Wednesday, 26 June 2002

Ich Liebe Berlin

[travel] Berlin is one of my favourite cities anywhere: the history of the last century written in stone and glass. It's four and a half years since our last visit, and it's like a whole new city. The cobwebs of the East around Mitte have been swept away; the souvenir sellers beside the Brandenburg Gate are gone, and the Gate is wrapped in a sky blue shroud for renovations; new Bundestag buildings have taken over several streets, and the Reichstag looks beautiful under its new glass dome. The Museumsinsel along Unter den Linden is transformed, with many museums that were closed now open, and many that were black now the colour of new stone. Potsdamer Platz has only a handful of cranes left, and a whole string of glass towers, looking nothing like America, everything like the techno future. The streets throughout Mitte feel alive and buzzing, and the whole city is green—at last it feels like summer.

Buzzing, that is, except for yesterday afternoon from 1.30-3.30. It took me a while to figure out what was going on—until I saw the crowd around a cafe bar, staring at the television inside. A few minutes later the streets echoed with cheers, car horns and fireworks, which continued on and off through the afternoon and night.

Travel tip of the day: normally there are long queues to visit the dome of the Reichstag, mostly full of Germans themselves, but the wise traveller will visit a few hours after Deutschland beats Südkorea 1-0 in the semi-final of the World Cup.


Thursday, 20 June 2002

Ready for the Laughing Gas

[site news]


Four days until we hit Zoo Station in Berlin, one of our favourite cities, ha ha! And thence to Vienna, where I'm giving a conference paper that's still swirling around unfinished in my head and in scraps of text (fortunately it's all making some sort of sense now). So, guess what I'm going to be doing between now and Monday morning... and guess what I'm not going to be doing.

I might drop an entry or two in here from ein Netzkaffee somewhere along the way. Otherwise, see you in the second week of July.


Step by Step

[summer repeats] This post from June 2000 still touches a nerve.

Something strange happened last night. There was a message from a friend on our answering machine, and I called him back, and because he's moved recently I called his mobile. After one or two rings, a voice answered—not his, but a woman's (not his partner's, either)—and said 'Rohan's mobile phone, what is your message, please?'

And I was completely thrown. It was an actual person, not a recorded voice. An actual person, taking his messages, presumably for some message-bank service.

'Uhh—I've got a message for Rohan?' (just to make sure it was an actual person I was talking to).

'Yes, what is your message for Rohan, please?'

'Um, it's his friend Rory, returning his call.'

'Rory, returning his call. Thank you.' End of conversation.

The whole experience was deeply unsettling. Not because there was a human on the line, but because I was expecting a machine. I was expecting thirty seconds of Enya and that bloke from Idiot Box who does the hold-messages for Ansett, or that woman from ACTEW who says 'I will lead you—step-by-step' (oo, goody!).

If I can't have Rohan or a recording of Rohan, I want production values and a script, dammit! None of this improvisation. I want buttons! 1 to leave him a message, 2 for easy monthly payments, 3 to delete this recording!

What's the point of all this dehumanising technology if it isn't populated by dehumans?


Kill Your Bookmarks II: Binge and Purge

[weblog] I loved origami when I was a kid, but could have saved myself the trouble of all that folding.

Venn diagrams for today from the Brunching Shuttlecocks.

The personal site to end all personal sites, featuring the entire contents of one person's house.

And what's Oolong been up to lately? Watching the World Cup, of course. When he's not wielding pancake shields against being tickled.


[comics] Fascinating appreciation of—and criticism of—Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics as polemic, by New Zealand comics artist Dylan Horrocks [via LMG], picking up on some of its inconsistencies. (McCloud's exclusion of single-panel cartoons from his broad category of 'comics=sequential art' always bothered me: I'd argue that a speech caption on a single-panel cartoon incorporates time and therefore a kind of sequentiality. He's attempting to make a similar distinction to the one between movies and photographs, but then a photograph also becomes something quite different when a caption or talks-bubble is added to it, Private Eye-style; it becomes a photorealistic single-panel cartoon.)


Wednesday, 19 June 2002

More Setbacks

[madagascar] The possibility of a government of national unity seems to be off:

Ravalomanana ... dashed hopes for reconciliation Tuesday by excluding any key supporters of his arch-foe, former leader Didier Ratsiraka, from a new government. ... "This is clearly no more an inclusive government than the last one," one local political analyst [said].

Meanwhile, Ratsiraka supporter Lieutenant Colonel Ancelin Coutiti has apparently "stepped up his hunt for the new president's men in recent days" on the tourist resort island of Nosy Be, where "the mutilated corpses of six of Ravalomanana's soldiers and two civilians have been found since Saturday."

Even more disturbingly, this may indicate what Ratsiraka has been doing in France:

French "mercenaries" allegedly on their way to embattled Madagascar to fight for former president Didier Ratsiraka were still in Tanzania on Wednesday, airport sources here said. A Falcon 900 carrying 15 French nationals heading to Madagascar landed in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday to refuel.


Tip of the Day

[books] Finished Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point last night, that perennial bloggers' favourite (right up there with Dave Eggers), but I'll spare you most of the wondering aloud about how it applies to blogging or myself (I am not a Connector, I am a free man!). The section about context and character seemed particularly relevant to the issue of personal sites, though, in light of last week's debates on identity. Gladwell writes that:

Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment. [p.163]

In other words, the person you are at home is different from the person you are at work. Straightforward enough. But it's impossible to know who's in your audience on the web, and thus impossible to 'control the environment' surrounding any particular comments you make on it. So, (a) it's harder to maintain consistency of character online, and (b) it's easier to take online comments out of context, because they're only ever a link or a Google search away from anywhere else. Which in turn can make people wary of what they say, or encourage them to wear multiple hats (pseudonyms) in different places around the web. Perhaps that's a better way to think of pseudonyms: as an attempt to control context rather than to maintain absolute anonymity or avoid responsibility for one's comments.

Meanwhile, I can report that The Tipping Point hasn't tipped at Edinburgh University Library. Before my Return By stamp of 29 AUG 2002, the last and only stamp in the book is 03 DEC 2000.


Tuesday, 18 June 2002

Speak to Me

[minutiae] The Dock is trying to tell me something.


BW Omen? B Women? Bwo Men?


Strike Me Lucky

[code] This is entirely for my own benefit. I'm sick of trying to find the answer using a Google search, so now I can find it by searching my own site:

The CSS equivalent of <strike> is <span style="text-decoration:line-through">

Why couldn't they just use "text-decoration:strike"? Too many complaints from the Teamsters?


Kill Your Bookmarks

[weblog] By bundling them into the sea of blog in a shiny new pair of concrete shoes:

Via the usual suspects.


Monday, 17 June 2002

Give Them an Inch

[summer repeats] After last week's blurtfest, it's time to switch back to summer repeats. So, am I allowed to 'repeat' something that didn't initially appear on this site? Who cares. Here's something from a MetaFilter thread on the British Weights and Measures Association's campaign against the metric system:

In other news, proponents of Imperial Computation are objecting that the kilobyte and megabyte are superseding the old-fashioned British grossbyte (=144 bytes). "All of a sudden we're getting only one kilobyte where before we'd get seven grossbytes," says Lionel Fridge of the British Bytes and Measures Association. "It just isn't right... everything is being resized to encourage metric computation. Twenty megabyte hard disks hold 145,635 and a half grossbytes: if that isn't an attack on good old-fashioned British values, I don't know what is."

Fridge went on to complain that tuppence ha'penny and a shiny new shilling just don't buy what they used to, before being cruelly struck down by a crash-landing Mars orbiter.


Friday, 14 June 2002

[madagascar] An inconclusive end to the latest round of talks on the Madagascar crisis has been followed by dramatic events: Ravalomanana has pulled down all of Ratsiraka's barricades while the latter is in France.

"The barriers have been completely taken down throughout Madagascar," the millionaire businessman said. "I now call for national reconciliation so the country can start working toward national recovery in peace and harmony."

Ratsiraka, meanwhile, denied that he was fleeing the country, saying "I am going to Paris in order to find a solution to the serious crisis in Madagascar." An interesting place to look for it.


To Whom It May Concern

[uk culture]

Dear Scotland,

Thank you for your response to my letter of 6 January 2002 asking you to please stop switching off the lights at 3.30 p.m. I was gratified to see you leaving them on longer and longer, until nowadays you're hitting the dimmer switch sometime around 10 or 11. I've noticed, however, that you have suddenly started switching them on at 4 o'clock in the morning. This is, I submit, a ridiculous time to be waking up for anyone who isn't a heilan' coo. Please rectify this immediately.

Yours faithfully, etc.

P.S.: You could do something about all this rain, too.


Thursday, 13 June 2002

Secret Agent Man

[net culture] Ed responds to my ponderous entry of below. And what he says is true. It makes me realise that I was conflating too many issues in that post, as I tend to do when the subject is a big one. I'll try and untangle them a bit more.

First, the question of shutting up for fear of losing your job: it wasn't my main point (although my snappy punchline does make it look like it, I admit), but to the extent that I addressed the issue I was being more hypothetical than autobiographical. I'm fortunate enough to have one of the few kinds of jobs where being dooced is as close to a non-issue as it gets. Actually, that's not strictly true: writing bluntly about her co-workers was the problem in that case, and would potentially be a problem in any workplace. But as for discussing bigger issues, academics are expected to have opinions, and my opinions are hardly extreme by university standards. I've written about them here, and will again; I'm as proud of my posts about 9/11, for example, as I am of anything on this site.

True, the whole issue of employers using Google for background checks is disturbing, and as a contract employee I'm aware that it may be an issue someday; but Ed's right—who'd want to work for the thought police? Again, that's not where I was trying to go with it all.

As well as Stavros's post (and those that he linked to), I was really riffing off my whole attitude towards Metafilter, and asking myself why I don't post there more; why, indeed, I came within an inch of logging off for good after another long-time member left last month. And now, as fate would have it, a related issue has come up at MetaTalk, which drew this response from me yesterday:

I wrote this in an email to a fellow MeFite last night:

I suppose I also feel guilty for not doing enough myself to lift the tone; I've lurked way too much, given that I read it all regularly. But knowing that any opinion, no matter how cautiously and considerately expressed, will meet its opposite (in every respect) simply because there are so many people and opinions represented there—well, it makes it hard to get motivated to play the voice of reason. Let alone the playful voice of unreason.

You either feel motivated or you don't. Let's not forget how much work it is to go in with all dignified, intelligent, and respectful guns blazing on a subject of any difficulty. The last time I could be bothered, I ended up writing four thousand words in a giant single thread that went on for a week. Props to everyone who stuck it out in that particular case, but it's pretty draining stuff—and that was just one thread. It's hard to find the motivation to do that every time you'd like to; the temptations of eating, sleeping, catching a good movie, are all so much greater. It's easier to drop in a snarky one-liner and flit away; and when the difficult subject keeps coming up again and again, as difficult subjects have a habit of doing, the temptation to edit the four thousand words down to four letters is strong.

Or, you lurk. Or, you leave.

This is getting closer to it (and the fact that I quote it in its entirety is significant, as I'll explain later). The days are just too short to do justice to every complex subject you'd like to in the real time that blogspeed dictates. (He says, as he types this entry in his rapidly diminishing lunch-hour.) I could just about manage it a year ago, when I was unemployed and had the house to myself all day; now the opportunities to write at length are stolen from time that's in demand elsewhere.

So, when I do have the opportunity to write, I have to choose more carefully: where; on what; why? Apart from the slightest of throwaway lines, any blog post had better be worth it, or it's a waste of the precious hours of my rapidly receding youth. And the standards of 'worth' are mine, not anybody else's. I am not writing this just to entertain or inform others, although it pleases me when that happens, and the virtual friendships that have resulted are a welcome side-effect. I'm writing this for me: so that in twenty years I can look back and see what I thought and said about the world and my world; so that I continue to leave a trail of words behind me; so that I can know that I was and am a writer, no matter what my formal job title. Before this blog, there were books and articles and letters; before that, there were essays and diaries; before that, exercise books full of juvenile scribblings. This site is the last mile on a road that leads back to 'ToDay at SchooL their was a WomBAt', Rory Ewins, Miss Groom's Grade One, Huonville Infant School 1974 (stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Google), and if I'm the only one who gives a damn about that road, so be it.

I'm off that old road now, driving down this (informationsuper) highway, because what's the point of driving alone in the back alleys all your life? Writers need the discipline of writing for a public, no matter how small. But given that the overwhelming point of this site is its me-ness, it makes adopting a pseudonym here a non-issue: there would be no point in presenting the essence of me but trying to hide who 'me' is. Not when it's part of a lifelong journey of being a writer.

Things are different, though, when it comes to Metafilter. Metafilter is no-one's personal blog, nor should it to be. But those who want to engage in its difficult debates properly—which, as I said, requires more than dropping in a one-liner here and there—have to give a great deal: they have to speak their minds on a particular subject—as much of their minds as they can speak—to give a fully nuanced picture of their views. And that's more than most of us have time to do, and more than most of us want to read outside of a personal blog—look at any of the most profligate posters there, and at the criticisms levelled at them. The rest of us are left with throwaway one-liners and carefully-rationed fuller argument within specific threads. In that case, it almost doesn't matter whether you're anonymous or not.

But—and here's why I quoted that MetaTalk post in full; and it relates to Bill's comment on my last post—it would matter to me. Like Bill, I dislike having bits of my writing spread all over the place; I mirror all of my offsite reviews here, and even most of my lengthier MeFi comments. I don't mind them being 'out there', but I want there to be one place where they're all in together. And this is it.

So I, personally, couldn't maintain my online anonymity anywhere that mattered. I might stay anonymous for a one-off post here and there, but as soon as it mattered I'd feel compelled to pull it back here, to mirror it here, to link to it here—and in doing so, I'd break my own anonymity. In that case, a pseudonym would be nothing but an obstacle to forming a cohesive online identity.

So I guess the question I was really exploring was, 'Is it really possible for a writer to remain anonymous indefinitely?', where by 'writer' I mean someone who is writing for more than just the moment. Sure, you can adopt a pseudonym to drop a one-off snark into a comments box somewhere, but that's just being indulgent. And yes, sometimes an anonymous alter-ego can be useful and even necessary in dealing with a temporary need to be circumspect. But it's not very useful in building a long-term identity as a writer; and, in view of the all-seeing eye of Google, it looks more and more as if what many of us are doing here is establishing our long-term identities as writers.

Given all that, I'm happy enough to be me.

There's one area I haven't addressed in relation to Ed's comments, and that's the intensely personal. I've been plenty personal on this site in the past, and if the thought of anyone reading those comments seriously worried me I'd purge every archive page and hunt down every last cache. On the contrary, I scrupulously maintain just about every single URL I've ever made here, and as long as I'm around there won't be a broken link at Speedysnail. The only 'personal' post I ever pulled I actually put back a while later.

But there are places I haven't gone. Not places inside me, but places that belong to those around me. I don't write much about my wife here, even though she's my best friend and has been for nine years. Not because I'd write anything that would make her look bad—to me, there is no such thing—but because her specific stories are hers to tell, not mine. Similarly for other friends and family. For now, at least, if their stories turn up in my writing it'll be in fiction—disguised, distilled, blended—or in a book-length manuscript that I can show them before it's published.

My own past, too, is here in only the most occasional of anecdotes and barest of facts—not because I don't want to share it, but because I don't want to use it all up. I want to feed off those stories for a lifetime. And I don't want to give just the edited highlights, because that gives the impression that everything was highs.

That said, I've been meaning to post more memories here, but again, it's a matter of finding the time to do them justice.

So. Lunchtime is over, and so is this response, even if it digressed a bit. (I digress? Very well then, I digress. I am large, I contain multitudes. Which reminds me...)


Wednesday, 12 June 2002

[site news] So much for this being summer repeats season.


Your Secret Identity Is...

[net culture] After panicking yesterday that something I'd written here had given offence to someone I'd never want to offend, I suspect that I worry too much—and that this ties in with the subject of online identity and pseudonyms that Stavros has been discussing.

I've regretted at times not building my online identity around a pseudonym—particularly at Metafilter. How much easier it would be to speak my mind without fear of repercussions if no one knew whose mind it was. How many times have I typed a strident opinion into that blue form only to leave it unposted, for fear that it would come back to haunt me? Too many.

Not that I could do much about it if someone was determined to dooce me. Not when Google has this site pegged at number two for my first name (my own fault, for building hundreds of pages with that name at the bottom of them). I worry that this is causing me to clam up more and more, to refrain from blurting out sarky posts like the ones below that are such fun to write but look a bit petty after a while, no matter what your politics. And I worry that I'm clamming up about my own personal life, because how personal do you actually want to be when typing your name into a search engine is like Being John Malkovich?

It's strange to be thinking this when I've already had a book about politics published, and already written the semi-autobiographical first novel and nailed it to the door. But longer-form works, especially in pages on a library shelf, don't hold the same potential for snap judgements as blog posts. Read one page of a book and the heft of the rest reminds you that you may not be getting the whole story; read a stand-alone post or page on a website, and it can seem like it tells you all you need to know about the author. The only way to avoid that, it seems, is to write exceedingly cautiously.

But even the most cautious efforts to conceal and encode are undermined by the merciless compound eyes of spiders, as they wrap your body of work in digital silk. A pseudonym, in the long-run, won't prevent that. If you write for long enough, you give yourself away, piece by piece, clue by clue. If you matter enough to your readers—indeed, if you matter too much—they'll look for the connections, and ultimately make them. Attempts at further concealment, by turning facts into fiction, might only make things worse. The only protection is for your readers not to care, or not to exist—and what writer wants that?

And a pseudonym, once chosen, might be a lifelong commitment. Writers revisit the same themes and words throughout their lives—they can't help it—and nowadays even an amateur armed with a few key phrases and Google can perform some strongly suggestive comparative analysis. Any writer who seriously wishes to remain anonymous would have to maintain that anonymity to the end.

Is it really possible to divorce your actual identity from the part that matters to you the most? To maintain that sharp division, that split personality? Or will everyone inevitably learn that Sam Clemens is Mark Twain, that Eric Blair is George Orwell? Does it matter? And what about the 'day job'?

Was Saki ever sacked for being too sarky?


This Morning on Radio Four

[whatever] Good morning, I'm James Naughtie. Later in the programme we'll be interviewing a member of the Conservative Party to discuss the case of Jo Moore, the government spin doctor who said in an email that September 11th was a good day to bury bad news. Exactly nine months and a day after that fateful message, which cost Moore and her minister their jobs, we'll be revisiting its contents, discussing whether they're part of a dangerous trend of government spin-doctoring, and analysing the email headers to see exactly who else might have thought that September 11th was a good day to bury bad news.

But first, the headlines. Jo Moore, the government spin doctor who said in an email that September 11th was a good day to bury bad news, was invoked in Parliament again yesterday as opposition members performed a ritual victory dance around the front bench seat recently vacated by Stephen Byers, while their research assistants combed through Hansard for the words 'bury', 'news', 'bad', and 'September 11th'.

The Queen has thanked those who organised her Jubilee celebration. It was a 'good day', she said, neglecting to say whether that was for the purposes of burying bad news—unlike government spin doctor Jo Moore on September 11th.

The nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan continues, with a first strike feared at any time. Analysts warn that both sides are waiting for 'a good day to bury bad news'. All eyes are on former British government spin doctor, Jo Moore.

And now, Thought for the Day, with the Reverend Stephen Byers.

Good morning. Who was it who said, 'I come not to bury Caesar, but to bury bad news?' Methinks it was Jo Moore.

Thank you, Reverend. And so to the weather, with Martin Sixsmith.

Thanks, Jim. Well, what can I say: showers over southern England, turning to rain in the afternoon over England, Wales, and much of Scotland, with hailstorms in Kent. Twelve to thirteen degrees everywhere, although there are signs of sunshine by the weekend. And in the long-term forecast, September 11th is looking like a good day.


In the Zone

[politics] The Howard government announced on Friday that it was redefining Australia's 'migration zone' to exclude its outlying northern islands. That's the ticket; if inconvenient treaties insist that you assess the refugee claims of all who land on your shores, just redefine 'shore' as 'any stretch of coastline more than a thousand kilometres long'. And if their boats make it all the way to the Australian mainland, just redefine 'land' as 'ten kilometres above the high tide mark'. And if that doesn't work, just paint a big target on Woomera and tell them to aim for that.

This is what's known in international law as 'having your cake and eating it too'. "These outlying islands are part of Australia for the purposes of staking out our territorial waters and claiming valuable oil fields, but not for the purposes of dealing with inconvenient human beings."

Phillip Ruddock apparently even entertained the possibility that Tasmania may be included in this category. Never mind that Australia, the constitutional entity, is not the same thing as Australia, the continental land-mass: Tasmania is clearly too tempting a target for people-smugglers—it sounds too much like 'Taliban'.

But why stop there? It'd be so much easier just to redefine the migration zone as the arrivals hall at Kingsford Smith Airport.


[infotech] Want a digital camera, but can't afford one? Try building a megapixel digital camera out of a flatbed scanner. Or if that sounds like too much trouble, head outside with your laptop and start scanning the ground.


[weblog] I neglected to post these out of some sort of half-baked notion that I wasn't going to blog as much or something, thus guaranteeing that I would spend longer wishing I'd posted them than it would have taken just to post them and be done with it.

So, belatedly:


Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

[code] The WaSP is back.


Tuesday, 11 June 2002


[uk culture] St. Andrew's crosses around Edinburgh.


Grass Sky Grate


Monday, 10 June 2002

[weblog] Recent compilations of 1950s and '60s exotica are all well and good—and some of them are very well and good indeed—but they lack that finishing touch of the original album art. Thank the mighty gods of lounge, then, for 317x, home to beauties like Moog Power, I Dig Chicks, Ping Pong, The Plastic Cow Goes Moooooog and Mambo for Cats. [Via I Love Everything.]


Like Sands Through the Hourglass

[net culture] The blog opera continues. The Wonderchicken Currently Known as Stavros has been waxing lyrical in a string of fine posts on pseudonyms and online identity; the People's Republic of Metafilter has been dissecting the latest New York Times article on weblogging trends, which has also drawn a few comments at its new sister site; and a few days ago, Tom asked for some feedback on this exhaustingly reflexive pastime. Mine is hidden in a microdot somewhere in this post.


Hip Hippo Hooray

[summer repeats] This entry from two years ago was an early throwaway favourite, and now comes with a sequel:

There's nothing sadder than finding an alluring one-line description on a links page only to get a 404: "Hippopotamus page (Netherlands) A cricket club with a hippo mascot." Call me crazy, but Dutch cricketing hippos is something I've gotta see.

Found via Hippo World, the Place for All Things Hippo. It's hippopotamosupercalifrajalistic! (Workplace warning: streaming hippo-related music in background.)

The sequel? Turns out that the Dutch cricketing hippos are still out there.


Sunday, 9 June 2002

[politics] The Guardian weekend magazine is again covering refugee issues (and here), this time looking at parallel British attitudes to asylum seekers in the 1930s and today:

Mr Herbert Metcalfe, the Old Street magistrate, yesterday referred to the number of aliens entering the country through the 'back door'—a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.

[Quote from the Daily Mail, 20 August 1938; the aliens were 'stateless Jews from Germany'.]


[site news] The gradual site-wide transformation continues with a revamp of Rory Central. The Outside and About pages have been tweaked a bit, too.


Friday, 7 June 2002

When Links Collide


Its subversive tendentiousness is all the worse when one remembers that the great majority of the ten and eleven-year-old children who are subjected to its influence will not know a single historical date by the time they leave school five, six or seven years later, will not know when the Second World War took place to within the nearest twenty years, and will not be able to name a single significant figure from British history. They will not be multicultural: they will be acultural.

Spencer: "What country am I from? England. The city is called Cambridge, the county Cambridgeshire."
Jade: "So not Kent then?"
Spencer: "Nooooo.... The region is called East Anglia."
Jade: "East Angular? That's abroad. Is there not a place called East Angular abroad? ... Every time people tell me they work in East Angular, I actually think they're talking about near Tunisia and places like that."

Thanks to and for pointers to these passages.


A. Schadenfreude; B. Haagen Dazs...

[weblog] Go on. You've always wanted to know what it feels like to fluff a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Well, now you can [via loobylu].


Wednesday, 5 June 2002

The Mouse

[summer repeats] In an attempt to ward off the shaking sensation that comes from not posting to the site in days, we bring you another in this thrilling series of retrospectives: this one from January 2001.

The mouse is dead.

I have nothing against mice personally—in fact I find their beady black eyes quite endearing—but we're currently sleeping on mattresses on the floor, and I don't fancy waking up to the pitter patter of tiny feet across my forehead. And Jane, who in most respects is a no-nonsense sort, has a thing about rodents—something to do with being a biologist and having to bump off dozens of them in the name of science. So the mouse had to die.

But he was a tenacious little bugger.

Last week I heard the trap go off under the sink while I was doing the dishes, and looked down at his prone form twitching beneath it... and watched the whole thing leap and bounce as he wriggled free, then darted round the fridge and away.

On Sunday, Jane saw him near the heater built into the fireplace in the living room. 'It's the mouse!' she cried. I crouched down to look, but saw only a mouse-shaped blob of fluff.

On Monday, I looked down from this chair and saw him sitting in the middle of the carpet, staring up at me with his endearing beady eyes before he zipped back behind the couch. That night I loaded the trap with peanut butter, a mouse favourite. When we came back from a movie it was licked clean, and empty.

I tried again with a piece of feta cheese and an enormous glob of peanut butter, setting the trap off on my fingers twice while placing it next to the heater. Yesterday I watched the mouse dart out again and again from beneath the heater and eat that whole enormous glob of peanut butter right down to the cheese. The trap didn't go off. The mouse was too light. My only hope was to keep feeding him peanut butter until he got heavy enough to trigger it.

Last night I smeared the trap again and set it even more carefully, on as delicate a trigger as I could. If this didn't work, I was going to buy a whole bunch of traps, dammit, and set them in a row along the wall: a Maginot line of mouse-traps, all poised to go off at the slightest hint of a breeze as he ran past, thwap! thwap! thwap! thwap! thwap!, turning the living room into an ungodly mess of mouse parts and peanut butter!

This morning, the tiny mouse was dead. His tiny nose thrust into a glob of peanut butter, his tiny head separated from his tiny body by a line of spring wire across his tiny neck.

I miss him. (Sniff.)

Brigghhhhht eyyyyyesssss, eatin' peanut butterrrr...


[weblog] Douglas Rushkoff on writing.


Saturday, 1 June 2002

Swimming in Nukes

[summer repeats] I'd planned to kick off my season of summer repeats with something a little more upbeat, but given the grim battle of wills being played out in New Delhi and Islamabad it's hard to go past this piece of nuclear reminiscing from September 2000, lightly edited here.

Seems like half of Generation X is reminiscing about nukes. I was going to say 'the boomers had Levitt homes and cars with fins, and we had nuclear weapons', but of course the boomers had nukes, too (there was a reason why 1950s cars had fins). So I wonder why these dark memories of the mushroom cloud are such a particularly Gen X thing. Maybe they're not, and I'm just indulging in the typical conceit of believing that my generation invented everything—but there did seem to be a distinctive character to Gen X nuclear terror.

What we had in our formative years that the boomers didn't was nuclear winter. It was only in the early 1980s that computer modelling became powerful enough to paint an unequivocal picture of who would survive a nuclear war: nobody. The post-apocalyptic scenarios of the 1950s and 1960s, outlined in science fiction tales like A Canticle for Leibowitz, were certainly grim enough, but at least they depicted a world with people, even if most of them were mutants or mad. But nuclear winter, it seemed, had no room for people. No room for anything, much. By the time the black clouds cleared, the only life left on earth would be bacteria on the ocean floor.

When the first crop of boomers were growing up, nuclear weapons were still variants on Fat Man and Little Boy. God knows, they were horrific enough, but there were limits to their destructive power and to how far they could reach. But Gen X grew up under the cloud of the hydrogen bomb, the neutron bomb, and the inter-continental ballistic missile, and more of them than you could count.

The defining nuclear movie for me wasn't On the Beach, or even The Day After; it was WarGames. I remember watching the final scene where the hacked military computer lights up a map of the world with red criss-crossing lines as it tries out every possible permutation of missile paths, and thinking: this is exactly how it would be. No escape.

Of all the messages you could send to someone in their teenage years about the world and the future, mutually-assured destruction is pretty much the exact wrong one. It dovetails perfectly with the depression and uncertainty that comes with being an adolescent. By 1984, when I was 16, Reagan was cranking up the rhetorical pressure on the 'Evil Empire' to the point where half of my peers expected the bombs to start flying any day. Today, I can understand the game he was playing, even if it was way too close to Russian roulette for my liking; but most teenagers don't know much about politics, and I was no exception. Reagan meant to strike fear into the Russians—not that he would actually bomb them, but that he would outspend them, on laser-armed satellites and supercomputers—but he also spooked a whole generation of Westerners.

Peter Garrett, the lead singer of Midnight Oil, ran for the Australian Senate in 1984 as a member of the fledgling Nuclear Disarmament Party. He narrowly missed winning one of six seats for the state of New South Wales. If 16-year olds could have voted, he would have walked it in, and not because we liked the music on Red Sails in the Sunset.

Nineteen eighty-four was a high-water mark for nuclear angst matched only by 1961 and the Bay of Pigs. The tide began to subside the following year when Gorbachev became the Soviet premier, and retreated more quickly once the West realised the mark of the man. In 1989 it seemed to go out forever.

But the sea of nukes is still out there, and my generation grew up swimming in it. Maybe that's why we can't help wondering when the tide will come back in.


[madagascar] First the Madagascar crisis had to compete for international news coverage with the Middle East and Zimbabwe, and now it's up against the Kashmir re-run of the Bay of Pigs; in the past week there's been a noticeable drop in online coverage of events on Big Red. And yet the situation there is becoming increasingly dangerous: exchanges of gunfire between rival forces in Tana last Monday and Mahajanga yesterday resulted in more deaths; soldiers have stormed the ministry of defence demanding more pay; and Ratsiraka has refused to attend a further meeting in Senegal until his prime minister is released from house arrest. Most disturbing of all, Madagascar's poor now face the real possibility of famine.


Rocketing to Number One

[music] Lance Bass, member of NSync, is reportedly attempting to become the next space tourist. He said it was his life-long dream to fly into orbit, which certainly must make him unique among Western males under the age of 25. (Why do I have a mental image of Bass in silver jumpsuit standing next to Miss Piggy and the other Pigs in Space, with Kermit waving his arms and thanking him for being this week's guest on the Muppet Shooowwww?)

This has to be a propaganda coup for opponents of the RIAA, though. The music industry can hardly cry poor over Internet downloads when it can afford to pay a 23-year-old pop star enough to spend a week in orbit.


<<may 2002 posts

Front · Past · Detail · Found · Rory Central · Textuary · Walking West · Grinding Noises · Cartoon Lounge · The Stand-Up · The Twisted Bell · Pacific Islands Politics
©2002 Rory Ewins · Powered by Movable Type speedysnail