Mayday! Mayday!

On Capital Punishment:
Last meals are barbaric. If a person is considered sufficiently devoid of humanity to be executed, what aspect of his or her person are we acknowledging by fulfilling a request for steak? How can the state decide that a person doesn’t deserve to live, but does deserve a lobster? Shouldn’t the message be, “you killed another human being, and now you, too, must die, and you don’t get any lobster?”

By providing its death-row inmates with last meals, the state implicitly recognizes that the inmate consists of multiple facets–one which is capable of enjoying a meal, another of which may have committed a capital offense. At the end of the day, it’s the incoherence and hypocrisy even more than the outright cruelty that makes the tyranny of government so disagreeable.

On Casablanca:
Why did Rick let Ilsa go on the plane to Lisbon, knowing he’d probably never see her again? Did Rick love Ilsa and just want her to survive, or did he know that she really loved Laszlo, or did he know that he really couldn’t love anyone, or that his love for her was flawed and Laszlo’s was ultimately better for her? He says, “I’m no good at being noble,” but his gesture at the end of Casablanca truly is noble–he does something that brings him no joy save the knowledge that someone he loves is better off.

Or did Rick and Ilsa just have bad sex on their one last night together in Casablanca, and realize that it must have been the absinthe Rick probably had a in cellar in his Parisian bar that made everything seem so magical there?

On a minor but persistent problem with cinema and television:
Why, why, why, must so many phone numbers on television and in the movies start with “555”? It so ruins the illusion that a separate but equally real universe into which we have an inexplicable window truly exists, and that in this universe people we know perfectly well are highly paid, often vapid Hollywood stars are in fact cops, doctors, political leaders and everypeople. I know they can’t just use real numbers because then deranged people will call them, expecting to reach Brad Pitt on the telephone. But can’t Hollywood afford to buy out one exchange, something more nondescript, like 867? Hollywood can afford to build entire towns, stock them with residents, and burn them. Can’t they afford to buy the rights to a few phone numbers? They don’t even have to buy the rights! They can hook up new phone numbers in wherever the movies they’re making are set. It would add another $49.99 to the production budget, maybe less, since they don’t even need long-distance service.

On relative gratitude:
After watching the final few episodes of Six Feet Under (SPOILER ALERT), I developed a new way to console myself when I feel down. It’s a little mantra and it goes like this: “At least I didn’t just fuck a Quaker and have a cerebral hemorrhage.”

Department of Ongoing Annoyances:
The yuppies are back. They have come out of hibernation in their three-story townhouse and once again roam the wilds of their backyard. As I type, the mother yuppie and her cub can be glimpsed through the shrubbery. Not only glimpsed, but heard. The yuppie guppie has grown and now possesses a lung power that rivals his mother’s, who I am convinced must perform on Broadway. This woman can project. The kid is the perfect age for whining and throwing tantrums. I’d throw tantrums too if my mother talked to me in an amplified singsong all day about gardening and named my dog Willa.

On technology:
Joni is visiting from Peru. I realized with some awe and disappointment that the most important revelations of the last four months that I can report to her are that “we got cable” and “Gmail is subtly but importantly changing our lives.”

Gmail has many special features that other kinds of web-based email do not. First, it does not have stupid ads or pop-ups or items about celebrities. Instead, it runs ads down the sides of your emails that are sensitive to the text within them, so if you mother waxes poetic about wanting to fly free of her earthly encumbrances, there are corresponding ads for hang-gliding lessons, or if your father emails you pictures of the treehouse he and your brother are building for your cousin and mentions that all that’s left to build is the ladder, there are ads about ladder safety. Mention you’re depressed and there are creepily apt ads for anti-depressants. The ads accompanying an email discussion I had with an editor about an essay I wrote on Martin Luther King yielded an offering for another King essay apparently available for plagiarism at a website called “DueNow.com,” an inducement to shop for “By Any Means Necessary Malcom X merchandise NOW at SHOP.com” and the promise that Verizon’s online listings could find “Civil Rights” in New York City.

Another Gmail feature that has brought me simultaneous pain and amusement is the GChat function. I have long been an opponent of instant messaging, finding it to be the lowest form of communication between humans, like being on the telephone (one of my other least favorite activities) but without capital letters. But since Joni moved to Peru, it has allowed us to communicate on several occasions without the notoriously unreliable cellphone-to-Andean-mountain connection. GChat also allows me to keep tabs on my soon-to-be-married friend, who is in law school and is busy performing a series of tasks far beyond my limited grasp, i.e., coordinating a day in the lives of 185 people and preparing arguments for the legality of gay marriage that go far beyond my offering of “The Government Are Perverts, Throw Bodily Fluids at Them!”

Meanwhile, other acronymous technologies are also enhancing and ruining my life. It was long ago agreed among the inhabitants of this apartment that we would get HBO for the sixth and final season of the Sopranos. At the time this was agreed (during the fifth season of the Sopranos) the sixth season of the Sopranos seemed impossibly far off. 2006 was a laughable date existing in the imagined territory of the second half of the decade, a time when we’d be in our mid–or even late!–twenties and everyone we knew would be in different phases of disarray, triumph, ruin and graduate school. True to our prediction, much had changed by the time the sixth season of the Sopranos premiered. Bachelors were masters. Boyfriends were fiances. Lovers were friends and vice versa. Things were changing all around us and so it was time: we ordered a premium cable package and spent an extra $5.95 for HBO OnDemand.

Since this service was installed in our home, I have experienced a heady addiction heretofore only read about in gritty poetic memoirs of heroin abuse. I spend much of my time watching HBO television, and the rest of my time fantasizing about watching HBO television. A quirk of HBO television I never noticed, but certainly one that makes it all the more perfect, is that the characters on many HBO television shows smoke marijuana almost constantly. I have a tendency to mimic the behavior of characters I see on television (within reason, of course–to to the point of drinking martinis while wearing a silk dragon kimono for example, but not to the point of acting out lawsuit-inspiring pranks like the impressionable young males who watch those shows on which grown men enact elaborate pranks) and so I now spend even more time watching HBO and smoking dope. I know many people would say that this is not a productive use of anyone’s time, but I beg to differ. My life has more meaning, purpose and focus since we got HBO OnDemand than ever before. The only other time I felt myself so transformed, so comfortably orbiting a feature of consumer culture was that day over two years ago when iPod came into my life.

The only problem with the simultaneous arrival of the twin technologies of HBO and GChat, is that it’s hard for me to sustain my attention on one when the other is calling to me, resulting in apologetic lines of non-dialogue such as this one.

“10:37 PM: sorry! I wandered away, ate some Udon noodles, got stoned and watched three episodes of Entourage. One thing led to another. I hope that’s not bad GChat ettiquete. I don’t really understand this medium of communication. It’s like an email, but also like a movie script. You can read the chats–they are stored. It’s like the government has already recorded them and transcribed them. I better go!”

With all these opportunities to virtually socially stimulate oneself and make social faux pas in one’s own home, it’s no wonder that I nearly had a meltdown when I exited into a world in which the famous potheads are real and the celebrities, too, are made of actual flesh.

On power tools and powerless tools:
In other news, I went to the suburbs to help my family build a treehouse for my nine-year-old cousin yesterday. I got three splinters and my whole family used power tools together. It was a wonderful, bonding experience. Watching a child handle a power drill for the first time is a sight not to be missed. When I got home, I had even more fun with a pair of tweezers, conducting the latest procedure in a series of ongoing hand surgeries. It was once again confirmed that I am a Jew, and if you prick me, I do in fact bleed.

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