Specter

Specter

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 11 1997 3:30 AM

Specter

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       I'm all choked up. It's my last day of being a diarist. At midnight, they strip me of my glass slipper, and I will return to my usual life as a tiresome hack, asking people obvious questions for which there are either no useful answers, or answers so stupid that nobody wants to know them. ("How do you feel about President Yeltsin, Mrs. Bolshodragova, now that he has denied you a decent home, has failed for months to pay your pension, and made it impossible for your precious granddaughter to breathe clean air?")
       I am always happy to get home after even the best vacation, and I feel the same way about my departure from Cyberia. (By the way, I wish people wouldn't obsessively use that term in such a negative way. Siberia happens to be beautiful, grand, romantic, scary, eloquent, and the last great frontier. It's got more clean air, fresh water, gold, silver, and oil than most of the rest of the world combined. And, with Polartec as ubiquitous as it is now, you don't even have to be cold there anymore.)
       This profundity gig gets on your nerves after a while. For one thing, I thought it would be totally without risk. It turns out that (as my Web-surfing boss gently attempted to put it yesterday) I am not the only geek with too much time on his hands. Your mistakes and lies never disappear from this kind of forum; it's like launching your garbage into space. It's just out there, orbiting forever. (So, no, I DID NOT ever go to the North Pole. I meant the Arctic Circle. I own 13 compasses, two computers, a satellite phone, a cell phone, and a book about longitude. I know the difference, so stop writing to me about it.)
       Even at the New York Times, a big, crushingly influential paper that is usually about as light and carefree as the life of Clytemnestra, when you make a mistake, the earth moves, you confess, you repent, you get on with your life. Cyberspace, which is supposed to be the ultimate in democracy, is actually less forgiving.
       But that's OK; so am I.
       Today the people I am not going to forgive are the fabulous employees of the United States of America who work for the State Department. Of all the bureaucracies in Russia, there is none as venal, banal, and misguided as our massive, hideous embassy. We have a researcher in our office here who clips papers and does other menial tasks. Since he has a brain, he decided that gluing my clips onto paper wasn't getting him all the job satisfaction he wanted. So he applied for a job at the U.S. Embassy, and he got it.
       Until today, when they completed his security check. Being Russian, and having lived at a time when Russia was the evil empire, and having parents, he failed. He failed for inane reasons that I cannot go into here 'cause if I do, the CIA will fly to Seattle and confiscate the S

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server, slap an antitrust suit against Microsoft, and put all the people there who could give me money to write this kind of stuff out of business. And while I am capable of trashing an ineffectual bunch of Ivy League washouts from the State Department who think they are defending freedom by keeping a sweet kid from helping them explain our pathetically unkind country to simple Russians, I am not about to kill the goose that sent the golden e-mail.
       So I better stop now, before I lose control of myself.

Michael Specter is Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times.