World Not-So-Naked Bike Ride

Posted by David Smerdon on Mar 31, 2010 in Gender, Non-chess, Politics

Helmets, naturally, were compulsory.

I received a few comments following my bike posts on the site, most rebuking my apparently anti-bipodean sentiments (not to mention my apparently anti-environmental ones).  

“You’re not giving cycling a fair go!” cried one. 

“Don’t you care about global warming? One less car!” argued another, with blissfully ignorant mathematical precision. 

“Cycling is the most liberating form of transport, and you don’t need to be a hippy to enjoy it! Give us a go!” proffered a very hippy-like third. 

Right, I thought, let’s indeed “give us (sic) a go.” Heck, I’m a liberal-minded fellow with a newly acquired speed machine. If only I had the perfect medium to express both my  love  like  vague fondness for cyclists, as well as my admiration  deep respect  diligent acceptance of liberal hippies. If only… 

And that, my friends, is how my picture got published in the Canberra RiotAct in an article on the Canberra leg of the World Naked Bike Ride. 

You can see the article and pictures here, which has been stumbled on by the Closet Grandmaster, as well as numerous work colleagues. (A brief warning: the slideshow of pictures contains some mild nudity – not mine, I assure you! – but for the large part, is simply hilarious.) 

While I enjoyed the experience and hope to have dispelled the above assertions on my character in one fell swoop, I can’t help but feel that I still didn’t quite fit in with some of my more opinionated co-riders. For instance, we were supposed to paint protest slogans across our bodies for the ride, but I really couldn’t think of a cause. It’s not that I don’t believe in saving the whales and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of course. It’s just that I was really just along for the ride (so to speak), and didn’t feel that passionately about any one single cause (besides chess, of course) that I felt obliged to graffiti it on my person. In the end, under whithering peer pressure from the other riders, I compromised with a picture of a black knight and a somewhat ambiguous “CHECKMATE FOR CARBON” strewn across my back, and an Amsterdam flag for a tie on my chest. Representations of knights and the Dutch, both of which are dear to my heart, seemed a fair result, given that my preferred “The Sicilian Dragon Forever!” was vetoed. 

In addition to my lack of protestation, while most of the participants were quite critical of the Australian Federal Police’s order that genetalia must be covered either in body paint or underwear, I saw it as a blessing. First of all, getting any sort of environmental message (or otherwise) across is surely far more likely to succeed if spectators aren’t forced to avert their (and their children’s) eyes before they even see the slogans. Secondly, it gave me a chance to both show off my Amsterdam boxers and keep my Government job. But possibly most importantly of all, I really can’t imagine riding a bike completely starkers would be particularly comfortable, or even safe. Especially for a guy. 

My ostracism aside, I did very much enjoy the ride, which took in both of Canberra’s city bridges, Parliament House, the National Library, and even straight through the Canberra Motor Show. Furthermore, I have to say that the chess picture/text received more comments than the vast majority of the homogenously pro-environmental slogans, so perhaps I can claim to have raised the profile of chess in an unashamedly no-frills fashion. 

In fact, one of the most common questions from my co-riders (many of whom included members of the ACT Nudists Association) was whether strip chess was a common variation on the game. While I had nothing substantive to say, this may be something for chess organisers and the Australian Chess Federation to think about in the future; at least, it might help kick-start the Olympiad Appeal which I believe currently stands at $0. There was a proposal a couple of years ago to create an Australian Chess Players Nude Calendar to raise Olympiad funds ala the Australian Womens Soccer Team. Unfortunately, of the 12 of us asked (6 girls and 6 boys – perfect for an annual spread!), the vote was 11 to 1 against. Guess who the one was? 

Anyway, I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad it’s over, for this year at least. Canberra gets mighty cold in the Winter.

 I realise the risk that people may think I feel strongly about the Black Knights’ Tango. Horrible opening.


Lara Bingle v Paris Hilton

Posted by David Smerdon on Mar 19, 2010 in Gender, Non-chess

In case you have been living under a rock for the past week, the front-page news in every Australian media outlet has been the ‘tragic’ split between Lara Bingle and Australian cricketer Michael Clarke.

For the non-Australian readers out there, Lara can be loosely defined as Australia’s answer to Paris Hilton. She’s a 22-year old peroxidy thing of average looks and an IQ significantly less than her bra size. Nevertheless, despite a failed appearance in Australia’s worst tourism campaign, a poor-quality nude photo shoot and a string of dubious illicit encounters with male celebrities, Lara seemed to have emerged unscathed after duping our cricketing captain-in-waiting into proposing to her – complete with a $200,000 engagement ring, and an Aston Martin worth a little more to seal the deal. Y

ou may be getting the impression that I don’t like her very much. Unbiased journalism has never really been my style.

Well, the marriage is now off and the couple have split, following revelations that Lara not only knowingly slept with married footballer Brendan Fevola (who, despite his character flaws, I still hope will lead the Lions to victory this year…), but subsequently sold her story to one of those hairdressing-salon mags for another $200K.

The story is pretty well fleshed out by now, and you can google around if you want a fuller account. But the whole mess, and the aforementioned comparison with Ms Hilton, led me to wonder who would win a morality competition between Lara and Paris.

You see, I’ve always accepted, if not quite respected, Paris’ career choices. She’s obviously a girl who has lucked out in pretty much every area besides patriarchal finance. With no talents, intelligence or redeeming features to speak of, Paris has managed to not only command seven-figure appearance fees to any function, but also star in a movie (without being able to act), record a top-40 selling album (without being able to sing), and start a surprisingly successful fragrance and fashion label (without smelling or looking good).

Moral judgment aside, there’s no denying Paris has made the best of what she’s got – or, rather, lacks. It’s almost admirable – although, of course, her net addition to social welfare is practically zero.

Lara Bingle is similar in a lot of ways. Devoid of talent and having lucked out in the smarts stakes, she’s certainly also made the best of what she lacks – how many people can claim to drive an Aston Martin, despite being unable to read the speedometer? On the surface, then, the two silicon starlets are directly comparable, right?

There’s just one factor where our Lara lucks out, and herein lays my reasons for bias. While Paris has drunk, screwed and giggled her way to success, she’s never knowingly hurt someone along the way. All right, there were some reports that Mark “The Poo” Philippoussis was heartbroken after their relationship ended, but after what he did to our Delta, I’m not entirely convinced he has a heart. Paris has, against all the odds, made her way to the top, and left only a few broken bottles and used hair straighteners by way of damage.

Lara used Michael Clarke to her own advantage from start to finish, manipulating their involuntary celebrity power to her own end. She had every opportunity to repair their relationship after the infamous ‘shower photo’ came out (after all, it’s been around for years), but instead Lara chose the path of financial gain… and the latest reports suggest she’s going to continue along this track as the ex-couple finds itself with a court date.

My verdict? Hilton 1; Bingle 0.

Of course, having never met either lass (or Clarke, for that matter), I’m knowingly extrapolating my entire argument from flimsy A3-sized media reports. I’m gleefully ripping in to the largely unknown characters of real people who have been unwittingly thrust into the celebrity limelight, their private lives on display for all to criticise and critique as we see fit.

But gosh, if we can’t all do that, what are we all supposed to do with our time? Go back to talking about climate change?


Putting the fun back in Valentine’s

Posted by David Smerdon on Feb 14, 2010 in Gender, Non-chess

Readers will no doubt by now be aware of my innate cynicism for today’s commercialised pollution of historical traditions. The astute blog regular will already be predicting what follows to be nothing more than another spiteful attack on the bastardisation of the harmless modern Valentine’s Day.

And you’d be right.

Admittedly, it hardly seems fair for me to cast aspersions on what is one of the less intrusive holidays in the contemporary calendar year. Sure, we manage to buy and send over a billion Valentine’s cards each year (not a bad feat considering most of the world doesn’t recognise the holiday), but so what? Indeed, besides the obligations on men and women to spend money on non-value-adding commercialism for their partners (in, might I add, a gender-equality-defying 2:1 ratio), and a subconscious esteem-battering for the ‘single-and-looking’ subsection, February 14 hardly makes a blip on society’s radar. And yet, admittedly at a professed “anti-Valentine’s” party last night, I was a little shocked to discover that not one party-goer could answer my pop quiz question on the true origins of Valentine’s Day correctly.

(Yes, I am a real hit at parties.)

To be fair, there probably isn’t too much harm fostering from this acceptance of the corruption of the holiday’s traditional origins. Who am I to judge a moderately intoxicated cross-section of Canberra who believes Valentine’s Day came about because “Some Saint got stoned for getting married”; “A whole bunch of people got massacred in Greece”; or “Wasn’t it something to do with Jesus and a wedding?”. Franky, most people today don’t really care, so long as buying the Hallmark card gets them out of a night on the couch, and I don’t blame them. But, for a society living in the ‘enlightened era’ of scientific discovery and the search for truth, surely this sort of ignorance  should be dissuaded.

So here’s my two cents’ worth on the topic, though I wouldn’t quote what follows in any argument that attempts to get you out of your commercial Valentine’s obligations. Trust me on that.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with a Saint at all (though there were several Saint Valentine’s), or even anything remotely Christian. Nor could it traditionally be called a festival of romance (at least not how we interpret the word). In fact, we have to head back in time to ancient Rome, and specifically the three-day, hedonistic fertility festival of Lupercalia to see the first origins of today’s soppy excuse for buying chocolates.

Rather than bunches of flowers and the soft crooning of Michael Buble, the ancient Romans knew how to start a Valentine’s party. First, sacrifice a few goats, maybe a dog or two, and smear the blood over all the young men in the village (romantic, huh?). Then, eat a big meal with lots, and I mean lots, of wine.  Next, once you’re all well and truly trolleyed, rip up the skin of the bloody carcasses and mold them into thong-like whips – and then take off all your clothes (doesn’t sound like any Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had…).  Remember, so far it’s still just the men – the women are off getting sloshed and nude elsewhere. Finally, time to really get this party going: grab your bloody, animal-skinned thongs and run screaming, drunk and naked through the village streets, whipping any woman you come across with your thongs. Don’t worry, the women are actually trying to get hit: each strike of the whip is meant to enhance the woman’s chance of becoming pregnant. Plus, everyone up to and including the town Mayor is doing it, so you’re hardly going to get called up on your chauvinistic debauchery. In any case, now that the ‘official’ ceremony is out of the way, the villagers can all relax and settle down to enjoy the rest of the evening’s ‘unofficial’ frivolities.

So next year, when you feel pressured by society’s standards of romance to oblige in the mid-February festivities, feel free to explain to your gift-expectant partner that today’s holiday is a crude misrepresentation of an ancient and sacred celebration of fertility and love, and that if he/she really wanted to share an intimate remembrance of the true Valentine’s Day tradition with you, you’re going to have to get a goat.

Or, of course, you could just buy a card.

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