Sunday, May 27, 2007

You still have to go a long way, baby

Alexandra Starr, in a New Republic essay published in the Post-Gazette, laments that the blue northeastern states are far less hospitable to female politicians than the red west:

Massachusetts and Rhode Island don't have any women in their congressional delegations, either, and Pennsylvania has one of the lowest percentages of female state legislators outside the South. In Rhode Island, female delegates make up a paltry 19.5 percent of the legislature -- placing the state behind such liberal bastions as Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho.

Indeed, if many left-leaning Northeastern states have proved surprisingly inhospitable to female politicians, the reverse is true of many conservative Western states. In 1999, women held the top five statewide offices in Arizona, which is also the only state where female governors have served back-to-back. Meanwhile, Colorado has the fifth-highest percentage of female legislators in the country and is one of only six states where a woman serves as speaker of the state Senate.

The reasons? The old-school political machines, and their frat-boy culture, that still wield a lot of power in vetting candidates, and the demands of full-time legislatures, which are rare in the west:

The part-time political culture of the West -- where elected office can seem more like a hobby than a job -- also tends to favor women. As Alan Ehrenhalt pointed out in the late '80s, when he investigated why Colorado's state legislature had the highest percentage of female delegates in the country, the Colorado legislature only meets part-time (which makes it more family-friendly) and doesn't pay much (which may dissuade some male breadwinners from running). "While men tend to get involved in politics as a premeditated career option," says Ms. Walsh, "women often run because they want to fix something."

In the Northeast, bosses long had an interest in making government service a profitable profession. As a result, many legislatures pay a sizable salary -- and demand a full-time commitment. "In a part-time legislature, service can be an extension of volunteerism," says Jennifer Mann, a Democratic state legislator from Allentown, Pa. "In a place like Pennsylvania, you don't fall into a political career by happenstance. It's not something you add to your life -- it really replaces what you used to do."

One result, Starr says, is that would-be female office holders in the northeast tend to gravitate toward the Republican Party, a traditional minority in much of the region, and thus eager to embrace anyone who wants to run for office. All in all, it's another cost of the culture of corruption and cronyism that has turned Pennsylvania into a political and economic backwater.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

War stories

I saw "Saving Private Ryan" in the theater, and I was blown away. The movie is well-acted, emotionally wrenching and visually stunning. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to dislike the film, and eventually came to share many of the sentiments of this writer. The film is emotionally manipulative in a way that Steven Spielberg's other World War II opus, "Schindler's List", was not.

The final scene in "Schindler's List", in which the real surviving Jews who Schindler saved place stones, in the Jewish tradition, at the real Schindler's grave, derives its raw power from the fact that it has actually happened. (Though one could certainly argue that this coda is evidence of Spielberg's inability to let the story speak for itself.) The scene in which Schindler is given money to flee the Russians is stirring because we have witnessed the complete transformation of a man from a cynical profiteer to genuine hero.

But the end of "Saving Private Ryan", in which an elderly Ryan tearfully asks his family whether he's lived up to the sacrifices of the men who saved him, is purely mawkish. Spielberg seems determined here to wring a few final tears from the audience, and remind us all yet again just how much we owe to the Greatest Generation. I don't mean to diminish the sacrifice of those who fought in World War II. Indeed, their achievements can stand on their own without filmmakers like Spielberg to trumpet them.

Spielberg, however, doesn't seem to be glorifying patriotism or duty so much as brutality. The movie is relentlessly anti-intellectual; the translator portrayed by Jeremey Davies is weak and cowardly and ultimately commits a feckless, revenge-fueled killing. American soldiers are shown, without remorse, shooting surrendering troops. (That such things no doubt happened during the war is irrelevant; it would be possible to portray them without tacitly endorsing them.) In fact, the entire premise of the film seems to be that if your cause is just than all of your actions are by definition justified. It's not that Spielberg doesn't portray war as ugly--he does. But he also portrays it as redemptive, and that may be the most dangerous fiction of all.

(Thanks to The House Next Door.)

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Ron and Rudy

I'm engaged in a bit of a debate over at Rauterkus' blog about Ron Paul's comments during the recent GOP debate.

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Double Talk Express

I hate to get all South Carolina on John McCain, but is it really right for his aides to be making not-so-vieled references to Barack Obama's past drug use, given that McCain's wife was once addicted to pain killers?

You'll note that the writer of the blog to which I linked interpreted McCain's correction of Obama's spelling of "flak jacket" as a jab at Obama for having not served in the military. I certainly hope that's not how McCain meant it. Because John Kerry served in combat during Vietnam, and George W. Bush avoided combat by serving in the Texas and Alabama Air National Guards.

Which candidate did McCain support in 2004?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

"...what rough beast..."

W. B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming” perfectly captures the spirit of this season of “The Sopranos” and perhaps the entire series as well. The poem, from which last night’s episode took its title, speaks to a rising sense of dread and despair that foreshadows some heretofore unimagined horror. This sense has been imparted in every episode of this final mini-season.

The tension, however, seemed to be ratcheted down this week, as though the writers wanted to give us a breather to prepare for what is to come. Much of the episode dwelled on Tony’s home life, which with A.J.’s suicide attempt appears to be ready to implode. This near-tragedy, unsurprisingly, causes Tony and Carmela to trade recriminations, with Carmela blaming Tony and his gloomy forebears for their son’s depression. We know Tony blames himself, but he lamely suggests that Carmela’s coddling left A.J. unable to deal with life’s troubles. Tony, of course, wishes his own mother had treated him that way, and he invokes Livia’s spirit when he twice utters her famous “Poor you.”

We see that the wall Tony has erected between his family life and criminal life is starting to crumble. One of Phil Leotardo’s goons approaches Meadow in a bar and makes lewd comments. This incident becomes all the more ominous when we learn that the man she was with is the son of Patsy Parisi. We all remember how well things turned out the last time Meadow dated the son of one of her father’s associates.

We get a sense of just how stunted Meadow is as a result of growing up in the Soprano household during a conversation with her mother, during which she reveals her new boyfriend’s identity. She has once again changed her mind about going to medical school because “It is so hard.” Her mother, in a classic bit of Carmela hypocrisy, reminds Meadow that anything worthwhile is difficult, as though her daughter is unaware that neither she nor Tony has ever done an honest day’s work in their lives.

Tony beats Coco, the thug who accosted Meadow, within an inch of his life. This escalates his dispute with Phil over the asbestos dumping, and Little Carmine, who tries to broker a peace, warns Tony, “You are on the precipice.” But when they show up at Phil’s house, Phil refuses to see them, which made me wonder whether he hasn’t overplayed his hand. Tony has never responded well to being cornered.

Tony’s home life spills over into his work in other ways. He fears that A.J.’s problems reflect poorly on him in the eyes of his men, who fail to comfort Tony with their own tales of domestic woe. Paulie suggests that A.J. has been made ill by toxic chemicals, a statement loaded with irony and double meaning. Tony, supposedly a lover of nature, has been dumping asbestos all over the New Jersey countryside. At the beginning of the show we see an otherwise bucolic landscape spoiled by a load of asbestos-contaminated construction waste.

It is Tony who is toxic, poisoning the lives of those around him. As the show ends, we see him from behind, walking down a corridor in a mental hospital to visit A.J. He looks in silhouette like a lumbering beast, slouching toward the son he has so utterly failed.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

An inconvenient truth

The Trib addresses what Ross Perot might call Pennsylvania's crazy aunt in the basement: an inequitable system for funding public schools. This is the reason why cutting property taxes is so difficult. Without reforming the school funding system--which puts the onus for funding schools on local districts, and thus local property owners--not only will you be unable to offer significant local property tax cuts, but you will continue to have vast inequalities among school districts.

Some other states have reformed their school funding systems after state courts have ruled that they were so inequitable as to violate state consitutions. But a similar lawsuit in Pennsylvania failed a few years ago. (Though the Trib article hints that the current lawsuit over Allegheny County's base-year system could have a similar effect. If the system is declared unconstitutional, and properties statewide must be re-assessed, taxpayers may demand state-wide reform.)

The other hurdle to reform in Pennsylvania is the state's strong tradition of local control--and many of the communities that value local control the most are the most affluent and thus have the greatest political influence. Districts like Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Quaker Valley can raise taxes as much as they want, because many--though not all--residents can afford to pay them, and they moved to those places in the first place because they were willing to pay a premium for public education. Taxpayers in those places will not be happy to pay taxes to support school districts in places like Wilkinsburg, Clairton and Duquesne.

But until and unless the state tackles school funding reform, we will never have property tax reform. Because unless you change the way schools are funded, any property tax cuts would have to be matched by an increase in some other tax. (And it may have to happen any way.) As any politician will tell you, there's no percentage in that.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

There is no pain you are receding

"Sopranos" fan Brian Williams (oh, yeah, he's also the NBC Nightly News anchor) quotes a friend who called listening to Van Morrison's recording of "Comfortably Numb"--featured in this week's episode--"like being in church." (Thanks to Slate, where Tim Noah notes the similar themes played out on "The Sopranos" and in "The Wall".)

I know the feeling. I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never heard that version until I watched a trailer for "The Departed." Scorcese's use of the song in that film was damn near transcendent. And of course, it set the perfect tone for "The Sopranos" this week.

Three episodes left, my friends. Three episodes.

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We all ride the bus

Chris Briem points to a study that measured the cost of transit cuts in the Philadelphia area, and wonders if a similar study has been done here. From

If SEPTA's latest budget crisis isn't averted, property values in Bucks will plummet, almost 60,000 jobs in the region will be lost, commuters will pay hundreds of dollars more per year and almost $90 million in tax revenue will vanish, according to a new study.

And that's not even the worst of it. ...

Even commuters who travel by car would face an increase in costs of $38.9 million per year, including longer wait times from increased traffic congestion and an expected jump in parking prices, according to the study. If “Plan B” goes into effect, the average commuter would pay about $275 more per year to park.

It's why I believe that mass transit should be regarded as part of our public infrastructure. If it suffers, we all pay a price.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let's talk about me

I wrote another article for Fanfare magazine.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The dream is gone

Perhaps what was most shocking about this week’s “The Sopranos” was that it was shocking at all. We’ve seen people shot, brutally beaten, dismembered, and permanently maimed. Yet Tony’s suffocation of the helpless Christopher, following a violent car wreck, somehow seemed like the most depraved act the show has ever thrust upon us.

A channel surfer who stumbled upon this scene with no prior knowledge of “The Sopranos” might have thought they were witnessing an act of mercy. In reality, Christopher was the victim of the most grievous act of betrayal that we have seen from a show whose characters wallow in duplicity. Evil can be the only word we use to describe Tony’s murder of Christopher, who Tony had raised as a son.

Not that we weep for Christopher, whose own savagery was brought home to us last week when he gunned down J.T. Dolan. Let’s not forget the waiter that he and Paulie murdered over an insult in season five, nor the fact that he handed his own fiancé over to Tony to kill. Christopher’s death leaves his daughter fatherless, but this show has shown us what happens to the children raised by men like Tony and Christopher. They develop the kind of corrosive cynicism that Meadow mistakes for sophistication or they end as aspiring thugs like A.J. and his new buddies.

Still, murder is murder. What shocked Tony was his own lack of remorse. He was relieved, as he admitted to Dr. Melfi in a dream, and tried to tell her in real life. He projected these feelings onto Carmela, who was horrified at Tony’s suggestion that she was secretly glad Christopher was dead. She tearfully admitted that she was grateful it was Christopher and not Tony who had died. Tony, seemingly disappointed, says, “That’s normal.”

Tony tries to comfort Carmela by noting that in the accident, the car seat in the back of Christopher’s SUV was destroyed; had Christopher’s baby been in the car, she would have been killed. The sheer randomness of the accident epitomizes the moral chaos that reigns on “The Sopranos." When Tony goes to Las Vegas, he bets on the roulette wheel, a gamble that is totally based on chance. Later, stoned on peyote (which he gets from a stripper who used to sleep with Christopher) he stops at the roulette wheel and says “It’s like the solar system.” Suddenly he can’t lose, placing bet after bet until he falls on the floor in laughter, as though he’s suddenly realized that the bolt of lightening he’s been waiting for is not going to strike after all.

The end of the episode finds Tony and his new companion in the desert, where the rising sun seems to blink at Tony, who calls out “I get it.” Many fans and commentators online find the sunrise reminiscent of the mysterious beacon that Tony saw in his dream while in a coma after being shot by his uncle. It’s an interesting observation, but I’m not sure how much it really matters. Tony is bound to use whatever drug-induced revelation he’s discovered to justify his own narcissism. In Tony’s universe, he is the sun, and no one can break free of their orbit around him.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

A foundering ship

The Post-Gazette, in a euphamistically worded editoral, calls out Pittsburgh's political culture and its political class:

The city's Redd Up Crew, the brainchild of that authentic hometown character, late Mayor Bob O'Connor, has Pittsburghese in its name for a reason: It is Pittsburgh to the core. Unfortunately, more so than we ever knew.

In addition to civic pride and neighborliness, Pittsburgh has unenlightened political attitudes that have been magnified by the supremacy of the local Democratic Party for the last 70 years. That was on display when members of the Redd Up Crew were caught on camera wearing the campaign T-shirts of Councilman Jeff Koch.

This incident seems to capture all too well what seems like a precipitious political decline since Mayor Bob O'Connor died nearly nine months ago. When Bill Peduto withdrew from the mayor's race, he said the city was still grieving O'Connor's death. That struck me at the time as bogus--which is not to imply O'Connor's death was not tragic, nor that his family and friends are not still rightfully grieving--but to a great extent we are indeed still suffering from O'Connor's death.

The fact is that no one has filled the leadership vacuum left by the mayor's death, and the city is the worse for it. That's not to say O'Connor would have been a great mayor, or that incidents like what happened with the Redd Up Crew wouldn't have occurred under O'Connor's watch. But that incident adds to the sense of chaos that pervades our political landscape, and which threatens to diminish the city's quality of life. Luke Ravenstahl has neither the experience nor the political base to fill that vacuum. Peduto can't seem to expand his support beyond Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, and his influence on council is almost nil. Doug Shields seems to have cast his lot with the city's corrupt political establishment, and as for the rest of council, well, let's just say that Jeff Koch fits right in.

It's enough to make one want to vote for Rauterkus.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The man behind the curtain

This week's "Lost" brought to mind an episode from the now defunct HBO series "Carnivale", in which Jonesy was convinced that Sampson had invented Management in order to bolster his authority. Similarly, on "Lost", Locke believed that Ben had made up Jacob to keep the rest of the Others under his thumb. Both Jonesy and Locke were wrong.

This was a great episode, revealing much about the island's mythology but raising many more questions. We now know that Ben was not born on the island, but the rest of the Others must know as well. So why did he tell Jack, and initially Locke, that he had been born there? And now that we know for sure that the Others--except for Ben--were not part of the Dharma Initiative, where did they came from? It was implied that the Others do not age, at least not rapidly, given that Richard first encountered Ben when he was a boy, but Richard was already a grown man. Plus, after revealing that it was his birthday, Ben said to Richard, "Remember birthdays?"

It's also become clear that Ben fears Locke, and I suspect that Ben did not think that Locke would be able to see or hear Jacob. The fact that he did seems further evidence that Locke has a deep connection to the island, which could undermine Ben's authority. I think Ben wanted to take Locke to see Jacob, figuring he could not see Jacob, which might have demonstrated to the Others that Locke was not particularly special.

Finally, Ben is now the second person that I can recall who has seen the dead on the island, the first being Jack, who saw his dead father roaming the island. (Let's not forget that Jack found his father's casket empty.) I'm not sure what this means, but I suspect it marked Ben as special to the Others.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike:

The scene references both the aforementioned "Psycho" as well as "Harvey", but most specifically reminded me of HBO’s long-canceled "Carnivàle" where “Management” would remain hidden away in his trailer, calling the shots despite all outwardly appearances that he lacked physical form.

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Vote for Rick, part two

Ignore this, and vote for Rick.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

A man had two sons...

We often see the characters on “The Sopranos” engaged in the kind of prosaic activities that mark our own lives—enjoying a family barbecue, drinking coffee over the morning paper, or clipping coupons. But these people are not like us. They do horrible, evil things, and they are doomed in a way that the rest of us are not. Even now, as the show comes to its end, the writers still need to remind us of this on occasion.

So it was that, during this week’s episode, just as I was feeling sad for Christopher that he fell off the wagon—again—he murders in cold blood the hapless TV writer J.T. Dolan. This episode found Christopher struggling with his sobriety and his decision to spend less time with the guys at their favorite haunts, which helps to fuel a conflict with Paulie over bootleg power tools being sold by Christopher’s father-in-law.

Christopher seeks solace at his AA meetings, where he relates to a salesman who complains that his co-workers are angry that he never shows up at the company golf outings anymore. But when Christopher tells his own tale of woe, he has to speak in euphemisms. Adriana becomes a fellow employee, fired after Christopher sides with his boss in a dispute. This suggests that in his own mind, Christopher is denying his more affirmative role in bringing about Adriana’s demise.

The insights Christopher gleans from his recovery do seem to be heightening his self-awareness, which Tony—his surrogate father—could tell him is more a curse than a gift. Both men are smart enough to see the folly of their lives, but they lack the will to do anything about it. During a party at the Bing, Christopher can’t resist a drink even after Paulie graciously orders him a club soda. When he drunkenly tries to explain the joys of fatherhood to Paulie—to Paulie, for God’s sake!—, Paulie cracks a joke, and Christopher looks around the room at the laughing faces of his associates.

We see the scene in slow motion, reminiscent of the poker game in season five when Tony realizes it is fear and not affection that binds his friends to him. In that scene, slow motion had the effect of exaggerating the dopy faces of the mobsters as they laughed at Tony’s stupid joke. This time, the faces looked menacing in their laughter, monstrous even, with Tony in their midst, cigar smoke pouring out of his mouth, making him seem like a fire-breathing dragon. Christopher stumbles out of the room in a near panic and heads to Dolan’s apartment.

Every time Dolan appears on screen, I brace myself for the coming train wreck, and this week my fears were never more justified. Christopher thinks he’ll find a sympathetic ear in his fellow addict, and he starts talking about how he could bring down Tony and everyone else by going to the feds. He begins to describe his crimes, but Dolan will have none of it. He knows that Christopher’s impromptu confession endangers both their lives. Christopher appeals to their common affliction, to which Dolan replies, “You’re in the Mafia.”

As if to punctuate the point, Christopher turns before leaving and fires his gun at Dolan, killing him. When he returns home, Christopher rights a sapling that had been knocked over when Paulie had turfed his lawn earlier in the episode. We are left to wonder whether this is symbolic of Christopher’s decision to start anew, or just another meaningless gesture in a wasted life.

Tony, meanwhile, has his hands full with A.J., who is growing increasingly despondent over his break-up with Blanca. Tony laments to Dr. Melfi that he’s passed on his own morose personality to his son. It’s a typical moment of self-pity and denial on the part of Tony, who ignores the fact that his actions in raising A.J. have probably done as much damage as his DNA.

Tony’s solution to his son’s depression is to send him headlong into the world that he’s shielded A.J. from for so long. He encourages A.J. to go to a fraternity party with the sons of Carlo and Patsy. These kids aren’t just boorish frat boys (having been a boorish frat boy myself, I can say that), they’re mobsters in the making. They run a campus gambling ring, and at one point they use A.J. to intimidate a fellow student who owes them money. Later, when A.J. helps them hold down the student while they pour acid on his toes, we see a look of excitement cross his face. Well done, Tony.

(One might view Tony as having betrayed his son’s future to ease his guilt over A.J.’s depression. In the same way Tony may have inadvertently sold out Christopher by giving the FBI agents information about the Arabs who used to frequent the Bing, a move that seemed to have been born partly out of self-interest, partly out of some latent sense of patriotism.)

A.J. comes home, where he joins his parents and sister at the kitchen table for a late-night meal, a deceptively bucolic scene. Earlier, when A.J. pulls into the driveway, he momentarily startles Tony, who is sitting in his SUV, having just come back from the Bing. He pulls a gun and walks to the front of his car, only to recognize A.J.’s own SUV. He quickly puts the gun away and greets his son.

It’s hard not to interpret that as a harbinger of awful things to come. The show has signaled from the beginning that the doom Tony has long awaited will come to, or come from, someone he loves dearly. Maybe that’s why, to me, the Soprano family’s midnight snack had the feel of a last supper.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hodge podge

In this week's "Lost" wrap-up, Andrew Dignan at The House Next Door makes a great reference, comparing the scene in which Sawyer makes Cooper read the letter that Sawyer wrote as a child to Inigo Montoya's revenge fantasy in "The Princess Bride." Brilliant. Dignan wonders if Sawyer, having finally carried out the revenge that was so tightly intertwined with his very identity, is primed to be bumped of by the show's writers. Personally, I still think Sawyer has demons to exorcise, but it's not for me to decide his fate.

Meanwhile, the boys at Slate, in their regular "The Sopranos" discussion, have completely ruined the ending of "Anna Karenina" for me by revealing that the title character kills herself. Of course, the point of the discussion is that in great drama, regardless the format, endings matter less than the journey that got us there, an important point to keep in mind as "The Sopranos" draws to a close.

You don't have to have read Tolstoy's classic to know its famous opening line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This idea has often been discussed in relation to "The Sopranos", and an episode in season five was titled "All Happy Families." It reminds me too of a line in "The Godfather, Part III." (You're quoting part three? you ask. Hey, it wasn't that bad.) Michael's son, Anthony, tells his father that he'll never work for him because "I have bad memories," to which Michael replies "Every family has bad memories."


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"It's not like him"

I’ve watched every episode of this final mini-season of “The Sopranos” with my stomach balled into a knot, as though I was waiting for something to explode. It seems as if catastrophe lurks around every corner, and as much as I’m enjoying the show, I’m nearly at the point where I just want to get it over with. David Chase, however, seems intent on prolonging our suffering.

The tension this week sprang from Tony’s sudden gambling addiction, a plot development that I found to be somewhat contrived. True, it’s not wholly out of character for Tony, who has a serious lack of impulse control and is deriving less and less joy out of the things that once gave him pleasure. Still, it felt less than organic, even if the groundwork was laid last week with Tony’s phone call to Hesh, asking for a $200,000 loan.

Hesh has long been Tony’s confidant, and he and Tony seem to have the warmest relationship of any two men on the show. So it was deeply unsettling to see that relationship disintegrate over Tony’s reluctance to pay back the loan. The anti-Semitic cracks that Tony hurls at Hesh were not only hypocritical—Tony hoards cash in his birdseed—but also, it seemed, a way for the show to slyly acknowledge that by portraying its only major Jewish character as a loan shark, it is trafficking in one of the most ugly anti-Semitic stereotypes. (Even if Hesh is one of the show’s more likable characters.)

Hesh talks with his son, Eli, about his Tony troubles and Eli--no doubt saying what the audience is thinking--suggests that Tony wouldn’t possibly hurt Hesh. The older man is not so sure, and he is near panic when Tony and Bobby show up at his door to invite him to a boat show. (Boats equal death in “The Sopranos.”) Hesh declines, and Tony obviously knows the effect his surprise visit has had when he tells Hesh that the next time, he’ll call first. Later, Tony pays back the money, at the most inappropriate time—when Hesh is grieving over the sudden death of his girlfriend. Tony’s insincere condolences make it seem as though he’s taken some secret pleasure over his friend’s pain.

As Tony and Bobby head to the boat show with Carlo, Tony laments the loss of his best earner, Vito, killed at Phil Leotardo’s hands because he was gay. This week’s only light moment comes when Carlo tries to compare Tony’s plight to a character from “The Twilight Zone.” Tony cuts him off. “You should stop watching so much Nick at Nite, and start sucking cock, because Vito brought in three times as much as you!”

Tony is feeling the loss of Vito for another reason. Vito’s teenage son, Vito Jr., is acting out—dressing Goth, knocking over gravestones and killing cats. His mother wants $100,000 so she can move the family to Maine. Tony acknowledges that it’s not the first time he’s had to be a surrogate father, and we know the results have not always been pleasant. (It was Vito, you’ll recall, who gunned down Jackie Jr.) Tony decides to pony up the money, but he ends up blowing it on a football bet, and so all he can afford is to send the poor kid to a bootcamp in Idaho.

With Vito dead, his family has become disposable, the exact fate that Carmela fears when she fiercely protects the earnings from her spec house from Tony’s gambling. Tony erupts, and the confrontation that ensued was reminiscent of the fight they had in the fourth season finale, and then as now, Tony accuses Carmela of hypocrisy for living off his money while turning up her nose at how he earns it. As they reconcile later, Carmela speaks to the sense of impending doom surrounding Tony when she says that he ignores that piano hanging from a rope his head.

Perhaps most ominous of all is Dr. Melfi’s warning to Tony that she may refuse to see him if he doesn’t start to follow certain "protocols." Maybe she is finally wising up to the fact that Tony is beyond redemption, and that rather than make him a better person, all she’s done is make him a better gangster. I’m not sure what it all means, but it seems that Chase and the series’ writers are determined to make us look forward to Tony’s future with the same dread that he does.

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