“Only whores smoke cigarettes in cabs,” you said tightly.
You wanted to hurt me, and it worked.
I could feel the tears well up in my eyes, but I would not permit them to fall. That is a trick I taught myself a long time ago, along with forming my tongue in the shape of a W. “Well, what does that make me?” I asked, spitting on my own thigh and extinguishing the still-lit cigarette end directly on it. That is also a trick I learned a long time ago, but from my Aunt Barbara.
As soon as I asked, I regretted it. You didn’t need to answer me. We already knew.
“I guess that makes me a whore,” I said softly, doing the math in my head.
With the implementation of the 18th Amendment in 1920, the dysfunctions of Prohibition began. When you ban a popular drug that millions of people want, it doesn’t disappear. Instead, it is transferred from the legal economy into the hands of armed criminal gangs. Across America, gangsters rejoiced that they had just been handed one of the biggest markets in the country, and unleashed an armada of freighters, steamers, and even submarines to bring booze back. Nobody who wanted a drink went without. As the journalist Malcolm Bingay wrote, “It was absolutely impossible to get a drink, unless you walked at least ten feet and told the busy bartender in a voice loud enough for him to hear you above the uproar.”
Procedure calls. Relational database normalization. Objects going in and out of scope. Though my mind is racing, I feel calm. It’s the spacey calm of satellites speeding over the earth at a thousand miles per second: relative to each other, we float. The images of patients with AIDS recede, the beleaguered service providers are forgotten, the whole grim reality of the epidemic fades. We give ourselves over to the sheer fun of the technical, to the nearly sexual pleasure of the clicking thought-stream.
Some part of me mourns, but I know there is no other way: human needs must cross the line into code. They must pass through this semipermeable membrane where urgency, fear, and hope are filtered out, and only reason travels across. There is no other way.
At their second meeting, Lohan complained to Schrader about a biopic she was shooting for Lifetime, in which she played Elizabeth Taylor, one of her role models. She proclaimed the director a jerk, her co-star a nightmare and the crew unfriendly. On it went. Schrader listened for a while. He looked stricken. He softly tapped his balding head on the table. Lohan asked him what was the matter.
“That’s going to be me in two months. You’re going to turn on me.”
The actress touched his arm softly. “C’mon, Paul. That won’t happen.”
He chose to believe her. That summer, he developed a pet line to steel the less brave.
“We don’t have to save her,” Schrader said. “We just have to get her through three weeks in July.”
Doctor Dina leads us into the greenhouse where the grown-up plants live; the stalks of cannabis in here are so tall that the floor is sunken to accommodate them. You can see the buds flowering right beside your head, millions of tiny nodules sprouting on top of one another like the rippling muscles of a comic-book character.
Snoop and Doctor Dina have collaborated to grow a practical strain just for him, one that he can smoke all day long without getting too zonked, and that’s what we’re looking at right now. Dina explains that it contains more Cannabis sativa than Cannabis indica, which ought to help keep Snoop from falling asleep during photo shoots. Snoop will later christen it “Snoop Lion Executive Branch.”
Stephen T. Asma:
Cultivating loyalty is no small thing. George Orwell, for example, considered preferential loyalty to be the “essence of being human.” Critiquing Gandhi’s recommendation — that we must have no close friendships or exclusive loves because these will introduce loyalty and favoritism, preventing us from loving everyone equally — Orwell retorted that “the essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty … and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.”
In general we have circles of favorites (family, friends, allies) and we mutually protect one another, even when such devotion disadvantages us personally. But the interesting thing about loyalty is that it ignores both merit-based fairness and equality-based fairness. It’s not premised on optimal conditions. You need to have my back, even when I’m sometimes wrong. You need to have my back, even when I sometimes screw up the job. And I have to extend the same loyalty to you. That kind of pro-social risky virtue happens more among favorites.
This week, Martin Blaser will address a plenary session of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, an organization that he once led. The title of his talk, “The Menace of Antibiotics”, would have generated guffaws and outrage twenty years ago. Even today, it is easy to misconstrue his message. “We are an endlessly variable stew of essential microbes,” he told me. “And they are working in ways we have not yet understood. Antibiotics are so miraculous that we have been lulled into a belief that there is no downside. But there is: they kill good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.” The implication is that good bacteria actually act as antibiotics—and are often more effective that those we buy at a drugstore. But the microbiome is never static or simple; often it’s a battleground between species. The difficult job of medicine is to control that battleground. “This has got to be an important part of the future of medicine,” he said. “Nothing else makes sense.”
Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it’s everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and the fall of crime in the ’90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.
Unfortunately, X-Plane is not capable of simulating the hellish environment near the surface of Venus. But physics calculations give us an idea of what flight there would be like. The upshot is: Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time, and then it would stop flying, and then stop being a plane.