When I picked Gnat up from the after-school program she was in the auditorium, listening to a lecture.

“And we should remember that when we cut down the forest to build shops and houses that these are homes for animals,” said the lecturer.

Wha? Gnat turned around, as if sensing spikey waves coming from Daddy’s head – I’m sure she’s adept at picking those up by now – and she saw me, smiled, and stood up. We walked to the lockers to get her backpack.

“I got to pet a rat,” she said.

A rat?

“It was named Sugar, and it was so cute. It lives in the forest.”

And ships whose sailors groan with the pain of swollen buboes, but we’ll leave that for later. That’s the problem with children’s books; even though kids know they’re make-believe, they’re still inclined to think of rats in storybook terms, with Daddy Rat wearing a cardigan and sitting in his chair, and the little Rat Kids frolicking around under the happy gaze of Momma Rat. The truth – they are nasty busted-tooth vermin who serve as taxis for plague fleas – never really enters into the whole “rat” concept.

“Are you sure it was a rat, and not a mouse?”

“Well, I don’t think so. I think it was a rat. It was sweet.”

There’s your modern world, I thought: now they make a point of bringing rats into the school, so children can touch them.

“And we saw a bird covered with oil. It died.”

Jeebus wept. “They showed you a dead oily bird?”

She nodded, nonchalant. “It looked like this.” She spread her arms out and twisted her neck to the side.

“Well, people help birds that get oil on them. They wash them off so they can live.”

“Not this one. It died.”

“Where did the oil come from?”

“It came from a boat. Do you know what oil is?”

I almost said sure, your Grandpa sells it, but that might have turner her against the old man for good. Grandma kills birds? Well, no, hon- well yes, he goes pheasant shooting every day, but he uses a gun, not oil, so – oh nevermind. So I just said yes. Then I asked about the forests and cutting them down to make houses and stores. What did they say?

“Animals live there too,” she said.

“Animals lived in the woods they cut down to make your school,” I said.

“Poor animals,” she sighed.

“They found other homes,” I said.

“Yay! I think they were teenaged rats,” she added.

“Why? Were they sullen and nonresponsive? Sarcastic?”

“What’s sarcastic mean again? I forgot.”

“Good. Let’s go have pizza.”


And so the indoctrination begins! I half expect to find them throwing chunks of Floam at a picture of Goldstein tomorrow!

</cliched overreaction>

Actually, it was a reminder of another obligation and duty of parenthood: to teach your kid to believe in something – in this case, conservation & ecological good-citizenry – based on rationality and facts, not emotion and anecdotes and sad pictures. It is bad to hurt birds with oil, yes, but the final lesson isn't “oil is bad because it hurts birds.” Oil is God's way of saying "your house should be warm in winter and fresh green produce should be available in February, and never mind the birds. Oh look! I just made another billion birds! Like that! Because I can! So shut up and go drive somewhere. Floor it! I command you!"

If there's one theory I hope comes true, it's the idea that petroleum is exuded by some ongoing process, and is actually a self-renewing resource. Don't give me this bunkum about solar power being safe - please. A nuclear reactor goes critical, the damage is relatively limited. The source of solar power goes nova, and everyone's toast. Curse the sun! When it's not giving you cancer, it's counting down to planetary destruction! Kill the sun now while there's time!

Otherwise, got nothin’. Tuesday nights are like that; I’ve been writing all day, and somehow imagine that when the night comes I’ll want to write the stuff for which there is no monetary compensation. Labor of love and all that. Never works that way. So I’ve been finishing "The Last Coyote," a book I started on the plane in Arizona – a Michael Connelly novel from 1995. Has a big dead middle but a fast wrap-up with one nice neat explosion after the other. Quality work.

The middle part is always hard. It should be. If it’s not, the last part will be.

That applies all around, I think.

(Irrelevant note - I had drinks with Connelly here in Mpls years ago with my old pal Rich Leiby, who knows him from way back. Struck me as a good guy. And his novels just keep getting better and better, if you ask me.)

I did enjoy the usual Christmas-morning that is the Stevenote; what new toys will we see today? It was with profound relief that I looked at the new Mac laptops, and saw no reason to upgrade. Yes, they’re speedy and have some nice new features, but I don’t need speed on my laptop. If they had looked different, I’d be selling bone marrow. I didn’t get the one thing I wanted, which was a means to get my HD movies off the secondary hard drive into DVDs, but that’s because they haven’t settled on a format yet – HD DVD or Blu-Ray – or come out with a burner that doesn’t have the CrEAM (the Crippling Early Adopter Markup.) So I’ll just have to store the movies on this nice little external firewire LaCie drive I bought for that purpose. Naturally, the drive gives me a –36 error when I try to copy the ginormous files (and no, it’s not formatted at FAT32.) When I attempt to save the project to the drive from inside the program, it dumps out halfway through. Boring, I know, but amusing in one respect: I have half a terabyte of storage space, and about 15 free usable gigs I can trust. So I’m backing everything up to tape. The encoding takes hours. I think it probably takes six minutes to encode the HD for transfer, but the software designers have an unspoken unwritten understanding that certain portions of the video editor’s job will pretend to be incredibly processor- and time-intensive, giving the editor an excuse to leave the studio for a meal and a bump. Or just stand outside and have a smoke while the sun goes down

The other toys I like; I expect to use the nifty podcasting stuff in iLife06 as soon as my copy arrives. As for the media center everyone expected – geez, give them a chance to roll it all out in the proper order, okay? That’s the killer Christmas item. And by then it should work. By then I can stream movies from my hard drive to the TV, and never have to worry about burning copies.

Who am I kidding? I back everything up so many times it’s a wonder I don’t back up the movies by setting the digital camera on a tripod and photographing every frame of the movies.

And now I file and get back to email and watch TV. Thank you for coming; see you tomorrow.

on Monday
on Tuesday


c. 2005 j. lileks .