Entries Tagged 'Creative Writing' ↓

IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction!

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 40 of 52. I skipped weeks 37, 38, and 39.

Note: My two entries in August providing sleep tips (Part 1 and Part 2) recommended sleep lab founder Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep. But it turns out the book is sketchy. In November 2019, Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey, who has a background in economics and math, posted a devastating critique of Walker’s bestseller, which Guzey put together across two months (and updated most recently in April 2021). I updated my two sleep tips posts with this information. I regret the blunder and suggest checking out Guzey’s critique.

Screenshot of relevant portion of letter from the IELTS people saying their re-marking of my writing test results in no change of score.

When confronting a challenge, I often throw myself into it, paying attention to educational materials on the subject only concurrently, not in advance. It was this way with substitute-teaching or volunteering with Food Not Bombs. “Take these to the dish pit,” a Seattle FNB non-leader leader said during the last decade, handing me dirty trays as we cleaned a Thai buffet in exchange for surplus food to redirect to the dispossessed, including some of our own number. “What’s a dish pit?” I asked. Looking back, such incidents are amusing moments, but at the time, they can be embarrassing, painful. It’s what happens when you throw yourself into things. Thankfully, if a person sticks with something—and has an inquisitive, adaptable mind that stays out of ruts—improvement also happens.

Image showing a portion of my IELTS General test report form, with black highlighter covering personal identifying information save for a photo of me.
Another doc from planet paperwork

For leaving the United States, I knew if I continued comparing countries via watching youtube videos, and kept on musing endlessly about possibilities, I’d never get anywhere (literally). That’s why, while messing around with Canada’s Express Entry eligibility estimator, I decided to, among other actions, just go take the computer-based IELTS General exam in San Diego to prove English proficiency as required of non-students seeking permanent residency in the northern nation. I crammed for two days and, as expected, aced the reading and speaking sections, but made a sole mistake in the listening part (you hear audio texts only once, so no wandering attention nor confusion with the test format allowed!) and—I bungled the writing component. Despite a summa cum laude bachelor’s—a double-major in philosophy and, wait for it, writing—and despite years and years of paid freelance writing, including multiple news media publications, standardized writing tests and I simply don’t get along. Long ago, I similarly bombed the GRE’s writing section, repeatedly! Yeah, shove it, standardized tests.

I took the IELTS General on September 9 (see previous post); my test report form, dated September 11, eventually arrived in my PO Box showing the following scores: 8.5 overall, 9 reading, 9 speaking, 8.5 listening, and 7.5 writing. Since higher IELTS General scores help a non-student migrant gain admission to Canada and a handful of other Anglosphere countries, I got grumpy about that last grade, and looked to see what my options were for vengeance.

Turns out, there’s a procedure called Enquiry on Results, or equivalently, for the sake of SEO keyword stuffing, Inquiry on Results or simply EoR. Within six weeks of a test report form’s date, an IELTS test-taker can get a section(s) re-marked, for, of course, a fee.

A pyramid showing the hierarchy of power. At the top, supranational power. Below that, security militias. Below them, science and academia. Under those, comfortable citizen. Under comfortable citizen, impoverished citizen. Below that, caregivers and slaves. Below them, criminals.
The completely contingent order of things. (Source)

Anecdotal reports suggest EoR cannot lower your score; however, I couldn’t find official documentation from IELTS authorities proving that’s the policy. Google-savvy and forum participants suggested official documentation doesn’t exist, at least not online. I thought briefly about phoning the IELTS authorities overseas, but then decided, whatever, it fits my general knowledge of academia that it’s unlikely for EoR to lower my score, only keep it the same or raise it. Make no mistake, these myriad migration paperwork hurdles have the distinctive reek of academia/intelligentsia. Well, my destination thoughts were shifting from Canada to the Netherlands anyway. Better just to wing it, to purchase an Enquiry on Results for my writing section. YOLO!

I called the testing center and was asked to email the director with EoR in the subject line. I did. After some back-and-forth, my EoR request was officially in and paid for on October 4. Pretty ironic: the first task on the IELTS General’s writing section tells candidates to type an everyday letter, say to a newspaper or in order to complain to a company—and here I was, asking for that task to be re-graded, by means of me writing email letters with the testing center staff, communicating with perfect competence.

The higher-up graders re-marked my writing section and by email I received the new, or rather, not new, score in a PDF on October 6. You can see the outcome in the screenshot starting this post. My score didn’t change a smidge. Blegh. Vengeance denied. Had I prepared better, I would have spent more time with official practice materials or free/low cost courses specifically on the IELTS General writing section available on MOOC platforms such as edX, Udemy, Coursera, etc. Because as we all know, exams don’t evaluate your writing or English proficiency. They test how well you take the test. But the point was to throw myself into the actual emigration process. Psychology score, A+. Home economics score…F.

Well Canada, you and I had a few flirty dates, but it looks like there won’t be any more nights out on the town for the two of us. I don’t have enough points to meet your high standards. That’s okay, I have gray—oops, grey…er, grijs—in my stubble now; I’m no teen who can’t handle rejection. Besides, you have mining companies with active licenses for profiteering off the genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. And your money-laundering transnational criminals in Vancouver are protected by Chinese spies. *Hangs up*

This is the distracted boyfriend meme. A shocked girlfriend, labelled Canada, looks at a distracted boyfriend, labelled Doug, as he checks out a passing woman labelled Netherlands.

Personal update: Pfthird Pfizer Pfjab Pfgoing Pfine

This past workweek in West Seattle, antivaxx and antimask protesters waved signs during five o’clock traffic in my neighborhood. Aside from the bald dude in the, what’s that Dutch word, *scrolls up*, grijs hoodie, who, though he lacks camo pants, sorta resembles a typical contractor you’d find working for a company like Craft International (a merk firm and friend of spy biz Stratfor with a mysterious habit of hanging around events like the Boston Bombing)—I have no idea who the grijs dude is, just sayin’ he looks a bit creepy—it seemed a fairly ordinary group of Seattle rightwingers of the new school. I stopped my car in the parking lot behind these vaccine hesitant folks to get a photo for the blog entry you’re reading now.

When I saw the flag, I knew it was going to be bad

Giving their respiration a wide berth, I walked to a suitable site to hold my phone up at ’em. Seemingly in unison, the women chorused, “Are you going to write about us?!?!” The ;) ;) @}->– @}->– flattery in their voices twisted this writer’s face into an involuntary smile. Like thundering storm clouds above a parched man in a desert dropping rain: acid rain. I told them Yes and continued thumbing my phone. Then one protester lady asked: “Are you going to write ill of us?” Interesting choice of words, there. They asked where to read, so above the noisy traffic I shouted: “DouglasLucas dot com!” Maybe they’ll comment and tell us more about Mister Grijs Hoodie.

A satisfactory photo achieved, I headed back to my car by the same circuitous route in reverse. I crossed the street. Suddenly I was passed by Mister Grijs Hoodie! He had his bald head down, his face sternly focused, and he was powerfully striding alone, whither I know not. I should specify, relative to being a Craft International employee (which I’m including almost entirely for joke and to link readers to stuff), it’s far more likely he’s a complete nobody, for instance a run-of-the-mill bargain bin patriarchy boss of some local Kik group for definitely-not-advisable hookups (read: loss-leads), which, as #OpDeathEaters has been pointing out since 2014, is, like, same diff, or can be, you know, more precisely, the everyday consequences of supranational pedo propaganda from above swamping populations with dolla dolla bill masculinist ideology rebranded to sound like freedom. Not to mention human trafficking. [Hey! Are you an editor or other potential payor reading my blog? Find academics vouching for #OpDeathEaters in that same diff link. That’s the completely contingent order of things—for now!]

Nothing hurts me except bad hair days

A surprisingly high portion of the cars passing the protest were repeatedly honked in favor. Not surprisingly, those one-note vehicles tended to be jacked-up pickups with needless stickers of an out-of-character Calvin urinating. I saw only one person indicate disapproval: a driver doing their daily grind, gripping the steering wheel with one hand and with the other, like a time-warped Roman emperor, presenting an unmistakable thumbs-down.

The wild hyperlocal antivaxx advertising blitz appearing in my neighborhood did not detain me from getting my third Pfizer (booster) jab Friday, courtesy of my public education employment. Although I follow news on twitter, email lists, and elsewhere too much from my own good, even I almost missed last Monday’s study in The Lancet, among the globe’s most prestigious medical journals—a study written up by The Hill. To oversimplify, the research indicates Pfizer-BioNTech protection against novel coronavirus infection drops significantly—approximately in half!—four to six months after the second jab, with the specifics varying depending on the scenario, mutation, etc. Thus, boosters. As with, say, the tetanus shot. According to the CDC and FDA in September, certain Team Pfizer folks can get the third jab once a minimum of six months since their second jabs has elapsed. Hopefully better vaccines (here’s looking at you, University of Washington) will be approved soon and become widely accessible for all, so we can be done with these less than ideal, but still very helpful, interim measures.

Trees, etc.
I took this photo in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park this past workweek. The image shows happiness

I embed an image from the exam room not to boast, but to model good behavior, to encourage people to get vaccinated. Of course I know Pfizer and other Big Pharma companies have horrifying histories of wrongdoing (an easy peasy first stop, Wikipedia criticism section footnotes, when they exist), but the risks thereof are, in my case, far less than the risks of suffering COVID-19. The Pfizer press release about the third jab has the expected advertising but also a lot of interesting links for people who might want to dig.

I’m too exhausted by the coronavirus vaccination debate to go into more detail, but the big picture might be helpful: if you don’t experience something firsthand (while knowing what you’re looking at, too), you have to decide whether to trust information from others. Documents may be more reliable than most people, but even with documents, you have to trust they’re real and not forgeries. How do we accomplish this as humans?

Like we always have: with trust networks. As far as I know, that’s a term that kinda originated with cryptography, but the phrase intuitively makes sense, right? My unfairly overworked primary care physician, whose performance is usually stellar, recommended the bestseller Why We Sleep to me (see note above starting this entry). I assumed she had read it closely, when probably—I’ll ask next time I see her, because mapping trust networks, even for oneself, is of life-and-death importance—she heard about it on a podcast or something, while HIIT sprinting or Wim Hof breathing. I presume she then passed the recommendation from the podcast (or whatever) to me, and despite the intuitive misgivings I initially felt about Matt Walker’s marketing image, I got swept-up a bit in his glitz. I mostly listened to Why We Sleep, while driving or exercising, meaning I didn’t read individual sentences in print, a way of reading that makes it easier to be careful and critical. I just had it on in the background to learn by osmosis. So I got fooled.

From what I’ve read so far, Walker’s never directly acknowledged his critic, the Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey.

It's the "you vs the guy she tells you not to worry about" meme, with glitzy Matt Walker Ph.d. on the left in the "you" slot, and subway-riding, high or sleep-deprived lookin' Alexey Guzey, DIY on the right in the "guy she told you not to worry about" slot. Walker has a blue dress shirt fit for a country club. Guzey has a very Moscow leather jacket, slightly pink undershirt, legit sexy countenance, and so on.
Corporate spotlight decreasingly needed for winning crushes’ attention … but will our ability to search for non-corporate knowledge-sharers be fully seized by the powers that be?
Example of actual public diplomacy. @TheBoobla versus @sleepdiplomat … Fight! … Boobla wins!

Having read most of the devastating critique by Guzey, who ended up on international news himself to tear apart Walker, I lowered the glitzy guy’s reliability score as a science source in my personal trust network, and updated my blog entries accordingly. Actually, early on, I emailed Walker’s press person once or twice with various questions—on twitter, Walker goes by @sleepdiplomat, and says he wants to spread his message everywhere—and never got a reply; he could have been occupied, of course, but sometimes, mentioning my news publications gets me at least a politer version of He’s too busy for you (e.g., I’ll ask him!! <3 <3 <3 and then they never do). Based on how my primary care physician reacts when I ask her about this, I’ll adjust her trust network reliability score (especially on the topic of book recommendations) down, up, or not at all. Same for whatever podcast (or other source) she got her Why We Sleep info from. Unlike cryptographers, I don’t have actual numbers scoring people in my head (each person would have multiple scores, one per topic). It’s just something I think humans do all the time, semi-automatically, unless they’re effectively brain dead. (Oops, that’s rude to actual brain-dead people, who, uh, won’t be reading this.)

Imagine if IELTS and academia tested people, not on avoiding typos during unrealistic, one-shot English exams, but on the everyday life-and-death practice of adjusting trust networks. You know, critical reasoning and media literacy classes. In fact, spy agencies (public or private) use trust networks too. For a few years, I read thousands of Stratfor emails, and their staff was expected, when relaying to internal email lists the insights they heard from their sources, to give each source a letter grade to indicate their reliability (as well as other information about the source, the reliability of the particular insight, timeliness, and so on). There were similar trust network instances in the zillions of State Department cables and additional public, classified, or otherwise restricted documents I’ve read. We all do this when evaluating information. It’s just that the spies’ goals are antisocial, and mine, and hopefully yours, are prosocial. BTW, spying these days doesn’t merely mean cloak-and-dagger stuff, like car-bombing journalists critical of Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, as in this April 2012 conversation: a 24-minute excerpt of the bugged recording of Lukashenko’s then-spymaster was published by EUobserver in January 2021 here (see also the 12-page English transcript or the 8-page Russian transcript; this related DW article in English too). Spying also means high-level marketing crap like Stratfor employees writing the majority of this or that article released by your favorite corporate media outlets. That’s an observation still true yet a bit past its sell-by date, since now the Dems openly run CIA and military spy candidates; heck, might as well openly put them on mainstream media mastheads while they’re at it. (If your bar is lesser evil, explain it not to me, but imagine how you’d get ratio’d for explaining it to actual torture victims who use twitter.)

It's a Stratfor memo regarding El Chapo. The email illustrates Stratfor use of sourcing criteria such as Source Reliability, Item Credibility, Source Description, and so on. It uses the code US714 to protect their source, whom I identified years ago as Aaron Grigsby.
Example of spies using their trust network with sourcing criteria. US714 was Aaron Christopher Grigsby, then a director of the Texas state police Ranger divison. Source a decade ago.

I’ll close this section with three more observations. First, I know wonderful people who are far too busy (perhaps a single mother or a prisoner with limited or no computer access) to do the countless hours of reading required to really evaluate, say, scientific papers. So they often have to go by, for instance, their affinity for a rando shiny podcaster, because again, we all use trust networks. What else are we going to do, not look up information, not sift through reading options by some means? I understand, but get slightly annoyed, when twitter radicals call these people fascists; in a remote-controlled (autogenocide) way they are, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel, when radicals could try instead to save them from the peril (by aiming at the top authoritarians cuz else, regrowing hydra heads). Similarly for academics who’ve lived their whole lives in the ivory tower and have never stepped foot in a prison, long-term psychiatric lockup facility, non-Western country (me!), and on and on. We’re all in this sort of boat, just for different topics.

1960s international smallpox vaccine records of US citizen

Second, a few short years ago it was fashionable in the hacktivism/transparency realm to fund vaporware websites with a Great Man on top supposedly to change things, but these vaporware projects didn’t employ trust networks (among other problems), just glitzy marketing. We were supposed to trust our emergency-based need to get wrapped up in trusting their machismo. GetGee, the global commons for public data, allows users to employ trust networks when looking at research.

Third, if disinfo feels hopeless, remember it’s startling how effective a) history and b) reframing things can be. For instance, if someone’s para about vaccine passports, you can show them international smallpox vaccination records for US citizens from more than fifty years ago, or reframe the concept by saying, hey, to go into a bar serving alcohol, or to pilot a two-ton metal box powered by explosions down the freeway, we have to show age passports. And yes, I know both the conventional and alternative medical industries can be untrustworthy (see links on my blogroll), everything around ‘securitized’ border enforcement too, and that COVID-19’s origins deserve more investigation; but, uninformed speculation is cheap and funding investigative journalism (which sometimes requires travel to do well) is expensive.

So yeah, I got my third Pfizer jab Friday, and Sunday, 48 hours later, pfno pfside pfeffects pfso pfar.

Blog update

Recently I received a donation for my blog from a reader—thank you! (Hic haec hoc, huius huius huius!) The donation encourages me to keep blogging. For anyone else who might be interested in donating, here are the donation options, to which I just added snailmail.

This past month I made tinkery updates across the website, mostly under the hood; some, though, you might notice. Do tell if you spot any problems or have any suggestions. I overhauled the blogroll (see right sidebar, up) for the first time in years and years. I replaced http:// links across my site with absolute https:// links. Digitizing my belongings to prepare for emigration, I came across a nice print ad for the 2017 bookstore talk I did, and added that to the in the media section, where it looks, um, good! I grumble about the monkey see, monkey do requirement of social proof in marketing (completely contingent social order…for now!), but, whatever, it’s good to have more, how shall I say, self-esteem or something like that, and enjoy these sorts of thingymaboppers, at least while I’m still a loudmouth resident of the loudmouth United States!

By the way, the bookstore I spoke at is called Burning Books; it’s in Buffalo, New York. After over ten years, they’re now expanding, more than tripling their floor plan and adding designated event space, all without leaving their location. Everything will be fully accessible, too. Below, their fundraising video and gofundme link.

GoFundMe link

Reminds me, YAC.News has a fundraiser going also, as well as a community Discord currently open to new users.

Because these blog posts usually take more than a day to write when they’re lengthy, and because offline readers have advised me that shorter posts would be easier for them to take in (time-wise), I need to figure out how to change this blog, and how to modify my time and energy investments in my overall writing more generally. A few weeks ago, I was working on a very long post about Beto O’Rourke and realized I really need to rethink my efforts. Diverting huge chunks of my time and energy away from my longform fiction- and nonfiction-writing goals to pin down, by skimming seemingly identical NPR articles at 3 a.m., the exact date the Del Rio international bridge closed during the ongoing refugee crisis, and who actually issued the order to close it (various local/regional mini-authorities stumbled over each other trying implausibly to claim the ugly credit in the media spotlight), is fascinating, but maybe not the best sort of time-sink every single weekend. I do enjoy writing journalism (especially were I able to do more investigative work uncovering as-yet-unknown ‘revelations’). And summarizing/analyzing other journalists’ work in reframed language weekly is, to borrow from Pokémon Go, super effective, biz-wise and persuasion-wise, in terms of staying in readers’ minds on a regular basis. For example, these posts not infrequently convert into incoming messages from people I haven’t heard from in awhile, asking me what’s up and what do I think of xyz popular issue. Yet such posts should just be a sole theater of war among several, not my only battlefield.

Then there’s the damage to psychophysical health from end-gaining (sacrificing healthy means to ensure ends are achieved, which might compare with emergency-based structures). To write something called lengthy, like this blog post, it helps the writer tremendously to keep the material in short-term memory (RAM for computerheads) while working. Especially if the content’s not strictly outlined (this piece is pretty outlined). The more creative, the more the creator needs to have all the data (even imaginative data) for the piece readily accessible in their minds, even to the point of boiling, such that the energy must be discharged (mixing my engineering metaphors). Taking breaks to tend to houseplants, do the dishes, or complete other sanity- and health-maintaining tasks risks losing the data’s salience. So you find yourself with a hacker hunch, crooked over the laptop, flies circling the sink, and Dutch roommates, if you have those, perhaps eyeing you suspiciously. Good luck with the 9-5 schedule, too. While potentially liberating, such pedal-to-the-metal practices can be risky, especially if an inexperienced and/or broke person doesn’t intersperse them with rest and/or has insufficient social support.

Meme. Top half shows helicopters arriving at what I assume is some Dutch government building. Top half is labelled: How the American president arrives. The bottom half shows a guy in a suit waving and riding a bicycle. It's labelled: How the Dutch Prime Minister arrives.
U.S. president, but yeah

The problem is particularly acute for me in terms of creating a freelance/entrepreneurial business plan to meet migration requirements of the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. I haven’t picked the Netherlands for certain yet, but I imagine I will have in roughly two or three weeks, at which point I’ll buy a one-way overseas plane ticket months ahead of schedule to give me salient countdown timer motivation. (Psychology score, A+; home economics…) The business plan for writing in the Netherlands is mandatory. That’s why, despite frequent exercise and cooking super-healthy veggie-rich meals at home, I’ve been suffering moodiness and lethargy lately: much of it revolves around my fear that I’ll soon have to devote most of my time and energy, i.e. my life, to content-marketing, not the reading and writing I’d rather do. Though it’d perhaps be fun to run a content-marketing business in the Netherlands for vegan restaurants, free software firms, and antipsychiatry / critical psychiatry service providers called something like, Idealistic Content Marketing (how do you say that in Dutch?). With long-term substitute-teaching assignments and CELTA training, I was able to squeze some blog posts and fiction-writing in, but it wasn’t easy, and I found that eventually the employment system—at least in the United States—beats avocational activities out of overworked employees. Optimizing routines, honing goals + plans, and the like can help tremendously, and cutting costs through, say, miraculously finding good roommates, but, also, let’s not kid ourselves.

Meadow, trees, blue sky with clouds, and in the far distance, sea and sun
Another photo I took, same day, same park… lovely place

To close off this section, let’s consider how I’ll blog for this year’s remaining 12 weeks. The last post will of course sum up my 2021 year of blogging. The penultimate entry will explain with bullet points how I made it through a full calendar year, for the first time since 2013, without a manic episode or psych lockup. That leaves 10 weeks. Then there are three series I started in 2021 with a single post and never finished: Meet new president Joe Biden, part 1 of 2; Views of happiness: Journey versus destination, part one of two (this should actually be three parts); and Review of education books, part one of two (this should actually be four parts). That’s six posts needed to conclude those series. Leaving four weeks. I want to post about trees in Seattle, and maybe finish the Beto O’Rourke URL-as-tome. That would leave two weeks … I also wanted to do news blasts for Colombia, and I never finished with the Haitian presidential assassination news blasts, but no one has solved that murder yet, so nobody else finished the story, either.

Division of labor makes an interesting way to look at this business plan, life plan challenge. The titles change, but in the forms of media-writing I know, including print-only fiction and journalism, there are usually four roles in my experience (call them what you want): researcher at the most granular level, then writer, then editor, then producer at the most birds eye-view level. I need better self-production skills, so I imagine there’s, if not an app for that, then quality courses I could check out on the various MOOC platforms, and book recommendations I could ask friends/mentors for. Just not any books by disgraced sleep diplomat Matt Walker.

Maybe the best plan for my blog in 2022 would be the following formula, to which there could be occasional exceptions: one observation from daily life, one philosophical/political/whatever lesson drawn from it, and then an international news blast or two. Heck, maybe even a music and fiction section after the news blasts! (See, I keep adding stuff…) If anyone has thoughts, suggestions, or requests for this blog, I’d love to hear them!

News blasts: US, China, Worldwide Trade Collapse/Change

Get ready, because these are a doozy.

Does it? Much, though not all, wrongdoing is in the open nowadays. Other factors may be more important than darkness, such as lack of good framing, endless grains of news sand staying decontextualized, and the antisocial system of carrots and sticks that corporations condition us for. Oh, and don’t forget cowardice

United States. On September 23, the Washington Post published a lengthy op-ed by influential neocon Robert Kagan, cofounder of the notorious warmonger thinktank Project for the New American Century. Kagan’s op-ed is titled “Our constitutional crisis is already here” (full text at Cryptome) and argues that, unless his health fails entirely, Trump will be the next Republican presidential candidate. Kagan says come November 2024, the United States will reach its biggest crisis since 1861, with widespread mass violence and a federal system breaking completely. He blames the cults of personality surrounding demagogues for the impending doom, and just like the Washington Post itself, he makes the evergreen claim that democracy will die, though Kagan prefers November 2024 as the date to put on the coroner’s report.

While we’re still forced to work, in some senses, alongside liberal states against outright fascism because innovative alternatives to the liberal order need greater amplification and effort and funding (and uh, commissions from editors) and knowledge of self, health, and wealth—the sneak attack, the edutainment style returns like that, my philosophy keeps it plain and simple, the kingdom of hip-hop is within you—it might be a worthy endeavor to introduce some rigor upon these sales slogans about democracies dying and failed states. Nation-state is an incoherent package-deal concept, but to roll with it for a while, the idea of an international order of liberal nation-states is typically traced back to 1648’s Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Whatphalia? I must have been roaming the hallways that day in AP European History. What criteria must such liberal nation-state countries meet to count as successful or failed, alive or dead? There are of course readable scholarly books on such subjects, for those with time, i.e., not salaried at the Washington Post or Idealistic Content Marketing.

China.

Youtube offers plenty of videos from US individuals who’ve relocated to China as obedient reflectors, playing by the rules and keeping their mouths shut. Footage from these moneymaking individuals suggest they have a pretty good life in China, happy but helpless. Well, good for them. Now let’s talk about the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, and the propaganda war around it in the United States. Trump, who tweeted in April 2013 that China owns DC, won reactionary hearts by telling his followers he would resist the Chinese government’s encroachments on the United States, but he himself has been a bigly CCP beneficiary. In October 2020, Forbes put together a helpful guide to The Donald’s debt, which astonishingly totaled at least a billion dollars. (And you thought your student loan debt was bad!) The Forbes guide looks at multiple Trump properties, but let’s just consider the 1290 Avenue of the Americas location. More than two hundred million dollars for that New York City property came from the CCP-owned Bank of China. That bank says the debt was sold to Vornado Realty Trust. Maybe so. But without transparency, maybe Bank of China is still a creditor on the building, if say, after the sale, Vornado sold it right back. Opaque transactions we can’t audit don’t help explain. Whoever the current creditors are, guess when the debt comes due: November 2022, the mid-term elections. There are more connections between Trump and China, such as his pledge- and likely constitution-violating hiring of firms with majority CCP ownership in early 2017, and the eighteen trademarks granted to Donald and Ivanka Trump in late 2018 by guess who, the Chinese government. That’s the reality, while they’re telling their fans they hate China. As the top predators block their constituents on social media, they party together and laugh about you wearing their T-shirts, didn’t you know? Meanwhile the US left is misled by garbage-news from channels loyal to the CCP and Putin (see here and especially threads here and here). Note it’s both obviously bad Trump and wrongly beloved Obama who sided with Putin to bring us to this brickbat BRICS point. A busy and hardworking activist asked me the other day to explain what the problem with fake news website The Grayzone is. “Red-brown alliance,” I started off succinctly, meaning the longstanding and continuing pattern of Commies allying with Nazis (see news blast above regarding the thankless duty of grumbling anarchists, when forced to pick between the two, to support the liberal order over the outright fascists, while still shoving reframing, truth-bombs, and nonviolent/self-defense other bom—nevermind, into faces). Grayzone founder and head honcho, your local Assad apologist Max Blumenthal, successfully pressured the Southern Poverty Law Center to take down this article. I dare him to try my website, I’ve shielded myself with lengthy paragraphs! The article explains, on the Internet Archive at least, how presently, fascist propagandists like Steve Bannon use intermediatry hops to convert left-wing resentment (paging Nietzsche, or better, The Creation of Me, Them, and Us on the struggle between reflectors and negative images in Hegelian setups) into unwitting support for Putin-, CCP-, Assad-, etc. aligned talking points. As the first track of Lupe Fiasco’s Birth of the Cool album propounds, check your ingredients before you overdose on the cool. Might be a bit Tatmadaw when those discussing the CCP’s horrifying Uyghur genocide find themselves told by USians that it’s a “Karen” move to feel cross-border, cross-sect empathy: “Yeah, tell us again Karen, how the Uyghur genocide actually affects you” and the like. Nope, empathy across distances is a good thing. Finally, whataboutism is increasingly not accepted online, so I don’t have to put a long disclaimer in here about multiple awful genocides caused by the US.

“What is this garbage you’re watching?” the US fifties father says, thrusting the remote control like a gavel. “I want to watch the news!” (Points for those who know the music video source.)

Well, if there’s anyone still reading after that giga-paragraph, such was my understanding prior to this blast, so now we crank the volume! I’m basing the below largely on the September 28 YAC.news article, “Prelude to war: China’s plot for world domination,” and the links therein. Heather Marsh’s 2014 post “World War III: Pillage and plunder” provides some helpful historical background about power shifting from the British empire / Five Eyes / etc. to the Chinese empire, and then her 2020 post “The catalyst effect of COVID-19,” offers more crucial background, regarding the present attempt at a planetary mono-empire, transcending the Cold War binary and dangerously trying to sublate us all into obedient nothing-humans. Back to the YAC.news post.

The excellent article explains “China’s goal is global ideological and economic domination. To achieve that, it is spreading propaganda, expanding information operations, amassing economic and social influence, and sabotaging democratic political systems.” The article gives backstory and context such as “The CCP has had a monopoly on power in China since Mao Zedong first obtained control in 1949 after a grueling civil war. The CCP currently has more than ninety million members, not including non-Chinese loyalists scattered worldwide. Over 70 percent of the CCP’s members are men” but in 2019, more than 42% of new members are women, contemporary gender parity in joining authoritarian destruction. Here’s a key paragraph from YAC.news:

The CCP does not seek ideological conformity but rather power, security, and global influence. President Xi promotes China’s authoritarian governance as being superior to democratic political systems and seeks to spread “Chinese wisdom” throughout the world as a “contribution to mankind.” Xi speaks of China’s prosperity as proof that the path to prosperity does not lead through democracy. Unlike the United States and the fallen Soviet Union, China is currently not spreading its ideology through the installment of authoritarian strongmen or through military conquest. Instead, it promotes itself as “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. Chinese officials commonly speak of the “right” of nations to choose their political systems, often advocating the right of countries to be ruled by nondemocratic regimes. When paired with China’s economic and political measures China’s policy reinforces authoritarian regimes and weakens democratic systems around the world.

There’s much more to the YAC.news article. Chinese spies protecting Vancouver money launderers, CCP (and Russian) support for Assad and the Myanmar junta [also Lukashenko in Belarus, noted by YAC elsewhere], and People’s Liberation Army strategy—the PLA recently allied with the Taliban as the Chinese have been taking possession of abandoned US armament in Afghanistan, where resistance continues (now hear this and consider). In July, China threatened to nuke Japan. If you think you’ve heard bellicose rhetoric from Texans, watch the CCP video embedded below that went out to two million subscribers (source one, source two):

What does it take to descibe more than just the US as imperial?

Speaking of war, note that like the physically unfit Trump, China is campaigning against effeminate men and other non-machismo experiments with beauty. China’s TV regulator this month banned the “abnormal aesthetics” of “sissy men”; in February, Wang Hailin, the screenwriter vice president of China’s National Film Literature Association, ranted in moronic binary form: “If a man pays too much attention to his outfits and his makeup, it means that he is trying to avoid responsibility and our society is going backward. …If we have more sporty and manly men, it means that our society is moving forward and improving.” Gee, so simple even authoritarians can understand it, unlike, say, cutting their toenails.

The Chinese government harasses Chinese nationals on Canadian soil. The Toronto Star reported last month that a Chinese student located in Canada retweeted three posts critical of the CCP or against its interests, from his fake-name twitter account with only two followers. That was all it took for the Chinese authorities to contact him (in Canada) and his family (in China) with threats. They told him to delete the posts or “face trouble.”

In November 2019, the Toronto Sun detailed how dozens of Chinese in the Vancouver area are getting in person visits on Canadian soil from “Chinese officials” due to their anti-CCP online posts. “When we meet in my office, they want the blinds closed,” Brad West, mayor of Port Coquitlam (just outside Vancouver), told the paper. “They’re that fearful.” He said the Canadian “government has been doubling down on the same approach [to this problem] for decades now and the proof is in the pudding. There hasn’t been a change and things have gotten worse.” The article concludes with the mayor saying, “Maybe I’m being too simplistic in thinking, but when dealing with a bully, there does come a point where you just have to stand up for yourself.”

Wray testifying to Congress. Yeah, I don’t trust his agency or face either, but look. The FBI director isn’t talking to us. Neither is Reuters. They’re both talking to other wack members of the security services, intelligentsia, etc. We’re the (presumed apathetic) public listening in on this particular regional gang giving each other data about another regional gang, the CCP, and we’re deciding not only to care, but to act.

Where else is the CCP harassing Chinese nationals? In the United States. In July 2020, Reuters reported on FBI director Christopher Wray’s explanation of China’s “Fox Hunt” program in an hour-long presentation to the conservative militarists at the Hudson Institute. The program sees Chinese citizens, some also US green card holders or US citizens, who are anti-CCP dissidents, finding themselves blackmailed on US soil—told “return to China promptly or commit suicide” for example—by CCP “emissaries” suddenly showing up and using the Fox Hunt targets’ family members back in China and even in the United States “for leverage.” At the Hudson Institute, Wray said there are “hundreds of [Fox Hunt] victims” in the United States, and the CCP forces use “a variety of means of coercion” against them. “If you use your imagination,” Wray said, “you’re not going to be far off.”

The FBI director points out that any Chinese company is required to give the CCP any information its requests on anything. That includes data of USians using Tik Tok, owned by a Chinese firm that tries to censor mention of the Xinjiang concentration camps where Uyghur and other minorities are incarcerated by the CCP for indoctrination, torture, rape, and death. The CCP has also created an international state-sponsored organ trafficking industry.

Canada and the United States aren’t the only places China’s influence activities reach. As linked in the YAC.news article, intelligentsia guy Larry Diamond and other intelligentsia guy Orville Schell, wrote a November 2018 report at the influential conservative Hoover Institution think tank, on the Stanford campus, about China reaching beyond its borders in nefarious ways. The report’s 48-page second appendix, titled Chinese influence activities in select countries, draws on typical intelligentsia sources (journalists, academics, bureaucrats, yadda) to list example after example of CCP influence and harassment operations in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Quoting from the second appendix:

China seeks to make itself more palatable to democratic societies by using many of the customary vehicles of soft power—such as state-funded research centers, media outlets, university ties, and people-to-people exchange programs […] In conjunction with the dramatic expansion of Chinese economic interests abroad, the Chinese government has focused its influence initiatives on obscuring its policies and suppressing, to the extent possible, voices beyond China’s borders that are critical of the CCP. Targeting the media, academia, and the policy community, Beijing seeks to penetrate institutions in democratic states that might draw attention or raise obstacles to CCP interests, creating disincentives for any such resistance. Chinese economic activity is another important tool in this effort. Beijing is particularly skilled at using economic leverage to advance political goals in the realm of ideas […]

[For Australia, for instance:] In June 2017, a joint investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had warned the major political parties that two of Australia’s most generous political donors had “strong connections to the Chinese Communisty Party” and that their “donations might come with strings attached.”

More of CCP leader Xi Jinping … I wonder what kind of red wine that is?

YAC.news published a separate article on September 21, “China’s war on global education,” which says: “The Chinese government is actively working towards undermining academic freedom globally. Currently the CCP is influencing academic discussions, monitoring Chinese students abroad, and censoring scholarly inquiry. Chinese nationals have reportedly had to alter their behavior and self-censor to avoid threats, harassment, and authoritative backlash. Individuals who show interest in democracy, pro-democracy movements, or criticize the ruling class are monitored and reported on by CCP informants and spies.” To help combat such CCP coercion on university campuses, Human Rights Watch in March 2019 issued a 12-point code of conduct (3-page PDF). It advises measures such as speaking out in defense of academic freedom, recording instances of CCP infrigements on same, disclosing Chinese funding, and more.

The September 28 YAC.news “Prelude to war” article concludes:

China is not only on the warpath to subvert democracy but also pervert our global social contract built around human rights which was designed to in theory protect us from the blood lust of tyrants after the second world war. While the weakening of the human rights charter has been underway for more than half a century by despots that go unchallenged or democratic countries such as the United States that violate it with impunity, China’s plot for power aims to outright erase it. […]

Any effort to combat the CCP’s growing influence and reach must start with cracking down on transnational organized crime, especially that originating from the Golden Triangle and being spearheaded by China-linked Triads. Aggressive anti-money laundering measures need to be put in place across North America and Europe to cut off CCP funding. Anti-money laundering measures must include an international crackdown on illicit or suspicious real-estate and luxury asset acquisition across major metropolitan cities such as Vancouver, Canada, San Francisco, U.S., and London, U.K, among many others. A serious inquiry and crackdown on the vast network of Triad linked – Chinese diaspora based businesses used as fronts for human trafficking, such as spas, beauty salons, and general stores is also necessary. Any effort to curb China’s dark money should avoid arousing xenophobic sentiments, which would only serve to distance potential allies and disenfranchised Chinese in diaspora leading them back to the grip of the CCP. Legislation must also be amended to hold politicians and officials found to be colluding with the CCP judicially accountable. Those actively receiving funds from CCP linked organizations while promoting the party’s interest also need to be subject to transparency measures and held judicially accountable if found complicit […]

In order to secure democracy journalism across democratic countries must regain independence from CCP complicit media moguls and sponsors. Civil society must also be given the tools and training to allow complete transparency on the whereabouts of its funding and any CCP linked connections of its most vocal members. In order to circumvent China’s financial grip, with the Belt and Road Initiative, on financially strained countries, wealthy democratic countries must provide, corruption free, infrastructure development. Accountability and an end to impunity for officials, royals, and wealthy individuals residing in democratic countries must also gain priority to counter China’s narrative of western hypocrisy and instability […]

Currently some democratic states have sent naval assets to the Pacific to curtail CCP expansionist actions however without serious moves at home China grows bolder and stronger. Ultimately if China’s plot is not stopped and democracy is not reinforced the countdown to military confrontation at a global scale is underway.

Go read the whole thing at YAC.news and follow the links, including those in that appendix, so that you remember not to forget.

Worldwide trade economy collapse/change

Record-breaking numbers of container ships in August 2021 backed up off the coast of southern California (Source)

A year and a half ago, in her post “The catalyst effect of COVID-19,” philosopher Heather Marsh wrote: “We are, or will be, going through the most radical transformation the world has ever seen; people are justly terrified, excited, depressed, heartbroken and hopeful, all at once. […] the [trade] economy is not going to be nearly as important as it was before. This may be unimaginable to people who have been accustomed to framing all of our problems in terms of economics, but think of how religions and states faded as the dominant endogroups [cults, to oversimplify] when new transcendental endogroups appeared. Things that appear essential to society can fade into irrelevance if they are based only on endoreality [cult mindsets, to oversimplify], as economics is. The crash we started the year off with will not simply produce a depression and then recovery. Instead, it will illustrate the fact that economics now is simply an abstracted [consider] power structure with no underlying support in universal reality (like all endoreality). Economics as we know it, is dead. This does not mean it will disappear completely overnight, or that it will not remain in some form in some places, but, like religions, states, families, and other formerly dominant endogroups, it will no longer be the dominant or authoritative power structure in our lives. This is explained in great detail in The Approval Economy which will be published one day.” She then goes on to supply a list of specific opportunities that activists could pursue during the pandemic to establish/defend a world that’s much more exosocial [based on balanced, euphoric interactions rather than predatory, draining transactions].

In Seattle, when I stop by grocery store news-stands for a few moments, the papers are full of the latest headlines about the ongoing implosion of the trade economy. Maybe your area news-stands are similar. Even booksellers are affected, as Quartz reported on September 16: “Publishers are warning sellers and consumers that supply chain issues have forced a major slowdown in book production and threaten a shortage of certain titles for the rest of the year. Supply chain problems have touched almost every aspect of book production, storage, and delivery, mostly as a result of Covid-related bottlenecks. […] because many books are printed in China, the route from printer to the bookstore is currently fraught with bottlenecks. Port congestion, lack of shipping containers, a shortage of dockworkers, and trucking staffing problems are impeding the movement of books from warehouses to store […] publishing delays are likely to hit independent booksellers harder.” On September 13, Tubby & Boo’s, a New Orleans independent bookstore focusing on science fiction and fantasy along with titles of interest to queer communities, put together a 15-tweet thread detailing problems with raw materials, costs of production, distribution/circulation of commodities, and so on.

System collapse — that’s the warning from global supply chain workers according to a September 29 article posted by CNN Business. The piece centers on the joint open letter from International Chamber of Shipping and other shipping industry groups to heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly last month. The industry organizations asked the UN “that our transport workers are given priority to receive [World Health Organization] recognised vaccines and heads of government work together to create globally harmonised, digital, mutually recognised vaccination certificate and processes for demonstrating health credentials (including vaccination status and COVID-19 test results), which are paramount to ensure transport workers can cross international borders. We also call on the WHO to take our message to health ministries.” The supply chains are expected to buckle further toward the end of the year when employment contracts come up for renewal.

What does trade’s downward spiral mean for how we organize ourselves? Today, wage slavery is compulsory: the completely contingent order of thingsfor now—is that almost everyone must pick between Employer A or Employer B or Employer C to toil for moneytokens, or feel shame for begging in a world where free essentials aren’t cheerfully shared, or die. Sometimes the authoritarians describe this wage slavery as freedom; other times, they admit it’s compulsory, as in late September, when Gary D. Cohn, chief economic adviser to Donald Trump, also an IBM vice president, told Yahoo Finance that “we need to force people, in many respects, to reenter the workforce.” For more on IBM’s witting complicity with fascists, read investigative journalist Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust: How America’s Most Powerful Corporation Helped Nazi Germany Count the Jews.

I’ll try to make the worldwide trade economy collapse/change a recurring feature of my news blasts. If you feel dismay, remember, as John Donne (sorta) said in other words centuries ago, don’t respond by building emotional walls and blaming yourself for the corporate destruction making our lives difficult. I think I’m taking a little liberty with Mr Donne. Point is, reach out, talk about shame to throw it out the airlock, strengthen yourself, build bridges, and stick up for yourself and others!

Art Blasts: Theodore Sturgeon, Wanda Landowska

Since from now on it might be fun to include blasts, timely and untimely, about all forms of art, let’s look at some fiction and music real quick. Like trying to get a cranky vehicle started, I’ve been having trouble getting my own fiction-writing going as much as I’d like (although it is going, just slowly), so someone (Hoi!) recommend a while back that I do stuff about fiction to build up enthusiasm. Art blasts may help with that. This weekend’s are apropos of nothing; most aren’t timely at all!

Fiction, other) I have a friend who just published a poetry book, and another friend who just sold two fiction tales, but I haven’t read them yet. Sorry for the delay, y’all. I’ll get to your work soon!

Fiction, Theodore Sturgeon) One of my favorite writers is the late Theodore Sturgeon, mostly known for his stories of science fiction and fantasy. His work might be described as a bridge between the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction (circa 1938 – 1946), in which scientists like Isaac Asimov portrayed cerebral, familyless men exploring the universe and saving it nearly singlehandedly with hard rationality, and the New Wave of Science Fiction (1960s and 1970s), in which anti-authoritarian authors, such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick, focused on soft sciences (anthropology, sociology, etc.) and promoted/debated counterculture ideals. Sturgeon’s ponderings on love and his lyrical style, seen for instance in his screenplay for the famous Star Trek: TOS Amok Time episode, was a huge influence on the far more famous Ray Bradbury.

This two-minute, 2013 video from Open Road Media, which has been digitizing Sturgeon’s backlist, will vibe you with the author quickly:

The above Sturgeon video and facts have been familiar to me for a long time, but this past week I was delighted to stumble, for the first time, on the last issue of the Steam Engine Time fanzine, from March 2012, which contains a lengthy, well-sourced biographic and analytical essay on Sturgeon’s work by Matthew Davis, and ruminations on Sturgeon’s 1953 story “The World Well Lost” by Dick Jenssen aka Ditmar. Jenssen explores how “The World Well Lost,” written at a time when in the United States homosexuality was still voted by psychiatrists into being a diagnosable mental illness, shows bigoted homophobes as objectifiers obsessed with superficial appearances, while love is shown as a connection between what people have on the inside, regardless of the anatomy of their naughty bits. Before reading Davis’s essay, I already knew a lot about Sturgeon, but his piece told me things even I didn’t know. For instance, Sturgeon wrote for the black-and-white TV show Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953), which predated The Twilight Zone. I love the latter, but have never seen the former, so I was startled to learn from Davis that Sturgeon wrote the very first Tales of Tomorrow episode, “Verdict from Space.” I haven’t seen it yet, but the full 28 minutes are on youtube, giving me something to watch asap!

Music, Wanda Landowska) At the end of Sturgeon’s best known novel, 1953’s More Than Human, he describes ethereal post-humans inspiring humanity, and one result of the inspiration is “a child Landowska listening to a harpsichord.” He means Wanda Landowska, Polish pianist and harpsichordist, born 1879, died 1959. If you enjoy Bach, as I do, you might be more familiar with the widely available interpretations of his music by eccentric and deceased Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. Yet Landowska was very famous in her day, and still is among those knowledgeable on the musical era. Both keyboardists performed Bach’s 1735 Italian Concerto. We can use Gould’s popular interpretations as a sort of baseline to compare Landowska’s earlier interpretations against.

Glenn Gould, piano, squeaky chair, and mumbles, 1959
Wanda Landowska, harpischord, 1936

Same thing for Bach’s two- and three-part inventions from 1723, pieces I used to annoy my family with by playing them on the piano over and over. Both Gould and Landowska recorded the inventions, Gould in 1963-64 and Landowska in 1959. Hers are all up at the Internet Archive; his are all on youtube here. We might compare Landowska and Gould’s performances of a single piece from that set of compositions, the 13th two-part invention, in A minor:

Gould, piano, squeaky chair, and mumbling, 1963-64
Landowska, harpsichord, 1959

Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have anything to say about Gould, Landowska, and JS Bach right now—I was just sharing. In future posts, I hope to share music by Debussy, Grimes, Queensrÿche, Savant, and others. It’s been a weekend of typing; now I’m at last spent of words. Until next time!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction! by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/10/ielts-enquiry-on-results-pfizer-blog-newsblasts-china/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 36 of 52.

Gates to Another World! The Might & Magic RPGs, known for mixing fantasy and science fiction, inspired me as a kid

In last week’s post, I broached the subject of emigrating from the United States. I mentioned two bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining permanent residency in Canada via Express Entry: the Educational Credential Assessment and the General version of the International English Language Testing System. (I’ve been researching other possible destinations as well, such as Costa Rica.)

Since that blog entry, I received my ECA results and flew to and from San Diego — a short trip I arranged just two nights prior to departure — to take the IELTS exam, not offered here in Washington state. Below, after giving three additional reasons for emigration, I discuss how my ECA and IELTS went. In fact, I just got my IELTS scores in while writing this post. The information herein is from my perspective, that of a single guy in middle age; emigration requirements assuredly vary to some extent for families, etc.

But first, a telling experience at the Seattle airport on my way south. My flight was delayed, so I wandered from the gate to a shop. Package of salty cashews in hand, I approached the register. All at once I realized I’d accidentally cut in front of a mother tending to her toddler. With my palm, I acknowledged my error and gestured mildly for the pair to resume their rightful place in line. As I stepped back, the mother, visibly startled at the unusual turn of events, inched forward and purchased her items. Then, leaving the shop, she profusely thanked me, even though it was I who had made the mistake. This latest little example of the systemic injustice of masculinism felt dismaying. As a traveler, just some lone, middle-age guy with a big backpack, I was on easy street, yet here she was, tiredly laboring to create and nurture the next generation of humanity, but compelled to behave a bit as if she’d done something wrong and I’d done something stellar. My dismay quickly turned to optimism, however. After all, I was actually seeing this unfair and ancient imbalance — which I didn’t perceive as a young Texan — and so are increasing millions of others daily, through human rights news, brilliant analyses, and brave actions. The flood will continue to crash down the barriers.

Now some music to set the tone as the main of this post gets underway.

The 2015 song “E.V.A.” by the London-based band Public Service Broadcasting. “I’m on the edge of the opening … I feel excellent! I see clouds and the sea. I’m beginning to move away …”

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

First, the United States is a gigantic bubble where quality knowledge is difficult to discover. Just look at the emoji menu on your virtual keyboards. In the U.S., it’s rare for even educated people (formally or autodidactically educated) to be able to match more than a very few flags with the correct countries. Elsewhere, it’s a quite common skill for literate people. Besides that example, think of how important it is to have good information. If you want to quit smoking, for instance, excellent advice will lead you to success. Poor advice won’t. If you’re surrounded by misinformation and disinformation, it’s no wonder things are going downhill. Extend that to the quality of knowledge you access on any topic, such as child soldiers. Breaking out of the US prison of anti-info at this point in my life simply feels mandatory.

Second, consider the exceptionality of the United States with regards to worldwide taxation systems, not just for the powerful, but as it applies to everyday individuals. A helpful Wikipedia list shows that, with some tiny exceptions, only four countries tax their citizens residing abroad on their foreign income: Hungary, Eritrea, Myanmar, and the self-proclaimed greatest place on the globe, the United States. The other 190-ish countries don’t; perhaps some think if a citizen isn’t using the domestic roads or hospitals or other public services, they shouldn’t owe tax. Thus, if you’re a Spaniard living in South America selling stories to magazines, you don’t owe taxes back home to Spain. But, if you’re a US citizen and business executive in Ho Chi Minh City, then you do owe money not just to Vietnam, but also to Uncle Sam, on your Vietnamese pay every year, if your income exceeds $108,700 USD (as of this writing). Owing back taxes puts your passport at risk. While the $108,700 threshold is much higher than typical US citizen English teachers or writers ever need to worry about — they can claim the foreign earned income exclusion — simply failing to file a tax return annually will jeopardize half your undeclared assets in civil court. In some circumstances, there may even be criminal penalties. Just as a cop following a car in the United States can find plenty of reasons to pull the driver over after merely a minute or two, aided by the existence of complicated driving laws, so the complicated tax requirements ensure any USian anywhere on the planet is arrestable at any time: it’s likely anyone’s tax returns (or lack thereof) can be read in such a way as to find a (so-called) crime or excuse for inflicting civil pains. (That’s not even bringing up global surveillance and assassinations of US citizens and anyone else by the US.) Meanwhile, taxation for many non-US citizens is much simpler, a half-hour affair once a year rather than days or weeks of trying to decipher snarls like “Go to Part IV of Schedule I to figure line 52 if the estate or trust has qualified dividends or has a gain on lines 18a and 19 of column (2) of Schedule D (Form 1041) (as refigured for the AMT, if necessary).” Switching from US citizenship to another country’s is a way to escape such time-consuming, stressful insanity while getting the hell out of a failed, rogue state. Though there’s a potential irony: What if you switch citizenship to a country that doesn’t tax non-resident citizens on foreign income … until they do, shortly after you become one of their nationals? I suppose countries without a history of doing it would be a safer bet. In short, just like most “developed” countries do not link health insurance to employment, but rather provide it as a right (a better idea especially in a pandemic), most countries do not link taxation to citizenship, but rather to residency. The United States “excels” at yoking health insurance to employment and yoking taxation to citizenship.

Wrongly beloved Obama signing FATCA, part of the HIRE act, into law. As wily as a pickup artist, he did not mention FATCA in his official remarks on the legislation’s passage.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, meet the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which became US law in March 2010. In the words of the IRS (accessed today), besides the impositions on individuals (sorta covered by my paragraph above but see also here and elsewhere), FATCA “generally requires that foreign financial institutions and certain other non-financial foreign entities report on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders or be subject to withholding on withholdable payments.” DLA Piper, a global firm of business attorneys, explains in an 11-page PDF FAQ that FATCA’s “direct and profound” impact on foreign financial institutions means that in participating countries, all non-US banks — all of them — with customers born in the United States must search out, identify, and disclose information about those customers’ accounts for reports to Uncle Sam, including details on interest, dividends, and other income. And at the non-US countries’ own expense. In other words, FATCA is a measure to force non-US banks to report to Uncle Sam on their US customers — and foot the bill for it. The individual FATCA agreements between the United States and the many participating countries can be found at the Treasury Department website here. For example, fearing “catastrophic effects” on its financial sector, Canada hands to the US authorities private bank account information of average Canadians, even sometimes for accounts with balances under the $50,000 USD threshold. As another example, the Colombian bank Grupo Bancolombia says it must comply with FATCA by “permanent monitoring” of account holders and by supplying annual FATCA reports to the United States. That again shows how the US-centric law “imposes expansive compliance obligations” (as DLA Piper puts it) on foreign financial institutions. Which is a big reason why, while banks in some countries — Luxembourg and Georgia among them — welcome US citizen customers, some banks in others simply refuse to do business with US persons. Germany’s large Augsburger Aktienbank bank, for instance, announced in January 2021 that, due to FATCA burdens, it would no longer serve US individuals; gauging from social media, it seems to have stopped doing so. They’re not the only ones. News sites catering to US persons living abroad say they’ve received many reports from their readers who have suddenly found their bank accounts closed. Even people with tenuous connections to the United States, such as those who receive citizenship due to birth here but leave as infants never to return, can suddenly find themselves owing a lifetime of tax to Uncle Sam. In sum, FATCA is yet another reason to switch away from US citizenship. A tax consultancy to US citizens abroad says in 2020, a record number of them renounced their citizenship (continuing a multi-year trend that’s easy to find news articles about online); FATCA was often a top reason they cited. People dumping US citizenship over FATCA even include average teachers of English to speakers of other languages. The former US citizens can then provide a Certificate of Loss of Nationality in hopes of keeping their foreign banking service.

The infamous Trump wall we keep hearing about is not only to keep supposed “undesirables” out…it’s also to keep US citizens in.

To renounce US citizenship, a process that takes about a year, US citizens must undergo interviews with consular officials (which must be nerve-wracking!), perhaps have the last several years of their tax returns audited, and pay the world’s heftiest fee for dumping a so-called nation-state: $2,350 USD. Every year, the US Treasury Department publishes a list of people who break up with the United States — here’s 2021’s. But have no fear. According to an article on the subject at The Conversation, by the year 1796, the sailor James L. Cathcart, aiming to improve his fortunes, changed identities/citizenships/allegiances eight times all before age 30!

Exploring the wider world

Outside the practical difficulties, what about the social-emotional ones? As the link above about child soldiers mentions, growing up in the highly polarized United States resembles growing up in a country at civil war. Some kinda weird, slow-mo, nonstop civil war. A perpetual low-intensity conflict, an unacknowledged counterinsurgency homeland. So maybe it’s no surprise that working on leaving rips a person up. Like long threads inside, representing relationships, turning twisted, dry, dead, and finally disintegrating into mere memories, even as other threads, like spider silk, shoot out into the wider world, expanding, seeking purchase. Or, maybe growing up in a civil war-like country is akin to being in an abusive relationship: trauma bonding and all that.

Sometimes it seems never to change, sometimes it seems inevitable that the United States completely collapses. US reactionaries — those laughably believing they conveniently just happened to be born into the most godly country, most godly religion, most godly everything, despite lacking experience beyond heavily curated bubble excursions, where foreign tour guides put on performances for their wealthy customers by flattering the United States — will say, If you don’t like it leave, and then when you do, tell you you’re a traitor. Meanwhile, US liberals and far left are typically unreachable. Liberals seem convinced the Powers That Be have no idea who Rachel Maddow or Bernie Sanders are, so liberals anticipate Maddow and Sanders will any moment now pull off an unsurveilled sneak campaign to successfully remedy all the problems described above in time for board games this weekend. Finally, the US far left too often uses “systemic forces” as code for “nobody can do anything about anything, so inaction is justified.” Sometimes it seems if you’re going to emigrate, you’re on your own, offline I mean, with those who can relate consisting of glowing text that vanishes once you turn off your device. But in truth, offliners have helped from time to time, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some amazing activists in the US who do amazing things!

Despite online encouragement, emigration still feels like a thoughtcrime. I’ve been told I owe it to the United States to stay, since the country “let me” be a teacher, and that I owe it to the US not to throw up my hands at the problems by leaving. It’s strange the grip the US civic religion has on people. As a commenter on last week’s post suggested, compare the US stigma against living elsewhere with the attitude of the British — probably due to their history as a former imperial power (the world is transitioning from British rule to Chinese rule, or maybe already has). Many British haven’t hesitated to live their whole lives in another country (or multiple), and are respected by their fellow British for doing so. That can be seen in Alan Turing’s family, for instance; his father was a member of the Imperial Service for the British Raj.

Let’s emigrate from these unpleasant thoughts with some music, and migrate toward jumping the ECA and IELTS hurdles.

The 2008 song “Ruins of the Realm” by Texas-based James McMurtry. “Dancin’ in the ruins of the Raj, Queen and country’s noble cause … Dancin’ in the ruins of the South, Confederate flag taped over my mouth …”
My WES report on the app. Who’s allowed to live where? A stupid quandary, merely rearranged by states in various forms, till we decide on disobedience, cross borders en masse, and make the decisions

Education: a most powerful weapon you can use to complete paperwork

As I explained last week, Canada uses something fancily called Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) to see if non-Canadian academic degrees are equivalent to those provided by Canadian universities. And for the sake of dolla dolla bill, maybe. Those seeking permanent residency through Express Entry will need to have the transcript from their degree-awarding uni evaluated by one of five designated organizations. In my case, I went to more than one university, but I had to provide the transcript only from the final awarding school. Out of the five options, I picked World Education Services because they apparently have the fastest turnaround time. The other four orgs are Canadian gub’ment entities.

I found the process fairly straightforward. Like you’d expect, I had to carefully work my way through a few bureaucratic websites, but nothing insurmountable. I got TCU (my alma mater), the National Student Clearinghouse, and World Education Services lined up, three ducks in a row, and paid the ridiculous fee of about $240 USD. After a few days, the World Education Services app notified me their review of my academic records was complete and I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ my records were found satisfactory. The WES report is good for five years from date of issue; an important fact, since people can apply for Canadian permanent residency multiple times, and often do. WES (everybody’s an acronym these days, even DAL) forwarded the report on to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I assume at some point in the application process I’ll need to give Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada my WES reference number. Paperwork, paperwork. However, it’s a hurdle jumped!

Instead of all the paperwork and injustices, we could refuse to cooperate and instead cross borders sans permission, erasing them under our feet as we go. It might seem absurd to envision that as a goal, but huge numbers of people follow unusual goals at a moment’s notice very often, whether it’s something safe like in 2016 when thousands installed an app to go outside and hunt invisible Pokémon because they saw advertising, or something dangerous like in 2014 when thousands in Burkina Faso burned their parliament buildings and chased out oligarchs because that public has created a culture where such actions are not mocked as pipe dreams but appreciated, as I understand it.

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

My last blog entry explained how Canada, and a few other countries, require aspiring immigrants to take the General version of the IELTS test to prove English proficiency, regardless of, say, being a native English speaker with a summa cum laude humanities degree and lots of news media publications. Since the test isn’t available in Washington state, and because I’m in a hurry, I booked my computer-based exam for Thursday September 9 in San Diego.

Last week I took this photo, obviously one of the greatest works of art known to humanity… um, I’m joking…

The IELTS General has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. You get an overall score, and separate scores for each of the four sections. Higher scores mean more points for meeting immigration thresholds (which assess points for other things, including academic degrees and favorable employment history), so I really wanted to do well. For both the individual sections and the overall grade, scores range from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest), and come in point-five increments: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and so on.

There’s a lot of nitpicks on the IELTS. Audio texts are played just once, so if your attention wanders, you’re toast. Spelling has to be perfect. I was particularly worried about typing dates and other numbers/quasi-numbers in acceptable styles. Some words, such as occasionally, I seem to misspell no matter how many times I look them up. Using The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS for Academic & General Training (a paperback or PDF from 2014 but apparently not out of date), I crammed for two days and hoped for the best.

I had to arrive at the testing center at 8:00 a.m. At 7:55 a.m., I yanked the door handle, reminded myself occasionally has one s, and went in. I ascended the mini-labyrinth of staircases and discovered it was just me and one other test-taker, a bright young woman from Ghana aiming to move to Canada to become a behavioral health technician, that is, a psych ward orderly. Strange coincidence, right?

So friggin’ official

After our pockets were emptied, and our passports examined, and our faces photographed, and our COVID-19 waivers scrutinized, she and I were shepharded into the computer-packed testing room. The staff read us a long list of rules, including a stricture about leaving our passports out on our desks. Then the ordeal began. Even though the testing center was nearly empty, staffmembers, several times throughout the test, approached and picked up our passports for close inspection.

The listening section was easy, except my version of the test — test-takers receive different questions — had the dreaded map. While some test-takers don’t get a map at all, getting it means the computer shows you a crummy drawing of a location, such as a zoo, with nondescript boxes representing sublocations marked with letters. You have to match those letters to the correct place on a table of places. For instance, a box might be the zoo’s aquarium, where whales named George and Gracie are swimming around, or the zoo’s theatre, where tickets to educational movies are on sale, or the zoo’s testing center, where it’s determined to which cages the mistreated animals may migrate. The map stuff made a somewhat complicated setup visually, and much to my chagrin, I hadn’t practiced map questions, so by the time I got the hang of the visual arrangement, the audio text (complete with “distractors”) had already begun: “… after that, turn right, no excuse me, turn left, and find at the end of the path the exhibit of enormous venomous snakes.” So I think I blew one of the map questions.

The reading section was extremely easy. I don’t think the average English-speaking humanities graduate should sweat it.

The writing section, well, I mentioned a week ago how I bombed the writing section every time I took the GRE. Standardized writing tests and I don’t get along, so no high hopes for my performance on the two IELTS General writing tasks. But, I got them done.

The speaking section came last. This took place across a table from an interviewer, who recorded the three-part conversation with a little digital device. I was pretty nervous. A test-taker’s speech is marked, among other things, for successful use of a variety of sentence types (compound, compound complex, etc). I worried I’d bungle that, plus fail to make enough eye contact. At one point the interviewer asked me a prompt about why employees are or aren’t important to a business. I replied something akin to Although we might think of businesses as abstract entities configured on Secretary of State documents, in truth they exist concretely as human beings, the staff, whose well-being most certainly translates into good customer service and thus increased capital accumulation for the firm, speaking generally of course. The bemused interviewer gave me a look like You gotta be kidding me and ended the interview early. (Or so it seemed to me.)

Outside the Oxford International center, I discovered the other test-taker was a really cool person and gave her my card after writing a bunch of critical psychiatry resources on the back. Then I waited for my results.

My scores just came in:

I aced the reading and speaking sections (hah!), nearly aced the listening section (8.5), and got an overall score of 8.5 — but as predicted, the writing section was my minor downfall: I received a 7.5. Still, those scores are high enough for, say, entering any graduate program at the University of British Columbia (a uni known in Canadian court for its use of Proctorio academic surveillance software).

Test-takers can pay to have their IELTS re-marked, even just a single section of it, in a procedure called Enquiry on Results, but you have to make the request within six weeks of the date shown on the test report form. Numerous posts online suggest it’s quite common to get a small score increase this way. Internet commenters also suggest an enquiry on results will only keep your score the same or raise it; there’s no way for it to lower your score, they say, so it just costs money/time/effort. If I can confirm that with official IELTS documentation or a phone call — so far I haven’t been able to — I may ask for my writing section to be re-marked.

Anyway, another hurdle out of the way, or mostly.

San Diego stuff

The US-Mexico border near San Ysidro, grabbed from here

A funny thing happened on my flight to California: the passenger to my left was an Air Force veteran, and one of his sons was a mathematician creating those bizarre financial instruments at Goldman Sachs. Another reason to leave the US: seems everywhere you go, if you really ask and look, someone’s a private spy, or unrepentant soldier, or confidential informant, or bankster, or other unsavory character.

I didn’t have much free time in San Diego. Before the IELTS I had to cram, and after the test — it takes several hours, especially once you add in the waiting and formalities — I was exhausted, and crashed. Friday was free.

I considered going on foot to Mexico and back, via the San Ysidro border station (roughly sixteen miles south of San Diego but accessible by the Blue Line light rail). Non-essential pedestrian travel to/from Mexico/US, such as for tourism, is banned binationally at the federal level, at least until September 21, but according to San Diego locals I spoke with, the border station basically doesn’t enforce the ban, at least not for US citizens. Numerous online posts at various sites focusing on such topics agree. There are even USians blithely uploading footage of their touristy visits to Tijuana, pandemic or no pandemic. This guy’s 25-minute youtube video from last May shows a back-and-forth from San Diego/Tijuana, so I was able to at least visit virtually. His video includes ad placement, so I wonder if he declared business as the purpose of his trip, or if the San Ysidro station (with the pedestrian bridges frequently shown in news footage) even requires US citizens, or any people, to justify their cross-border walks. I concluded that because Mexico’s entry stamp includes a date, a trip during the ban would be a bad thing to have on my passport, especially while trying to emigrate. So I stayed domestic and read this reddit post from two weeks ago instead. It describes adventurous travel from San Diego to Tijuana and suits me a bit better than the 25-minute video. If you want to vicariously go to Baja California, it’s worth a down-time read or skim.

Aside from my meeting an amazing young vegan who quit caffeine to help with her sleep — an unusual and admirable display of responsibility and effort, restoring faith in humanity and maybe, dare I say, even in the United States to some small degree — that pretty much covers my past week in San Diego.

Until next time…

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/13/leaving-unitedstates-reasons-jumping-eca-ielts-hurdles/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Review of the novel Shantaram

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays, but more practically, whichever day I get to it. Here’s entry 7 of 52.

Note: I haven’t forgotten about Biden! I’ll post about him next week.

Note: You should probably skip this review if you want zero spoilers.

The cover of a paperback edition of Shantaram. It shows the book's title and authorship, plus a blurb, a building, and the sea.
The edition I have

On Monday I finally finished reading the 2003 novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The semi-autobiographical bestseller came to my attention because Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose August 2018 sentencing I reported on in person, included it in her art from the FMC Carswell prison in Fort Worth Texas, specifically in the piece reproduced below. The book is 933 large pages in the paperback edition I have (pictured left), so it took me quite a while to finish. Here’s what I gained from it, what I didn’t like, and my thoughts on whether you should consider reading Shantaram, if you haven’t already.

First, a quick summary. The story revolves around the main character Lin, who, after escaping imprisonment in his home country of Australia, where he’d robbed banks to maintain a drug habit, arrives in India with a false passport to live as a fugitive. There he participates in many areas of life unfamiliar to many Westerners or non-travelers, among them a restaurant-and-bar where fairly well-off migrants from Western countries reflect, as Lin sits at their table, on the ups and downs of their shifting fortunes and gossip about Mumbai. Lin meets the goofy and basically nonstop-happy Prabaker, an Indian taxi driver whose characterization is an offensive Sambo caricature, not a careful depiction of a fully realized individual. Prabaker becomes a sidekick for Lin and invites him, when the fugitive’s chips are down, to live in the city’s friendly Colaba slum. The Australian accepts, and then provides improvised medical services to the slum dwellers, an endearing (but also borderline stereotyped) section of the novel that shows the inhabitants of Colaba owning little, yet helping each other tremendously with little to none of the war of all against all common in the so-called civilized world. In other news, Lin somewhat randomly meets an elder statesman of a large gang/mafia, the oddly philosophical Abdel Khader Khan. Lin’s in love, too, with one of the restaurant-and-bar crowd, a Swiss woman named Karla who’s in the habit of offering purplish one-liners about life. The fugitive assists her in liberating her friend Lisa from the vile Madame Zhou’s prostitution/slavery den. Zhou retaliates by getting Lin thrown into a wretched prison once more, this time in India. After the Australian suffers much behind these new bars, Khader bribes the authorities to free him. In gratitude, and to learn skills for revenge, Lin goes to work for Khader in Mumbai’s criminal underworld, swapping out currency and trading passports on the black market, plus physical training and fistfighting members of a rival gang. This dark side of Lin increasingly comes to dominate over the slum doctor side, culminating in the fugitive travelling to Afghanistan as a gun-runner for Khader. Due to battling in that country, he barely makes it back to India, where he soon heads to Zhou’s for revenge. At the novel’s climax, he finds Zhou already a wreck, and, changing his mind, chooses to let her live. Lin muses that the cheerful slum dwellers, not the macho criminals, are the truly heroic ones — which doesn’t stop him a single inch, for another 100-or-so gratuitous pages after the climax, from continuing to fistfight members of rival gangs and promising those men in his particular gang that he’ll go on future missions beyond Mumbai with them, presumably a setup for the sequel I haven’t read, The Mountain Shadow.

As many reviews have noted, the best aspect of the novel is its vivid, lively depictions of various places. These off-the-beaten-path settings include Prabaker’s native village of Sunder, the Colaba slum, Zhou’s slave den, the Australian prison (in flashback), the prison in India, Bollywood sets, Afghanistan mountains and caves, a temporary settlement built atop a skyscraper, and more. The author’s personal experience of the environments enrich his portrayal of them, as when you stumble upon a Reddit post by a stranger who’s not dedicated to writing, but who’s suddenly putting together gorgeous, moving prose because they’re talking about something they’re profoundly invested in personally and know all the fascinating details of. For audiences starved of adventures, Shantaram seems as good a way as any, short of actual travel, to experience unfamiliar locations. But, then again, I unfortunately haven’t read many realist stories set outside Britain, Europe, and the United States. To read about India in English, there are probably many worthy alternatives to Shantaram out there; it’s simply a matter of finding them.

The novel is also enjoyable when it focuses on a bank-robbing druggie gone wrong changing for the better, into a compassionate doctor living and practicing among the friendly dwellers of the largely ignored, but massive, slum village in Mumbai. At these points, the book seems, or did to me, spiritually uplifting, and it really piqued my curiosity about this slum and similar parts of the planet, not that I know how accurately Gregory David Roberts depicts Colaba. In these portions, the novel reads like a modern-day Les Misérables, the 1862 French novel (and mainstay Broadway musical) about the ex-convict Jean Valjean who similarly improves his lot and turns to helping others. (I don’t know, but given reporting about Reality Winner’s numerous altruistic endeavors throughout her life, I imagine this component of the novel might appeal to her especially.)

Sadly, the Les Mis-esque portions of Shantaram don’t win out. As the pages mount up, Lin becomes heavily invested in the drug lord Abdel Khader Khan, treating him as a father figure godsend. Now that he’s in thrall to Khader, Lin’s altruistic side fades away, leaving readers to wade through seemingly endless tough-guy scenes of macho dialogue and beat ’em up. The book gives the impression that each twist and turn of these rival gangs scheming and warring against each other are of utmost importance to Roberts, but readers more interested in thoughtful humanity will probably lose sympathy with the suddenly swaggering Lin, as I did, and hang on only for the descriptions of the unusual Afghanistan setting, where the Australian’s warlike side emerges full blown, without any real apology. Toward the end of Shantaram, I was reminded of author Peter Straub’s Blue Rose crime novels from 1988-1993, in which again, labyrinthine complexities of plot are supposed to be gripping, yet really, reading, trying to keep track of the reversals and revelations, having my patience and memorization capacity taxed, I was just hoping for Straub to go rogue from corporate expectations and write something that simply interests or amuses him, as he did in his 1999 novel Mr. X, namely the fun scene, wholly unnecessary to the plot no one remembers anyway, of a college kid on amphetamine, sleeplessly blazing through tests and causing assorted humorous troubles (as best I can recall from having read that book a decade or so ago, anyway. Also, still waiting for a Peter Straub comedy of manners novel.) It isn’t really required for fiction to be a Rube Goldberg machine of cloaks, daggers, and derring-do to maintain audience interest, but living in a world of easily digestible intellectual abstractions and unnoticed emotional hypervigilance, that’s what audiences today are trained to look for from corporate entertainment: whether it’s the banging jolts and high-pitched shrieking of the ubiquitous cartoons everyone from toddler to adult seems to watch nowadays, or the action-heavy, fatal exploits of weapon-toting superheroes in blockbuster movies, characters in film will switch sides, chase MacGuffins, navigate ridiculous plot twists, and try to kill each other for hours and hours, and since all this is usually folks’ starting point with art, other options aren’t always readily salient. Anyway, to sum up Shantaram along with its reliance on needless hyperstimulating plot machinations, Lin first gains reader sympathy, going from gun-waving druggie to altruistic slum doctor, then loses it, dwindling into a cardboard gangster character working his studly way through the forgettable mazes of noir plot. The fugitive’s climactic forgiveness bestowed upon Madame Zhou, as predictable as a million other Christian-esque forgiveness stories (see for instance the Star Wars movies, where blowing up inhabited planets, committing mass genocide, is no significant obstacle to redemption: no trials, no reparations, no transformations, no nothing), makes little lasting impact on Lin after quick passages of him standing before her musing yet more aphorisms before returning to beat ’em up (where sure, he sometimes muses additionally, but he keeps on in the gang, doesn’t he). Among other things, Lin blames his second imprisonment for his downfall, but as I’ll conclude below, I think there’s more to his dark side coming out on top than the novel openly expresses.

The poor characterizations are another problem with Shantaram. Lin’s sidekick, Prabaker with the never-ending flashbulb smiles, was already mentioned briefly; he’s largely a troubling Sambo caricature, the offensive stereotype that paints people who aren’t white and are classed far below the colonial rulers and their offspring as happy and loyal and stupid untermensch. The women, Karla and Lisa among them, are routinely described in terms of their attractive physical appearances, and their roles are mostly delimited to how they impact the Australian and his sex drive. I suppose both these flaws were regrettably par for the course in 2003, prior to the widespread adoption of social media, but I’m glad white male authors can’t so easily escape with this sort of unaware, compulsive thing anymore.

Shantaram's author standing in front of a waterfall with a jewelry necklace, a vertical line of red paint on his bald forehead, and a giant grin.
Photo of Gregory David Roberts in 2020, by EmpathyArts

Finally, I want to talk about how Lin seems, to me, unreal, depersonalized. I’d imagine someone who robs banks, busts out of prison, and travels the world to be a person of great strength, for good or ill. Maybe I’m wrong, and there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in my philosophy, but I’d expect such a fugitive to have bold opinions, disciplined willpower, and definite preferences. Yet Lin floats, without much volition, as if pushed by undescribed waves, from healing doctor to warlike gun-runner, to someone listening to music on a beach or drinking in a bar, to many other roles, with little explanation of his zigzagging path beyond obvious observations in his first-person narration to the effect that, say, strutting gangsters want attention and aren’t happy in themselves. Duh. Papering over this depersonalized way Lin comes across are corny aphorisms from Karla and the-author-speaking-through-Lin. Many reviews have mocked these purple groaners, but just to give one example, I’ll open to a random page in the middle of my copy. Page 451: “there’s an innocence, essential and unblinking, in the heart of every determination to serve.” Huh? Essential and unblinking? Well, maybe? After reading hundreds of these easy-on-the-ears, yet ultimately cryptic, assertions, one or three every few pages, I lost my hopeful tolerance that I might learn from them something profound, and began to grow exhausted with them and the book overall. The one-liners seem to cover for the lack of a real Lin — Why did he gain that doctoring ability in the first place? Why India, or Karla for that matter? — so Roberts shoehorns the aphorisms into just about every available spot, apparently trying to create the illusion that meaningful things are happening. Lin turns to Khaled as a father figure, hoping the drug lord (who himself spouts paragraphs of undergraduate-sounding metaphysical theories into the eager ears of the fugitive) will provide something of substance, perhaps an understanding of life that Lin lacks. But Khaled is himself just some puffed-up mob boss, impressive only because the author repeatedly insists through Lin that it is so. The understandings never really come — except as more charlatan’s aphorisms. It isn’t just that Lin was pissed off to get imprisoned again, and so became a gangster when he should have remained with the friendly folks at the slum. It’s more crucially that, despite what we’re told of the prison-break and doctoring abilities and other superhuman attributes, there isn’t actually much of a Lin to begin or end with; referring himself to the ignoble Khaled for answers is just one dead end he tries of several. So in the absence of a more real, perhaps more determined individual to follow, the author instead fills too much of the novel with the supposedly cool scenes of rival gang fights. With all his anxious musings and flailing, flip-flopping soul-searches, Lin certainly doesn’t know himself truly, not even by the end of the novel, which to be fair is the first released in a planned quartet — if readers have the patience for whatever the grand total page count and grand total aphorism count end up at.

For all its problems, the novel does cohere quite well, and Roberts’ evocative, vibrant descriptions of the unfamiliar-to-me settings are worth the price of admission. They make me want to visit India even, and might be very enjoyable for you as well. The book includes a sampling of fun curios, from dancing bears to commentary on the challenging and sometimes dangerous peculiarities of Mumbai transportation. However, given all the complaints against the book described above, including the automatic turn-offs of weak/caricature characterization, there are probably better works about India and Afghanistan in English out there, more deserving of 900 pages’ worth of reading time. I definitely decided against reading the sequel (The Mountain Shadow), which racks up nearly another 900 pages. Reviews of the sequel say that with the autobiographical material burnt through and thus unavailable to him after Shantaram, Roberts piles on the aphorisms even worse in The Mountain Shadow, as the crime plots continue their needless complexities that don’t even titillate successfully. Beyond the setting descriptions, expressed sufficiently in Shantaram, I don’t think there’s more to learn from Roberts. So as 2021 gets underway, I’m now turning to read all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. There’s only so much time.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Review of the novel Shantaram, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/19/review-novel-shantaram/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How To Reduce the Need for Affection

What do you want?

Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!

In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.

A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
  • Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
  • Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.

And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”

In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!

You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)

Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.

Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).

A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:

Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.

But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.

Not so fast, the psychiatrists are here. They describe “the self-effacing solution” of wanting too much affection, and the resignation solution of (among others) schizotypals wherein you want too little. Oh, good, the psychiatrists left. Continuing on.

Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.

So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?

INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.

* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!

Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.

They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?

Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.

Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can’t take any more of this either.]

END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.

I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)

Creative Commons License

How to Reduce the Need for Affection by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

I Hate Game Theory

I have yet to read this book

A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if […] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”

Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.

Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?

One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.

I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed

“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”

After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”

“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”

“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [… Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”

The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)

Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?

Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.

Read this book

You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (see these to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.

When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.

Creative Commons License

I Hate Game Theory by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

Second in a series of posts where I’m picking through WikiLeaks Cablegate for literary topics. See my first post in the series for an important introduction, and view the entire series here. At the time of my first Literary Cablegate post (then called Literary WikiLeaks), not all of Cablegate had been published; CablegateSearch.net showed 665 hits for the search term “literature” and 334 for the term “literary”. Now that all of Cablegate has been released (a.k.a. “Cablegate2”; see my remarks on the controversy surrounding the comprehensive Cablegate publication), CablegateSearch.net shows 1,214 hits for “literature” and 403 for “literary.”

I’m going through all of them.

I’m focusing only on cables where “literature” or “literary” is used in the sense of short stories, essays, the humanities, etc. So I’m mostly ignoring cables mentioning literature as in, say, campaign literature, or the medical literature for a malady (unless the cable mentions one of Oliver Sacks‘s highly literary case studies, you see?). Given the importance of intellectual property (or lack thereof) to free speech and the Internet, copyright and copyleft issues will be included as well. Literary Cablegate blog posts will feature about 8 cables each, starting from the most recently written cable. I’ll take on the 403 cable hits for “literary” first.

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Here we go!

  • The United States maintains an annual “Special 301 Report” that, in the words of the United States Trade Representative, reviews “the global state of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement” and “reflects the Administration’s resolve to encourage and maintain effective IPR protection and enforcement worldwide.” The Report lists nations perceived as threats to copyright interests. Some nations wind up on the Watch List, and others on the more severe Priority Watch List. In a cable dated February 2010, the US Embassy in La Paz said Bolivia’s laws granted powerful intellectual property rights:

    the existing copyright law does protect literary, artistic, and scientific works for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. Bolivian copyright protection includes the exclusive right to copy or reproduce works; to revise, adapt, or prepare derivative works; to distribute copies of works; and to publicly communicate works. Although the exclusive right to translate works is not explicitly granted, the law does prevent unauthorized adaptation, transformation, modification, and editing. The law also provides protection for software and databases.

    Compare the Bolivian law’s extreme length of copyright (50 years) to the US Pirate Party’s intent to reduce the length of copyright to 14 years and legalize all noncommercial sharing, and to the efforts of Creative Commons.

    Regardless of Bolivian law, the US Embassy noted, copyright was so laxly enforced in Bolivia that their

    Video, music, and software piracy rates are among the highest in Latin America, with the International Intellectual Property Alliance estimating that piracy levels have reached 100% for motion pictures and over 90% for recorded music. There are no legal sources of audio-visual materials in most of the country, since it would be impossible to compete with pirated products prices: in the capital of La Paz there is only one store that sells legal CDs. Bootleg CDs, DVDs, computer software, pharmaceutical products, and other goods are sold on street corners and in stores across the country.

    The Embassy blames the rampant piracy on Bolivia’s lack of human and financial resources to enforce copyright, and says pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to file patents in Bolivia due to fears of trade secret theft and counterfeiting. Despite all the piracy, the US Embassy suggests keeping Bolivia only on the Special 301 Report’s Watch List and not its Priority Watch List just so as not to frustrate Bolivia and thereby damage the copyright interests’ outreach efforts. In 2010 and 2011 Bolivia did remain on the ordinary Special 301 Watch List.

    (Original Cable “Special 301 La Paz Input” 10LAPAZ368.)

  • A February 2010 cable from Baghdad discusses the membership of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA), formed in October 2009 as, according to the cable, “a nationalist, non-sectarian political” group. The cable identifies Hassan Sunayd as one “key figure” of SLA, describing him as

    SLA candidate 4 in Dhi Qar. A well-known poet and literary figure in Iraq, Sunayd has been in Da’wa’s political bureau since the late 1980’s. A member of the previous COR’s Security and Defense Committee, he is Maliki’s closest friend, one of his security advisors and liaison to the KRG leadership. Having survived physical torture during the Saddam regime, he has used his position as spokesman for the SLA to rail against the threat of resurgent Ba’athism and was critical of purported U.S. efforts to interfere in the de-Ba’athification process.

    A somewhat substantial search of Google’s various resources as well as academic journals and US newspaper archives turned up no discussion of Hassan Sunayd’s literary background, with one minor exception. (Sometimes his first name is transliterated as Hasan, sometimes his last name as al-Sunayd.) According to an April 14, 2008 BBC transcript, Sunayd recited a poem at a ceremony held in Baghdad to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the martyrdom of Islamic scholar Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Sunayd is mentioned with some frequency as a spokesperson for the Iraqi government.

    Professor Hanan Hammad at the TCU History Department told me Sunayd used the pen name “Jawad Jamil (could be Jawwad Gamil). he lived in Iran in early eights along with members of al-Da’wa Islamist Party. his sister Balqis is also a poet, but with the Communist party. nothing indicate that he’s a great poet/ intellectual.” My searches for his pen name turn up nothing.

    (Original Cable “Coalition Profile: Pm Maliki’s State Of Law Alliance” 10BAGHDAD499)

  • The US State Department maintains an annual Trafficking in Persons Report to “engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and as a resource for “governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.” In a February 2010 cable, the first of three parts (part 2, part 3), the US Embassy in Paris gave its input for the tenth annual report. The cable notes “France prosecutes French nationals who travel abroad to engage in child sexual tourism” and goes on to say

    Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand faced criticism during the reporting period related to his 2005 literary work, which included depictions of sexual tourism in Asia. In “The Bad Life,” Mitterrand details the experiences of an unnamed protagonist with so-called “boys” in the brothels of Thailand. Facing pressure to resign for engaging in sexual tourism before he joined the government, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand stated during an October 8, 2009 television interview that he had never had sex with a minor. “Each time I was with people who were my age, or were five years younger,” the 62 year-old Mitterrand said, adding: “I condemn sexual tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia in which I have never participated in any way.”

    The Guardian extends Miterrand’s quote a sentence: “The book is in no way an apology for sex tourism, even if one chapter is a journey through that hell, with all the fascination that hell can inspire.” The BBC termed Mitterrand’s book an “autobiographical novel” and said the scandal would have brought him down in other countries, “not because he is gay, but because there is an inconsistency between a government committed to fighting sex tourism and a minister who has been a sex tourist. But in France, where a belief in the right to privacy and a liberal view on sex are both near sacrosanct, many believe it would be hypocritical to hound Frederic Mitterrand from office.”

    The cable says France prosecutes child sex tourism, and Mitterand claims he was involved with people basically his age. More importantly, the book is, autobiographically based or not, a work of fiction. How much of it is true to Mitterrand’s life is therefore hard to evaluate beyond educated guessing. Mother Jones, reviewing the book, says the French right wing targetted Mitterand by quoting the book out of context. The Mother Jones reviewer makes the book sound pretty good:

    The Bad Life is a stunningly candid and beautiful book. Described by its author as an “autobiography which is half real and half dreamed,” it recounts his life as a child of privilege born into Paris’s haut bourgeois sixteenth arrondissement, his experience of homosexuality, and a number of deeply felt personal relationships. Much of this is set in a social milieu of movie stars, politicians, renowned artists, and other public figures. […]

    The Bad Life is an intimate, courageous memoir in which Mitterrand is brutally honest not only about himself, but with himself. If it includes a few sordid accounts of a homosexual underworld that some would rather not be asked to consider, it does so within a larger portrait of one man’s life and desires, a nuanced collection of affecting incidents examined with an unsparing eye.

    The entire scandal was complicated by Mitterrand’s defending Roman Polanski shortly beforehand, demanding the director be released after arrest in Switzerland over his US conviction for sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Yet again, the publisher calls The Bad Life a “novel inspired by autobiography.” You don’t take Philip K. Dick’s autobiographical novel VALIS as definitive proof of anything, do you? Or Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead. Writers build off their own experience, but don’t exactly replicate it in fiction. No crime was shown here. Mitterrand is still in office.

    (Original Cable “France: Input For The 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report (part 1 Of 3)” 10PARIS196)

  • A February 2010 cable from the Consulate Shenyang US Embassy in China noted traffic across the border between China and North Korea. “For all the talk about frozen trade between the DPRK [North Korea] and China,” the cable says, the Consulate General Office noted people crossing the border talking business and culture. For example,

    At the train station many different groups of North Koreans were seen waiting to take the train up to Shenyang [China]. On board, a middle-aged North Korean female trader was reading a Sino-Korean literary journal and a Dandong business weekly.

    The apparent significance for the Office is the interest North Koreans show in the Chinese, as evidenced in part by the Sino-Korean literary journal. One wonders which journal the woman was reading. In the United States, “literary journal” tends to mean a venue for highbrow literary work, as opposed to a “magazine,” which can run the gamut of literary taste classifications.

    (Original Cable “Prc-dprk Border: Amcit Crossers, Trade Push, Border Smuggling, Regional Growth” 10SHENYANG21)

  • A February 2010 cable from Berlin discusses German copyright law in the context of foreign investment in Germany.

    Germany is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Germany is also a party to the major international intellectual property protection agreements: the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Brussels Satellite Convention, and the Treaty of Rome on Neighboring Rights. […]

    Germany has signed the WIPO Internet treaties and ratified them in 2003. Foreign and German rights holders, however, remain critical of provisions in the German Copyright Act that allow exceptions for private copies of copyrighted works. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of intellectual property protections as sufficient, although problems persist due to lenient court rulings in some cases and the difficulty of combating piracy of copyrighted works on the Internet.

    The Berne Convention — spelled Bern or Berne — was instigated by the writer Victor Hugo in the late 19th century. It says copyright is established when the creator puts the work into fixed form, bypassing the need for registration. The Berne Convention also establishes a minimum term of 50 years after the author’s death for written works. Cory Doctorow talks a bit about the Berne Convention in this Guardian article.

    (Original Cable “Germany – Revised Investment Climate Statement 2010” 10BERLIN166)

  • A February 2010 cable from Geneva and the US Trade Representative discusses January 2010’s 7th Working Party meeting on Yemen’s Accession to the World Trade Organization, the in-progress effort to enter Yemen into the WTO. In a section about trading rights, the cable noted

    The US and EU had additional concerns about certain requirements that only Yemeni nationals could be granted the technical clearance needed to import medicines, medical equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, books, newspapers, audiovisual and other artistic literary works, and requested that the Trading Rights Action Plan be updated to include information on these technical clearance requirements.

    I suspect the technical clearance for Yemeni nationals who regulate the import of “artistic literary works” involves Yemen’s prohibition against the import of “Any item offensive to Muslim culture.” (Yemen’s population is 98% Muslim.) Reporters Without Borders ranks Yemen within the bottom 10 of all nations for press freedom. This might or might not be relevant: a May 25, 2009 piece in the Yemen Times by Dr. A. K. Sharma said if “a nation has to import and export not only goods and commodities but also knowledge and skills, it has got to have an army of well-equipped and professionally competent translators.” Currently Yemen isn’t a member of the WTO.

    (Original Cable “7th Working Party Meeting On Yemen’s Accession To The Wto Held January 26, 2010” 10USTRGENEVA12)

  • A February 2010 cable from Beijing discussing the climate for foreign investment into China notes the country is a member of the Berne Convention (discussed above).

    (Original Cable “2010 Investment Climate Statement – China” 10BEIJING303)

  • Another February cable discussing the climate for foreign investment, this time from the Colombo embassy, notes Sri Lanka is a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (discussed above). Original literary works are protected under a 2003 Sri Lanka copyright law that was “intended to meet both U.S.-Sri Lanka bilateral IPR agreement and TRIPS obligations to a great extent.” In a January 2003 article for Daily Variety, an entertainment-industry trade magazine, Bryan Pearson said the new law aimed to crack down on piracy; pirating software was “not illegal in Sri Lanka,” Pearson wrote, and the island was a “paradise for fraudulent imports.”

    (Original Cable “Investment Climate Statement, 2010 – Sri Lanka” 10COLOMBO72)

  • Creative Commons License

    Literary Cablegate, Number 2 of Many by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Searching Wikileaks Cables for Literary Topics, First of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

This week WikiLeaks published thousands more US diplomatic cables as part of its Cablegate operation. Among many other items, Cablegate has confirmed or revealed the following:

  • Referring to the United States’ secret air strikes in Yemen, Yemen’s president promised US general David Petraeus that “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” (Original Cable, Salon, BBC.)

  • Though Canada publicly claimed opposition to the Iraq war “for domestic political reasons and out of a deep-seated Canadian commitment to multilateralism,” it secretly told the United States it was “prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins,” using Canadian naval and air forces “discreetly” on behalf of the US. (Original Cable, CBC News.)

  • The United States ordered American diplomats to secretly and illegally collect top United Nations officials and others’ credit card numbers, biometric data (fingerprints, iris scans, DNA), passwords, and more. (Original Cable, NYT, Guardian.)

  • In 2009 U.S. Senator John McCain promised Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi some American military hardware. (Original Cable, Politico.)

  • Texas security contractor DynCorp pimped little boys to be raped by Afghan policemen at a DynCorp-organized party. (Original Cable, Houston Press, Guardian.)

Whoops

WikiLeaks initiated a crowdsourcing effort, #wlfind on Twitter, ensuring its latest cable releases would be looked through. Inspired by Furry Girl (Twitter), who put together a post about the latest cables in her area of expertise (sex work), I decided to do something similar for literary topics. If you’re eager to dig through some cables yourself, try this cablegate search engine, and then share your findings online.

(Also! Watch Glenn Greenwald defend Wikileaks and Julian Assange on CNN with this embed.)

I restricted my work to this most recent batch of cables. Here are the search results, and the total number of hits when I first searched, for: literature (665); literary (334); … wow! This is going to take more than one post.

Reading the below, one should bear in mind Evgeny Morozov‘s astute critique of Internet-centrism, a lazy perspective that ignores the importance of local cultures when interpreting material and instead focuses faith on technology. I’m not at all an expert on foreign countries, etc. I can only fish out cables with some literary significance in the hope others might benefit from them.

  • In April 2006, a few months after gun-firing Chinese police in Dongzhou subdued villagers protesting land confiscations (WaPo), the American consulate in Guangzhou invoked a metaphor of Lu Xun‘s (“China’s most prominent modern author”): the Chinese sense, in the area, of rapid economic growth is that it “eats people.” From the cable (my link):

    in his “Diary of a Madman” short story […] the supposedly mentally deranged narrator has looked at the whole of Chinese history and found its grandeur and power to be founded on the eating of people

    The cable claims

    there is a conscious attempt led in part by Guangzhou’s most progressive and highly influential magazine, the “Nanfengchuang” (the “South Wind Window”), to revive the spirit of the New Culture Movement of the 1920s of which Lu was a key figure

    The cable goes on to advocate for increased injections of humanities programs to teach core American democratic values. These, the cable argues, will make rapid economic growth in the area more humane. After all, the cable says,

    there is a very large audience for American literature and thought. American literature specialist Ernesto Suarez, our Fulbright Scholar at Guangzhou’s Zhongshan University, is in demand not only at Zhongshan but also at other institutions every weekend throughout China. Recently, the Shantou University English Language Department approached the Consulate about strengthening the American literature component of its program in line with the desire of students to learn not merely the language but also the values of the American people speaking that language.

    (Original Cable.)

    The Cold War-style argument that humanities talks and courses (apparently) alone can sufficiently soften the steamroll of global economics makes one worry (especially in light of other cables).

  • A 2007 cable from the Beijing Embassy summarizes a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference that included China’s suggestion that the US State Department study up on its Confucius.

    Spokesperson Qin Gang said at the March 8 regular press briefing that the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006 issued today by China’s State Council Information Office serves as “a mirror for United States to view its own human rights condition” and “understand why it has no right to use double standards in criticizing other countries.” Qin continued, saying the MFA would give the State Department copies of the “Four Books and Five Classics” of Chinese literature as a guide to good governance. Asked if the report constituted a double standard on China’s part by interfering in the domestic affairs of the United States, Qin referred the reporter to his previous statement.

    (Original Cable.)

    The Confucian work “Four Books and Five Classics” praises feudal values.

  • A 2008 cable from Taiwan noted growth in the market for simplified-character Chinese books as government restrictions on the products loosened and more translations of foreign books into Chinese were imported from mainland China.

    A survey done by local book dealers in 2006 showed that 50 percent of simplified-character Chinese books sold in Taiwan are on literature, history, and philosophy; 10 percent on social science, law, politics, and the military; 10 percent on Chinese medicine and art; 10 percent on education, finance and engineering; with the remainder on tourism and other topics. As for the consumers, Chu Fu-ming, head of the Eslite flagship bookstore’s simplified-character Chinese book section, told AIT, “those who buy simplified-character Chinese books are mostly intellectuals and academics. Only 20 percent of the buyers are in their twenties, while 40 percent are in their thirties and forties, and the remaining 40 percent are over 50 years old. Older people are especially noticeable because they come in the mornings and spend a long time poring carefully over selections,” Wu observed, with “history books being the most popular.”

    The cable worries about simplified-character textbooks supplanting US textbooks more and more, since Chinese college professors were finding the former less expensive and easier to assign.

    (Original Cable.)

  • In the Chinese city of Zhenjiang, readers of Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Pearl Buck (Mike Wallace interview; Nobel write-up), who spent much of her time in China, worried, according to a 2008 cable, that Buck wasn’t getting enough attention in the United States.

    Comment: Zhenjiang’s fervor for its long-ago American “daughter” points to possibilities for the upcoming celebrations of the 30th anniversary of U.S.-China relations.

    (Original Cable.)

  • A 2003 cable cited “the latest Human Development Report on the Arab states” as noting

    The economic, political, artistic, and literary creativity of the Arab states are being stifled by the exclusion of women, among other factors. As an example, the report notes that Turkey alone published more works of creative literature over the past year than the entire Arab world combined.

    (Original Cable.)

    Female Turkish novelist Elif Shafak spoke at a 2010 TED conference on the ability of fiction to overcome identity politics.

  • A 2003 cable said although “European public opinion may be skeptical about the politics of GOT joining the European Union, […] civil society has shown that sharing space with Turkey in the
    cultural realm is as natural as can be.” The cable cited the European popularity of Istanbul-born novelist Orhan Pamuk as evidence of Turkey’s “de facto integration into European cultural life.”

    His recent novel “My Name is Red” won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2003; this award was the latest in a series of European honors dating back to his 1991 Prix de la Decouverte Europeenne for the French translation of his second novel, “Sessiz_Ev” (“The Quiet House”).

    (Original Cable.)

  • With a 2005 cable, the American embassy in Tel Aviv took note of an editorial referencing Egyptian playwright Ali Salem:

    “We have already seen that both Israel and Egypt generally obey when there is an American scolding…. Why not initiate, for example, the award of an honorary doctorate by an American university to Ali Salem for his contribution to peace between the peoples?”

    (Original Cable.)

    The original op-ed can be found here.

  • According to a 2006 cable, staff from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director-General’s office “held misperceptions” about the World Digital Library, “a project to put rare and remote items on the web.” The staff worried over Google’s involvement, saying it troubled European nations, and that the countries might be more receptive to a UNESCO label.

    (Original Cable.)

Thus far I’ve come away with the impression that the United States strongly believes spreading American culture is an effective way to spread its core democratic values, but other countries often see this as hypocritical given the States’ frequent disregard of those values. If you’re interested in reading more about that, I recommend Evgeny Morozov’s book The Net Delusion. Another observation: writers and their work do make more of an impact in international politics than you might suspect.

Creative Commons License

Searching Wikileaks Cables for Literary Topics, First of Many by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

The Exuberant Quandary

After Monday’s suicide of Russell Armstrong (a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star’s estranged husband), Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon.com called reality TV “A blood sport that must change.” Seitz said:

The type of so-called reality show represented by the “Real Housewives” franchise is the soft-bellied, 21st century American TV version of a gladiatorial contest. It has no agenda except giving viewers the basest sort of entertainment: the spectacle of people doing violence to each other and suffering violence themselves. Instead of going at each other like gladiators with swords and clubs, or like boxers hurling punches, participants in this kind of unscripted show attack each other psychologically. The show’s appeal is the spectacle of emotional violence. The participants — or “cast members,” as they are revealingly labeled — suffer and bleed emotionally while we watch and guffaw. […]

Unscripted shows encourage, and sometimes cause, emotional damage. That’s the whole point of their existence — the reason they get on the air, the reason we watch and discuss them. They record intense, bizarre, sometimes ginned-up conflicts during production. They transform the participants into caricatures of themselves […]

Yesterday I asked a story editor on a long-running dating series who did not want her name used in this story if, during her years of working on these shows, she had ever heard a producer express authentic concern for a participant’s well-being as a person rather than an abstracted “character.” She laughed and said, “No. That just doesn’t happen. If anybody working on this kind of show thought that way, it would make the shows less entertaining, and that person would lose their job.”

Tonight I went to the corner grocery store to buy Wifely some Skinny Cow dessert and me some Mexican Coke. The cashier, a young woman, wore a nametag that, under her name, said:

I LOVE U :)

I thought to myself: that’s an exuberant nametag. Although people who aren’t actually in my skull insist otherwise, I do automatically, non-voluntarily think such words as “exuberant.” If that annoys you, you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog, but rather watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

No one was in the lane behind me, nor was anyone nearing the lane. For a moment I considered saying something or other to the cashier about her nametag. After all, I’ve checked out through her lane enough times for us to share mutual recognition, though just barely. I prefer to interact with a person when checking out, instead of using the self check-out lanes, because something worthwhile, interesting and unique and unpredictable, might happen during my encounter with another human being.

Then for another moment I considered not saying something about her nametag. Because by now the time for exchanging a greeting had nearly ended, she was starting to scan my Mexican Coke, she was about to ask if I’d brought my rewards card (I always lie and say I forgot; cashiers then scan theirs on my behalf, and not only do I not have to deal with signing up for one, but also I singlehandedly defeat the company’s entire research division). But the only word coming to mind during this expiring hourglass time was exuberant.

I decided not to chicken out, to go for it.

“That’s an exuberant nametag,” I said.

Her smile wriggled as happily and confusedly as she did until she stopped to ask what “exuberant” meant. Ah-ha, I thought, a person who doesn’t become angry like so many do when someone else uses a word they don’t know, but instead has the laudable reaction of curiosity. Now it was my turn to wriggle my hand happily and confusedly, trying to pantomime the meaning of exude while telling her, “It means, like, … happiness … like …” I managed to stop stumbling and say “It means something like, ‘Shining out happiness.'”

She said, “I really like that,” and I sensed she meant it. A few moments of silent, shared satisfaction passed as she scanned my items.

Photo of Philip K. Dick by Anne Dick “I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities” — PKD

One of the commonplace remarks about reality TV is that it “isn’t real,” that it’s merely “so-called” reality TV. This supposed phoniness is alleged to cover up the “natural” way of being, the “real” way, which is usually not identified by the shows’ deriders.

As I paid for the grocery items, I nervously — as if invisible judges were watching — began to, as they say, “walk it back”: retract and qualify what I said. Anxiously I told the increasingly disappointed cashier the following nonfiction anecdote from a few days back:

I walked down an aisle at this same corner grocery store to pick up some ice cream. A middle-aged female customer was squatting down with a freezer door opened, scrutinizing the vanilla flavors. Without my saying anything, she suddenly started talking haphazardly about the proliferation of vanillas. French vanilla, old-fashioned vanilla, vanilla bean and more. “She told me to get vanilla; I wonder which she meant? There are too many!” In a bad mood, I didn’t want to talk at first; like a person wearing sunglasses indoors, I didn’t want to interact with anyone, didn’t want to engage with people. I resented her a little for introducing conversation. Then I regretted my self-absorption and told her I suspected old-fashioned vanilla would do the trick. The woman half-nodded sorta-assent, and said, as I walked away, “‘Tis a quandary.”

Walking away still, I looked back at her, and she was still squatting, not looking at me. I felt irritated that she hadn’t continued the conversation, that she’d used the word ‘quandary.’ How would she have known I knew what it meant, anyway? Now I was feeling like those who call big vocabulary pretentious. But I guess something small helped her recognize that I’m the sort of odd person who knows odd words. I still feel bad for not engaging with her, for choosing instead to cultivate my sour mood.

I explained all this to the I LOVE U :) cashier who, like I said above, appeared disappointed with me for walking-back the happy shared moment of exuberant. I was disappointed with me, too. But at least when I was driving home I thought up this blog post; I realized there was a big connection between these interactions and the reality TV issue.

At their peak the destructive emotions flaring during these reality TV shows are definitely real. (Perhaps those who decry the shows and miss this point don’t actually see much of them.) Real doesn’t imply good, doesn’t imply that the shows shouldn’t be changed. (I like Seitz’s suggestion of psychologists and better screenings; you can’t eliminate a phenomenon like reality TV; and, to pretend an underbelly doesn’t exist doesn’t help anything.)

Here’s the point. I think that in our postmodern world, people are so hungry for authentic moments of human experience that, even it means havoc or worse for the participants’ lives, they’ll take what these shows offer, if that’s all they know how to find. Because sincerely engaging with other people during the day, even through a good work of art, and sincerely emoting, is a scary risk.

Creative Commons License

The Exuberant Quandary by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

Clinical Teaching Day 1; Rumination on Roles

My first day as a clinical teacher went very well. Except: I’m exhausted!

Right now the coordinating teacher and I are together in the same classroom throughout the day. She’s running the reins, and I’m just observing, sitting at the side. Eventually I’ll be able to lead some activities. I’ve done that before when I’ve substituted for the same groups of students across a continuous week or so, but this would be more serious, especially as it’s long-term.

The day began quite early; my alarms blasted off at about 4:30am. I showered & got ready, and Wifely Kate cooked breakfast:

iPhone pic by me, public domain for you. Food by Kate!

How awesome is that? The coffee was ready and everything. I was able to write fiction for about an hour and fifteen minutes — quickly revising (line-editing) an older, completed story so I can re-submit it; didn’t quite finish, since I’m having to fact-check some details — and then I headed to campus, the lunch Kate packed me in tow. At noon-ish I discovered she’d left a note in my lunchbox. The note talked about how proud she is of me. I got teary-eyed!

The coordinating teacher uses a Promothean ActivBoard (I’m not sure if the link points to the exact same model) in some very effective ways. For one portion of the classes, she shows multiple-choice math questions on the ‘Board, then the students record their answers using controllers — all students have one on their desks. The coordinating teacher shows the results on the ‘Board — as a bar graph; looks like something off Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — and uses them not just to motivate the class (the students love the video game-y vibe), but also to hone in on the students’ misunderstandings of the material in order to explain it again. Good real-time assessment.

Weirdly, one of the few TV shows I really like

The ‘Board can even export the collected data, so at a later time, we can analyze the answer statistics more precisely to spot recurring troubles. Totally something out of a Tim O’Reilly project.

Since I was mostly only observing — catching up to speed on this campus’s schedule, rules, etc. — I focused on watching one student at a time. (I’ve blogged before about developing observation skills. As for characterization, can a writer quickly notice in real-life what makes another person absolutely unique?) I noticed a boy whom I think might need glasses. Squinting, tilting his head to see better, putting his face inches from his paper. There’s a school program to address vision issues, but I’m not sure how prompt it is. Watching how in need and at risk students are can be upsetting. I’ve seen it before, substituting.

This particular student is enthusiastic, often raising and waving his hand even before the teacher asks another question. His enthusiasm hasn’t been disruptive. He seems to be a bit in his own world — smiling to himself, thinking his own thoughts. Good kid.

After leaving the campus, I went to Stay Wired! Coffeehouse and Computer Service for two hours, where I’m helping out as a computer tech. After my two hours were up, I informally sat in on a meeting for Democrat Cathy Hirt‘s campaign for the Fort Worth mayor position. There, upon being asked, I talked a little about my experiences and observations working for the local public school system.

I have to confess I’m bewildered about the relationships between my roles as a writer, teacher, newbie activist, blogger, and tweep (Twitter person). For example, working as an activist differs from volunteering for a political campaign (as I did for Bill White), from working for one in an official capacity, from blogging reportage or opinion about it, from incorporating observations of a campaign into a fiction project, etc. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re sitting there with a few people talking local politics and you’re trying to figure out which hat you’re wearing, so to speak. I have no real idea how to resolve these mini-conflicts, and there’s no one right answer.

The convention for blogs to be frequently updated conflicts with my personal preference for long-form or at least mucho-revised writing; and, when I’ve tried to blog long-form writing in the past, it’s often come off as too complex (Latinate, twisted syntax…) and hasn’t been revised well enough — a bad compromise between careful long-form writing and a quick blog post. Really, if you’re blogging long-form pieces, you’re essentially writing e-books. Since I consider myself a non-commercial writer (i.e. my goal isn’t profit; that possibility is a fringe benefit; I don’t mean that I consider myself highbrow — I try not to think in those terms), I’m not against the idea of eventually releasing more of my creative writing (fiction and otherwise) under Creative Commons licenses, but I sense that right now, I still need the bigger bullhorns and reputation-build of established venues (i.e. magazines, publishing houses).

Vika covers Metallica’s Orion

The increasing online success of vkgoeswild (Vika Yermolyeva) has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I thought she was cool before she joined forces with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione (Hipster cultural capital snobby-stupid FTW! =p). Vika supports herself by receiving online tips and selling customized transcriptions online. Other artists and bloggers have figured out similar business models (search through Boing Boing for many examples and discussions). But for creative writing, I just don’t excel at the very short, very quickly written form, which seems to be necessary to any feasible online business model I can actually think up for right now.

Besides, I love teaching!

Fiction Filmable … so what?

My good friend Cynthia Shearer said something in a long-ago (long-ago in net years) blog post, a review of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road, that has puzzled me for a while. Before I get all critical of a single phrase in her post, lemme say some positive stuff to block any negative feelings.

  • Her blog post’s awesome.
  • Cynthia’s awesome and her blog’s awesome.
  • Revolutionary Road and Richard Yates are awesome.
  • Thanks to Cynthia’s review, Wifely and I both read the novel, and we found it so worthwhile, the book has since become something of a touchstone in some of our conversations.

Now with the kindnesses out of the way, here’s my quarrel, or really, quibble jumping-off point. In the course of otherwise spot-on praise for Yates’ novel, Cynthia gives the following as a thought on the book:

The novel is flawlessly structured, three acts, and eminently filmable.

Confirming what I thought, my OS X dictionary gives the following definition for “eminently”:

used to emphasize the presence of a positive quality

Maybe Cynthia wasn’t using the word so specifically, but regardless of authorial intent…and setting aside commerce, writers upping their audience — i.e., considering aesthetics alone — why is it a positive (or a negative) quality for a book to be filmable? We don’t say: “That’s a great sculpture; after all, it’d make a fantastic piece of photography” or “That’s a great painting; after all, it’d make an excellent symphonic work.”

Connections between artistic content remixed into another art form can be worth pursuing and elaborating and evaluating, but I don’t see any basis for using as a criterion of aesthetic appraisal the ease with which an artistic piece can be remixed to another art form.

By the way, one of my favorite remixes of artistic subjects is Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem Isle of the Dead Op. 29, composed in the early 20th century and then recorded with Rachmaninoff himself conducting. And yes, it’s “beginner’s classical,” shut up. Arnold Böcklin’s painting Isle of the Dead inspired Rachmaninoff’s piece — apparently the black-and-white version:

Here’s the color version:

And the music, low-fi and split into two parts due to copyright and YouTube limitations:

And here’s an online encyclopedia of Isle of the Dead remixes.

Anyway, the (wrongheaded!) idea of using as a criterion of qualitative judgment an artwork’s capability to be transformed from one art form to another got me to thinking: what can a novel do that no other art form can do? The closest (non-textual) art forms are probably plays (in performance) and movies (“movies,” not “films”; I don’t screen films, I watch movies). What can novels do that those art forms can’t do? I’ll not consider plays, as I haven’t thought much about them. So: movies.

In my tentative answers I’m going to put aside style, too, since sentence-level quality, I think, is a) not obligatory for a novel to be good, and b) not inherently novelistic. So, my first tentative answer: maybe novels can represent time, the workings of memory, changing perspectives, and the inner experience of emotions and thoughts better than any other form. As an example of what I mean (UPDATE: screenhead.com’s list of the hardest novels to film), Theodore Sturgeon’s excellent short story The Man Who Lost the Sea (legal full text at link) — warning, spoiler in the third quoted paragraph:

Say you’re a kid, and one dark night you’re running along the cold sand with this helicopter in your hand, saying very fast witchy-witchy-witchy. You pass the sick man and he wants you to shove off with that thing. Maybe he thinks you’re too old to play with toys. So you squat next to him in the sand and tell him it isn’t a toy, it’s a model. You tell him look here, here’s something most people don’t know about helicopters. You take a blade of the rotor in your fingers and show him how it can move in the hub, up and down a little, back and forth a little, and twist a little, to change pitch. You start to tell him how this flexibility does away with the gyroscopic effect, but he won’t listen. He doesn’t want to think about flying, about helicopters, or about you, and he most especially does not want explanations about anything by anybody. Not now. Now, he wants to think about the sea. So you go away. […]

His head isn’t working right. But he knows clearly that it isn’t working right, which is a strange thing that happens to people in shock sometimes. Say you were that kid, you could say how it was, because once you woke up lying in the gym office in high school and asked what had happened. They explained how you tried something on the parallel bars and fell on your head. You understood exactly, though you couldn’t remember falling. Then a minute later you asked again what had happened and they told you. You understood it. And a minute later . . . forty-one times they told you, and you understood. It was just that no matter how many times they pushed it into your head, it wouldn’t stick there; but all the while you knew that your head would start working again in time. And in time it did. . . . Of course, if you were that kid, always explaining things to people and to yourself, you wouldn’t want to bother the sick man with it now. […]

Say you were that kid: say, instead, at last, that you are the sick man, for they are the same; surely then you can understand why of all things, even while shattered, shocked, sick with radiation calculated (leaving) radiation computed (arriving) and radiation past all bearing (lying in the wreckage of Delta) you would want to think of the sea. For no farmer who fingers the soil with love and knowledge, no poet who sings of it, artist, contractor, engineer, even child bursting into tears at the inexpressible beauty of a field of daffodils—none of these is as intimate with Earth as those who live on, live with, breathe and drift in its seas. So of these things you must think; with these you must dwell until you are less sick and more ready to face the truth.

(Oddly for a science fiction story originally published in a straight-up “genre” magazine — The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction — “The Man Who Lost the Sea” was selected for the 1960 edition of The Best American Short Stories.)

I’m not sure a play or a movie could represent the Sturgeon story, its workings of time, memory, changing perspectives, and inner experience as well and as concisely — or even at all. But that’s a huge disjunction: are plays and movies able to represent the Sturgeon story — just not concisely or well — or is there something inherent to the story that cannot be translated to another art form? I think that depends on how inherent an aspect of an artwork has to be for it to be considered inherent. ;-) And, how good does the movie have to be? The movie could voice-over or crawl tons of text to get closer to the original fiction format, but that (probably) would become annoying. You never know, however; artists are always figuring out new techniques. All the same, because representing time, memory, changing perspectives, and inner experience is at least a huge strength of fiction (and especially the novel), more and more I try to emphasize those qualities in my own writing.

I said first tentative answer, so how about this second one, which I can describe best in a metaphorical way? Novels are like multicharacter, revised, organized daydreams — or, imagine being a kid and playing with dolls or figurines, making up stories. That’s basically what novels are, I think, but not so much created daydreams worlds as the daydream-y experience of personal identity as a network of multiple narratives, comprised of images, emotions, etc., and stuck into the context of particular settings and social histories/influences and so forth. Sorta sounds like Bakhtin’s account of polyphony in Dostoevsky. But I haven’t read enough Bakhtin yet to say much; besides, his name sounds like Bactine.

Please don’t DMCA-takedown me, Bayer

This way of looking at what’s unique to novelistic form doesn’t seem to strongly entail the memory rumination or time aspects or changing perspectives I mentioned earlier, but yeah, I think fiction — especially when it avoids too much exposition and abstraction — stages a vehicle for experiencing a daydream related to identity and traveling in a specific historical or social context. Yet in “When Narrative Fails,” an article in May 2004’s Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, J. Melvin Woody makes an interesting case that other forms of art can do this, too:

“Why […] should we limit our understanding of the constitution of the self to the narrative? Indeed, why limit ourselves to language? Do not music and dance often articulate our passions more eloquently than any literary form?”

Nevertheless I think my second answer is pretty strong, and pertinent to why reading fiction is not just another hobby or preference, but something people who have the ability and resources and time to read it really should do so.