Coded green.

Monday 11 September 2000


Pic of the day: Yet another rowan tree overburdened with berries. They're supposedly edible, in small quantities. Not that I am likely to test it out.


Today for lunch I went out to eat at McDonalds. The place is still lacking a heavy duty competitor, such as Burger King, but there are some more exotic fast food outlets. I avoid exotic fast food, generally. But today I compromized, by buying a McAfrica. I am not sure if this is a global campaign, I guess it is. Each week for five weeks they have a special burger. This week's was for Africa.

Now in the mind of most Norwegians, a McAfrica would probably mean an empty box. The stereotype here is that Africans do very little except starve and die, with the exception of those on the Mediterranean coast, who are not real Africans but Arabs. Real Africans are easy to recognize: They are black and starving. The notion that these people actually have a culture - or rather, several cultures - and that they also have a wide range of food worth trying, that's just too much for us to swallow.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I found that there was actually a McAfrica. I had recently read the thought provoking lead article in New Scientist: "Let them eat caju". The article pointed out that while most people eat half a dozen highly cultured plants, there are hundreds of tasty alternatives around the world. Many of these may have a potential for cultivation similar to our staple foods. We could get a diet richer in taste as well as nourishment, and use the world's resources better in the bargain. Cultivating a wide range of plants makes agriculture less vulnerable to pests and ravages of the weather. In short, time to try something new.

So I tried McAfrica, which had "nan" bread and harissa (??) sauce, said to tickle the palate. Sadly, it flayed my palate alive. It may be that the sauce could not have done this without the aid of my returning sinusitis, which often causes lesser inflammations in neighboring tissues. (The fact is that my palate is sore only on the left side, the one where my sinuses have flared up again.) So perhaps I will never know the role of the harissa (??) sauce. But it certainly did taste too strong for a non-smoker like me. Sorry Africa.

I guess I should have taken a hint when I sat down with my McAfrica burger. On the table just ahead sat a black African. He was eating an ordinary burger.


"Monoculture" is the technical term for large scale agriculture of a genetically very narrow plant. For instance, you're not just filling your entire field with potatoes - all the potatoes are of a particular variety, descended from one single ancestor just a few years ago. They are for all purposes genetically identical, like identical twins. (Not that there's anything bad with twins.) The benefit of monoculture is that you can use large scale mechanization. The plants grow to a similar height (or depth, for our potatoes) in a similar time. The quality is similar for the whole field. Economy of scale.

The downside to monoculture is that it is very vulnerable. One insect or fungus or virus, and it's like setting fire to a sheet of paper. The whole thing is eradicated in short order. One will remember that the Irish exodus to America was caused by such a plague on their potatoes. Without this, American history would have been very different. Not to mention Irish history.


But being the layman that I am, I can't help but associate "monoculture" with the more traditional culture concept. And ask, isn't this what we are doing these days? I'm guilty as sin myself, in a way, writing my diary in English. The monoculture language of the Internet. Again, it's economy of scale. Since there are precious few people in the world who would read about me and my strange thoughts, I will not restrict further by using a small obscure language.

But the real effect of monoculture is in mass media. And entertainment in particular. People from Norway to New Zealand watch the same soap operas and drool over the same film stars. Princess Diana's funeral and Bill Clintons cigar gathered the interest of two billion people. Economy of scale, certainly. But won't the same dangers pop up here? When the parasites hit, won't they hit hard? When the culture sickens, won't it all wither and die at the same time, leaving a grisly rotting field?

In this area I believe that the Internet enables a refuge of diversity. Despite writing in English (or mostly American) I am still myself. I've still grown up in the shadow of the steep Norwegian mountains and I still used to row with my father or brother on the fjord. I've grown up in a society with slightly different values, some of which I agree with and others not. And while I'm no longer so attached to any particular place, I still live a unique life (in so far as I have a life at all) and think my unique thougths. A small rowan-berry in the large production line of apples and oranges.


Of course, there's the weeds too. I just read that there are ca 220 billion stars in the Milky Way, and 800 billion web pages on the Internet. I think it was ca 0.2% that were indexed. It goes without saying that you sometimes wade through large stretches of weeds before you find something edible.

In fact, I must admit that I sometimes write low-grade stuff myself. It is not always easy to see while you're in the middle of it. I guess the same goes for others. And then there are those who have something to say, but who don't. I think that is even worse. When it is hard to know the wheat from the weeds, I support the famous solution to let them both grow until the harvest. I'm sure it will all get right at the end. But if you've buried your talent, how will we ever find out?

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