Homo homini rodentius est

Matzoh brei at B&H Dairy

St. Mark’s and Second Ave. May 5, 2007 12pm.

One of the last authentic dairy restaurants left in Manhattan. Mama taking a break from the kitchen at the last table on the left, Mike behind the counter.

The Semiotics of Smoke

Now you see it, now you don’t. James gets cleaned up to go to market.

In the process of hunting up illustrations for a post about the meanings of smoking I ran across an astonishing example of how a habit, and everything it represents, is systematically being erased not just from daily life — but from history. The photo on the left of Dean perched against the wall of the Dakota in New York is a copy of the original picture taken by Roy Shatt in 1954. The one on the right is the version being licensed by CMG International, the company that now owns the rights to James Dean’s image. Notice anything missing? His cigarette has been Photoshopped out of the licensed version — I assume to make his image more marketable to advertisers that would use it in a world where smoking has become a social disease. The manipulation of dead celebrities’ identities has been going on for awhile, but the irony of sanitizing the original bad boy iconoclast hero — literally pulling the cigarette from his lips forever — is particularly galling.

I’m thinking about smoke. It’s what one does while quitting. And what I’m thinking is that I miss it. Not the smoke itself, of course. The smoke itself is no more enjoyable now than it was the first time I choked on a lung full at the age of eight (don’t worry, I didn’t start smoking that young. I had asked my mother if I could take a drag on her cigarette and she — wisely — said, “Sure.” I did, almost vomited, and didn’t touch another cigarette for almost 20 years…). It’s enjoyable in the same way that the burning poisonous taste of liquor is enjoyable, which is to say: not much. No one really enjoys the medium of illicit or dangerous substances. It’s about the effects, of course, but also something more.

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Media = Death

I wasn’t going to comment on the killings in Virginia because I don’t think the event has much meaning outside of the local tragedy that transpired. A mad young man who fell through the cracks bought a gun and went berserk. But the horrendous way that television “news” is mining this tragedy for ratings is beyond venal — it’s dangerous. It’s near midnight as I write this and Nightline on ABC — a once respectable show — has just shown extensive clips of the rambling videos created by the madman. Provided to them for a fee, I’m sure, by NBC (how they must have danced at Rockefeller Center when that package arrived!). In them, Cho refers explicitly to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, who clearly were heroes to this deluded creature. As I watched it I yelled out at the TV “STOP SHOWING IT!” How many sociopaths are watching this completely unnecessary orgy of necrophilia and adding Cho to their list of heroes to emulate, as he adopted Harris and Klebold? I’m afraid we’ll probably find out.

Slate’s [Jack Shafer offered an apology] for the sensationalist coverage, but he’s missing the bigger point: all the attention in the world will not wring any non-obvious insights out of this tragedy. And you will wait until hell freezes over before one of the pious and soulless talking heads on TV figure out why these massacres are happening more and more often — it’s because, thanks to relentless coverage, they are becoming a genre, a way for some disturbed young men to achieve greatness. The ravenous media are not just profiting from this horror, they are enabling it. Unforgivable.

Why do I blog (when I do)?

I’ve been tagged by [Lord Matt] to explain why I blog. Couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The challenge roused me from an unintentional month-long torpor triggered by a nasty case of writer’s block that resulted from my attempt to write a review of Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith”. I was held back partly by innate perfectionist (read: severely anal) tendencies — I couldn’t write anything else until I published the Harris review — coupled with my utter revulsion of Harris and his anti-liberal project. Alas, I will struggle past the block under the assumption that there are actually readers out there who care to read what I have to write and with the aid of an oil can or two of Foster’s (god bless the Australians…) and a CD of Heaven 17 cranked loud. As I remember, the question was “Why do I blog?”

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Born Too Late…

August 30, 1968. The Beatles release Hey Jude. Paul wrote it to comfort Julian Lennon (“hey Jules”) following the divorce of his parents and the onslaught of Yoko. Typically, John saw it as a veiled bill of divorcement between him and Paul.

From the Time magazine issue of [the same day], an article entitled “Pot and Parents” containing this diamond:

“I’d kill the sonofabitch if I ever found out he was smoking pot,” says a Manhattan father. Says his 16-year-old son, who has been using marijuana for a year: “I smoke pot because it makes the world a beautiful place instead of a place filled with narrow-minded bigots like my father.”

I was born just too damned late.

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