Charlie's Diary

[ Site Index] [ Feedback ]

Tue, 17 Feb 2004

Back home again

Apologies for the lack of updates; I was too busy to write anything much while I was at Boskone, and we flew back yesterday on a red-eye via Amsterdam. I've been home for about five hours now. I'm sitting in front of the laptop wearing a dressing gown and drinking improbably strong tea (the current caffeine source of choice), having just awakened from a post jet-lag nap, and in another five or six hours I will take a sleeping pill, and when I wake up again I should be back on something approximating UK time. (West to east flight always hits me much harder than east to west.)

My impressions from this trip are mixed, but mostly positive. For one thing, it's been a bit of a relief to confirm that despite the weirdness-and-despair amplifier that is the mass media, people in the United States are in fact still basically sane ordinary folks and haven't turned into some kind of slavering jackbooted Borg oriented on grinding the planet beneath the iron boot-heel of totalitarian oppression.

Maybe that statement warrants some explanatory notes, because on the face of it it probably sounds really weird to anyone who lives in the United States. But I haven't actually been in the US since February '03, before the Iraq war, so I've had to rely for my impressions of what's been going on there recently on a combination of email to and from friends, blog postings, and of course the mass media.

Now, the mass media generally amplifies Bad Shit because Bad Shit makes for much better copy than cute fluffy puppy dogs and other happy fun non-events. The absence of Mad People Doing Terrible Things doesn't exactly help sell newspapers, so newspapers focus on the Bad Shit to such an extent that it skews our impressions of the state of the world. And while I know in an abstract way that the media amplifies Bad Shit, and I consciously try to bear this in mind, there's been an awful lot of Bad Shit reported over the past year and the effect of such reporting is pernicious: if you live outside the USA you may well get this weird subliminal impression that the United States is on the edge of turning into some kind of weird postmodern fascist nightmare.

Paradoxically, what set me at ease was discovering that most of the people I hung out with (unregenerate east coast liberals, for the most part) were also terrified that the USA was turning into a weird postmodern fascist nightmare. I found this very reassuring. It reminded me that the USA is huge, and diverse, and while sections of it seem to have gone completely barking mad, other very large sections are not only not crazy, they're fighting back against the bad craziness. Which does exist, but which gets amplified by the Bad Shit amplifier -- especially overseas. What's really going on in the US seems in UK terms to be more like Thatcher circa 1979-83 than Hitler circa 1933-36. Which is a relief, because although Thatcher was a peculiar kind of political monster, she was one that could be dealt with by political means, rather than needing to be subdued by the use of extremely large numbers of guns.

Another thing I needed was my annual reminder of just how parochial the US news media are. Today's half-baked theory: America's view of the rest of the world can best be understood by a European if you start by imagining that America is psychologically located on Mars, fifty million plus kilometres from the quaint neighbours on that funny third planet over there. The quality and quantity of foreign news reporting is absolutely dismal for the most part, highly selective, and framed entirely in terms of the domestic political discourse. ("Political crisis rocks Ruritania! How opinion of US tourists affects balance of power between Ruritanian Royal Family, Junta!") It reminded me of how badly we in the UK need the BBC -- not because the BBC is always right, or always unbiased, or always insightful, but because it provides a reference baseline for the quality and quantity of foreign news reportage in the other media, and the BBC's charter includes the clause "to educate".

In the US, I saw precious few signs of a committment to education in foreign affairs outside of a few major broadsheet newspapers and weekly or monthly magazines aimed at a core readership of foreign policy wonks. I can't help feeling that this has contributed to the psychological sense of insulation that keeps people in the US half-believing that the rest of the world either doesn't exist, or is an annoying obstruction created solely to get in their way. Its the News, Stupid. If your sources of information are skewed and corrupt, you make policy decisions based on ignorance. It's a much simpler explanation for the bad craziness that has engulfed us since 9/11 than the conspiracy theories that are doing the rounds: and more importantly, it suggests a solution to the problem.

Anyway. After a year of bad headlines and paranoia amplification, it was a big relief to discover that everyone I ran into was still basically sane, that the Customs, INS, and Homeland Security functionaries I dealt with were uniformly friendly, efficient, courteous and helpful, that (with the exception of the pocket Himmlers in charge of office security in New York -- a city understanably still deep in collective post-traumatic stress disorder) people were basically no crazier than anywhere else, and that my main problems were dodging the monster trucks on the crosswalks and trying not to overrun my baggage allowance due to the strength of the pound against the dollar. I will freely concede that I might have been the victim of some kind of Stalinist Potemkin-village facade organized by evil masterminds from the Office of Special Projects, but something tells me that what evil exists in the US administration is more interested in trying to rig the forthcoming elections in Iraq and elsewhere than in trying to dupe visiting British science fiction writers.

(Obligatory gadget interjection: right now, for no reason I understand except a surfeit of greed and stupidity on the part of UK retailers, portable DVD players sell for a price in pounds sterling equal to their price in the USA in dollars. At an exchange rate of nearly 1:1.9, I'd have to have been an idiot not to bring one home.)

Of course, not everything was great.

I have a huge gripe about my week in Boston: the air conditioning. New England in February is cold enough to freeze almost all the moisture out of the air, and the Boston Sheraton has an air conditioning system from hell -- it has temperature control, but no humidity control. The place is dryer than high noon in Death Valley. Even worse, all the hotel staff seem to think that exposure to temperatures below 75 degrees fahrenheit -- 23 celsius or thereabouts -- is liable to cause hypothermia. In a vain attempt to chill out, I dialed the temperature in our room down to 16.5 celsius (63 fahrenheit), as low as it would go ... and the next day discovered two things: firstly, that despite the exterior temperature being several degrees south of freezing, the aircon, wheezing its guts out as it ran constantly, couldn't actually cool the room down to that temperature: and secondly, the maid had added a thermal blanket to the bedding, presumably in an attempt to keep us from catching our death of cold.

The combination of high temperatures, dry air, and nylon carpet was literally electrifying. Feorag wore a charm bracelet and I constantly kept a coin in my fingers: we had to earth ourselves against metal fixtures and fittings every time we walked more than ten metres, leading to a startling succession of crackling bright sparks. After five days of this, my sinuses came out in protest and I succumbed to a head-cold from hell, which started in my nose and ended up on my chest just in time for the flight home. I'm used to about forty percent relative humidity, and indoor temperatures around 17-18 celsius; life in an arid Van de Graaf generator disguised as a five star hotel doesn't suit me.

Which finally brings me full circle to my current situation, sitting tiredly in my office chair in front of a computer, drinking tea and revelling in air I can breathe without feeling as if I'm inhaling from the nozzle of a hair dryer. It must be my Innsmouth heritage showing -- I need humidity to survive. And so I depart in search of more strong tea and a nice bath to relax in. Normal blogging will be resumed shortly. Ribbit.

[Discuss politics] [Discuss SF fandom]

posted at: 17:18 | path: /fandom | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

Quick links:

RSS Feed (Moved!)

Who am I?

Contact me

Buy my books: (FAQ)

Missile Gap
Via Subterranean Press (US HC -- due Jan, 2007)

The Jennifer Morgue
Via Golden Gryphon (US HC -- due Nov, 2006)

Via (US HC -- due June 30, 2006)

The Clan Corporate
Via (US HC -- out now)

Via (US HC)
Via (US PB -- due June 27, 2006)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)
Free download

The Hidden Family
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

The Family Trade
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

Iron Sunrise
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)

The Atrocity Archives
Via (Trade PB)
Via (Trade PB)
Via Golden Gryphon (HC)
Via (HC)
Via (HC)

Singularity Sky
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (US ebook)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)


Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

[ Site Index] [ Feedback ]

Powered by Blosxom!