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The Silence of The Thumbs

In Texting on October 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm

TextingMy wife and I were at the theater the other night and saw an acquaintance of ours. We walked over to say hi and he introduced us to the woman he was with. She looked up from her Blackberry and found the admirable strength to pull her thumbs off the keypad, shake our hands and smile. Then she immediately returned to her furious thumbing which she continued to do without ever looking up again (or speaking a word) for the rest of our five-or-so-minute-long visit.

Then, just this weekend, I was out with some work colleagues when someone at the table clearly got bored talking with us and cozied up with her phone–and her thumbs–at the end of the table instead.

I know texting in public is getting more and more common, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  Wasn’t our encounter in the theater pretty much equal to that woman saying: “Nice to meet you, but I’m really not interested. I’d rather use my thumbs to talk to the person at the other end of my Blackberry than use my mouth to engage with you. Buh bye.”

And wasn’t my colleague’s behavior tantamount to whipping out a pad and pen in the middle of a very social setting and saying: “Um, excuse me everyone but you’re not fascinating enough to warrant my attention. Instead, I’m going to use this time to write a note–using bad grammar and strange abbreviations–to my mother (or boyfriend, or BFF!).”

What I want to know is–when did the people who AREN’T in the room become more important than the people who ARE there? Why is it acceptable to interrupt conversations with flesh-and-blood human beings to type a note to someone in the ether? You wouldn’t really tolerate it if I started to talk to my imaginary friend in the middle of our next conversation, so why do I have to put up with you doing a version of the same? What the hell is more important than what’s happening right here, right now?!!!!

And here are two more questions for you: Shouldn’t we just rename txting to FU-ing? Because, in the end, isn’t it worse these days to be given the thumbs than the middle finger?

Sadly, I don’t have the answers to any of these questions (I’m a writer, not a Magic 8 Ball). But speaking of Magic 8 Balls, I am thinking of marketing a new invention. It’s a series of post-it notes made in the exact sizes of the screens on today’s most popular smart phones. Just write your thought on the note (“I am bleeding and need medical attention,” for example), slap it on someone’s screen and you’re in business. You’re sure to distract your texter from the distraction of texting and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even get a good old-fashioned flipping off instead the silence of the thumbs.


The Death Penalty

In Death Penalty, Philosophy, Politics, Troy Davis on September 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

The recent Troy Davis case has reminded me how much I loathe the death penalty. As simple as it might sound, I’ve always been of the school of thought that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” I also believe that taking a human life is the highest wrong that can be committed on the planet and that such a wrong should be severely punished–just not with more death.

I know the argument that says, “well [insert criminal name here] took a life so he gave up his right to live,” but I just don’t buy that. Sorry to get all cliché-ridden here, but an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.

I also know that the family who was victimized by a murder suffers intensely, but is the answer really to make the family of the perpetrator suffer as well? Multiplying suffering on the planet doesn’t really seem like the way forward.

There’s also the case that it costs money to keep murderers in prisons which have become too comfortable–more like motels than correctional facilities.

That may be the case, but then isn’t the solution to overhaul the prison system? Make it more punitive? Make inmates participate in some kind of work program whereby they produce a commodity for society? Work to eliminate bias and corruption in the judiciary? Or should we just kill prisoners because it’s cheaper? (Which, by the way it’s not. According to 2003 legislative audit in Kansas, death penalty cases were 70% higher than standard cases; in Tennessee, death penalty trials cost 48% more; and in Maryland death penalty cases cost $3 million each–three times more than a regular case ).

I think what really gets me foaming at the mouth like a prison-yard dog on this issue is the innocence question. Seven of the nine witnesses involved with the Troy Davis case recant their testimony and no gun was ever found and still we execute him? Maybe he did it and if so, he was already being punished–he is in prison, after all. But what would the harm have been in reopening the case and hearing from these witnesses who changed their minds? What happened to reasonable doubt? If he was still found guilty, then vengeance–I mean justice–could still have been meted out another day.

Michael Mears of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School summed it up nicely: “The courts want finality in these trials. They don’t want (them) going on forever and ever. And that’s understandable. The problem in a death penalty case is that if you don’t get it right, then someone’s going to die. And they’re going to die for a crime they might not have committed.”

Did we get it right with Davis? Can we ever be sure that we get it right? The statistics from The Innocence Project (and now we get to the real point of this post) make you think not. Since 1992 they’ve used DNA and other evidence to exonerate 273 people who were sitting–wrongly accused–on death row. What if just one of those people became the victim of state-sanctioned murder? After all, isn’t that what killing innocent people really is? And how many innocent people have died as a result of botched court cases, coerced confessions, and biased judges and juries?

In a statement on their website today about the Davis case, The Innocence Project had this to say:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations has conceded that the ballistics evidence used against Davis was unreliable, and one of the Jurors who sat on the case said that if she had known about that she would not have voted to give Davis the death penalty. Seven of the nine witnesses who identified him as the shooter have recanted their testimony. One of the two witnesses who maintain that Davis was the shooter is thought by many to be the real perpetrator and has made admissions to others that he committed the crime. The other remaining eyewitness had been up for twenty-four hours straight at the time he observed the shooting and reported on the night of the crime that he “wouldn’t recognize [the shooter] again.” Yet two years later, this witness identified Troy Davis in an in-court identification that required him to simply identify the only African-American sitting at the defense table. Misidentification was a factor in 75% of the 273 DNA exonerations. In 38% of these mistaken identification cases, multiple eyewitnesses misidentified the same person.

For nearly 30 years The Innocence Project has looked into the crazed eyes of the death penalty machine and snatched hundreds of people from its bloodthirsty jaws. It’s a good organization doing good work. I think it deserves your attention and, if you are motivated, your support.

Hmmm, $3 million to try a death row case or a small little donation to the Innocence Project? By now I think you know which one Mike likes.


In Prague, Summertime on September 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

OK, I know disliking summer might not be the best way to kick off a new blog. After all, who doesn’t love summer? Ice cream, pools, the shore, lots of tanned bare skin, long days, sultry nights. Etcetera. Etcetera.

Me–that’s who.

Sure, there was a long time in my life when I liked the warmer months. No school, no shoes, no shirt. But that was also a long time ago. I’m not in school any more, my feet hurt if I walk without shoes, and I need the shirt to hide a waist size that’s rapidly approaching my age (I’m over 40).

There was also a time in my life when I thought that life in the warm glow of the Caribbean sunshine was the only life for me. That is until I got a job managing an eco-resort on the little island of Vieques, where the heat was like a whisper in your ear, constantly talking you out of any motivation you could muster beneath your hot, sticky skin.

This was followed by a stint in Singapore. Eighty-eight degrees. One thousand and ten percent humidity. Every day. I wore sweat-soaked underwear for three years. My poor wife.

Now I live I Prague and for most of the summer we’ve had a really cool temps. I think of it as my reward for all those years down by the equator. This week though, the mercury is bubbling and a sincere, searing summer is bearing down on us. I just got back from the park where there are dozens of white-fleshed people lying all over the grass, sacrificing themselves in the sun. I don’t really get this. Is it really pleasurable to broil in your own sweat in the middle of a lawn where the nearest body of water is scores of miles away? Oh yeah, just gotta love those rivulets of sweat gathering on your cheap bamboo beach mat; those flies that keep you from passing out, even though that would be the sweetest relief from the sun-induced stupor.

I know I should probably enjoy seeing all that flesh on display, but to be frank, a lot of it shouldn’t be on display. And the hardbodies? Well, if it’s a guy, it just makes me feel inadequate and if it’s a girl, it reminds me that I’m not the stud lying a few feet next to her with a hardbody.

Ah summer. When’s the first snowstorm?

(Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll find something not to like about that too.)


In Massage, Spa on September 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I know that in this world of SNAGs and metrosexuals, it’s probably not very au courant for a guy to say something like this, but it’s the truth.

It’s not like I haven’t tried.

Whenever my wife and I stay at a hotel with an acclaimed spa, or travel to a country where the body treatments are supposed to be a cut above, I give it ago.  I don the silly papery slippers, put on the papery underwear that is always a little too small and wrap myself in a waffle-weave robe.  I allow myself to be asphyxiated by aromatherapy, marinated in the likely germ-ridden hot tubs, and grudgingly acclimated to the soft sounds of the tinkling new age soundtrack.  Yet as my time approaches to be tenderized on the table, I often find myself getting more anxious than relaxed.

Perhaps it’s because of that time that I was stalked at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I had about an hour before a hot stone massage and was determined to steam and soak away my typical massage-anxiety before the treatment.  Not a chance.

I was towel-clad in the gargantuan steam room for about three minutes before a naked man entered and walked to where I was sitting.  His conversation was ostensibly harmless enough, but there was just something creepy about the way the guy was standing close to me (did I mention the room was gargantuan?), hips thrust forward, gesticulating with more than just his hands.

I excused myself and went to get a shower.  When I stepped out and began towelling off, I found my new “friend” ogling me before making a quick escape around the corner.  Perfect.  Now I was feeling exactly in the right mood for the massage.

Fortunately, the treatment was fine.  I had a down-to-earth Jersey guy as my masseuse who laughed when I told him about my admirer and replied, “you should see what I have to put up with.”  I didn’t ask for more details.

Typically, I find massages more uncomfortable than comfortable.  My face never really fits well in that cradle thing, my adam’s apple usually hits the table in an uncomfortable position, and the entire time I’m trying to think of something to say to the therapist.  Either that or my mind is racing as though I were actually in the different therapist’s office:  calm down; just relax; doesn’t that feel good?; just breathe; oww that really hurts; why am I here when I have all that work to get to?; man, I wish she’d stop doing that, this song is lousy; etcetera.  That’s while I’m face down.

While face up, I am always a bit nervous that something more than rampant thoughts will pop up.  Which is exactly what happened one time in Thailand where the masseur (who a had touch of masseuse in him) massaged areas that certainly didn’t need to be massaged (I’m sorry, but my inner groin just doesn’t hold that much tension.)  After, he had gotten my, er, attention, I didn’t know how to get off the table without becoming even more embarrassed than I already was so I just stepped up that inner dialogue, focusing mostly on the calm down part of the manic mantra.  It worked.  Eventually.

Then there was the time that absolutely nothing popped up even though I was sitting naked with my wife in a tub full of flower petals in Bali.  When we booked, the treatment rooms were occupied but they recommended that we have our massages in a suite.  Sounded nice.  The suite turned out be nothing more than a drab motel room.  As I stared at the stained ceiling while a petite Balinese girl struggled to reach my arm over the expanse of the bed, I wondered why I ever agree to massages in the first place.  When the kneading was over, we were told to go into the bathroom and get into the tub together.  Normally, this would have been a sweet and romantic ending.  But the tub was barely big enough for one, the water had gone tepid and the bathroom itself was built more for bodily functions than bodily bliss.

So after all of these spa mishaps, I think I’m going to steer clear of them for awhile. It just might be the perfect way to really relax.

Drinking Less

In Drinking on September 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I’ve been trying to be good lately: more veggies, less ice cream; more stairs, less elevator rides; more water, less alcohol. For the most part it’s been working out OK. But today, here I sit with an insidious hangover, seriously reconsidering that last one.

You know those cartoons where a character gets shot up into space in a rocket and winds up with his face plastered against some window in the bottom of the ship? That’s sort of what my brain feels like today. It’s smushed right up against my skull screaming to get out.

So why would a guy with a hangover reconsider a plan to drink less booze and more water? Because when you ride the wagon, you get soft and out of shape. Much better to boldly splash through puddles of scotch, tramp alongside rivers of beer and swim through limpid Caribbean seas of rum. It’s training. It keeps you in shape. Keeps the liver alert and in fighting form (makes it feel wanted too). Exercises those kidneys. And of course, makes you charming, attractive and younger-feeling.

I didn’t even drink that much last night–a few bottles of wine with friends. Went to bed at a decent hour and even remembered to drink some water before drifting away. But here I sit, pasty-mouthed and feeling like someone moved my sharpness, contrast and color sliders all the way to the left. And I blame it all on trying to be good.

So back to training for me. I think I’ll start with my six pack.