May 14, 2001
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It came and went in a whisper and none of you noticed! What? What?....sings the crowd in unison. Well, Swans' fifth anniversary. It all started five years ago, on May 1, 1996. The fact that it was Work Day or Labor Day (at least in most countries of the world) was purely coincidental. Then again, come to think of it, it may not have been that accidental for it has been a lot of work ever since, even more work since the beginning of this year when I dedicated myself full time to the project!
People often ask what Swans is "about" and I send them to the About Page on the site where it simply reads: "In a time of revisionism, faux-semblant, spinning news and skewed information, Swans is about thinking, questioning, observing and providing a forum for ideas that is lacking in the mainstream media." (By the way, one could also say, "a forum for ideas that are lacking in the mainstream media" for both the forum AND the ideas are ominously absent.)
Yet many people keep asking as though our stated purpose was leaving them unsatisfied. Perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye, some secret agenda maybe, some unrevealed shadows (always dark and menacing!). What is Swans really about, they want to know. And when I simply tell them it's WYSIWYG -- What You See Is What You Get -- their level of curiosity or suspicions raises another notch.
I sometimes direct them to our old, no longer maintained but initial FAQ. Still it won't do and I've gradually and somewhat reluctantly come to the realization that what the questioning is indeed about has little to do with Swans and much to do with me. What am I about seems to be the real question.
It makes me feel ill at ease as I am always uncomfortable talking about myself and, moreover, because Swans is much larger than just me. Truly. Rhetorically I could turn the question around and ask, "Well, if it were just about me -- some kind of unconscious narcissistic endeavor, I suppose -- why the heck would I spend so much time trying to put a team together, bringing other people's words to the fore, struggling to find a sensible way to get funding (there are real, practical costs associated with this project, real people who send their work on a totally volunteer basis who would deserve -- and some may need -- to be financially compensated), and always being on the look-out for help to improve the site technically or disseminate its work, etc?"
Look, from its inception, at least in my mind, Swans has been about people wanting to make a difference within the frame of our purpose, thanks to this extraordinary tool that is the Internet, and to build a body of work for a team of talented people. It has been about ideas....and opinions....and thoughts. Ideas, opinions, thoughts (that is, if you have noticed, the title of the Main Page) that are misrepresented, if at all represented in the main media.
Now, to express ideas, opinions and thoughts you need to find people who have them in the first place (everybody does) AND can express them (everybody does too), express them well (ha, ha, ha, NOT everybody does) and present them well....so that you, the readers, may form your own opinion.
This, in a nutshell, is what Swans is all about, its "mission," if you will; though I am not particularly fond of this word with its associated connotations. There are too many preachers, missionaries and false prophets out there roaming the world, pandering their snake oil du jour, their freshly painted used cars, their ideologies, their religions and the like. The world could use fewer of them! Swans really has no "mission" in that meaning of the word but it does have an ambition, which, to quote Columnist Michael Stowell, is "to evolve into a publication with a large cultural and political impact." I don't know how large and I certainly know that Rome was not built in one day!
When we started there were five of us (a "flock of Swans"), Jan Baughman, Milo Clark, Olivier Coudert, Frank Wycoff and your servant. Olivier disappeared within the first week, and Frank went by the wayside within two or three months. You see, I naively thought we could publish one commentary a day five times a week! Poor Frank never recovered from his writer's block. Milo Clark took a leave of absence in August 1997. We scrambled as we could, accepting almost anything coming our way, begging whomever we knew, "please, write, PLEASE!" In 1998 Swans was pretty much down to two people. But we kept plowing forward and we did not fold (thanks in large part to Jan Baughman's iron will).
The 1999 Yugoslav tragedy -- that is, the horrendous, illegitimate, illegal and, if I knew what morality means I would add immoral, war waged by 19 nations under the umbrella of NATO against the demonized, dehumanized small nation of Serbia -- had a profound effect on me. The war had been so blatantly prepared with fabricated facts, lies, Orwellian doublespeak and Machiavellian cowardice. People around me (where I used to work, etc.) were so complacent, so self-righteous and so oblivious. I wrote twelve pieces in a matter of four months to express in Weberian terms, the "polar night of icy darkness and hardness." This catastrophe undoubtedly became a private peripeteia.
People noticed and we started receiving more contributions. Our work got disseminated on mailing lists and other Web sites. We made fresh contacts and by 2000 new contributors surfaced -- most noticeably, Alma Hromic, Aleksandra Priestfield, Rick Rozoff, Margaret Wyles and others; and Milo Clark, after a three-year hiatus, reappeared!
This year has seen the arrival of Deck Deckert, Sandy Lulay (our in-house poet) and Michael Stowell as well as other occasional contributors. Geoff Berne and Gregory Elich have agreed to publish their work on Swans.
Some have left, like Margaret Wyles and Christopher Black. Most sadly to me personally has been the loss of Rick Rozoff, a man of deep convictions, high sensitivity, honed and refined culture, with a powerful voice and writing style. Rick was also instrumental in disseminating Swans to a larger audience. He is deeply missed. But it goes with the territory, so to say. The more active (not activist) a publication becomes the more it attracts individuals with talents and strong convictions. Clashes occur. One has to contend with the recurring risks of co-optation by different agendas and political (or religious) ideologies -- I call them "chapels." To remain independent from these "chapels" is a perpetual challenge for a young publication with an ambition to develop its own voice and build a body of work for its authors, with the postulate of Wertfreiheit for sole intellectual protection ("freedom from value judgment").
It may surprise you but I literally never ask a potential contributor about her political or religious views. To this day, I could not tell you the political convictions or religious beliefs of, for instance, Michael Stowell or Alma Hromic. And try to pin down Milo Clark... Good luck! I would rather have people explore ideas and present them to you out there (again, read our purpose) than recite the perennial words learned in all the various catechisms. No "chapels!" The only label I hope Swans earns over time is that of intellectual honesty and integrity. I wish that you, Swans' scanners, visitors, readers, one day will say, "Hmm, these people do honest work and walk their talk."
Honest work can be observed in the way the site is constructed. It can be viewed by any browser. Its pages are validated. The documents are defined. Meta words are inserted so that the search engines can catalogue the commentaries properly. The pages download quickly (the much-hyped superhighway is still mostly accessed with 28k, 34k and 56k modems). In an age of mass consumerism Swans is about craftsmanship. This in a sense is very much about people.
Two days ago I received the following E-mail from a reader who has been visiting Swans for a while and had contacted me to request permission to send two articles to her personal mailing list. Let me quote her unabridged: "Dear Mr. Gilles d'Aymery. First of all, congratulations on SWANS. I have never seen this notice before [the notice not to republish an article without authorization] and I have sent many of your splendid articles to friends. This time it was '45 Shares of Lockheed' and 'Justice' . . . . As a matter of fact, I believe I have sent 'Justice' before. But decided to make a copy and send it again. It is that remarkable. Your taste in commentaries is inspirational. Continued success....I always keep your banner-head [URL] in the E-mails and I am sure, if these friends forward what I send - you have had quite a few new visitors. Again, my appreciation. I will hold these two here until I hear from you."
This by all means IS about people. And it tells me that inasmuch as we may journey along the less traveled roads, off the beaten tracks, we are on the right path.
Last month, the site had over 35,000 pages-view with a daily average of 330 visitors (five years ago we were thrilled when we would infrequently reach ten visitors a day!).
Someone once gave me a small frame in which was inscribed the following quote: "Press On. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipresent."
Two months ago I renewed the registration of the Domain Name, Swans.com, with Network Solutions® for the period 21 March 2001 - 21 March 2010. Better get used to Swans!
I trust I have somewhat quenched your thirst to know more about us and I will be glad to keep answering your questions. This is a special rendition. Lots to read, lots to think about. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you for visiting. Remember to read and then form your own opinion. Like Buddha, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense." And, please, let your friends, relatives, colleagues and your local papers know about Swans.
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted. All rights reserved.
This Week's Internal Links
The Remarkable Mother of Invention - by Michael W. Stowell
A Few Cuban Resources - by Swans
THEY CHANGE THEIR SKY - by Alma A. Hromic
America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire - by Geoff Berne
The Montenegro Operetta - by Stevan Konstantinović
Perspectives on Perspectives - by Milo Clark
CorpTrek - by David Deckert
Lucky to be an American or, What it Means to Not Live in Sudan - by Jan Baughman
BLACK SHEEP PASSING - by Sandy Lulay