Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Drug Report: LSD and Flying; Future Drugs; Cannabis Potency, etc.

First off: tidbits of drug news I've found interesting: Science Inches Closer To Home Brew Heroin. While I don't think smart guys with a few flasks, some re-agent, a Bunsen Burner and a worn out copy of Principles of Organic Chemistry, 31st edition, will be making this stuff soon, let's face it: it's only a matter of time before we will all be able to make our own heroin, or maybe even Dave Nichols and Sasha Shulgin-level psychedelics. The costs of hardware are falling precipitously.  Others are doing it right now. But can you trust them? NB the Doctor who says to consider illicit drugs a disease that we've been treating with antibiotics for 50 years. Wouldn't we expect the drugs (and their users?) to become antibiotic-resistant after 50 years?

Speaking of Shulgin: he's only been dead for 13 months and he seems bigger than ever, if my Internet reading is an accurate indicator. No doubt the main reason is that he published two fat books on psychedelic chemistry - PIHKAL and TIHKAL - despite the DEA telling him they'd rather he not. In a conversation Shulgin had with Martin Torgoff, author of Can't Find My Way Home: America In the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000, Torgoff writes, "His reason for publishing this remarkable collection of how-to recipes was twofold. The first explanation was philosophical. 'Every drug, legal or illegal, provides some reward,' he wrote. 'Every drug presents some risk. And every drug can be abused. Ultimately, in my opinion, it is up to each of us to measure the reward against the risk and decide which outweighs the other...My philosophy can be distilled in four words: be informed, then choose.' The other reason had to do with Shulgin's passionate belief in the freedom of information. As he explained it, 'You know where all of Wilhelm Reich's notes and his manuscripts  and writings went after he died? the FDA burned them. I felt the same thing could have happened to my work, which is why I wanted to get the stuff scattered as widely as I could.'" (p.393)

                      Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, with fan Hamilton Morris, in Shulgin's 
                      home lab in Lafayette, CA. Photo probably by Ann Shulgin?

Fans of Robert Anton Wilson will be familiar with this idea of Reich's books being burned by the Unistat government less than 15 years after we supposedly fought a war against fascism, because, among other things, those fascists violated our basic ideas about freedom of information, and they burned books. (See RAW's Wilhelm Reich In Hell, for the uninitiated.)

Take a moment or two and ponder the AMA-FDA burning Reich's books, and Shulgin's recipes flying all over the world, to some exotic place where people are now tripping on some analogue of mescaline or DMT, or Ecstasy.

Also: those seeking to buy their own copies of PIHKAL and TIHKAL via online vendors: caveat emptor; the fascists no doubt are monitoring the movement of these books. I have them for my own "Walter Mitty" reasons I've discussed many times before here in blogspews about "dangerous" or "demonic" books. I somehow manage to screw up microwave dinners, so I'm a far cry from being able to understand, much less cook up something like Shulgin's underground favorite (or one of 'em), 2C-B:

"A solution of 100 g of 2,5-dimethoxybenzaldehyde in 220 g nitromethane was treated with 10 g anhydrous ammonium acetate, and heated on a steam bath for 2.5 h with occasional swirling. The deep-red reaction mixture was stripped of the excess nitromethane under vacuum, and the residue crystallized spontaneously. This crude nitrostyrene was purified by grinding under IPA, filtering and air-drying, to yield 85 g of 2,5-dimethoxy-(Greek beta letter)- nitrostyrene as a yellow-orange product of adequate purity for the next step..." (PIHKAL, p.503)

The text goes on to make the previous look like "heat on high for 4 minutes, remove, wrapper, let cool for one minute before eating." It gets way out there. It's like reading some experimental poetry to me: I don't get it at all, but the odd linguistic effects of reading it give a sort of Joycean thrill. Clearly, I want my future psychedelic bathtub chemists to have at least gotten an "A" in Organic Chemistry Lab. At a really good school.

Where's the buzz in having/reading the Shulgin cookbooks if you wouldn't know a methyl group if they ganged up on you behind the tennis courts? After all his abstruse chemical prose, there are always abrupt, jarring tonal shifts in prose: trip reports from his select group of elect psychonaut explorers of inner space, scattered around Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco (Shulgin's lab was on his property in nearby Lafayette, California). And now, one would guess, because of the dissemination of the two books all over the world, there are vast unpublished trip reports for such Shulgin drugs as AMT; 5-MEO-DMT; 5-MEO-DIPT, 4-Acecoxy-DiPT, and DOB.

Drugs That Alter Auditory Perception
A second little thing: about psychedelics and perception of sound: In my old copy of Lee and Shlain's Acid Dreams, I ran across a wild line about the CIA developing futuristic drugs, and there was one that "only alters auditory perception, under its influences all sounds become atonal, while other human faculties remain unaffected." (p.292) The authors give no citation, and when I first read about this, years ago, I thought they had to have been taken in by someone, if not some CIA person, then someone who had been reading a lot of William S. Burroughs. This sounds like a WSB-invented fiction. I would like to think the drug was called "Schoenberg," but I didn't really believe a drug could be that specific in the brain.

That is, until I read about Shulgin's DIPT, which supposedly makes people hear music one octave lower (or so) than its normal pitch. That reminded me of trying to learn blazing fast scale passages from my favorite guitarists by putting the record on at 16rpm rather than 33 1/3: a Randy Rhoads passage played high on the neck suddenly sounds like it's down around the 2nd fret, with Ozzy sounding truly evil and not like the carnival barker I believed him to be in so-called "real life." And then I read about Takao Hensch, a Harvard (those guys again?) professor of molecular and cellular biology, who took adult non-musicians and had them do musical ear-training tests on valproic acid, a mood-stabilizing drug. The subjects developed perfect pitch! I'd love to have perfect pitch, but with follow-up research I see Hensch's subject group was small. Even more irritating: what valproic acid does is potentiate the brain's neuroplasticity: your brain gets a re-set to the time when you were very young, and soaking up language and info like a vast sponge. We could all learn quantum field equations! and Swahili! and Chinese! and...how to do chemistry like Shulgin!? Ah, but the Big Caveat: the brain's neuroplasticity and our earlier "critical periods" for learning (before some neural window closed on us) seem very basic, and evolution probably did that for some good reason, which we won't want to tamper with. For right now, my main model to reason with this is If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is Too Good To Be True. So, we probably ought not tamper with this ancient system of learning.

But we will. Someone will, right? Stay...<ahem> "tuned." Maybe this will turn out to be Something Veddy Innaresting...

Cannabis Potency: A Law-Enforcement Myth That Even Most Pot Smokers Believe?
You've all heard this one: the pot you find now is 10 to 30 times stronger than the stuff the hippies were smoking in the late 1960s/early 1970s. I remember when we bought dime bags of Acapulco Gold and Panama Red: stringy, leafy, stems-and-seedy stuff we loved. Rarely anything that looked like an actual bud. And then rarely we'd find some guy who'd have Thai Stick (awesome!), or even more rarely, "Hawaiian," like Maui Wowie, which was the best stuff I'd ever had. Then, as recounted wonderfully in Michael Pollan's book, The Botany of Desire, Reagan got elected and started a campaign of spraying the Mexican pot crops with paraquat, an herbicide linked to Parkinson's Disease. And so, as Pollan writes, our best gardeners went underground, played with the genes of various strains of cannabis and came up with the most amazingly strong weed, which was grown in the Emerald Triangle of far northern California. And when "sensimilla" (without seeds: a truly utopian concept at the time) filtered into my suburb of Los Angeles, circa 1982: I took one hit and felt like I was on acid. So for awhile even I believed the stories about vastly increased potency.

But I had had conversations with renegade pot growers, guys who really knew their stuff, and they said that was all Cop Propaganda. I said, but what about all the amazing buds you guys have come up with, like Blue Cheese, Purple Urkel, Green Crack, and others? They said that stuff was always around, but I was too penurious to be able to afford it. Because it was scarce. Only the Beautiful (and rich) Dope Smokers were indulging in stuff like Dogshit Orgasm or Purple Kush...But still I was skeptical.

Then I read Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science. Goldacre is a tireless debunker of "woo" and at one point in the book smelled bullshit about the "it's 30 times more potent now...so...the children will all be KILLED!" shit the cops were playing. He uses math and stats and logic to debunk increased potency since 1970. (see Goldacre, pp.189-193) I was impressed by his zeal and rationality, but...I had access to all sorts of weed that was so potent, so...good I required more dissentual data about increased potency. It turns out if you look, you can find.  I read Brian Preston's Pot Planet: Adventures in the Global Marijuana Culture, which I remember liking a lot, but I don't remember much about <cough>. Preston quotes an expert who says it's not true that pot is way more potent than in the 1970s; it's just that the very potent stuff [17%-30%THC] is way easier to find now.

                Blueberry Afgoo, left. NYC Diesel bud on right. Photos by Erik Christiansen

I've started to come around. I think Goldacre and Preston's expert are probably right; Pollan is not wrong; he's inadvertently explaining (in his wonderfully written chapter in Botany of Desire about cannabis) why the Really Good Stuff is so omnipresent now. And some people still doubt Progress!

Flying on LSD: Literally
Who knows the deep story about Captain Trips? Who was Al Hubbard, anyway? We have reason to suspect he's telling the truth about growing up poor in Kentucky and getting rich in uranium. Why disbelieve his stories and documents about working for the OSS (and then the CIA?) Aldous Huxley found him charming. (Two more disparate personalities you'll rarely find in a friendship, by the way. Hubbard was a spy, a Cold Warrior, and not educated. Aldous was nothing if not ridiculously well-educated.) Hubbard had a mystical experience on LSD, seeing himself being conceived during his parents' sex act. He flew all over the world in his own plane, with his seemingly unlimited supply of great acid. He wanted to turn on the world. Was his motivation on the level? And his ties to the highest levels of the Unistat government made his "Johnny Acidseed" jaunts easy. He received a happy birthday card from Ronald Reagan just before he died. At a party at Oscar Janiger's house in 1979, Timothy Leary greeted Captain Al with "I owe everything to you!" (Acid Dreams, p.293)

Now: I haven't flown anywhere in a long time, largely because 1.) before 9/11 every time I took my bags to airport I got sidelined while everyone else went on with their business of passing through security, waiting for their flight, etc. But not me. I always had to wait for my "security" to be cleared. Sometimes this only took five minutes. Other times: 30 minutes or more. Why? Because, at some point in the 1970s - this is all I've ever been able to get from airport security people and researches online - some person in Canada hijacked a plane, and they used a false name. That name is my exact name. (You may have seen this on 60 Minutes many years ago.) The hijacker used one of the most common Unistat names there is: "Robert Johnson." The name on my birth certificate is this name, although I've always gone by my middle name: Michael. But then I asked, "How come you cleared me six months ago, this is the same airline, and you have to clear me again?" Just following orders. So, my name is on a list, totally undeservedly so, and yet no one can do anything about it? Later I found out I could pay some fee to...someone and it would make all that go away. But I thought this was just bullshit. I still do.

Then: 9/11 and the quasi-fascistic/quasi-Kafkaesque TSA of true "security theater" arrived. I'll do a blog on how profoundly worthless the entire TSA security theater show is some other day. Or, as Ring Lardner said, "You could look it up."

Anyway: when I did fly, it was always a tad sensory overload to me. Aside from the security issues and the waiting, flying was a rich source of stimuli, observation, and odd perspectives that I actually enjoyed. (I once flew 16 hours to Tokyo, which was grueling and not fun at all. Another story...) The idea of being on LSD while flying just seems like too much to me. But not to Timothy Leary. Here he is in 1969. The Supreme Court had set him loose from a 30 year charge for having half an ounce of weed. He was finally free, after four years, to leave the country:

"In mixing sacrament for the trip I had accidentally taken too much and sat primly in the Air Iberia waiting room at JFK, rushing, sorting out James Bond paranoias, hoping that Franco's agents would fail to penetrate my disguise. (I've been busted three times in airports.)"

Leary and his wife Rosemary get on the plane. "Two elderly men in uniform tottered by, painfully lugging briefcases, gold teeth flashing forlorn smiles. 'They look like retired generals from the Spanish Civil War,' I whispered. 'Hush,' said Rosemary. 'They are our pilots.'"

Leary starts to get telepathic signals from the other elderly Spanish passengers. He imagines them all as old, committed fascists under the Franco regime. He says to Rosemary, "What have we got ourselves into this trip? This plane is like the second-class bus from Malaga to Torremolinos. It will never make the Atlantic!

"Rosemary was pretending she didn't know me. 'How much did you drop? Really!'" Leary felt like it took "3 1/2 hours to wheeze down the runway and takeoff." He's convinced the steward is a secret police agent. Eventually two Spanish stewardesses approach Leary. We know who you are...do you mind if we ask you some questions? Leary, to himself: "Here we go!"

The stewardesses asked Leary if he had any dope on him. He denied it. You always deny it, he'd learned. The stewardesses were disappointed. "What a drag. Our friends in Madrid will be disappointed. Well, at least give us your autograph."

Leary, taken aback, asked, but what about Catholic Spain, Franco, the secret police?

"Young people are the same all over the world, Doctor Timothy. [...] Young people like to get high and feel good and make love." (Jail Notes, pp. 137-138)

                                  Michael Horowitz in 1972. Photo by Timothy Leary

It's July 1970 and Leary is back in California, in prison. Recently he'd made Michael Horowitz his official archivist. Horowitz writes, "I was no longer a hippie minding his own business; I was now a member of the entourage/support team of the High Priest, the Disgraced Harvard Professor, the Pied Piper, the Acid Martyr - the world's best advocate of 'better living through chemistry.'"

Leary was doing 10 years for possession of two roaches. Leary had asked Horowitz to visit him in prison. Michael's friend came to his Berkeley apartment to drive him to the airport. Michael decided to cut a hit of strong Windowpane acid in half, to share with Leary. His friend honked his horn, and impulsively, Horowitz swallowed his half and kept the other half hidden underneath his fingernail. "The desire to be tripping on acid while meeting the High Priest of LSD got the better of me, so I slipped the other half under my tongue."

In less than an hour Horowitz climbed into a Navaho Piper Cub to fly to the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo. Horowitz writes that he enjoyed flying while stoned, while I get a panic attack just reading about this...and typing it to you, Dear Reader. But just think: Horowitz was going to enter  the world of the Prison. As they approached, a sign said 20 years for bringing in "narcotics" or weapons. He became acutely aware of the "tiny thing under my thumbnail." Horowitz had a huge hippie 'fro, purple-tinted glasses, and a fringe-leather jacket with "Timothy Leary for Governor" on it, bell-bottom jeans. He felt all the guards were staring at him, and the paranoia, mounting, he wished the acid would quit coming on stronger and stronger. Hilariously, Horowitz writes, "What was I thinking? That this was something other than a fucking prison?"

"'Look at that freak visiting Leary!,' one of the guards hissed from across the room." As he's given multiple forms to fill out, using the writing hand that had the other half-hit of Windowpane under the nail, eight burly guards came up and surrounded him. He tried to read and fill out the forms, but the words swirled on the page. (If you've never done acid you have no idea how INSANE this scenario must have felt.)

When asked his purpose for the visit, Horowitz somehow blurted out "editorial and archival matters." One of the guards sneered, "What does that mean?" Michael answered.

He was directed to a gate. A guard said to another, "It looks like like he's on something, don't it?" And they laughed. Security doors, gates, drab prison dullness of walls, electronic security. Finally he meets Leary and they hug and Horowitz relaxes a little, buys them both a coffee and candy bars, feels less like "Joseph K visiting the Castle" and more like a fellow Merry Prankster. Finally, Leary realizes Horowitz is on acid.

"You're on acid? Shit! What do you think this is? Fillmore East? I'm looking at ten years! I desperately need your help - and you show up on acid!"

"I have some for you."

"Great. I just can't wait to trip in this place! Look around - it's the perfect set and setting, isn't it?"

"Sorry," I said, downcast, feeling I had totally blown it.

Leary perks up, tells Michael about the book he's writing on DNA and LSD and the stages of evolution and says, wait till the guard turns away before you slip me the hit of acid. Horowitz is elated: he gets to get high with Leary and hear him talk about his ideas. Then he looks down and notices the hit is gone: it's not on his fingernail.

"Um, Tim..."

Okay, so that was more about prison than flying. But when I first read this story (in Psychedelic Trips For the Mind, pp. 49-51), the flying in a Piper Cub to a prison was enough to give me an mild anxiety attack. What's all the fuss about whether we can explore parallel worlds as theorized by some High Priests of physics? We already have ways to explore parallel worlds. It's called literature.

Finally: Allen Ginsberg, while the Bard of the counterculture, had also, from an early age, believed in watching the watchers. He'd kept files and clippings and notes on the FBI, the CIA, police of all kinds, politicians, world leaders. (And you bet your ass they had a massive dossier on him, too.) He'd come to realize the CIA's role in disseminating LSD in Unistat, and it was always a hot topic of conversation with his friends.

From Ed Sanders's book The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg:

                              October of '77
                              he was in the air on the way
                              to a symposium called LSD: A Generation Later
                                           at UC Santa Cruz

                              and dropped a hit on the plane
                                          thinking about the CIA and LSD.
                              Later at the symposium
                              he told what he'd done and asked
                     "Am I, Allen Ginsberg, the product of
                       one of the CIA's lamentable, ill-advised, or
                       triumphantly successful 
                                            experiments in mind control?"
                          (p. 129)

Other Writings Consulted
"SiHKAL: Shulgins I Have Known and Loved," by Hamilton Morris
Nomad Codes, Erik Davis, pp.207-211, wonderful writing on the impact of Shulgin
Visionary State, by Erik Davis. Contains two wonderful large, full-color photos of Shulgin's lab, taken by Michael Rauner.
Pharmako-Gnosis, by Dale Pendell. Stunning erudition throughout.
Storming Heaven, by Jay Stevens
"Why Harvest Opiates When You Can Get Yeast to Produce Them?"
Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s & '70s, pp. 17-40, "The Intoxicated State/Illegal Nation: Drugs in the Sixties Counterculture," by David Farber

                                            art by the wild Bobby Campbell

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner and Self-Definition, "Passing" and the Myth of "Race"

Prefatory Remarks: This is Hot Stuff for the OG
With these two stories - Dolezal and Jenner - taking up so much public mind-space lately, I need to strike while the iron is hot and get in a jab or two, perhaps try to get in a mixed metaphor. Because this issue and ones that surround it fascinate me no end. It's got everything an overweening generalist can frolic in: language, social perception, biology, philosophical "essentialism" and reifications, the social unconscious/paideuma, libertarian and Nietzschean and pragmatic ideas about self-creation and realization, "reality", imposters, frauds, and mass contradiction. Just for starters. So I can only touch on a few topics before I bore the crap out of even my most fervent reader.

A friend brought up my blogspew on the Joe Satriani book, and I went on to confess that I read far too many rock star biographies and autobiographies, and that they're often so shallow and filled with omissions that I don't know why I read these books. I've probably read about 60 of these things in the past four years. It's my own form of "slumming" reading. I enjoy these books, even if they're not very good. As a library clerk I noted certain patrons read mystery novels as if they were their own form of crossword puzzles. Other intellectual types will read porn. (I do this too.)

In the past few years I've noted the rise of the phrases "hate watching" and "hate reading." I don't think I'm hate-reading these rock-star books. I have a background as a guitar player and teacher, and I told my friend I feel like I'm sort of "like" these people, I just never "made it." But I understand the worlds they inhabit. Or rather: I imagine I do. And then, internally and without saying anything, I'd suddenly realized I'd just given an account of part of who I "am" and what social group/subculture I feel like I'm somehow privy to. And, Dolezal and Jenner had been ricocheting through my consciousness as of late. This is something I think we all do: we sub-vocalize stories to ourselves about who we "are", who are "our" people, what tribe we belong to, etc. Often, we say stuff out loud. Lawd knows there are jabbering orifices in the media who are happy to tell all of us who "really is" who or if someone "really isn't" a "true" member of some group. We have a long way to go with this jit, and I'm frequently as guilty as anyone else.

Robert Trivers
At this point I could write 5000 words on the work of renegade, colorful genius biologist Robert Trivers, but will leave this for some other day. What he's written on the biology of deception, which requires self-deception in order to work well, has really blown my mind. Also: though he's a white guy who came from the East Coast and has had more influence on evolutionary psychology than anyone: he seems to "be" sorta "black." It's not just me. In David Jay Brown's intro to the interview with Trivers published in Mavericks of the Mind (found HERE), Trivers's colleague Burney Le Boeuf refers to Trivers as "the blackest white man I know." Trivers joined the Black Panther Party in 1979 and named Huey Newton as one of his children's godfather. He loves Jamaica and Jamaican women and rasta and cannabis, and says he's "Jamaican in my soul and spirit." Anyway...

Caitlyn Jenner
As far as Caitlyn Jenner goes, my joy is that many of us have evolved enough to just say, "Good for her! It takes courage." Other than that, it's her business, and let us not forget the vast accumulation of scientific social activity and research and technique that allows anyone to physically become more or what they feel like is their "true self." (When I was very young and Bruce Jenner won the Decathlon in the Olympics, he was my hero for a few months. I wanted to be a decathlete! Then, as a painfully skinny asthmatic, I picked up an actual shot - the metal ball used in the shot-put - and realized I might imagine other fallback positions. How he fell in with Kardashians I have no idea and probably will never find out...and sorta hope I never do.)

When it comes to Rachel Dolezal: what better story to expose those ideological positions of media people who don't seem to have internalized the scientific consensus on "race." Let me quote from the American Association of Physical Anthropology's statement on the biological aspects of race:

Humanity cannot be classified into discrete geographic categories with absolute boundaries. Partly as a result of gene flow, the hereditary characteristics of human populations are in a state of perpetual flux. Distinctive local populations are continually coming into and passing out of existence. Such populations do not correspond to breeds of domestic animals, which have been produced by artificial selection over many generations for specific human purposes. There is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups. On every continent, there are diverse populations that differ in language, economy, and culture. There is no national, religious, linguistic or cultural group or economic class that constitutes a race...there is no causal linkage between these physical and behavioral traits, and therefore it is not justifiable to attribute cultural characteristics to genetic inheritance.

And YET...we all, even those of us who have internalized the above scientific idea, "know" that race is a Big Deal in our lives. The 1928 Thomas Theorem in sociology holds, and fast:

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

Almost all of us will want to tweak the Theorem by replacing "men" with "men and women" or just "humans." But this quote in itself is worth internalizing, if not memorizing, eh?

From the Former Lew Alcindor
So: I've been following the Dolezal story for my own purposes, and it's one that tells me far more about the commenters than Dolezal herself. And who comes along, in Time magazine no less, to articulate what my basic take is? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, another one of my childhood sports heroes. Kareem knows race is a social construct yet most people don't know or act like it, and besides, who doesn't wanna be "black" every now and then?

Mezz Mezzrow
This reminds me of one of the most amazing books I've ever read: Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe. Not only does the jewish Mezz identify with what he perceives as the authenticity of the "Negro," but he gradually "becomes" one, officially: prison wardens honor his insistence that he be housed with the blacks and not the whites; the draft board allows Mezz to pass as black. Mezz passed, athough he didn't look black at all. I accept him as black as part of a Nietzschean self-creation which was so good, his black-skinned jazz colleagues accepted him as one of their own.

He married a black woman, lived as a black man, resided in an African-American mental culture, so thoroughly internalized the ethos of his black friends that he felt he "really was" "black." (Side Q: did J.K. Rowling get the term Mezz sometimes uses for cannabis, "muggles", from Mezz/Wolfe? Does Voldemort know about this?)

Mezz, as filtered through the canny writer Bernard Wolfe, identifies with all that is Dionysian in black culture, against the stuffy, stuck, miserableness of white culture. And New Orleans-style anarchic jazz is the epitome: a mind-meld of true consciousness flowing out of musical instruments. All Mezz wants is "authenticity" and to feel really good. We read 1946's Really the Blues for many reasons: the vivid depictions of the gangster underworld in Unistat during Prohibition, the anecdotes about famous jazzmen (it's why Woody Allen said he likes the book), about "jive" and the sociolinguistics of Harlem in the 1930s and 40s, tales of pot smoking versus alcohol and its "juice heads", and that damned opium that tore Mezz apart for awhile. It's also fanciful beyond belief, but we're never sure to what extent.

Something that I've discovered has been noted previously by others, but perhaps not well enough: passages in Kerouac's On the Road that discuss jazz? Kerouac was probably highly influenced by Mezzrow here. Kerouac didn't admit to reading Mezz/Wolfe, but Ginsberg remembers the book being around in his closest circle (of very very many circles!), and Kerouac was in that circle. Mezz/Wolfe: 1946. On the Road: 1955. FWIW...I know that my reading of Really the Blues took the shine off the pants of Kerouac's depictions of jazz ecstasy, and I'd read Kerouac first. Mezz really felt it, and though Mezz is talking about New Orleans-style jazz, and what Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are digging seems more be-bop? (Mezz famously seems almost retrograde in his aesthetic.)

Bernard Wolfe, like Robert Anton Wilson (their careers as writers have much in common), who actually wrote the book, went to Yale, was with Trotsky in Mexico, was guided into a career of writing porn by Henry Miller and Anais Nin: Wolfe needed something to pay bills and wanted to keep up his writing life, was influenced by Alfred Korzybski and Norbert Wiener and a psychoanalyst named Edmund Bergler, and wrote a science fiction book called Limbo, about which scholar Carolyn Geduld writes, "In its own way, Limbo may be as difficult a book as James Joyce's Ulysses. The latter imposes difficulties of form on a relatively simple narrative, while Limbo uses a simple form - the science fiction, antiutopian novel - to discuss very complex theoretical material."- from Bernard Wolfe, by Carolyn Geduld, p.73...Enough of this digression...

In short, I see Mezz's book "as told to" Wolfe - who makes a brief appearance as a character in the book - as one of those autobiographies that strike me as Wholly Other. But I do believe Mezz really thought he was black. And he gives his reasons. And I honor them.

                                Mezz Mezzrow, cannabis enthusiast, friend of Louis Armstrong,
                                "black" man. Photo by Wm. P. Gottlieb

A Philosopher of "Passing"
Daniel Silvermint is a Philosophy professor at the U. of Connecticut and writes interestingly about "passing" with regard to the Dolezal case HERE. Note well his second paragraph, in which he states his background and that he's "probably mistaken about much." This was for a time a "thing" among cultural anthropologists who wrote ethnographies. I feel such "disclaimers" would bring more light to almost all discussions coming from professors, and other culture writers, if only from a claim made from the very heart of the sociology of knowledge.

What turns me on is any attempt to create a proto-taxonomy of "passing." There's "reverse passing," which Silvermint objects to, as it assumes there's only one "natural" direction anyone would pass that would be appropriate, and he reminds us there's a remarkable number of social categories of passing and cases. People try to "pass" for something else for any number of reasons. We need to look at who is claiming what identity and what their personal circumstances and priorities are before making distinctions. But it's ultra complex stuff: we all carry around stereotypes and assumptions, but forget how fluid and arbitrary these identities seem. It seems to me that taking to heart the scientific findings about race quoted above, together with the gritty socially constructed world of "race" we must inhabit, is but a starting point.

Silvermint says some cases of passing are about wanting others to misidentify you. I often wonder how many times I've not noticed a really accomplished transvestite. There seems to be a notion of "trans" passing, but someone who's undergone sexual reassignment really "is" the new sex. Even with this, there seem to be infinite gradations. Just hormones? Hormones and surgery, but still dressing the way you did before you became transsexual? Etc. Far more interesting to me, and probably more pervasive, is what Silvermint calls "unintentional passing" or "passive passing": other people do a poor job of identifying what's going on. He gives examples: we see someone who's interracial and call them white. (Or with Obama: black.) Intersex people might be seen as male. (See Alice Dreger's recent book Galileo's Middle Finger for a tremendous elaboration on this idea.) Or, Silvermint suggests, we might see a gender nonconformist as a woman. I knew two brothers in Los Angeles, both very charming and funny, well-educated and polyglot. They were muslims from Afghanistan, but in Los Angeles after 9/11, they were okay with regularly being mistaken for being Mexican workers. And it's now an old joke that liberal Unistatians who traveled to Europe after Bush and Cheney started the Iraq war, sewed Canadian flags on their backpacks.

We seem to have a very strong need to put people in boxes, the "correct" categories, always forgetting we made all the categories up long ago and have reified them.

Other cases are the oppressed passing as the privileged. (What's with all the fancy cars parked in impoverished neighborhoods?) Or: privileged people passing as the oppressed. I recall a fascinating lecture from Anthropology professor Sam Sandt in which he said there are some groups that are relatively easy to access in order to do an ethnography on them: the nouveau riche are easy: they want people to know how great they are 'cuz they're now rich! The most difficult group is the Old Money people: families that have been very wealthy for a few generations. Often their houses are not viewable from the street, and they drive old beat-up cars.

Dolezal's parents, who outed her and showed the press photos of Rachel as a teenage girl who looks a lot like the beautiful and talented actress Laura Linney, think they've blown the whistle on their daughter and ended the charade. Had Dolezal adopted the "oppressed" position to gain advantage? To me, as of this date, it's not at all that clear. She, like Mezzrow, seems to truly see herself as "black." Again, I tend to agree with Abdul-Jabbar. Silvermint brings up the "mutually-beneficial" variety of passing. This might fit Dolezal, too.

Probably most of us draw the line at passing yourself off as the long-lost cousin who shows up with his inheritance due, like the Duke and Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn. That's just a straight con-job, right? At the same time, read about the life of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, "The Great Imposter," who once passed himself off as a surgeon, and when confronted with a necessary chest surgery, found a textbook on how to do it, crammed feverishly, and pulled it off! The patient lived! Demara's life as an imposter is truly amazing, and he had a proto-Erving Goffman-like theory about the presentation of self in everyday life, what's taken for "reality" and how to bend this reality. He's a criminal, yes. But also: some sort of Artist.

Here's another type of passing: Tania Head, the Woman Who Wasn't There. She had everyone believing her story about losing her boyfriend in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Why did she do it? There's a fascinating documentary about her. She seems like Demara to me, but less daring and artistic, but then my personal taxonomy of passing is still inchoate.

Silvermint's strongest point, to me, is this: "We don't normally think of racialized group membership as something one can genuinely transition into or out of, but perhaps that's as socially determined as anything else." I think he's right: how we carry on conversations with each other can reinforce socially-constructed categories.

All of this passing business seems complex-unto-vertigo, but it could just boil down to Robert Anton Wilson's maxim: Reality is what you can get away with. There are some readers here who know me, and they're "on" to my game. But to those who don't know me personally: that picture over to the side may not be accurate at all. This "Michael" guy who calls himself the "Overweening Generalist" just MIGHT be a 47 year old Latina lesbian. What do we really know, at this point?

Some Other Passing Examples To Think On
The Founder of the Nation of Islam lied about his "race."

Emperor Norton of San Francisco (mutually beneficial passing?)

Neo-Nazi Craig Cobb finds out his ancestors were black (Dolezal made this point: that we all came out of Africa at some point. I've often felt compelled to check "African-American" on bureaucratic forms, instead of "caucasian" -which most people would say I "am" - simply in protest that those boxes were there at all. But this idiot essentialist Cobb deserved to be blinded by science, no?)

The Cobb story reminds me of comedian Dave Chappelle's brilliant and hilarious bit on a white supremacist who's blind...and black. See it HERE. If you've never seen it, it's NSFW and 9 minutes of your life you really should make time for...

Jazzman Billy Tipton was really a female all along.

Two books on the subject: Passing, by Nella Larsen, and Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin.  Get thee to the library!

Three articles on Donezal I read closely:
"Rachel Donezal and the History of Passing for Black"
"Rachel Donezal's 'Passing' Isn't So Unusual"
"16 Key Takeaways From Rachel Dolezal's Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry"

I previously riffed on some aspects of self-identity back in 2011.

You'll notice I haven't said a thing about two of our favorite actor-Scientologists, John Travolta and Tom Cruise. And it shall remain that way.

Finally: I must recommend a wonderful book from 2012 by an Anthropologist named Agustin Fuentes titled Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You. Subtitled, "Busting myths about human nature." I found the official statement from the AAPA about race in his book. It's not the easiest of reads, but the slog was for me well worth my while, and it might be worth yours as well.

                                           artwork by Bobby Campbell

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Five Reasons the MI6 Story is a Lie

[From OG: see end of article: author's postscript! - OG]

The Sunday Times has a story claiming that Snowden’s revelations have caused danger to MI6 and disrupted their operations. Here are five reasons it is a lie.
1) The alleged Downing Street source is quoted directly in italics. Yet the schoolboy mistake is made of confusing officers and agents. MI6 is staffed by officers. Their informants are agents. In real life, James Bond would not be a secret agent. He would be an MI6 officer. Those whose knowledge comes from fiction frequently confuse the two. Nobody really working with the intelligence services would do so, as the Sunday Times source does. The story is a lie.
2) The argument that MI6 officers are at danger of being killed by the Russians or Chinese is a nonsense. No MI6 officer has been killed by the Russians or Chinese for 50 years. The worst that could happen is they would be sent home. Agents’ – generally local people, as opposed to MI6 officers – identities would not be revealed in the Snowden documents. Rule No.1 in both the CIA and MI6 is that agents’ identities are never, ever written down, neither their names nor a description that would allow them to be identified. I once got very, very severely carpeted for adding an agents’ name to my copy of an intelligence report in handwriting, suggesting he was a useless gossip and MI6 should not be wasting their money on bribing him. And that was in post communist Poland, not a high risk situation.
3) MI6 officers work under diplomatic cover 99% of the time. Their alias is as members of the British Embassy, or other diplomatic status mission. A portion are declared to the host country. The truth is that Embassies of different powers very quickly identify who are the spies in other missions. MI6 have huge dossiers on the members of the Russian security services – I have seen and handled them. The Russians have the same. In past mass expulsions, the British government has expelled 20 or 30 spies from the Russian Embassy in London. The Russians retaliated by expelling the same number of British diplomats from Moscow, all of whom were not spies! As a third of our “diplomats” in Russia are spies, this was not coincidence. This was deliberate to send the message that they knew precisely who the spies were, and they did not fear them.
4) This anti Snowden non-story – even the Sunday Times admits there is no evidence anybody has been harmed – is timed precisely to coincide with the government’s new Snooper’s Charter act, enabling the security services to access all our internet activity. Remember that GCHQ already has an archive of 800,000 perfectly innocent British people engaged in sex chats online.
5) The paper publishing the story is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is sourced to the people who brought you the dossier on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, every single “fact” in which proved to be a fabrication. Why would you believe the liars now?
There you have five reasons the story is a lie.
Author’s postscript:
The site is under a strong denial of service attack from a bot trying to crash it by overloading with millions of pings from multiple locations. I presume the objective is to take down the revelation of the fake MI6 Snowden story, which had been read by tens of thousands already and is now really taking off.
While the copyright in that article remains mine, I grant permission for it freely to be reproduced by anybody, anywhere. I shall be grateful for multiple copies to be posted around the web so it can’t be taken down.

OG-added addenda: If even CNN exposes you for what a Murdoch whore you are, you have problems. WATCH THIS.