You know those little green-and-white USDA Organic labels you find on organic produce? What if someone told you that their adhesive transmits a powerful drug into the edible that over time can render humans sterile? It’s true, they say; they’ve seen the lab reports, and go on to assert that this is a plot by USDA and agribusiness interests to decimate nutritionally savvy people as a way boost sales of poison-laden GM food products.
Insidious beyond belief, you think. You’re pretty sure it’s a crock, but your doubt gene says “What if…?” and you decide to check it out. You email people to ask if they’ve heard it and some of them do the same. Someone finds a truther blog with a long discussion thread about it and lets you know. Alleging scientific credentials, certain discussants proceed to hypothesize about the chemistry and physiology of the attack vector and argue about that. Others point to connections between certain USDA political appointees and Big Food. The rumor has become a thing, and even if you post refutations that get shot down, you’re now part of it. Continue reading “Yes, Virginia, there are conspiracies—I think”
It’s only the second week of the month, but I feel we already have a winner for October’s spam contest. Not only is it semi-literate, its author kindly apologizes for the broken English, but then goes on to kindly request 850 euro be deposited in his or her bitcoin account. Even if I had euros I wouldn’t know how to do that. Should I go to my bank with cash, ask for it in euros and tell them to change them into bitcoins? I’ve never had any bitcoins; have no idea what they even look like.
The message ostensibly came from a user named Janine at a tax consultancy, but Janine’s address may have been spoofed. To preserve my privacy, I’ve changed my address to “whomever,” but the actual address my extortionist sent this to is a mailbox I dedicate to receiving mailings from adobe.com that has only been used by them, up until now. See, way back in 2013 hackers purloined data for some 8 million credit card and 30 million email addresses from Adobe. The info was most likely put up for auction on the Dark Web. It took five years for that s!*t to hit the fan, but that’s not unusual. Yet another reason not to do business with those price-gouging bloodsuckers, but I digress. Continue reading “Unsafe Sex with Your Webcam”
The 2400 words that follow encapsulate three years of struggle to produce and publish a book into a somewhat coherent memoir. Should your interest start to flag as you skim through, don’t abandon ship; simply scroll to the end for a summation and a special offer. ~ Geoff Dutton
Once upon a time, when my life was in upheaval, in an urgent act of therapy I channeled my angst into a novel. It seemed necessary at the time, but as my situation improved my motivation ebbed and I abandoned it halfway through. Twenty years later, I began another one. It too was an act of therapy, but for society rather than myself. And because its topic—the threat of radical Islamic terrorism—was all over the news, I wanted it to be reality-driven, socially relevant, politically provocative, and an antidote to Islamophobia.
My unaccountable passion to tell that story and my determination to finish it drove me to write 120,000 words over 18 months and badger dozens of literary agents and publishers. After nine revisions, it weighed in at 105K words and just under 400 pages, a bit obese for a first novel as some literary types informed me. But it is what it is, I decided, and started peddling it again. Six months later—just a few days ago—it was published, but not as I had envisioned.
I owe David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré, big time. He has led me from the literary wilderness to the promised land of Almost Fit to Print. Without his unbeknownst tutelage, I would never have gotten even this far. This is my humble homage to his humbling genius.
When, nearly three years ago I set out to write a novel about a multi-ethnic leftist international conspiracy from the perps’ point of view, I had urgent motivations but knew nothing about genre. As I spend much more time writing than reading for pleasure, there are a lot of books that might inform mine I’ve managed to miss. Truth be told, my literary tastes gravitate to non-fiction, mostly research material for articles. Over six decades, I doubt I’ve read more than 100 novels that weren’t assigned in some long-ago class. A year could pass before picking up a new one, rarely a thriller. I had but the vaguest idea of how to proceed after conjuring up quirky characters and a wisp of a plot in a land I had never visited. It would have to be a thriller, that much I knew. Having read few but seen a lot of spy movies, I figured I knew enough to do this. Continue reading “The Spy Looking over My Shoulder”
In a penetrating essay that could cause you to lose sleep, stage, screen, and cultural critic and radical playwright John Steppling peels away the all-inclusive veneer of the Democratic Party to reveal its rotten core, eaten out by slick financiers and world supremacists. He begins by politically disrobing current Dem darling Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, upset winner of a well-publicized primary battle in the Bronx, likening her to Bernie Sanders but not in a good way. They are both “sheepdogs,” he says, political animals whose task is to nudge left-leaning voters back into the fold. We saw how well that worked in 2016, right?
Naming names, he follows up by itemizing disgraceful legislation congressional Dems have promoted and putrid GOP bills they took passes on, such as the obese $700B defense budget they collaborated on that overshot what was requested by a healthy margin. And lest you think that’s as bad as it gets, he unmasks a depressingly extensive host of Democratic primary candidates as ex-military, State Department, and CIA operatives, set to infiltrate Congress on a mission to fully weaponize all federal activities. Having long ago swallowed the White House, civil service, and mass media, the Secret Team has decided it’s time to ingest Congress.
Below the fold, fellow travelers, I give you John Steppling.
Democratic Socialism is awful as a slogan and catastrophic as a policy. And “social democracy”—a term that better fits the beliefs of ordinary liberals who want, say, Medicare for all—is a politically dying force. Democrats who aren’t yet sick of all their losing should feel free to embrace them both.
~ Bret Stephens, “Democratic Socialism is Dem Doom,” New York Times op-ed, 7/7/19, p. A19.
So much for my false hopes for a progressive renaissance. Bret Stephens, the Great Gray Lady’s newest white male conservative columnist hath spoken. He came on board a little over a year ago, straightaway from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. When he was hired, NYT’s Editorial Page Editor James Bennet gushed “Bret, who won the 2013 Pulitzer prize for commentary, brings to the job profound intellectual depth, honesty and bravery – the qualities our audience expects from a Times columnist. He’s a beautiful writer who ranges across politics, international affairs, culture and business, and, for The Times, he will bring a new perspective to bear on the news.”
(Revised and expanded July 4th, 2018. Happy Independence from Consumerism Day!)
You probably sense as I do that normality isn’t what it used to be, even a few years ago. I’m talking not about Trump or politics but of the magnificent panoply of digital technologies we are immersed if not drowning in. The speed at which technologists are shoving stuff at us has bugged me for quite some time. Understanding innovation mania has caused me to spend years puzzling out what’s driving the complexification of nearly everything and how the new ways we are obliged to adopt might transform concepts of what human nature is.
Why, I wonder, is everything possible being digitized as quickly as possible? I hate to use the phrase, but might there be some “intelligent design” that drives humans to churn out technology, faster and faster? More importantly, whom or what are we serving with our clever innovations, especially those that render what once was tangible into bits? Continue reading “When Momma Ain’t Happy”
It’s universal. We all gripe about how news media—TV and radio network news, newspapers, and Internet news sites—intentionally distort and selectively oversimplify reality, and we like to say so in letters to the editor and online comments. Complaints about media bias are as old as the town crier, and today are institutionalized online. A bunch of watchdog groups, such as FAIR and Media Matters on the left (progressive foes of corporate media) and Media Research Center to the right (whose “sole mission is to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media”), specialize in skewering the press. They’re all worth considering if a balanced view is what you aspire to.
Both sides regularly take aim at the same targets for different reasons. One of them is NPR (National Pubic Radio), criticized by the right as a card-carrying member of the “liberal media” conspiracy and by the left as a corporatist sell-out. While it tends to steer left of and does more investigative reporting than our TV networks, its political liberalism stops just to the left of David Brooks. (Speaking of whom, should it appeal and you can spare $15, you can buy a roll of toilet paper printed with his visage and quotations. Monies fund The Baffler magazine’s crankiness.) Continue reading “Pity the Immigrant Warrior”
Remember good old Barney Frank, the loudmouth former legislator from Massachusetts’ 4th District? (Even after 50 years in the Bay State, he still talks Joisey.) He’s gay and proud (having first outed himself privately in the late 70s and then publicly in 1987), and still sports a progressive patina that over time has become a tad tarnished.
He first showed up on my radar as a twenty-something grad student at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics who ditched his dissertation to work for the Mayor of Boston. He soon entered politics as a state rep, taking a law degree from Harvard while he served his west-of-Boston suburban constituency. By 1980 he was a Congress-critter, and by the time he bowed out in 2013 he had risen to Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (demoted by the 2010 mid-terms to Ranking Member). Unless it happened in High School, he never lost an election. Continue reading “Franking Privileges: Barney and the Jet Set”
Every nation worth its salt has a deep state, a loose network of rich and powerful players who ratify, veto or formulate state social, economic and military policies. Whether monarchy, dictatorship, or constitutional republic, no government worthy of the name lacks for a shadowy unelected élite with hands on the tiller and in the till, influential persons with inherited or recent wealth, upper crust social connections, and old school ties, often found sitting on boards of directors and golf carts in isolated settings.
Like Sand Hill Cranes, they are rare and difficult to spot in their habitats, seamlessly blending as they do with their inaccessible surroundings. Amongst themselves, however, they are highly convivial. Partial to receptions, they bibulate and circulate as they joust over canapés. Not to worry they are but degenerates just killing time, important things get done under the buzz. Small talk can have big consequences and decadent environs make deal-making a sport. Continue reading “Deep State 101: A primer and prescription”
The decorated cold-warrior Air Force Colonel Leroy Fletcher Prouty would have turned 100 last June. Today few remember him, but those who do may recall him as an arch military intelligence insider who alerted the nation to the capture of reins of government by the intelligence establishment, from the Korean Conflict forward to this day. He served his country under five presidents, first as an Army Air officer who saw service in Africa, South Asia, and Japan in WWII, ending up an Air Force Major assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[i] As Chief of Special Operations there, he coordinated CIA and military activities between JCS, directorates of the CIA, the National Security Council, and teams in the field. A key player, Prouty was privy to top-secret planning and policy documents and lists of CIA plants in civilian and military organizations, including CIA front companies. There was little he didn’t know about how the agency operated its clandestine operations and little anyone around him knew more about. His Rolodex must have been amazing. Continue reading “Steal This Book: The Publishing Misadventures of a CIA Whistleblower”
I wonder how Rex Tillerson feels about being the first high-level federal official to be fired publicly and online, in one brutal tweet. I’m sure he expected the hammer to come down on him, but not like that. And I wonder if he will come forward to describe what led up to it. Unlikely, as he’s an extremely wealthy and still influential corporate player who would have but book royalties and speaker fees to gain from breaking his NDA to tell all. Still, some intrepid journalist should take Rex to lunch and encourage him to cry in his beer. Continue reading “America’s Slow-Motion Coup d’état Advances”
Every one of us bears within him the possibility of all passions, all destinies of life in all its manifold forms. Nothing human is foreign to us. ~ Edward G. Robinson
In the darkest days of World War II, Hollywood went to bat for Russia—our ally then—by adapting Soviet propaganda films for the American audience and making some of its own on their behalf. This amazing documentary, a paean to the heroism of the Russian people and the Red Army, was shot before, during, and after Hitler’s siege of Moscow. Filmed between October 1941 and January 1942 during a time of invasion, privation, agony and death in the depths of the Russian winter, Moscow Strikes Back (Russian version here) may be a little hard to take in spots, but is well worth an hour of your time. Should the following video start in the middle, rewind by dragging the red button all the way to the left. Makes me think: wouldn’t it be nice to be able to rewind America away from the right? Continue reading “From Russia with Trepidation”
It is considered bad form for journalists to refer to the US government as a “regime.” Apparently, that moniker is reserved for our country’s enemies, of late Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Maybe Myanmar too; that’s still being sorted out. But what is a regime, really, and is it really true that we don’t have one here? Continue reading “One Regime to Rule them All”
By all accounts, wherever the Islamic State has gained and held territory, its residents suffer terrible oppression and deprivation. Unless you are on their wavelength, you most likely agree that ISIS rule has been calamitous for its subjects. Both Obama and Trump have pointed out their badass nature on numerous occasions, not so much in sympathy for those they oppress but to raise fear levels of ISIS-inspired badassery here at home. And yet, both regimes have actively, secretly, and materially supported the advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, fully aware of who they were and what they were up to. Say what? Isn’t “material support of terrorism” a Federal crime?
Watchbirds were those annoying little stick-figure birds who perched in some Munro Leaf children’s stories, always ready to instruct kids in proper protocols when they were misbehaving. Our current flock of watchbirds rarely have to instruct us because we mostly maintain civil decorum knowing they’re there. Talk about the nanny state.
Former Google EC Dr. Eric Schmidt has called for intelligence agencies to stop illegally prying into personal information and has been doing his best to convince the government to pay Google to do it legally instead. That said, in 2009 he was widely rebuked for telling CNBC:
If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities. ~ Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 2009
Schmidt didn’t add that Google is obliged to turn over email content under court order and not tell users it did so. He didn’t have to. We all know about FISA and PATRIOT. Same goes for Hotmail, AOL, or any US email provider, only Google has much more to give. Continue reading “The Net’s Good Old Boys (3)”
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before the Internet, a time when computers took up more space than the acolytes who tended to their needs. In the 70s I was one such boffin, a postgrad hacking FORTRAN in a university R&D lab. Computers then were still quite dear, and so we made do with terminals that sucked electrons from the teat of a minicomputer several blocks away through fiber cable. Our digital host had recently been hooked up to the Arpanet, the Internet’s predecessor, giving us real-time access to several dozen academic, government, and military computers scattered across the US. We used it to chat and exchange files and email with people we knew here and there, but mostly we wasted time and bandwidth psyching out the robot psychotherapist Eliza and playing text-based games like Adventure and Hunt the Wumpus, just like today’s youth do but more primitively.
Although it seems like it, the Internet just didn’t assemble itself from a kit. Engineers made it. Engineers just want to design and build cool useful things. Generally they like this much more than repairing things they have sent into the world. And, for the most part, they are not wont to worry how their darlings might be used to destructive ends or what unforeseen consequences their adoption might occasion. Except for the evil ones, inventors steer clear of the dark side of their bright ideas as they push on to their next big thing.
Not that the rest of us can take much pride in foreseeing un-wished-for effects of technologies (or our actions, for that matter); due diligence is not most people’s thing. Somebody should be doing that but unless we engineer something, why should figuring out what could go wrong be our job? Well it is, because elites make rules, build stuff, and write code conducive to their own hegemonic aspirations. We the people are supposed to suck it all up without a peep, occasionally acknowledging that shit sometimes happens.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” ~ Upton Sinclair
A triple-threat epidemic is sweeping the land—not just some deadly virus, water-born disease, or auto-immune reactions to toxins, although those too plague us—but of secrecy, unaccountability, and impunity, bypassing checks and balances, impervious to any outside scrutiny or supervision. This cancer on the Republic has metastasized throughout halls of power and workplaces almost everywhere.
In her five-minute interview with Ursula Wilder, a CIA psychologist whose job there involves counseling returning spies, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly (their alleged National Security Correspondent) went over what makes someone who reveals state secrets tick. Kelly failed big-time to probe Wilder about whether she ever thought an insider might ever have a patriotic motivation to inform the public of illegal behavior on the part of the agency. Based on Wilders’ profile of leakers, the answer would surely have been No, but it sure would have been nice to ask.
After Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government rescinded its invitation to Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning (whom Obama sprung from the brig by pardoning her), a chorus of protest (led by 19,000 Harvard alumni and 169 professors) ensued. The main issue, according to them and the press, was how the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) caved to deep-state pressure. Specifically, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo cancelled his talk at the school, and former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell tendered his resignation to Harvard’s Belfer Center, saying “I cannot be a part of an organization…that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information,” apparently believing that only the best and brightest war criminals deserve such honorifics (horrorifics?). When, after all, has the CIA ever taken Harvard publicly to task for slack on the national security front?
When, after Hillary went down in defeat to The Don, you might have been one of the majority of Americans who accepted the omnipresent narrative that Russia or Putin in particular was responsible for the deterioration of how Americans choose their leaders. The conventional wisdom underlying this proposition is not just wrong, it was orchestrated by minions of the security state who seek an armed confrontation with Russia. How comfortable re you with that idea?