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the diary thing
01.10.02
.nuggets

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BOTH OF US WORKING the same late hours has messed up our dining schedule. We've turned into the typical working couple, picking up convenience food on our way home, eating late, gaining weight. The 24-hour Dominion in the mall next to the office is our usual stop after work, and judging from the expansive stock of frozen, packaged, prepared, practically pre-digested meals we're not the only ones using it for our last-ditch, dog-tired personal catering.

Walking through the frozen food section the other night, I came across a package of something called "Golden Meatless Nuggets". Amazing. There's actually no word in there that actually indicates precisely what kind of food is contained within. The first indicates a hue, the last a portion. The word in the middle is deceptive -- it actually just tells you what you won't be eating. They could be "Golden Sewage Nuggets" or "Golden Iron Ore Tailings Nuggets" or "Golden Old Man's Soiled Incontinence Pads Nuggets". They could be anything. There's so much sly wiggle room provided with that achingly clever, fantastically surreal name. It's something that I imagine the legal department wrangled over for months before signing off on, rejecting "Home Style Empty Calories" and "Mamma Leone's Extruded Polymer Nuke 'Em Entrees".

I'm trying to imagine just what kind of ideologically lazy crypto-vegetarianism informs the market for "Golden Meatless Nuggets". "How can you eat that?" the crypto-veggie says, voice coated with muted revulsion as you tuck into your chicken teriyaki from the food court. "Don't you know anything about, like, the growth hormones and totally inhumane conditions that went into that chicken?"

"Hmmph. Mrrg. Mm-hmm," you reply, mouth full of rice, sauteed sprouts, sticky-sweet teriyaki sauce and chemically enhanced battery chicken. "Yuh." Chew. Swallow. Discreetly tuck a stray grain of rice into your mouth with your knuckle. "Uh, I've read a few things about it."

"I'm sorry, but I just can't eat that sort of thing. My body is, like, my temple. I mean, if I'm spending three days a week at the gym, why should I, like, pollute myself with god knows what kind of garbage."

You look down at the glistening nugget of protein abomination on the end of your fork. You pause for a second, shrug, then shovel it into your mouth with a bit of rice. You have to be back at the office in ten minutes (Whatever happened to the gloriously diverting, brain-recharging hour-long lunch? At what point did that become an privilege afforded to either just senior executives or record store salesclerks?) and there's not time to find something at the food court that isn't the product of Monsanto, DuPont and General Dynamics subsidiaries. 

The crypto-veggie next to you shakes her head, while in her half-empty freezer at home, next to the soy patties and Ben and Jerry's, is a package of Golden Reconstituted Rooming House Sofa Upholstery Nuggets. Search all you want; there's no expiry date anywhere on the box. Her world view is confirmed; her dietary virtue intact.

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"A news-writer is a man without virtue who lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius of knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness; but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary. He who by a long familiarity with infamy has obtained these qualities may confidently tell today what he intends to contradict tomorrow; he may affirm fearlessly what he knows he shall be obliged to recant, and may writer letters from Amsterdam or Dreden to himself."
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- Samuel Johnson
The Idler

 
A long one. Work and food and complaints and photography and war. These are a few of my favorite things.
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the show, with Allison's dog Buck in attendance
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"LET'S ROCK", THE PHOTO SHOW at Barry Whistler's gallery in Dallas, Texas, closed this weekend. If you weren't there, this is what it looked like. I think it looks great. I love being in shows. It's a shame that the work I put on gallery walls mostly ends up decorating the walls of the homes of myself, my friends and family. 

A few days before the show ended, I e-mailed Allison, the organizer of the show, asking her how things sold -- not just for myself, but in general. Of course I wanted to hear that I could expect a cheque in the mail soon, US$250 per photo minus gallery commission. Of course I knew that I wouldn't hear anything of the sort. Allison wrote me back:
 

Yes there were sales. Not as many as Barry and I had hoped, but there were. Next to your photos there is a shot of Dolly P. that sold two times. The shot of Willie sold 5 times. In total there were probably 25 sales. Many people commented on yours. One friend (who my dog is named after) said yours were his favorites in the show. Also all the other photographers liked your images too. Thanks so much for being part of the show. I will let you know how the LAST day goes. It is going to be sad to see the show come down.

It's nice to hear. My work tends to get a better reception from other photographers than from your man in the street. Photographers tend not to care as much about who, or what, is in the photo, and more about how, and why, the photo was taken. Still, the grim truth underneath this lovely compliment is that photographers tend to have very little money, and rarely support their peers' work. After all, they can cover the walls of their house with photos anytime they want, and at a competitive price.

But there's a part of me that isn't happy, that grumbles that it would have been nice to have that free market validation of the value of my work: cash in hand, the confidence of the market bestowed upon my modest labours. Perhaps I should have sent along some celeb work, something to compete with Dolly and Willie, but it wouldn't have felt right. Allison and Barry asked for some of my best, and that's what I sent. 

Oh well. There's a nice wall in the living room where the shots will find a home. Alongside the rest of my "selected works". 

IT'S TAKEN FOUR YEARS, but I've finally filled up the ten megs of server space allotted to me by my ISP. Time to start adding new megs, so I call up Technical Support. It takes me awhile to get them to understand that I'm not asking for more mail space, but more web space. I'd like to know just how much space is left at the moment; they tell me they have know way of knowing. No matter, I say, just add another meg for now, and I'll see how long it takes to fill that. 

"I'm sorry sir, but you have to talk to Account Services about that."

Very well then, connect me with Account Services. 

"I'm sorry sir, but I have no way of doing that. You'll have to phone back. I think you press two after you press one for English."

My ISP has this new, absurdly long, detailed automatic operator. I know for a fact that I only get to press two for Account Services after going through three or four different levels of robotic voice instructions that includes a sales pitch for their new dial-up software. I thank the Technical Support representative, hang up and call back. Some day soon I will miss his voice, his eminent good sense, his remarkable frankness.

Account Services tells me that I have to send an e-mail to "Policy" to request the extra meg, stating that I'm aware that it will cost me $2.50 a month per meg. I copy down Policy's e-mail address and send off the message a few minutes later.

The next day, I recieve an e-mail from "Christian" at Technical Support:
 

Dear Mr. McGinnis,

     Thank you for contacting us via email.  We will be happy to increase your webspace limit by 1MB, but you will need to call Account Services at 1-800-920-7873 to get this done.  They are opened Monday through Friday from 8AM to 10PM and on weekends from 8AM to 8PM SET.

I send "Christian" an e-mail, stating that someone at Technical Support told me to call Account Services, who told me to e-mail Policy requesting the extra meg. I politely inquire as to whether I'm not embarking on a wild goose chase through their various departments, looking for something that no one is certain they can give me. I refrain -- tastefully, I like to think -- from using the word "Kafkaesque".

"Christian" sends me back another e-mail within hours:
 

Dear Rick,

     You will need to contact account services for this matter.  They are the ones who need to process this request. However, the extra space won't be added instantly.  It shouldn't take more then 48 hours, but they will be able to tell you exactly how much time it will take.

Sincerely,

Christian

I was told -- so long ago, it seems by now, time having become elastic under the t.v. static skies of my corporate sojourn -- that I'd have my new meg in four to twenty-four hours. But that was vouchsafed me by the original Technical Support representative, at the distant beginning of this epic Quest for Megs. I'm fairly certain that was a person; "Christian", I'm certain, is probably a software program, a distant cousin of HAL 9000, spun out like a bit of viral code, proliferating across the network of the web, slowly chipping away at the fabric of corporeal reality and mere meat logic. 

I make the mistake of trying to call Account Services just minutes before K. and I are supposed to leave for work. I'm put on endless hold, and hang up when I see K. put on her coat and stand at the top of the stairs, waiting for me. I try again the next day, early in the morning, and spend twenty minutes listening to Baroque music, interrupted by the sleepy, robotic reassurance that "you call is important to us. Please remain on the line." 

When I finally get an Account Services representative on the line, she's surprised that Christian was so insistent on sending me back to them. "He wasn't supposed to do that," she tells me, In fact, I shouldn't have gotten any e-mail whatsoever. 

"But I did," I reassure her, inquiring as an afterthought as to whether Christian is a real person.

"Oh, yes sir, he is," she tells me, earnestly. "I mean, I've never met him, but I know he's a real person." It occurs to me that her confidence in Christian's corporeal existence, in the absence of proof, is something of an act of faith, but I let it go.

It's all very interesting, this quaint metaphysical chit-chat, but there remains the question of my extra Meg. The Account Services representative -- sadly, I never learn her name -- insists that it can be done; it's just that very few people have ever asked for it.

I'm frankly surprised. "Really? Never?"

"No sir. There doesn't seem to be much call for it," she tells me, trying hard to sound reassuring, adding: "I don't know why."

I need it, nevertheless, and more, and insist that we proceed. "Can I have your phone number, sir, and I'll call you back as soon as I know what's happening?" I give it to her, and she promptly puts me on hold again. By now, K. is sitting on the couch opposite me, quietly listening. The Account Services representative comes back on the line. 

"I'm still not sure what's happening here, sir." It's a frank admission, and I'm strangely grateful that she's making it. "Can I call you back today?" I tell her that she can, and hang up, still unsure as to the status of my extra Meg.

"That was wonderful, dear," K. says, and gives me a hug. "You were very, very good with her. I'm so proud of you." What she means is that I was only occasionally sarcastic, and that I'd never raised my voice or gotten hostile or questioned the legality or sanity of the enterprise at hand. I didn't ask whether she thought I was "some stupid asshole", as I often did when dealing with Technical Support representatives, or smashed the handset of our cordless phone, as I had, just a month or two earlier, while trying to get Sprint to clear up the static on our line. 

Frankly, I was rather proud of myself, as well. But the Account Sevices representative never called me back, and I still don't know if I have my extra Meg.

IíM FEELING RATHER OUT OF DATE lately, but thatís not a new sensation, and I should be used to it by now. The reason is simple Ė I donít write a daily blog, and in the fast-moving mainstream of even the non-commercial net, that leaves me rather quaintly laboring in the margins. Four years ago, when I began thinking about this diary, the online journal was the hot thing, the subject of features in Salon and the focus of an active community. Today, many of those journals are gone, or moribund, depleted of their once-impressive head of steam, and in any case the online journal community has receded to a sort of stubborn quaintness with which I donít feel much connection. 

The blog is the thing, these days, and Iím feeling a little out of it, putting out my four or five pleonastic entries each month, only a fraction of which Ė a sizeable fraction, but a fraction nonetheless Ė has anything to do with the war. Like everyone else, I read four, five, six warblogs a day, from Jeff Jarvis to Ken Layne to Brian Lamb. Many of the bloggers are journalists, and their blogs have become essential reading for op-ed columnists, given shout-outs and referenced with respect. The bloggers are a gregarious lot, linking to each other promiscuously, drawing even non-blogs into their clubby blog fold. I envy their confidence, their concision, their obvious sense of being firmly in the swim of popular opinion, regardless of how divergent their opinions might be. 

But I donít write a blog, and the reasons are simple enough. First of all, with an ancient laptop wheezing away with a P90 chip, 16 Megs of RAM and barely more than a gig of memory, itís hard enough just building this site and editing images. With a 28.8 modem, downloading the average daily paperís online front page is like sucking tapioca through a sparrowís quill. Secondly, with a full-time job (for the duration of the winter, it seems), I donít have the time to read and collect links, either at home or at the office. 

Most importantly, I just donít feel like it. Iíll be the first to admit that an online journal like this one is an anachronism, a classic case of a medium (the fleeting, quick fix, fast food web) ill-utilized. My ambitions here Ė as my friend John Scalzi pointed out to me just a week or two ago Ė are probably more literary than anything else, and yes I know how pretentious that sounds, but there it is. 

And besides, I canít see myself contained in those neat compartments of tiny sans serif type. Iím just not a sans serif kind of guy.

ULTIMATELY, THOUGH, I DONíT FEEL prepared to make definitive statements about our new war. I know where I stand Ė somewhere in the middle, between the querulous, sometimes looney left and the increasingly vindicated hawks on the right, some of them, by their own admission, newly minted "former pacifists". Donít get me wrong Ė I couldnít be more pleased to see the back of the Taliban. If any regime deserved annihilation, this one would be it, for reasons that are becoming even more obvious now that theyíre gone.

But I donít like the bully pulpit, and my sense of unease hasnít abated a bit, especially since I donít trust the men (and women Ė Iím talking to you, Condoleeza Rice) who are at the helm of the "war against terrorism". I donít like triumphalism, and if anything has dominated the tone of too many of the warblogs, especially in the last month or so, itís a crowing, jeering dismissal of not only Noam Chomsky and others on the Ė admittedly tiresome Ė looney left, but of aid workers, religious pacifists, and any unfortunate idealist who refuses to cede moral preeminence to the wide-shouldered new realpolitik

A big fan Ė and frequent link Ė of the weblogs is our own Mark Steyn, who made a big splash in the blogs the other day when he took on the insidious menace of humanitarian workers, those all-powerful defeatists who, if you believe Steyn, constitute something of a fifth-column in our new war: 
 

"There are some special-interest groups -- the National Rifle Association, Right To Life -- whose press releases get dismissed by the media as propaganda, and others -- environmental groups, for example -- whose every claim is taken at face value. Into this last happy category fall the Ďhumanitarian lobby.í"

Aid agencies had warned of mass starvation if aid convoys werenít able to reach remote areas of Afghanistan before winter. They were unable to predict the rapid defeat of the Taliban under sustained bombing raids. Getting food to the starving is their job; defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda was the militaryís job.  Their job is difficult enough, and having to deal with both the Taliban and B-52 raids no doubt inspired them to ask for a bit of help from the U.S. who, Iím sure, they assume is ultimately on their side. Today, they have to deal with the warlords again, who tend to regard their aid supplies either booty or tribute. In any case, the people of Afghanistan might end up the losers, but donít ask Steyn to concede that point. 

Of course, Steynís never been to Afghanistan, but he has friends in the aid agencies, and if he generally feels free to accuse the media Ė in which he finds employment Ė of any sort of unpatriotic perfidy, then why not his own friends? The fact is that Steyn is the worst kind of tenured bullyboy and op-ed cynic, hungry for controversy and approval in whatever proportion he can get it. His style is a mix of attack dog and lap dog, his choice of targets safe and popular ones: aid agencies, feminists, academics and liberals. In confidence, his employers and supporters suspect that he doesnít really believe half of what he says. No matter Ė there are column inches to be filled, a marketable façade of gruff contrarian and scourge of the insufficiently bloody-minded to be maintained. I just donít want to help him with his job.

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