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Category: Culture

Trapped Inbox
Bladder leakage. Unwanted moles. Herpes Madness. And that old favorite, hot Russian girls! These are but a few of the hypothetical needs I see being addressed in my email inbox. In a way, I am touched by the concern so clearly expressed by these messages. It’s nice to know that, in this time of self-absorption and alienation, there is some one out there who cares.

And yet, these matters are quite personal in nature. While I don’t want to be specific, some of these messages strike quite close to home. I am by nature a private person, and it troubles me when others feel free to address my issues so openly. Part of me worries that they have somehow discovered my secrets and now feel free to bandy them about on the worldwide web. I obsess about a nightmare scenario in which my most personal data is shared with some massive digital clearinghouse of internet creepiness.

It is obvious to me that I have been hacked. The list of coincidences is just too long to ignore. Whoever it is that tracks unwanted blemishes has clearly tapped into my data and gathered intimate details about my moles (which, if you must know, are all unwanted).

I have no way of knowing the scope of this breach, but it now appears that the creepiness has access to my financial data as well. Just today I received a notice that the warranty has expired on my family car. True, but how did they find out? I don’t share the status of my product warrantees with even the closest of my friends. In fact, I throw most of them into the trash. That’s how deep this thing has gone!

Another message tells me my application was incomplete and that this is my second notice. Will I be granted more notices? Is there still time? And what am I applying for, anyway? This webmonster, or whatever it is, apparently lives in a mysterious cloud somewhere in another dimension, and it has somehow come to know about things that I haven’t even done yet!

The only thing I can’t figure out is why this all-powerful being is interested in me. It not only cares about my moles and the porosity of my bladder, it wants to help. Too desperately I fear. I suppose I should be grateful, but I am consumed by paranoia. It seems to me that I am naked and alone, defenseless against an irresistible force. What am I to do? What will become of me?

Oh! I know… I’ll just Google it!
Fantasy Island
Think of yourself for a moment as a character in a cartoon. Specifically, imagine that you are in that most classic of all cartoon venues…the desert island. Things are actually relatively good on your island. You’re not starving to death, at least. There is one minor problem, however. You’re only entitled to one of anything.

Let me explain. The premise of this exercise is that you are marooned on the island and cut off from the world and all the choices the world offers. Instead of alternatives, you are stuck with a single option in every category. One particular brand of beer, for instance, not an entire liquor store full.

So let’s start there. If you were stranded on a desert island with only one kind of beer to drink, what would it be? In other words, what is your desert island beer?

Choose carefully, though. The selection process might be trickier than it appears. My gut choice might have been Old Rasputin’s Russian Imperial Stout, a rich and thoroughly enjoyable winter brew that I like to rank as my favorite beer. That is not the question here though. Would I really want to drink it every day on a desert island? Wouldn’t a lighter, hoppier IPA serve me better as the only beer I would ever be able to drink?

You see the issues, then. Your desert island pick in any category would have to address the possibility that you might get bored with it. If you could only listen to a single piece of music for the rest of your life, then “Night on Bald Mountain” (though entertaining, especially if you chose Fantasia as the only animated cartoon you could watch) might not be ideal no matter how much you liked it. Personally, I’d be tempted to pick some lovers’ reggae tune like Gregory Isaacs’ “Cool Down the Pace.” It’s simple and sweet and fully grooved. That would wear well. Or Marley’s “Small Axe” to sustain my resolve and help cure the loneliness. Still, it would be great to have a horn section. No matter what, even the sunniest island music would get old after a while…but also easier to come back to.

How about your favorite artwork, then? What would you want hang on the coconut tree so that you could gaze at it every day? Money is no object, nor is size or medium. And don’t worry about the weather ruining it or any such practical problems. As with all our categories, just assume that the thing will always be in its most pristine and desirable state, ready to consume or view or read.

Which raises the question: what is your desert island book? Something you could stand to read over and over and over? I’d be tempted by the Oxford English Dictionary myself. You’d probably die before you even got to zyxomma (a dragonfly native to India), so the repetitiveness wouldn’t be a problem. The plot line is a bit slow, but if you were ever rescued, just imagine your mastery of Scrabble.

And on it goes. Your desert island fruit? Apple, banana, pluot? Goji berries?Think carefully; you’ll be eating it every day. TV program? May I suggest something with a lot of episodes in the can? Max Headroom and Stranger Things both had some fresh appeal, but if you’re talking about watching them forever, the glaze would be off the donut before too long. And no, I’m not going to recommend General Hospital in spite of its record of 13,700-plus installments.

Which movie? The Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now, The Big Lebowski? Plan 9 from Outer Space? Jar-Jar Binks outtakes? Happy endings are optional, of course, but you don’t want to get your dauber down out there.

And what about a game? Even the pluckiest cartoon character, despite all this fine food and these modern diversions, would have have some bouts with crushing boredom. Just remember, though, you won’t have anyone to play with. It’s just you. Please allow me to suggest that you could do worse than the Desert Island Game (which we are currently playing) as your desert island game.
Whether Permitting
It is not my habit to make New Year’s predictions, but I’m thinking of making it one. To that end, I am declaring 2017 as the Year of Do It Yourself. I hereby forecast that the DIY spirit will reign over almost every facet of our lives this year.

Especially politics. Whatever you say about Drump (“hornswoggler” was recently added to the list of options, along with “feculent”), you have to credit him with being the ultimate DIY candidate. Like any good do-it-yourselfer, he didn’t follow the instructions. And yet he got elected! All that remains is for his project to fail horribly (not that I’m rooting for that, understand, unless he’s standing under it when it collapses). Now that he’s done it, anyone who’s willing to spew the stupid and cruel can be President.

In the world of journalism we’re already halfway there on DIY news. Now we can eliminate “reporters” and just make it up ourselves. If you’re a newcomer, here’s the technique: think of something you want to have happen, then imagine an “event” or set of “facts” that would make it more likely. Write about your imaginary reality on Facebook. It goes viral, and that’s it — you’re writing the first draft of history!

Speaking of alternate realities, why not just live in one all by yourself? New advances in virtual reality have put us on the cusp of living endlessly exciting and fulfilling lives without any of the risk or expense. While it is true that actual reality itself is kind of a DIY opportunity, why should we have to settle for some grinding, humdrum existence when we can go anywhere, be anybody, and kill anyone we want over and over again? It’s a life ripe for the living — as long as Mom keeps supplying the pepperoni pizza and Mountain Dew.

Our new digital world, in fact, makes DIY possibilities of all kinds more likely. Want your own air force? Buy a drone. Now buy another one. Keep it up, and pretty soon your neighbor won’t dare park his big, stupid SUV in front of your house.

While the DIY theme will dominate the year, it should be noted that a strong countervailing trend will also continue. Let’s call it the Don’t Do It Yourself craze. DDIY is also driven by technology, mostly of the robotic variety. Self-motivating vacuum cleaners and self-driving cars will soon be followed by self-shooting guns and self-taking selfies.

The new DIY journalism we mentioned will be nicely complemented by the DDIY fad. Consumers of news will not check their sources even more in 2017 and continue not exercising common sense nor using simple powers of deduction. Heavy reliance will be placed on stories that are self-fact-checked and self-skepticized.

In a final example of a paradox, wrapped in an irony, sweater-vested in an incongruity, we will see “reality” TV be converted to 100% CGI using the latest in motion-capture systems. Those systems will be fitted to robots that have been programmed to move more realistically than real people. The result: we won’t have to witness the dehumanizing effects of these shows on actual humans. Maybe we can get somebody else to watch this stuff, too.

I am tempted to make a projection, based on all these trends, regarding the future of humanity itself, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. I haven’t decided yet whether to DIM or DDIM.
TV Dinner
Call me crazy, but I like food.

I’m fairly sure, however, that I am not crazy. It’s well documented that most people like food. It keeps them alive after all, and it tastes good. That’s bit of a miracle when you think about it. If you absolutely need to have something, there’s no need for it to be fun. We’d be eating sawdust if that were the only way to keep this fabulous dream going.

But we lucked out. There is a huge array of food choices, most of which do not revolt us. Some people even like beets and liver and monkey brains. If eating animal flesh offends your dietary ethics, the utterly defenseless plant kingdom can take up the slack. If a dog-based main course is a cultural taboo for you, there are plenty of cute animals to take Fido’s place. There might even be enough butter or hot sauce or bacon to make that sawdust palatable. The point is there’s something for everyone and it’s all good in its own way. But there are exceptions.

Chief among them is TV food. It offends me in a way that eating my one of my own pets never could. That’s because TV food is a filthy lie.

Take pizzas. No matter who’s hawking them — Pizza Hut, Straw Hat, Round Table, or Papas Murphy and John — when we see a piece being pulled apart from the main pie great steamy ropes of hot cheese trail behind it. Now be honest. Does this happen with your pizza? One or two threads may hang on, but nothing like those nautilus cables of molten mozzarella. Real cheese doesn’t do that. These images violate the sacred, unspoken pact of honesty between us and our food, and they are a lie.

And let us also consider the TV steak. Have you ever seen such perfect black stripes on your hunk of beef? Of course not. Just as that hot pizza cheese is pure plastic, those grill marks must be industrial grade acrylic paint. Now look at the garden fresh salad that comes with it — lots of exquisite lettuce flying through the air in slow motion, plump red tomatoes bouncing with joy into your generous bowl, your choice of gorgeous dressings squirting and splashing everywhere. All served with loving care by proud minimum wage workers and consumed by beautiful families who instantaneously melt into euphoria as it touches their lips. Lies, all lies!

I am not fooled, and what’s more I do not shrug off these deceptions. Under the law, there is such a thing as permissible “puffing” in advertising. One may slightly inflate the quality of one’s product as part of a sales pitch. Under my code, however, there is an exception for food. I want full transparency from a substance that is about to enter my body. That applies to labels and menus, and it applies to images of food on my big-screen 4K Ultra HDTV.

I have no secrets from my comestibles, and I expect them to reciprocate. If that is crazy, then the whole world has gone mad.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee