Archive for February, 2017
Good morning. It’s Monday morning, February 20, 2017, and this is J. Neil Schulman with commentary.
Today the Internet Movie Data Base — IMDb — deleted all its discussion boards. These were message boards for starting topics and posting replies on movies, television, and individuals who were credited in movies and television.
In 1999, seven years before I listed Lady Magdalene’s, my first movie, on IMDb, I started and replied to comments in the IMDb message boards. I found the discussions collegial and enjoyable.
IMDb.com is a division of Amazon.com, as is Withoutabox.com, a service for submitting independent films for festival play. IMDb encouraged indie filmmakers such as myself to make as much use of IMDb as possible to promote our films, including posting background info in the IMDb message boards.
So I did, and that’s when the message boards turned into a nightmare for me.
Withoutabox asked first-time directors to fill out a survey and encouraged us to share it to the IMDb message boards. One of the questions was obvious: what movie directors did we consider influences? I answered with my favorites: Kubrick, Hitchcock, Preminger.
The next thing I knew was a spate of messages: “Schulman thinks he’s the next Kubrick, Hitchcock, Preminger!”
Anything I replied after that was a Chinese finger trap: the harder I tried to pull away the tighter it held me.
From that day in 2006 through the shut down of the IMDb message boards today I was followed by what I soon learned were “trolls” — anonymous writers using multiple “sock puppet” accounts — who worked to destroy the lives and works of anyone working in the film or television business that they could.
Did it require any actual reasons? I don’t know. I think it might be that it was the use of power for the sake of power. They did it because they could and it felt good to feel empowered, even if it was only the power to destroy. I don’t think any personal animus was even required.
I was a prime target. I was accused of making up the film-festival awards Lady Magdalene’s won. I was accused of writing the positive reviews my movie received, or having my friends write them. When I announced Kevin Sorbo would be starring in Alongside Night I was accused of lying about it.
IMDb has user ratings for movies that have started play, ratings from one to ten. The trolls used their multiple accounts so that overnight hundreds of “1″ ratings appeared for both my movies on days the movie had played nowhere for months, and from countries where the movie had never been seen. These ratings are quoted all over the Internet, including on Amazon’s own catalog pages.
Positive user reviews were called “fake” and downvoted while negative user reviews were lauded by dozens of accounts.
Complaints on “Help” boards just increased the trolling exponentially. Asking for help from IMDb staff did too, convincing me that some of the trolls worked inside IMDb, and that IMDb was encouraging trolls to increase the site’s traffic — likely as a statistic IMDb management could show the parent company, Amazon.
It didn’t stop at IMDb. The trolls went to Amazon when Lady Magdalene’s first appeared as a streaming video and a DVD, and dozens of killer one-star reviews appeared, many with the exact same paragraphs, word for word. The trolls found my books and started trashing them, too. I pulled Lady Magdalene’s off sale from Amazon for several years in an attempt to mitigate the damage to my overall reputation.
I was accused of writing my own Wikipedia article and that was stripped of almost all true bio info posted by my fan base, replaced by vicious falsehoods put there by my detractors.
I’ve written about most of this before. Why am I bringing it up again now? To gloat that the IMDb trolls have to find another swamp to infest?
I’m here to point out that trolling has become mainstream. The issue is no longer destruction of indie filmmakers on a now-defunct entertainment media message board. It’s that IMDb was a Potemkin Village to train an army of mainstream pundits who are now using the same strategy and tactics to destroy political opponents.
Milo Yiannopoulos has made a meal out of outrageous behavior, trolling liberals on college campuses and in the media by pretending to dark positions only because doing so triggers them. It became unfunny when it resulted in rioting, vandalism, and arson.
Richard Spencer giving a Nazi salute to Donald Trump was similarly performance art designed to gain attention by feeding into the Never-Trump narrative that Trump was surrounding himself with bigots. Spencer is a low-grade tribalist whose nationalism is so wimpy no actual historical Nazi — or even neo-Nazi — would be as broad-minded and inclusive. He’s a poseur.
So we get from the little fish to the whale.
Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, is now reduced to being me, with his hand stuck in the Chinese finger trap.
TV comics — Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Maher, John Oliver, even the “nice guys” Jimmy Fallon and James Corden — have turned their shows into non-stop Trump Trolling. Saturday Night Live has become Trump Trolling Central.
The mainstream news media do to Trump exactly what the IMDb trolls did to me: find nothing good and spin everything bad, even when you’re saying something the trolls had previously stated as their own position.
Trump trolls the trolls back like I tried to do, only he has an immensely bigger fan base than I ever had. But Trump has counter-trolling skill sets I never had.
When Kellyanne Conway misspoke and made a reference to a non-existent Bowling Green Massacre, the news, commentary and comedy media obssessed on it for days.
I think Trump has a learning curve.
So in a Florida rally when President Trump referred to something horrific in Sweden that also never happened, these same media jumped on the red meat again. I don’t think this second time was accidental. I think it’s a calculated diversionary strategy to move the attention-deficit news cycle away from the false narrative — already refuted by Julian Assange — that Russia put Trump in power.
My friend, writer, filmmaker, publisher Brad Linaweaver, has been warning me for years of the destructive potential of the Internet. I always argued back that without the Internet I would be completely invisible since the major mainstream media — right, left, and even libertarian — tend to downplay me if not marginalize me completely.
But when I see how this destructive creature of the Internet has now spread to all other media — when I see a civil war between a crazy far left and a demented far right — I see Brad’s point.
I see the remaining sane libertarians who haven’t been body-snatched by puppet masters already, drowning in a polluted ocean between them.
Changing metaphors, as I must:
The IMDb troll is now the size of Godzilla, and God save Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, and us all.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his 2/18/1997 “Vulcan Mindmeld with God” novelist/Twilight-Zone writer/filmmaker/actor/talk host J. Neil Schulman makes two of his Kindle books free for a few days.
Las Vegas, NV-AZ (OPENPRESS) Today, February 18, 2017, is the 20th anniversary of author J. Neil Schulman’s eight-hour, noon to eight pm “Vulcan Mindmeld with God” that ended his atheism without resort to religion, scripture, or faith.
To celebrate that two-decade anniversary Schulman is making the Kindle editions of the two books resulting from that experience — his comedy fantasy novel Escape from Heaven and his autobiographical The Heartmost Desire — free on Amazon for a few days, beginning Saturday February 18th.
What would you do if God prayed to you for help?
“This is Duj Pepperman and you’re on 680 K-TALK.”
“Duj, this is God, calling from Heaven. I can’t believe I got through. I’m one of your biggest fans!”
With this first-ever call-in from God, an L.A. radio talk-show host is sent on a mission from God that takes him to Heaven – then back to earth – on a rollercoaster adventure that includes meetings with the most famous celebrities in Heaven and on earth. Along the way he learns the origins of our universe, the meaning of life, and how the War between God and Satan will turn out. A comic journey that is inspiring atheists, agnostics, Christians, and Jews, and is generating controversy even among Evangelical Christians!
The Heartmost Desire is author/filmmaker J. Neil Schulman’s most personal book, containing his manifesto for why liberty is necessary for human self-realization and happiness, and his autobiographical description of the experiences that led him from atheism to God, but still relying on reason and rejecting religion, scripture, and faith.
J. Neil Schulman is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. His 1979 Prometheus-Hall-of-Fame novel Alongside Night — endorsed by Milton Friedman, Anthony Burgess, and Ron Paul — projected the economic meltdown. It’s now his second feature film, available on Amazon Prime along with his award-winning comic thriller, Lady Magdalene’s, starring Nichelle Nichols. His 1983 novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, won the Prometheus Award, was adapted into a Laserium show, and Robert A. Heinlein told the 1983 L-5 Society, “Every libertarian should read it!” Schulman scripted the CBS revived Twilight Zone episode, “Profile in Silver.” Full bio at http://www.pulpless.com/jneil/jnsbio.html
Special thanks to my daughter, Soleil, for convincing me to write this, and to my friend Brad Linaweaver for pointing out I needed a new ending. (Sorry, Brad, I couldn’t figure out where to put in your “Don’t take any silver nickels” line) — JNS
Vamp Until Ready
A short story by J. Neil Schulman
“Whadda we got?”
It was difficult for the detective to be out during the day, but a combination of a classic Burberry trench coat, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, gloves, and 10,000 SPF sunblock made it at least possible, if not comfortable.
“Just what you’d expect in this neighborhood,” the uniform, a lycanthrope, said. “Human on human. Body parts all over the street. You taking over, Detective … ?”
“Vladimir,” said the detective, flashing his gold shield. “Yah. Secure the alley and start a canvas for witnesses.”
The wolfman snorted. “These cannibals never talk to us.”
Detective Drac Vladimir grinned, exposing his fangs. “They always talk to me, once they look me in the eyes.”
After filing the witness reports back at the precinct, Vladimir and his partner, Detective Bela Sipos, sat down at their usual cop bar, Blue Bloods.
A cute vamp sauntered up to their booth in the back. “The usual, Vira,” said Vladimir.
“Two Bloody Mary’s,” Vira wrote down, and headed to the bar, swaying her behind for attention.
“You ever going to ask her out?” Vladimir said to his partner.
“Too young for me,” Bela said. “Not even two hundred. We’d have nothing to talk about.”
“Anything about today seem strange to you?” Vladimir asked.
“We’re off the clock and you want to discuss the case?”
Drac cocked his head to the side.
“Okay. What did you see I missed?”
“It’s not what I saw, “Vladimir said. “It’s what I didn’t see. Human body parts all over the alley but not a drop of blood.”
Vira arrived with the drinks. Bela took an appreciative sip but waited until the vamp was out of earshot before he spoke. “You think it was one of us.”
“Maybe. I’ve asked the M.E. for an expedited report.”
“On a humacide?” Sipos shook his head. “Drac, this is Daytown. These creatures never grow old enough to learn not to eat each other.”
“Precisely,” Detective Vladimir said. “They’re babies. So if one of us is a pedo, I take a special interest.”
“Okay,” Bela said. “When have I ever not played second fiddle to you on a case? Speaking of that, you playing this weekend? I’m bringing a new string quartet by Mala Deutscher.”
“Absolutely,” Detective Dracula Vladimir said. “Amazing child prodigy. The vamp’s only forty and she’s already composed a violin concerto, an organ cantata, and a grand opera.”
Both detectives sipped their Bloody Mary’s in concert.
“Vladimir! Sipos! My office. Now!” Captain Stoker’s voice bellowed through the squad room.
“Pay me,” Drac said to his partner as they got up from facing desks.
“How do you always know the exact time?” Detective Sipos asked, tossing a gold coin in a perfect arc.
Vladimir swiped the coin mid-arc and dropped it into his vest pocket. “When you can answer that, boychick, you can be lead detective.”
The two detectives went into their captain’s office and sat down opposite the ornate mahogany desk. Constantin Dimitrescu’s “Peasant Dance” was playing softly out of the Captain’s desktop computer.
Captain Stoker used his desktop guillotine to cut the tip off a Havana cigar and struck a wooden match, waiting for the flare to die by half before lighting it.
He blew a perfect smoke ring which expanded over his detectives.
“Why is it always you two?” the Captain asked.
Sipos opened his mouth but before he could get out a word, Stoker shook his head.
“That was a rhetorical question,” Stoker said.
“Captain,” Vladimir started.
Stoker interrupted. “I have IA asking me why two of my detectives are walking on their turf.”
“I walk where the forensics lead,” Detective Vladimir said. “The M.E.’s report says the heart didn’t have a drop of blood left in it. We’ve got a pedo.”
“Or a zombie,” the Captain said.
Detective Vladimir shook his head. “Zombie wouldn’t drain the heart and leave the valves perfectly intact. Would’ve eaten the whole thing. No, Cap, it has to be one of us.”
Sipos added, “And someone who knows enough about police work to make it look human-on-human if you don’t care enough to look carefully – which Drac always does.”
Stoker puffed the Cohiba again. “If it’s someone on the job you bring it to me.”
“Yes, Captain,” Vladimir said. Detective Sipos nodded.
“If I get even a hint of what you two did on the Van Helsing case,” Captain Stoker warned somberly, “I’ll have your shields.”
The two Detectives genuflected before the altar at Saint Alastor Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, drank the blood and ate the wafer, then took seats in a rear pew with a clear view of the entire congregation, just as Black Mass began.
The Bishop read from the Book of Medici, the choir sang from Carmina Burana, and the Detectives focused almost all their attention on a figure cloaked in black, two rows ahead of them.
Detective Vladimir nodded to his partner, and Dracula and Bela slowly and softly began moving apart … when the Figure Cloaked in Black turned around and looked Detective Drac Vladimir directly in the eye. “Not here in this Unholy space,” she said.
It was Vira, the vamp cocktail waitress from Blue Bloods.
Vira metamorphosed into a bat and flew high into the belfry, smashing into a bell before crashing through a stained glass window into the freedom of the night, the bell ringing and ringing, underscoring her melodramatic escape.
“Call it in, I’m after her,” Drac said to Bela, just before metamorphosing into a bat, himself. Then Detective Vladimir tossed the gold coin he’d won from his partner back to him. “For the collection box.”
February 15, 2017
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his most famous speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in favor of discrimination.
I’m a writer. Words are what we writers use to communicate. I’m using words to communicate with you right now. So the defined meanings of the words we use matter because differences matter.
The word “discriminate” was originally used to mean an ability to recognize core differences and render judgment. A person who exhibited discriminating taste for fine food and wine, for example, would have taken the sentence, “You discriminate” as a compliment, because a judgment was being rendered between food and wine which was more enjoyable to food and wine which was mundane or disgusting.
But, as often happens for reasons of propaganda, this use of “discriminate” was replaced by a sinister meaning: to render an unjust distinction. The original use was largely buried.
Dr. King wanted the original meaning of “discrimination” to be present in the future world he fantasized about. He wanted people not to refrain from discriminating judgment, but to make such distinctions based on character, which is a measure of moral worthiness, instead of ancestry or appearance, which is largely meaningless to judging a person’s worth.
Dr. King was teaching a moral lesson, one he’d learned from his background as a Christian and from fairly recent to him exemplars of moral philosophy such as Mohandas K. Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau. These moral lessons transcended politics. Thoreau was a philosophical anarchist, Gandhi an East Indian nationalist, and King, himself, a Christian democratic socialist.
I call myself a libertarian when that term is not conflated with electoral partisans. I’ve frequently called myself an anarchist when that term is not conflated with vandals, arsonists, communists, or nihilists. I’ve called myself an Agorist since I was closely involved with launching that individualist-anarchist free-market movement founded by my friend and mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III. Since I consider many calling themselves Agorists are instead stealth communists, I’ve recently considered newer labels such as Konkinist or – pinning it down with my own brand – Alongside Night Agorist.
But whatever label I use, I’m attempting to narrow the meaning to a moral philosophy based on natural law, natural rights, and making meaningful moral distinctions between individuals.
Be clear: the libertarianism I hold to is judgmental. Tolerance is not necessarily a virtue. It depends on what one is tolerating. My friend, author/filmmaker Brad Linaweaver, will be writing eventually about “That Hideous Tolerance,” expanding the concept from the title of his favorite C.S. Lewis novel, That Hideous Strength.
Nonetheless the libertarian moral judgment is narrowly drawn. Taste alone, such as the food and wine connoisseur’s discrimination, allows for one’s individual choice but does not allow for imposing one’s individual choice on unwilling others. So it is within my individual choice what I eat or drink but I may not choose what others may eat or drink – well, at least so far as I’m not holding cooks at gunpoint or murdering other people to drink their warm blood or eat their tasty flesh.
Rendering such moral judgments does require study, thinking, and discussion.
This could go on for volumes but I’m now going to zero in on a current controversy: the deportation of lawbreakers.
As I said, I’m an anarchist. But I do conclude that law and order is necessary even in an anarchist condition – that condition where the State no longer decrees what is punishable.
As an anarchist novelist, filmmaker, and essayist I’ve repeatedly made the point that work and travel are basic human liberties, so I reject the idea that government may rightfully (again, this is a moral discussion) restrict or license who may travel to somewhere else one is welcomed, and to exchange labor for pay when both buyer and seller of the labor freely reach an agreement.
But please remember that this essay of mine starts out by discussing discrimination – rendering judgment on essential differences.
In this instance the statist and the anarchist can agree: there is absolutely nothing wrong with expelling those who rob, rape, defraud, maim, or murder other individuals. Discriminating against others based on race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or even bad character if they have not victimized others by violence, menace, or deceit, is not a morally just reason for deportation. Having committed invasions of the rights of others and their justly-acquired property is a good reason to be a candidate for exile – allowing for mercy and mitigating circumstances.
Statistical analysis of risk that one might commit a violent offense is not a good enough reason for deportation. “Working off the books” isn’t a good enough reason. Passively accepting benefits that others have been swindled out of by politicians isn’t a good enough reason. Taking a job that someone else wants isn’t a good enough reason.
Murder is a good enough reason, assuming a response more severe than deportation isn’t called for. Planning criminal invasions of other people’s peaceful celebrations is a good enough reason.
Being an anarchist it would be neglectful of me not to make what Fox News pundits would call “moral equivalences.” Yes, the operator of a drone who kills innocent bystanders while eliminating terrorists may not be guilty of murder. But this anarchist might hold them to the same standard of negligent homicide that is used against reckless drivers.
If an anarchist can advocate for gated communities drawn up by contract, it’s hard to convince a believer in statist law-and-order that countries can’t have borders and use them to keep out enemies.
But, yes. It would also be so much easier if those same statists were able to discriminate between laws which defend people from being mugged and laws which prevent people from ingesting whatever food, drink, smoke, vapor, or chemical they have decided is necessary to their pursuit of happiness.
I seem to recall that this last was important to those who said countries should be based not on the divine right of kings but on the divine rights of everyone.
So there’s the problem. It isn’t discrimination. It’s that the wrong things, and the wrong people, are being discriminated against.