Monday, June 30, 2014

Conspiracy Theorists are NOT Conspiracy Realists. Uh, sorry guys. Mostly guys, right?

Conspiracy abounds now a days. It's really gotten ridiculous. It used to be just a funny quirk to point out ridiculous theories, but it's grown into a blown out cancer in America. It's become an obsessive past time for some, an addiction, for others, a money making machine for media like Fox News (seriously, check out that link to the Rolling Stone magazine).

There has always been the "Chicken Little's" of the world and there will always be those insecure few who are alarmists. Alarmism is excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat e.g. the increases in deaths from infectious disease. The alarmist prefers intimidation and coercion to reasoned debate, and is often motivated by the desire to bring themselves to the forefront of discussion.

So you will see many of these types, on-line especially, spouting typically sloppy commentary about any who disbelieve them as being "sheeple", in trying to be badly (sadly) humorous and offhandedly offensive to any who don't follow their illogical assumptions. In reality, "sheeple" by definition are these individuals in a disingenuous to intimidate others into not disagreeing with them. They twist reality by giving themselves names like "Conspiracy Realists", "Truthers". It's like those against women's rights who call themselves "Pro Lifers", another disingenuous way to twist reality. "Birthers", who believe Pres. Obama is not an American citizen, fall into this category.

They like to give explanation to things that either have none, or put a twist on events that are found to possibly have an alternate explanation. Not infrequently, the continue to spout their alternate explanations that have repeatedly been shown to be false, disproved with science, if not the simple facts. These alarmists will refute logical counters with more conjecture, "grey" or pseudo science, or simply say they refuse to believe.

Time Magazine has a rather incomplete, "Complete List of Conspiracy Theories". These are at least a list of some of the major ones that have been going around for years. Separating Fact from Fiction:

Look, it's not like I don't want to believe in certain things, or that I'm offended by the "Truth". I don't have a problem with how science changes it's mind from time to time. As we learn more facts, we update our understanding of things. But it's based upon a foundation of fact, not conjecture and that makes a huge difference. But CTs (conspiracy theorists) point to this fundemental principle of science, to be the most correct it can be, at all times, and claim that makes it fallacious. It may not be perfect, but it's far more perfect than what the CTs do.

My life has been all about the Truth (no quotes). I'm not like many CTs who are all about the "Truth" which is tied to their ego and not infrequently, low self esteem and\or fear or a perceived lack of control over their life. 

But information has to be properly vetted. It has to be put in perspective and not just abused as it usually is by amateurs and even now a days, professionals with a bully pulpit (Fox News usually but others too). 

The kind of nonsense CTs are pushing. If you want
to be taken seriously, you have to use vetted information
A vacuum of data leads CTs to judgments. Agendas lead them to judgments. Picking on certain parties over others does the same. For instance a Repub. does something, no noise. A Democrat does the same thing next election, oh my god the sky is falling.

To turn the tables on CTs: This just in... conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job are misdirecting. They are the insiders who did the job. How else could they possibly know. Think about it....

Well, could be, right? Following CT theory anyway....

Poor Erin, but then when you're in the spotlight....
Believing in pseudo science, fads, fallacious trends, fallacious facts, it goes on and on. Twisting true data into absurd things. Taking data that can point two ways and pointing the more absurd way when human nature dictates it wouldn't happen, so much needs to be considered and even when you do find something terrible, shit happens and it frequently isn't a conspiracy just government doing it's job with no ill intent, just ill conclusions or results.
This is not to say however that most of the crazies running around
that we hear of have anything whatsoever to do with this statement
Relax. The world isn't ending. Yes bad things happen. But try putting a positive spin on things when it does more good than harm. Because then when you really DO find something juicy and it makes your mouth salivate onto your keyboard, NO ONE IS GOING TO BELIEVE YOU!

Conspiracy Theorist (from the Urban Dictionary):

1) Someone with a very open mind... it just happens that they are too open for their own good. 

2) A swell way to become an attention whore. 

3) A perfect way to waste away years of your life to find no reliable evidence what-so-ever.

Example: A classic 9/11 conspiracy-

Fold a $20 bill in half, then fold one half up perpendicular to the other half, do the same thing with the other half, *BING*
You found the Pentagon burning down!
Now flip it, you see the twin towers ablazing (which is disturbingly similar though...)
Since the $20 bill's design was conceived in 1928 (over 4 decades when the towers were built), that's nothing more but a coincidence.

>PS, Conspiracy Theorist, haha.
[end Urban Dictionary quote]

I think this is important to mention. It's not just nuts out there and having no consequences. It was sad yesterday, seeing a doctor reporting on TV about how disease rates in a certain group in America are seeing an increase in preventable diseases through vaccinations. The same group who most adamantly disbelieves and has been avoiding, vaccinations for some time now. Thanks in part to celebrities and misinformation that is going around.

The most obvious conclusion on how to fix this issue because of people believing in conspiracies about vaccinations? It may just be to let them keep going on until the disease rates hit a point that even they can't deny it any longer. It's just sad though. And, preventable.

"Conspiracy theory" from Rational Wiki:

“”Modern political religions may reject Christianity, but they cannot do without demonology. The Jacobins, the Bolsheviks and the Nazis all believed in vast conspiracies against them, as do radical Islamists today. It is never the flaws of human nature that stand in the way of Utopia. It is the workings of evil forces.
—John Gray, political philosopher

“”There’s a similar kind of logic behind all [conspiracy theorist] groups, I think ... They don’t undertake to prove that their view is true [so much as to] find flaws in what the other side is saying.
—Ted Goertzel, sociology professor

"A conspiracy theory originally meant the "theory" that an event or phenomenon was the result of conspiracy between interested parties; however, from the mid-1960s onward, it is often used to denote ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish or irrational theories. The problem is this results in possibly-rational conspiracy theories getting lost in the midst of the noise of newsworthy but disingenuous ideas such as New World Order or the Moon landing hoax."

Here's something interesting to consider, turning the tables on the CT's. The Soviets invented disinformation. MI6 and MI5 learned it from the KGB. We learned it from the UK through the ABC (America, Britain, Canada) coalition during WWII which was a kind of intel service intel sharing group while it was illegal to have, which could have brought America into the war too early at a time we didn't want to be in the war.

he Soviets tried to set up things within the US (this is true), to bring capitalism down. They were successful in some ways and some of their efforts worked.

Was it what we are now seeing in so many conspiracy theories abounding?

Are Conspiracy Theorists merely dupes and pawns of a now defunct and dead Soviet communist regime? Is it something the KGB's successors in the FSB (both something Putin grew up in) are still pushing and good God, why in the world wouldn't they be?

What's better in their twisted Soviet minds (when they still existed) than to have started a cancer in America that would survive beyond them like a cockroach of a concept that could survive even global thermo nuclear war?

Disinformation: False information that is released to the public in order to mislead people into believing things that are not true.

Think about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Futuristics - 1981 to Today

Years ago in 1981, I took a college class at Ft. Steilacoom Community College (now Pierce College) in Washington state called, Futuristics.

I have no real commentary here on Futuristics or Futurism. I merely present this to you in the hope that it spawns curiosity and a consideration of our need to pay attention to the future. It may be more fun to live your life in a haphazard fashion of constant discovery and challenge, but in an overall consideration it is much better to more fully comprehend what we need to do before it happens.

Even for those who feel they have and do plan their lives out, they too are not doing all they easily could be. There surely are the outliers, but mostly we need to study the concept of Futurism in order to properly consider is ramifications. I've heard people before say they hate science fiction. That is typically your action adventure, robots and technology type sci fi.

I would suggest seeking out good sci fi and speculative fiction because in that we explore how the future, technology and possibilities will affect us. Typically and traditionally, games and sci fi are two of our best formats to test and experience our future possibilities. On top of what they propose, they can also use entertainment and humor, as well as fear and anxiety, properly place, to make a good and fair point of, what we should consider now, what we need to be concerned about and in some cases, what we need to concern ourselves with less.

It can also offer us alternate ways to think, as well as new perspectives, new anxieties, and new hopes.

The following is from my notes taken in that class. I offer it here not as a way to offer something new so much as to offer something that may be new to you, or may lead to further investigation if you find it interesting. Some of this information is dated now. The reference to Marilyn Ferguson's book has now had a chance for some consideration and critique.

Futuristics is 1. Systematic, 2. Imagining, creating, envisioning.

It is the study of past events and present problems to project possible, sane futures, in the most scientific and artful way possible\imaginable.

Components of Futuristics

  1. 1.       Systematic study of the future.
  2. 2.       Futurists propose a range of possible possibilities.
  3. 3.       Help groups find or create alternative futures.
  4. 4.       Determine which variables will predict future.
  5. 5.       Stimulate future creations or alternatives.
  6. 6.       Application of scientific method to understand the future.
  7. 7.       Consider Futuristics as an art rather than science.
  8. 8.       Emphasis is on managing the future and preparing for it.

Future Studies – Futuristics (or Futurology)

  •        An attempt to examine systematically the factors that can influence the future, and then project possible futures based on the interaction of the factors.
  •       Also, involves imagining and exploring desirable futures in hopes of discovering new ideas, new alternatives and new goals.


  1. 1.   Future is knowable.
  2. 2.   Knowledge of the future is beneficial.
  3. 3.   Future is influenced by present conditions.
  4. 4.   Humans by nature have hope for the future.
  5. 5.   People can and should shape the future wisely.
  6. 6.  Trend is not destiny.
  7. 7.  There are many right answers.
  8. 8.  We have the most leverage (impact) in the future.
  9. 9.  The study of alternate futures is a mind flexing experience.
  10.        We can no longer afford to learn inductively from experience.
Anomie – Lack of purpose, identity or ethical values in a person or in a society; disorganization, rootlessness.

Marilyn Ferguson – “The Aquarian Conspiracy

Basically our society is shifting to whole brain thinking.
Aquarian – New beginning, mind-fresh approach. M.F. started brain\mind bulletin.
Conspiracy – To breathe together; intimate, joining.

Take scientific thought along with common experience and add (1) accelerated learning (2) expanded awareness (3) powers of visualization (4) capacity to remember memories and (5) shift from left to right brain thinking.

  1. 1.       Holistic Medicine – Biofeedback
a.       Electromyography
b.      EEG (brain waves)
c.       Fingertip skin temperature

  1. 2.       Education
a.       Use one side of brain to train the other.
b.      Learning IS a process of education.

  1. 3.       Individual transformation can be achieved by:
a.       Entry
b.      LSD
                                       i.      Possible to view things in a different way
c.       Exploration
                                      i.      Try on new paradigm
d.      Integration
                                      i.      New Paradigm taken on
e.      Conspiracy
                                      i.      Join others with similar beliefs

Willis W. Harmon (electrical engineer)

  1. 1.       Incomplete Guide to the Future

a. The Dilemmas
   i. Growth
       1. Population
       2. Economic
   ii. Work Roles
       1. Unemployment
       2. Meaningful job
   iii. Distribution
   iv. Control
       1. Technical Assessment

  1. 2.       Any solution to one problem aggravates another.


  1. 1.       Trend Extrapolation

a.       Study past variables to see into the future
                                                               i.      This is the main tool used

  1. 2.       Scenario Writing
a.       Used in military, government, Sci Fi, etc.

  1. 3.       Cross Impact Matrix
a.       Principle of continuity.

  1. 4.       Delphi technique
a.       Many independent experts speculate
b.      Speculations compiled

Paradigm Shift

  1. 1.       Paradigm

a.       A tentative "ideational" structure used as a testing device to interpret reality.
b.      A way of perceiving, thinking, valuing and doing associated with a particular vision of reality.
c.       Model

  1. 2.       Paradigm Shift
a.       Radical shift in the way of perceiving, thinking, valuing and doing associated with a particular vision of reality.

  1. 3.       Models
a.       Made up of concepts
b.      Concepts
                                      i.      Pattern of thoughts developed by existing norms and values and structures.

Exponential Growth

  1. 1.       Rapid acceleration of growth in a given situation.
  2. 2.       Growth that occurs at a percentage rate.

Trend Extrapolation

  1. 1.       Projecting, extending or expanding beyond what can be known.
  2. 2.       Extraction of previous figures of trend into a possible future.


  1. 1.       Creation of rational thought designed as an aid in interpreting reality.

a.       To simplify and organize and categorize info.

  1. 2.       Good model will help you to predict and measure.
  2. 3.       When model is facilitated – some data is covered up.
  3. 4.       Therefore models can be “allusionating” and deceptive.
a.       You can eventually lose some objectivity.

Wuli – Patterns of organic energy

Transformation of Paradigm Shifts

  1. 1.       Thomas Kuhn
a.       Changes in science don’t occur on a gradual basis.

So, those are my notes from college, 1981.


What's going on today? First you can check out Wikipedia. If you want to know, check up on some of today's Futurists like:

This is a fascinating area and like good science and speculative fiction, it helps us understand new scenarios of where we are headed. How can that ever be a bad thing. Awareness is paramount to our being prepared for our future. Even more so now a days.

Give it some thought. Check it out!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour - Part Three

You've arrived at the third round for the Writing Process Blog Tour!

Thank You to Lily for passing people along from her blog! Loved that one answer of hers... writing as, "Free Therapy". I think that's a very good reason for becoming a writer!

Welcome. I'm JZ Murdock, I'll be your host for this session....

As a blog about writing, there are really two sides to this thing. Are you a reader looking to understand a writer's perspective?

Or are you a writer (or want to be a writer), looking for a writer's perspective? I'll try to cover both, just skip what isn't intriguing you. Okay?

What am I working on?
The almost final cover version of the new release
My editor and I just finished a re-edit of my book, Death of Heaven. It had previously received good reviews before but I suspect (and hope) they will be even better now. Much thanks to my editor, Ilene Giambastiani and her husband Kurt, who is an excellent writer in his own stead. 

You'll be hearing more from him shortly.

I also write screenplays and currently have two new in process. One is a true crime story about a murder I knew of years ago when I had helped someone evade organized crime who she had said, committed the crime (news articles from that time indicate it was a random killing).

The other is a sequel to one of my current screenplays titled, Gray and Lover - The Hearth Tales Incident. It's about two Steampunk demon hunters, sent to protect a famous horror writer. The writer's friend from his military days in Afghanistan, named Saleel, is also briefly in Death of Heaven. The end of the screenplay neatly dovetails into the sequel to the book. Yes, I'm writing a sequel to an as yet unsold screenplay. But I find that writing in multiple disciplines helps each one of them in various ways.

Then there are always the inevitable short stories and mini-stories like I've started writing on Wattpad.

What is my background?

I grew up reading sci fi, horror and science fact. Before that I loved watching old sci fi films on TV and my favorite show, the original, Twilight Zone.

My first ever written short story was a sci fi story I wrote in tenth grade. My next full story came more than a decade later at university and was horror ("Andrew", is now a novella at the end of my collection of short stories, "Anthology of Evil").

My first sold short story was a piece of social horror titled, In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear, also in Anthology of Evil, and that book opens with that story. We are starting the re-editing of that book with Andrewbecause it is the prequel and basis for my book, Death of Heaven.

Then I want to do, In Memory... and release it as a stand alone ebook because next year will be it's fifteenth anniversary since it was first published. Some of the other short stories in that book have already been released as short story ebooks and a few even as audiobooks.

In Memory... came to be when friends of mine challenged me when I said I could make any story workable. I was teasing them but they put me to task by saying that I couldn't write a believable story about a man who turned himself into a computer chip. In the end, I won the dare with that short story (as they had judged it) and eventually it was the first short story I ever sold.

The title of that story was an homage to Isaac Asimov (his first autobiography was, "In Memory, Yet Green". If you're a fan of traditional sci fi in its Golden Age, you really need to read that for a glimpse into the history of many of the old, great sci fi writers. In that book, Isaac had said that many of these great sci fi writers started out as Technical Writers during WWII.

Isaac thought that their need for attention to detail, working on cutting edge technologies in some cases (at the time) and all the practice they got finishing projects on deadline, as well as in needing to write and finish large projects, all made it easier for them to eventually become published as sci fi writers. 

So, I got a job as a Tech Writer too; later to become a Senior Tech Writer. I was working in Information and Internet Technologies (IT work). I finally got out of it because it just wasn't that much fun and really, I just wanted to write fiction, anyway. Besides, people found their team Tech Writer to be annoying as they were always trying to drag information out of team members who were just trying to get their work done. On Time.

I just wanted to write their work up as was a required part of the process; but I didn't want to be an annoyance to people. So eventually, I moved into other areas of IT work. I hope one day to make enough to support myself fully upon my writings. For now, I'm lucky to have the situation I do have. Lucky, though I have worked hard for years to be in a situation such as this, where I can work from home and have time to write in my off hours. You too can find your favored situation in your own life, but it takes hard work and is not without difficulties.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That's a hard thing to ask of me. I'd consider my genres to be horror and sci fi, speculative fiction in general. Though I write a lot of non-fiction, too. Mostly on my blog here, and elsewhere (Facebook, Wattpad, etc.).

I wasn't sure what to say on this so I asked my editor, Ilene what she thought:

"I think your work differs within your genre in that it is deeply psychological in it's heart.  Certainly, there is plenty of gore to go around, but the gore tends to serve the psychological suspense in the story, rather than be an end in itself. Your work is also very engaging to the reader--meaning that I get lost in it. You weave very wonderful stories, with eroticism, suspense, and just plain horror! Yay!"

Well, thanks Ilene! There's more on my page for Death of Heaven and my web site at

According to author Michael Brooks as he puts it in having reviewed, Death of Heaven:\

"[JZ Murdock] demonstrates a lovely turn of phrase and some of the writing is almost poetic in its beauty."

High praise which I will always endeavor to live up to. Thanks Michael!
Why do I write what I write?

Again, I agree with Lily's answer, "Free Therapy." Honestly, I got my degree in Psychology for free therapy. After I got out of the military, I thought I could use some therapy and so I figured that getting a degree in Psych might just be a good way to go about it. Plus I wanted to learn true characterization, not through a literary degree. I think it worked out well on both accounts. 

I received some good ideas for stories in my university Abnormal Psych classes. Gumdrop City was one, a true crime but rather unbelievable story that I heard in class one day. Sarah is another one. One day after Abnormal Psych, a girl stopped me in the stairs on the way to my next class and told me about her grandmother's experiences with Alzheimer's. Of course, I fictionalized them both but GC is much closer to what actually happened. Sarah is more of a Twilight Zone tale.

To answer why I write what I do, it's when I have a story I inside that wants, needs to get out. It's like seeing a puzzle, one that you know you can solve and just have to work on. It's just very rewarding that I can share those with others; others who seem to enjoy reading them.

How does my writing process work?

I don't really have to brainstorm ideas. They come to me in various ways. Taking in fresh information is always helpful and sparks new ideas, constantly. I like to stay abreast of cutting edge technologies and consider where they could take us. What fresh nightmare could they visit upon us at some unforeseen time?

I get a kernel of an idea in my mind, it starts to grow and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Then I start writing it down. Write and re-write till it's polished.

There is one writing method I suspect some people don't use: Massaging your text. It's a term familiar (or should be) to all Tech Writers. In all the re-writing, sometimes things get messy. Maybe all the time. So once in a while you have to start at the top and read down to the end, correcting as you go. It's the only way to be sure you have everything connecting properly and in its right place. 

Sometimes I will have a base outline set up and stick to that, allowing changes as I go and as are necessary for the overall story. But more frequently I prefer to go on an adventure through discovery writing. I get the general idea or just a title; a place to start or sometimes, a place to finish. Then I just start writing. Frequently my beginning will turn into the middle and I will back fill. Or I will back up from the end and try to find the beginning, then flesh it all out. I try to write it all down and then edit, and re-edit, rewriting over and over until it's done.

I am constantly writing ideas down for later. Otherwise, no matter how great it is, it can vanish. Don't listen to people who say (or your mind telling you) that if it's such a great idea, you won't be able to forget it. You can forget, anything. Write it down, with as much detail as possible to spark your mind, to get you back to where you were when it seemed like a brilliant idea.

I also write down the title of the film or show I'm watching in my notes (or song, or whatever sparked the original thought), then store it on my hard drive under novels, or short stories, in a folder called Ideas, or Titles. Then later I have a lot of ideas to write out, or get more ideas from. It's been very valuable.

I never through away anything, idea-wise.

Getting a reader, someone to read my writings, to catch anything I missed, is a must. But for years I never had anyone to read it by myself. I'd put it away for a few days or a week (months or years sometimes) and then re-read it anew, as a fresh read. It can then become painfully clear where the messes are that need to be cleaned up.

As you may have noticed at the beginning, I have been creating a Universe in my writings with crisscrossing interrelated characters and timelines in my stories, novels or screenplays. Why? Because I always loved it when other author's did that. I just accidentally fell into doing it myself. But once I realized what I was doing, I kind of got into the idea and have been consciously trying to build on it.

Like one of my new short stories for an anthology of writers called, the Giant Tales series of books. For World of Pirates, I wrote a story called, Breaking on Cave Island, which became a prequel to a character I wrote in a bizarre story called, Poor Lord Ritchie's Answer to a Question He Knever Knew, contained in Anthology of Evil. That was a story actor Rutger Hauer chose as a winning story back in a 2004 contest he put on. 

To sum up, my writing process is just like that of most writers: write, finish, re-write, re-write, re-write, massage, till it feels solid and truly is finished. Then if you can, have someone read it (or put it away and read it again later). Tweak it some more and then, get it published; and that, is an entirely different blog.

What exactly is the key to my writing process and style, then? Same as yours would be. It's all about what one's "voice" is, as it has developed through the art and practice of writing. My voice comes from what I've read before and all through my life; what I've learned about the mechanics of writing and how I enjoy applying them, correctly or incorrectly; how I see the world in general and at times in specific; and in the end, how it all sounds to myself when I read back what I have written; does it then please me?

That's it, really. That and lots of practice (writing is rewriting) tied to how an audience of readers responds to my writings (or how I expect they will) along with my consideration of how I wanted them to respond and how I then react to that in my writings. Still, in the end it's really what's pleasing to me.

Hopefully something useful came out of these last few minutes. Thanks for stopping by and I wish you all the best! May you always find new and fascinating stories to read. 

The next blogger up is for next Monday's (June 23, 2014) Writing Process Blog TourHe is author of one of my favorite stories of all time, a revisionist's history called the Fallen Cloud series, as well as other very enjoyable books and stories.

I now turn the Blog reigns over to friend and fellow author, Kurt Giambastiani,


Monday, June 9, 2014

Bigger isn't always better. Better, is better. Always.

And now, a short rant on the old (Hollywood version of the old) adage, and a question:

"Bigger is always better!"

Is it?

No, I don't think is is.

Do you think bigger is always better? Want more then? Okay but, be careful what you ask for.

As a writer, a viewer and, a reader, I am so sick of this "bigger is better" mentality that is so Hollywood and somewhat the book publishing industry. Though granted, Hollywood may very well be the worst proponent of that banal mentality.

Case in point, volcano movies. I've never ever seen a good volcano film. One of my first was one I was thinking about just the other day. It was at the premiere of a film at the Cinerama in Seattle in 1969. They had a special showing for regional theater managers and their families and my step father was an Assistant Manager at a local drive in theater, so we got to go. The theater was amazing! The film, not so much. Well, it was amazing, but not in the way the theater was.

They showed, "Krakatoa, East of Java" with one of my favorite actors, Maximilian Schell and, I hated it. The special effects did not play well in 70MM widescreen, to say the least.

Here's some advice for filmmakers, don't make films about volcanoes.

In writing screenplays, you get that mindset from people all the time.

"Can't we add in a connection between the protagonist any other thing that will make this bigger, increase scope, increase the effect, make it, "better"? Can't we add in an explosion or six? Guns? There's no guns, how about guns?"

And so it goes. More, bigger, Bettererness! Must have Betternesses!

I see it most especially on TV lately. Do we really always need an A and B line in the story? Okay, maybe so (thanks MTV?), but do they have to be so intimately tied together so that even a moron can see it? Even if you want them to be similar, parallel story lines, can't we make them (see I'm working with you here, I said, "more"), more similar and less exacting? I mean, when you have the A line story going on about divorce, do we really have to have the B line story be about the protagonist's child breaking up with his girlfriend (or boyfriend if he's gay)? It's BORING!

Can't instead, we have the B line be about loss in a clever way, or some other elements of divorce so that we're not merely rehashing the A line story in B? Maybe something new, some unusually ignored elements of divorce? I'm really sick to death of it. Because I know that once I see the A line in a show, I'll merely be watching the same damn thing in the B line, even if it's "different". Give me something more if you want, but come on, I can handle it; make it smarter not "bigger and better" in how you usually perceive it. I bet most of America can, in fact, get it.

Challenge me on the B line, don't bore me with it just wanting to get back to the A line. That's a pathetic technique. Don't make the B line mere filler. Make it exploratory, push the boundaries, make me think, at least, a little. Let me veg out on the more obtuse A line, but make the B line a bit more obscure so that just maybe AFTER the show, I'll reflect on it and go, "Oh, I get it now! Nice work!"

Bigger is not always better.

It's like with what happened to the James Bond franchise. It is perhaps the ultimate example of that. "There was an explosion in the last film. We have to do better. Put in two explosions in this next film." And there it began to the point of utter lunacy. When did Bond get better again? When they pulled back, added tension back in. Brought the human back to the story line which really was what the books were all about that made them popular in the first place.

Yes, films are different than books. But better is the same. Sure explosions work better in a visual than a conceptual format (film over books). But you have to use it sparingly or you become a parody of yourself. Which, eventually, Bond films achieved, self parody (Roger Moore became a prime example of in his later Bond films. He was incredible as The Saint on TV. Though Ian Fleming wanted him as Bond in the films and not "that brute", Sean Connery (who was awesome by the way and Ian did eventually come around on that one). But Moore was not Bond, he was, The Saint. That is what he excelled at, not Bond.

But that's beside the point. The point int he Moore Bond films was they took it to absurd levels (Jaws as a case in point), because they didn't know how to go bigger and better anymore. I will give Moore points for one thing. At a time post 60s when things like MI6 (Bond's agency in the UK) and the CIA in America and the military in general (and government) had falled into disfavor with the post 60s rebellious kids who had now grown up,

Moore allowed Bond to limp along into a new age, setting the stage for a new actor to take over and take it to more serious and at times, melodramatic levels. But then, it did get better. Timothy Dalton took over and I thought did a wonderful job. It wasn't his fault the screenplays weren't that good. But he got us back on the right track with the right idea acting wise, anyway.

Where this annoys me most (bigger is better) is in my own writing. That is, in how I'm "supposed" to write if I want to sell; or in how some respond to a story I might write, or want to write. You get replies like, "it needs to be more "Hollywood" (to paraphrase), or "A and B lines have to be more the same", or "Punch it some up more with more banal boringness." Yeah, I'm being ridiculous, for a reason.

What really is better, is not just what's bigger, what's more, tossing off more explosions, more connectedness. Sometimes more is in the disconnect, the disparity, the unexpected, where the awesomeness lay.

Yes, I agree, better is, well... better. But bigger isn't, not necessarily and I'd argue, not usually.

That's not to say a story I wrote is boring to begin with. Or that at times perhaps, I could conform a bit more to some standard protocols. But aren't we tired of remakes, sequels, formula? I am and I'm doing my best to avoid that, to break that plastic wrap ceiling and get something out there that is fresh, different, unique in some ways and not the same pablum we have had force fed to us again and again and again and again and... well, you get the idea. You do, right?

That is why I now say, seemingly more and more all too often:

Bigger isn't always better. Better, is better. Always.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Security State? Edward Snowden's Burn Notice Interview with MSNBC

I do not know enough (and neither do you) of Edward Snowden's background to feel 100% on this but from my understanding of covert ops, and of many of the things he was talking about in last Friday's MSNBC interview with him, I saw nothing that felt patently incorrect.

However, I'm going to more or less blow off concerns about him because his situation has distracted us from reality and what is actually important. There will be more of his type down the road, that is now the nature of the beast that is modern intel acquisition. We'd  better get our act together. If nothing else Snowden has pointed out some major issues, including not just what our intelligence people are doing but also a vast orientation in our government toward cheaper and quantifiable, being better than more expensive and qualitative (traditional spycraft) intel.

Get past how you may think he looks like a snotty twerp who turned on his pledge to secrecy, our government and America. Get past that. Listen to what he says, objectively. Then realize that you probably don't know enough to judge him merely by his perceived actions, his demeanor and situation. Look beyond that because much of what he is saying overall, is important to us as civilian citizens of the United States of America.

Snowden knows that when he left and took those docs, when he spoke to journalists. He contacted Glenn Greewald of The Guardian (see his book on this, No Place To Hide - Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State"), via a rather cryptic email requesting him to install encryption software for his email. But Greenwald blew him off because so many times this kind of thing turns out to be nothing. Considering he is one of the busiest journalists in the world, he gets a lot of that type of thing.

Snowden then contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in Germany. She wasn't sure about all this either so she contacted, but she had encryption so Snowden went forward with her. But she wasn't so sure about this shady character either, so she contacted journalist Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. She met him at a Greenwhich Village restaurant in New York City. When they got there, they moved to elsewhere. Better safe than sorry.

Poitras asked Gellman to vet Snowden and he agreed. Snowden called Gellman, "Brass Banner" and himself, "Verax" which means "Truth Teller" in Latin. In the end, Snowden requested a meet in Hong Kong. but Gellman decided against going after Snowden said their lives may be in danger from American covert agencies. So odd as life can be sometimes, Gellman suggested Greenwald instead who took over for him and flew to Hong Kong with Poitras to meet Snowden.

In doing all this, Snowden burned himself, his career, and he will never work in intelligence again. Perhaps he can find a teaching job somewhere. I just hope it's for an American school and not a foreign one, especially not for one of our enemies (and I use that term lightly and include North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China, among others). Let's not force him into that, because we are now forcing him into a Zugzwang set of moves and if we're not, we're surely trying ("We" being our government who speaks for us).

That being said, do you know what "burn notices" are in the intelligence field? Wikipedia: "burn notice is an official statement issued by an intelligence agency to other agencies. It states that an asset or intelligence source is unreliable for one or more reasons, often fabrication. This is essentially a directive for the recipient to disregard or "burn" all information derived from that individual or group." 

At times "burning" someone includes discrediting them, or worse, as in the TV show mentioned below. Sometimes, far worse, which are few and far between. Consider that for a moment, then reflect on our government saying what Snowden claims as proof, is non-existent, that he is a "low level analyst". Is he? He claims not and we may never know for sure.

There was recently a TV show called, "Burn Notice" that ran for seven seasons. At first it was quite good, even the "Farm", the CIA training facility used episodes to show to it's trainees. Later and especially in its last season, it had gone downhill pretty badly. They probably should have ended at season five.

But that was entertainment. This, is reality.

They keep saying Snowden should return to "face the music" (for more on this type of thing see Daniel Ellsberg's comments, "Pentagon Papers Whistleblower: Snowden Won't Get a Fair Trial"), a rather stupid thing to even ask and a shallow and obvious attempt to obfuscate and further denigrate him. If he did the wrong thing, considering his gone already, let him go, who cares, we don't need him.

If he did the right thing, then the government is going to want to persecute him, hide him, and lock him away, though they may be forced to parade him around a bit, I'm pretty sure they will pull national security issues and scurry him away with all possible aplomb. They fear to an almost paranoid degree, being found out that what he says may be true. They fear for their future plans, on the track that they have been on now for over a decade, all of which have their roots back in the 80s.

I couldn't help but think that in the interview, Snowden could have been me at twenty-nine saying very similar things, or my son if he had gone into this kind of work. But would we have had the wherewithal to speak out and do what Snowden did? Considering his family background (his grandfather was at the FBI, his father a veteran), it adds at least some veracity to his words.

Snowden claimed in 2004 he joined the US Army under the 18X special forces recruitment program where he admittedly washed out when he broke both his legs. He also said he was in foreign countries working undercover. I don't see why that would be such a hard thing to believe. After all it's not claiming to be a superspy or anything, just a guy undercover. Cops do that. Big deal.

He said may things I agreed 100% with. The government, and his own statements regarding his bone fides, in those not matching up, is really not so surprising. You have to consider the field he is in regardless of what level he was at. This would be par for the course and he knows it and we should, too. I don't have (in some ways) any issue in believing him against our government and I tend to err on the side of the government, whenever I can. Typically, business as usual is the order of the day, so, that's kind of a double edged sword in a situation like this.

Believe it or not, the government is actually pretty good about being stand up on issues like freedom of information and being honest about things; individuals and administrations, notwithstanding (Dick Cheney and Bush Jr. and that administration for instance). Typically they are surprisingly honest about things; when pushed. Until, you step into issues of covert ops and then they feel an absolute interest in honesty; but also absolutely no need to be honest, no compunction whatsoever to alter things in order to support their contentions, against all others.

At this point, until I see a crack in his mirror, I tend to believe much of what he's saying. On the other hand, if he was trained as a spy as he claims, this could all, as he indicated, be exercising a part of his training to deceive.

See, this is how the covert ops paradigm works. It's basic trade (spy) craft and it will drive some people crazy who are unfamiliar with it. It makes civilians feel distrustful almost instantly; but this is a shadow world where you have to "see" what's going on only by seeing what lies match with what, what truths with what verified intel; or by what is simply not there. As in "seeing" a black hole, only because of what is missing around it in the sky. It's a fascinating area and it gets easier as you delve deeper into it.

To those who would say his answers were shallow and thin, you have to consider that is simply the nature of his situation. He is walking a thin line with broken glass glued to it. He has to be circumspect. He also doesn't, so he says, want to spill the beans on too much as that wasn't his purpose in all this, but rather to let us know what's going on. Many of the arguments against him simply aren't supported by either his situation or his actions.

This area is a world of misinformation and disinformation, distraction and misdirection. Even at times when the government is being completely honest with us, it can be lying to us; and it knows it. That's how it works. I can tell you an absolute truth, and yet, in my delivery, you will believe the opposite.

The government claims his submitted complaints to those above him do not exist. It is almost impossible now a days to thoroughly hide a "paper trail" like that as it's digitized, stored, backed up, possibly with redundant backups, and so on.

An independent analysis and pulling of emails, backups and so on would very likely eventually come up with something; if not just someone else stepping up and speaking up on his behalf. Though I wouldn't hold my breath over that one, as it would most likely take someone who has retired, or left the community and in no fear of losing their retirement or severance, if not simply concerns about repercussions.

The fact of the matter is that many of his words fit. But do they fit too perfectly? Or are they simply purely accurate and the government is being disingenuous. Ask yourself, much as he was saying, does what he says fit (it does). Has our government been doing questionable things, and for a length of time; hiding their activities beyond what they should be (they have)? Is it easier now to trust our government who have been doing questionable things for how long? Or a guy who has done some good and little harm from what we can gather, just as he claims; a guy who has shared with us stuff we really, seriously, need to know?

The journalist he turned his documents over to claims his next release of information will blow the previous ones out of the water. So time will tell. But as Snowden claimed, he only took what he thought was needed and reasonable and passed those along with the stipulation of doing no grievous harm in releasing future information. That is now out of his hands. As for his not taking this into Russia with him, his argument there holds water Of course he could be lying, he could have a bank account with money from Putin. He could be making deals with extraterrestrials, too. He could be doing anything. But we need to deal with what we can see and extrapolate and what he said, simply makes sense. He was safer not bringing all that with him. Question is, what did he do?

His comments about our becoming a Security State were 100% on the mark.

Who do we know has lied to us more at this point? Snowden? Or our government? Okay, the trouble with that train of thought is, no matter how much Snowden is lying to us, there is simply no way he can surpass how much our Government has been lying to us, and that, is a matter of record. But you get my point, yes?

Sometimes what seems to be, simply is. Sometimes Occams Razor fits and points to the truth right off, and through the entire situation. The problem now is that the government will continue over the top, if they have already been, to make him look bad.

The question is, will they go smooth and slick, or outright discredit him? They will either do nothing, do something, or do a lot of something. It's very possible that who he really is will be pointed out shortly by the government, merely in how bad they make him look. That is, if they pile a lot of crap on him, will it be obvious to the public that it's a "snow job"? Yes, of course, I had to say it. Okay, maybe I didn't, but that is how the government works, you see? Trigger words, offhanded comments of defamation, and so on. You can be distracted by the comment through the words used. Pay attention.

Of course, this also has a lot to do with how incompetent the government will be in response. For years now they have been amazingly incompetent in intelligence matters though they do seem to be getting better, but because of and at the expense of, national confidence and constitutional freedoms. Over the years they've lost most of their experts in this field. SIGINT has trumped HUMINT now for decades and I do disagree with Snowden in that one thing, in a way.

He said that they get far better intel through SIGINT now than HUMINT. Well that actually may be, but it's sad. Because HUMINT is far superior in specifics, in nuances. Much like it's better to use a born national to translate foreign intel, than a foreign born and educated translator. We have failed on these things since the 80s in thinking that SIGINT was the cheaper, better way to go.

Acquiring the communications of Americans has been going on for a long time now. These infractions to our national freedom began walking that fine line, even before 9/11. There was "ThinThread" which encrypted American's private communications, seemed to work well. But then after 9/11, they followed a new program. They would remove the encryption, by Executive Order.

There was a siphoning off from the communications pipe traversing the Pacific Ocean that brings in overseas calls to southern California. A certain No Such Agency entered a certain TelCo building and set up a secret room taping into and piping those calls, splitting them to another building of theirs, located elsewhere, where they could store and access all those calls, including American's calls. Some of the TelCo employees not in the know, noticed something odd in that building, figuring out what was happening. Though I'd assume most of you never heard about that.

We need to keep close scrutiny on these things. Even to the point of being a wee bit paranoid at times, because sometimes they are out to get you and sometimes, it's not the enemy. I think people in our government who have applied these measures, had the best of intentions. Maybe that isn't an excuse. But even if it is, there comes a time when it isn't. See, there is a statute of limitations after an attack, in fear and appropriate responses to the point of a new status quo. It has to be limited. Because as we learn and time passes, what used to be undoable, can become doable.

If we don't force ourselves to find that, what does that say about who we will, or have, become?
Isn't that important too, considering who we are in the world and history as Ameicans?

HUMINT requires time and humans in weird places making calls that aren't quantifiable and we do like quantification now. Qualitative intel requires clever thought and we've dumbed ourselves down because of promoting and replacing experienced field operatives to be in charge with bureaucrats. Not to mention how many times in recent decades we've been asleep at the wheel because we simply did not have local field operatives previously embedded on the scene with working relationship with local nationals.

Like in going against the Chinese years ago. We simply looked different and had a harder time fitting into Chinese maters. This was true as well as the Middle East, which is also very tribal and closed off. In Iraq years ago we pulled our case officers because we thought we could use Saddam Hussein instead. That turned out well, right?

We've made some inroads now in both though, as we finally realized that Chinese Americans and Middle Eastern Americans (both as well as foreign nationals) can do a better job than the good old white boys. But we mistakenly continue to think that "push button" intel is better. True, it has its place and it is incredibly valuable. But there is nothing like personnel on the streets to ferret out what's going on, which has other valuable uses beyond purely gathering intel. There is something to be said for having relationships and winning hearts and minds.

Intelligence is a grey and shadowy area that requires a lot of on the spot judgment calls, trusting operatives in the field and the micro-mangers back in the offices not micro-managing and actually knowing something; like trade craft. Replacing those old school professionals with others, using orgs like the CIA for Military ops and  the Military for Intel Ops, has really skewed things.

We live in a new world today and in a field where nothing is as it seems, much of what can be seen is hidden in a vast array of data we have to filter and get to the proper agencies. When sometimes, the same can be done in a conversation in the space of a few minutes. If you have the right relationships already in place, with the right people, by the right people.

Whether we like it or not the only way to get a handle on this is through people like Snowden. What's interesting is that we're not seeing so many defectors anymore, we're seeing people standing up for our country and and opening the books they are sworn to protect; opening them to, US.

The question is, why? The further question is, are we going to play whack-a-mole with those who are trying to help us, against our own people; our servants who see themselves in some cases, as our masters? Even if, only to "serve" as they see fit, while we lose more and more of what our country once was?

Why is this even happening? Why are our Intel agencies so into acquiring everything they can, even if it's wrong? I think they probably have the best of intentions. Consider that they found out about the 9/11 attack on a small TV, from CNN. They rightly never want that to happen again. But that shouldn't give them carte blanche on all communications, everywhere, now. Should it? Let me answer that for you in case you make the wrong decision there.


Here's the bottom line.

Snowden is now misdirection for us, pure and simple. The important question is, how easy do we want to make our Intelligence community's job? It's all a balance between pure freedom and pure security state. How cheaply do we want them doing it? Because that's really what all this boils down to. Intel isn't easy, or cheap, it's expensive, it takes brains, it takes trained individuals and it's messy. No one wants to allow that anymore.

No one wants to consider risk, better to take freedoms and decrease risk to as close to zero as possible. Yes, I'd like zero risk, but not at the expensive of the country I grew up in, disappearing and being only a faint phantom of what it once ways. I don't want us to turn into another America of 1950s paranoia.

Should we return to despising Germans, or Japanese, or to despise anyone who praises Allah or Mohammed? Anyone who isn't us and disagrees with us? Even if, they try to attack us? Because killing all out enemies isn't the answer. Turning them into our friends is.

We've gotten cheap and lazy and we've been on this course since at least the Berlin wall going down. Europe has thought that we've been lazy and deluding ourselves for decades about terrorism, mostly because we thought the Atlantic Ocean and our "big island" mentality was our saving grace. Well, it's finally happened to us. Now it's our turn to join the older kids in the pool. And it's... scary.

We woke up and it scared us. We retaliated after 9/11 in Iraq in a knee jerk response. America was hurt and pissed off and the Bush administration finally had their reason to invade another country, for oil, but not openly. They took that and ran with it, pushing our fears to the top, taking what they could, making their jobs as easy as they could possibly be, at whatever cost to the nation; to the citizenry. And now it's time to pull back.

We need to buck it up and start being Americans again. Remember John Wayne? That tough guy demeanor has a lot of bad baggage with it, like hiding emotions when you should share, being sexist and ignoring some important things at times. But it's a film hero. Let's skip over the John Wayne anti-communist film, "Big Jim McClain" (1952), for instance.

Still, "big Duke" had some good things about his demeanor. Like being kick ass, not being cheap or afraid of every little thing. And not relying always on the easiest things possible, at the expense of American's lives. And holding Americans in high esteem, and our Republic. Now if only Republicans would realize that too, right? But, I digress....

If we want to allow ELINT, Electronic Intel, to be the tip of our national sword, fine. But we need some limits for Reason's sake and Americans need to be the wall maintaining what our nation stands for Yes, the bad guys may be hiding amongst us, but hey, guess what? What does that start real quick to sound like, again. The Red Menace, right? "A commie behind every bush"? (pun not intended)

Let's face it, there isn't a terrorist behind every rock and cranny. Yes, they are out there. But let's maintain an even strain here, kids. Let's at least try to be the "right stuff". Let's stand up for ourselves and start pushing back.

Snowden, regardless of what he's done or how you think about him, has started the ball rolling. Are you going to let it slide back down now to where it was to start with?

We need to stop trading security for freedom. That is really, the final consideration.