Michael Macrone
Articles & Essays
History of the Internet Series

Down with Money; Up with Hugs

by Michael Macrone  (July 1994)

Kook of the Month

The Usenet newsgroup alt.usenet.kooks accepts nominations each month for the one poster, from all over the world and across the Usenet hierarchy, who has proved the biggest kook. Kookiness is hard to define, but it seems to be a marriage of lunatic ideas and their relentless promotion.

In June, readers awarded the “Kook of the Month” honors to a certain Doctress Neutopia (apparently U-Mass student Elizabeth Hubbard “in real life”). The doctress made her biggest splash when she published the epic treatise “True Love Instead of World War: Rebuilding Gaia’s Love” in its 7,000-line entirety to four Usenet groups. A representative passage, picked almost at random:

Is it necessary for a Doctress Neutopia to indicate to the scientists the great peril in which Biosphere One finds itself? Le Corbusier in his book _New World of Space_ states that the poet is the prophet who "in the crisis of the times, knows how to see events, knows how to read them. He who perceives the relations, who indicates the relations, who points out relations, who orders relations, who proclaims relations" (36). The prophetess' keen Eye/I recognized the events and relationships which were potentially significant to all life. To paraphase the poet Percy Shelley, he said prophetesses and prophets unroll the scroll of the future revealing the metaphysical history of the poetic imagination, uniting the eternal with the temporal, the metaphysical and the historical. Through their ordering of the world which embodies the most profound hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the people, we find the way to peace.

More recent work has flagged a bit from this level, but is still impressive. She recently appeared to defend herself in alt.usenet.kooks, taking exception with a critic of her theories:

David H Dennis (dhd@netcom.com) wrote: : This is not to say that love isn't important, nor that I don't desire a : love relationship. But when we talk about a principle on which society : can be organized, I'm very much afraid money wins over love. I HATE MONEY. In fact is it 4:00am and I can not sleep because my mind hurts so much from the classism that money has created. Money is so unfair. It has no understanding of justice or peace. It can not bring love or wisdom to one. I simple HATE IT like I have never hated any thing before. You wait, some day Neutopia will overthrow the money regime. You won't be calling me a kook then, but a prophetess of an age without money. Doctress Neutopia

Nominations for July’s Kook of the Month are still being taken. One promising entrant is Albert Silverman, who’s launching salvos (apparently based on a 30-year grudge) against the American Contract Bridge League in the group rec.games.bridge. It seems that in the early 60s the ACBL discontinued the honorarium granted to members who’d accumulated a sufficient number of “Master Points.” Silverman remembers that day well. “This unilateral action on the part of the ACBL, to suit their own imagined and greedy needs was, to say the least, grossly *UNETHICAL*,” Silverman fumes, nicely combining asterisks with the caps-lock.

Just to clear his own ethical record, Silverman adds this final note: “I should point out that I am proud of the fact that I have never paid the ACBL *ONE RED CENT* for anything which they promised, cross their thieving little hearts and hope to die, would be provided to me _free, for life_. Nor will I **EVER** do so, whatever these bandits may dream up in the future of their limited existence.” The ACBL’s response has not yet been made public.

Computers Can Be Fuzzy, Too

In anybody’s chart of Usenet groups, alt.cuddle, established earlier this year and now graced by many hundreds of new messages per week, has got to have a bullet. Where most of the Net is full of sharp debate and rampaging flames, not to mention the occasional pedophile, alt.cuddle is an island of tranquillity for more tender souls.

Everyone is welcome on alt.cuddle, where anyone who’s stressed or depressed can stop by for consolation and plain-text pictures of kitties. Though prejudice and exclusion may find their way into other discussions, they have no place here. One new visitor to the group confessed that she wasn’t sure she’d be welcome since she’s bisexual and “that sometimes makes people uncomfie.” Pish, posh. “Of course you are welcome here!” exclaimed one respondent. “In the Land of Cuddle we don't worry none about sexual preference, all we care about is being able to hug and cuddle and huggle and fun things like that. So come and join the fun. *BIG NEWBIE HUGS*BIG NEWBIE CUDDLES*BIG NEWBIE HUGGLES* *GIGGLES and TICKLES*BIG PRALENES 'n CREAM ICE CREAM CAKE*YUM YUM*” It is sometimes difficult to tell earnest from irony on alt.cuddle.

Take the case of Martin Poulter of Oxford University, who was almost certainly joshing when he offered up his “thesaurus of verbal cuddling,” which the reader could use to generate cuddlesome variations such as “snuggly frisky little funbug” or “squishy coochy little huggle-bundle.” Michael J. Ciha, among others, didn’t get it, if indeed there was something to get: “FURRY BEDMONSTER? I _LOVE_ IT!” he enthused, signing off with “Hugs/Cuddles/ N’Stuff.”

But all on alt.cuddle isn’t mere sentiment; there are also many occasions to be edified. A fine example is Steve Pocock’s series, “Learning to *HUGHUGHUG*,” currently in its ninth installment. (Pocock draws his expertise principally from Kathleen Keating’s Little Book of Hugs.) Lesson six presents a tutorial on the “sandwich hug”:

The sandwich hug is a lesser known variety, but once you experience its warmth and security, you'll want to share this one often.

This is a hug for three. Two face each other with the third in the middle facing either of the others. Each of the two on the outside reaches towards the waist area of the other and hugs. The one in the center wraps arms around the waist of the facing hugger. As an option, the outside pair may hug around the shoulders and all three snuggle heads together. The bodies are touching cozily.

The sandwich hug gives the one in the middle an especially secure feeling, which is helpful if he or she is going through a difficult time and needs extra support.

Each lesson is just packed with hugging lore and tips; lesson eight is extra valuable, since it describes how to join the Institute of Hug Therapy, whose motto is, “Hug often. Hug well.”

No flames, no cynicism, just lots of virtual love.

Fun with FTP

FTP – which stands for “file transfer protocol” – is the standard method of grabbing interesting files from remote computers on the Internet. The strangest sorts of things are available by FTP, mostly by virtue of the common principle that if it can be uploaded to the Net, it should be.

Among the more interesting finds of late is Earl Vickers’ “Clockworks Project,” which he offers the Net from his home at Netcom, a national Internet provider (or “on-ramp” to the “info superhighway”). Type the appropriate commands and you’ll see something like this:

7/14/94, 2:33 P.M. Driving back to work after lunch. Wondering whether the junk mail I'd sent out earlier was too sarcastic. It said: Apparently certain job descriptions include the use of heavy-duty industrial-strength chemical stench agents to render entire hallways uninhabitable. I am no longer at the stage in life where I view getting paid to sniff glue, paint, ammonia, sterno and PCBs as a great perk. While these chemical warfare experiments are no doubt vital to the success of the company, I would appreciate it if, whenever possible, they could be conducted well after hours or on weekends. 7/13/94, 8:45 P.M. Sitting at a Chinese restaurant, waiting for my food. Listening to KOIT playing "Just My Imagination (Running away with Me)," I assume the original Motown version, which I wasn't familiar with. The vocals had more subtlety and richness than in the Stones version on _Some Girls_. Thinking, am I going to die? 7/13/94, 11:38 A.M. Walking back to my office after another fruitless search for sealing tape with which to seal up the squealy leaks in the big piece of cardboard I taped over the air conditioning hole in the ceiling to keep my office from freezing me to death. 7/12/94, 2:38 P.M. Doing a 'copy crash1*.* b:' on the PC at work.

Vickers is conducting a sort of Dada version of a Nicholson Baker. Whenever prompted by his “electronic organizer” (perhaps a Sharp Wizard), Vickers notes down exactly what he’s doing at that moment and then enters it into his “Clockworks Project” file. Such moments are randomly selected; as Vickers writes, “The device will beep an average of once per day, but it may be silent for a week, then beep five times in one day. I never see the data, so I don't know when the damn thing’s going to go off.”

The basic idea is that diaries are false, because they record only “subjectively chosen significant moments.” Boring and insignificant events are ignored and then forgotten forever. “I have this strange notion,” says Vickers, that within the banality of everyday life dwells truth or beauty or something. I may be proven wrong.”

Look Who’s Here!

Look who’s here – it’s kitten! Jim’s in the coffeehouse, too, and he celebrates kitten’s arrival by breaking into verse:

As I pondered late at night, over many a post, there wandered near a friend named kitten, then adding, Didi-sprite, Alfvaen, Big Al, Meredith, and lots more, even a raven who did not say ‘nevermore.’

This tribute to the regulars at alt.pub.coffeehouse.amethyst prompts kitten to reply,

kitten: <hugs jim>.

Jim (who adopts the persona “DJ” here in a.p.c.a.) is happy about this! “And DJ hugs kitten back,” types Jim, “if he can get his arms to working … he remembers the last real life hug from kitten, left him gasping it did.” This sort of verbal style is not unknown at the coffeehouse, which, by the way, is owned and operated by a Mrs. Mary Shelley (her chief employee, at the espresso bar, is a chap named Galileo). Nor, while unremarkable, is it wholly unremarked upon. There is crubino@vax.clarku.edu (no persona yet, obviously), who starts a speech he calls “In floats a hat.” In the midst of his discourse, crubino@vax.clarku.edu is struck by this thought: “‘God,’ he thinks, ‘I hate talking about myself in the third person. It makes me feel so *mortal.*’” Actually, there’s plenty of chat in the first person, at least among those who can’t help letting their role slip. One interesting debate in another corner of the café (which is built into a gutted Victorian house and decorated in “tasteful purple tones”) engages the question of Ayn Rand’s influence on Neal Peart of the Canadian rock-dinosaur band Rush.

At another table there’s lots of giggling over the word “rutabaga.”

FAQ of the Week

From the document “Usenet-FAQ” (Frequently Asked Questions):

Q: What is “food for the NSA line-eater”?
A: This refers to the alleged scanning of all USENET traffic by the National Security Agency (and possibly other intelligence organizations) for interesting keywords. The “food” is believed to contain some of those keywords in the fond hope of overloading NSA's poor computers. A little thought should convince anyone that this is unlikely to occur. Other posters have taken up this practice, either as an ambiguous form of political statement, or as an attempt at humor. The bottom line is that excessive signatures in any form are discouraged, the joke has worn stale amongst long-time net readers, and there are specific newsgroups for the discussion of politics.

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Copyright © 1994 by Michael Macrone

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