"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Anti Alias



A manhunt always makes for

gripping news. July 1996 has

served up three major variations

on the Missing Person theme:

lost bodies, a mysterious

writer, and a memory wiped

clean. While the relatives of

those on TWA Flight 800 pine,

and others are piling firewood

at the feat of Joe Klein,

a man who arrived on an

Oahu beach like so much

flotsam has finally drifted

back home.



Still enamored of George Kennan's

"Mr. X" editorial that helped

launch the Cold War arms race,

old media types cling to

the Mssrs. J-- K---- : the

conceits of Conan Doyle. We'll

forgive them for pretending that

the aura of a cultural artifact

can be shielded from the

disruptive electromagnetic field

of its producer. People who

still actually write things down

on paper can't help living in

the past.



But calling oneself "Anonymous"

or "John Doe" or "Deep Throat"

hardly shifts attention from the

speaker. Withholding data makes

people hop from foot to foot:

they gotta know, quick, the way a

six-year-old on a long car trip

suddenly hasta go, quick.

Pulling over, their parents'

hand-held cams pan to the empty

car seat, ignoring the artwork

being created in the snow. If

you want true anonymity, the

task would be better served by

employing a changing series of

bland, plausible-sounding



[Question Mark]

Online, the issues are less

clear-cut. It's much easier to

go missing amid the thickets and

alleyways of the net, especially

given the ornery no-forwarding

mail policies of most providers

should you jilt them for a

cooler domain suffix.


Then there's the matter of

impersonation. In any given

newsgroup, you're sure to find

posters taking the names of the

Three Bills (Gates, Gibson, and

Clinton) both in vain and as

aliases. On a BBS, a user's

screen name can change daily,

riffing on itself, becoming a

playful community joke.



Another enduring Stupid Net Trick

is the hunt for long-lost

friends and relations. But

unsolicited email is actually

less disturbing than running

into an excited supermarket

shopper who gushes, "You're

A---, right? I never forget a

face!" in the supermarket, years

since you last sat in the same

fifth-grade homeroom.



Still, though a random email

message is much less invasive

than being accosted in the kitty

litter aisle, unsolicited email

can inspire an unusual degree of

ire, or maybe just malicious

neglect. It's harder to muster

rudeness F2F than from a

terminal, which helps explain

why many newsgroups are as

continually aflame as the Tomb

of the Unknown Soldier.


So while you might think twice

before giving a long-lost pal

the finger, that's not to say

the web's friend-finding

capabilities can't come in

handy. Take the aforementioned

Hawaiian amnesiac and the

private investigator who

outsleuthed the cops in getting

him home.


The man was unsure of his own

name (offering "William Charles

D'Souza," a satanic blend of the

British royalty and that

loathsome Dinesh guy), the year

(1988, obviously), and his

hometown (the non-existent Long

Island town of "North

Manchester"). But Philip Charles

Cutujar did give a correct

street address for the Long

Island town of North Massapequa,

indicating that Hawaiian sleuths

have modeled themselves perhaps

too closely after Magnum,

P.I.'s bumbling men in blue.



Of course, they'll eventually

track down amnesiacs by

correlating their favorite

colors, foods, and the price of

their sneakers with those

countless profiles entered on

HotWired, Pathfinder, and Swoon -

though you may have already

forgotten the passwords. Someone

should found MemoryBank, a

public service site operating on

a Firefly model, where anxious

browsers could enter salient

personal details - from

"discreet" inner-thigh tattoos

commissioned in moments of

weakness, to audio test-pattern

clips for later voice

recognition. In the event that

your lobes are accidentally

wiped, this confidential profile

would be made available to

designated loved ones and law

enforcement officials, who could

finally perform those miraculous


suspect-to-databases searches,

before zooming in on your exact

street location using BigBook

or MapQuest.


But for the moment, the missing

persons of midsummer will remain

more closely associated with

other destinations, most as yet


courtesy of Ersatz