoe is about to plunge over the falls. America is further upstream and can still pull for shore, but has decided instead that what it needs to do is catch up with the Greek canoe.

And the best way to catch up is to double down on the welfare state and hopefully reproduce the societies that can’t sustain it.


What’s happening in the developed world today isn’t so very hard to understand: The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they’ve reached the next stage in social democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over. The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1, or just over two kids per couple. Greece has a fertility rate of about 1.3: 10 grandparents have six kids have four grandkids – i.e., the family tree is upside down. Demographers call 1.3 “lowest-low” fertility – the point from which no society has ever recovered. And compared to Spain and Italy, Greece has the least worst fertility rate in Mediterranean Europe. …

Think of Greece as California … the problem is there are never enough of “the rich” to fund the entitlement state, because in the end, it disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the basic survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. In Greece, they’ve run out Greeks, so they’ll stick it to the Germans, like French farmers do. In Germany, the Germans have only been able to afford to subsidize French farming because they stick their defense tab to the Americans. And in America President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are saying we need to paddle faster to catch up with the Greeks and Germans. What could go wrong?


What could go wrong? I wah-wah-wah-wonder. And while we figure it out, pass the Dr. Pepper.

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