Quotulatiousness

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

March 22, 2017

A check-in from the “libertarian writers’ mafia”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent issue of the Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman talks about “rational security”:

Two of my favorite authors — Robert A Heinlein and Ayn Rand — favored a limited government that would provide an effective national defense against foreign invaders and foreign spies. Rand died March 6, 1982; Heinlein on May 8, 1988 — both of them well before domestic terrorism by foreign nationals or immigrants was a major political issue.

Both Heinlein and Rand, however, were aware of domestic political violence, industrial sabotage, and foreign espionage by both foreigners and immigrants, going back before their own births — Rand February 2, 1905, Heinlein July 7, 1907.

Both Heinlein and Rand wrote futuristic novels portraying totalitarianism (including expansive government spying on its own citizens) within the United States. Both authors also portrayed in their fiction writing and discussed in their nonfiction writing the chaos caused by capricious government control over individual lives and private property.

In their tradition, I’ve done quite a bit of that, also, in my own fiction and nonfiction.

So has my libertarian friend author Brad Linaweaver, whose writings I try never to miss an opportunity to plug.

Brad, like myself, writes in the tradition of Heinlein and Rand — more so even than I do, since Brad also favors limited government while I am an anarchist. Nonetheless I am capable of making political observations and analysis from a non-anarchist viewpoint.

We come to this day in which Brad and I find ourselves without the comfort and living wisdom of Robert A. Heinlein and Ayn Rand. We are now both in our sixties, old enough to be libertarian literary elders.

Oh, we’re not the only ones. L. Neil Smith still writes libertarian novels and opines on his own The Libertarian Enterprise. There are others of our “libertarian writers’ mafia” still living and writing, but none as politically focused as we are — and often, in our opinion, not as good at keeping their eyes on the ball.

March 3, 2017

The key difference between written and oral communication

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, discussing the uproar over the Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did he or didn’t he lie to congress” debate, took time to clarify why we don’t (and can’t) parse spoken communications in the same way we do with written work:

If you read the latter part of this exchange extremely strictly, chopping off the preamble, then you can argue that Sessions was technically untruthful. The problem is that this is not how verbal communication works. The left is attempting to hold the attorney general to a standard of precision that is appropriate for written communication, where we can reflect on preceding context and choose exactly the right word.

Oral language is much looser, because it’s real time. Real time means that we don’t have 20 minutes to puzzle over the exact phrasing that will best communicate our meaning. (For example: Reading this column aloud will take you perhaps five minutes. It took me nearly that many hours to write.) On the other hand, our audience is right there, and can ask for clarification if they are confused.1

Demanding extreme clarity from an oral exchange is unreasonable. Moreover, everyone understands that this is unreasonable — except, possibly, for the chattering classes, who spend their lives so thoroughly marinated in the written word that they come to think that the two spheres are supposed to be identical. Most ordinary people understand very well that there’s a big difference between talking and writing (which is why most people, even those who are dazzling in conversation, have a hard time producing fluid and lively prose).

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Investigate away! If the Trump campaign knew about, or colluded with, the hack on the DNC, then Trump should be impeached. But at the moment, we have no evidence that Sessions committed a crime, much less attempted to cover it up. The court of public opinion is probably going to require somewhat better facts to convict.

    1. One reason that we writers spend so much time thinking about precise wording, and larding our prose with extra paragraphs meant to clarify exactly what we’re talking about, is that language is rife with ambiguity. This is why, at one time, Annapolis cadets were required to take a class in which they would write orders, and their fellow cadets would tear them apart looking for ways that a simple order could be misunderstood. It’s also one reason so many people get into so much trouble on Twitter: they write like they talk, but stripped of cues like context and facial expression, what they say is very easily taken the wrong way.

Conrad Loses His Job – Nivelle’s Coup I THE GREAT WAR Week 136

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 2 Mar 2017

The new Austro-Hungarian Kaiser is not happy about his Empire’s dependence on the German ally. And he is also not happy about their own military decisions and over the winter has worked to replace key positions with his own men. The last step in that process is convincing Conrad von Hötzendorf to take a position on the Italian Front. At the same time, French Commander Robert Nivelle is trying to get control over the British Armies on the Western Front and the Zimmermann Telegram is released to the press.

February 24, 2017

Mechanised War In Mesopotamia – Toplica Uprising I THE GREAT WAR Week 135

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 23 Feb 2017

After the humiliating defeat at Kut last year, the British upped their game in Mesopotamia and this week 100 years ago the British Indian Army starts making gains towards Baghdad. In the occupied territories of Serbia the local population is rising up against the Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian occupants and on the Western Front, the British make surprisingly easy progress against the German Army.

January 21, 2017

Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Jan 2017

The winter of 1916/1917 is the harshest one so far in the war. Nowhere do the soldiers suffer from these extreme conditions than on the Italian Front in the Dolomites. The fighting there is fierce already but the cold, avalanches and height make it even more brutal. After the failed peace negotiations, the cry for ethnic self determination can still be heard all around the world. And German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sends a fateful telegram to Mexico that is today remembered as the Zimmermann-Telegram.

January 16, 2017

100 years ago today

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

From the Facebook page of The Great War:

On this day 100 years ago, a coded telegram was sent by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. In this telegram, Zimmermann instructed von Eckardt to offer Mexico a military alliance and financial support against the United States should they not remain neutral. This was a possibility since Germany was about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare by February 1, 1917.

To understand this telegram, it is important to understand that talks about military cooperation and even a military alliance between Mexico and the German Empire had been going on since 1915 already.

The telegram was sent via the American undersea cable since the German cable was interrupted by the British when the war broke out. US President Woodrow Wilson had offered the Germans to use their cable for diplomatic correspondence. What neither Wilson nor the Germans knew: The cable was monitored by the British intelligence at a relay station in England. Furthermore, the British codebreakers of Room 40 had already cracked the German encryption.

The biggest challenge for the British now was to reveal the content of this telegram without admitting that they were monitoring the cable while ensuring it had the desired impact.

January 8, 2017

Spy Networks – Public Opinion – Conscription I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 7 Jan 2017

Chair of Wisdom Time! Indy answers your questions about World War 1 and this week we talk about espionage, opinion polls and conscription.

November 29, 2016

The Godfather of Modern Espionage – Sidney Reilly I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 Nov 2016

Sidney Reilly is remembered as the Ace of Spies in popular fiction and Ian Flemming read his files as inspiration for James Bond. But even the best espionage novels are nothing against the life of the real Sidney Reilly who did it all. He worked as a double agent, turned the tide of wars and changed world history more than once.

November 11, 2016

QotD: The amazing long-term success of Soviet subversion in the West

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

August 3, 2016

The scandal of the Chevalier d’Eon

Filed under: Europe, France, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Atlas Obscura, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie tells the story of the French soldier, diplomat and spy, the Chevalier d’Eon (also known as Mademoiselle la Chevaliere d’Eon):

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or The Chevalier D'Eon. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-03347)

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or The Chevalier D’Eon. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-03347)

When the Chevalier d’Eon left France in 1762, it was as a diplomat, a spy in the French king’s service, a Dragoon captain, and a man. When he returned in July 1777, at the age of 49, it was as a celebrity, a writer, an intellectual, and a woman — according to a declaration by the government of France.

What happened? And why?

The answer to those questions is complex, obscured by layers of bad biography, speculation and rumor, and shifting gender and psychological politics in the years since, as well as d’Eon’s own attempts to reframe his story in a way that would make sense to his contemporary society. (Note: In consultation with d’Eon’s biographer, I have decided to use the male pronoun when talking about d’Eon before the gender shift and the female pronoun after.) Professor Gary Kates of Pomona College is one of the first modern academics to look closely at the life — or lives — of the Chevalier d’Eon, in his comprehensive biography Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman. Kates had access to d’Eon’s personal papers, a treasure trove of manuscripts, diaries, financial records, documents, and letters housed at the University of Leeds, and his work is widely considered the best place to start when considering d’Eon.

The story Kates tells is a complex narrative, involving Ancien Regime intrigue, secret spy rings, political necessity, burgeoning celebrity culture, and nascent feminism. The meaning of d’Eon’s transformation has been dissected for centuries; feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft praised d’Eon in their lifetime and contemporary trans groups have named themselves in d’Eon’s honor.

Even so, Kates cautions that the history of this fascinating figure is far from complete. “I don’t think I’ve written the definitive book on d’Eon,” he says. How could he? This is a person who lived enough for three lifetimes.

July 12, 2016

Mexico in WW1 – The Mexican Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Jul 2016

The full text of the Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmerm…

Mexico was mainly focussing on internal struggles and the Mexican Revolution during World War 1. But Germany’s stance against the USA actually brought the country into the international spotlight. After the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram, sent by the Germans to Mexico, was decoded it was clear that Germany wanted to bring Mexico into the war – against the United States.

June 2, 2016

Fat Leonard and the corruption of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An amazing story in the Washington Post details how a Malaysian defence contractor got his claws into the senior officers of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet:

A 51-year-old Malaysian citizen, Francis has since pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, is financially ruined.

But his arrest exposed something else that is still emerging three years later: a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy itself.

Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.

[…]

In his dealings with the Americans, Francis went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with senior officers, recognizing that they often cared more about high-quality service than how the bill would be paid.

Whenever a Navy vessel arrived in port, the odds were high that Francis would be waiting at the pier. Like a five-star concierge, he would arrange for shopping trips, sightseeing tours and concert tickets. A limousine and driver would be reserved for the ship’s commander.

Select sailors would be invited to an extravagant banquet, featuring cognac and whiskey, Cohiba cigars from Cuba, and platters of Spanish suckling pig and Kobe beef. Francis would sometimes fly in a band of pole dancers, which he called his Elite Thai SEAL Team, for X-rated shows, court records show.

In another display of panache, he purchased an aging, decommissioned British warship, the RFA Sir Lancelot. He refurbished and renamed it the Glenn Braveheart.

The vessel became the flagship of his fleet, and it would often deploy alongside the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, according to court records and interviews.

May 17, 2016

Charles Stross updates a classic WW2 field guide – a dot-com sabotage manual

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Many people have noted that the sabotage techniques listed in a Second World War espionage manual seem to have somehow migrated into a lot of management texts in the last few decades. Here he imagines what an updated version of the manual might look like:

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services — the predecessor of the post-war CIA — was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It’s not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale […]

So it occurred to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, “what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company”? And the obvious answer is “send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground”. But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

  1. Obviously, engineers and software developers (who require deep focus time) need to be kept in touch with the beating heart of the enterprise. So open-plan offices are mandatory for all.
  2. Teams are better than individuals and everyone has to be aware of the valuable contributions of employees in other roles. So let’s team every programmer with a sales person — preferably working the phones at the same desk — and stack-rank them on the basis of each pair’s combined quarterly contribution to the corporate bottom line.
  3. It is the job of Human Resources to ensure that nobody rocks the boat. Anyone attempting to blow whistles or complain of harassment is a boat-rocker. You know what needs to be done.
  4. Senior managers should all be “A” Players (per Jack Welch’s vitality model — see “stack ranking” above) so we should promote managers who are energetic, inspirational, and charismatic risk-takers.
  5. The company must have a strong sense of intense focus. So we must have a clean desk policy — any personal possessions left on the desk or cubicle walls at the end of the day go in the trash. In fact, we can go a step further and institute hot desking — we will establish an average developer’s workstation requirements and provide it for everyone at every desk.

This would explain some of the management policies at a few places I’ve worked at over the years…including the software company where I first met Charlie.

February 2, 2016

Edith Cavell – Not A Martyr But A Nurse I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 1 Feb 2016

The execution of British nurse Edith Cavell by German soldiers in 1915 was instrumental to British propaganda at that time and the story became legend. But who was Edith Cavell really? Find out more about the humble nurse in Brussels and if she was really a spy after all.

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