Entries Tagged 'Culture' ↓

Report after Bringing Donated Water to Occupy Dallas

On October 11 2011, with the help of a friend’s warehouse club card, I purchased 392 20-oz bottles of water (and elsewhere, some gas) using donated money entirely, for the purpose of bringing bottled water to the Occupy Dallas (Twitter) group. I was going to make a table of the ten donation amounts, complete with mean, median, and mode, but my other friend who’s a whiz at statistics told me that with such a sample size, I’d be making a complete fool of myself to post anything other than gross and net. Here you go: $100, $100.

Even the Honda Fit groaned under this water’s weight

Occupy Dallas is part of the larger Occupy Wall Street (Twitter) movement protesting genuine grievances, primarily income inequality and the unethical merger of governments, mega corporations, and big banks. I’ll throw the surveillance shadow state in there as well. If you’re so cozy within your white picket fence that you don’t see a problem, gander at these graphs from Business Insider.

This isn’t fair.

What Warren Buffett said.

The 99% aren’t asking for equality of opportunity or results.

Still voting Republican? No? Okay, good. Because the right-wing works by convincing enough people who have the resources to take off work and go vote that they, these voters, are the 1%. You too will own yachts! Actually, no, you won’t. Most you might be able to pull off is maintaining your white picket fence (if you have one), or rather, maintaining the bank’s white picket fence — banks own more home equity in the US than individuals do. Meanwhile the Democratic left, that is to say, more or less, everyone else taking traditional politics seriously, gets divided and disorganized arguing over how to best compromise with the 1% to achieve minor reforms — until populism such as Occupy Wall Street gains a loud enough nonviolent voice to bring about real change.

Hi y’all! You are also the 99%!

I stopped at Pioneer Plaza (the Dallas Occupation is now moving to City Hall Park) and, as a cop watched, hastily deposited my quarters into the parking meter. Activists at the Occupation then ferried water from my Fit to the supply base faster than I could pull my camera out. Peeps were thirsty. :-(

I had a minute to chat with the woman I understood to be Whytney (pictured left?), a leader there who is, I think I overheard, the chief operator of the OccupyDallas Twitter account. (Also: thanks to OccupyDallasCOS, OccupyDallasEMS, and CinnabarSweets for helping me out with some logistics.) I asked for, and quickly received, a list of other items — chairs, C-size batteries, walkie-talkies, shelving, ice, and more — that the 500-or-so people of Occupy Dallas desperately need. Working on that list now, y’all; I’m gathering donors.

Speaking of donations: hopefully, you’re now asking yourself how you can pitch in. There are plenty of ways.

The people united (in Dallas!) will never be defeated!

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Report after Bringing Donated Water to Occupy Dallas by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

Sudden Jesus-ing in Fort Worth, Texas, at Berry & Cockrell

“YES, MY FRIEND-uh”

This Friday evening a group of maybe twenty folks have assembled at the corner of Berry and Cockrell to proselytize for Christianity; I happened to pass by and jump into live-blogging mode. The speakers from the group, some using English and one Spanish, have been speaking into a hand-held microphone and through a portable PA for easily an hour counting. They’re passing out pamphlets identifying themselves as The Door Christian Fellowship.

The pamphlet handed to me says, among other things, “Are your hopes and dreams unraveling? Are your finances stretched to the breaking point? We Care! and We Can Help! Join us for Life-Changing Services. Find out why Jesus Is The Answer!” It gives an address — 3011 Lackland Rd, Ft Worth, Texas — along with a phone number: (817) 377-1098.

“Douglas-uh, maybe you should move out of Texas-uh.”

They picked this particular street corner for obvious strategic reasons. It’s catty-cornered by the Texas Christian University strip, where clubs, restaurants, and the like entertain students. I don’t know if the group got a permit, or if they needed to, technically, or not. People walking or driving by have expressed various reactions — mostly happy honks and cheers, but a few jeers and some “SHUT THE F*#) UP”s.

“Can we go home yet?”

Here are some quotes from the speakers, 90+% accurate.

  • I know there’s [sic] been advances in technology. The answer is not on Facebook, my friends. The answer is not on Twitter, my friends. There is [sic] real answers in God. Before I got saved, I used to look into all those kinds of — Buddhism, and all kinds of new age stuff. But the real answer was right here: Jesus Christ.

  • On the outside, we’re dressed-up, my friend, we look like we’ve got it all together, but on the inside, my friend, you’re dying because of your sin. You wake up at night and wonder what will come tomorrow. On the inside, you cry yourself to sleep. You go from relationship to relationship because on the inside, you’re dirty. Jesus Christ will clean you. He wants to do that. The Bible says He will set you free. You can be set free from the lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. You can be set free from living for the next party, the next big thing. Jesus Christ can change who you are on the inside, my friend. Jesus can change you. He can change you, my friend, so you don’t have to end up like your parents.

  • Your parents are paying for you to go to college, probably, and you’re wasting that money tonight by getting drunk so you can sleep with someone, maybe. But you will be free for real if you cry out to Jesus Christ!

  • Maybe you’re a queer — it takes God to save you.

  • God commanded us to go forth and preach the Gospel. We go all over the city and preach Jesus Christ. We’re not here tonight because we’re trying to put something on you. I love Fuzzy’s Tacos, my friend; amen, it’s nothing against anybody, my friend. We really care about you. We don’t want to see God put you in Hell.

  • Accept Jesus before it’s too late. If you reject the perfect and living God, he will reject you for all eternity and send you to Hell.

It’s this same group (different day, different place in the same city):

They’ve just now put away their gear and dispersed. As they were packing up — I was typing this from the patio of Stay Wired! Coffeehouse and Computer Services — a guy and girl walked by, dressed up as Jedis, complete with lightsabers. Works for me.

Used without permission; please don’t go after me, buy Star Wars instead.

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Sudden Jesus-ing in Fort Worth, Texas, at Berry & Cockrell by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

Concerns about WikiLeaks Cablegate2 Ameliorated

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck Gets Pulled Over (Flickr; Twitter)

Hopefully you’ve read my prior post about searching WikiLeaks cables for literary topics, which WikiLeaks linked to on Twitter. If not, go read it real quick; I’ll wait.

Okay. At the time of that post, WikiLeaks was still redacting the US State Department cables they’d published, in conjunction with other media partners. A redaction is a removal of sensitive information from a document — in this case, mostly the names of informants (sometimes whistle-blowing informants, sometimes ill-intentioned informants). The worry motivating redactions was that bad guys (for lack of a better word) would retaliate against informants for their interaction(s) with the State Department. Just a few days after my post, WikiLeaks published all 250k+ of the State Department cables, raw, without redactions. Whoa, what happened?

When WikiLeaks was originally working with media partners on Cablegate, editor-in-chief Julian Assange gave an encrypted file of the cables to Guardian journalist (and confessed phone hacker) David Leigh, who later printed its password in his book (which prompted x7o to remark “#idliketothink that if JA had given me the password for cablegate, it wouldn’t now be the title of a chapter in an international bestseller”). The Guardian denies wrongdoing, claiming WikiLeaks told Leigh the password was temporary, which is technically impossible and not the sort of thing an elite cypherpunk such as Assange would mistakenly say. Other disasters, some not nearly as flagrant, combined and led to the file’s decryption by the dark sub-floor of the Internet.

Pretty soon all of the unredacted cables were springing up on websites (including at least one with a customized search engine), and taking up residence on popular file-sharing services. Therefore anyone motivated enough could locate them; some debate just how easily non-technical people could locate the unredacted cables, but really, it’s not that hard — especially for foreign intelligence agencies, computer-adept terrorists, etc.

In a surprising response to the rise of unredacted cables, WikiLeaks published the entire set of unredacted cables themselves, now known as Cablegate2. They also published a press statement:

PJ Crowley, State Department spokesman on the cables issue earlier this year, told AP on the 30th of August, 2011 that “any autocratic security service worth its salt” would probably already have the complete unredacted archive.

Two weeks ago, when it was discovered that information about the Leigh book had spread so much that it was about to be published in the German weekly Freitag, WikiLeaks took emergency action, asking the editor not allude to the Leigh book […]

WikiLeaks advanced its regular publication schedule, to get as much of the material as possible into the hands of journalists and human rights lawyers who need it. WikiLeaks and its partners were scheduled to have published most of the Cablegate material by November 29, 2011 – one year since the first publication. Over the past week, we have published over 130,000 cables, mostly unclassified. The cables have lead to hundreds of important news stories around the world. All were unclassified with the exception of the Australian, Swedish collections, and a few others, which were scheduled by our partners.

WikiLeaks has also been in contact with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty at a senior level. We contacted the US embassy in London and then the State Department in Washington on 25 August to see if their informant notification program, instituted last year, was complete, and if not, to take such steps as would be helpful. Only after repeated attempts through high level channels and 36 hours after our first contact, did the State Department, although it had been made aware of the issue, respond. Cliff Johnson (a legal advisor at the Department of State) spoke to Julian Assange for 75 minutes, but the State Department decided not to meet in person to receive further information, which could not, at that stage, be safely transmitted over the telephone.

This is getting intense

Though these comments seem clear enough at first glance, they left some things unknown. Did WikiLeaks publish Cablegate2 to protect sources, as Glenn Greenwald stated? If so, how does the publication protect sources? What does Human Rights Watch and what does Amnesty International make of Cablegate2, and what did they advise WikiLeaks? Inquiring minds who have been supportive of WikiLeaks (a risky, though legal, thing in the US) deserve to know the full reasoning behind the Cablegate2 publication, I think, without any big steps in the argumentation left for educated guesses.

Some answers arrived today in a New Scientist interview with Assange. He specified three independent justifications for publishing Cablegate2.

  • To protect at-risk people. Assange said: “for harm minimisation, there are people who need to know that they are mentioned in the material before intelligence agencies know they are mentioned — or at least as soon after as possible.”

  • To establish an authentic version of Cablegate2. Assange “point[ed] to stories published in Tajikistan and Pakistan that have been based on fake cables.” [He said:] “WikiLeaks is a way for journalists and the public to check whether a claimed story based on a cable is actually true. They can come to our site to check. We have a 100 per cent accuracy record.”

  • To help reformers racing against the corrupt’s clamping down. Assange: “a race commenced between the governments who need to be reformed and the people who can reform them using the material.”

When WikiLeaks first published Cablegate2, I, like WikiLeaks Crowd-Sourceress Asher_Wolf, had (and have) several concerns. Here are mine:

  • WikiLeaks didn’t call for amnesty for at-risk, whistle-blowing informants.

  • WikiLeaks didn’t apologize to at-risk, whistle-blowing informants.

  • WikiLeaks apparently didn’t request public comment from Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.

  • WikiLeaks had only given a truncated remark about Cablegate2 protecting sources. With the New Scientist Assange interview this concern is now redressed.

You might respond that the first three concerns above can’t be redressed given WikiLeaks’ limited resources and the quantity of the cables, or maybe that redressing the three concerns isn’t WikiLeaks’ proper role as a conduit for whistle-blowing leakers, or maybe that addressing them would cause legal problems or PR problems for their brand (their reputation affects whether whistle-blowers trust them). I can understand those responses, though I’m not sure how to fully evaluate them. I do think WikiLeaks needs to do more for the named, whistle-blowing informants.

But after today’s New Scientist interview, I do feel that on balance, WikiLeaks did the right thing by publishing Cablegate2. I hope, however, that people and organizations of sufficient importance work toward protecting the named, whistle-blowing informants, and that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International weigh in publicly on WikiLeaks’ Cablegate2 publication (in which case I’ll consider their reasoning). After all, WikiLeaks followed the computer security community’s practice of widely publishing threats (viruses, etc.) that are already out in the wild since doing so, despite risk, solves problems more quickly; yet, assuming the same strategy extends to protecting people offline might be a problematic example of what Evgeny Morozov calls Internet-centrism: relying too much on technical knowledge when addressing problems not adequately described in technological terms.

Actually read this

As Clay Shirky says, in the United States, publishing leaked documents is basically legal (see New York Times v. United States as well as the First Amendment); it’s leaking them that’s often illegal (and risky). Today the Internet has lowered the costs associated with publishing. We with Internet connections are all now publishers, though not all journalists. While instituting legal licensing to determine who gets to be a publisher would be ridiculously bad for freedom, our larger bullhorns — especially those of the more prominent netizens among us — come with more serious responsibility than might be first imagined.

Older generations, I think, see publication itself as some measure of approval of the published content; in this view, WikiLeaks publishing the unredacted cables amounts to the organization approving of the lack of redactions. This view makes a degree of sense in the past world where the process of publication was expensive, time-consuming, and relatively uncommon.

But now, to use two metaphors each from a different science fiction writer (William Gibson, then Cory Doctorow), with the Internet the human race has sprouted an information exoskeleton, an outboard brain. If the principle “non-secure, online info available anywhere is available everywhere” isn’t completely true yet, it will be more or less true within a decade or, at most, two. This is the ideology of radical transparency. WikiLeaks is helping to usher in a world where not writing down secrets (or typing them out) will be the only way to keep them. That world, I think, will be one of reduced secrets and, accordingly, a better, more just one.

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Concerns about WikiLeaks Cablegate2 Ameliorated by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

Searching Wikileaks Cables for Literary Topics, First of Many

Clark Stoeckly‘s Wikileaks Truck on Flickr, Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The cable claims

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

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

    (Original Cable.)

    The original op-ed can be found here.

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

    (Original Cable.)

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

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

The Exuberant Quandary

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

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

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

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

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

I LOVE U :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I HATE TV

My favorite cartoonist: Berkeley Breathed

A few weeks back Wifely and I stayed at a (h/m)otel because our home AC motor blew up. All our creatures — Gibson the Dog, Betty the Cat, and Henry the Cat — stayed with us. I loved the clarity of the clean rooms — there wasn’t Stuff all over the place. Just us, just what we needed to MY TEETH LOOKED EXTREMELY WHITE SO THAT WAS LIKE AN AWESOME THING (Sorry! Her TV interrupted my blog!) I was saying, It was just us, it was just a little home with only what Kate and I needed to be together. DARK AS THE FRICKIN’, LIKE, CHALKBOARD (Sorry again; trying to ignore it!)

Wifely was watching one of her most cherished shows, Jersey Shore.

Essentially, Chuck E. Cheese’s for adults.

One of my earliest memories of TV is watching, from across the room, a friend and his brother watch it. I remember their hands descending into the popcorn dish, lifting the popcorn to their mouths, their mouths chewing, gazes never leaving the screen, not even when it changed from one show to another, because it didn’t matter to them what they were perceiving. Unlike readers, who actively collaborate with texts to create stories in their minds, these two were passive receptacles of whatever was decided by whomever to be stuffed down their eyeballs.

I’m not opposed to entertainment; I’m opposed to mindless entertainment. He better not hope I don’t find out his name, bro. (What?)

A 2010 BLS survey says on average almost everyone 15 and up in the States watched nearly three hours of TV per day every day and I assume they will do so for the rest of their lives. There’s enough time to be mindless when you’re dead. I’m from THE SHORE BITCH!!! (Okay?)

Give me a piece of my preferred mindless entertainment and you will receive a lengthy confabulation justifying its importance. One man’s treasure, yadda. Actually I think it’s the BIG LOUD BASHING NOISE of TV that bothers me, the whole disorderly, sensate chaos of the thing. How the hell is that relaxing? I must be the wrong Myers-Briggs. Somebody pull out the McLuhan and say something wiser, because right now I have to put on some headphones and go write a scholarly article on the hobbies of the Puritans.

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

Glenn Greenwald at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls on Reforming US Foreign Policy

Answering audience question

Last month on a Thursday evening (10 March 2011), Glenn Greenwald (his Salon.com column; Twitter; Wikipedia; recent Awl interview) gave a talk at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls titled “Reforming U.S. Foreign Policy” (MWSU’s philosophy program and a few other people/groups you can see on the flyer sponsored the event). His mere appearance was notable since Wichita Falls and MWSU are small places (city population about 100k, university students about 6500) in the Republic of Texas, roughly 3 hours away from the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex. These days the Republic is about as right-wing a state as it gets (2010 Texas Republican Party Platform in PDF), and Greenwald is by no means a minor commentator. A traditional way to show his prominence: he has two NYT bestselling books to his name, in 2009 Forbes ranked him the 18th Most Influential Liberal in US Media, and he’s appeared on TV news programs ranging from Democracy Now! to Rachel Maddow to Brit Hume to Colbert. Watch him defend Wikileaks and Julian Assange on CNN with this embed:

An alternate way to show Greenwald’s prominence? The law firm Hunton & Williams requested three data intelligence firms — HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies (all connected with the US national security industry) — develop a proposal on behalf of Bank of America, which apparently fears a Wikileaks mega-leak exposing mis-doings. Part of the leaked proposal targeted Greenwald:

(The Anonymous hack leaking emails (searchable!) showing the HBGary et al. plan against Greenwald & Wikileaks also revealed HBGary has worked on “persona management” software to help the US create fake netizens as astroturf to manufacture “the illusion of consent” and “gang up” on bloggers.)

The drive from Fort Worth to MWSU was long, especially as I’d never visited the campus before, and I was teaching that day. So unfortunately I entered the auditorium about 45(?) minutes late.

From my seat near the back of the auditorium, I placed the crowd size at about 150; Greenwald later said the sponsor(s) guessed around 150-200. Many were students, taking notes like mad. Greenwald speaks very quickly, very well, and in long, complex, grammatically correct sentences — I gave up my attempt to live-tweet the event. He didn’t appear to use any notes, either, though maybe he had a bullet-point outline page on the podium or something.

Two days prior, Greenwald spoke in Santa Fe on the current political climate, so with the two Santa Fe embeds below — I haven’t found any for the MWSU Wichita Falls event — you can hear some of the same content and also get a sense of his speaking style. There’s a transcript of the Santa Fe talk here and a transcript of its Q&A here.

Much of what Greenwald said in Wichita Falls about foreign policy matches his article “The crux of our endless War on Terror.” From the article:

not only is our policy of endless war wildly disproprionate and counter-productive, but it provides the pretext for endless civil liberties abuses. Here is what [Obama’s Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael] Leiter boasts after being asked about the Obama administration’s targeting of U.S. citizens for assassination who have been charged with nothing: “Just to be clear, the U.S. government through the Department of Defense goes out and attempts to target and kill people, a lot of people, who haven’t been indicted.” […]

[All this] despite the fact that we have been continuously wrong in our accusations of Terrorism and have even knowingly imprisoned innocent people. […]

Leiter concedes (as has been recognized by the U.S. Government for years) that [US counter-terrorism] actions have the opposite effect of what is supposedly intended: namely, these actions are what motivate so much of the very Terrorism (especially the recent Terrorism) that is cited to justify those policies. […]

All because there are a few hundred people hiding in caves in remote tribal areas who are really, really Scary: who will get you if don’t acquiesce to endless war, the transfer of enormous amounts of money to fight those wars, and the most unlimited and unchecked government powers imaginable. And even when they come right out and say that this is all about nothing more than a few hundred people — many of whom are motivated by the very violence we’re perpetrating — it changes very little. Fear is an extremely potent motivating force, overwhelming all reason and skepticism of power. That’s why political leaders — in all eras and all places — like it and use it so much.

In this connection, note USA (combined) military spending since 2001 has been a bailout-per-year (approx $700 billion). If you froth about the bailout’s size, remember: total USA military spending, now: a bailout per year. (Progressive Libertarians, there’s your mantra!)

Since I wasn’t able to take many notes during the (high-speed!) talk, and since much of the content matched the embeds and the article above, I’ll simply bullet-point some of the notes I did manage to take. These are comments from Greenwald, paraphrased by me; any mistakes mine.

  • He referred approvingly to the Washington Post’s Top Secret America investigation. The investigation shows the national security industry in America has grown so large, has become such a huge portion of the government, that no one has really been able to successfully keep track of it and its spending.

  • Our civil rights we’re told about from childhood (due process, free speech, free press, &tc.) do make us better (in that regard) than other countries, make us free; war is the great enemy of those freedoms. The greatest violations of civil liberties pretty much occur during war. The Espionage Act, the Japanese internments, Senator McCarthy, the current NSA.

  • Some secrecy is necessary for governments, but that’s supposed to be the exception, not the rule.

  • War creates constant fear. The way to get a citizenry to agree to wage a war is to get them to fear something. FDR had a difficult time convincing Americans to enter World War Two; after the senseless World War One, there was a broad sense in America that wars should not be entered unless we’re directly under attack. What finally convinced Americans was the fear the Japanese brought about through Pearl Harbor. Fear is the pre-requisite for war. Overall, fear is an important, valuable, and important emotion. But oftentimes, fear becomes its own addiction. No matter what, whether the war in question is just or not, it puts the citizenry in fear.

  • Here’s one of his anecdotes about the current climate of fear in America. He wrote an article about Wikileaks before they’d released the Collateral Murder video — before Wikileaks was known well in the States. He initially learned of them by reading the Pentagon had in 2002 prepared a secret report declaring Wikileaks an enemy to be destroyed — ironically enough, the report was leaked to Wikileaks [This line got much laughter]. Greenwald began to suggest his readers donate to the organization. But people told him they were afraid — though Wikileaks had never been charged with or convicted of a crime. They were afraid they’d end up on “some list.” The War on Terror has made people afraid of our government, has made people believe there’s very little the government can’t do to you.

  • It’s not as if we’re going to be able to round up a finite number of terrorists with T‘s stamped on their foreheads, kill them, and then we’ll be free of fear and terror, ready to resume our civil liberties. No, now we’re in a period of perpetual war.

  • Terrorism works because terrorists decide for whatever reasons that they’re willing to blow themselves up to kill as many other people as possible, to sacrifice their lives in other ways, in order to inflict damage and send messages … What is it that leads people to this point? Well, every day the Muslim world broadcasts the damage the USA inflicts there; imagine some group / country / government striking your weddings, parties, homes, and you hear about it day and day out — that’s what makes a terrorist want to attack the USA. Yet if as an American citizen you say the solution to terrorism might be to stop bombing people, you’re often considered a terrorist yourself!

And, from the Question and Answer period, audience questions:

  • Q: What do you say when people tell you you’re Anti-American for talking in your reasonable, critical way?

    A: The ultimate patriotic duty, your obligation, is to critique the policies you think are hurting your own citizens. I don’t think there’s something inherently evil about the USA; but, the actions we’re engaging in are extremely destructive.

  • Q: Could you say something about the plight of Bradley Manning, alleged leaker to Wikileaks?

  • A: When people ask me how I manage to say things some people take as anti-American, I think about people such as Manning who are undergoing much worse than I am, and I get courage from that.

  • Q: What should an everyday citizen do to promote the kind of positions you’re advocating?

  • De-fund the wars. Talk to people about the issues. Also, the nascent grassroots alliances between Progressives and Libertarians might further the de-funding of the wars.

  • Q [by me]: Can you talk about tensions between transparency and privacy, not so much with groups such as Wikileaks where power disparities are clear-cut, but with other groups such as UniLeaks, who publishes leaks about universities … or, leaks about small businesses, medium-size businesses … [Here I wanted to mention a quote attributed to Assange in a Mother Jones article: Wikileaks “want[s] every person who’s having a dispute with their kindergarten to feel confident about sending us material.”]

  • A: This question has come up recently with people accusing Assange of hypocrisy. Public citizens with political power should be subject to transparency; ordinary private citizens should be allowed privacy. Right now our culture has completely reversed that .. that’s the dichotomy that has to be kept in line.

After the Q&A, I spoke with Greenwald briefly to thank him for making Texas something other than a right-wing state for a few hours. He seemed a fairly normal guy, and I mean that in a good way; partly it’s a superficial comment to make, but after run-ins with more than one odd political group or wiseman or …, I tend to take a moment to measure such things as body language and whatnot. (Not that I’m any sort of sartorial genius or smooth operator myself; I bumble.)

I asked Greenwald for further comment on my question — for instance, I asked, is the dichotomy between transparency and privacy something to be hashed out over time via common law and the like? He suggested it’s more of a cultural thing, that culture is more of the prime mover in this regard. Unfortunately he and I had all of twenty seconds to talk about it, but that’s how these events go. =) As a follow-up I’d have asked about Žižek’s take on Wikileaks. Žižek says the predominant leftist model of Wikileaks sees it merely as a “radical case of ‘investigative journalism'” and sees power as “held by the bad guys at the top” rather than as “something that permeates the entire social body, determining how we work, think and consume.” I don’t agree with Žižek’s downplaying of investigative journalism, but I think he raises interesting questions, especially in light of Assange’s comment in Mother Jones indicating an interest in publishing material on more everyday organizations. In Santa Fe Greenwald said:

to me, when people raise concerns, ‘well, isn’t Wikileaks going a little too far in disclosing some things that should be secret?’ We’re so far over towards the pole of excessive secrecy that I can’t even envision the day when I’m going to start worrying about excessive disclosure. I’d like to be in that position, but we’re so far from that day. So, yes, some things should be kept secret, but that is so far away from the problem that we have, that things that should be kept secret aren’t being kept secret, when everything is being kept secret, and that’s a real threat to democracy.

I basically agree with Greenwald here (and Clay Shirky), but I believe we’d benefit from experts such as Greenwald pondering aloud the far-off day of excessive disclosure, and the current time of a wildly changing public space, even if that’s not their exact realm of expertise. (See, for instance, David Brin‘s book The Transparent Society.) Then again, as a writer who often writes science fiction, I sometimes reason from the future backwards, which isn’t always the best thing to do.

Moral philosophers should consider this: are white lies, those social niceties, justified, and does social networking and the current change in the public space change the issue? Political science people should go after Obama’s statement “I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source.” And one way for someone with a law background to look at it might be: what happens to libel and slander laws as we, through social networking, all become more public citizens? Wikileaks is a radical and good case of investigative journalism, but it is something more also, something we’re all having trouble putting our finger on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I SEE YOU TOO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting adjourned, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a good sign.

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

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

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

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

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