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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

Thu 12
May
2016

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
Feb
2016

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?

Atom

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
Jan
2016

What I’m Angry About Today

What Max Reckons

Hey Max, what are you angry about today?

Anonymous

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
Jan
2016

Dystopian Horror Wears a Hairpiece

What Max Reckons

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

Meg

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
Jan
2016

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.

Tue 08
Dec
2015

What It’s Like To Run NationStates

What Max Reckons

Hey Max, Could you remove my copyrighted image from the banner on your amphibian distribution page. It is the cool frog you lifted from the cover of the Journal of Biogeography (far right photo in your banner). If you are going to make money from your web site, you should pay the people whose content you steal. Also, that species does not even occur in Brazil.

Thanks,

Elizabeth Everman (the person whose copyright you are violating)

This is a NationStates question. I figured that out by asking myself, “Do I have any idea what this person is talking about?” Whenever the answer to that is “no,” it’s about NationStates.

You should know I tracked Elizabeth down on Facebook and we identified the frog in question and now everything is fine. But I’m posting because I’ve been meaning to tackle an ASK MAX question on what it’s like to run NationStates, and this one came along and gave me a good answer. It’s like trying to figure out what an amphibian distribution page is and why it has an illegal frog on it.

NationStates is amazing. Don’t get me wrong. I love NationStates. I made a little web site in 2002 and poured way too much time into it and now it’s this whole big thing. It just means there’s too much to keep track of. Also, the one percent of any group of people who are trying to do something stupid or psychotic at any given moment is big enough to be a significant number. Put those things together and you have people angrily contacting me about something I’ve never heard of but which they assume I was instrumental in bringing about.

So a disproportionate amount of time goes into a small number of extreme cases, like the guy last month who felt something on the site was racist so he contacted PayPal and lodged claims against us for credit card fraud. Or people who get banned from the site for whatever reason and decide to extract revenge in poorly thought-out ways, like threats or editing Wikipedia or DDoS attacks. The site has volunteer moderators, thank God, who deal with the vast majority of this kind of thing, but if it’s weird enough, it involves me.

There’s always something, so I know if I have a spare twenty minutes and want to grapple with a highly charged debate over something ridiculous, I can check in. This week, for example, there is a 100-post discussion amongst moderators over Angela Lansbury’s bosom. A player set his nation’s flag to a photoshopped image of Ms. Lansbury with one breast on display; this was removed, and the nation deleted for violating site rules, but then the player begged forgiveness based on his five-year clean record, and the image was more comedic than pornographic, so what to do? The discussion has so far traversed the nature of obscenity, art, rules consistency, and the specific weighting of player records.

What I like doing most on NationStates is making new stuff. Programming is really satisfying. It’s like fiction-writing plus puzzle-solving for me. This kind of programming, anyway, where I get to build whatever I feel like, and there’s a community giving instant feedback. That’s fun.

I don’t really play the game for enjoyment, in the same way I don’t read my own novels recreationally; it’s kind of spoiled when you’ve seen the insides. But I do have a secret nation no-one knows about, which I check into from time to time. Most of the daily issues nations encounter today have been written by volunteers—there were 30 when I launched the site and there are over 450 now—so they’re new to me.

Oh, so the frog. On NationStates, you can issue dispatches, which are official communications from your nation. Some people use these to write about their nation, describing its history or fauna or political stance or whatever they like. There are 402,000 of these, so you can see why I didn’t notice the frog. But it was there, a hotlink in a player-created dispatch, and that was what Elizabeth saw. There is a “Report” button on these pages, which I mention in the hope of steering similar issues to the moderators, but it’s small and easy to miss.

So that’s NationStates.

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