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Barcoded EarthWhat Max Reckons

Sometimes I get asked to deliver talks. To school groups, university students, that kind of thing. The funny part is that nobody seems to mind what, exactly, I talk about. My wife started calling these lectures "What Max Reckons."

Displaying What Max Reckons blogs. View all Max's blogs

Tue 16

Send in the Clowns

What Max Reckons I was thinking about how unfair it is that reality has evil right-wing corporate overlords named the Koch Brothers while if I wrote that in a novel people would call me shallow and juvenile. I mean, it would be true. But also unfair. You’re supposed to have more creative license in fiction, not less. Then there’s Trump, who does things on a daily basis that no satirical character could get away with. It makes you wonder where there is left to go.

But then people have been complaining that satire is dead forever. Satire has died a thousand times, apparently, at the hands of JFK, George W. Bush, in fact probably every US President since about 1960. Before then I’m not sure. But I imagine a long line of despairing intellectuals stretching back through the centuries.

So it’s probably just a failure of imagination. We have a set of societal standards, and when someone veers close to the line, we can satirize them by portraying what it would be like if they crossed right on over. Oh, you think taxes should be lower? WHAT IF THERE WERE NONE AT ALL. That kind of thing.

But when someone does cross the line, and stays there, like Trump, it’s a problem. It feels like there’s no way to satirize it because the only step farther is pure ridiculousness. Still, on reflection, I think you have to consider that the line has moved. It moves a little every year, in one direction or another, and this time it’s moving very pro-clown. Many US Presidents have been a little clownish—Reagan, Clinton, George W.—and in fact now I think about it, more Presidents than also-rans. It has been an asset to be clownish. No wonder we wound up here. But my point is that it’s probably fair to imagine a very clownish President in the future, and elections contested between clowns.

This time, crossing the line hurts Trump. And that does indeed put him beyond satire, as well as making him unelectable. But he also moves the line, and nothing is as shocking the second time, so the next clown will seem more reasonable. The next clown will be more reasonable, having observed the hits and misses of Trump. They will keep all the goofy style over substance and just pare off the awkward Hitler parallels. So get ready for that. Maybe not next election. You wouldn’t run a second clown against Hillary if your first clown got obliterated. But after that. I see 2024, two clowns.

Thu 12

The Glorious Republic That Almost Was

What Max Reckons

Max, I hear you’re Australian. Do you support Australia becoming a republic?

Yes, I do! Australia almost became a republic in 1999 but the referendum was defeated 45% to 55%. It was interesting because according to the polls, most people were in favor of the general idea, but against any specific implementation. So we wanted to be a republic right up until someone said, “Would we have a Prime Minister or a President, then?” at which point it dissolved into bitter infighting.

This seems to be the general case. For example, a couple of months ago New Zealand tried to change its flag, since, like Australia’s, it has a certain Beneath-The-Iron-Heel-Of-The-Colonial-Empire vibe to it, and that idea had a lot of support in principle, which collapsed when faced with a particular alternative design. That was when the “Classy Silver Fern” people realized they didn’t have as much in common with the “Kiwi Shooting Laser Beams Out of its Eyes” people as they thought.

I think the lesson is that you should make people to agree to do something before you tell them exactly what.

Wed 10

Naked Wet Flour-Encrusted Tong Strangulations

What Max Reckons

Hello Max,

If memory serves me correctly, you wrote a blog about cement being your prefered way to hide a corpse quite a number of years ago. But what would be your prefered (if not favorite) way to kill someone?


In order to get away with it, or maximize my enjoyment? Because if you mean the second one, you’re a sick puppy, Atom. Get some help.

I think there must be one layer of misdirection. You want the kind of murder where people’s first reaction is, “What the hell, how did that happen,” then a minute later, “Ohhhh.” They think they’ve figured out the secret. But they haven’t. That’s when people stop thinking. No-one wants the thing they figured out to be wrong.

For example, let’s say say I just strangled you to death, Atom. The first thing I’m going to do is strip you naked. Then I’m going to drag you to the bathroom, dip your head in the toilet, put a pair of tongs in your hand, roll you in flour, and throw you off the balcony.

So the cops are in an unfamiliar environment. That’s important, too. They’re more experienced with murder than I am. They know what to look for. But they won’t have dealt with too many naked wet flour-encrusted tong strangulations. That puts us back on even ground.

Now for the misdirection. I’m leaving a suicide note signed by you. I CAN’T LIVE IN A WORLD THAT WON’T ACCEPT MY TONG-BASED SEX RITUALS. But it’s not convincing. The cops were already going to be suspicious and here it is, the thing that justifies their feelings. That’s when they find your phone, with angry messages to your girlfriend. WILL YOU SHUT UP ABOUT THE TONGS. I’M NEVER GOING TO DO THE TONG THING WITH YOU. Bang. Case closed. That girl is going to prison, because one twist is plenty.

Thu 28

What I’m Angry About Today

What Max Reckons

Hey Max, what are you angry about today?


My newspaper offered a “life hack” for better storage of food in zip-lock bags: Put your germ-laden lips on the bag and suck the remaining air out. They had a video of a woman doing her best not to exhale a mouth full of bacteria into a bag, to demonstrate. That really enraged me. I’m no doctor but I’ll take my chances with regular air over sealing in the escaped vestiges of whatever just crawled back out of your lungs. Really, it’s the label “life hack” that put it over the top. Like they think it’s so clever. Why don’t you go save some snakebite victims by suckling at their open wounds, you barbarians.

Wed 13

Dystopian Horror Wears a Hairpiece

What Max Reckons

Which dystopian horrors you’ve imagined have actually come true so far?


ALL OF THEM. Sometimes I think, “Well, at least THIS hasn’t happened,” then BAM, here’s Trump’s first TV ad. That thing is really something. It reminds me of why I got out of satire. I can’t do anything with that. It’s already a parody.

My favorite part is where it says we should ban Muslims from the US until we figure out a reason. Because at face value, there’s no reason to tack on that last part. If you were at a party and trying to make the argument for closing the borders, you would never say that, because it makes you look dumb. Instead, you would trot out some vague reason and hope you didn’t get called on it. Right? Explicitly saying “until I figure out why” calls attention to the fact that you don’t actually have a reason.

But the ad does this on purpose! It explicitly validates the idea that we don’t need to waste time identifying problems, but can skip on ahead to the part where we take action against people we never liked anyway. And this is smart, in a thoroughly amoral, civilization-eroding kind of way, because it’s so hard to logically justify racism. Xenophobia is a feeling, not a philosophy. You can’t really mount a solid, racist case for anything. But it’s a real feeling, so what you really want to hear, if you have that feeling, is that you’re completely right and don’t need to worry about why. We can just go ahead and ban Muslims. Until we figure out a reason.

And then the other side completely ignores all that and gets excited because the ad maybe unfairly implies that some footage from Morocco is Mexico.

Wed 06

The Trouble With Owen

What Max Reckons

Who in tarnation is Owen, and what in the world did he ever do to you to get cursed two Christmas-times in a row?

Concerned Citizen

I don’t see what the big mystery is. I have blogged about Owen before. It was ten years ago, but still. Keep up, people.

Owen is my arch-nemesis because:

  • I liked a girl in high school and Owen sat with her under a tree during lunch a couple times. I don’t think they did anything but it’s the principle of the thing.

  • Later, a different girl I liked said she liked Owen. This was also a different Owen.

  • Owen’s surname—the first Owen, I mean—is Berryman, which is too similar to mine. People sometimes get my name wrong and call me Max Berry, so it’s like he’s laughing at me.

  • Children of Men is one of my all-time favorite films but it has Clive Owen in it, who I don’t like, so that’s annoying. The reason I don’t like Clive Owen is mainly that his surname is Owen. Similarly, I can’t enjoy Owen Wilson movies.

  • There’s this dude in my neighborhood who I cross paths with sometimes and he’s always doing something stupid, like looking the other way when I’m trying to get past. I bet his name is Owen.

So now you’re up to speed.

P.S. I just found that old blog post and his name was actually Scott. But I think that’s beside the point. It’s a little late to stop hating him now. I’m pretty sure the second Owen was really an Owen, and that’s good enough for me.

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