Monday, December 26, 2016

Blind Spot, Part II

Ahmed: Another ship arrived during the night. There’s a boy standing out there on the bow. Like he’s a statue.
Melchisidek: The boy is letting them see him.
Ahmed: He’s in plain sight!
Melchisidek: They do not know if what they see is real. Something to do with the mist. Apparently they find dangerous things, spirits, in the mist. The boy was being … polite. Giving them time to decide if he’s real.
   -- The 13th Warrior, Touchstone Pictures, 1999

How do you know?

How do you know if what you see is real?

In the previous essay, I used Michael Crichton’s Westworld as an analogy for the fluid virtual reality we now face.

Crichton was a master of creating fictional realities based on science, religion, politics, and whatever his fertile imagination could dream up for seasoning. He was a science fiction writer, that’s what they do.

So it seems fitting to use another of his creations as an example here.

In the movie The 13th Warrior, based on Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, the entire story is about deception, layer upon layer of it. As one of the characters says, Deception is the point! and nothing is as it seems.  The poet who claims he’s not a warrior is skilled with a blade. The Vikings who first appear to be dumb brutes hide calm reason and keen intelligence. The monsters appear to be half man, half beast, but even they aren’t what they seem. 

Crichton based his novel in large part on the Syrian risala of Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān who described an embassy expedition sent by the Caliph of Baghdad in 921 C.E. to meet with the King of the Bulgars of the Middle Volga. There, Ahmad, claims to have encountered a group of traders from the north called The Rusiyyah, or Rus, a people of supposed Scandinavian origin, and to have witnessed the funeral of a Viking chieftain.

For many years historians have argued over the veracity of Ahmad and his descriptions of the Rus. At first, the experts weren’t even certain if Ahmad ibn Faḍlān really existed. Some academics claimed with authority that the risala was simply a fiction cobbled together over the years from many different oral histories. But eventually an authentic text was discovered and those in a position to know have over time come to agree in broad strokes that an Arab scholar named Ahmad ibn Faḍlān did indeed journey north in the early years of the 10th Century into what is now modern day Russia. Exactly who the Rus were and what role they might have played in the creation of Russia is still subject to academic debate. 

What is more certain however is this: even if the overall tale of Ahmad’s travels is true, his descriptions of what he regarded as a primitive and savage people are filtered through his own bias, perhaps deliberately so for cultural, religious, and political reasons.  Faḍlān’s description of the northerners was, at times, somewhat less than flattering:

§ 83. They are the filthiest of God's creatures. They have no modesty in defecation and urination, nor do they wash after pollution from orgasm, nor do they wash their hands after eating. Thus they are like wild asses.

§ 84. Every day they must wash their faces and heads and this they do in the dirtiest and filthiest fashion possible: to wit, every morning a girl servant brings a great basin of water; she offers this to her master and he washes his hands and face and his hair. He washes it and combs it out with a comb in the water; then he blows his nose and spits into the basin. When he has finished, the servant carries the basin to the next person, who does likewise. She carries the basin thus to all the household in turn, and each blows his nose, spits, and washes his face and hair in it.

Given what is known of Scandinavian culture from that time, and given Faḍlān was a strict Muslim (in fact, his role in the expedition was as a religious advisor) with very specific hygiene requirements dictated by his religion, it’s likely that he was exaggerating just a bit (though the morning toilet made it into the movie verbatim as a frame around the quote that opens this article. Because it made for a graphic description of the differences between the two cultures).

Whatever the truth, Crichton took that tale and reworked it into a more compelling fiction and then combined that with the Viking legend of Beowulf to create Eaters of the Dead.

And then Hollywood reworked that into a movie.

As such, The 13th Warrior is a tale of deception based on a possibly even greater deception and as the story says, “they do not know if what they see is real.”


So, how do you know?


In Blind Spot, Part I, I talked about fake news and conspiracy theories and the danger of an administration that isolates itself from reality (as best we can determine it).

I got hundreds of responses, in comments and email and social media messages. All of which can be boiled down to this: Yeah, but how do you know?

How do you know what is real and what is just another imagined spirit in the mist?

How do you separate the fake world from the real one?

Our reality is a manufactured construct which we all agree (or not) to live in and because we are human that world is only partially based on fact and reason and verified evidence. The world we inhabit often consists of viewpoints shaped by our own politics, by religion (or not), by community (or not), and increasingly by an unending barrage of media – both commercial and social. To some extent, we each shape our view of this world by choosing what information we are exposed to, a process commonly referred to as confirmation bias – though there is much more to it than just that. We often accept the information we want to believe as true, and reject that which we don’t as false. All of us do this to varying degrees, it’s part of being human. Education and training, critical thinking, experience (or not) all temper that process, again to varying degrees.

But even the best education and training and decades of experience can’t prevent the human mind from seeing spirits of its own imagining in the mist.

This is one of the biggest pitfalls of intelligence work. That is, you tend to see the things you want to and be blind to the things you don’t. This is also true of other fields, and is common in politics, religion, and science alike – the difference being that science done right is self-correcting, politics and religion tend to be self-reinforcing (intelligence work far too often falls somewhere between those poles). 

So, how do you know?

How do you know what is real, truly real, and what isn’t?


Assuming that you want to make the distinction in the first place – not everybody does.


How do you know what is real?

Earlier this week the Associated Press reported a man in Mississippi had been arrested for burning down an African-American church after spray-painting “Vote Trump!” on the building’s walls.

Is that true?

Did that really happen?

Well, let’s see. The church was certainly burned. On November 1st, eight days before the 2016 General Election, police and firefighters responded to a blaze at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi. The historic black church had been vandalized with spray-painted slogans and set on fire.

The church exists. There are property records of such a church. There are pictures. You can find it on Google Street View:




As to the crime itself, there are multiple press reports based on multiple sources that can be verified. There are police and fire department reports as part of the public record. There are eye witnesses.

As such, there’s a very high probability verging on 100% that the event as initially reported is true: The church does exist, it is a historically African-American church, it was vandalized, it was set on fire. And really, a black church, vandalized, arson, Mississippi, how many examples from history of similar events do you need in addition to the basic facts?

Now, I suppose you could, at this point, dismiss the incident altogether.

Never happened.

No such church.

No such fire.

I don’t believe it. False flag. Fake news. Created by unknown persons for reasons unknown.

And the world is such that there are in fact people who believe exactly that and there is little that can be done short of institutionalization (or perhaps time travel) to correct that extremist viewpoint.

However, short of driving to Greenville yourself and personally checking the race of the congregation and shifting the ashes with your own bare hands, there’s a point where you have to accept certain things as fact even though you personally haven’t witnessed them or put your hands on them.

Anything else verges on paranoid schizophrenia.

Most of us had little trouble believing the initial reports.

Most of us.

But that’s where it starts, right there,  because a significant number of people do indeed doubt that aforementioned history ever happened – just as there are those who deny the Holocaust or the Moon Landings, or the guy who showed up in my social media feed last week who doesn’t believe there are such things as nuclear weapons,  a surprise to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I’m sure. And no amount of proof, no evidence, nothing, can convince them otherwise.

But here’s the problem: there is the very barest chance that they may be, if you squint your eyes, correct.

See, facts don’t always tell the entire story.

Human beings aren’t robots, we aren’t computers. We always, always every time, see even indisputable fact through the lens of our own bias – just as Ahmed ibn Faḍlān viewed the Vikings he encountered though the lens of his own civilization and religion. And so, beyond the facts, we read the reports of that burned church and formed our opinions of what must have happened based on how we see the world, on what we believe history to be.

And today?

Well, the man arrested, the arsonist, it turns out he’s black.

And a member of the congregation.

Ah ha!

Right? Ah. Ha.

Ah ha! So it was a black guy who faked a hate crime trying to make white Trump supporters look like the bad guys! Ah HA! I knew it! and you don’t have to go very far to find that exact response.



When the story first broke, I wanted it to be true.

I wanted to believe the worst about Donald Trump and his supporters. That’s my bias. I’d seen the Klan and the Neo-Nazis at his rallies. Hell, a number of them got me temporarily banned from Facebook because they didn’t like something I said. Those people were real, no fooling, self-declared Nazis. Racists. Bigots. Trump Supporters. That’s not hyperbole, they proudly self-identified as such.

So when this story first broke, black church, vote Trump, Mississippi, arson, I wanted to believe the worst.

I wanted to believe the worst, I wanted to believe some racist sheet-wearing Stormtrumper was responsible. And that’s the problem, I wanted to believe it.

But I was afraid right from the start that it might turn out this way.

You see, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true.

And today police have in custody a black man, a member of the congregation, who vandalized his own church in order to make us, all of us, believe Trump supporters are racist villains. And if you’re one of those Trump supporters, isn’t that exactly what you wanted to believe when you first read this story?

But again, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true and it turns out both viewpoints are likely wrong. 

You see, investigators now believe the crime was not politically or racially motivated at all. 

It seems Andrew McClinton (McClinton? OMG!) has a criminal history and might have vandalized the church to cover up a robbery and the racial tensions of this election simply provided a convenient cover. 

So where does that leave us?

Is this fake news?


A hoax? No. That it wasn’t.

The building really was burned.

The words “vote Trump” really were painted on the walls.

That’s not a hoax. A hoax would be if the congregation faked a fire or lied about it actually having happened. This isn’t that. This is a real event, it’s just the motivations we assumed were behind it are likely incorrect.

So, is it real news then? A case of somebody trying to create fake news by exploiting racism and political triggers to hide another crime altogether?

Is that real news or is it fake news?





Actually, yes it is coincidence.

Or maybe if not coincidence per se, then a case of opportunity.

The arsonist attempted to exploit political conditions and racial prejudice to hide the criminal actions that were his real motivation.  That’s not fake news, that’s real news. It’s just not the real news we wanted to hear and so some of us refuse to believe it. And predictably, white people responding to the revelation that the arsonist was a black man seem to forget all those times a white person created a fictitious black man to hide their crimes. Ashley Todd, for example, who in 2008 went so far as to carve a “B” into her own face … and then blame a black Obama supporter for it. Or how about Susan Smith in 1994, who murdered her children by rolling her car into a lake with her two young boys strapped into car seats … and then blamed a fictitious black man. How about Brian Wells? Remember him? This guy was committed to his duplicity. He’s the pizza delivery man who entered an Erie, Pennsylvania, bank in 2003 with a bomb strapped to his neck. He claimed he’d been abducted by a group of, yep, black men who were forcing him to rob the bank. The bomb detonated and Wells lost his head. Turns out he was in on the plot. He and his white friends came up with the whole thing. 

All of those things were news – even though the people involved were engaged in fakery and fraud for their own ends.

And so, again, where does that leave us?

Is reporting on fake news real news?

Or is reporting fake news fake news in and of itself? (Yeah, that sentence was just as hard to type as you might imagine).



Why doesn’t headline say “black man arrested for burning black church?”

If it was a white man, the commenter opines, they’d say so. The media thrives off [starting] shit.

Well, there’s some truth to this. That’s the nature of the beast. We could wish it otherwise, but the reality (heh heh) is that shit sells copy and that’s our fault.

However, there’s also a lot of untruth in that statement and it doesn’t take much to find it.


Congregation member.

Black man.

Pictures of a black man.

Many headlines do say that a black man was arrested for burning down a black church. Many don’t. If you look carefully, you’ll see that in the sample provided it’s conservative sources which emphasize black and more liberal sources that just use a picture or the phrase member of.

Is that significant? Yes. No. Maybe.

Depends on how you see the world, doesn’t it?

Information, news, how we see facts, are all biased in one fashion or another and to varying degrees. How much importance we attach to that bias is a function of education, training, experience, emotion, habit, and a thousand other subjective factors.

Is it fake news because we just didn’t have all the facts at first, so we filled in the blanks with our own suspicions?

Moreover, can you now point to this story as reason not to trust any news report?


Some Liberals will do or say anything.

Well, yes, that’s true. But, so will some conservatives. It’s a human trait, not a political one.

Beyond that, Is McClinton’s duplicity evidence that none of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists? Including those who are openly members of the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan?

Is this story evidence that the “real” racists are black people?

Can you now point to McClinton’s duplicity as proof all other hate crimes reported by the press are fake?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re engaged in a logical fallacy.




The simple truth is that in this case, the fact – the facts – don’t really help you.

We all, most of us anyway, can agree on the facts. At least in this instance.

But we see this situation the way Ahmad ibn Faḍlān saw the Rus.

That is to say, the “truth” depends on who we are.


“Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue. People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”
-- Brooke Binkowski, managing editor, Snopes


How do you know?

How do you know if President Obama really ordered a ban on all Christmas cards to overseas servicemen because the Christian holiday supposedly offends Muslims?


It should be obvious that’s real fake news (I know. Sorry. Won’t happen again).

It should be obvious, but it’s not. At least not for a lot people who’ve been forwarding this fraud via social media with varying degrees of outrage.

But how do you know?

Simple, ask yourself this: Do I want it to be true?

Do I want it to be true? Yes or no. In this case, a certain segment of the population does want it to be true. They want it to be true in the worst way. They want to believe that Barack Obama would do such a thing, that he’d cater to foreigners – to a religion they see as foreign and hostile – at the expense of not only his own countrymen but the very heroes who keep us safe.  They want to believe Muslims are so intolerant they’d be offended by non-Muslims receiving Christmas Cards. They want to believe there’s a war on their religion, on their holiday, that they are somehow ultimately the victims of this terrible offense. And they want to share this outrage with others who inhabit their viewpoint because it confirms that worldview.

But it’s more than that.

Social Media makes it worse because it amplifies our worst tendencies. Post a good conspiracy meme to your Facebook page and you’re likely to get noticed, you’ll get comments and likes, arguments, agreement, attention. Noticed. You’re the guy with the news, people want to be your friend. Even if you suspect it’s not true, you want it to be. You want to share it, just so you can be that guy with the clever thing for a moment.


What’s that? Oh you don’t think that’s a real driver behind the spread of information? That need for attention? That need for social validation? Really?


You live in a country (you Americans anyway) where your fellows put a sticker on the back of their car so the people behind them will know what kind of cooler they own.  Because keeping your beer chilled in a $400 plastic box is a status symbol and owning one gives you bragging rights over the mundanes who have to make do with a Coleman. And if you spend any time on social media at all, it doesn’t take long to realize that people who derive some kind of social status from a goddamned icebox, really, really care about the number of clicks and likes and shares they get and it doesn’t really matter to them if what they post is true or not.

I digress.

Do I want this to be true? If so, why?

That’s how you start. That’s the hardest step, that first one right there. Because you have to be honest with yourself.

You can’t find the truth if you start out by lying to yourself.

Do I want this to be true? Yes or no.

Wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true.

Wanting it to be true doesn’t make it false either. But you have to consciously fight against confirmation bias and just like in science, or in good intelligence work, the more you want it to be true the greater should be your skepticism.

That’s step One.

From there, at least in this case, it’s a simple matter of reason and fact checking:

Did President Obama really ban Christmas cards to troops overseas?

1. Censorship is an extremely touchy subject in the US.  There are both political and practical reasons why censorship of military mail directed by the president would be improbable at this point in time. Large scale censorship of military mail has been done in the past, however no program for such currently exists.  Reviewing each piece of mail, hundreds of thousands of items, would require a very large workforce at multiple facilities, both military and civilian, and would require extensive oversight. Which in turn would require federal funding. Which in turn would require legislation. Which would a) have to be approved by a Congress dominated by conservatives largely opposed to anything originating with President Obama, and b) be a matter of public record. No legislation? Then no funding. No funding, no censorship.

No such legislation exists.

2. The president would have to implement such an action via Executive Order. Executive Orders are a matter of public record. Each Executive Order is an official document and property of the United States, the text of which is recorded in the Federal Register and promulgated to the appropriate Department Secretary or Agency Head via official message. In this case President Obama would have had to issue an Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense, who would then have issued his own directive to the Joint Chiefs, who would then task the Service Branches, who would then have to issue orders to the appropriate units under their respective commands. Those directives and orders would have to include authorization, a schedule of implementation and duration, the specific units and locations affected, allocation of manpower and assets (such as facilities to do the censorship in), instructions for training that manpower, specific guidelines for implementation, funding, some manner of determining effectiveness, and instructions for reporting. At a minimum. Given the controversial nature of such an order, more than likely the tasking would have to be vastly more specific and extensive.

No such Executive Order exists.

No such military tasking exists.

No such funding. No such allocation of manpower and resources exist.

3. Military Regulation, specifically DoD 4525.6-M The Department of Defense Postal Manual, section C2 specifically prohibits (with one exception) censorship of military mail. (That one exception? Handling of mail for enemy prisoners of war detained in US facilities as detailed in section C2.17).  For the military postal system to censor mail, that regulation would have to be modified by official order.

No such order exists.

4. If you go to the official White House Website, you will immediately see that far from restricting Christmas greetings to troops overseas, this year President Obama’s administration suggests Americans send a USO E-Card to members of the military and one of the message options you can select is "We are grateful for all you do. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!"  Go look for yourself. Hell, send a Christmas card on President Obama’s dime to a service person while you’re at it.

That story is fake news.

It originated on a fake new site and was specifically tailored to appeal to conservatives, designed specifically to provoke patriotic outrage in those prone to such, in order to further fuel their hate and distrust of the president (Don’t think so? Click on the link, read the article, then read the comments), which in turn generates page views and advertising revenue for the fakers. 

And it works.

It works because social media makes it easy to spread disinformation, especially among those who want to believe.


This is true on both sides of the political spectrum, so don’t go getting too smug.


It takes practice.

It takes training.

It takes conscious effort, to overcome your own biases.

But the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Step 1, You start by acknowledging what you want to believe.

Yeah, Jim, we got that. But what then? What’s Step 2?

Well, every story is different.

They’re all true and false to varying degrees. The world changes on a moment by moment basis, each of us comes at it from our own viewpoint.  Even the facts, as noted above, are no sure guarantee of reality – or we wouldn’t still be arguing over Benghazi (or 9-11, The Kennedy Assassination, TWA flight 800, Pearl Harbor, the Moon Landings, etc).

So there are no hard and fast rules for spotting fake news, no hard and fast Step 2. 

However, NPR provides a pretty good list of things to consider at this point:

Is the story so outrageous you can't believe it?

Is the story so outrageous you do believe it?

Does the headline match the article?

Does the article match the news story it's lifted from?

Are quotes in context?

Is the story set in the future?

Does the story attack a generic enemy?

Are you asked to rely on one killer factoid?

Who is the news source, anyway?

Does the news source appear to employ a professional editorial staff?

You should read the entire article for a more detailed examination of each of those items, but NPR’s advice can be summed up as “apply basic critical thinking.” Do I want to believe this? Do I not want to believe it? What are the sources? Is the author engaged in logical fallacies? Can I double check the basic assumptions myself (as in the above example: any new Executive Orders? Legislation? Etc). Who else has checked into this? Snopes, Factcheck, Politifact, etc, and what are their sources and conclusions.

It matters.

It matters because the world has changed.

Once upon a time fake news, fringe conspiracies, deliberately false reports, those things spread relatively slowly. They were confined by the state of the art, by society itself. Like a virus, even the most virulent, the spread is restricted by the vector of transmission and the vulnerability (or not) of the prospective host.

And now? Well, at the risk of pushing this analogy too far, the contagion has gone airborne.

With the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and the desperate competition between channels for viewers – any viewers, with social media now instantaneously connecting literally billions at any one moment, false information can become, well, viral.  It begins as a misunderstanding of the facts, or a deliberate lie, or just the human tendency to see what we want to see.  And so if it’s outrageous or titillating or unusual or just confirms what we want to believe, it begins to spread through social media. A celebrity, a politician, some notable, mentions it. Suddenly it’s a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter and it becomes self-sustaining – and that’s when it becomes real news. Even if it’s fake.

And it matters.

It matters because fake news now has the power to shape the course of human events.

On Christmas Eve this happened:


Khawaja M. Asif is the Pakistani Minister of Water And Power And Defense and a member of the National Assembly. He was responding to a statement made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan with nuclear weapons if it sent troops into Syria.

The problem is that Yaalon never made any such threat.

Also, it should be noted that Yaalon is in fact a former Defense Secretary and no longer a part of Israel’s government.

The quote was taken from a fake news story.

At the same time, our own President-elect and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were engaged in their own social media nuclear saber-rattling.

And so it matters because fake news and social media can now directly influence world events.

In my previous profession, we called it information warfare – and it’s the most powerful weapon ever invented. It can target a single individual or the entire world, it can destroy a single politician, or poison the minds of entire populations.  And it matters because this trend is increasing, both by the natural evolution of technology and through malice aforethought. Fake news is lucrative, if you’re good at it you can make a lot of money. Fake news can topple nations, alter elections, influence legislation, and change history – and even broke, isolated, Third World countries can use it to directly influence nations such as ours, and they can do so for pennies. You don’t need nuclear weapons when you can convince England to leave the European Union without firing a shot. Hypothetically speaking.

For that reason, It’s not going to stop, it’s going to increase.

As such, we’d all best learn how to deal with it sooner rather than later.

Russia didn’t have to hack into our election machines to change the course of history.

Despite what you see from Hollywood, that’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. And the blowback if you’re discovered would likely lead to the exact opposite of your intentions.

There’s an easier way, one that even if attributed to you, can be dismissed, laughed off. And to prove it, really prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, your target would have to give up secret methods and capabilities and why is this starting to sound so very, very familiar?

In the end, what saved the Vikings of The 13th Warrior wasn’t their courage or their strength or their swords – or at least not just those things. It was reason, and logic, and the willingness to question their very reality, to look beyond what they wanted to believe and to see the monsters for what they really were.

Russia, China, the various political strategists, the pundits, those who are enemies of democracy, they didn’t have to hack our technology.

They only had to tell us what we wanted to hear.


Ahmed: You! You could have killed him at will.
Herger: Yes?
Ahmed: Then why the deception?!
Herger: Deception is the point! Any fool can calculate strength. That one has been doing it since we arrived. Now he has to calculate what he can't see.
Ahmed: <realization dawning> And fear … of what he doesn't know.
-- The 13th Warrior

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blind Spot


Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Have you seen Westworld?

I’m talking about the new HBO series, not the 1973 movie.

Actually, on second thought, maybe I do mean both the TV series and the movie.

Both the movie and the new series are based on writer/director Michael Crichton’s original idea: an immersive theme park populated by lifelike androids where guests can engage in their wildest fantasies from sex to murder. In the original movie, the robots predictably malfunction and start killing the guests for reasons that remain largely unexplained. At its heart, the story was a cautionary tale about the perils of technology and hubris. Crichton revisited this theme many years later with Jurassic Park, swapping out Yul Brynner as the relentless robot gunslinger for a genetically engineered T-Rex and some velociraptors.  Those movies, stories of science run amuck, were the nightmares of their time when technologies such as advanced powerful computer systems and genetic engineering were just reaching public awareness.

In 1973, it seemed killer androids and murderously malfunctioning computers were just around the corner.

But the new series is a whole different animal all together and far, far more terrifying.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

That’s how the show begins, with that line. Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

You see, unlike the original, the new series is told largely through the eyes of the androids – hosts as they’re called in the show. 

Unlike the dull machines of Crichton’s original concept, these creatures are for all intents and purposes living beings with their own goals and needs and beliefs and pain. But while they have become incredibly advanced, sophisticated and self aware, they still exist within a programmed reality – a “narrative.”  When presented with evidence that their reality is an artificial construct, a fiction, part of a larger (and to them invisible) world, they simply cannot see it. “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” they say. And they dismiss that conflicting information and refocus on their fixed narrative.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

In the final episodes of the first season, characters both human and not begin to wonder if they might be something other than what they thought. And the kicker is that for them, both human and android, it’s nearly impossible to tell from inside their own heads.

Like the original movie, like the best of the science fiction genre itself, this new Westworld is a metaphor for the fears and dangers of our current society.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Well, have you?

Have you ever wondered about the narrative you live within?

How do we know these things are true?

Fake news. False flags. Conspiracy theories. An increasing percentage of Americans seem to be lost within their own manufactured narratives, they bumble about like robots in a strange alternate reality where fact and truth are contemptuously dismissed as lies and illusion.

Conspiracy has gone beyond mere alternate reality and into full blown denial of reality altogether.

Since the election, I’ve watched an emerging trend, alarming in its implications, a step beyond conspiracy theories and into fanatical denial of any truth where reality is entirely subjective.


Now, this isn’t anything particularly new.

Human beings rarely see reality as it truly is.

Instead we tend to view our individual narratives through the filter of our own perception, biases programmed into our minds by environment, by nature, by trauma, by fear and love, by pain and rage, by madness or cold sanity, by education and experience (or lack thereof), and by the forces of religion and politics and community. 

Unfortunately intelligence and self-awareness and reason are rarely enough to overcome such bias, not without specific training and deliberate effort anyway.


Very often, we see what we want to see – no matter how ridiculous.


For example, in 1990, the longest and most expensive criminal trial (to that date) in US history ended.

What began as a single unsupported suspicion from a questionable source grew virus-like into more than seven years of increasingly bizarre accusations, millions of dollars spent on investigation by dozens of police officers and private consultants and forensic laboratories and so-called legal experts, hundreds of thousands of pages of testimony, and numerous jury trials.

By the time it was over, more than 321 individual criminal complaints had been brought against seven people detailing an unbelievable tale of horrific crimes

But in the end all of those charges, all of them, were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Every single one.

Once the hysteria died down, after the facts were examined and reason prevailed, well then all seven individuals walked free (well, maybe not free exactly. Their lives had been destroyed. They would never be the people they had been. They  would live forever under the stigma of those unfounded and hysterical accusations).

I am, of course, talking about the McMartin Preschool Trial.

The case began in 1983 when Judy Johnson reported to police that her 3-year old son had been sodomized by Ray Buckey (a teacher at McMartin) and her estranged husband.

Buckey and Johnson’s estranged husband were interviewed by police. 

The child was examined.

No evidence of abuse was found. None.

But Johnson was convinced it had occurred, largely because her son was experiencing painful bowel movements, i.e. he was constipated.

As part of the investigation, police sent a form letter to parents of all the students enrolled at McMartin, more than 200 of them.

And that’s when it all went sideways.

Predictably, the parents panicked, terrified their children had been abused.  Accusations spread like wildfire.  The police were overwhelmed, out of their depth, and as such they turned examination of the children over to those who were grossly unqualified.

The press took the story and ran. Journalistic integrity, dignity, ethics, were forgotten. It was everything they could have hoped for, lurid, terrifying, graphic, bizarre, sickening, and like a bloody car accident the public just couldn’t look away. Reason and restraint went right out the window and mass hysteria set in – and this was before the invention of social media and a widespread 24/7 news cycle. 

The hysteria fed upon itself, became self-reinforcing – just as with the Salem Witch Trials centuries before.

The news media discarded its role of skeptic and dispassionate observer and became actively involved in increasing the hysteria as each journalist and reporter attempted to outdo the other with ever more fantastical accounts. Daily the papers and the TV news were filled with reports, deadly serious reports, of secret tunnels beneath the school where teachers practiced Satanism and witchcraft, there were reports of men who could literally fly through the air via the device of dark powers derived from ritual murder, a baby sacrificed in a church and its blood drained and fed to the children of McMartin, animals chopped apart with knives in dark rituals, a horse clubbed to death with a baseball bat by teachers, and hundreds upon hundreds of graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse each more lurid and horrible than the last and lovingly described in a detail never seen before in national news.

In retrospect, now, three decades removed, it’s nearly impossible to fathom how rational human beings could swallow such obvious insanity.

But swallow it they did, Satanism and flying warlocks and murdered babies.

And some believed it so hard that they just couldn’t let it go and they continue to believe it to this very day and no amount of evidence (or lack there of), no amount of reason, nothing, will convince them otherwise. There are literally hundreds of websites and online groups devoted to McMartin. To this day, groups of McMartin “truthers” still hire private investigators, or conduct their own “forensic examinations” of the “evidence.” Even though the school itself was torn down and the foundation pulled up and the ground beneath it excavated in detail and no evidence whatsoever of any tunnels was ever found, there are still thousands of people to this very day who believe that those tunnels do indeed exist – or did at one time, depending on which flavor of insanity you’re dealing with.

There is simply no proof, none, you can offer that will convince the believers that their narrative is false.

If you show them irrefutable proof that their world is a fraud, they respond exactly like the robots in Westworld, “It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

Oh, and Judy Johnson? The woman who started the panic? It turns out that she was quite literally mentally ill, clinically so, she’d been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia – the very disease that makes you see a false reality and which often convinces the sufferers they or their loved ones are the targets of horrific crimes. Paranoid schizophrenia often leads the afflicted to believe their loved ones are engaged in conspiracy against them just exactly as Johnson believed about her estranged husband. In fact, Johnson had been repeatedly hospitalized for her illness.  A detail that was kept from parents and deliberately ignored by the press, until she died from chronic untreated alcoholism in 1986, a full three years into the case.


Today it’s #Pizzagate.

Yes, that’s right, #Pizzagate. A bizarre conspiracy theory involving Satanism, kidnapping, ritual child murder, blood drinking (now called “spirit cooking”), and pedophilia, among a world spanning network of millionaires and billionaires, sheiks and presidents and world elites, and all of this supposedly run from the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. by none other than Hillary Clinton.

The people who believe this, and there are many, believe it hard.

The very suggestion that their narrative is quite literally insane sends them into fury.

There is simply no proof, none, you can offer that will convince them their narrative is false. When I suggested such on social media I was instantly attacked.

















I can provide examples of hundreds of similar responses.

I’ve got a thousand emails in response, calling me everything from a pedophile to a member of the Illuminati, and threatening everything from formal charges to death.

But don’t take my word for it, search social media for the #Pizzagate hashtag and look for yourself (Or wait a bit and see the comments that show up under this essay).

Now, here’s the thing so pay attention:

Over the period of a week, I made multiple negative comments regarding #Pizzagate and those who believe in it. I did so deliberately, in order to provoke a response. Then I recorded those responses, more than a thousand of them and traced them back to the profiles where they originated. 

Here’s what I found:

1. Many of those responses originated with actual accounts that could be connected to actual people who actually believe in this conspiracy theory,


2. a significant fraction were from dummy profiles. Accounts created just prior to the recent presidential campaign cycle (nearly all with an inception date of November 2015), with few followers and dedicated solely to #Pizzagate. Searches against these accounts revealed similar phrases and targets of attack,


3. very few of those accounts were bots, i.e. automated accounts. I prodded them enough to elicit numerous responses which identified them as human in origin. Meaning the accounts were manned by people and active rather than automated software.


Again, don’t take my word for it. Run the experiment yourself.

What you’re looking at here is a directed campaign of information warfare.

And that’s the difference between the Salem Witch Trials or the McMartin Preschool Case and #Pizzagate.

Salem, McMartin, those examples of mass hysteria were natural, they grew organically based on human nature and the state of society at the time. 

This, #Pizzagate, is something else – or at least partially so.

It may (or may not) have begun organically, but it’s being deliberately fueled. Why? I don’t know. By who? I don’t know that either. It would be easy to speculate, but it’s just as likely to be a campaign of psychological warfare directed by a foreign power for its own nefarious ends as it is a game by a small group of teenagers from 4Chan entertaining themselves by egging on the gullible.

Whatever the source, whatever the reason, this latest hysteria plays directly to a certain segment of the population.

And this false narrative has very real consequences.

You see, that segment of the population is, after 30 years of being habituated to fear by talk radio and TV pundits, fake news, false narratives, an endless diet of conspiracy theories from bottomless cesspools such as Infowars, conditioned by their religion of suspicion and intolerance and a political party of paranoia, that population, is now uniquely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.

And that segment of the population tends to vote for one particular political party.

And that party will shortly be in near complete control of our government and nation.

And in that administration, even those who were trained in reason and critical thinking have succumbed to false reality.

And that is the true danger.

“One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts. Everybody has a way. It’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.”
-- Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes, The Diane Rehm Show

We have become a nation cheerfully willing to humor patently false narratives and regard them as valid and equal to actual fact.

And as such, we have become a people who regard reality itself as a false narrative.

It doesn’t look like anything to us.

The end result of this situation is that we have elected leaders who believe reality is whatever they say it is, whatever they choose to believe, whatever is most politically expedient, whatever fits the narrative they’ve created for themselves. And as a nation, as a people, as a society, we have reached a point where we feel we must humor these false narratives as valid.

Instead of actively demanding more from ourselves as a people, we cater to this insanity and to the lowest common denominator of intellect.

But here’s the thing: reality doesn’t care what you believe.


Gravity will kill you whether you believe in it or not.


The president-elect, Donald Trump, announced this week that he will forgo the daily Presidential intelligence briefing.

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace last weekend, Trump said that he didn’t need the daily updates because he’s “like” a smart person:

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about your skepticism about the intelligence community. You are getting the presidential daily brief…


WALLACE: …only once a week.

TRUMP: Well, I, I get it when I need it.

WALLACE: But is it, is there some skepticism …?

TRUMP: You know, I get, first of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, "If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one-minute's notice." I don't have to be told, you know, I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years. But eight years. I don't need that. But I do say, "If something should change, let us know." Now, in the meantime, my generals are great, are being briefed. And Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions. He is terrific. And they're being briefed. And I'm being briefed also. But if they're going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me, you know, it doesn't change, necessarily. Now, there will be times where it might change. I mean, there will be some very fluid situations. I'll be there not every day, but more than that. But I don't need to be told, Chris, the same thing every day, every morning, same words. "Sir, nothing has changed. Let's go over it again." I don't need that.

Trump has already created a false narrative for himself and the administration he will control.

The single greatest danger for any human being, but most especially a leader – and even more especially the President of the United States – is to retreat into a world of your own creation, walled away reality.

This is an incredibly dangerous situation.

Trump’s most trusted advisors, those like Mike Flynn – one of Trump’s “great generals” – are actively engaged in looney conspiracy theories, mass hysteria, and patently false narratives driven by unidentified agencies from within social media.




And if Trump’s national security advisor believes in #Pizzagate, if somebody like Mike Flynn can promulgate obviously ridiculous information as valid to the general public, then what does he believe about the things that really matter? Such as Iran, or ISIS, or border security, or any of the things a National Security Advisor is responsible for? 

Flynn was let go from the Defense Intelligence Agency and forced into retirement in part because he’d come to believe narratives that were simply not true. He wasn’t forced out by Obama, but rather by his peers because he’d become disconnected from reality as his above statement regarding a bizarre fringe conspiracy theory demonstrates.

And now, he’s advising the president-elect and he’s no longer constrained by those of firmer reason.

What people like General Flynn should be telling Trump is this: That redundancy? That repetition Trump so hates, should tell a supposed “smart” person something important and it should tell the Commander in Chief something important most of all.

If the intelligence remains unchanged from day to day, then there are only two possibilities:

1. The situation on the ground has not changed


2. The intelligence community was unable to acquire new information.

Either way, that tells the Commander something vital – or it should if he’s competent, experienced, and as smart as he thinks he is.

It tells him what questions to ask next.

If the situation on the ground has not changed, if for example ISIS has not advanced or attacked or retreated or otherwise altered its state, then a savvy commander would ask the following questions:

How sure are you of this?

How have you verified the information?

More importantly why haven’t things changed? Are they gathering strength? Do they feel safe? Have they reached a state of stasis and stability? Or they being constrained by our forces or their enemies or lack of funds or geography or fear of retaliation?

The answers to those questions leads to more questions and that is how actionable and realistic national strategy is born.

When this nation was fighting for its independence from England, in the winter of 1776, the man who commanded the Continental Army and who would become the nation’s first president, asked his own network of intelligence experts to report on the enemy. They told him what they’d told him for days, that the Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey were hunkered down for the winter.

Every day the situation remained unchanged.

Based on that information, General George Washington could, like Trump, have told his briefers, enough! Don’t bother me with this unless something changes.

He could have done that, but Washington wasn’t Trump. Instead that unchanging situation told him something. And he crossed the Delaware in the dead of night on Christmas Eve and the rest is American history rather than British.

Lack of change is not lack of information.

More importantly, if the lack of change is because the intelligence community was unable to acquire, process, analyze, and disseminate new information, then as the Commander in Chief it is the president’s job to either reallocate existing assets to acquire that information or to go to Congress and procure the necessary legislation and funding to create the assets required.

If the Commander in Chief was made aware that there were vague indications of a domestic attack, that various agencies had various pieces, but were unable to muster the coordination and resources to run down leads and process mountains of data into a coherent picture in, oh say, 1940 or 2000, for example, then perhaps we might have been able to stop 911 or Pearl Harbor before they happened. 

Or not. 

But if you’re not smart enough to see what the briefing is actually telling you, if you don’t goddamned show up in the first place, if your advisors aren’t sharp enough to explain that to you, then you’ll never know, will you?

Lack of change is not lack of information.

Most importantly, that repetition provides an anchor. 

An anchor that holds you to reality, that keeps you from coming adrift in a sea of information, some true, much more false or unknown and unverified or irrelevant. If the commander is not in the loop, if the commander doesn’t have eyes-on every single goddamned day, if the commander isn’t asking those questions – i.e. is this lack of change because things have not changed or is it because we don’t have the resources to find out – then what happens is the administration and the leadership inevitably begin to create their own false reality.


Every time.

They become vulnerable to mass hysteria and false narratives and self-reinforcing delusion. They become conditioned to ignoring fact and ground truth and the things they don’t want to hear.  This is always and inevitably a recipe for disaster.  This is true of every nation from the fall of Rome, to the final days in the bunker under Berlin in 1945, to March 19th, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction that were no more real than the supposed world-spanning pedophile ring operating out of a nonexistent basement beneath a pizza parlor in Washington D.C.


Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?


The TV show Westworld concluded its story with a small handful of the androids finally becoming aware of the false world surrounding them.

Many more go mad, unable to accept either their own false reality or the larger one they had glimpsed. They are then turned upon the innocent and their civilization begins to come apart.

In the end, it’s only a TV show, a brilliant metaphor for a larger world.

And we, we are not robots.

Unless we choose to be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Facebook Nazis

Update: As of 11/26/16, my Facebook account has been restored.

Addendum at the end of the post

I’ve been banned from Facebook.

My account has been suspended supposedly for violation of community standards.

My profile is still active, you can still access the page and comment on posts that haven’t been deleted by Facebook. But I myself am locked out.  I can’t post, comment, or access the Facebook messenger system.


The community standard I violated is apparently the one where you’re not allowed to criticize actual, no fooling, Nazis.


Yes, actual Nazis.

That’s right, I was banned for criticizing an actual Nazi.

This is the post that got me banned:

I don't envy Mike Godwin, his law is getting a hell of a workout

I've got hundreds of angry messages here telling me to stop calling Trump supporters fascists. And I would, except for the part where I keep running into ACTUAL FUCKING NAZIS.

This guy for example. He's upset at my "brand of profanity" (I used the term "ball-gargling" in reference to Sean Hannity. My apologies, but as a retired military officer and professional writer when I see somebody gargling balls I'm required by law to use the technical term. I digress), but sees nothing profane about naming himself after an infamous French collaborator and member of the Waffen SS. Not to mention his "heroes" are literally a list of fascists, fascist murderers who became the actual Nazi party, and white supremacists.

And then there's "Jewry." Just right there, in a sentence, like you know that's something people who aren't Nazis do.

So again, you don't want to be called a Nazi?

Then stop hanging out with actual Nazis. Just stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

Stop hanging out with Nazis. Don't be polite to Nazis. Don't think that the First Amendment means you have to be respectful of Nazis. Don't pretend Nazis have a valid point of view. They're Nazis.

Stop standing next to Nazis.

Stop acting like Nazis.

Stop cheering Nazis.

Stop voting for the people Nazis vote for.

They're fucking NAZIS. You don't have to be polite to them. It's okay to hate them. They're fucking NAZIS.

And for the love of Dread Cthulhu, stop using the word "Jewry."





Now, nothing I posted violates Facebook’s community standards.

If you plug “Henri Fenet” into Facebook’s search function, you’ll find literally hundreds of neo-Nazis praising the ideology of Nazism on Facebook. Talking about Nazis is okay. Posting comments favorable to Nazis is okay.  Being an actual Nazi is okay with Facebook.

Nor is it use of profanity, in fact, if you type “fuck” into Facebook’s search function, you will literally find tens of thousands of results of that word posted to Facebook, including actual Facebook Communities and Groups that use the word in their titles. For example:


In fact, those who complained to Facebook about the post, flagged it as “spam” because they couldn’t find an actual violation of Facebook’s community standards – despite the fact that my post is obviously not spam by any definition including Facebook’s.

So Facebook removed the post and then banned me from the platform for the next 24 hours.

The people who do this sort of thing, do so specifically in order to silence people they don’t like, not because they are actually offended. This is targeted harassment specifically designed to suppress people like me.

In my case, I’ve been targeted by certain rabidly obnoxious members of the Science Fiction community and more recently by actual neo-Nazis and Trump supporters. These people spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over my Facebook page and scheming to find ways to have me shut down.

As I noted the last time this happened, unfortunately this is the risk you take when you sign on to Facebook and other social media sites.  You don’t control the platform. Hell, you can’t even talk to the those who run the platform. And the size of it makes any attempt at real-time moderation by the platform managers a complete joke. Neither Facebook nor Twitter has made any real effort to prevent harassment, bullying, or any of the other more unfortunate aspects of social media. And Facebook has made no effort whatsoever to prevent abuse of their system and they’ve made it impossible for the victims to do anything about it. They are in fact complicit and they are very likely to become more so in the future. 

My ban from the platform is the result of Facebook’s lousy architecture, which lets bullies and harassers abuse Facebook’s automated system – a system that was supposedly put in place to make Facebook safer – and I have absolutely no recourse for protest or appeal.

Despite the fact that I personally bring more than 90,000 people to the table on Facebook every single day, the people who profit from the content I create simply don’t care.

If Facebook was serious about their supposed commitment to free speech and the safety of their users, they would take immediate steps to publicly remove those who abuse the system. But not only do they not remove those who abuse the system, they actively protect those abusers and keep them anonymous.


I’d like to say that this won’t silence me, or keep me from posting to the community I’ve created on Facebook.


But the truth of the matter is that it very well could no matter what my determination might be.

If Facebook allows fascists, Nazis, Sad Puppies, racists, bigots, haters, and other assorted mal-adapted bilge to continue to abuse their system, then it’s likely I’ll be permanently banned from the platform. And I have no control over that – less I choose to knuckle under, raise my arm, and shout Sieg Heil with the raging mob.

Those who know me, know that I am a veteran who fought under the flag of the United States of America for more than 20 years, who fought for what that flag used to represent, can probably guess which way I’ll go.

Given America’s new acceptance of fascism, I suspect platforms like Facebook and Twitter will either have to become more accommodating of actual fascist ideology and less tolerant of people like me, or risk going to the wall themselves – especially given that our new president has made it very clear that he intends to directly control how the media, including social media, reports on his administration.

I guess we’ll find out.

Addendum: Comments on this post are now well over 200. When that happens, if you want to see all of the comments, including those nested under other comments, then you have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “load more.” You may have to do this several times. // Jim

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quacks Like A Duck


When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
  --Maya Angelou



I asked social media a question.

If you think Trump and Clinton are the same, ask yourself this: would you honestly be this afraid for the future if Clinton had won?


Would you have been this afraid if Clinton had won?

Would you?


It’s a simple question. But hard to answer, because you have to be honest with yourself.

Now by implication that question was addressed to Third Party voters, specifically those who’ve been telling me for the last year how Republicans and Democrats are really no different despite radically divergent platforms and how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are essentially identical in evil.

And so I wondered.

Since the election of Trump, I wondered if those same people who I now see losing their shit in a spectacular fashion would be equally as fearful for the future if Clinton had won instead.

The response from the target audience was about what I expected.


Yes we would!

Liberal Jill Stein supporters were certain Clinton would start World War III on her first day in office and Conservative Gary Johnson supporters were convinced Clinton was a corrupt lying dyke and possibly a serial murderer. So yes, went the general consensus, they would have been even more afraid for the future if Clinton had won instead of Trump.

I thought I could maybe get some mileage out of that. An essay. A couple of in-depth Facebook posts, perhaps. Maybe an article for a media column. But there’s really nothing interesting there. Lets see, frightened people who are always frightened for the future are still frightened for the future and would be no matter who was running things? Not exactly a captivating or surprising narrative.

No, instead it was the responses from conservative Trump supporters I found most interesting.

A day after Trump’s election I wrote:

The conservative extremists who will soon control those bodies will not hesitate to force their ideology upon the country. And they will do so without restraint. They’re already gleefully crowing about it and they can’t wait to get their revenge for all the wrongs they believe they have suffered.

It doesn’t take any great clairvoyance to see what’s coming. 

Today every white supremacist, every religious lunatic, every raging gun nut and beer-bellied militiaman, every flag-humping jingoist is cheering.

They have indeed, at last, taken their country back.

In that essay, Bug Hunt, I outlined the Left’s worst fears for a Trump presidency: loss of civil rights, persecution of LGBTQ people, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, isolationism, war, and fascism. 

Now, I admit I was purposely engaged in a bit of worst case hyperbole as a lede.


Or was I? 


The responses from Trump supporters and conservatives were about what I expected:

- Really? I mean come on. You all are some kind of crazy […] Not all conservatives are racist, homophobic, islamiphobic [sic] monsters. This is offensive people […] Get over yourselves and quit acting like conservatives are about to declare war on you all or something.

- As a conservative with a deep desire for unity, I wanted to share some thoughts […] the reason why I voted the way I did is because of our national security, healthcare turmoil, and sad economic plight. Terrorism is real. I don't know why liberals ignore this. I don't want my African-American, Hispanic, LGBT brother/sister/neighbor (you name it) get thrown off a building because of their sexual orientation or color of their skin. That's happening. I don't want that to happen here in the USA […] I really don't want anyone to die. I really have a true question - do liberals really not worry about this stuff?

- The first half of your post is fear-mongering bullshit, Hillary talking points, and voters know it. If Trump was really going to build a wall, then throw all the Mexicans over it, how did he manage to get nearly 30% of the Latino vote? Your precious lesbian Muslims can relax. He's not rolling back anything.

- Your fears are just blind speculation. Get a grip!

- You are reaping what you sowed. Nothing more. If you are afraid, its because you know you earned it.

- [Y]ou need to drop the ignorant attitude of the liberals that anyone who does not agree with you is 'gun loving, bible toting, pick up driving red neck'. Or in more plain speech: Racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBT.

- Try and protect your Muslim, gay, black, etc friends, from whom?

Really? Come on, Jim! You’re all crazy. We’re not racists. We’re not homophobes. We’re not afraid of Muslims. We’re not going to herd people into camps. We’re not going to build a wall. We’re not gun-toting bible-thumping rednecks! There’s no need to be afraid. We love all Americans. Sure. Between the hundreds of comments here on Stonekettle Station and the associated thousands on social media and via email, conservatives informed me that the fears outlined in Bug Hunt were unwarranted and undeserved.

Trump, they said, will make a deal, he’ll find the middle ground, he’ll unite the country.

And I’d like to believe that.

I would. Honestly. I’d like to believe that Trump’s rhetoric to date was just the kind of things people say during a particularly nasty campaign and now that he’s won he’ll do as Republicans promised and pivot to a more presidential demeanor.

I really would like to believe that. 

I’d love to go the next four years without using or seeing the word “Nazi” or “fascist” associated with the US government even if I don’t agree with how they might be running the country. I honestly would.

But … we’re still waiting for that pivot.

The president elect has spent the last 24 hours raging on Twitter like a snotty 14-year-old who didn’t get picked for the cheerleading squad. Given the chance to go high, Trump has gone low every single time.

Every. Single. Time.


And nowhere is this more apparent than in the people Donald Trump is now selecting for his administration.


If you think the fears outlined in Bug Hunt were unwarranted, you have only to look at the future Trump administration.

Mike Pence. Rudy Giuliani. Mike Huckabee. Reince Priebus. Steven Bannon. Tom Cotton. Mike Flynn. Jeff Sessions. Mike Pompeo. And a host of conservative cronies dating all the way back to Reagan.

Around the edges are Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and White Nationalists.

Hell, Trump is openly listening to Alex Jones.

Conspiracy theorists, the wretched refuse of failed politics, religious nuts, cashiered generals, Washington insiders, and the oily gray foamy fringe of congress. You’d be hard pressed to assemble a more homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, jingoistic group of science denying fanatical nationalists if you tried. We’re on our way back to being a nation of torture, rendition, and warrantless wiretaps. Out in the streets the racists are enthusiastically chanting hate and intolerance. Swastikas and anti-Semitic  slogans are being painted on homes and businesses. Politicians and law enforcement are talking unabashedly about Internment camps and Muslim registries and rounding up immigrants.  A Washington State lawmaker is right now promoting legislation that would charge political and environmental protestors with “economic terrorism” – and if you don’t understand why designating US citizens as terrorists in post-911 America is goddamned chilling, then you haven’t been paying attention these last 15 years.

I mean, if you’re not a racist, if you’re not a homophobe, if you’re not an anti-Semite and an Islamophobe, if you’re not a misogynist, then what in the hell are you doing standing with these people?

And it’s not like the new administration is taking action to stop this trend.

Two days ago, Vice President Elect Mike Pence was booed at a Broadway presentation of Hamilton.

The cast of that show, many people of color, LGBT, admonished the crowd to stop. Then they politely and respectfully addressed their fears of the coming Trump Administration directly to Pence at the end of the show.

Mike Pence could have addressed the audience then.

Right then.

Sincere or not, the new Vice President of the United States of America could have assured the nation, those most afraid right now, that the new administration would be a government for all Americans. He could have assured us that this president would work to protect the rights of all citizens, all people, black and white, gay and straight, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist. All of us.

He could have turned that moment into a triumph of reconciliation.

Oh yes, he could have.

Pence is an accomplished politician. A man comfortable in front of crowds. A man used to speaking on matters of state and government. He could have taken that opportunity to reassure the nation – even if he didn’t mean it the same way you and I might.

But he didn’t.

He didn’t because he doesn’t believe it.

Because he knows those fears are justified, because he himself is an architect of that fear. 

The new president himself could have taken this opportunity to do the same, to demonstrate that he is a leader for all people and not just the racists and bigots and the haters right now cheering his name.

Instead Trump took to social media and attacked those who spoke up.

And that tells you everything you need to know.


The world has been here before.


The lessons of history are clear.

America, indeed the world, has every reason to fear and absolutely no reason not to.

If you’re not speaking up

If you’re not speaking out

If you’re not standing against this madness

Then you are a goddamned fool.


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me.
-- Martin Niemöller

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

I just don’t have the time or the energy today to crank out another essay.  As such, I’m going to recycle last year’s post and go take a nap. Enjoy your day // JW


The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked [the author] I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

Yesterday, I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

Now, it doesn’t matter which author or which novel or exactly where the conversation took place – though I’m certain a number of folks reading this can figure it out in short order.  The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military. 

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies. I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass in his name, while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of its author whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.

And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.

That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are.  

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war. But it must be done in a certain way. You see, it’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to? To write of those who find a home in the military? That is a sin. Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met yesterday … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military. And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day. 

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.

Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.

Perhaps we are. Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the bailout bill, the election, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards. Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform - all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of cheap beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none. And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram. They won't talk about honoring veterans, they areveterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Alaska. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, the mills and mines and rigs are still running. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by livingwithout having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security, without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. 

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war. It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it. We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can, and should, strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more. Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. Me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be a better citizen.  

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them. For my comrades in arms, for those I served beside, I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.


Yesterday I met a man who despised me.


But you know what? That, that right there, is what we were doing in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

Yesterday I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.