Check out SpookyConnections.com

Note: In 2021 I’m going to publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Today is a day late, but hey. This is entry 2 of 52.

“Name names! Name names!” That’s what an older gentleman, an autodidact and FDR-style liberal, told me from across the table at a Fort Worth coffeeshop a few years ago, before Jeffrey Epstein became known to average households. I’d been talking about vague criminal forces and their slippery control over our world. He wanted specificity, but it can be hard to remember who did what, each precise molecule of data, when drinking daily from the firehoses of books and social media. For me at least, if I’m not in the process of studying something or preparing a presentation, all that information becomes a blur, a mood or zeitgeist rather than the articulated facts of a rap sheet. Thankfully for both the forgetful and everyone else, the new website SpookyConnections.com delivers dossiers of top wrongdoers the planet over, and the site is steadily adding more and more.

This is a screenshot of the front page of SpookyConnections.com. It shows the faces of eight millionaires or billionaires, along with their names, nationalities, income level, and occupations.
Screenshot of SpookyConnections front page

Their About us page says Spooky Connections is a research project and “an independent international open source investigation to probe transnational organized crime. We operate using open source information from established news outlets and primary sourced documents to graph, map, and document a clear understanding of organised criminal networks and activities.” SpookyConnections.com is also currently linked in the bios of three major old school Anonymous twitter accounts: @YourAnonCentral, @OpDeathEaters, and @OpCanary.

The URL derives from the slang term spook meaning a spy or other espionage agent. While a president enters and leaves office in the space of a few short years — maybe a single term or less — the unelected often spend decades, no matter which party is in power, at agencies such as Central Intelligence, implementing war crimes and then implementing their celebration via propaganda, pulse-pounding TV shows and movies, or other seductive coercion manipulating the emotional responses of populations. This unfortunate truth about the architects of our (un)societies is well documented in books such as Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, James W. Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable, and Top Secret America by Dana Priest and William Arkin. See also Heather Marsh’s blog post “The intelligence mafia.” Reading these texts remedies an archaic “how a bill becomes a law” view of our governance.

In the boxing ring’s other corner from the spies, the Spooky Connections website mainly consists of two features or areas. First, the profiles. The front page is illustrated with the faces of eleven (at the time of this writing) repulsive VIPs, much like a deck of cards spread out for inspection. Clicking one of them takes you to a page dedicated to exposing that single individual, using reputable sources including investigative journalism reports and court documents.

Let’s take Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev as an example for what the Spooky Connections drill-down on one person looks like.

The image is a screenshot of the beginnings of the Dmitry Rybolovlev dossier. Subheadings are Introduction, Murder Allegations, The Maison de L'Amitie - Donald Trump deal. That information is on the right. On the left is Ryboloviev's face, an expandable table of contents, and a list of his connections to others, including family.
Screenshot of the beginnings of the Dmitry Rybolovlev dossier

The image above is Spooky Connection’s profile of Russian billionaire and art investor Dmitry Ryboloviev. Below the picture of his displeased face, users can expand the table of contents or a list of his connections to others, family among them. The write-up is straightforward and readable, in the familiar format of an encyclopedia entry. Yet this one is custom-made to focus not on PR fluff but on credible accusations and criminal connections. The text includes subheads for easy reading: Introduction; Murder Allegations; The Maison de L’Amitie – Donald Trump Deal; The My Anna yacht and parties with young girls; Holdings; FC Monaco; Monaco-gate; Citations. This last, Citations, is particularly important so that readers can find the sources for the dossier. The write-ups beneath each subhead reveal plenty of unsavory information on the man. For instance:

Dmitry Rybolovlev remains close to the Kremlin, as evidenced by his friendship with Yuri Troutnev, one of the right arms of Vladimir Putin. [18] Donald Trump Jr., invited in September 2008 to a real estate conference in New York, had explained that “the Russians” now constituted “a rather disproportionate part” of the assets of the Trump family empire. [19]

And also:

during divorce proceedings it was revealed he took a vacation on his yacht off Croatia with “young girls whose passports said they were born in 1988 and 1989 but they looked much younger in photographs that were taken on this occasion,” according to court papers. They partied on his yacht “My Anna,” named after his daughter. [20] According to court proceedings Dmitry Rybolovlev admitted to sleeping with his butler, his assistant, and students which he happily shared with other oligarchs. He said “he appreciated only teenage girls, younger than his own daughter”. 

Learning that this is who your rulers are is much like when some children have to confront the grim facts that their caregivers are actually incapable of nurturing them, or do not love them, or are dangerous to them. Usually in such a horrible situation, those kids’ selfhood/personhood diminishes; rather than acknowledge their caregivers, whom they can’t escape and who rule their lives like gods, are ongoing active hazards, it feels safer to blame themselves as not good enough, and withdraw, too afraid to express themselves fully, take big risks, or put themselves out there, choices that might draw attention in a hostile universe. In adulthood, the child then stays on the recliner, tuning in only to the familiar and predictable pabulum of corporate TV programming or ineffective by-the-book solutions, blaming themselves instead of the system and not willing to look their leaders in the eye to pursue answers based on their true natures. Expecting politico predators to arrest themselves isn’t going to work; to get different results, we have to try strategies that are different, such as strengthening ourselves and launching independent, international, victim-led inquiries/tribunals into the trafficking industry, an option I discuss here.

Spooky Connections’ other big feature is the graph. By clicking the button on the side (which consists of three hexagons resembling biological cells clumped together), users can easily access the graph at https://www.spookyconnections.com/graph.

A graph connecting various very important predators.
Screenshot of graph view at Spooky Connections

The graph, similar to images from crime shows where police detectives combine clues on the wall to track down a suspect, can tell you quite a bit about these individuals’ relationships. For instance, the way I clicked the tool, shown above, suggests Donald Trump does not access the United States Mafia through Allen Weisselberg (CFO of The Trump Organization), but could through lawyer Roy Cohn. Because Spooky Connections is adding more VIPredators regularly, the tool should become more powerful in time. I’m not sure what the “Play” button is supposed to do; perhaps I am using it incorrectly. Clicking “Graph Commons” at the bottom left takes the user to a Spooky Connections page on graphcommons.com, where the “Play” button supplies various visualization features that I need to experiment with more to understand. In a few places, typos or notices such as “Work in Progress” alert the reader to the unfinished nature of the Spooky Connections website. The site also has a “Support Us” button leading to a donate page on donorbox.

One of Spooky Connections’ huge advantages is its global nature. Especially as international news bureaus have shut down due to lack of funds, corporate newspapers teach audiences that they are to be concerned with the news of their own country, not the news of other countries. (This is because countries are primarily segregated economic markets.) But the VIPredators travel all around the world, do business all around the world, commit crime all around the world. Closing your eyes to what they’re doing in the other 190-odd countries is obviously going to present an incomplete picture. Yet Spooky Connections offers a full view, one that will eventually become the status quo as more and more are accustomed to chatting with and befriending strangers abroad thanks to social media, email lists, etc.

Why clique up with and empower your opponents — I’m thinking of authors wanting to “picked” by corporate publishers, or citizenries silently accepting the crimes of the “lesser evil” in exchange for bread and circuses; in short, remaining infantilized rather than achieving greater and greater autonomy — when a handful of independent researchers can accomplish this and point the way forward?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Check out SpookyConnections.com 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/2021/01/14/check-out-spookyconnections/. 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.

Running as exploration and adventure

Note: In 2021 I’m going to publish at least one blog post per week, on Wednesdays. Last year I didn’t quite make it, but this year I will. This is entry 1 of 52.

Note: The off topic photos of salad bowls are here to update readers familiar with the post where I introduced that regular meal of mine. Here’s how the dish is getting made these days. I introduced this salad for my first post of 2020, so I think it’s fitting to bring the bowl back for the beginning of 2021. The images show the salad bowl that was made adjacent to mine a few days ago by someone who really knows what she’s doing; hers was much more visually appealing; my meal, with ingredients strewn together haphazardly, simply disappeared into my happy stomach unphotographed.

A chalkboard at a gym reads: Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.
Great message for an indoor gym; but, time to step outside

I used to go to the gym regularly and run on the treadmill with a portable MP3 player keeping me company. COVID-19 nixed the gym habit, and rain nixed my little music device. Now I’ve learned to pound pavement hearing the various songs of the outdoors, something I’d wanted to try for a long timebut did not have the strength of self to dare do.

Jogging without headphones places me much more in touch with the environment. Every little sound that comes my way reminds me I’m an animal taking part in a very physical world. It’s like camping, but each and every day. Usually, at least in the WEIRD world (Western Educated Individualistic Rich Democratic), the car and the cubicle lock adults into a zombie state; they forget, for instance, that their vehicle is thousands of pounds of metal hurling down the highway thanks to explosions, and treat the ride as a no-thought-required luxury cruise where they can eat and scroll their phone. Humans: from hunters persistently chasing prey to hunching over glowing screens with backaches and, above all else, predictable, safe, risk-free routines that keep them infantilized. It’s easy to understand how the treadmill fits in here: the runner watches another titillating screen, wears isolating headphones, and times the run on the machine’s complicated computer. Its flashing lights replace the jog in nature with something as scientifically managed, rigorous, and efficient as an assembly line. You don’t even go from a Point A to a Point B.

A well-known image which shows an amusing take on human evolutio. At the left, a monkey walking with four limbs on the floor. By the time evolution reaches the midpoint, it's a man standing with a spear and good posture. By the time evolution reaches the far right of the image, the man is hunched over again like the monkey,  two limbs on the floor and two limbs on a computer keyboard.
Makes me think of the Alexander Technique

Since I’ve been running outdoors with no headphones for a month or so, what other differences have I noticed? It’s amazing how much you learn about your surroundings when daily you run around them, any which way, not necessarily sticking to a planned course. Think of all the things that might be going on in your town that you don’t know about. Just today I saw that Seattle, whichever government department it was, placed a sign threatening a shockingly steep $1,500 penalty for anyone dumping waste in a cul-de-sac near me. For years I’ve seen sofas, scrap metal, chairs, and other junk dumped there, and now the story continues with escalating stakes and conflict between the cost-saving polluters and the neatnik authorities. What will happen next? It’s a miniature story right outside my doorstep.

Salad bowl as described in caption.
Incomplete salad bowl, so far with spinach, kale, red cabbage, and cucumber

At that cul-de-sac, there’s a somewhat rickety and certainly steep staircase climbing a hill; by the top, a wood fort stands, like one that might stand in a backyard for kids to play in. Whenever I run past it, I wonder what its function is, who built it, what its story is. Once you’re on the other side of the hill, it’s possible to walk a little bit and then take a trail circling around to, from another direction, the base of the staircase. Bigger infrastructure nearby inspires wonder too. I live by the “Low Bridge,” also known as the Spokane bridge, where the Duwamish River empties into Elliott Bay. (So come at me, bro!) When I was in zombie mode in my car, heavy metal blasting, I’d just assume the Spokane bridge was a drawbridge, even though I’d never seen it raise up to let ships through. It has a sidewalk for pedestrians, so nowadays I run across, a friend of the bridge, so to speak, getting to know it a little bit more each time. One day, before I could progress far across the bridge, a guard rail along its sidewalk came down and stopped me in my tracks. Next to me, vehicles were also stopped by a separate guard rail. Then the bridge very slowly swung in horizontal arcs to let the boat through. Finally it arced back together into one piece. Who controls all this? Does the bridge have a mind of its own? There’s a creepy tower by it that I can see from my apartmentperhaps the bridge boss is therein?

The West Seattle High Rise, the Low Bridge aka the Spokane bridge, and the mysterious guard tower
Scary tower + 2 bridges

My friends and I joke about this tower, because it looks straight out of some paranoiac novel. A different day, I was running across the bridge and happened to see a man come out of the top of the tower, the little room up there, onto the tower’s balcony area to gaze around the cityscape. I don’t know if he was satisfied or dissatisfied with what he saw, but he quickly vanished back into his lair. What’s his story? He some kind of wizard? What’s the tale of this tower? None of that does the driver typically see or think about, too busy zooming past while stressing over traffic. The treadmill gerbil in the gym definitely doesn’t take in all these unusual experiences either. Think of the multitudes of buildings you drive past routinely, the architectures and plants unobserved, the mysteries of who owns them and what they are doing with that ownership unbeknownst to you. Yet running outside, you feel part of the same highly active, physical world as the buildings (as opposed to a cerebral or deadened world), and might be inspired to research a particular structure you encountered next time you come to a computer.

There are plenty of other fascinating surroundings I’ve checked out since switching to jogging outdoors. To get certain places, it behooves me to run alongside train tracks. The gravel beneath my shoes there is so uneven that in spots, I have to really pay attention, which makes the exercise almost like a hike. These days I know that the trains near my neighborhood are usually the BNSF company’s; when did I ever notice and think about things like that before? I didn’t, just a drone on the unchanging treadmill. I’m grateful for my current newfound ability to run, listening, through grassy parks, down dirt paths following the Duwamish River, as close to the Seattle shipping terminals as their defenses will allow (Hi Homeland Security!), on sidewalk trails to their ends and then continuing alongside long streets leading into downtown, scrutinizing as I pass by the shops and other buildings I never knew were there. It’s like being an adventurous kid, exploring on a bicycle.

Salad bowl as the caption states.
Added avocado, sesame seeds, and edamame.

Why didn’t I do this before? Seattle is a gorgeous city with plenty of walkable (and runnable) paths, whereas North Texas, where I’m from, consists of unappealing corporate parks, car dealerships, tract houses, and strip malls. But it’s much more than that. A person has to have a sufficient measure of strength to hurl themselves, panting hard, through the cold pouring rain and dark, down paths that aren’t yet paths. Where no one has planned for someone to run, where the person is creating the trail beneath their sneakers as they go, creating the idea. It requires engagement and participation with the world with all its detailswatch your step on the uneven gravel! look that building up when you get home!instead of withdrawing, giving up, and hiding in bed with unhealthy but comfortable habits, often grandiosely reassuring oneself falsely that one is achieving greatly.

I’d better get to bed. Getting up before dawn to run somewhere that’s just miles from my door, and I’ve never even been there before!

Complete with dressing and quinoa cooked in turmeric, ginger, and coconut milk

p.s. If you like the thoughts in this post, you might enjoy the videos of the vlogger shiey, aka illegal freedom. The artistic videos, a type of travel journal, show off his athletic, even daredevil, exploits exploring urban jungles, particularly restricted areas.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Running as exploration and adventure, 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/2021/01/06/exercise-exploration-adventure/. 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.

Oops I missed Week 18

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…except when I’m not because reasons, life, pandemics, etc. This is a placeholder ‘oops’ post for Week 18, where in theory there would have been a post for roughly Monday 4 May 2020. Thanks for your patience!

The image is a simple style comic strip with three panels. It shows a stick figure sad with messy kitchenware, then cleaning it, then happy with sparkling kitchenware. Just a picture for fun and mood.
The above art by pignuna

Good news: Today I got my kitchen super clean for the first time in weeks. Also today, I refreshed my trash cans and recycling bin (I mean offline; I’m applying the virtual verb metaphor to the offline noun phrase molecular entities), I scheduled multiple video chats with multiple friends for this weekend, and I put in a lot of research work into my forthcoming freelance pitch regarding how pre-covid19/ongoing activist movements in Seattle could use current and proposed open science systems to improve their own efforts during novel coronavirus (commission this with an email to me: dal@riseup.net). Got a lot more done than usual, as has been the case for me lately, since in my life these days, aboard this mysterious dreamship I’ve recently found myself on (yes I’m vaguebooking a little), 1 and 1 make 11!

Bad news: This week, no promised post for you here—but thanks for bearing with me! I’ll really try to get something up here for Monday the 11th, Week 19.

Truly though, my routine of typing up “oops” posts to keep track of my blog, and keep up my project of posting once a week for 2020, has been an amazing anti-perfectionism measure. Of everything I’ve ever read about how to evolve past perfectionism, the single most helpful text has been Hillary Rettig’s book (aimed toward writers but applicable for all) The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: How to Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, and her related 2011 blog post, “Perfectionism is Rooted in Grandiosity.” In the past month, several of my writer friends have told me that with the wild covid-19 changes, they’ve been unable to write at all, so really, I’m glad I’ve kept these oops posts going — a useful lesson there!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Oops I missed Week 18, 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/2020/05/06/oops-i-missed-week-18/. 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Intro to Ear Training, Fear Training, Ear Straining

Too many drastically overestimate their skill at discerning details of audio such as music. Listen to this basic A major guitar chord:

Can your ears “reach into” the chord and pick out all three notes? (Test yourself by singing or humming each one individually.) Or do you just hear the chord as a composite? It’s easier when someone plays the notes together and then separately, as above. If you want a real challenge, go mash down a bunch of random piano keys (a “tone cluster”); then, without releasing the keys, try to sing or hum each note separately.

Do you hear a few huge, blocky piano chords, or do you hear hundreds of individual notes also? Serious music students have a hard time distinguishing all the different notes, too, so much so that they sometimes refer to ear-training courses as “fear-training” or “ear-straining.”

My understanding — and this might be wrong — is that, with chords, the mind (on some level at least) hears both composite sounds and individual tones at once, always. So maybe in your subconscious you’re hearing it all. I’m still leaving out overtones and features such as vibrato.

This is my brain. Not joking; the MRI people copied me a DVD.

I’m also unsure of whether the conscious mind, hearing chordal music, rapidly switches its focus from one individual note to another (and the composite waveform) or if it’s truly capable of hearing multiple tracks at once. (If I had to guess, I don’t think the conscious mind attends to much of anything with perfect simultaneity, when you drill down to individual instants, simply due to latency limitations of the physical nervous system.) For whatever it’s worth, computers can only complete one task at a time — they just switch between them so quickly we imagine they’re “multi-tasking.”

Even when people don’t have good ears for music (by which I don’t mean they’re literally tone-deaf, just that they aren’t highly skilled at perceiving details of audio), we typically say they can identify for themselves whether a piece of music is “good” or not. Of course it’s really their subjective experience of the music that they’re labeling as good or bad.

We don’t extend the same leeway to people evaluating visual art, however. We don’t expect someone with bad vision (and no corrective lenses) to make astute judgments about a painting they can’t see well. (A good way to train the eyes, by the way, is field-guiding.)

Who?

Why the double standard? I think because most of us are more familiar with sight; most of us live our entire lives without wondering about our ability to discern pitches in the audio we take in.

Once, a long time ago, my friend Bryan told me he only heard heavy metal as a kind of static-y noise. He couldn’t identify its pitches; later, after repeated listening, he could hear them. Try it yourself: here’s an instrumental Metallica song, Orion, as originally recorded. Skip ahead to :56 if you want to cut to the chase and get past the quiet intro.

Do you hear the bass guitar and the multiple notes of the multiple guitars? Or is it just one moving block of sound with drums banging away? People do in fact hear it quite differently. Now try the same (well, practically the same) music played on piano (by the fantastic Vika Yermolyeva). Generally people hear pianos more clearly than other instruments.

I think current research says babies are pretty much always born with perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch — the ability to distinguish and name notes. To someone with perfect pitch (who has also learned the Western musical alphabet), a guitar string vibrating at 440 hertz produces an A, not just a sound. (Perfect pitch doesn’t mean singing in tune; it might help someone sing in tune, but perfect pitch is a perceptual skill, not a skill involving the voice box, diaphragm, tongue, etc.) Growing up, children aren’t taught to associate the notes they hear with a musical alphabet, and so their perfect pitch fades away. Some adults can indeed learn it, though.

Basic ear-training makes music more enjoyable even for non-musicians. Now, go smush down some piano keys.

Creative Commons LicenseIntro to Ear Training, Fear Training, Ear Straining 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.

On Meeting the National Secretary of the Socialist Equality Party at an Event Somehow Related to Wikileaks

When I’m really excited about a book or movie, I make a point of ignoring the reviews, the jacket copy, the trailers, etc. — I prefer to experience the full-length artwork cold. Then afterward I go back and check out the peripheral stuff.

So as some sort of ‘cautious supporter at a distance’ (or whatever) of Wikileaks — and especially of journos and fiction-writers bravely discussing radical transparency, technology, civil liberties — I got excited about what at first appeared, on the Wikileaks Central website here, to be a vague “Global WikiLeaks support rally.” Anyone apparently can claim one of these things, not unlike this or that tea party or this or that libertation front meeting. I put the date, time, and place (16 Feb, 7pm, the University of Houston Main Campus University Center Room 242) on my calendar and waited a good month or so for the day to arrive. I didn’t even research the event, really, let alone its periphery.

Though it was hard to miss this headline on the event(s) webpage at the World Socialist Web Site:

Imperialist diplomacy exposed: Behind the witch-hunt of WikiLeaks.

Really? Some dudes in Houston (and elsewhere!) have discerned the one and only witch-hunt and they’re going to expose it? Ah, but being charitable as I am, and being forewarned as I am about the loose nature of de-centralized rallies/discussions, I decided just to show up, see who’d be there, what’d happen there, benefit of the doubt and all.

A day or two before driving down to Houston, I double-checked the event’s meager webpage at the World Socialist Web Site (not Wikileaks Central) and noticed a name had been slotted in as a “Speaker”: Joe Kishore. (I think I have the timeline of these webpage changes accurate from memory, but if you find any cache or archive discrepancies, please tell in the comments.)

I ripped this image of Joe Kishore off the World Socialist Web Site since they don’t believe in property

I found his Twitter username and included it in a public tweet spanning Wikileaks-related hashtags in search of other people who might be attending. Kishore responded:

I SEE YOU TOO

Not long after this exchange, the World Socialist Web Site added an additional sentence describing the Houston event: “The topic of this meeting has been changed to The Revolution in Egypt.” Maybe I’m imagining things, but it is relevant to point out that anyone can find out with two clicks on Twitter that my wife works as a television producer, and this event started as a political rally seeking attention. As for the Wikileaks Central page, they continued (and still continue) to describe the Houston meeting as a “support rally” and a “discuss[ion]”.

The day of the event, I used one of my school’s faculty restrooms to change out of my Clark Kent button-down & slacks and into a comfortable pair of blue jeans, my trusty O9 F9 T-shirt, and a hoodie-like thing with a “BLAME IT ON THE MEDIA” button in place of a flag pin. (Blame everything on the mediated nature of higher-order human consciousness!) And I got into my little hatchback and off through the Republic of Texas I went.

At about 8:00pm — missing all of the event except the last few Q&As! — I entered the room with my camera around my neck and my briefcase and, as quietly as possible so as not to distract anyone, made my way to the back of the room and took a chair. I decided photography would be rude, since I was such a late arrival, so unfortunately, no pictures here. But from memory, the demographics of the audience: about 15 students of the typical college age, late teens to early to mid-twenties, mostly non-white, males and females equally visible. I don’t think there were any professors in the room, as there sometimes are at talks. There were, however, two middle-aged white guys accompanying the National Secretary, Houston locals I think. Kishore told me later he was thirty.

I really only heard two or three audience questions. With one, a young woman asked about similar events elsewhere in the Middle East, and I was thinking, that’s what Twitter’s for, not really paying attention, as I was jacking-in to Twitter myself, tethering with my iPhone. Also I seem to remember a young man sitting across the aisle from me rising, shaking his head as if thinking this National Socialist Secretary Dude is kind of legit but also kind of wack, and then hastening out of the room, despite Kishore’s call for him to buy a pamphlet or sign up for an email list or something. But again, I don’t remember this all too clearly. I’d just driven about 5 hours and sat down and jacked-in, surrounded by an in-progress discussion.

Kishore asked if there were any more questions, and I asked what his Socialist Equality Party’s take was on the Pirate Party that has had some success in Sweden and is (sorta) beginning to appear in the USA, as well as for his party’s take on reform-minded alliances between progressive groups and libertarian groups, which is drawing the attention of some Wikileaks supporters &tc.?

Well, Kishore replied, incremental reform is window-dressing, coalition-building is white-washing, because we the people need revolution, one undergirded by a no-compromise socialist cultural movement; pamphlets on sale in the back would explain further.

Meeting adjourned, he said.

The American Student Loan Racket“; at least this image is aligned left

I didn’t quite believe my ears. Revolution? Huh? Seriously, you think you are going to sell that in the ballot box to Americans with food in their stomachs and roofs over their heads, today, right now? That’s your political platform? If you’re really working in politics, you’re not a revolutionary, you’re a reformer. No wonder the Socialist Equality Party achieves only 0.000000000001% of the vote (if that) with their contradictions.

I stayed for a while as the ~15 students trickled out, talking with National Secretary Kishore and his two friends, er, comrades. (So at this point everyone in the room is male and thoroughly bourgeois.) I gave the Socialist Equality Party $2 in cash to get a pamphlet (pictured left) that attacks the student loan industry, as a dark-humor gag gift for Wifely Kate; hopefully that $2 doesn’t count as material support for anything illegal. (It did strike me as goofy that the pamphlets weren’t free, but I decided not to ask.)

I questioned the three guys on their Trostsky-ite philosophy, and they “refudiated” my points each in their own way. Kishore spoke in quotes, often picking up pamphlets to find them, and sometimes ducked aside enigmatically for cell phone communiques. One of the other two just stared at me silently with those all-seeing/sightless eyes I know too well from having interacted with Scientologists (a tiny bit) and with Ayn Rand-ers (way too much). The third seemed very, very nervous, fidgeting, trying to figure out which world he belonged to. Eventually — I forget on whose suggestion — we decided to go to a nearby sports bar to continue talking. Again, I try to be charitable and support everyone’s right to be weird, you know? And, having mentioned this event to so many others beforehand, I felt a writer’s duty to plumb its depths.

Leaving the main of the campus, I started asking the 5 W’s and 1 H: Who What When Where Why and How. That was when the bad vibes I was getting began crescendo-ing; like I said, I can be overly generous and charitable when interpreting others’ behavior. I asked how they got ahold of the room. The very, very nervous man said this was their second time at the University of Houston, and so far, the school hadn’t been ruffled by their Socialist Equality Party name — he seemed to imply, darkly, that such problems were not uncommon in the capitalist United States. (I saw Steve Best, a self-appointed spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, give a talk at Texas Christian University; I don’t think the Socialist Equality Party has much to worry about on this room issue besides paying any pertinent bills.) These three guys only mentioned their first names when they introduced themselves. You know, creepy stuff like that. But I pushed forward in the conversation, circling in on the logical flaws of, you know, burning the entire world to the ground and starting from zero.

Like, “You support democratic decision-making, but since as you say that requires an educated populace, how are you going to teach a bunch of people with infrastructure in collapse?” Kishore: “You can educate people in a hurry.” And I should have said, “Yeah, when you have all the bananas and education means agreeing with you.” This was the place where we parted ways.

When I returned home, I finally got to googling some of the event’s periphery:

Not a good sign.

Joe Kishore of the Socialist Equality Party apparently shares the chairperson title with David North, and plenty of stops on the Intertubes, such as this LJ post, this Usenet thread, and this blog post allege David North = David W. Green, rich CEO of a capitalist publishing operation, Grand River Printing & Imaging. They assert David W. Green is making money of these pamphlets and expected donations from members, using Joe Kishore as his (un?)witting mouthpiece. Maybe those posts are wrong. Like the XFiles TV show says, “The Truth Is Out There” — but I’m too disgusted to look for it.

Three things remain. One, when I was deeply involved in the most hardcore of the Ayn Rand groups as a teenager, somebody else inadvertently sparked my getting out of it by means of pranking one of our online meetings with humor, and then, when I messaged him directly to say “Help,” he talked with me — selflessly — for hours, assuring me I’d still find friends once I got out of that twisted group, to which he too used to belong. So I feel an obligation to post this in case any of those three guys (or their associates) are looking for some words to help them find their way out. (Though I do not wish to communicate with the three I met personally.)

And second, it’s all so easy to assume your in-groups are normal, and your out-groups are somehow wrongly weird. You don’t need Foucault or Wittgenstein to see the problem here, you just need courage. Pick your most cherished affiliation — religious, political, whatever. Question yourself about it, in writing maybe. Eventually you’ll learn that human beings fashion narratives to survive; they need story-lines to manage their surroundings. Narratives edit out other possibilities (“this is the story, not that”); they provide absolutes for a while, even for centuries, and you must use them to function. But everything in reality is in flux, so narratives are always deficient. Flexibility with narratives is a life skill essential to writers, and to anyone who doesn’t want to remain locked on their own island, surrounded by a wall, screaming at the world and its groups to get off their lawn as the number of people who will stay beside them declines and declines.

And third: this, I think, is why so few Americans actually participate in local politics, where their actions can make an enormous difference, and escape to national or global politics, where it’s easy to point fingers at situations you *actually* know very little about. It’s so easy to refuse the challenge of interacting with compassion and empathy to understand one another in person, learn from one another’s partisan divides, … and to instead riff on stereotypes about how so many of “those people” over on the other side of the world are, you know, weird. That’s the easy way out, the easy way to become anchored to a nice safe island that has nothing on it.

So on Feb 16 2011, did the Socialist Equality Party take over a de-centralized pro-Wikileaks rally in order to gain followers and money? Yes, just like we all go to de-centralized places in order to profit in various ways. The difference is that, from what I can tell, people in the Socialist Equality Party are interested in cold hard private-property cash, and they’re lying about it. Even down to David North’s very name. Then again, I wasn’t there for the whole thing. None of us ever are.