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   ultimate American Dream
Tuesday, August 24 2010
Tonight was spaghetti night at the Hurley household. It just sort of happened, and not a moment too soon. It had been awhile since I'd had pasta and, strange as this may seem, I was beginning to grow weary of beans and even sandwiches. Gretchen had already made sauce from slow-roasted home-humanure-grown tomatoes. So I sautéed some mushrooms, Gretchen steamed some tempeh (she'd thought it had perhaps "gone bad" but, as with cheese, with tempeh that is sort of the point), and then there was a whole contained of wholewheat spaghetti committed (like one dimensional vegan lobsters) to a pot of boiling water. I didn't used to like whole wheat pasta, but (as with most vegan meat substitute), the technology has made advances in recent years and somehow it's gradually lost the unpleasant mealiness I remember.

As we ate dinner, we watched an HBO documentary called Lucky about those who play and sometimes win the lottery. To win the lottery is to live the ultimate American Dream. It hits all the quintessentially-American notes: becoming really rich and not having to put any effort into getting there. Winning the lottery is like hopping in your SUV and driving to the beach. Or like saying you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior and so winning a seat in Heaven. Or liposuction. Or heroin.
Since the lottery strikes people at random, the documentary dropped us into a collection of random lives. But the lives weren't entirely random; people who play the lottery tend to be especially ignorant of math and statistics. As a group they seem to have pretty bad taste too. When you can afford to fly to Venice, Italy and be paddled around in a gondola, why would you instead do that in a Las Vegas simulacrum? And just because you can afford ponds surrounded by perpetually-urinating statues, should you actually buy such a thing?
One of the lives followed was that of a gentleman who had somehow burned through 16 million dollars won back in the 1980s by, among other things, purchasing 400 identical trousers in a single batch. These days the guy has no teeth, lives in a borrowed out building, and wears an oxygen mask most of the time because he's down to his last half of a lung.
The most surprising life documented in Lucky was that of a mathematics professor who had, despite his knowledge, repeatedly played the lottery and eventually won. In his post-winning life he seemed to regret quitting his job as a professional thinker. At one point he's seen talking to another mathematician and the question comes up, "Would you rather win the lottery or prove the Riemann hypothesis?" The unequivocal answer was the latter, not the former.
I'll say this about the lottery: it is as much a disaster in its own way as is a lightning strike or a tornado. Money is powerful force, and it's difficult to use it for good even when you have complete control of it. Far worse is when someone nearby has control of it and you do not. For example, I would be upset to learn that a neighbor had won the lottery. Would I really want a couple acres of forest cleared so that a neighbor could build a waterpark or Buddhist meditation retreat? Would you?

Gretchen doesn't usually like documentaries because they remind of her of why she is such a misanthrope. After seeing the depths to which humanity can sink under the influence of easy money, she had to cleanse her pallet by watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She doesn't usually watch much Star Trek, but whenever she's feeling despair about her species it's nice to be taken to universe where humans solve complicated problems using intelligence and logic.

Later in the evening I commenced a cleaning jihad in preparation for the arrival of our friends Dina and Gilaud, who were visiting the Eastern North American from Isræl. Dina is famously allergic to cats, so my emphasis was vacuuming surfaces, including those belonging to furniture.

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