Nerds and Otaku and Geeks, Oh My!

I just read Patton Oswalt’s Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die, which I enjoyed, and I’ve got something to say. Several somethings, in fact. As I set out, I’m not entirely certain what those somethings are, but I’m sure we’ll have some fun finding out.

I’m a little uncomfortable with it as a semi-serious piece of word stuff, and with the inevitable ensuing Metafilter thread. Underlying everything is an assumption that goes for the most part unquestioned: that nerds, or geeks (or otaku, but to hell with that, William Gibsonisms notwithstanding

The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.

because I’m weary so weary of the appropriation and repurposing of poorly-understood Japanese words) are to be defined by the cultural products they (possibly obsessively) consume. It’s the common usage, sure — we talk about star wars nerds and comics nerds, about gaming geeks and movie geeks. We’ve wired into our brains a default mode where a nerd is someone who nerds out over some New Bauble, and a geek geeks out about their Precious Thing. We’re a little too accustomed to defining ourselves by what we consume, which is just what The Business of Entertainment wanted. Except for that whole part where we can get almost anything made of information these days without really trying. Or paying.

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It was back in September, and the Korean doctor was running the ultrasound wand back and forth across my lubed-up abdomen, shaking his head and looking stern. “Patty Ribber” he repeated, three or four times, pointing at the monitor, on which I saw nothing but the usual indecipherable patterns of amorphous grey blobs. I nodded like I knew what he was saying, which is my usual strategy. After nearly 15 years since I came to Korea, I’m still not that great at parsing things out when I’m in an unfamiliar situation.

The doc sat back down behind his desk while his disconcertingly attractive nurse wiped the lube off my stomach, and started talking at my wife, in the arrogant tones that Korean doctors favour. I was catching one word in three, as usual, but when she grabbed a piece of paper from a stack on the shelf beside her and handed it to me at his behest, and I saw the picture, “patty ribber” suddenly resolved in my brain to “fatty liver” and my blood ran cold.

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Welcome to The New Old Emptybottle

*tap* *tap tap tap* Anybody out there? Anybody left standing with an attention span intact? Any Wonderchicken Irregulars out there, hiding in the bullet-splintered woods, huddled in the snow and blood, waiting for what’s seemed like forever for the smoke and fog to clear, for this long international nightmare to end?

Well, I’m not here to make any promises, to blow smoke up any butts and extract sunshine. I’ve made promises before and broken them. I feel bad about that.

It’s not that I haven’t been busy, friends! I’ve been building websites at a rate of knots, including reworks of outsideinkorea and Wonderchicken Industries™ in the last few weeks, my busy gaming community is busier than ever, with well over 1200 members at last count. Just a few days ago, we made a $4100 group donation to ChildsPlay Charity, and I’m immensely proud of that.

But just the last little while, even though all of my creative juices have been directed to virtual barn-building (and repainting), I’ve been feeling the urge to make with the word-writing again. The old design of the venerable ‘bottle was kind of hurting my eyes, though.

So, this. Welcome to version Who The Hell Knows. Maybe I’ll even do some writing, once I’m done sweeping up the sawdust. But no promises.

Single Serving Site Alert

Just a quick note for those few, those brave, those patient who haven’t completely migrated to Facef*ck or ThighSpace or Twatter or whatever social disease network is the flavour of the moment, and still stop by or RSSize the ‘bottle to get an occasional taste of Grandpa Wonderchicken’s Old-Style Longform Bullshit.

A while back, one morning, when I heard that Kevin Rose (of Digg and the late, not terribly lamented Pownce) had a new Twitter-parasite site called WeFollow, I lost my shit (“You might follow, you tiny-dreamed weasel farts!” said I to myself, or something of the sort.) and bought a domain, threw up a WordPress site, wrote a screed and did a couple of photoshops, all before lunch. If I was that productive all the time, I’d be… well, I wouldn’t have the time for insane vanity mini-projects like that, I guess.

Still: here it is, the lastest addition to the burgeoning Wonderchicken Industries™ Network. Share and enjoy.

Hockey! It’s A Sport!

So I was hanging around at the Metafilter, as I do, and I was posting the occasional comment, as I do, and drinking beer, as I do, because it was a Friday night, and that’s what I tend to do on a Friday night.

Another guy, this Canadian guy, this guy who’d lived in Japan for a few years and eventually gone back to Canada, someone I’d identified with even though I don’t rightly know if I ever will actually go back to Canada, had said

At least it’s not hockey. What a stupid sport.

(Although these are my true feelings, to say this publicly in Canada is close to something like sacrilege, and I’m not exaggerating.)

So I got my shit all up in a righteous internet uproar and said (and reproduce here because I’d like to remember I said it, self-indulgent and shouty as it is):

I spent a decade or two of my post-pubescent life, times when I was actually in Canada at least part-time and it seemed to matter, telling people how much I fucking didn’t care about hockey, because, you know, that’s what a certain kind of guy does. But I’d sit and watch the goddamn game and drink a hell of a lot of booze and take whatever drugs were to hand and make inappropriate and often successful sexual advances at the desperately bored women who were hanging around unwilling having their own fun while the idiot rinktard puckheads got their stick on.

But I’ll tell you this: I fucking love hockey now, in retrospect, but only in the abstract because I love the idea of stupid toothless meatpuppets beating the living shit out of each other on the ice for the amusement of the Home Audience. I used to poo-poo all the Sport, oh dear, Maynard my Special Friend it’s so commmmon and tedious, I in latter days used to and still do wave a dismissive hand-back at the reality TV and the unreality TV and the fake pretending to be real pretending to be fake winking at the real, I did, I do, but you know what? these days I love it all. I love it all in equal measure to how much I despise it because I am absolutely sure that things, where ‘things’ is meant to be Our Collective Cultural Heritage A-squander, where ‘things’ is meant to be the inexorable ramscoop of the idiocracy screaming V2ey nose-down into the fake peatbog made of plastic turf and celebrity poop, it’s OK that it’s all turning to Entertainment and Distraction at a rate of (k)nots, and I get a Roma-rsonist frisson from tossing my cigarette butts and lighting support blazes out on the periphery hoping ring-a-rosy all burn down without me having to make a stand.

So, yeah. Hockey is stupid, duh, but you know what: the problem with hockey is that it’s not nearly as goddamn stupid as it used to be or should be, when the gladiators dropped glove and knocked pearly white teeths out onto the ice in a spray of blood. It’s gotten smarter since then, instrumentally more reasonable, disappointingly less savage, and that’s a cheat and a con and it’s more modern and marketed and less satisfying.

Fucking weedy reedy thinskinned worthless goddamn civilization we’ve built.

The Ape and The Snake

The men who planned and carried out the bombings in Bali in 2002, the ones that killed one of my oldest and dearest friends (but only after he suffered with burns over most of his body for nearly two weeks) along with 201 other people, were executed last month.

You’d think I’d be happy about that.

Let me tell you a little story that may not seem to have much to do with this, but does, somehow, in a way that’s not entirely clear to me. Maybe in the telling, I can work it out a bit.

It was the mid-70s, I think, another glorious short clean summer in Northern BC, one of the ones that stay with me in my memory, and my aunt, uncle and two cousins were visiting us.

We had taken our river boat ten or fifteen kilometers up the lake, up to one of the rocky beaches under the ridge of Mount Pope, inshore from Battleship Island. We set up our outpost on a long expanse of thumb-size pebbles rattling under a broad unclouded vault of sky, stands of jackpine and spruce at our backs clustered beardlike around yellow stone cliff outcroppings. Clear deep dark green water, hot dogs cooked on whittled birch sticks over a fire pit. It was the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive, especially when you’re 8 or 10 years old and all is right with the world.

I remember at one point my cousins and I were ranging up the shingly beach, just exploring, when we came across the biggest snake I’d ever seen. It was glistening and black and in the water, and it took off like a shot as soon as it saw us, undulating frantically as it headed along the rocky verge, trying to escape.

We were curious, or at least I was, and we started throwing driftwood and rocks in its path, trying to get it to turn around, or slow down, so we could get a better look. I’m not sure, of course, what my cousins were thinking, but I don’t think they had any more malicious intent than I did. We were curious. The missiles we hurled at the poor beast got progressively larger and we got more excited, and the inevitable happened. One of the rocks or sticks landed square on the snake, and killed it. It uncoiled and floated, light belly up.

As we’d been hollering and chasing the snake, my uncle, presumable alerted by our excitement, had come up behind us just as the fatal stone did its work. All he saw was hooting boys killing an innocent creature.

He wasn’t furious, he was disgusted, disappointed. I still remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like that before.

Several people have sent me links to news items about the execution of the Bali bombers in the past few weeks, and each time, I’ve had to tell them that I just didn’t know what to feel about it, much less what to think.

I find as I grow older that every year I am certain about less and less.

I’ve said to some folks who asked that although I do not believe that more killing is a good response to killing, if I were handed the gun, or set down in front of the switch behind the one-way glass, or just put into a room with the bastards, I wouldn’t hesitate to exact vengeance for the death of my friend. Pull the trigger, press the button, beat them with my fists. I’ve said to my friends that I am an ape masquerading as a man.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, I really don’t. It sounds good, I suppose, and I’ve always been about the dramatic pronouncement over the measured interpretation.

My old friend Rick, killed in 2002 by the bomb outside the Sari Nightclub.Is the world a poorer place without my friend Rick Gleason living in it? Yes, it is, and the same is no doubt true for the friends and family members of each and every of the other 201 people killed in the bombings. Is the world a better place without their killers living in it? I think it probably is.

A killer named Amrozi who set the bomb, now also deceased.We tell ourselves a lot of stories about ‘the sanctity of human life’. We seem to mean the lives of those we know and love when we talk about it, and that’s not surprising or wrong. We find it hard to care about strangers, and harder to care about strangers whose tribe is different, and even harder to care about those strangers who would do us harm if they could, or leave us to die without compunction. People get all misty about their Jesus and his injunctions to love one’s enemies and turn cheeks.

But we don’t really believe that human life, in the abstract, is sacred, even if we’re willing to go the extra mile and define what we mean by sacred, do we? Not really. We make war, we ignore the roots of violent crime and turn away, we spend millions on blood-fiesta movies and video games and tell ourselves that it’s about catharsis. The best we can reasonably claim to believe is that some human life is sacred.
We’re not bad people, of course, most of us. Actual, personal violence we find shocking, unacceptable, abhorrent. We are traumatized by the headless corpse behind the steering wheel sitting in the puddle of blood and piss in the twisted plastic and metal of the Friday night wreck. We’re dutifully frightened by the TV news items about violent crime that are intended to keep us dutifully frightened and at home watching the sponsor’s messages. But we do love our serial killers and the movies about them, we love our torture porn, we love our Schwarzeneggerian one-liners before the shotgun skullpop, even while we guard our vulnerable citizens against violence domestic and corporal and sexual and even emotional. We righteously and rightfully do our best to end the social conditions that allow such things to happen. And we support our troops. You know, if we have any. We compartmentalize.

I don’t think most of us are all that clear on these things, and I suppose I’m no better than anyone else. See, if we admit that by executing those bastards, and we accept that violence has its place in our attempts to make the world better, we have accepted that violence has its place. This has consequences.

And if we’re not trying to make the world better, then we’re just acting out another episode of the woeful old Jehovahriffic vengeance.

I’m not against vengeance, though I’d rather be a man than an ape. I have to admit that there are times when I want to bare my yellowed fangs and rip out a throat and feel the hot pulse of blood wash across my cheek.

Thirty years later, having returned to the memory many times over the years, I don’t think I wanted to kill that snake. But I’m not certain that that was actually the truth at the time.

My Home Is Dying

When you grow up in the far north in Canada, if you’re at all curious about the world and the people in it, you can’t wait to get out. As soon as you’re able, you head out to the big city, for work or school or whatever you can get. It isn’t such a different story from kids growing up in the boonies anywhere, where it’s Montana or Gangwon-do in Korea, western New South Wales or the Cyclades.

I grew up, for the years that counted at least, in Fort Saint James, British Columbia. During those years — the early 70’s to the early 80’s — it was the End of The Road. Vanderhoof was the asshole of the world and we were forty miles up it, we said, recycling that old standby. The paved highway ended in the Fort, and to go further north meant logging roads and endless washboard and pothole gravel, dusty in summer, solid ice in winter, and slicker than snot the rest of the time. There were a couple of reservations further up there, and a few scattered fishing lodges and mines and logging camps. Wilderness, though, for the most part. Endless dense forest carpetting mountains, nap worn smooth in spots by crystal-clear cold lakes and rivers. Germanson Landing. Takla Landing. Leo Creek. Deese Lake. I’d like to say I hunted bear in these places wearing nothing but a breechclout and bowie knife, but with parents who were grappling with living on the frontier after moving from southern Ontario and a little shellshocked by family tragedy, the names of these tiny, isolated places were almost as exotic to me as Tokyo or Timbuktu. We didn’t stray too far.

But our own tiny town of 2500 or so was frontier enough for anyone, and, in what feels all these decades later like a deliberate, considered balance to the more bookish side of my nature, but was probably just imposed on me by the environment, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. In the summer especially, I’d spend 5 or 6 hours a day just behind our house swimming in the cold runoff-fed waters of Stuart Lake, or buckling on my first-gen Sony Walkman and riding my bicycle further and further out along the limited network of paved roads that snaked out along it, or to the south towards Vanderhoof, or the 10 or 15 kilometers north to the saw mills, after which the asphalt just stopped. Looking for something.

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What’s It All About, Alfie?

I have operated on a few simple principles for more than two decades now, with good success.

First, do no harm. Or as little as possible.
Second, do not suffer fools or Bad People. They will rob you of your life.
Third, make choices with an eye to minimize future regret. In other words, imagine you were on your deathbed looking back – live your life to make that old bastard as peaceful as possible about dying.
Fourth, learn and wander. We may or may not be hairless monkeys, but there is wisdom out there. It may be an evil world, but there is beauty. Find it.

There is no meaning — in anything — but what our minds create. To search for meaning is to make the same mistake as those who search for happiness : both meaning and happiness are mental constructs superimposed by your mind on top of the actual conditions of your life. Seeking them in externals will drive you mad if you’re smart, or guarantee you failure if you’re persistent.

I wrote that in response to an AskMe question, almost 5 years ago, and had completely forgotten it until tonight, when I noticed that it had been favorited out of the blue, all these years later. The question was “Do you know what you want out of life? How do you know? How did you figure it out?”

I’ve been angry and silent lately, at least in terms of my own writing. I’ve been doing all sorts of other stuff online, sure. Built and run my own busy community over here, a bunch of other stuff. But I’ve decided tonight that I need to start stringing those words together again, laugh and glare ironically and textually dance on the graves and all, and tamp that anger down, or at least direct it productively, before I become the kind of old bastard I’ve always hated. I have no choice about getting old, but I do have a choice about what kind of old man I become.

Ain’t makin’ no promises, mind you. But maybe it’s time to write some stuff again, and widen that circle out, again, a little.

‘Cause what the world needs now is another active blogger. Like I need a hole in my head.

First Paragraphs From Stories I’ll Never Write Episode 2

The nails didn’t hurt nearly as much as I’d expected going in, but the pain bombshell blossomed as they dropped the post into the hole and levered us upright.

My brother’s head was wobbling a bit on our shared shoulder as I glanced over, but he felt my eyes on him and snapped back into his customary 200-watt anchorman idiot grin and winked. “It’s not like we didn’t expect this, eh?” I couldn’t argue. We’d had a pretty good run.

Raising his face to the sky, still grinning, he bellowed “Father! Why has thou forsaken us, dude?” My conjoined brother, the son of god. Smart-ass to the last.


[Update: I’d just like to say that after watching the first season that that Californication I mention below show is pandery crap, with only sporadic flashes of not-suck. I won’t be going back. I’ve got to guess it’s either written by committee or by dartboard, because it veers from pretty good to laughably bad, seemingly at random. Too bad.]

I’ve been downloading and cycloptically watching the new series Californication because a) David Duchovny amuses me b) he plays a hard-drinking writer c) the pilot episode was so blatantly and manipulatively packed with prettily wobbling female flesh that, well, yeah and d) the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Shut up, I like the old stuff, OK.

Since then, sadly, the per-episode count of nipples’n’bottoms has dropped precipitously, perhaps because Australian grannies spit the proverbial dummy (but then Austrlian grannies aren’t really the target audience, here). Or, more likely, the sexy sexoring was just a cynical out-of-the-gate attention-grab ploy. So it goes. The series hasn’t lived up to the promise of the pilot, but it’s something to play up in the corner of my monitor while I’m metafiltering or fiddling with design stuff. Lets me vicariously be that guy that I’d already tired of actually being by the time I was 30, but who I still miss, sometimes, a bit.

Anyway, all that’s preliminary to a plot thread from a couple of episodes ago that left me scratching my head a little, wondering if either I was out of touch with what’s actually happening to the language in America, or if the writers are.

See, Duchovny, playing boozehound and improbably-lucky-with-the-ladies author Hank Moody, is impelled into spasms of disgust and despair at the decline of Culture (the backstory being that he is blocked, thus drunk, and whoring himself out to a corporate blog for cash) when one of his recent conquests actually says ‘LOL’ out loud. In, if I recall correctly, barefaced unironic response to some bon mot he comes out with in the sack.

Do people actually say LOL now? Out loud? (And by people, I mean, you know, adults.) Do kids even do it? Am I that old?

See, the thing is, I’m almost willing to believe it, because listening to the quite entertaining Totally Rad Show podcast the other day, Alex, whose giddy wordplay I usually enjoy, came out with ‘[Name of somebody] FTW!’
FTW means ‘for the win’, for those of you even crustier and more clued-out than I.

But he didn’t actually say ‘for the win!’, he said ‘FTW!’ ‘For the win’ has three syllables, even after a dozen beers. ‘FTW’ has five. The combination of vowels and consonants are bumpier and harder to say. It just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.


I don’t know. I guess I’ll just go and have a nice glass of Metamucil or something.

First Paragraphs From Stories I’ll Never Write Episode 1

They beat him hard hauling him out of St Paul’s after he crapped in front of the High Altar, but he barely felt it through the hockey pads and the exhilaration. Light rain was falling in London, and it cooled his face as they kicked him to the curb. One of them spit on him as they walked away, dusting their hands. He was alive and unhurt and shaking as the adrenalin ebbed.

The first skirmish had ended in success. His war on god was underway.

[Sometimes entire paragraphs just appear in my brain, right before I fall asleep. It happens a lot. I’m going to try and start remembering them. So, this.]

Armageddon Schadenfreude

When I was a teenager, I thought a lot about the end of the world. In particular, the rain of nukes that always seemed just around the corner. I was fascinated and terrified. I suppose that’s not an unusual thing for kids that age, and might even have been the usual for m-m-m-my generation. I grew up in the 70s, came of age in the early 80s. I was convinced that nuclear war was near-inevitable. I had no doubt that doddering dimwitted Ronald Reagan (read ‘his handlers’) and whichever equally doddering Soviet supremo was currently being propped up and jerkily animated with electric current (read ‘his handlers’) were going to blow the crap out the world. I dreamed about it. I can remember a grand total of one wet dream from my pubescent years; I can remember literally dozens of atomic holocaust dreams.

I remember Helen Caldicott and her Canadian-made If You Love This Planet. They showed it to us in high school. I remember the TV movies Threads and The Day After. Two and half decades after seeing Threads, I still remember the camera lingering on the puddle of urine at the woman’s feet as the mushroom clouds rose. I watched The Road Warrior when it was first released. I remember reading A Canticle for Leibowitz. I sucked up all the ’50s bomb-shelter paranoiac sci-fi juvenilia I could get my mother to buy for me at the bookstores on our shopping trips to the nearest city. I read what little I could find about the growth of the Cold War arsenals. It was… a hobby of mine.

Not that I was the archetypal Weird Kid or anything, muttering head-down through greasy locks about the ‘end of the world’. I had normal hobbies, too: comics and computers, swimming and biking, booze and friends’ fast cars. Girls. I showered regularly. But I did dream a lot about the end of the world.

And they weren’t all nightmares by any means. See, I grew up in a tiny town more than 1000 kilometers north of Vancouver. I was completely confident that when the bombs fell, we’d be safe and secure. When I was in Grade 5, my gifted-group teacher had had a meteorologist boyfriend who’d lent me (and the other smart kid they’d cut from the herd to study what and how we liked) his weather maps. I’d learned about the prevailing wind currents of north-central British Columbia. We’d be all good when the balloon went up. The nearest mushroom cloud might sprout and rain its deadly ash 500km away, at worst, accidental mistargetings notwithstanding, and leave us basically unscathed.

We had moose and squirrel salmon, we had farms and ranches, we had endless forest. Fruit might get a little scarce, but hell, I didn’t much like fruit anyway. My house had a deep well, and the lakes and rivers were sweet and clear. Nuclear winter? No worries. We lived through -45°C spells every damn year. We’d get by. Let the mad bastards down south kill each other off en masse. We’d be the inheritors of the earth, us hardy northern canucks, ululating our diesel-powered ways down out of the arboreal wastes, antlers strapped to the hoods of our Barracudas and pickup trucks, to rebuild things in our own Royal Reserve-powered image. Proud Canadians. There’d finally be some kind of payoff for living 40 miles up the asshole of the earth for so many years.
Armageddon didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Not the best result in a lot of ways, sure, but Ouroboros the world-turd was spinning at the bottom of the bowl, anyway. Time for cleansing holy nuclear fire! It’d be a shame, all those innocent people getting torched, but we kept reading how overpopulation was going to kill the planet even if the nukes didn’t.

So talk these days of a coming economic armageddon with Ground Zero in America’s bubble have actually put me in a nostalgic mood. Headlines like China threatens ‘nuclear option’ of dollar sales take me right back to 1982. Media tidbits like Jim Cramer’s recent howling monkey-boy histrionic meltdown — ‘It’s Armageddon out there!” have fascinated me in the kind of way that (metaphorical) nuke-porn did back in the day.

It’s far from certain, of course, that the blow up is going to happen, or even that things will fall apart. But I’ve been watching the whole thing for years now, after decades of conditioned ignorance about economics, and the New Great Depression feels as likely to me as nuclear tennis did back in the early ’80s.

Then again, that didn’t end up happening, did it? There’s some comfort in that, I guess.

A comment from the sometimes-overheated Malor in a recent Metafilter thread (among many others about the subprime mortgage mess, the yen carry trade, the liquidity dry-up, and all the rest) lays out genesis of the worst case scenario pretty well, I think. Is it a Minsky Moment? Yeah, probably.

Malor said:

We should have gone into a horrific recession after the stock market bubble popped in 2000. The size of that bubble was far bigger than the one in 1929, so the consequences should have been even more severe… something on the order of severity of the Great Depression, although I think a 1970s-style stagflation writ large was the likeliest outcome.

What happened instead is that the Fed panicked and hit the liquidity button, flooding the system with incredibly cheap money. New money chases inflation, and causes more of it, so it went into housing, and then people started leveraging themselves up into massive debt to buy more of it.
Bubbles have been called the fiscal equivalent of a nuclear weapon; the only way to avoid the fallout is by not having one in the first place. The stock market bubble was a huge deal, though probably survivable.

But the Fed, which set off the original bubble with easy money, tried to fix the fallout with more of the same medicine that got us sick in the first place. To stop the fallout from one atomic bomb, they set off two fusion weapons instead…. and we didn’t even dodge the fallout from the first bomb, we just delayed it. The explosion of the other two bombs just sent the fallout into orbit, but it’s still up there, and we’re still gonna eat every rad.

At the very least, we’re going to have a full generation of very hard times, tougher than anything in living memory. I think we will be exceptionally fortunate if the United States continues to exist as the same legal entity.

In terms of likely outcome, my operating theory is that we’ll go into a short-term deflationary crunch, but the Fed will open the floodgates and send us into an inflationary death spiral. Not just nasty horrible stagflation for two decades like we would have had from the Y2K pop, but an actual hyperinflationary death spiral for the dollar.

With fiat currency, I just don’t think a true deflationary collapse is possible… although with the unbelievably massive leverage in the derivative positions, I suppose it could happen. Money could be destroyed from debt default faster than the Fed can lend new dollars into circulation.
There’s one name you should remember in the coming crisis: Greenspan. This is all his doing. His refusal to ever allow a recession, ever, led us directly into this mess. He never met a problem he couldn’t cover up with liquid paper.

I think Malor might be overstating the case when he talks about a generation of hard times. On the other hand, if China pulls the economic trigger, he might be understating it.

Anyway, the winds taste the same to me because as the tension builds I’m once again far from the places where the corpses will litter the ground if and when the hammer falls. Two and half decades ago I was in the far north of Canada, confident that we’d be able to sustain ourselves while the rest of the world went to hell. Now I’m in Korea, and if economic armageddon happens, once again I’m not directly in the line of fire. Once again, if it all goes to hell, I’ll feel sorry for all the people (even the stupid ones who went for their two year no-money-down teaser-rate no-declare ARM mortgages for a McMansion they knew they couldn’t afford) who lose it all. The rich will make it through, as they always do, this time with Bushy legislation and offshore accounts rather than hardened bunkers and hidey holes.

Well, I like to say I’ll feel sorry about the end of days. I said to myself when I was 17 that I’d be sorry about all those crispy corpses down in CanadAmerica South. But not entirely sincere the sentiment, I have to admit, then or now. The truth is, of course, in some ways, on some days: I think I’d feel like pumping my fist, taking a deep breath, and shouting ‘That’s what you get for shortsighted greed and systematic stupidity, you bastards!’ Or more succinctly, ’cause my wind is not what it once was, ‘Suck it, dummies!’

I’m a bad man that way. Or part of me is and was, at least.

Bad things are going to happen to the Korean economy, certainly, if and when America’s economy goes tits-up and takes the rest of the world with it. But if I lived in North America, if I was mortgaged to the hilt, if I was living from paycheck to paycheck, I’d be a lot more worried about it than I am here in Korea with my life savings in won and no debt.

Maybe we ought to buy some gold, though.

So I am back where I was when I was young — a cleansing fire might just be what’s needed to clean out the corruption and cauterize the wounds. Part of me almost looks forward to it. I’m not sure if I really believe that, or if it’s just the romantic teen I was surfacing again for a last misanthropic gasp before he goes down into that dark cold water for the last time.

Either way: armageddon schadenfreude. It’s not just a good name for a postmodern superhero.

[Update: more background material and some excellent explanations of the IMPENDING DOOOOOOOM in this MeFi thread.]

Emptybottle Version 4.0

Well, I’ve rolled out the new design to the front page (as you can see if you’re not reading this in a feedreader). I’m pretty happy with it — it’s still a bit crufty, but I get excited about this stuff, and always end up jumpin the gun.

The main idea was to surface as much of the old content as possible to the front page, since I’ve been writing so infrequently lately — there’s some pretty good stuff back there, littered through the chaff. It’s evolutionary rather than a complete reboot, and it’s still boring, easy old blue and grey, and OMG WEB 2.0 GRADIENTS LOL, but it’ll doooooo.

Archive pagesmt4-hi.png are still sporting the old (and kind of broken) styles, but I’m hard at work eventually going to end up updating those too, and eventually some variation on the front page styling will migrate throughout the site.

The new Movable Type 4 templating, with its includes including includes which in turn include other stuff has pretty much broken my brain — I’m not sure what they’ve done is entirely sensible from a usability point of view. Certainly it makes sense from the coder perspective — best practices, all that modularization and refactoring — but it’s a freaking nightmare to develop your own templates. Still, though, just ripping the guts out of my old templates and wrapping the new design around them just worked, so that’s good.

Anyway, I hope you like the new design. It looks right in all the browsers I’ve tested on WIndows — IE, Firefox, Opera, and Safari — but if you find any glaring problems, please drop a comment and let me know!

Update: I just noticed that the 6th Anniversary of the site (well, it was on Blogger for the first year or so, but still) was 10 days ago. Holy crap! That’s about 11 minutes in Chicken Years!


Well, I’ve upgraded to MT4, and it was relatively painless, once I paid attention to what I was doing. I’ve somehow lost a lot of styling from my arcane crufty old mix of inter-connected stylesheets, all scotch-taped and chewing-gummed together, but everything’s more or less there, so I’ll mark it down as a qualified success. Functional, if not precisely the way I want it to look.

A semi-major style reset is coming soonish, so I’m not going to spend too much time cleaning things up. As wee Derek’s dad used to say in his amusingly authentic Scots brogue: it’ll dooooo, lad.

Installing Movable Type 4 with XAMPP (on Windows XP)

I’m working on a design update for the old ‘bottle, and I’m going to do it on Movable Type 4, which is now on Release Candidate 4 as I write this, and looking good.

I’ve decided to use XAMPP, an easy-to-install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP and Perl, which just works, basically, on Windows, no tweaking necessary (I’m still on XP2 SP2, despite being an early adopter of all Microsoft’s previous OS’s, which is a whole different story.) xampp.gifBy exporting the data from this site using the old MT 3.3 export tool, importing it to a local copy of MT running on my machine here at home, I can develop and tweak everything a lot more quickly, and there’s no risk of borking the actual site while I work out the kinks with the new design and the new template structure in MT4, which I’m excited (yes, I’m a geek) to fiddle with.

There are a couple of tutorials out there for getting MT working locally, but none of them actually worked for me by following their instructions, so after hours of fiddling, now that I’ve got it working, I thought I’d share The Secrets. Well secret if the ways of webservers are as arcane to you as they are to me.

The first few steps are easy.

1) Download XAMPP and install it. I installed it to c:\xampp\ to avoid funkiness with long filenames with spaces in them. [Update: word on the streets is that MT will crap itself if you try use to use a path with spaces in it, so c:\Program Files\ is probably a bad idea. Best to stick to c:\xampp\, unless, like me, you’re a little compulsive about a clean root directory.]

Choose “No” (you can change this later) when asked to install as a service and “No” when asked to start the Control Panel.

2) Download the PERL 5.8.8-2.2.4 Add-on and install it. (This was the step that was missing from all the other tutorials I saw, and cost me hours of hair-pulling).

Double click the desktop icon and hit the appropriate buttons to start Apache and MySQL. Go to http://localhost in your favorite browser to see if everything’s working. It should be fine. If you see the friendly orange XAMPP home page, you’ve got a working local web server.

2) Download the latest release of Movable Type and unzip it somewhere temporary.

3) Make a folder called ‘mt’ (no quotes) in your c:\xampp\cgi-bin\ folder (if you installed to the same location as I did (I’ll assume henceforward that you did)).

4) Copy all of the Movable Type files (except the folder called ‘mt-static’) to that new location (ie c:\xampp\cgi-bin\mt\). Copy the ‘mt-static’ folder to c:\xampp\htdocs\ instead.

5) Edit the mt-config-original.cgi with Notepad or your favorite text editor. Mine looks like this:


CGIPath    http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt/
StaticWebPath    http://localhost/mt-static
##### MYSQL #####
ObjectDriver DBI::mysql
Database mt
DBUser root
DBHost localhost

I’ve deleted the alternate database lines after what you see here. You can do the same, or comment out the lines with ‘#’. Save the file as mt-config.cgi (omitting the ‘original’ part).

6) Edit all of the rest of the .cgi files (other than the one you just edited) that are sitting in your c:\xampp\cgi-bin\mt\ folder. These are mt.cgi, mt-add-notify.cgi, mt-atom.cgi, mt-check.cgi and so on.

The first lines of each file will read

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

. Change them to (again, if you’re using the same install path as me)

#!C:/xampp/perl/bin/perl -w

in each case and save the files.

7) Go to http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt-check.cgi in your browser. If all is well, it’ll run some tests, and come back to tell you all is well to proceed.

8) Go to http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt.cgi and fill in the forms with a username and password and so on. Note: if the forms are unstyled, you’ll need to check that your path in mt-config.cgi is pointing correctly to your mt-static folder.

9) A few seconds later, you should be up and running in MT4 on your local machine. Yay!

Wonderchicken 08

The exploratory committee has come back with a dog-choker of a bar bill, the Portobello market magic 8-ball has come up with a big och-aye, the goat entrails are vermiformally encouraging, and the Voices of The Peoples have been heard.
VOTE WONDERCHICKEN! (You know, eventually.)

I inhaled. Read my lips: I did have sex with that woman. I’ve torpedoed more companies than you’ve had hot meals, I avoided military service, I never did stop the drinking. And the Alzheimer’s, well, you know what Nancy says. I am a crook, and I’ve had lustful thoughts about other women.
I am a donut.
But I swear by the Vengeful Bearded Deity of The Midwest, I will emerge from the media birth canal triumphant, only mildly crumpled and sweaty, and wiping god-goo from my forehead, stride manfully forward into the cleansing light of the television cameras.

Movable Type on The Rebound

I’m really pleased to see Sixapart‘s new direction with Movable Type. I haven’t really seen that much talk about it around the blogs (which I only keep half an eye on these days, mostly because I’m busy on my own projects and building sites for other people), and I guess that’s an indication of how far the app has fallen in mindshare over the past few years out amongst the blogs.

Of course, there’ve been changes in the weblogging demographics, too, changes that Sixapart decided to chase with Typepad, the Livejournal aquisition, and Vox, possibly to the detriment of MT. The great majority of weblogs these days, I think it would be uncontroversial to say, are run by people who aren’t particularly web-savvy, who don’t care about the technology substrate, who don’t write code and don’t want to, and who are (and this continues to surprise me, because middling as my skills are, I’m in love with design) effectively blind to design. They’re writing their hearts out, or posting pictures of their kitties, or socializing, or trying to build readership and get famous, or just make a buck.

This is in contrast to the first wave of webloggers, who started playing with this stuff from, say, ’98 to around 2001. The tail end of that wave was when I hopped on. Back then, a lot of people were rolling their own content management systems, or (most of them) using Blogger or MT, basically. The relative complexity of MT was no great barrier to a lot of these folks, many of whom were techno-capable (or at least design-oriented) already. That’s changed.

Which is all as it should be, to some extent, perhaps. Since back near the beginnings of the Blog Era, I’ve argued that it’s all about the words. I’m starting to think that that’s less true that I once thought, and wasn’t even as true as I thought it was back when I thought it.

Use your words, stav.

So tools like Blogger continue to present a low barrier to entry, joined by LJ and Typepad and Vox and the very cool Tumblr and hosted WordPress and all the rest, and down in the moshpit, social stuff like MySpace and Facebook. WordPress appears, at least from where I stand, to have emerged triumphant in the host-your-own space, judging only from the enormous number of plugins and themes and tools available out there for it, and the number of high-profile old and new-school personal-website-maintainers that have adopted it.

I’ve tried to like it, but I can’t get my head around the way it cobbles together pages, and I keep coming back to MT.

But I’ve felt in the past few years of the MT Diaspora that I was one of the lonely few, those last couple of people at the party who just won’t go the hell home. I spent a great deal of time learning MT’s ins and outs, learning to love the power of it, and getting pretty handy with it, if I do say so myself. Every time I thought about a new web project (most of which haven’t seen the light of day, of course) that needed some form of structured content, I could always work out a way that MT would handle it. I still love the app, but I started to feel the way that people who never could make the jump from Wordperfect felt way back when, maybe, when it started to become less a de facto standard than a quirky outlier.

I watched Sixapart make all manner of bad and incomprehensible decisions (from the outsider’s perspective, of course). It’s unclear whether the mis-step and ensuing kerfuffle of the new and poorly thought-out licensing policy they introduced a couple of years back was the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning, but things started to seem to go sideways for MT around that time. And even though it turned out that a lot of the pushback and outrage amongst bloggers came as a result of poor corporate communication about the decision rather than the actual licensing changes, it was too late. The water was muddied. Successive revamps of the Movable Type section of the Sixapart site seemed like it was deliberately designed to show off the content-management aspects of MT in the worst possible light, and had to be offputting to anyone thinking of trying the application for the first time. Things became harder to find, the plugin directory was one-dimensionally hard-categorized, tag code examples (if you could find them) dried up and began disappearing entirely, it all seemed complicated and confusing, when the site that showcased the tool should have been showing it off in the best light.

Despite Anil Dash showing up everywhere MT was mentioned, it seemed, sometimes, and being consistently helpful and reasonable (Hi, Anil!), it has seemed for a couple of years that he was the only person left who actually gave a damn about the old-school MT community. I’m sure that impression was far from the truth of the matter, but it was discouraging, despite Anil’s best efforts.
Until recently. Sixapart seems, to me, to be doing almost everything right with the new open-sourcing of a basic version of MT. They’re running the beta wide-open, there’s a nice big download button on the front page of the new website (as opposed to hiding the free version so deep in the last few revs of the .com site that I couldn’t find the damn thing sometimes), they’ve put put up a new site with a whole bunch of reference materials (two tips there — 1) don’t link back to the execrable old reference materials ‘for more information’ please and 2) put a link to the MTTags site in a visible place on the site — I had to search through old posts to find the URL!).

As far as the new application itself goes, well, it’s evolutionary. I’m not overly thrilled or particularly disappointed, but I am happy to see that they’re rethinking some things. The widgets still seem like a half-baked afterthought to me, and the theme management is still opaque to me (which doesn’t matter, because I like to do my own css), but there are some good and interesting ideas there. I’ll continue to use it, of course, unless they break it horribly. But all indications are that they’re listening this time, and taking as much care as they can to make sure we know that.
The most important thing to me, though, is that MT 4.0 is going to have an open-source version, one with no licensing restrictions. I’ll be able to use MT guilt-free to build sites for people, and if they want to buy a license later, that’s up to them, regardless of what they use the site for. That makes me happy, because I still think that of all the tools in the same class that I’ve tried, MT is the one that works for me, and that I feel most comfortable building sites on.

Is it too little, too late? I don’t know. I’m sure there are a lot of other people who’ve hung on, hoping for an MT Renaissance. And I hope that the kind of community that once existed around the tool, all plugins and widgets and themes mutual aid society, like the one that has grown up around WordPress, will grow again. We’ll see.

Weird and Fractured

It’s all weird and fractured. It’s all electrical and chemical. It’s all bump and grind. It’s all cheese and mustard. It’s all time to drink and go to work. It’s all fuck you buddy and love your neighbour. It’s all speak truth to power and hunker down. It’s all shitstorm and cherry blossom. It’s all shits and giggles. It’s all 2.0 and it’s all in beta. It’s all primal scream and raised eyebrow. It’s all therapy and meds. It’s all beer and skittles. It’s all anger and love. It’s all young things and old farts. It’s all permalinks and permagrins. It’s all disappointment and hope. It’s all pimples and slipped discs. It’s all be, it’s all do. It’s all epistemology and metaphysics. It’s all cigarettes and beer. It’s all desire and it’s all thirst and hunger, it’s all middle way and eight-fold path, and it’s all a sacrament. It’s all beginnings and endings, and ends of beginnings, and beginnings of ends. It’s all dying young and cheating death. It’s all cancer wards and Pringles. It’s all rock and roll. It’s all good fun.

It’s all Cheap Trick at the Budokan. It’s all strungout sunrise, it’s all smell of night air. It’s all champagne Caribbean surf and acid artifacts. It’s better than the alternative. It’s all guitar and drum. It’s all night and all day. It’s all that you touch, it’s all that you see, all you taste, all you feel, it’s all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal. It’s failing flesh and willing spirit.

It’s all too hard, it’s all too goddamn easy. It’s all better than the alternative.

It’s just a kiss away, it’s just a kiss away.

Conditional Adsense — In Which I Hop On The Bandwagon

I’ve spent a lot of words over the years railing against the infiltration of advertising into our weblog world, and enjoyed that righteous glow that comes from standing up for a principle, regardless of how well- (or poorly-) founded the thinking on that principle be.
Here comes the ‘but’.

But I’ve rethought things a bit, in no small part after reading the essay Matt Haughey wrote here.

Imagine that — ads that actually make a page more valuable to readers, not just the site owners. Random people searching for information are much more likely to click on those related text ads if the ads help them find what they are looking for. Compare that to a regular visitor that comes to your site dozens of times a week: How often are they going to click on any ads? How quickly will they learn to visually filter out the ads entirely from the experience? Superfans develop banner blindness extremely quickly.

What I realized when I looked at my Google Analytics reports was that the majority of ad clicks are coming from these one-time visitors looking for information. I do it myself when searching, especially if it’s for a product of some type. I’ll search, dive into the results, and if the top 5 don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m very likely to click on related ads to see if that’s what I’m looking for. New visitors to a site love to click on anything that brings them closer to their goal, and often times that’s an ad. This, in essence, is the entire business model of per-click advertising.

I’ve always been annoyed by advertising in general, on the web or anywhere else. A lot of my ire in recent years has been directed at Adsense, and that has been mostly because of its ubiquity, I suppose. I’ve always been unshakeable in my conviction that advertising is about the enrichment of the marketing company and the manufacturer of the product or provider of the service being advertised, and about the deliberate manipulation of the people being advertised to, typically to their detriment. Defenders of the Ad often suggest that we, the Consumers, wouldn’t be able to find out about all these products and services created and sold to improve out lives. Well, I suppose there were times when I discovered something I simply couldn’t live without through advertising, but I can’t remember it ever happening. Documentaries like the excellent four part ‘Century of the Self’ did nothing to dissuade me from this, and hammered home for me the ways in which I thought that advertising had interpenetrated and cheapened our modern cultures.

I still think that I’m right about all that.

But Matt triggered some new thinking for me, new thinking that I suppose I’d been tenderized for by building one of my other sites and putting Adsense on it out the gate — the rarely-updated OutsideinKorea. From the get-go, I assumed that it would be a site that people would mostly arrive at from search engines, and not be a regularly-updated, regularly-visited-by-readers webloggy kind of project. And so I put up the ads (for which I’ve still not made enough to get a single check, more than a year later, but I’ve really let it languish, so the fault is nobody’s but my own, from a revenue point of view).

But I hadn’t really followed that thinking through, and what Matt had to say helped me do that.

Two ideas here: that when we’re talking about weblogs and advertising, that an awful lot of people who land on the site (by far the largest ongoing slice of visitors — bar the Digging and Slashdotting et al last year, which was a transient traffic rogue wave) come from search engines. From Google itself, mostly. These people are looking for something, something they’re hoping they might find here. Probably not a product. More likely some piece of information.

It’s possible, I hope, that they find it on the individual archive page they land on here at the ‘bottle, but they might not. If not, then they’ll go on to find it elsewhere, and it’s entirely possible that they might find it following a contextual ad from Adsense.
The ads might actually help them, as well as me, if they click on them. They might actually serve some useful purpose to both parties involved, something I’d never really been able to get behind as a justification for advertisements for the latest variation of Coca Cola, or the newest erectile-dysfunction chemical.

But I didn’t want ads plastered all over the place creating visual clutter for people who actually do regularly visit, who arrive from other weblogs or comments I make elsewhere, or from RSS feedreaders when I make an update. People who are here for the wonderchickeny goodness, not the sifting-through-sum-total-of-human-information.

The solution, of course, as Matt suggested, was to display ads only if people come from one of the traffic firehoses (Digg and Slashdot and Wikipedia and Stumbleupon and the search engines), and not display them if people come from their bookmarks or another weblog or pretty much anywhere else.
I don’t know why I never thought of it before.

So here’s what I’ve done to display ads to visitors conditionally, based on the referrer, using Movable Type. Feel free to borrow and use this yourself — it’s not complicated, and all the reading I’ve done has indicated that it does not in any way violate the Adsense terms of service. There may, of course, be better ways to do it. My coding skills are, to put it kindly, somewhat haphazard.

1) I created a couple of modules in Movable Type, one for each Adsense format I wanted to display. At the moment, I have two modules named module-banner and module-leaderboard Each holds the appropriate Adsense-generated code for that style of ad block, wrapped in a div and a bit of php code to check where the visitor has come from.

The modules look like this. I wrap the whole thing in a div so I can style it, if I want. (You could, of course, customize the referrer list anyway you liked.)

<div class="topbanner">
if (isset($_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']) && preg_match("/^https?:\/\/[0-9a-z]*\.?(google|yahoo| stumbleupon|digg| wikipedia|slashdot|lycos|altavista)\..+\/.*$/i", $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']))  {
echo <<<END

2) I include the modules in any index template I wish to conditionally display Adsense ads like so:

<$MTInclude module="module-banner"$>


<$MTInclude module="module-leaderboard"$>

depending on which of the two ad styles I want to include.

I may make other module variations in future, of course. At the moment, I’m only displaying ads in Individual Archive Templates.
3) I long ago switched all of my extensions over to .php to use some other php inclusions, so that just worked for me. You may need to do make a filetype change (it’s in the settings area in Movable Type) (and possible .htaccess edit — I fly this stuff by the seat of my pants!) .
And that’s it. Now searchers/visitors from the sites I nominate get ads that may help them find what they’re looking for, if it isn’t here, and regular blog visitors who come from pretty much anywhere else don’t. You can test this out by hitting this Google search, then following the first hit back to here. You’ll see ads. Paste the URL directly in to the address bar (for example) and you won’t. Magic!
I probably won’t make much money from this, either. But given the 10,000+ visits that make up an average month at the bottle, more than half of which arrive from search engines, perhaps I’ll make enough for a beer or two each month, and do it without (I hope) annoying any of my loyal readers who’ve stuck with me for all these years.

Share and enjoy.

[Update: Thanks to the most excellent skills of my friends and neighbours, I’ve made a few changes to smarten up the referrer checking code. Major thanks to Ed Eliot, who was kind enough to whip up something better and explain what the Evil Regex was doing. I’ve updated the code for the MT modules above accordingly — my implementation is very slightly different from his, which ought to work anywhere PHP is spoken, of course.]

Badges (Steenking Badges)

So, yeah, the colossally stupid Kathy Sierra Pantyshopped Trollgate shitstorm is subsiding, and in the wake of the sturm und drang and handwringing, folks are taking up the pitchforks and the duct tape and proposing all sorts of protect-the-fatherHomeland ideas for stringing up anybody who doesn’t toe the civility line. Or at least pronouncing them anathema.
Not that the 98% of people out there in the long tail give a good goddamn if they’re excommunicated from A-Listory by the Usual Suspects.
Now, look, I’m all about civility and politeness and tea and crumpets. I’m the very model of a modern wonderchicken, and my reputed diet of whiskey, raw meat and bloody forehead sweat is purely apocryphal. I’ve reformed my ways, and I almost never tell somebody to f–k off unless they really, really need it. I am sweetness and light, snips and snails and expensive cologne.
But I see via Shelley that some Conference Organizers and Luminaries of The Holy Order of Self-Appointed Custodians of The Weblog Word and Sacred Sepulchre of Permalinks (Reformed) bcclogo.gif are suggesting (like so many years ago, when it was just rebecca blood doing the suggesting) a Blogger Code of Conduct. A lovely little badge has even been made for our use, to show what good blogistani citizens we are.
To which I fell compelled to say, in the nicest possible way, mark me, without trying to be mean, or scare anyone, or utter anything that could be construed as death threats: why don’t you take a flying f–k at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying f–k at the mooooooooooooon?
Now I realize there are Big Important Issues of anonymity and free speech and sexism and the ethical bankruptcy of our culture at play here, but I’m just going to let my important internet opinions on those simmer until another day, I think.
Instead, here are some alternative badges I’ve made up, which express a little better, perhaps, my feelings on the matter. They’re roughish, but feel free to download and use any of them, if you like, or make your own, here.

Share, enjoy, and don’t forget to talk nice, or your ad revenues will decline, and nobody wants that, now, do they?
[Update: I cleaned up the backgrounds a bit.]
[Another update: I can’t believe the day after I randomly used a Kurt Vonnegut quote to make a funny, the old bastard up and dies. No disrespect to the man is intended — he was one of my favorite human beings, and he taught me (amongst other things) how to be angry without hate. ‘bye, Kurt.]
[Yet another update: Ooh, see, this is what I missed about the erudite, reasoned and civil to-and-fro of weblogging. It seems I am one of Them (judging by the title of the post, ‘them’=’bigots’). I have made ‘knee-jerk Hitler associations’, embarassingly ignorant and unimaginative ones. I haven’t read my history, and my natural response to being ‘lectured’ by my betters (like f–k) is to go Godwin. After seven years of this weblogging thing, that’s the first time I’ve been accused of that, so hooray for something, I guess. Don’t I realize that this is just a ‘civilized’ version of Cultural Revolution self-criticism, and totally OK? Do I need to explain the irony here, when I am caught up in a wide-cast net as one of ‘Them’? Well, no, it’s just possible that I don’t.
And you know, I shouldn’t have to say it, but this post was about having a laugh as much as anything else. Stop poking fun and laughing at yourself and those who would tell you how to think, and you really do end up kneeling in the town square confessing imaginary sins to a circle of teenage zealots. You know, metaphorically speaking.]