The Other Friday Five

In the first of what may become a hallowed ‘bottle tradition, universally praised and flatteringly imitated all around this mighty net of inters on which we play†, I offer you five links to five Most Excellent Personal Websites, Containing High Quality Words, Sentences, And Paragraphs, With the Added Attraction of Amusing Anecdotes‡, websites of whose existence you may or may not be aware, but nonetheless websites you should bookmark and enjoy on a daily basis if you have a shred of human decency left in your souls, you bastards*.

Share and enjoy.
† …or may, on the other hand, be a caffeine-fueled one-off. You never know.
‡ Apologies for the Comedy Capitalization. Cheap, I know, but I’m Feeling Whimsical.
* Just choking around, as we used to say in my crypto-racist hometown. Most of you aren’t bastards at all!

Compare and Contrast

Here’s George Bush’s recent speech.
Here’s the same speech, with the following substitutions :

  • “Marriage” becomes “whiteness
  • “the same gender” becomes “a brownish color
  • “the union of a man and a woman” or “the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” or “a union of a man and woman as husband and wife” becomes “racially superior
  • “a husband and wife” becomes “white people

Please note upfront that I am about as far from being a racist as one can get, and I am astonished that anyone could think that gay marriages are in any way a bad thing, for anyone. Bigotry in any form is repulsive. This thing is meant to shine a light on Mr Bush and his puppeteers, and that’s all.
I hope this little search-and-replace exercise helps put things in a historical context for you, dear reader. It did for me.

BUSH: Good morning.
Eight years ago, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of whiteness Act, which defined whiteness for purposes of federal law as racially superior.
The act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342-67 and the Senate by a vote of 85-14.
Those congressional votes, and the passage of similar defense of whiteness laws in 38 states, express an overwhelming consensus in our country for protecting the institution of whiteness.
In recent months, however, some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine whiteness. In Massachusetts, four judges on the highest court have indicated they will order the issuance of whiteness licenses to applicants of a brownish color in May of this year.
In San Francisco, city officials have issued thousands of whiteness licenses to people of a brownish color, contrary to the California Family Code. That code, which clearly defines whiteness as racially superior, was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of California.
A county in New Mexico has also issued whiteness licenses to applicants of a brownish color.
And unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.
After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.
Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse.
If we’re to prevent the meaning of whiteness from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect whiteness in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed because attempts to redefine whiteness in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.
The Constitution says that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts and records and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
Those who want to change the meaning of whiteness will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex whitenesss performed anywhere in America.
Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of whiteness Act by declaring that no state must accept another state’s definition of whiteness. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress.
Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of whiteness Act will not itself be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a whiteness.
Furthermore, even if the Defense of whiteness Act is upheld, the law does not protect whiteness within any state or city.
For all these reasons, the defense of whiteness requires a constitutional amendment.
An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process has addressed many serious matters of national concern, and the preservation of whiteness rises to this level of national importance.
‘Racially superior’ is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of white people to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.
Whiteness cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.
Government, by recognizing and protecting whiteness, serves the interests of all.
Today, I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting whiteness as racially superior.
The amendment should fully protect whiteness, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than whiteness.
America’s a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions.
Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of whiteness. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities.
We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.
In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency.
Thank you very much.

[Credit where due : I stole this idea from half of these people here (but I’m not going to tell you which half – ha!), via a certain not-to-be-mentioned kitty-loving community website, but I think I improved on it a bit.]
[Update : There are those who would protest (even though I’m not seriously equating them) that racial and sexual-orientation discrimination are apples and oranges. Perhaps, but they are more interrelated in American law than I had thought.

There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
[via Atrios]

Echo and the Bunnymen

You’ve got to be joking. Honestly, I think my brain’s going to explode. I was ready to leave this behind, and now I’m not so sure.
First, David Weinberger writes an essay that quite ably argues that although there may be echo chambers per se, at least in terms of politics (which is a very minor slice of the whole pie, of course), on the web, there are in fact a multitude of them, and as a consequence we are able both in principle and in practice to expose ourselves to a greater range of opinion and interpretation than we might otherwise be. The space (if it can be well-described in spatial terms, a discussion long-past and best left buried under the azalea bush out back, perhaps) as a whole isn’t an echo chamber, he argues, if I understand him correctly: it is a vast concatenation of echo chambers, varying in their vehemence and level of groupthink, and thus benign. A metachamber, not ringing with echoes at all, but with the grand hubbub that is the sounds of the little echo chambers (occasionally with a population of one) singing into the void.
I’d argue that this is saying precisely nothing. I would argue that the weblog world is getting topheavy with pundits and supastars and, heaven forbid, leaders, who may (or may not) have gotten there from sheer merit, I admit, but that this trend is making thinking about the medium taste more like top-down pearls before swine than I’m entirely comfortable with.
I would argue that it is a tautology that the internet is a group of groups, and those groups, as a result of human nature, tend to organically accrete around shared common interests and beliefs, just as they do in the real world, and further that it is easier on the internet to be mobile between groups, sometimes radically different ones. This, I agree, is one of the great things about our digital lives. Unfortunately, unlike in real life, it is also far easier for participants to express themselves in ways more extreme than they might do in their ‘real lives’, and the echo chambers where there’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop of — shall we say — excessive zeal can turn evil or stupid or both very quickly indeed. But this isn’t what Dr W is talking about, I don’t think.
He says

We believers need a chance to get together, too. Sure, BloggerCon permits contrary points of view, but it’s distinguishable from the “Pro or Con” conference in tone and topic. And that’s a good thing. BloggerCon helps build community and advance thought by letting us be passionate, without having to back off, argue for fundamental principles with which we already agree, and persuade others of the legitimacy of our enthusiasm.

And I’m not entirely sure that I agree. Why is it a good thing, exactly? I suggest that the less writing (isn’t that what this is all about, out here in the ASCII (sorry, UTF-8) world? the writing?) and the more self-congratulation that goes on, the less relevance personal websitery seems to actually have to anyone, including its practitioners.
Next (and I don’t mean to get all up in David’s face, but he started me on this) Dr W anticipates a second Bloggercon and mentions that Dave Winer is planning to “ask each of the moderators to work ‘Nuking the Echo Chamber’ into the discussion”, and notes that Winer asks “How do we methodically and systematically overcome the tendency for echo chambers to form and self-perpetuate?”
Ahhhhhh-hahahahhaha. Stop me before I kill blog again.
Am I losing my mind here? Is Dr Weinberger not a weblog-writer (brilliant and talented, intellectually grunty, fiercely sexy, all that, sure, OK — I’ve nothing but respect for the man even when he’s as wildly off the mark as I feel him to be on this) who is among that gang of Usual Suspects that show up at all of these blog conventions and conferences and so on and then tell us all about them (blogging about the talking about the blogging, which is often blogging about the blogging in the first place), whether we’re interested or not, who is a shaper, most certainly, of both the weblog universe’s thinking about itself and the old media’s perception of webloggers as well, is this fine fellow pointing to another of the Usual Suspects — this one even more of an 800 pound gorilla in the field, and one who’s running yet another of these conferences, at bloody Harvard no less — and praising a decision to have panel discussions at another blog conference about avoiding echo chambers ? With a straight face?
Am I insane, or the last one left who isn’t? Is plain old irony supposed to make me laugh this hard?
I wouldn’t care, honestly, if it weren’t a matter of many of these folks guiding and shaping so much of our thinking about weblogs and web writing and all the various activities that fall under the ‘blogging’ umbrella. The echo chamber in which Dr Weinberger unapologetically places himself, I submit, is the only one that is truly dangerous to our Happy Fun Shiny Weblog World at all, because it is the one from which so much of the thinking we take as common currency trickles down to us mere, bits-only mortals. Or is it only me that thinks that the Usual Suspects have an overly strong influence in the way we think about this stuff, that their frequent meetings in the world of atoms consolidates and extends that influence, and that sometimes it feels as if there really is an emerging Cabal™? Is it only because of the corner of the metachamber in which I find myself? Am I missing all the constellations of new voices who haven’t gotten linked as a result of what they write rather than who they’ve met?
Honestly, I’d really appreciate some help figuring out if I’m talking complete bollocks here, and developing unhealthy signs of compulsion in my semi-demented criticism of blog conferences. Is it just sour grapes because I’m poor as a church mouse and live half a planet away from all the action? Shouldn’t the tyranny of distance not matter any more? Is it only me?

Bells and Chickens, Armpits and Underpants

Here’s a story of The Young Wonderchicken for you. 1989, I think it was, my first year in Europe.
We’d hated Italy, the Bearman and I, and there was no real reason we could point to and say “That’s why this place sucks, damn it!” The previous month or two of wandering southward from Edinburgh — where I’d been drinking Bulgarian wine, taking long windswept nighttime walks on the Portobello promenade and getting romantically involved with underaged Scotswomen for the past four months or so — without agenda or schedule or much in mind beyond cherchez les femmes and cherchez le booze, had been glorious and, if not precisely successful in the femmes department, had at least been steeped in liquor and spontaneous goofiness.
Italy had been a bust, for some reason. I remember writing about the ‘little bastard pasta-pounders’ in a letter to our amigo Rick, a level of (comedic-) vituperation that back in my more peaceable days was unusual, unless I was three-sheets a’ranting. Torino, Pisa, Roma. We just couldn’t seem to find any pleasant people. Or get into the rhythm of it, somehow. The highlight had probably been our unexpected discovery of a bottle of Seagram’s VO in a dusty little booze shop in Rome, after a long day of Vatican-seeing and footsore street-wandering and clumsy pre-pubescent pickpocket away-shooing. It remains one of my clearest memories of that time, seeing that ridiculously underpriced bottle sitting there, a beam of sunlight cutting through the dustmotes like the finger of god and illuminating the golden elixir within as the bleedin’ choir invisibule of liquor descended and sang tinny little hosannas in our ears. Perhaps a holiness hangover from Pope City, which, though impressive in a crenellated, gilded, retro-poofy kind of way, left me with a feeling more Disney than Dante. We took that bottle back to the slighty hostile hostel, and drained it in the basement lounge in the company of a batsh-t insane Tasmanian who had attached himself to us when he saw we had some of the good stuff.
So we’d just given up on it, and caught the train straight to Brindisi, where an overnight ferry would take us to Greece. I was hoping that Greece would be The Place. Paris had lived up to my romantically-elevated expectations, and even surpassed them. It had been a surprise, actually, steeped as I was in far, far too much of Miller and his Nin, and Hemingway and his gin, and all the other Americans that wrote filthy hymns to the city. Not to mention the gaggle of gloomy Frenchman that every 23 year-old of a certain disposition takes much too seriously. Our weeks in Paris had been a time of great joy, and our week of detox in Aix-Les-Bains afterwards, down at the western foot of the Alps, had been just the counterbalance we’d needed. But Italy? Well, not so much. And so I had high hopes for Greece. I was all Colossus of Maroussi‘d up, I think I claimed at the time.
We’d been on the boat from Brindisi to Patras a few hours, I guess, when we began to feel a need for some liquid refreshment. Happily, beer was sold, and though back in these days our tipple of choice was good Canadian rye whiskey, our flexibility was much improved by our recent wanderings, and we purchased as many cans as we were able to carry. That turned out to be quite a few more than was strictly advisable, but that’s the way of these things when you’re young, dumb and full of…well, joi de vivre, I guess.
The way of these things also is that our hilarity (and no doubt our beer) smoothed introductions with some of our nearby fellow-seafarers, two guys who turned out to be wandering Eurodrunks themselves, another Canadian and an Irishman. The Canadian was a good ol’ beef-fed Alberta boy, profane and pussy-struck, making us feel rather weedy with his many Tales of Concupiscent Conquest. His main goal in life seemed to be the procuring of prostitutes in as many nations as possible, and he was keen to share his accumulated wisdom on this arcane topic. The Dublin-based Irishman was a skinny, hyperkinetic, weaselly fellow, short and self-conscious, and for a member of the backpacker crowd, where your story-telling is your one universally-exchangeable currency, unusually reticent to share any personal details. Still, after some initial missteps — the Irishman responded to our fanboy-queries about U2 with ‘that Bono’s fookin’ sh-te!’ — we were soon rollicking on the high seas. Our two new buddies purchased and packed over to our corner of the deck a staggering number of cold cans, and, concerned that the small concession that sold the beer might close, the Bearman and I also replenished our slightly diminished reserves as well, just in case.
We played some dominos, and told tales of our travels. The Canuck, an oil worker, had many, mostly involving ‘the ladies’, predictably, the Irishman few. They seemed boon companions, though, thanks in part to the beer, and the odd sense of relief we felt at getting out of Italy. The Bearman and I, newbies at the game, had only a few tales to tell, but made up for lack of quantity with quality — shamanistic firelit Tale Of The Hunt dances and gutteral shouts to indicate, for example, our dismay at the advanced age of the ladies of the evening inside the dimly lit, heavily draped precincts of that brothel in Pigalle, for example. Stories were swapped with increasing animation and jocularity, until about the third or fourth time that a steward showed up to tell us that the ‘Captain is very upset and wishes you please to be silent’. We were pleased that the Captain would take personal notice of us, and asked our long-suffering friend to invite him down for beer. I don’t recall him accepting, sadly.
It all gets a bit hazy at that point, but I do know that we didn’t get off at Corfu, where I’d hoped to stop on the way, enchanted as I’d been by Lawrence Durrell’s Miller-influenced Black Book (and remembering his brother Gerald’s luminous juvenilia from high school, where we’d had to read them for English class). When I woke up it was early afternoon, and I was draped across a couple of hard plastic seats with a rivulet of drool running down into my right ear. The usual, in other words. We were approaching Patras.
The hangover started to lift as we finished going through customs, and the four of us decided, as you do, that we might as well travel together for a bit, at least as far as Athens. We decided too that the wisest course of action was to grab a room and find the nearest bar, in that order.
We found a room with three beds, and I offered to take the floor and pay a little less. More money for beer, I thought, pleased with myself for demonstrating fiscal responsibility. Couldn’t be more uncomfortable than the plastic ferry seats had been, and the place looked relatively free of vermin. We dumped our gear, and as the sun started going down over the sea again, found a taverna. It was bright and crowded with friendly, happy drinkers. There were beautiful women, mugs of icy beer set down in front of us if we so much as raised an eyebrow, and what the Bearman would describe in later years as ‘the best damn chips I ever ate’. I remember turning to him at one point, happy, and saying ‘We’re home!’ And it felt like we were.
Many hours later, I was swimming up out of my alco-coma to sounds that I’d grow used to in Greece over the next 10 months — bells and chickens. It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up, in those wandering days, not knowing with any certainty where I was, or even who I was, sometimes. I quite enjoyed that blank slate feeling, sometimes, to be honest, and this morning I was feeling pretty damn groggy. I’d been having a magnificently erotic dream, involving several of the women who’d been at the bar the night before. The odd thing, though, was that as I started to cross that line from not knowing if I was awake or not, and not caring, particularly, into being quite certain that I actually was awake, the sexy sensations weren’t diminishing. All this only took perhaps 5 seconds, as the gears in my mind caught, slipped, then caught again.
I realized that there was a hand in my underwear. A rather busy hand. ‘Rrrr?’ said my brain. I didn’t remember any particular success with any of the women in the bar last night. There was also a face buried in my armpit. ‘Rrrr!’ said my brain, ‘That’s not right!’ I opened my eyes, and there was the Irishman, one hand down my boxers, sniffing the living daylights out of my left armpit. I was suddenly wide awake.
I smacked him one in the head, and he looked up at me as if I’d hurt his feelings. Although I wasn’t so much angry as I was discombobulated and disoriented and dehydrated, I pointed to his bed with some authority, and tried to say with my eyes ‘get back there or I’m gonna get mad. You wouldn’t like me when I’m mad!’ He slowly clambered back into his bed, and as he silently watched, I moved my blanket over to the patch of floor between the Bearman and the oil-worker, who were still snoring away in blissful ignorance of the absurd little drama, and pointed vigorously at his bed to indicate that I would prefer that he stay there. Then I went back to sleep.
We all woke up a few hours later, ate a greasy, glorious breakfast, and left for Athens. Nothing more was said of armpits or underpants.
So there’s a little story. I wrote it for you because I have nothing really to say about all this gay-marriage brouhaha in America other than it’s criminally stupid that it should even be something that people are upset about, and because the Bearman is going back to Greece in a couple of months with his Cypriot-Canadian wife and I wish I could go, and I woke up the other morning thinking about Greece. I hold no resentment to the Irishman who woke me up by fondling my junk — it seemed a funny way, even at the time, to wake up on my first morning in Greece. And I don’t think I’ve ever met a female backpacker that didn’t have a tale, at least in those days, of unwelcome fondling by some creepy guy in a hostel somewhere.
I’ve never been one to be angry at individuals for their folly and their weakness, beyond an occasional rant or two. En masse, maybe, yeah. I just love to stir up the sh-t, and I’ve done some of that in recent times, sure, but that’s only because it was fun. I’m all about the love, honest. And I loved Greece. It turned out to be one of the greatest places I’ve ever been, and I miss it sometimes.
It has a special place in my heart, if not my underwear.

We're On A Mission From God

My mission to annoy and alienate as many Very Important Bloggers as possible (for street cred, daddy-o!) continues apace. The hum from the hive rises threateningly when it is disturbed. The sound soothes me. I step back, then, drawn by the hypnotic throb of the multitude, step forward again and take another f–king whack at it.
No, really. I like to be liked, honest, but I’d rather truth-tell than ass-kiss. Be a lot easier if I had a clue what the truth was. Still, I’m not a-gonna pucker up, either way.


Looks like I picked the wrong month to stop sniffing glue.