The battleground of names

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 12 of 52.

The image shows simple computer code that asks the user to input their name and age, then stores this data as a name dollar sign variable and an age dollar sign variable, and finally prints the information back out.
Screenshot of a tutorial for QBasic, a Microsoft programming language from the early nineties

In 2004, I began asking others to call me by my first name, Douglas. Before that, I’d been called a variant of my middle name (which I won’t share here for mundane privacy purposes). I wanted a fresh start, because I was just entering my first semester at a university, and also, I was annoyed by the various paperwork hassles seemingly everywhere when your legal name and the name you go by differ. For example, class rosters not specifying how you’re actually called encourage teachers to address you by what appears on the roster. Since many teachers labor under the unfair requirement that they educate very large class sizes, and thus face far too many students to always memorize the preferences of each successfully, try as they might, you as a student can go through months and months of unpleasantly trying to correct a teacher about your name, something that’s supposed to intimately characterize you. The indignity of being called wrongly is even more profound for those whose name changes signal giant shifts in their personhood, such as those who switch names as part of gender or religious transitions. Me, I just thought a fresh start and an end to the paperwork hassles would be nice.

The image shows Jim Carrey as Truman in the movie. He's standing atop steps and before a door. He has his arms and hands spread wide, and he's looking up, smiling.
Image from The Truman Show

It’s strange how names characterize us, isn’t it? Consider the eponymous name of the protagonist in the 1998 movie The Truman Show: unlike those around him pretending to be his neighbors, Truman is a true man. But names, at least when initially given, actually characterize the parents/caregivers, their aspirations for the infant who’s receiving some particular name in the first place. A sense of this reality is frequently missing from fiction, when authors pick a name to symbolize or allude to something about a character, rather than about that character’s parents or environment (including economic class). In other fiction, such disparities between a character’s true self and their name are portrayed, especially if the story involves a name change. While authors spend lots of time thinking over the given names characters go by among their peers, I think surnames in fiction don’t receive much scrutiny, particularly in terms of migration. If an author is writing a story set in 2030 in Nebraska, and currently in 2021 nearly all people alive with surname X live only in France, should the author provide backstory for why someone with surname X is living in Nebraska just nine years into the future? Or are surnames freebies for authors and readers alike? As long as it sounds good and plausible enough, maybe no bulletproof backstory is required. You could reduce such realism problems to absurdity by requiring an author depicting a coffeepot in a story to know how it got there, tracing it all the way back to the specific particles emerging from the Big Bang. On the other hand, books too often expect readers to assume narrators are white and show WASP-y names as the norm, presenting anything else as exceptions in need of explanations.

Since 2004, there’s been a certain discomfort with my first name, for many of those using it and me alike. I’m regularly asked the same question when meeting people: “Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?” The question stumped me for a very long time. Whenever I looked within, I discovered I legitimately don’t have a preference. Either is cool with me! So I couldn’t advise the question-askers, who as far as I could make out, wanted to be caring and accommodating. Just about every time I replied that I have no preference, the question-asker became frustrated. They said I should have a preference. But I didn’t. Maybe I hurt their feelings, as though they were going out of their way in offering to remember my preference, and my not having one stung like a rebuke, in some transactional world they exist in. Only this past month have I finally figured out something more about the question. I’ve been doing core strengthening in physical therapy to help with one of my legs (two surgeries on it in my life so far), and the physical therapist is extremely knowledgeable and competent. I like him, and I’m really grateful to have his excellent help. He told me he has a thing for trying to remember the best names to call people by. We were both a bit flummoxed by my lack of a preference between Doug or Douglas. I thought it over. I think the fact I get along well with this superb physical therapist enabled me to see something more about the question and my lack of a preference.

Here’s the answer, what’s been the answer all along: Doug and Douglas are the same name — just at different diction levels. Doug is informal; Douglas is formal. Compare “What’s up, Doug?” with “Listen, Douglas, we need to have a talk.” They’re the same name in two different forms. I don’t want to micromanage which level of formality my interlocutor picks for any particular conversation. I trust the appropriate diction level can just emerge naturally, simply from both parties’ interactions and the environment at large. Because I realized all this just a few weeks ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out in real life yet. But the next time someone asks me, Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?, I’m going to tell them one’s for informal, the other’s for formal, and that they can select between the two as they think proper. I wonder what will happen. As long as they don’t call me Doogie.

The image shows a black book cover, with the title More Than Human at top, and at bottom, the author's name plus "The provocative novel of six people who became--together--a new form of humanity" and in reference to the author, "whose work is increasingly being called a classic of its kind"
Original hardback cover of Sturgeon’s best-known novel

A common thread in the above — asking others to use my first name (revealingly, sometimes frenemies from the past still don’t, pointedly refusing to honor my request); trying to justify to readers a surname’s presence in a geographic location and time period; attempting to explain to strangers that the two forms of a single name are for different diction levels — is a sense of individuals having to legitimize their names, and perhaps themselves, to others. Names are usually social, bestowed upon us and by us as we pass life down through generations. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, each character on an anarchist moon has but one name, handed out by a central computer registry to keep things organized. In contrast to this socially-focused system, in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human, there’s a gripping moment when the first character we encounter, a lonely outsider, finally names himself. Initially, “Men turned away from him, women would not look”; however, after roughly five years living and working with the Prodd farming family, he learns to speak, though “always he preferred not to.” Eventually the farmer Mr Prodd asks him for his name (get it? Prodd as in prodding him). Because he has come to trust Mr Prodd, he’s able to fulfill this request. He thinks that a name “is the single thing which is me and what I have done and been and learned.” Despite his growing connection with the Prodds, he picks the name Alone, which he can manage to pronounce merely as a single syllable, Lone. That seems very individualist, but he chooses a name only when someone else asks him for it, so it’s an event both personal and social. (The book later follows Lone gathering what Sturgeon calls a gestalt, kind of a chosen family, from other outlier outsiders.) Does a person living on a desert island like a castaway need a name at all? Might they forget their own name? Finally, look at the concept of true names in Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. Characters and objects in that univese have two names, a common one that’s safely shareable, and a second, secret, true name that empowers them and gives others power over them if it’s discovered. In neither case, however, are the names chosen.

The image shows an Internet Relay Chat window, with the user having typed "Hello to all you good people!" with a smiley emoticon. To the right of the image is a vertical list of various handles for users, such as Jolo and herbie and sat.
Internet Relay Chat, what I was doing in the nineties

Online, as in certain types of radio communication, users choose handles, also known as pseudonyms or simply nyms. These lessen tendencies in conversation/debate toward the logical fallacies of personal attacks and arguments from authority, where interlocuters waste time saying “You only believe that because you are [insert identity attribute here]”, as in, because you’re tall/short/rich/poor/white/of color, etc. With nyms, individuals can choose personally meaningful ways to describe themselves, and the handles can become so meaningful that among those heavily involved in computers (or perhaps simply involved in online chatting), it’s common to go by the handles even in face-to-face conversation, rather than by legal names. Some users, in contrast, choose random characters (for example: ang) to identify themselves, not wanting to give their personal story away to strangers. And some change nyms frequently, rebooting their name over and over, trying to prevent others from assuming things based on what might have been past interactions with the person. When I play around with it, this aspect of computing (akin to writing under a psuedonym) can feel very liberating.

At top, the image has text saying "If I was the teacher, i'd give this kid an A." Below that, the image shows a schoolwork assignment, which reads: Defend your answer. Rather than follow the assignment (for whatever it was, perhaps math or English Language Arts), the student has drawn a fort around the word answer, and drawn a solider with a machine gun saying "Sarge, I don't know how much longer we can hold them!"
Must everything be so stressful?

It seems names should be a touching aspect of life, and fun to ponder, but they’re commonly just another battleground. Picking a name can feel empowering (because how could an unchosen name really represent/express who you are?), while keeping a name bestowed by others can offer connection linking the past, present, and future together. Maybe, like successful accounts of trauma that provide healing, names need to be simultaneously personally meaningful, and effective and connecting in social contexts. Really thinking names through, as opposed to dissociation from life (“it’s all a blur”), as well as good relationships for experimenting with names, seem very helpful for individuals trying to determine what might be their own best path.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, The battleground of names, 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/2021/03/26/battleground-names/. 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 one on one? Please 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.

Reads on the private spy industry aka Oops I missed week 9

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…except when I’m not: I missed week 9!

Hey there, apologies, I missed another week of my blog. However, last week’s oops post draws together an excerpt from Saint Augustine, Rachmaninoff, and Pussy Riot, so despite its oopsident status you might enjoy it—and this one commenting on a tepid New York Times article published today.

Generic bad guy, dressed as if for wedding, walks around looking stern

A New York Times article reminds me of me and everyone else

The piece, “Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups,” should be the stimulus of an article by me, though what makes near as much sense is to list related links under bolded subheads, as I’m about to do below. Sure, weaving the threads into a story would most excellently impart knowledge; however, I have lesson planning and grading to do this weekend, since I’m substitute teaching for a stint of a few weeks.

I investigated and reported on private spies for years, namely Stratfor but not just them, Erik Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos heads the Department of Education under which I teach, plus I’m quite informed about coronavirus, including here in Seattle, as I’ll be posting about on my blog asap, and finally I’m very aware of what Seattle Public Schools’ flimsy response to COVID-19 actually looks like on the ground. These topics, which may seem disparate, really do tie together…basically: fuck you, kill the poor first as well as all other humans plants and animals, and don’t hyperlink solutions because then people feel bad since their

  • ‘already living my best life’
  • ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks; I already know everything, and need no one to tell me anything ever since I’m da best’
  • ‘I throw a fit if someone uses an unfamiliar word: I don’t know what that means

bubbles are punctured. But I can say it in more thorough, cited, and academic-except-upside-down language. Probably as an opinion piece so the most difficult thing maybe happens: my hyperlinks to solutions/answers stay in.

There are many other reasons why I’m well-positioned to write about the material in the NYT article. What I don’t have these days is a commissioning editor. I could make a list of freelance pitch recipients for some of my readers to consider pinging, recommending they commission me? Just an idea…

Regardless, sure, I’ll spit out freelance pitches (yet again!) to the usual suspects in the corporate and corporate-imitating media, using the New York Times piece as a news peg (sadly, major events including wars and genocides are not considered news pegs, but corporate articles, as major news events, are)… but if any of you out there in our coronavirus world might be able to expedite things by connecting me with a commissioning editor, I might not backstab you and your antisocial friends, on behalf of the prosocial worldwide, for at least a few weeks! (I’m such a good businessman!)

The private spy industry

Cartoon for MAD Magazine’s Spy vs Spy

The short version of what activists need to know: if you take on some corporation or state, it’s not just them who will come at you in return, nor also the opposing activists who disagree or are simply envious of you since you manage to get out of bed and do something, but also the private mercenaries they hire, private spies who are professionals at defeating activists and laughing as they make I-refuse-to-read-outside-my-comfort-zone activists chase their own tails till extinction. These are ex-spy agency people, ex-special forces people, ex-supercop people, whoever gets off via a contract to hurt more massively than usual those who help themselves and others and refuse to comply. Don’t forget, these enemies will use the Duchin formula (see below) against you or already have, and your plan countering that is…?

Here are some reads on the private spy industry:

DEA Plan to Kill Narcos, by me at WhoWhatWhy, 17 July 2013

El Chapo Arrested—Why Now? by me at WhoWhatWhy, 24 Feb 2014

The Counterinsurgency War On—and Inside—Our Borders by me at WhoWhatWhy, 16 July 2014

Will Mexico’s Oil Give the U.S. Another Excuse for Covert Intervention? by me at WhoWhatWhy, 9 March 2015

Related generally, the book Green Is the New Red by Will Potter, 2011

The intelligence mafia, by Heather Marsh, 27 November 2010

Divide and conquer: unpacking Stratfor’s rise to power by Steve Horn at Mintpress News, 25 July 2013

How to win the media war against grassroots activists by Steve Horn at Mintpress News, 29 July 2013 … Standfirst from that one, on the Duchin formula:

The playbook: isolate the radicals, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. Then co-opt the realists.

Free Jeremy Hammond, the whistleblowing hacker who exfiltrated more than five million emails from Stratfor and is now doing extra time behind bars for resisting the federal grand jury into all that computer-y hacktivism/transparency stuff. Also Twin Trouble, Jeremy’s podcast from confinement (really!) with his twin Jason Hammond, known for his antifascist, antiracist successes.

Transcript of whistleblowing panel censored by Oxford Union, by Heather Marsh, 31 May 2018 (See also my documentation of that censorship at The Public and Boing Boing, both in May/June 2018.)

Pull quote from that transcript:

security for them means immunity from criminal prosecution, not just for their actions against so-called enemies but against anyone. The current CIA head talks about a bureaucracy that slows down the CIA – that bureaucracy is our human rights and that is how they see our lives – as bureaucracy. If they kill too many of us at once they have to fill out a form. And that slows them down. Pompeo wants ‘agile’ assassins. He wants killers who ‘fail fast and break things’, as if they were writing stupid apps instead of murdering children. He wants ‘disruptive’ terrorism. And their security is the freedom to do this with impunity and in secrecy.

And who is this nation they want security for? The US were supposedly enemies with Syria and allies with Canada when they were abducting Canadians to be tortured in Assad’s prisons. Their allegiances change at the drop of a hat and they all have each other’s secrets anyway. That is the whole point of their industry. The entire supranational intelligence community has access to each other’s secrets – they need security from the rest of us finding out. And their nation is anyone with enough money to pay them, corporations or states. You had Erik Prince speaking here a while back, the crown prince of mercenary contractors. He made his fortune at the top ranks of US military and intelligence and then contracted all that information to supposedly US enemy China. I believe David Shedd is also now in international private practice. Their nations are whoever can pay. We didn’t really need the US Patriot Act to tell us our intelligence agencies may be allies but the people in our states are certainly not their allies.

This is not national security. It is certainly not security for my nation. My nation consists of the caregivers of communities and the environment all over the world. They aren’t spying on corporations and telling communities what corporations are up to, they are spying on communities and selling that information to corporations. The victims of Jeffrey Epstein, all the victims whose abusers are protected by official secrets and taxpayer funded NDA’s, none of these victims are part of their nation. Their nation is the international intelligence community and the politicians and corporations who can afford to pay them. This is not national security. It is a mafia protection racket available to the highest bidder.

Erik Prince

A billionaire connected with Trump and also a lot of dead bodies killed especially illegally and unethically in exchange for dolla dolla bill.

https://twitter.com/YourAnonCentral/status/1236437533908590594

Democracy Now topic tag for Erik Prince, though there’s probably a lot better out there, maybe try an “Erik Prince” site:aljazeera.com Google search for starters.

Betsy DeVos

Articles, other involving the head of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince’s sister, linked by Rachel Anne Levy, a writer, teacher, and education activist in Virginia

I would also try searching “Betsy DeVos” site:democracynow.org on Google. Democracy Now doesn’t seem to have a tag for Betsy DeVos the way they do for her brother.

And now back to me…and Jaco

I wonder if people benefit from these shorter oops posts as they might the longer, less improvisatory ones. What’s your reaction? Is it Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry or maybe even real?

Anyway, if anyone who knows a commissioning editor with access to a large audience, I’ll write all this up into a ‘tell a story’ format, an article that looks mostly like hard news but the publisher can put in the opinion section, with more thoroughness and whatnot than this post, but until then, I’m working on my forthcoming COVID-19 blog post, another blog post concluding my USian escapes the bubble series about my Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, and lesson planning + grading.

Meanwhile, gonna listen to the late jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, who died far too early, in 1987, essentially as a result of what got diagnosed as manic depression, or better put, the lack of effective support for him and everyone else on this planet. Below, two videos that transmit, much like classified information, some transmutation into good moods for me and you.

Bassist Jerry Jemmott interviews Jaco Pastorius in the 1985 Jaco Pastorius Bass Guitar Instructional Video, Modern Electric Bass
“Three Views of a Secret” composed by Jaco Pastorius and released in 1981. Not sure when this live performance is from. Story behind the song by The Music Aficionado
“Liberty City” composed by Jaco Pastorius and released in 1981. This version from his 1981 live ‘birthday concert’

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This blog post, Reads on the private spy industry aka oops I missed week 9, 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/2020/03/07/oops-i-missed-week-9/ 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.

Extra material for WhoWhatWhy “Barrett Brown Sentenced to 5 Years, After Facing More Than a Century” article

(5 years and 3 months, to be precise.) Okay: Material the media outlet cut from my piece, plus bits of context:

Brown spoke with WhoWhatWhy earlier this week from jail to emphasize the dishonesty with which the authorities have prosecuted him. He referred to his sealed detention hearing, saying the FBI’s agent Allyn Lynd testified under oath that laptop evidence proved the writer admitted to SWATing (placing false 911 calls to get locked-and-loaded police commandos out to a mark’s home). Brown said that not only did Lynd get away with that false allegation—which was at least explicable in that it served as a chief reason the judge denied bail—but the agent also got away with the weird claim that the defendant had lived in the Middle East.

“These people, these prosecutors, these FBI agents have blatantly lied so much,” Brown told us. “They aren’t rookies; these are people who have been around for a long time. So what that tells me—what that should tell everyone—is that they don’t lie for fun; they do it because it works. And the question is, Why does it work? And how bizarre is it that these things work? There doesn’t seem to be any negative feedback to prevent an FBI agent from lying on the stand.”

[…]

The prosecution throughout has twisted words to manufacture a case against his work and, in so doing, a case against what 21st-century journalism stands to become.

Brown, some of whose first writing sales were to America Online during its days as an Internet service provider, has long championed the decentralized, archival Internet as a better means of knowledge-production than the hierarchical media ecosystem where authors and pundits can lie persistently without consequences not unlike his prosecutors. After all, the use of hyperlinks—the primary controversy in his case—allows scrupulous authors and readers to cross-check data and call out errors in great detail.

Once Brown heard of Anonymous and WikiLeaks in 2010, he quickly realized how his crusade could be amped up with access to top-notch secrets and new ways to collaborate digitally. Soon he was giving more and more interviews to the traditional media—some of which the Department of Justice trotted out in court last December—explaining his political ideas and findings about the authorities’ information warfare projects and techniques. Meanwhile, in chat rooms and on social media, he was showing others how to mine state-held business registrations, trademark filings, and press releases so they, too, could turn Anonymous’s hack-leaks into actionable news and analysis. His audience grew and grew.

The government didn’t like that at all. Prosecutors let their motive slip during a 2013 hearing, as first reported by WhoWhatWhy. That was when the Department of Justice made a failed attempt to prevent Brown, while his case was ongoing, from criticizing anyone in the government whatsoever. (They did succeed in gagging him and his lawyers, for several months, from speaking out about his legal battles.)

[…]

Despite the Department of Justice’s hammering of him, Brown has remained steadfastly defiant. Reading his allocution, he told his judge, predictably, “I hope to convince Your Honor that I sincerely regret some of the things that I have done” but added with trademark dry humor: “Like nearly all federal defendants.”

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Extra material for WhoWhatWhy “Barrett Brown Sentenced to 5 Years, After Facing More Than a Century” article by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article

Today Salon published my and Amy O’Neal’s new article, “Portrait of a failed president: Inside the art of George W. Bush.” As is usual in this industry, they made some changes. So, some extra text and images here for you.

Below are the images buried in the article’s slideshow. (Except for Felipe Calderón, whose portrait I took a picture of, the images come from TheBushCenter’s Flickr.)

Portrait of Tony Blair

Portrait of the Dalai Lama

Portrait of Felipe Calderón

Exhibit wall

While Vladimir Putin’s false-flag bombings of his own Moscow remained in, George H.W. Bush’s connection to the JFK assassination came out. Here’s that text:

He once said he didn’t remember where he was when John F. Kennedy was assasinated, which is like saying you don’t remember where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon or the twin towers came down. As journalist Russ Baker’s thorough book Family of Secrets reveals, Poppy was actually in Dallas the day before and probably the morning of November 22, 1963, when military intelligence figures led Kennedy’s motorcade to its fate. Poppy was also a friend of George de Mohrenschildt, Lee Harvey Oswald’s handler, and closely tied to Allen Dulles, whom JFK removed from the CIA directorship. Not to mention Poppy’s ties to Texas oil barons whose tax breaks JFK wanted to end. Draw your own conclusions about this “gentle soul.”

Also I want to note that Bush raised more than half a billion dollars for the complex. Presidents raise money for their libraries while in office (as well as after), which means the fundraising is an opportunity for influence to be exerted. Even foreign leaders can give sitting presidents secret donations for their libraries.

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Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

The Value of the Stratfor Leak

My speech at Foley Square

On November 15, hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. WikiLeaks published these emails as the Global Intelligence Files. I’ve been researching them intensively for more than a year, and have published two articles on my research at WhoWhatWhy, one on General David Petraeus and one on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to kill Mexican drug lord El Chapo. That second also includes a lot of my research into Stratfor’s informants and clients.

The day of Jeremy’s sentencing hearing, I gave a speech at Foley Square outside the courtroom and some interviews about the value of the Stratfor leak. The leak will continue to benefit researchers for years and years. Journalist Chris Hedges (Wikipedia), journalist Alexa O’Brien (Website, Twitter), and defense attorney Jay Leiderman (Website, Twitter) also spoke at Foley Square.

If you want the short version, check out this interview of me conducted by Jeff Durkin (Twitter) of We Are Change Connecticut (Website, YouTube). It was right after the speech. The interview is about seven minutes long and came out really well.

If you want the long version, here is a video of all four speeches and more by Small Affair (Twitter, Tumblr, Donate, Occupy the Stage). My part is from 36:00 minutes to 49:30. Small Affair also took the picture at the top of this post. Below the video is the prepared text of my speech.

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This morning we saw young but longtime hacker and political activist Jeremy Hammond unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, the leak of which WikiLeaks is now publishing. The five million-plus emails Jeremy provided to us through WikiLeaks span 2004 to 2011 and consist of internal and external correspondence, files, and records of the firm’s analysts, spies, executives, writers, and other employees.

I want to talk for a few minutes about why what Jeremy did has been and will continue be so beneficial to us—that is, I want to talk about the value of the Stratfor leak, which is Jeremy’s contribution to what we can call the historical record or humankind’s knowledge repository or simply just the Internet. For more than a year, I’ve been intensively researching the complete cache of Stratfor documents in WikiLeaks’ possession. I’ve published two in-depth articles at WhoWhatWhy using my research, have a third coming out soon there, and many more in the works.

When WikiLeaks began publishing the Stratfor leak, which it calls the Global Intelligence Files, much of the reaction from the US mainstream media was dismissive. The Atlantic published an article the same day WikiLeaks announced the leak, titled “Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is WikiLeaks for Taking It Seriously.” The Atlantic writer, of course, did not read the five million-plus emails. Rather, he was probably acquainted with Stratfor’s free email newsletter reports and media appearances and was itching to discredit WikiLeaks and its source, who we now know was Jeremy. But what the Atlantic writer was acquainted with was just the surface of Stratfor.

The firm does so much more. In the 2004 to 2011 time span the leak covers, Stratfor provided training and created custom intelligence products—reports, predictions, assessments—for big corporations such as Hunt Oil, National Oilwell Varco, Parker Drilling, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, and for government arms such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines, and many more. These people weren’t reading the free email newsletter reports. They were buying intelligence products such as Stratfor’s Yemen attack database, in which Stratfor catalogued incidents of violence in Yemen with precise information such as GPS coordinates. They were, in Emerson Electric’s case, paying more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year for phone and email access to Stratfor employees who would brief them on political, economic, and security factors affecting their operations. So much of the information Stratfor was providing these clients is available to us now thanks to Jeremy, and most of it hasn’t been researched yet.

National security journalist Joshua Foust said this week that Stratfor isn’t that much different from a private investigator. P.I.s don’t have the clientele I just listed. They also don’t have Stratfor’s informants, who included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mexican diplomat Fernando de la Mora Salcedo, and DEA supervisor William F. Dionne, whom I interviewed and who provided Stratfor information off JWICS, a top-secret US government computer network. Much of what these informants were telling Stratfor is available in the leak, again thanks to Jeremy, and most of it, again, hasn’t been researched yet. So we still don’t yet know the full extent of Jeremy’s contribution.

Joshua Foust also said this week that the Stratfor emails “weren’t surprising” for people in the know. That’s false. And he said “weren’t surprising” as if the leak is already over. We’ve barely scratched the surface. The mainstream media in the US doesn’t want to research the information I’ve been describing, they’re not familiar with it, they don’t care. They bash Jeremy’s contribution on the one hand, but on the other hand, the New York Times (as documented by the NYT Examiner), NPR, and other news organizations collaborate or share information with Stratfor behind the scenes. That’s the US mainstream media for you, hypocritical. Turn them off.

There are easily decades’ worth of research remaining for the Stratfor documents. Not only are there more than five million emails, but many of them have PDF attachments of up to hundreds of pages each. Examples of these attachments include intelligence bulletins from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center, Texas Department of Public Safety threat assessments and situation reports, and intelligence products created by Department of Homeland Security state fusion centers. There are even intelligence products created by Stratfor competitors whom the firm was studying such as Total Intelligence Solutions, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, and Oxford Analytica. So Jeremy didn’t just provide us with information from Stratfor, but also from other private intelligence firms and government intelligence organizations. Again, most of this material hasn’t been researched yet.

But here are some of the greatest hits of what has been uncovered so far.

The previously unknown Trapwire surveillance system was one of the biggest Stratfor revelations. This company with CIA ties developed software for CCTV cameras that identifies or supposedly identifies suspicious behavior and manages and cross-references suspicious behavior reports from different locations and time periods. It also integrates information from license plate readers and other surveillance inputs. Trapwire has been deployed in DC, Seattle, LA, Las Vegas casinos, Atlanta, the London Stock Exchange, and right here in the NYC subways, 500 cameras’ worth according to Stratfor in 2010. If someone “sees something, says something” about you in a New York subway, your “suspicious activity report” possibly goes to TrapWire. Thanks to Jeremy, we better understand mass surveillance, which is crucial, because giving the people who brought us mass incarceration, more than two million people behind bars in the US, the technology to incriminate anyone, whether rival politicians or ordinary citizens, is obviously an immense threat to freedom.

My work at WhoWhatWhy on the Stratfor documents, thanks to Jeremy, includes an article about General David Petraeus, whom Stratfor shows was probably having an extramarital affair prior to previously known, which besides possibly being a military offense, suggests his mistress Paula Broadwell, who was an intelligence officer, may have had him in her crosshairs for a long time. That makes more sense of Petraeus’s downfall from the CIA and gives a better picture of internal government struggles. Another article of mine is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to assassinate Mexican drug lords. That’s a picture of the increasing militarization of law enforcement and the possible broadening of US assassination policy to merge the war on drugs with the war on terror–a push for a so-called “narcoterrorism” policy. Later this month WhoWhatWhy will publish another Stratfor article of mine of Mexican military presence in the US and US military presence in Mexico. Thanks, Jeremy.

Another contribution of his are the revelations in the media outlet Narco News about the US and Mexican governments easing the path for certain cartels to traffic drugs into the country. Instead of improving the Mexican economy so poor people don’t join cartels or legalizing drugs, the US and Mexican governments pick favorites among drug cartels in hopes that a preferred balance of power among them will reduce the drug war violence. Meanwhile they arrest people for smoking pot. This is a picture of what the drug war really is. And I’ve seen in my research that even Congresspeople are listening to Stratfor on so-called narcoterrorism issues.

Thanks to Jeremy, we learned private intelligence was looking for connections between Alexa O’Brien’s campaign finance reform group US Day of Rage and Islamic fundamentalism, which of course carries the threat of Alexa being smeared as a terrorist. That particular Stratfor memo was cited in her and Chris Hedges’ court case against indefinite detention that went to the Supreme Court. We also learned thanks to Jeremy that the Department of Justice has a sealed indictment against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, indicating the severity of the US government’s efforts against journalists and the Internet. This revelation was cited by Assange in an affidavit to Swedish police.

There are plenty of other revelations in the Stratfor documents. Those are just some of the greatest hits. You can get involved researching the Stratfor documents yourself. Look them up on the WikiLeaks website, where there is a search engine to look through them.

You might say, Okay, so we grabbed a few headlines, and maybe a few legal documents benefitted, but what’s the use, what does it all add up to? We know Jeremy’s legal case was unjust. The FBI knew Stratfor was being hacked for weeks and did not stop it, and entrapped Jeremy through their informant Sabu. Judge Preska denied Jeremy bail wrongfully. And the sentencing is irrational: if Jeremy had broken into the Stratfor building in Austin and walked off with hard drives, he might have a prison sentence of only about a year. There were other actions he did, but since the US government is cracking down on the Internet and journalists and their sources, he’s stuck with a much more severe sentence. So now he’s in prison. Are the news headlines, past and future, worth that? He says so, but are they really?

Yes. For one, these revelations are examples of why more and more people are ceasing to take the US government and traditional politics seriously. The fewer people trust in the Democratic Party, the better. People who grow disgusted with the System as a result of revelations such as these will begin to look to themselves and solidarity for solutions. Solutions such as the commons or mutual aid. Instead of trying to reform or overthrow the government, we can simply practice governance. Internet technology is a tool that makes mass collaboration for mass self-govenance possible, which is something Heather Marsh writes about, if you know her work. If not, read it.

The best way to look at what Jeremy did is to see it as a permanent contribution to humankind’s knowledge base, our knowledge base, the Internet. Think about checking your phone to look something up. We all know what it’s like to look something up online and find an answer, and we all know what it’s like to feel grateful when we find an especially good answer. That’s the sort of gratitude we should feel toward Jeremy. He improved our knowledge; he’s given us better answers, and they are answers about some of the most important things: what the powers who try to control us are doing. With better information, we can make better decisions and govern our own lives.

Fundamentally, Stratfor is a profit-driven business. It influences big business, government, and the media. It’s an organ of the powerful, but despite its power over all our lives, Stratfor’s employees are not vetted by the people and it’s not open to Freedom of Information Act requests. The knowledge it held between 2004 and 2011 was locked up behind closed doors.

But Jeremy freed it. For that, journalists owe him hard work researching the Stratfor documents, and we all owe him our thanks.

That evening, Vivien Weisman (Twitter) interviewed me about Barrett Brown and my Stratfor research to include in her upcoming documentary The Reality Wars, which is about hacktivists.

Also that evening, I was interviewed on Lorax Live (Website, AnonOps Radio, Twitter, Facebook) about the value of the Stratfor leak. The audio is not online yet, but I will update this page when it is.

Creative Commons License

The Value of the Stratfor Leak by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? 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 ;-)

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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.

Startup Seeks Mercenary Character Assassin

Guru.com is a website that serves as a middleman for freelancers and people wanting to hire them. About a month ago I noticed this ad:

Title: Political Rant I

Project ID: 820169

Budget: Not Sure/Confidential

Category: Writing, Editing & Translation

Description: Looking for freelance writers to produce humorous/sarcastic in nature rants (mostly political in nature) at the demand of the client. Clients will provide the subject material or target of the rant. What we would like to see is an ability to use the facts to make your point in a humorous/sarcastic fashion within a quarter page our less (not interested in character assassination). We are a start-up web base business offering a unique form of stress relief to the politically frustrated. We would eventually like to have three (3) writers work represented on our site for clients to choose from. All interested individuals should provide a location where your work maybe viewed, injection of humor is a must and please include pricing. This is a start up and we do not have an open date but are aggressively working to establish one.

Ad was placed by some outfit (not sure who) apparently based in Cedar Park, Texas. It received 26 proposals from freelancers.

Creative Commons License

Startup Seeks Mercenary Character Assassin 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.

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.