This is a post I wrote back in November but for some reason didn’t post. I had learned from a then-recent episode of Citation Needed about Juan Pujol, a Spaniard who served as a double agent in WW II.
The beginning of Pujol’s career as a spy vexes the usual connotation of “double agent.” He wanted to help the Allied cause, but the British repeatedly declined his offer. So he reached out to the Nazis and offered to help them, with no intention of doing so. Instead of going to the UK and reporting back to the Nazis, he went to Portugal and lied to the Nazis about what was going on in the UK. He made up a network of contacts and things that he had learned from them. He bodged together these reports based on reference books and magazines.
British intelligence became aware of these reports going to Berlin and tried to track down this mysterious agent. Pujol was finally able to convince them of his usefulness, and they brought him to London. There he worked to create a whole fictional network of spies who systematically misled Nazi intelligence about things in the lead up to D-Day.
Clearly Pujol was a double agent in the latter part of the story, but what kind of agent was he in the first part? It would be wrong to say flat-footedly that he was a Nazi agent, because he was deliberately sending them rubbish. But he wasn’t coordinating with the British, either. Because he wasn’t a British agent, he lacked the second agency required for being a double agent.
Wombats were admired for their stumpy strength, their patience, their placid, not to say congenial manners, and also a kind of stoic determination. Occasionally they were thought clumsy, insensible or even stupid, but these isolated observations are out of step with the majority of nineteenth-century opinion.
In The Public Domain Review, Trumble recounts how Pre-Raphaelite artists were obsessed with wombats and attempts to suss out how they’d learned about them in the first place. Fitting the possible sources into the timetable of modern philosophy, it occurred to me that Kant might have known nothing at all about wombats.
The Blue Room. Seen here in one of its early incarnations, twenty years ago when it was still at the old cybercity domain before moving to io and then later to pair, where tonight I’ve laid it to rest. Farewell old friend. We used to be something. pic.twitter.com/q1WmuTW6u3
It resonated with me when John Holbo wrote recently: “Remember when there were blogs? Ah, those were the good old days.”
It gestured back to a day when the internet was built mostly out of individuals putting together things which they cared about and sharing them on a server somewhere in the world. The internet was the magic maze which let everybody else wander around and marvel at the wonders.
Richard Roundtree wanted to go to a science fiction convention, but he was worried that too many people would recognize him. So he decided to go in disguise. He dressed up as the monster bug that fought Godzilla, but his costume was so revealing that everyone could tell it was him.
They said the man who played Shaft was a bad Mothra faker.1
When I got my first iPhone, I wrote that its “compressed functionality underscores the extent to which the internet has changed things. If you had told me about it when I was a kid, I would not have been able to wrap my head around it.” It’s a camera, a calendar, an address book, a pocket watch, a GPS. It also takes calls, although I use it for text messaging more than voice.
When I imagined future technology as a kid, I often imagined smart houses. There was recently an on-line ad targeted to me for a front door lock that you can control from your phone. This is like the computerized houses of my elementary-school imagination. I should be excited, but I’m not.
The future has gritty problems that 1980s cyberpunk novels didn’t prepare me for.
Steven Frank drew the webcomic Spamusement from 2004 to 2007. The schtick was “Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!”
It was a genius idea. Frank encouraged other people to draw their own, based on spam they’d received. Back in the day, I drew about a dozen. Drawing them was a pleasant kind of mental palate cleanser, doodling that was tethered loosely to the verbal part of my brain.1
In a recent conversation with Cristyn, we somehow came to be talking about the sentence: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.
This sentence, sometimes with a couple of extra “Buffalo”, is often used as an example of a grammatical sentence which is hard to parse.1 In a less perplexing form, it says: Bison whom bison baffle— they themselves baffle bison.