Through our sunless lanes creeps Poverty with her hungry eyes, and Sin with his sodden face follows close behind her. Misery wakes us in the morning and Shame sits with us at night.
Oscar Wilde

It is safest to be moderately base -- to be flexible in shame, and to be always ready for what is generous, good and just, when anything is to be gained by virtue.
Sydney Smith (1771-1845)

Entropy Gradient Reversals


I wake up Sunday morning. Oh no, it's too early. But it's also too late. If you know what I'm saying. Will I write today or fuck off playing Microsoft Hearts like I did yesterday? God, that was awful. And if I write, what will I write about? There are those of you pressuring me to do a book. Several books, actually. But the one I could almost take seriously would be, like, a memoir. Those are big these days. Stumbling down the stairs to see if I can remember how the coffee maker works, I'm thinking yeah, on days like this that'd be a good plan. Instead of having to worry about what kinda thing would most offend the EGR Irregulars, I could just write about my life.

Problem is, I don't have a life.

Well, that's not exactly true I guess. I can see the mountains for a second from the top of the stairs. It's a Zen thing -- that's the only time I see them. The rest of the day I'm sitting behind this terminal looking into data abstractions. You know, where you live. But just last week I took my family up to the Great Divide. Selene got a rock. She's eight. She likes rocks. She thought the Divide was a cool idea too. Lauren (a.k.a. RageGirl) and myself worry about her education. She reads about 1000 words a minute, knocks off three books a day when she isn't wasting her time in school, and writes poetry on the refrigerator with those little magnetized words:

remember eternity
broken universe
night would listen
drink life
speak breath
desire stream
never embrace

your slow warm game
soft vast star
his job for air
kill poetry

bug hole
father dirt fire
young current marble
know blind circle
let me see him

lie fat crap over fish and ask sad boy
though velvet steam worry almost devour
make open pool bellow
explore present
did she use her concrete
hot ice like deep bone
ferocious morning feline
my delicious daughter

...and so on. We're also working on an opera. In school, she gets spelling words like "cat" and "house" -- RG and I suspect her teachers don't quite get it. Selene says she wants to make a movie called Bite Me Hard II: The Chomping. I can understand why.

So there's all that.

But a memoir usually starts with where you were born and I can't remember back that far. I do have this memory though -- the earliest, as far as I can figure out -- of being on the back of my dad's bike flying through Harvard Square at night. So I guess my first conscious thought was "HOLY SHIT WE'RE GONNA DIE!" How that connects to sitting here this morning thinking about what I could write is... well, a bit elusive.

Another problem, slightly more tactical, is that RageBoy® currently has this rap called "Fear and Loathing on the Web" on The Industry Standard website, and tomorrow it'll be in the print edition too. He's thinking Business Opportunity here. He's telling me -- and this is so out of character, as I'm sure you can all appreciate -- "maybe we should write something, you know, more businesslike for all the eyeballs we're likely to get from that link."

"Yeah, sure," I say, "how about Ten Hot Tips for Turning Your Site into a Superconducting Magnet for E-Commerce?"

He leaves, slamming the door behind him. Poor RB. He means well, and he's so full of youthful enthusiasm, but he somehow manages to screw it up every time.

Actually, I was thinking about this yesterday, and while the "solution" I came up with doesn't really address the issue of new readers and some sort of continuity with where they're likely be coming from -- The Industry Standard in this case -- it was at least some sort of idea. And it went like this...

For the last couple years, Jerry Michalski ran these private invitation-only retreats that were like think-tank weekends for real smart people in The Industry. Also for several years, and until quite recently, Jerry was managing editor of Esther Dyson's newsletter, Release 1.0 -- which, if you don't know about, you are definitely Out of The Loop. Anyway, it was at the first of these retreats that RageBoy® got his name, and many Valued Subscribers arrived at EGR via this vector. Maybe one day we'll record our last presentation there -- why didn't we think of this for Audible? -- a high-decibel rant inspired by watching Jimmy Swaggart on TV that particular morning and that thundering Biblical speech Samuel Jackson delivers in Pulp Fiction:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
...just before blowing those white kids' asses off. But I digress. The point is: there is a list server connecting all these retreatniks -- often referred to as Jerry's Kids -- and RB posted a little note to it last week:
my first column came out today on The Industry Standard:

  Fear and Loathing on the Web,1449,1019,00.html

it may also be my *last* column there unless hordes of Influentials Like
Yourselves convey to editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber how great & wonderful
you thought it was, how you cannot live without more of the same, and
various other tropes to similar memic effect.  should you be moved to
express such opinions -- or their opposite, this being A Free Country and
all -- he is:

thanking you in advance for your earliest attention to this important
matter, I remain

yer 'umble servant,


Now, the other thing I didn't mention about this "retreat" list is that it's almost totally moribund, the probable reason being that it connects Very Important Individuals with Better Things To Do than read random bullshit from RB. So there has been no response. No public response that is. However, in the background, we received the following very cool missive:

You think I'm part of a horde, eh?


>From: Esther Dyson <>
>Subject: Fear and Loathing on the Web
>Jonathan -
>he's shameless.......and he's actually very, very good. 
>Congratulations on getting him; now you gotta keep him!

[other stuff]

>Esther Dyson, chairman      Always make new mistakes!
>EDventure Holdings

...and where it says "[other stuff]" above, she included my posting to the retreat list. So, when I later got mail from Jonathan Weber -- saying yes, he'd been hearing from various "EGR fans" out there -- I knew that he knew what you know: that I'd put you all up to it. Thanks, but please don't send him any more mail. This has already gotten completely out of hand. Truth be told though, that's what I love about the web: the entropy implications. Denial of Chaos just doesn't have any future here.

However, that bit about being shameless really made me think. It's true I guess, and all I can say is I've had a lot of practice in this area. For instance, I remember a party I was invited to in 1965. Tom Brown, the guy who was throwing it, said: "I'd really like you to come, but please don't show up stoned." He knew me pretty well. The reason he said he didn't want me to arrive whacked out of my head was that he was also inviting his dad. Oh.

His dad was this really famous guy at the time, one Norman O. Brown. He'd written a couple books that had gripped the undergraduate imagination in a big way and caused no little stir in academic circles worldwide, etc., etc., you get the picture. For context, here are the books, which we hope you'll click on and purchase right away, as EGR only made 75 bucks off this damn Amazon Associate setup last quarter, so we figure you owe us:

Love's Body

Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History

OK, so I arrive at the party and it's like all these University of Rochester people, so clean scrubbed and all, having these insightful little low-key tête-à-têtes. I took one look around and figured I needed a drink. Or ten. They were serving this godawful wine punch -- and of course there was cheese. Yum, my favorite! I tore into the punch, pretty much just standing over the bowl and sucking up glass after glass of the swill so a) nobody would talk to me about fucking Wittgenstein or something, and b) so I could get as wasted as possible as soon as possible.

As it turned out, there must have been something else in that shit besides wine -- Everclear is my guess -- as I was soon sitting in a corner by myself with my eyes closed, grinning like an idiot and riding these incredibly heavy-duty controlled-vertigo rushes. Most people don't know you can rush on alcohol this way, but I figured it out early on. It was like a combination of hitting that first downhill screamer on some monster roller coaster and being sent to The Chair. Wheeeeeeeeeeee!!! I was making noises to go with, so naturally this attracted a little crowd who came over to see if I was, like, OK. "Are you, like, OK?" they would ask. "Huh?" I'd look up and see these faces being concerned. "Oh yeah, no, I'm fine..." Then I'd close my eyes and wait for another big one.

Of course, this only works if you are literally falling down drunk -- and already sitting down so you you don't actually fall over. It just feels like you're falling, which is the whole rush of it. Yow, I'm going over! Timber!!! Accompanied by much laughter of a fairly unsavory variety. Savage amusement, yes. But I was young.

And besides, this constitutes nothing more than a kind of victimless Thought Crime -- unless you stand up. Which I foolishly decided to do. And dance. After a fashion. Looking back now, I imagine my attempt at free-form choreography looked more like what you might expect to see in some poor soul caught up in the terminal throes of St. Vitus' Dance. But I was having a good time by now and didn't much care how I looked, the desired outcome -- anyhow, right? -- of getting totally hammered on my pal's insalubrious punch.

At one point in this very private merriment, I seem to have somehow lost my footing. No big mystery how this might have happened, but the results were rather spectacular. In a vain attempt to recover my balance, I executed an ever-accelerating sideways stumble of no less than 15 feet -- which must have looked exceedingly odd to anyone still experiencing normal geocentric gravity -- and crashed headlong into my host's very expensive stereo system. There was a lot of noise and confusion as I recall, and I ended up on the floor covered with quite a large quantity of suddenly liberated electronic components, circuit boards and what have you. Also a fair amount of shrapnel from whatever record had been, until seconds ago, entertaining this for-the-most-part civilized assembly.

"Oh gosh," I barely managed in a tongue-tied slur, "I'm awfully sorry!"

But as you can imagine, this was a pretty awkward situation overall, unlikely to yield to mere apologetic pleasantries. Tom never spoke to me again except to ask how I could have come to his party "high on acid" after he'd specifically begged me not to. "What acid?" I protested. "It was your goddam punch." He didn't believe it of course. No one gets that fucked up on wine coolers. And he was right about his dad, who split soon after my swan dive into the sound system. Usually, when something unthinkably embarrassing happens at a party, what you do is put on some nice calm music. But that wasn't a real happening idea in this case, what with the equipment lying around the floor in broken shards. The last thing I remember was Dr. Brown and his wife (I think), hats and coats in hand, ready to take their umbrageous departure, looking down on me as lay helplessly spread-eagled on the floor. Such derision! Such scorn! Such withering disdain!

Now you'd think shame would be an appropriate response to something like this, right? And I'll admit, I did feel like an ass there for a minute. (Actually, I don't remember anything for about the next five years, though perhaps that's another story.)

But consider: Norman O. Brown's books (q.v.) concerned themselves with things like The Dionysian -- as opposed, you understand, to The Apollonian. He was famous for writing about "polymorphous perversity" and suchlike concepts that were then wowing the literary scene. And here he couldn't even handle a guy getting a little messed up and losing his balance. If he really meant all that stuff, I figured, he would've gotten down on the floor with me and we coulda licked the electrical outlets or something. Hell, I was only 17 and I knew more about polymorphous perversity than this guy'd ever figure out if he ran amok in a pasture full of really cute Greek sheep. Which, from the look of it, was unlikely to happen anytime real soon.

In short, he was a hoser.

Needless to say, this was a formative discovery for me. And it was soon followed by another seminal experience in my exceedingly short run at University Life. In my freshman (and only) year, I took a course in Hellenic Civilization. Don't ask me why. The dude teaching it was named Dean Miller. He wasn't really a dean; that was his name. Doctor Dean Miller to you.

And he had this theory, you see. It was quite complex, involving abstruse McLuhanesque theories of Media and pictorial representation as these were reflected -- or more to the point, not reflected -- in Homer. The Iliad, he expounded, contained no pictures other than the Shield of Hephaestus, and that was a throwback from a pre-Hellenic culture based on metallurgy, which, if you'd read Eliade's The Forge and The Crucible, had extremely interesting implications that, time allowing, he would have gone into more deeply, but given that this was merely an undergraduate course, we'd just have to settle for being hugely impressed with his erudition. You get the general drift. And naturally there was a blackboard full of arcane diagrams showing how all this worked.

I was doing my best to follow along, but I was getting a little confused sitting there among a hundred faces whose rapt attention told me this guy was some sort of Superstar of The Mind. Should I raise my hand and ask for a little help here? No. Yes. No. Oh fuck it. I raised my hand.

"Yes?" he barked, clearly peeved at being interrupted. He was on a roll and -- abracadabra -- just about to wrap the whole thing up.

"...ah, ...uh," I began, wanting to frame my point as succinctly as possible. "Isn't Helen like weaving this huge tapestry of Paris and Achilles chasing each other around all through that whole long battle scene?"

He stared at me. Then stared at me some more. I must have gotten something horribly wrong. I mean the guy was obviously real smart. So why wasn't he saying anything?

"Where is this?" he finally snapped. Jesus Christ, I thought, you never read the fucking book and you're admitting it right here in front of all these kids. It wasn't like it was some minor detail you could miss. "It's in Book Nine I think..."

More staring. Then: "Class is dismissed!" He scooped up his notes and was out the door in a flash. The other students sat looking at me for a minute, then drifted away, clearly perplexed by what had just gone down.

Later, my father -- also a professor at the University of Rochester -- ran across Dean Miller in the Faculty Club, drunk as a boiled owl. "Your son shot me down in class today," he said. I laughed when I heard this. I figured it was delivered as a light-hearted "how 'bout them apples" kinda thing. But no. My dad told me he seemed really morose about it. Pissed off. Bitter.

A few weeks later I was sitting in a German class, bored out of my skull. It was a beautiful Fall day. The room was stifling hot and stuffy. "Machen Sie das Fenster zu," I repeated. "Close the window." But in my mind I wasn't closing any windows. I was opening one. I was thinking there had be something larger going on somewhere OUT THERE... I looked around the room, and by extension, at the whole university, taking it all in one last time. Because by the time the class was over, I knew what was going to happen. I filed out through the door that day and never looked back.

Thirty years later, I found myself sitting across a conference table from Al Gore, illustrious vice president of these United States. I'd been talking a lot to Jeff Dearth who was then president of The New Republic magazine and head honcho of this Internet thing called The Electronic Newsstand. Jeff told me Gore was coming to lunch and asked did I want to join in? Sure why not. I flew to DC and met Scott Kurnit, who is now CEO of The Mining Company, but back then was heading up the soon-to-be-DOA joint venture between MCI and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. We cabbed over to The New Republic where Jeff was waiting for us. He waltzed us past a pack of humorless Secret Service guys and into the office of editor-in-chief Marty Peretz.

When it came time to meet the veep, Scott and I got first crack at the seats, long before Michael Kinsley -- now editor of Microsoft's Slate -- and about 40 other editors and staff were finished with their full cavity searches or whatever it was they were doing with the SS in the next room. Kurnit got off the first question too, the one I'd intended to ask: "What do you think about this Exon bill?" -- which, for those of you who got online last week, was a precursor to the so-called Communications Decency Act.

Al is better in person than on TV. He was impressive as hell on the issues. Facts at this fingertips, warm, witty even. But that came later. On this one, he made noises that sounded an awful lot like waffling. "This administration believes this whole area demands serious consideration. Of course, we don't think Exon is the right approach, but cyberspace clearly needs some form of controls, blah blah blah, blather blather." Or words to that effect. What?! This was his position? I jumped into the breach. "We're talking about protections no different from those afforded this magazine," I said. "Doesn't government censorship bother you just a little?"

"Do you have young children?" Al wanted to know. Yeah, I told him, but what's that got to do with the price of eggs? I figure my kids can make their own decisions about the stuff they look at, and besides, I don't think this is about protecting kids as much as setting precedents that smack of fascism. Does the First Amendment ring any bells for you?

About this time all these hotshot editors without exception became entirely fascinated with their manicures. There was a bit of nervous coughing, but nobody said jack shit. Afterwards, Kinsley asked me some brainless question about his MCImail account. As Gore was leaving I said to him: "Man, am I glad I don't have your job!" I said it in a friendly sort of way, but he gave me this look that said, yeah, he was glad about that too.

He would have been even gladder had he known about the events recalled by mail I got this morning from a friend I haven't seen in 18 years. "It's been awhile since we labored under loads of absurd assumptions back there in Boulder, barking at passersby from beneath the tables at Le Bar..." You need to know that Le Bar was exactly what it sounds like, a bar with pretensions of being situated somewhere in Paris. In fact, it was just off the lobby of the Boulderado Hotel, which has since been renovated into a tony business venue, but was then just a falling-down fleabag. I used to get drunk there with John Steinbeck Jr., Son of Grapes of Wrath. Sometimes you'd see Ginsberg or Burroughs nursing drinks in the shadows -- The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics was right around the corner, but I didn't hang out with that crowd. They were into, you know, literature.

My own personal favorite thing to do in Le Bar was strip naked. I would do this on occasion when the conversation got particularly depressing. It was my way of getting back to fundamentals you could say. It was a pretty hip town back then, but not that hip, so this always caused a fair bit of consternation, especially among the inevitable jocks and their dates, of whom there were never that many, but still...

"Bob, look," some winsome coed would stage-whisper to her jarhead boyfriend, "that man has no clothes on!" And they'd leave immediately. I guess they figured from the fact that nobody else was really freaking out that maybe there was something going on here that they didn't know about. And most likely didn't want to. So it was a pretty relaxed deal overall, even though the bartender would always warn me he was going to call the cops if I didn't get dressed.

"C'mon Chris, put your clothes back on," Beave would say. Beave was the bartender.

"Gimme another double scotch."

"If I do, will you put your clothes back on?"

"I'll think about it while you're fixing that drink."

After several incidents, this got to be a regular drill. Once I ended up spending a night in the drunk tank. But just once. The last time I got naked in Le Bar, I remember being at that magic stage of inebriation that is seldom ever achieved, but which, when you get there, you really don't want to waste it, you know? I was rock-solid ripped but totally lucid. If you discount for a moment that I was also totally insane, I was nonetheless in complete control of the situation.

"C'mon Chris, put your clothes back on." But I wouldn't. After the usual negotiations had clearly broken down, I carefully noted when Beave called the cops. "OK, they're on their way..."

"How about another one for the long night in jail?" I said. "It's fucking cold over there." Amazingly, he brought me another hefty pour of Johnny Walker. There was an air of good cheer in the place. This was exciting! The cops were gonna come and bust me and everyone thought this was first-class entertainment for Le Bar, where pretty much nothing interesting ever happened.

I was careful to give the impression of having forgotten about the police, but of course I hadn't. In my mind, I was timing, as best I could, how long it would take them to arrive from the barracks over on Canyon Boulevard. I knew I was taking a chance. They might have gotten the call from a squad car four blocks over and right now be walking in the door. But my luck held. Just when I figured they had to be arriving any minute, I got dressed as fast as I could and raced out of the bar. I met them coming across the hotel lobby, empty except for the three of us.

"Say, are you officers looking for that crazy sonuvabitch without no clothes?" I asked with that tinge of just-one-a-the-guys illiteracy so endearing to your basic donut-munching defender of the peace.

"Yeah, z'e in the bar?"

"Naw, he ran outta here few seconds ago. I saw him go through that door" -- pointing to another exit -- "just before you fellas came in."

"What was he wearing?" said one of the cops, unhooking the radio from his belt.

"What was he wearing?" I echoed incredulously. "He wasn't wearing nothin! Man you shoulda seen that guy! It was freakin amazing." And I shook my head to demonstrate amazement, thinking: this is just like a cartoon. He went thataway!

The two cops dutifully rushed out into the night looking for me. I sauntered out through the main entrance, stopped on the steps to light a cigarette, and walked off down the street, enjoying what was, after all, a perfectly lovely evening.

So what's the point? I dunno, you tell me. But I'd like to end this with a personal note to Al and Tipper, the establishment press, innumerable academics, and police departments everywhere. Be on the lookout for Bite Me Hard II: The Chomping -- coming to a theater near you a lot sooner than you fuckin think. If you feel you've had it tough so far, just wait till the eight year olds get aholda your ass. I only hope I live long enough to cheer them on from my wheelchair, waving my cane and shouting through my false teeth: "That's the spirit, kids! Give those creepy weasel bastards what for!"

So there's some gonzo marketing for ya, Valued Readers. Take that puppy for a spin.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


Nothing to disclaim at this time.


This is the greatest electronic newsletter ever created. If you think so too, it's free. If you don't think so, the annual subscription rate is $1000. Either way, to subscribe send email to saying simply "subscribe" on a single line in the BODY of the message. Or, just go to:

No Animals Will Be Harmed in the Making of This Subscription.

   Entropy Gradient Reversals
   CopyLeft Christopher Locke

"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon
Back to EGR HomePage

FastCounter by LinkExchange