You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours

Recently, Burningbird, who’s been having some major stresses in her life and thus can be forgiven for being a bit cranky, had this to say about blogrolling and linkloving, and the whorespiders like Daypop and its ilk :

It’s about links and popularity and one upping each other, and posting and running around seeing who links to us and checking our ranks. How many of you check your popularity in the morning before you read your so-called ‘favorite’ weblogs? There’s no ethics or honor, friendship, pathos or beauty in the hypertext link; it just is. But we use it as a judgement of worth, and that’s the saddest thing I’ve seen since high school. And I quit high school.

After being a smartass :

I will not rest in my endless search for *more and MORE* recognition and pointless linkage, until I am Supreme Blog Overlord, and can direct the meaningless lives of all the little net people I stepped on in my egocentric rush to the top!

I actually started to think about it, again, and why I…well, if not disagree precisely, see things a little differently. Part of the reason it was on my mind this morning was that the night before, I’d made a post here, linking to the PBS show on blogging (starring OW™ and Anil Dash and others), with the sole comment being ‘Oh, f–k off.’ (There was also some goofy sh-t about Orson Welles eating your soul, but that’s not germane at the moment.)

I deleted that post almost immediately – there goes my blogging verité credibility – but my unthinking nasty response, seemingly at odds with what I believe about the no-impact socialization implicit in what we do with links, continues to disturb me a bit. I’m happy for Anil and Oliver, although I think they are two very different kinds of blogistanis, in many ways, which was perhaps the point, in part.

I’m not attempting to characterize either of them, here. I’m just following my somewhat muddled thoughts where they take me.

Where they take me first is on a bit of a tangent : there are those with ‘personal web sites’ or journals or blogs who pay little to no attention to what others are doing or saying. There are those too who whore themselves – who use links exclusively to curry favour, or elusive popularity, or the strangely compelling ghostly yardstick of blogly self-worth that is measured in hits. There are bloggers – a lot of them – who seem to do give recognition to others primarily – or exclusively – to increase their ‘juice,’ and spend most of their time trying to attract that sort of attention from others.

I mean, most of us do a bit of that sometimes, probably, and sit somewhere on the fence. But the true ‘look at me! look at me!’ folks – amusing and enjoyable as their antics may be – are the ones who spoil the game, because when some people start to think they can win a game that in its very nature is designed not to have winners, it starts to poison interaction. It’s just like Real Life™, ain’t it? Having a drink with a group of folks, one (or worse, two) of whom will not stop jumping up and down and pulling faces, or steering the conversation inexorably back to themselves – that just ain’t no fun, and it kills the joy of socializing.

I guess that it’s this kind of behaviour that set BB off. It’s this kind of behaviour that makes me want to withdraw from the whole game, too, sometimes. But I don’t. ‘Cause there will always be folks who are more into self-aggrandizement than conversation, and folks who are more into grandstanding than socializing, and you have to choose to get with ‘em, or ignore ‘em. Hell, get a few drinks into me, and I can be one of them myself. But one can choose to ignore the siren call, and the bleating of the self-nominated popularity contest participants, and get on with the hardcore relaxation, and the slow to and fro of languid conversation.

I think my kneejerk reaction to the PBS thing was somehow spawned both out of my utter contempt for the Old Media and my feelings about blogging and bloggers in general : that we’re people who are sure that we have something to say, whether or not anyone else thinks so too, and damnit, we’re going to say it, and self-promote so that as many people as possible are going to hear it. If that’s one of the core motivators for all of this for many people, it’s only natural, annoying as it may be sometimes, that there is going to be a subset that push the envelope, and cross the line into Human Brands. And I have always been resentful of people who are recognized for jumping up and down and shouting ‘look at me!’. I’m not accusing Oliver or Anil of doing this, I hasten to add. I’m just thinking this through, aloud.

Despite this, I do still think the blogosphere is a meritocracy. Merit is most assuredly not measured in hitcounts or rankings. It’s pretty clear that hitcounts and blogrankings are a factor of how good a self-promoter you are, how much juice your virtual neighbours have, and only in small part how much merit can be found in your actual creative output. There are bowel-looseningly good writers out there who get little to no traffic, and there are determinedly mediocre ones who are inundated in visitors. This, we all know. Life ain’t fair. But merit in this place (an old discussion about what kind of place it is comes to mind), one way or another, whether it’s quality of ideas or writing or simply the honest goodness of the person behind the words shining through, well, it seems to me that that’s recognized eventually, organically. Mostly.

Back to the issue of linking and blogrolling and Blogdexery, again taken from my comments on Shelley’s post of a few days ago, and written in part in response to this comment from Mike Golby, who said :

[...] Blogdex and [P]opdex and the other crap is lowest-common denominator stuff. If necessary, warn others not to be seduced by it but, jeez, don’t let it get to you. It’s just not worth it. It’s not what this is about.

I said, in semi-rant mode :

Sure it is. It’s *precisely* what it’s all about, Mike. Anyone who tells you otherwise is at best disengenuous and at worst a liar, or would be better off writing privately, or paying for therapy.

The *mistake* is to take it seriously and allow it to be anything but tangent to and very much secondary to your writing, and to the rest of your life. Unless it’s your *whole* life, in which case good f–king luck.

It’s like the old saw that madness is an in-joke of one. If one is writing one’s heart out and no one is paying any attention, blogging is probably not the best outlet for one’s creative urges or demonic possession or whatever is pushing one to create.

Bloggers are self-selected from the ordinary population to be attention-seekers, self-regarders, self-promoters, needy f–kers to a fault. To claim that the act of giving and receiving recognition for these avatars of ourselves we present online is ‘not what it’s about’ is rank silliness, I reckon. It’s human nature, pure and simple, and it’s something we do every day in our regular lives. This medium simply uses different mechanisms. Ones that reward and reinforce the kind of behaviour that Shelley bemoans in her post.

Shelley is quite probably an exception, and I love her dearly, so I’m perhaps biased, but I tend to believe that many a blogger annoyed with linkstroking and linkwhoring and the automated tools that have appeared to foster them is a blogger who feels they are being undernoticed and underpraised by those very mechanisms.

I should acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that I’m seeing this too much from my own perspective – that linking and being linked is *fun*, is a social activity, is not freighted with massive significance, and is certainly not massively important to my sense of self-worth, but is the coin of the realm, as it were – and erroneously believing that that perspective lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between utter linkwhores at the one end and those who totally ignore the existence of other bloggers at the other.

Although I do tend to think the bell curve is weighted more towards the former than the latter, for reasons I went on about above.

I don’t think of this as a zero-sum game, smart-assery aside. It’s an infinite game – a game in which one of the tenets of play is that the game should never end, and in which a goal of play is to keep everyone playing.

The more observant amongst you might notice that I’ve got, if not the longest, at least one of the longest blogrolls in christendom blogaria. This is due to simple policy : if you link to me, I reciprocate, when I find that link. If you pull me off your blogroll, I don’t care. You linked to me at some point, and that hasn’t changed. If you publicly declare that I’m a lame goat-blowing sh-tweasel, I might pull you, but then again, I might not. It’s not a zero-sum game. There are no winners, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. It’s not political, it’s just common courtesy. When someone speaks to you, you acknowledge them. If they engage you, you have a conversation. If not, you make eye contact, nod, and move on.

In weblogging, the nods leave tracks, is all.

[Edit : I sense that this is a bit disjointed, but I don't have time to edit it right now, so I'll just leave it up, with apologies if I have been unclear.]

Now be nice, or Orson Welles will eat your soul!

How'd That Happen?

There are some very smart things being said by some very smart bloggers around the neighbourhood, apparently spurred at least in part by one of my occasional, typically-crude brainfarts. This pleases me, even if I’m not too interested at the moment in going meta and joining the conversation. What my bloggerly friends have to say is a pleasure to read, and although I find myself agreeing for the most part with them, I ought to make it clear that I had nothing so erudite in mind when writing the post. Just singing my song, you know?

Anyway, some Deep Thoughts and Worthwhile from the completely unsh-tweasellike Tom, Steve, Jonathon, and AKMA. I love these guys – they make me look like I’m clever, when really I’m just voluble and profane and tediously honest.

[Edit : Add The Happy Tutor to the discussion...]

Ah, shucks

Tim Bishop makes me feel all woogly inside :

I discovered the wonderchicken 6 months or so ago [...] He has one of the truly distinctive voices writing on the web today, sort of a cross between Hunter S Thompson when he still had brain cells and Arianna Huffington in her current left phase. Highly recommended for a daily read.

Now, this guy, I like. I dunno who the hell Arianna Huffington is, and I’m too drunk to bother googling her at the moment, but the oldstylee HST reference is high praise indeed, and if you cast your eyes to the left, you’ll see that this is just the sort of thing that I thrive on. Most Blogstars, they won’t admit their neediness and self-absorption, but me? Me, I’ll tell ya the truth.

No, really.

[/onan]

6:15 PM

6:10 PM. First day back at work, mid-winter-break extra classes. About 4 hours after I finished my previous and only other class of the day. No students have appeared yet.

6:15 PM. I get a coffee and meander downstairs to the English office. “I haven’t got any students,” say I, already expecting something amusing. “How odd!”

6:20 PM. It is discovered that my 6-9 PM class doesn’t begin until Friday, a detail the existence of which no one had actually seen fit to inform me. This is Monday. Another fine and predictable day at Keystone Kops Korea University.

More perspective

North Korea has decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, invoking its legal right to do so.

The move increases international tension and the risk of Japan reconsidering its position on nuclear weapons.

But it is in line with the new approach to global security adopted by the Bush administration.

President George W Bush has either withdrawn from or expressed his opposition to implementing a number of key global arms control agreements.

These include:

•the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty;

•the Biological Weapons Convention;

•the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

•the process of strategic arms reductions with Russia.

The treaty signed with Russia – the Sort Treaty – is a treaty without content and has no operative provisions.

At the same time as withdrawing from these treaties, the Bush administration initially withdrew from the political process with North Korea designed by former President Bill Clinton, and which had rolled back but not entirely removed North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

[more...]

[via OW]

It’s cliché already to invoke 1984 when talking about these worthless turdfellaters in Washington, but it’s hard not to do so these days.

Watching CNN from a hotel at Narita airport in Japan last week, I was amused by the response to their ‘question of the day’.

‘Which country poses the greatest threat to world peace?’ they asked, and invited phone calls and emails in response. Hours afterwards, the proportion of respondants nominating ‘The United States’ was still running around 70%, they told us, falling over each other in their efforts to tell us again that this result ‘did not necessarily reflect our opinions.’

f–k you, George. Your empire is a-gonna fall.

We're a Happy Family!

I was a little let down, as the taxi pushed through the rain into downtown Vancouver, at how little had changed. This feeling intensified over the next few days : other than a few new buildings scattered here and there, and a new colour scheme on the buses, it seemed to me as if nothing much had changed in Vancouver in the five years since I last set foot in the homeland. In fact, not much that I could see had changed in the 20 years since I first moved there as a thirst-bedeviled freshman.

After living in Korea, where the entire country reinvents itself every five years or so, and the one constant is change and ferment and fresh concrete flowering skyward fast as bamboo, it was a little disconcerting. I had never thought of Canada as…well, stodgy, until now.

But over the next couple of weeks there, I noticed that at least one significant thing had changed, other than the amount of grey hair on friends and family.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.”

-Brave New World

I had read that the drug companies were getting more aggressive with their carpet-bomb marketing in North America over the past few years. Read about the scattershot Ritalin-dosing of children, read about the emergence of the Prozac nation, read about the drug companies inventing ‘female sexual dysfunction’ in order to manufacture a market for more of their pills. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that there wasn’t a single commercial break that I can recall on network TV over those couple of weeks that didn’t have at least one drug advertisement. When did heartburn become ‘acid reflux disease’? How many cold medicines do people actually need? ‘I love my Tylenol PM‘? How putrid is that? f–k you lady, why don’t you try loving your children instead (yelled I at the television screen, much to the long-suffering chagrin of my lady love). There were ads flogging drugs for conditions I haven’t even heard of, ads with happy grinning families running across manicured green parkland with their lassie-like dogs, free of the ravages of anal warts or whatever the hell had been plaguing them before Smithcline-Beecham showed up on the scene.

Now, I’m not one to claim, ever, that drugs in and of themselves are a bad thing. Better living through chemistry, say I. But I’ve always been more inclined to think that the body should be allowed to deal with minor illnesses on its own, and that drugs are better employed in the context of recreation than medication. Indefensible position perhaps, but I don’t really give a sh-t. Unless I’ve got Ex-lax™ to ease the way, of course!

I also have a strong tendency to think that the habit of medicating for every minor complaint is a sign of weakness, and creates and fosters weakness, and weakness is bad. Weakness in mind or body invites the triumph of evil men, evil deeds and thoughts. But that’s a whole other rant, perhaps.

So, anyway, unprepared as I was for the constant deafening barrage of druggy blandishments on the TV, I was substantially less prepared for the fact that half the f–king people I know are apparently now on SSRI’s : you know, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Prozac™ and Zoloft™ and Paxil™ and I don’t know what-all else. When did this happen? When did all these people decide that they couldn’t handle their lives anymore without being constantly medicated? Or when did their drug company whore-doctors convince them of it?

“All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.”

-Brave New World

Now, look, I know (based on extrapolation from what I’ve seen amongst friends and relatives recently) that probably half of the people reading this are on scrips for one of these drugs, too, and I don’t want to antagonize or insult unduly. There are, certainly, some people for whom these ‘miracle drugs’ (given us by the gods) are a means by which they can live a normal life, overcome the ravages of aberrant brain chemistry, fight clinical depression.

But I’ve got to think that there are way too many folks out there who are just too goddamn lazy and irresponsible to take responsibility for their own mental states, just like there are too many people who think of themselves as victims, who blame their parents or their spouse for their problems, who refuse to take responsibility for their actions, who don’t vote and then complain about the government they get (and so richly deserve), who drive an SUV because, hey, if I get into an accident, it’s the other guy who’ll get hurt, who dismiss concerns about environmental degradation with a wave of the hand and a demand for incontrovertible proof…

Sorry, I’m ranting again.

But hell, I’ve taken just about everything there is to take at one time or another, and I didn’t do it to escape, I did it to explore. Hooray for me, right? Well, sure, why the hell not? I reckon that if your life is bad enough that you have to stay perpetually medicated, you need to change your life, change your doctor, get off the SSRIs, and get the hell out of the house. Find some people to drink a beer (yes, I see the irony) with and dance in the rain on a beach somewhere. Find someone new to have sex with, if that’s your thing. Climb a mountain, sail a boat, or if you’re too fat or lazy or poor to do that, find someone who loves doing it, and ask them about it, and watch their eyes as they describe the joy it gives them, and find something that makes you feel that joy too. Something other than chemicals.

You know, unless you really are f–ked up. In which case, pop those puppies like gummy bears, I say.

Cloudy, Strong Chance of Rain

A number of friends and neighbours have expressed some concern about my proximity to the Bouffant Brigades across the DMZ, and asked me for my take on the latest developments here in Korealand™. I am happy to oblige.

First, some background, which tends to be glossed over by the shiny-toothed automata reading the news, and seems to be missed by most of the print media I’ve seen too, unsurprisingly.

In 1994, the Clinton administration established an “Agreed Framework” with the well-fed wackjobs in Pyongyang. One of the drivers of the agreement was the desire on the part of the Americans to prevent North Korea from operating a weapons-grade reactor. The Agreed Framework promised North Korea progress toward “full normalization of political and economic relations.” It also promised shipments of heavy fuel oil, and two light-water reactors by 2003 to replace the weapons-grade facility Pyongyang was to shut down.

Several months ago (November 14 2002), the Bush administration decided to punitively cut off fuel oil supplies in response to Kim Jong Il’s latest hijinks (admitting to a secret nuclear program), just as winter was approaching and famine looming again. This is significant because these fuel supplies were basically the only thing that America actually delivered on to fulfill their part of the 1994 agreement, and given the poverty of the country, the only way that any fuel could be had for electrical generation and so on. Ironic, actually, because it is fairly clear that, at least in part, the reason for the nuclear program in the first place was to generate electricity (and make filthy bombs to sell off and/or kill people with, of course). Construction on the promised lightwater reactors began in August of 2002, 8 years after the agreement, and 4 months before they were meant to begin operation.

Not only had America in fact ignored almost entirely their commitment to the requirements of the Agreed Framework, and eventually by the end of the Clinton administration delivered solely (and then partially) on their commitment to supply heavy fuel oil, but as soon as Bush and his cadre of demonic sh-tweasels took over, North Korea was declared part of the laughable “Axis of Evil.” How’s that for “full normalization of political and economic relations,” huh? It may be worth noting that during the last few years of the last decade, during the time we’re talking about, North Korea was experiencing a famine that killed, by some estimates, more than 10% of its population, or about 2 million people.

In fact, the Americans can’t really even claim with anything like a straight face (although they try, naturally, and get away with it) that the secret uranium-enrichment program revealed by Pyongyang a couple of months ago puts it in “material breach” of the 1994 agreement, anyway : uranium enrichment is one of the things simply not covered in the Agreed Framework.

This is typical of the bullsh-t-spinning that these lying scum engage in (on both sides of the fence, of course. The North Korean mouthpieces do it so badly that it’s more comedy than tragedy, though.) :

Q Is there something the North Koreans can do that would prompt the U.S. to sit down and talk, which seems to be a key for them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, the United States has long supported South Korea’s engagement with North Korea. When you take a look at what’s happened, nations like Japan were engaging — were beginning engagement with North Korea. And as a result of North Korea’s actions, Japan examined what it was doing and has decided to proceed at a different pace. So various nations continue to have various levels of discussion with North Korea.

I want to point out that even while there were many conversations — in North Korea, North Korea was still breaking its word. So I don’t think the issue is whether or not North Korea is being talked to or not talked to. The issue is North Korea breaking its word. They have broken the word of the people they talked to, and they’ve broken their word with the people they don’t talk to. The one constant is that North Korea breaks its word.

So from the American point of view, we very strongly support the efforts to discuss with North Korea, through our friends in South Korea and Japan; we always have. But the United States has made it clear that North Korea knows what it needs to do, and it needs to come back into international compliance, as the IAEA has urged them to do today in the strongest of terms.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030106-1.html#4

The truth, as usual, is approxiately 180 degrees away from what is quoted above, for reasons I’ve discussed here at the ‘bottle many times before. What has been happening is what would seem to be a concerted effort by America, and particularly by the Arbusto Administration, to subvert and obstruct South Korea’s efforts towards productive engagement with the North. Not much wonder that the ‘sunshine policy’ of Kim Dae Jung has seen limited success in areas other than domestic.

The Bush administration’s policy of ‘tailored containment’, so remniscent of Reagan-era cold-war-speak (and not surprisingly given the array of Reaganite criminals and courtiers re-elevated to positions of power), displays a lack of any real understanding and responsiveness to the realities of the situation, and is counterproductive at best and a reckless endangerment of millions of lives at worst.

The wisdom of Kim Dae Jung’s sunshine policy, a strategy which the new president-elect Noh Moo Hyun (usually romanized as ‘Roh Moo Hyun’ for some reason) has pledged to continue, is more sensible given the context I describe above, I think, and is one which is supported by Japan, China and other states in the region. North Korea has always been responsive to chances for improved relations with the outside world, and its current attitude can be seen as defensive, and as with other bluffs and brinkmanship in the past intended primarily to bring America to the bargaining table.

Not to say that Kim Jong Il, the Stalinist Bouffant Butterball, is anything other than pure evil. But he’s not a madman. American media is always quick to demonize their so-called enemies : Saddam Hussein, of course, being only the latest in a long string of ‘madmen’ and ‘new Hitlers’. Kim JI is canny, and continues to respond with the only tools at his disposal – threats – to the posturing, lies, bad-faith negotiation and arrogance of the Americans.

This from the Guardian today echoes my point : “The North Korean nuclear standoff moved a step closer to a peaceful resolution yesterday as Pyongyang set a date for negotiations, amid reports that it was prepared to scrap its weapons programme in return for a security guarantee from the United States.”

There is a lot of talk recently, as well, about the idea of America pulling its 37,000 troops out of Korea. It’s difficult to say where they’d be withdrawn to : maybe they could share bunks with the 40,000 in Japan. The strong anti-American sentiment in South Korea in recent times, which I recently discussed here, has finally percolated through to North America, and of course the yanks are shocked and bemused. How could they hate us so? We’re the good guys, aren’t we?

It’s generally acknowledged that the 37,000 American troops here would make little to no difference were the North to invade again. The third largest standing army in the world – over 1,000,000-strong – is just across the DMZ. South Korea, with about 600,000 soldiers at any given time, a large segment of which is composed of university-age young men doing their two years of compulsory military service, would bear the brunt of any invasion. The reason that those troops are important is the psychological effect. The idea of those American soldiers being a tripwire of sorts is an outdated one : the US could just as effectively defend South Korea against attack from bases in Japan or even Hawaii. But to withdraw the troops, after 54 years, would raise questions about the role America wishes to play in Asia, how committed it is to maintaining stability, and make goverments in Beijing, Tokyo, Taipei and elsewhere very nervous indeed. It might even, given the apparent nuclear ambitions of Pyongyang, force Japan to ‘go nuclear.’ The role of the 37,000 American troops in Korea is mainly symbolic, and both the Koreans and the Americans calling recently for their withdrawal are swayed too much by emotion and too little by the ravages of intelligence to consider what the consequences of a withdrawal might be.

It’s generally accepted that North Korea already has one or possible two nuclear weapons, and they clearly have the technology to deliver them. Seoul is about 55 km south of the DMZ, and I live about 30 km south of downtown Seoul. I recently asked my wife if she knew what to do if she were to see a sudden bright flash in the sky outside our kitchen window, which looks north : drop, stay away from the windows, move to the bathroom at the center of the apartment, and wait for the shockwave and its backlash to pass.

seoul-pyong.jpg

My guess is that we’d probably survive an airburst, if it were to happen. But I don’t really think it’s going to, unless the criminals in Washington decide to turn their gun barrels this way after they raze Iraq (or are denied the opportunity to do so).

Related wonderchicken rantings : here, here, here and elsewhere.

Reading things like “North Korea Withdraws From Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” is not as scary, hopefully, when one is aware of the game being played. That said, one hopes that mom stops them before someone loses an eye.

Also : this. [via provenanceunkown]

The Same, But Different

Anger, denial … etcetera etcetera. What are the four stages one is meant to go through in dealing with tragedy, according to some pop-psych pantload or other? I can’t be bothered to look it up right now. Let’s just say “…inebriation and distraction” to round off the quartet, shall we?

For someone who has experienced, if not more than his fair share, then at least a not insignificant number of deaths in his small family over the years (father, brother, all the grandparents, step-father, and more, all before I was 25, for goodness sakes), the loss of my old friend Rick hit me much harder than I could have expected. In the decade or so since I’ve lost anyone really close, I’d come to think that I’d grown blasé about dying. Apparently I was wrong.

Going back to Canada for the first time in 5 years over the past few weeks, though, wandering around British Columbia, seeing old friends and what’s left of my close family, drinking a bit, listening to and telling old stories : this has been good. I have a lot of old letters and cards to reread, and a lot of memories to dust off and cherish, and I look forward to coming back to writing on this site with renewed enthusiasm and a richer sense of who I am and what I want. I’ve spent far too long running from my past, glorious and madcap as much of it has been, and I’m beginning to realize that I am an imitation of a man without it.

I mildly regret announcing a month or two back, when I put this site on hiatus, that I wanted to refocus it somehow, to use it to do some good in the world. That desire remains unchanged, but I’m aware now that it’s not the site that needs purpose, it’s me. And with that awareness will come, I hope, some decent writing, some worthwhile ranting, and a site that people will want to visit again.

And some more fart jokes, of course.

To friends old and new who only became aware of the ‘bottle during the tragedy in October : I’m returning to the catch-all journal-weblog format that is the normal thing ’round here. This site was not created specifically to honour Rick, it was pre-empted, and although the tributes and laments will remain, here, it is time for me to move on. I hope you’ll understand.

Another Hiatus

Edit : Rather than spend another second here, I recommend without reservation that you go have a look at some of the photos of Japan taken by my friend Christopher Domitter. They are gorgeous, and deserve an even wider audience than they already enjoy. Here, here, here, and here. I had promised Christopher that I’d link to the galleries, but totally forgot. My apologies.

Uncharacteristically for a language-drunk bastard like myself, I find recently that I have very little to say. Life itself seems a great deal more important to me at the moment than the world-wide circlejerk that is blogging. Not to say that I won’t fall back into the filthy habit again, of course. But right now, I think I’ll leave off for a while.

I’m happy to have been able to do something that was actually important with this weblog over the last month or so, though I curse the events that enabled me to do so. There are literally thousands of people out there who know and love my friend Rick now, people who didn’t even know that he existed before that f–king bomb went off. There are people for whom the evil that is afoot in the world has been personalized. And I’ve got to think this personalizing was a good thing, if as a result even one more of those people declared to himself or herself ‘no more killing, damn it.’

I am inclined as a result of having done what I hope is some tangible good with this site to rethink what I want to achieve with it. You know, beyond wanking.

If you’ve come here to read or re-read the awful events of last month, and the outpouring of love and support that they triggered, the posts are here.

It’s Remembrance Day in Canada tomorrow, and I think that’s a fitting time for me to fall silent for a while. I thank everyone who has been so supportive of me and my friends, and of Rick’s family over the past month – I thank you with all my heart. I’ll be back when I feel like I have something worth saying (or when I get drunk and decide to tell more stories).

Uncle Tupelo – Life Worth Living

This song is sung for anyone that’s listening

This song is for the broken-spirited man

This song is for anyone left standing

After the strain of a slow, sad end

It seems everybody wants what someone else has

There’s sorrow enough for all

Just go in any bar and ask

With a beer in each hand and a smile in between

All around’s a world grown mean

We’ve all had our ups and downs

It’s been mostly down around here

Now this whole damn mess is becoming quite clear

Looks like we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we drink ourselves to sleep

Yeah, we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we pray for our souls to keep

There’s nothing left now but broken pieces

Of one man’s broken will to care

And in the end before all is said and done

How many others might follow him there?

This song is sung for anyone that’s listening

This song is for the broken-spirited man

This song is for anyone left standing

After the strain of a slow, sad end

Midnight is comin’ ’round

Still mostly down around here

Now this whole damn mess is becoming quite clear

Looks like we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we drink ourselves to sleep

Yeah, we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we pray for our souls to keep

Peace.

- Chris (aka Stav)

Reluctant Edit : I went back and read these threads from Metafilter tonight – when I heard about the explosion and the MeFi gang helped me track down information, and the thread that was started when one of my Meta-friends found out that Rick had died, and people bowed their heads in silence. I think I should point to them, and offer my thanks.

Goodbye

[If you would like to read about what happened when my friend Rick was caught in the bombing in Bali, and the grief and hope of the people who loved him, in the order in which it all happened, start from the bottom of this page and read upwards.]

This site will go dark for technical reasons for a few days on or around Monday November 4th, but should be back not long thereafter. Before that happened, I wanted to write and post something more about my friend. Here it is.

“…I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

- Jack Kerouac

Nineteen years is a long time. Half a lifetime, for me. For half my life, I’ve counted Rick as a friend. Think of that – 19 years. I had a brother who died when he was about 5 years old. Rick was my brother for four times that long.

I met Rick in the fall of 1983, when I’d first arrived at UBC. I was wet behind the ears, a boozy hayseed smalltown boy whose expectations of university sprang primarily from repeated viewings of Animal House. He was a year older than me, and though it seems an odd thing to say about Rick, who was determinedly uncool, he was not only boozy and friendly, but downright cool, by my lights at least. He was so approachable, uncomplicatedly kind, and totally unconcerned about how he was perceived that he was cooler than hell. We became friends quickly, and he showed me the ropes, and bought my booze for me before I had ID.

The next 5 years or so, those UBC years, were an idyllic time, the academic component of which I have almost completely managed to block from my mind. We drank and we talked and we learned some, more about being friends than about economics or math. We chased women, with an almost complete lack of success. Rick and I, Barry, Oliver, David, Chris D, and later Derek and DV and Alana and Chris R and Jen, and many others – we adhered into a loosely-bound group of groups that drew together again recently, years after some of us had last seen one another.

Rick knew retro-cool before it was cool to be retro. He had a ’64 Mustang for a while, which I worshipped. We’d take it down via the ‘scenic route’ to Spanish Banks and park beside the beach and drink. One time I begged him to go to the liquor store on 4rth Avenue, outside the Endowment Lands, to buy some rye. He protested that there was absolutely no brake fluid in the car – none – and the brakes were inoperable. I pleaded. He shrugged – a complicated, nuanced, truly Rickesque gesture – and we went anyway. When we got there, I had to hop out while we were still in motion and brace myself (as nonchalantly as possible) against the hood to bring the ‘stang to a stop in the liquor store parking lot.

‘Song of Myself’

I celebrate myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents

the same,

I, now thirty seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,

I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,

Nature without check with original energy.

- Walt Whitman

Rick and Chris Domitter went to Paris for a year, when Oliver and I were in our third year, and by now living in Gage Towers, from which we were later evicted. I remember sitting in my room with Oliver and Barry, drinking and smoking, exhausted, inebriated 4 a.m dorm room conversations, nights after the bars closed, music playing low in the background, red gel over the desk lamp whose beam was pointed out the window into the falling snow, drinking tea, putting out our cigarettes in the pot where my fig tree, Stoatgobbler, lived; feeling with a sense of pleasant lassitude every single world-weary minute of our 22 or 23 years, and listening to the cassette tapes that Rick and Chris had recorded and sent back to us, dreaming of Paris. Listening to their voices from half a world away, dreaming of getting out, going somewhere, seeing the world, living a life less ordinary.

I think it was that trip that turned Rick into the inveterate traveller he later became, and his letters and tapes to me that year inspired me to become a traveller too. His stories of sitting in a park in wintertime Paris, freezing, smoking to keep warm because his tiny rented room was equally cold and was ugly and depressing as well – these tales fit in with the books I was reading at the time and merged into a mythos that I knew both of us wanted to inhabit. I think it was around this time too that the swashbuckling part of Rick’s personality began to bloom. He was always fearless, it seemed, in an unostentatious way. Quietly, determinedly fearless. Terrified of women, of course, but fearful of nothing else. Thinking about Rick so much in recent times, of how to characterize him, how to sum up such a complex man in a phrase, I hit on ‘a combination of George Costanza and Doc Savage’. Rick of course, unlike George, didn’t have a meanspirited bone in his body, but those of you who knew him might undersand what I mean. Anyway, I think this might have been the time when Doc Savage started to appear.

The books – this was one of so many ways that Rick and I were of one mind. We both wanted to write, and we both did, a bit, and neither of us could stop compulsively reading. When we both lived near King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia, years later, we used to meet up at the library on MacLeay Street by chance, as often as we met anywhere else by design. (I remember when Rick got mugged in the Cross – by a ‘bunch of Arab guys’. They took the watch his Dad had given him, the one with gold nuggets embedded in it. That was one ugly watch, but he was incredibly upset by it, so much so that he developed a weird skin condition for a while. I remember his little bedsit room on Tusculum Street on the edge of the Cross, with his slightly threadbare grey suit in the closet, and empty Yalumba wine boxes, and stacks of books.) Books were more important than eating, and if not more important than booze, at least on a par. Rick didn’t actually talk about the books much – we weren’t so much into Literature as we were into learning about every possible way there was to live a life.

“Christ, I have read your classics, I have wasted a life in libraries turning pages, looking for blood.”

- Charles Bukowski

Rick’s letters to me over the years were the most memorable correspondance I’ve ever received in my life – uproariously funny, human, and luminous with his love of life. It will be my eternal regret that we’d stopped corresponding as regularly in the past couple of years as once we had, but I am thankful that a few months ago, we resumed our more regular correspondance via email.

One of the first trips Rick and I took together was to Long Beach, on Vancouver Island. It was cold, bitterly cold – September, I think it must have been – and the water was freezing. We rented surfboards for the weekend, scorned wetsuits, carried a fat-bellied bottle of Carlo Rossi red wine down to the beach in front of our campsite, and went surfing. We were in the water for nearly an hour, I think, and when we climbed back into the shell at the back of his pickup truck – Truckasaurus – he couldn’t stop shaking. He was blue. Skinny bastard had gone and gotten himself hypothermia. Utterly oblivious to the consequences, though, young and indestructible as we were, we drank some more wine and went to sleep. He woke up in the morning feeling fine as always, and I woke up with a debilitating hangover, as always.

Rick loved the sea, and the mountains. The places of power – where the sky meets the land, and the land meets the sea. He loved the world, and the people in it (particularly the female people).

For the decade after we finished our stint at UBC, in ’88 or so, we met up at least once every year or two, somewhere in the world. New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, back home in Canada. I travelled around the world clockwise, and Rick went counterclockwise, and our paths crossed as often as we could make them.

Scotland was the first, and maybe the most memorable for me. About 4 months in an ancient Scottish house beside the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh, a boarding house run by an ancient Scottish couple, almost completely surrounded by innumerable piles of ancient Scottish dogsh-t. Stiffy was there – Stephan Summerer who had lived in the same quad in residence for the year before I got evicted – and Barry, who came over the Atlantic after he had an accident and got some insurance money. Rick was working at a department store, Stefan had some sort of laboratory job, and I was drinking Bulgarian red wine, and when Barry arrived, we scattered again across Europe.

Other times, other places – literally thousands of nights and days making a beeline for nearest body of water whenever possible, time spent joking and consciously enjoying our lives, spent drinking or not, but rejoicing always, digging the marrow out of life.

Rick loved nature, and he loved film and art. He loved music, but in the stubborn, contrarian way he had, was always scrupulous in his disdain for….well, for things he disliked. His tastes were eclectic – he loved jazz, and music of the 60′s and 70′s, he loved ‘power pop’ (‘if it’s crunchy it’s good’), and anything lyrical, well-crafted, and authentic. Not to say that the schmaltzy Vegas stylings of the Rat Pack, or the rich, tasty cheese of Burt Bacharach were beyond the pale of his tastes – but his love for the music was less ironic than it was sacramental, and that somehow made up for it. For years we’d go to punk rock shows, me self-conscious in my leather biker jacket, and him unruffled in his grey melton UBC Commerce jacket. He had no need and no desire to don protective colouration, to look the part, any part. People underestimated him because of this, as people do. I respected him for it – realizing that I didn’t have the same strength of character to not give a good goddamn what people thought of me.

Authenticity. If Rick hated anything, and he was foremost a man who loved, not hated, but if he hated anything, it was lies, dissembling, falseness, pretension. He refused to be a part of anything that was false, that was anti-life, anti-love, but he was loathe to talk about it in terms like that, not wanting to trivialize it, to make it sound trite, as I’ve done by talking about it here. Instead, he’d talk about how important it was to say “yes” – yes to life, yes to life in its infinite extravagant abundance, yes to everything, yes whether it brought you pleasure or pain. When I came back one year from 9 months in Greece, and explained that I loved it there because I found it filled with people who smacked themselves lustily on the chest and declared “Christo like!”, he knew exactly what I was talking about. It became shorthand for us for this idea. He accepted with equanimity whatever life might bring him. He lived a life that both in its broad sweep and its details embodied the things he believed.

Think about that – how many people have you met whose lives embody their beliefs, who live according to the ideals they’ve set for themselves? Far too few, would be my regretful answer, at least.

Beyond all the other reasons I had for loving Rick, beyond the simple fact of years of our lives shared, beyond his kindness, his irrepressible sense of humour, his enthusiasm for life and his determination to enjoy it and cause no hurt to anyone in the process of doing so, it was his sincerity and his goodness that I will miss.

He was a good man. He shaped my life in ways he will never know. The world is a darker place without him.

And now, as I’m absolutely certain he would want, I’m going to shut the hell up about it.

Stories

The memorial service for Rick will be held in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on Saturday, November 9th 2002 – Canadian Remembrance Day weekend. Rick’s brother has asked me to point to Air North, who may be providing special rates for those of us who can make to Whitehorse, and the High Country Inn who may be doing the same (both subject to confirmation).

(Update : Air North confirms that they will be offering a discounted fare of $390.00 Vancouver or Calgary or Edmonton – Whitehorse return. People will need to contact their reservations number and ask to speak with Sharon to get this discounted rate. Toll free in Canada 1-800-661-0407 and 1-800-764-0407 in USA. Regular line is (867) 668-2228.)

Thank you everyone for your outpouring of love and kindness, thank you from myself, and on behalf of all of Rick’s friends and family. Out of heartbreaking tragedy, the best of human nature can sometimes come.

This morning, I’d like to share Rick-stories, and I hope it’s not too early to do so. The truth is that one of the reasons we loved him so is that he could always make us laugh. His determination to get the best out of life, to push himself and others to savour and enjoy every moment, his sense of humour – and his ability to drink debilitating quantities of booze without any apparent ill effects the next day – these things inspired me. I know he’d want us to smile and laugh as we miss him, even if it must be through tears. He didn’t much care for tears.

But I don’t want to eulogize him. I just want to tell and hear some funny or touching or ‘yeah, that’s Rick all right’ stories about him, or just some anecdotes or happy memories, from people who knew and loved him.

I’ll start, with two stories I’ve already told online. The stories tend to be booze-soaked, but with Rick and I, that’s to be expected. The first one is from my userprofile at Metafilter, where it’s been the story I’ve used to tell people about myself and my goofy nickname there for two years now :

In the winter of 1992 (I think), Rick and I had just finished the Mumbles Walk. This is the pub crawl along a seaside stretch of watering holes in Wales, near Swansea, that apparently used to be a regular night out for Dylan Thomas. I’d like to say we were appropriately reverant, but we were just shambolically pissed, basically.

At some point, we stumbled by a phone booth that looked out over the mud flats and dejected-looking rowboats that had been stranded by the outgoing tide, and decided it was a simply great time to give our buddy Derek, back in Vancouver, a collect call. When the operator asked for a name to give for the call (this was back in the last century, before this stuff was automated), the name “Stavros The Wonder Chicken” just bubbled to the top of my brain, with no precedent whatsoever. The operator balked, but we begged, and when we overheard her telling James, his roommate, that she had a collect call from “Stavros the Wonder Chicken”, we laughed like the drunken poets we were.

A few minutes after his roommate James accepted the call, we found out that Derek had returned to his hometown because he’d found out that day that his father had died.

We went back to drinking.

Rick claimed that he came up with the ‘wonder chicken’ monicker (which I’ve used online for years), and it’s possible that he did. I didn’t change the story, though, mostly because I wanted to annoy him.

I wrote another Amusing Tale of Rick and I here during the World Cup :

Just finished watching the Ireland vs. Cameroon match, and though I’m far from an expert in such matters, I enjoyed it a fair bit. Averaging one goal every 45 minutes : I guess that’s major excitement in the soccer world, huh?

The reason I mention it is that it was more than a decade ago, during the World Cup in 1990, that the Wonderchicken was born, the uncreated conscience of my species, forged in the smithy of my liver. A couple of days after this blessed event, Rick and I were in a lovely little B & B in Aberystwyth, Wales, and watching the match between Cameroon and Ireland. Our viewing was made more enjoyable, if indeed that were possible, by the presence of a Large Bottle of Vodka. This we drank (which is the primary use to which one puts Large Bottles of Vodka, other than bonking people over the head, of course), and cheered lustily for the underdogs, Cameroon, who ended up the victors.

Although my powers of recollection tend to suffer when battered by such oceanic quantities of booze, I seem to recall that we ventured out into the night at the conclusion of the game, wobbly but under our own power, navigating by the bottle, and ended up in a pub, where Rick also ended up swapping saliva with a nubile young lady. This was the time in our lives when this sort of thing still happened, albeit irregularly.

The next morning, the proprietress of the B & B, waggling an admonishing finger as only middle-aged Welsh matrons can, suggested that we should find alternate lodging.

She must have been an Ireland supporter.

Update : The Rev. A. K. M. Adam said beautifully what I wanted to say. Thank you AKMA.

…But I also hope that the spirit of companionship that Chris’s loving commitment to Rick bespeaks will engender some furious memorial rejoicing, some thanksgiving for good things Rick meant to his friends, some conviviality that perpetuates the generosity of spirit [...]. I hope that the loyalty that Chris has been demonstrating for the last two weeks cuts loose now with some of the joy that keeps death’s power at bay. I hope that though friends move on, that friendship endures and thrives and through a web of one-or-two-degrees-of-separation wraps us together in a loyalty and friendship that beats cruelty and violence.

I hope that gentleness and affection win in our response to maddening loss, and that vicious brutality loses, it withers away and leaves kind souls to celebrate their friendship—in peace.

The loyalty and loving commitment to our friend of which he speaks is felt by many, more people than I had ever guessed, and is a testament to Rick Gleason, and the man he was, and is.

An End To Pain

I don’t know how to say this – Rick’s family members have authorized me to say it, but I don’t know how.

Rick’s gone.

About 6 hours ago, as I understand it, the hospital in Melbourne asked Rick’s parents for permission to ‘let him go’.

I don’t know what to say. We loved you, Rick. We love you still.

You loved this world with a fierce, beautiful, kind-hearted passion, and now you’ve left it, and we are left to grieve, and care for each other, as much as you cared for us.

I love you, my brother. Thank you for everything you gave me.

Goodbye.

No News

No real news for you today, which may well be a good thing.

The family has decided a Paypal account for donations won’t be workable, due to potential tax-related problems with maintaining the integrity of the Trust as a non-profit fund. I understand little to nothing of these matters. Anyone who wishes can still send a donation the old-fashioned way, though, of course, and it is my hope that folks will.

I’m told that many prayers and masses are being said for Rick and his family today, and I know there are people all over the world this evening who are keeping our friend and his family in their thoughts, and striving to send love and strength their way. I join them in their prayers.

God Bless Australia

I said it a few days ago, and I’ll say it again : God bless Australia, and Australians. This from Jonathon via email this evening.

It has just been announced on the evening news that the Australian government will pay the medical expenses for non-Australian victims of the Bali bombing.

Please keep fighting, Rick. We’re with you.

[Edit : I should clarify that the government assistance for Rick's medical bills and those of other non-Aussies will not pay all the bills, but at least it will ensure that they won't be as enormous as they might otherwise be. Please don't hesitate to send what you can spare to the trust account. It's going to be a long road.]

Update

This latest (from the comments in the last post) from Aaron includes the text of a Melbourne Age article about the treatment that Rick and others are receiving. Warning : this may be a little disturbing to read, but it is reassuring that Rick’s receiving the best of care. It seems that this is a very dangerous time, after a week or so, for people with injuries like Rick’s.

From the Melbourne Age - Thanks Aaron
Skip and I visited Rick this morning. Rick did not have a good night. Skip has been there all day and will no doubt give a full update later when he returns.

This is a big posting (sorry about the size) but there is no weblink to this. This is the transcript of the article on the Doctors and Nurses who are caring for Rick. Rick is mentioned fairly extensively towards the end of the article.

The healers

Author: Liz Porter

Date: 20/10/2002

Words: 2900

Publication: The Sunday Age

Section: Agenda

Page: 1

Last week Thomas Kossmann spent hours in theatre operating on burnt skin and comforting the distraught relatives of the six Bali bomb victims in his care. As head of the Alfred Hospital’s trauma unit, Kossmann has just endured the week from hell. Liz Porter spent the day with him.

It’s 7.25am as Professor Thomas Kossmann turns his silver four-wheel drive off Commercial Road and into the car park adjoining the Alfred Hospital’s helipad. Within moments he is striding through the emergency department entrance. It’s Thursday and the six victims of last Sunday’s blast have just begun day five of their ordeal, lying bandaged in the hospital’s intensive care and burns units. The next few days will be crucial for them. Between day three and day seven patients who have previously seemed to be doing well can go into a dramatic decline when septic complications set in and stressed vital organs begin to fail. “People feel well in the first one to two days,” the surgeon says. “They have been resuscitated, they feel fine, and then after three to four days, they deteriorate and they can die due to septic complications.”

Kossmann, 43, has been in a state of high alert since the moment he heard the news last Sunday. At midnight on Monday he was on the phone organising a list of surgeons for the following day.

At 6.30am on Tuesday an ambulance carrying Canadian national Richard Gleason, 38, the hospital’s first Bali burns patient, arrived after being flown in on a Lear jet fitted out as a mobile ICU. Gleason, a business analyst, had made a last-minute decision to holiday in Bali instead of Mexico and was walking around the island with his backpack on after the blast. The adrenaline and shock kept him going, but now he is critically ill with burns to half his body.

Continue reading ‘Update’