Movie Review: Professor Marston and the Great Unicorn Hunt

Greetings, new readers! Because this review is about a movie featuring polyamory, it’s attracted a lot of attention from folks who don’t usually read my blog.

I write a number of movie reviews in this style; the snark you see here isn’t reserved for this movie. You can see other examples here and here, or just click the Movie Reviews tag.

I am polyamorous. I am kinky. I have seen at least one Wonder Woman movie. Ergo, I am precisely the target demographic for the movie Fifty Shades of Professor Marston and the Great Wonder Unicorn Hunt Women, the movie that is taking Hollywood by storm as it zooms from first-run theaters to the dollar cinema faster than Starship Troopers 3.

I blinked, and so nearly missed the film in its theatrical release, but never fear! Vancouver has one of those theaters that sells beer and cut-rate tickets, with those chairs that make you sit with your knees in your nose and the floors that are always suspiciously sticky, so I was able to plunk down a few hard-earned Canadian dollars and experience the wonder for myself.

At least I think that’s what that feeling was. It might have been my kidney infection.

The movie goes something like this:

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Why are people burning my comic books?

OUTRAGEOUSLY STRAIGHTLACED WOMAN: It’s the 1940s. That’s what we do. Now, we want to ask you a bunch of leading and excessively moralistic questions about your comic book.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Very well, let me begin with a flashback.

He BEGINS with a FLASHBACK

PROFESSOR MARSTON: My new undergrad psychology student is hot.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is this is the 1930s, which means Harvard won’t give me a Ph.D. because I’m a woman. The good news is that this is the 1930s, which means there’s no such thing as an ethics review board, so if you want to sexually groom and then experiment on your undergrad student in really creepy ways that totally objectify her and violate her consent, that’s okay. Also, I have no concept of sexual jealousy.

The polyamorous people in the audience CHEER

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I also have no concept of consent.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Awesome! This will be fun. What is your name, hot undergrad student?

UNICORN: You may call me Unicorn. My mother and aunt are the best-known feminists of this decade. I was raised in a convent, so I am sexually naive and trusting. Plus, I just starred in Fifty Shades Darker, so I have a totally fucked perception of how consent is supposed to work. Also, it kinda makes me this film’s version of the Born Sexy Yesterday trope.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Excellent! Let’s begin, shall we?


WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS, AND POSSIBLY TRIGGERS AS WELL.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, I see my husband has made you his new TA. That stands for…well, we’ll say it stands for “teaching assistant.” Not that other thing, because that would be objectifying, and shame on you for thinking it. Don’t fuck my husband. Also, he likes his coffee black.

UNICORN: Wait, what?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I am going to groom Unicorn so that she becomes my sexual plaything.

The audience LAUGHS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, seriously, I’m going to groom her, exactly the way sexual predators do. In fact, I’m even going to talk to my wife about grooming her, and outline on a blackboard my theories of dominance and submission in a dramatic closeup, just to drive the point home.

The audience LAUGHS

HUMBERT HUMBERT: I approve.

LOLITA: Shut the fuck up, you’re an unreliable narrator.

HUMBERT HUMBERT: This is an unreliable movie!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Hey Unicorn, you’re in a sorority, right?

UNICORN: Yes.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Sneak me and my wife into the sorority building when you do those hazing things that you do with the pledges.

UNICORN: Dude! No! That’s creepy and fucked up! What is wrong with you?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: If you are going to be dedicated to the cause of science, you need to be willing to do whatever I say.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Clever.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Thank you! I got it from a cult leader.

UNICORN: Okay.

UNICORN sneaks PROFESSOR MARSTON and ELIZABETH MARSTON into the SORORITY HOUSE. They have a creepy, fucked up scene where UNICORN is forced to HUMILIATE and SPANK a SORORITY PLEDGE without her CONSENT. PROFESSOR MARSTON gets really INTO IT because non-consent is his THING, and starts jilling off ELIZABETH MARSTON while they watch a woman being NONCONSENSUALLY DEGRADED. There is a brief INTERMISSION so the audience can take a SHOWER

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Whew! That was totally hot. For a followup, let’s non-consensually humiliate Unicorn by asking her really personal and invasive questions, and gaslighting her whenever she tries to assert any boundaries.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You want to fuck my husband.

Unicorn: I do not want to fuck your husband.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: You want to fuck me.

UNICORN: I do not want to fuck you.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Observe, she is exhibiting physiological changes associated with lying! We should use this information to build a lie detector machine which we will use in some really creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing scenes later in this film.

UNICORN: This…is kinda gaslighty.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Nonsense. That term won’t even exist for decades yet.

HUMBERT HUMBERT: I like this movie already.

UNICORN: You guys do know I’m engaged, right?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: It won’t last.

UNICORN: How do you know?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Your fiancé doesn’t get top billing in the movie credits. Plus his character bio on IMDb is blank.

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Wait, what? I’m the only person in this entire movie who even raises the slightest hint of concern that some fucked-up shit is happening! I—

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m sorry, did you say something?

UNICORN: I want to go to grad school and become a journalist.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: A journalist! It’s so cute when you have ambitions. I’ll write a letter of recommendation for you! And then subtly fuck with your head to make you more dependent on my husband and me. In fact, let’s wire my husband up to a prototype lie-detector in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing scene where he fucks with your head by revealing his feelings for you!

They wire PROFESSOR MARSTON to a prototype LIE DETECTOR in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing SCENE

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Do you love me?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Yes.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Do you love Unicorn?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doo.

UNICORN: I’m feeling a little uncomfortable here, with both our personal and professional boundaries. At least, that’s what I would say if I had a healthy sense of boundaries, which I don’t, because I’m 22 years old and completely naive and I’m being groomed by sexual predators.

They wire UNICORN to a prototype LIE DETECTOR in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing SCENE

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Do you love me?

UNICORN: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doo.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Do you love my wife?

UNICORN: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doopy-doopy doo.

The audience LAUGHS, because her LIPS are saying NO but her BODY is saying YES, amirite?

UNICORN: Okay, this has really gone to a twisted place, and I’m not comfortable with the casual lack of any sort of boundaries here. At least, that’s what I would say if I had a healthy sense of boundaries, which I don’t, because remember? Naive and being taken advantage of by a couple of people twice my age who also just so happen to have the keys to my entire fucking academic future in their hands, in a society that doesn’t even consider women to be fully human, much less worthy of being listened to when their boundaries or consent are violated. Instead, I’m going to rush out dramatically so that Elizabeth can chase me and then some fucked-up shit can happen.

UNICORN rushes out of the ROOM, pursued by ELIZABETH. UNICORN is feeling VULNERABLE AND EXPOSED, so naturally they KISS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Bom-chicka-wow-wow!

They have the most CRINGE-INDUCING NOT-REALLY-CONSENSUAL SEX SCENE since that one scene in the first BLADERUNNER

RACHEL: Hey, now! I am an artificially-constructed, synthetic organism specifically designed and built to be a slave. Don’t be bringing me into this! Even I think what’s going on here is fucked up.

ELIZABETH MARSTON and PROFESSOR MARSTON and UNICORN all walk through CAMPUS making LOVEY-DOVEY EYES at each other

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Everyone knows what you’re doing. I’m breaking up with you.

The audience LAUGHS

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Wait, what? How is that funny? I’m, like, the only person in this goddamn movie who even raises the slightest hint that my fiancée being sexually groomed by two people in a position of authority over her might in any slight way be kinda not okay, and—

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m so happy. We’re so happy. We’re all so happy together.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Wait, what? Like, none of this happened. For starters, Professor Marston threatened to leave his wife if she didn’t let Unicorn move in with them. And another thing—

ANGELA ROBINSON: Did I ask you? I don’t recall asking you. I’m the director and this is my movie. If I say it happened, it happened.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: But—

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: We just got fired.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Okay, we’re done. Unicorn, get out.

UNICORN: Wait, what?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Haven’t you seen the official polyamory couple looking for a third flowchart? It’s the rule. As soon as the unicorn becomes the slightest bit inconvenient, the couple re-assert their primacy and kick her out. You knew when you signed up!

UNICORN: No, I actually didn’t know when I signed up, because the two of you have the most shit communication skills I’ve ever seen outside a Hollywood romantic comedy. I mean, seriously, poly folks keep going on about how important communication is, and you two are, like, the most shit of shit people ever to shit a shit when it comes to communication. What the fuck is wrong with you?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m sorry, did you say something?

UNICORN: Also, I’m pregnant.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Oh, that’s so wonderful! Do you hear that, my darling husband? We’re going to be parents! All three of us can live together!

UNICORN: Really? You mean it?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Of course! You can be our live-in nanny and housemaid and take care of your kids and our kids, and—

UNICORN: Wait, what?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Don’t interrupt, dear, I’m not finished. Take care of your kids and our kids, and also cook and clean house for us!

UNICORN:

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You’re the unicorn. It’s what unicorns do. Didn’t you read the flowchart?

They MOVE IN TOGETHER and have MORE KIDS. UNICORN takes care of the KIDS and also COOKS and CLEANS and STUFF

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Ah, look, a lingerie shop! I think I will go inside.

PROFESSOR MARSTON goes inside the LINGERIE SHOP

CREEPY DUDE: Do you like high heels?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: They’re okay, I guess.

CREEPY DUDE: Are you a police officer or a postal inspector or Sonny Crockett?

SONNY CROCKETT: Hey now, leave me out of this shit-show. I spend my time undercover busting human traffickers and child pornographers and stuff. I want nothing to do with you lot.

RACHEL: You want to go get a drink?

SONNY CROCKETT: Replicant lady, I will follow you into a wood chipper if it gets me away from these people.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Um, no?

CREEPY DUDE: Do you, like, like like high heels, like, in that way you like something when, you know, you really like it?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Umm…dude, you’re kind of creepy and you’re making me kind of uncomfortable. At least that’s what I’d say if I had any kind of boundaries at all. But given that this movie is what it is…sure! Let’s say I do. What’ve you got for me?

CREEPY DUDE: Let me open this secret door, see, and…

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Wife! Unicorn! Check it out! I’ve just discovered BDSM porn!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: BDSM porn? What’s that?

UNICORN: Don’t you guys ever look at the Internet?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Let’s go visit the creepy dude and stage the least realistic scene ever filmed in any movie, and I include Hot Tub Time Machine in that list!

THE ENTIRE CAST OF HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: No. No. Oh, hell no. Do not drag us into this. Hey Sonny, replicant lady, you got any room in that wood chipper?

PROFESSOR MARSTON and ELIZABETH MARSTON and UNICORN go back to the LINGERIE SHOP. The CREEPY DUDE ties up a RANDOM WOMAN

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I want to tie up Unicorn.

UNICORN: Okay.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I am going to make a big show of being offended at the idea of bondage and stomp out.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I will follow you out, leaving Unicorn alone with Creepy Dude.

UNICORN: I have just had my two lovers stomp out of the room arguing, leaving me alone with a creepy dude. I will now do the most unrealistic thing ever in any Hollywood movie ever filmed, and I include Hot Tub Time Machine in that list, by going through the creepy dude’s wardrobe dressing up in costumes while I’m here alone with a creepy dude in an unfamiliar place while my lovers are arguing, because that’s totally how Hollywood believes people get into BDSM.

They have the most unrealistic scene in any HOLLYWOOD MOVIE, including HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. Every person in the AUDIENCE who is even passingly familiar with kink GROANS. The ENTIRE CAST of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE walks into a WOOD CHIPPER

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, do you want me to tie you up?

UNICORN: Oh, sure, NOW you ask for my consent. Sure, why not?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I will now tie you up.

UNICORN: Wait, what? Just five minutes ago you were having a dramatic meltdown about how awful bondage is. Nobody, and I mean nobody, spins around that fast. Isn’t this, like, the second most unrealistic scene ever shot in any Hollywood movie?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Yeah, and?

ELIZABETH MARSTON ties up UNICORN in the SECOND MOST UNREALISTIC SCENE ever shot in any HOLLYWOOD MOVIE

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Literally nothing like this ever happened.

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I am going to make a new comic book. It will be filled with bondage.

PROFESSOR MARSTON makes a new COMIC BOOK. It is filled with BONDAGE

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Let’s have a kinky bondage threesome.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Okay!

UNICORN: Okay!

They have a KINKY BONDAGE THREESOME. The neighbor next door WALKS IN ON THEM

NEIGHBORS: We think you guys are perverts. We will shun you now. Shun the perverts! Shun!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, this is all your fault. We must protect our family by kicking you out of the house.

UNICORN: Wait, what? How does that make any sense? The cat is already out of the bag! The horses have bolted, the barn has burned down, and the farm has been bought, paved over, and turned into a McDonald’s parking lot! How on earth does kicking me out now solve anything? And also, why is this my fault?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Read the flowchart. If the couple encounters any problem, they re-assert their primary relationship and blame the unicorn. It’s all right there. Oh, and we will make you bring our kids over here on weekends, because Professor Marston is the father, but you will not be allowed to see our kids, even though you raised them. Besides, my husband and I are, like, productive members of society, but I don’t even know who you are.

UNICORN: I’m the bright young student who was engaged to be married and was going to become a journalist until two people twice my age decided to groom me and then gaslight me into being your live-in sex toy slash maid slash nanny.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Whatever.

UNICORN: You’re a terrible human being, you know that?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You knew the rules when you signed on.

UNICORN: No, actually, I didn’t.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Aaaaaaaand that’s the flashback. Now I will do some dramatic exposition in front of you, Outrageously Straightlaced Woman, featuring some of the most terrible dialog ever to be seen outside one of the Star Wars prequels.

ANAKIN SKYWALKER: Nooooooooooooooooooo! Do not want!

PROFESSOR MARSTON does some UNNECESSARY GRANDSTANDING featuring TERRIBLE DIALOG, and then COLLAPSES DRAMATICALLY. ANAKIN SKYWALKER follows the cast of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE into the WOOD CHIPPER. The dialog WEDGES

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Hey Unicorn, Professor Marston is in the hospital.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I’m dying of cancer. Tell her! Tell her the thing!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You tell her.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, you tell her!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You tell her!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, you tell her!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Will you forgive me for being, like, the worst human being ever, completely disregarding your feelings, treating you like you’re totally expendable, and generally being just about as shitty as one person can be to another person without involving the use of a meat cleaver?

UNICORN: No.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Hang on a minute! No? You’re not supposed to say no!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Let’s use emotional manipulation on her.

The audience LAUGHS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, seriously, I’m going to emotionally manipulate her. In fact, I’m going to do some completely unnecessary exposition right now describing exactly how I’m emotionally manipulating her.

UNICORN: Are you for real?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I know! Try a non-apology apology, only without saying you’re sorry!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Okay.

ELIZABETH MARSTON gives the least convincing NON-APOLOGY APOLOGY since KEVIN SPACEY’S TWEETS. She never once says she’s SORRY

UNICORN: All is forgiven.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Great! So you’ll move back in, cook and clean, take care of the kids, and be a live-in maid, then?

UNICORN: Sure, if you buy me a new stove.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Deal.

PROFESSOR MARSTON DIES. The movie EN—

EXPOSITION TEXT: And they lived happily ever after.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Wait, what? This is not even close to how it happened. In fact, you didn’t even get Elizabeth Marston’s job right. You said she was a secretary. She was actually an editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. Do you even read Wikipedia?

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Oh, never mind. We’ll just follow Anakin into that wood chipper. Anything to get away from this travesty.

The movie ENDS

I wrote a new thing!

For the first time in more than a year (has it really been that long?), I’ve added a new page to the More Than Two site: Is polyamory unnatural?

This page came from a new line of attack aimed at polyamory I’ve started hearing lately: “Polyamory means doing a lot of work to overcome jealousy. Doesn’t that mean you’re basically programming yourself to normalize something that’s unnatural?”

Yeah, I made that noise the first time I read it, too. But then I started hearing it again, and again, and I thought, okay, mmmmaybe this deserves a reply.

So I wrote a thing. You can see the thing here:

Is polyamory unnatural?

Here’s the teaser:

Poly people are always talking about ways to defeat jealousy. Isn’t that just conditioning yourself to accept something unnatural?

No, seriously, don’t laugh–this is an honest question that’s being raised more and more often as an objection to polyamory. If being able to function in a relationship requires that you work hard to overcome an emotion like jealousy, doesn’t that mean you’re simply trying to desensitize yourself to a perfectly natural and reasonable feeling, and that polyamory really isn’t a natural choice?
Polyamorous people talk a lot about jealousy partly because it’s something that we get asked about a lot, and partly because, yes, it’s a perfectly normal emotion we’ve all faced at some point in time. And honestly, if all you feel is jealousy in a polyamorous relationship–if all you do is fight against your emotions all the time, and there’s no joy in polyamory for you–maybe it’s really not the right relationship choice. It’s okay to be monogamous. It’s okay not to want to be in plural relationships if that model isn’t a good fit. If you see nothing but struggle in polyamory, and there’s no upside, hey, don’t be polyamorous!
And don’t let anyone tell you polyamory is “more advanced” or “more evolved” either–that’s hornswoggle.

But here’s the thing…

Jealousy isn’t a polyamorous issue. Monogamous people can and do feel jealousy, too. Developing tools to deal with jealousy makes everyone’s life better, regardless of whether you’re monogamous or not.

You can read the rest here.

Does love mean giving someone the power to abuse you?

I am active on Quora, and every now and then, a question appears that rises above the baseline. blog post was inspired by one of those questions.

A few days ago, someone asked if being in a relationship is just handing someone else the power to abuse you.

And the trivial answer, of course, is yes. But that misses the deeper point.

Yes, being in a relationship means placing your heart in someone else’s hands and trusting them to treat it gently. Not everyone does. You make yourself vulnerable when you go about this business of emotional intimacy. You hand another person a terrible weapon that can be used to hurt you, and you trust that they won’t use it against you.

It is always possible to be hurt any time you go into a romantic relationship. There are thousands of ways this can happen: carelessness, insecurity, plain old-fashioned incompatibility. This is the risk you take when you engage with other people.

It’s important to understand, though, that not all hurt is abuse. Abuse is rooted in power and control. An abuser genuinely, sincerely believes it is okay to control someone else to get what he or she wants. The abuser feels entitled to this control; the abuser truly believes, to the bottom of his or her heart, that controlling the victim is not only necessary, it is just, reasonable, and proper.

If you engage with other people, sooner or later you will be hurt. And yes, sooner or later you will probably cross paths with an abuser. Statistically speaking, it’s bound to happen.

But this doesn’t mean if you have relationships, you are guaranteed to be abused.

Abusers don’t abuse everyone they meet immediately upon meeting; if they did, they’d be easy to spot. It is possible to learn skills that help you identify abusers and recognize abusive behavior. And should you find yourself in a relationship with an abuser despite your best efforts, you can learn to assert boundaries that will help you leave abusive relationships.

A key part of the skill to recognize abusers is to learn to spot boundary-pushing behavior. If you say no, what does the other person do? If you tell someone not to touch you or not to do something else, how do they respond? Abusers often engage in repeated boundary-pushing at the start of a relationship–ignoring small “nos,” doing things you tell them not to do-—because abusers seek out people who lack the ability to assert boundaries and won’t enforce a “no.”

Part of protecting yourself from abuse includes learning to assert boundaries firmly and unflinchingly, without backing down. “I said no.” “Don’t touch me like that.” “You may not speak to me that way.” And that skill includes choosing not to be with someone who overruns your boundaries even if you’re really, really smitten with them.

Developing good boundaries doesn’t mean you’ll never be hurt. Pain is part of life. Nobody makes it through life without a few dents and scratches. That doesn’t mean you will be abused.

Abuse can happen to anyone, and it’s never the fault of the person being abused. Think of it like driving a car: there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee you’ll never be in a traffic accident. But wearing your seatbelt and driving defensively can help, and should you be in an accident anyway, they may help limit the damage.

Fastening your seatbelt in a relationship means learning positive, healthy communication and relationship skills and investing in solid, resilient self-esteem. These don’t necessarily make you immune to abuse, but they can empower you to interrupt abusive patterns, and they can help you escape if an abuser should get his or her claws into you.

But here’s the thing: Yes, it is possible you may be abused; it can happen to anyone. But that can’t be the thing that stops you from opening your heart to other people.

We are a social species. Most of us do better in intimate relationships with other people. Opening your heart carries risk, but it’s also one of the most enriching, rewarding things you will ever do. And the alternative, walling off your heart behind barriers and barbed wire, will suffocate it.

We can’t become so afraid that we lose sight of the fact that relationships make life better. If you refuse to engage in any relationships for fear of being abused, you commit an act of violence against your own heart.

It’s time to pack up and move

I’ve been blogging on LiveJournal since August of 2001. And what a long, strange trip it’s been. In the past fifteen and a half years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way people use social media: the rise and subsequent fall of a whole host of blogging services, the gradual fading away of USENET and email lists, Facebook’s march to supremacy.

In all that time I’ve continued to use Livejournal, partly because a lot of people know about my blog and follow me there, and partly because after more than a decade it becomes exceptionally difficult to move.

Today, when I signed on to LiveJournal, I found the writing on the wall:

LiveJournal was bought many moons ago by a Russian company, but only recently moved its servers to Russia. And since doing so, it’s been required to update its Terms of Service to comply with Russian law, which is rather odious and, well, Russian.

I don’t intend to go into a full analysis of the implications of the new ToS. That’s been done already in many places on the Web, including here, here, here, and here. (Interestingly, there’s no discussion of the change on the official LJ Policy community, and in fact there hasn’t been any discussion there since 2015.)

The bits I do want to talk about are those bits directly relevant to me and this blog.

The new Terms of Service have two provisions that directly impact me: in accordance with Russian law, any blog or community read by more than 3,000 readers is considered a ‘publication’ and is subject to State controls on publications, including the provision that the blogger or moderator is legally liable under Russian law for any content posted by any user; and blogs are prohibited from “perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation.”

This blog is routinely read by more than 3,000 people, making me a “publisher” under Russian law.

And, more worrying, the Russian “gay propaganda law” forbids discussion of “sexual deviancy,” which includes LGBTQ issues. “Propaganda of non-traditional relationships” is forbidden by this law.

I’m not concerned that the Kremlin is going to demand my extradition to Russia to face trial. I am concerned that there’s a very real possibility this blog may disappear at any time without warning.


For a couple of years now, I’ve kept a backup of this blog over at blog.franklinveaux.com. The blog there is a mirror of the blog here, though links over there point to blog entries here rather than there. (Fixing that will be a massive undertaking, involving changing many hundreds of links in thousands of blog posts.)

I moved my LJ to WordPress, a process that was extraordinarily painful. There is an LJ importer for WordPress, and a tutorial for moving your LJ blog to WordPress here, but, as I discovered, there are a few gotchas.

First, the LJ importer plugin was not tested on large blogs. It requires enormous amounts of memory to import a LiveJournal blog with more than a couple hundred entries; at the time I did the migration, I had north of 1,600 blog posts. Second, it chokes on blog entries that have more than 100 or so comments.

Many, perhaps most, Web hosting companies place limitations on memory and CPU usage that prevent the WordPress LJ importer from working on large blogs.

Second, it won’t move images. If you have uploaded images to LJ’s servers, you must download them and re-upload them to your new WordPress blog.

I was unable to use the LJ importer to import my entire LiveJournal blog. I finally discovered a workaround, but it’s cumbersome:

  1. Create a free WordPress blog at WordPress.com.
  2. Use the importer there (it’s in the Tools menu) to import your LiveJournal blog.

    If you’re okay hosting your new blog at WordPress.com, you’re done. If, however, you wish to host your blog on your own server with your own WordPress installation, there are a few more steps:

  3. Use the Exporter to export a WordPress XML file of the blog.
  4. Set up your own self-hosted WordPress installation on your own server.
  5. Import the file you exported from WordPress.com.

Images you have uploaded to LJ will, as I’ve mentioned, need to be uploaded to your WordPress blog. (Thank God I’ve never done this; I’ve always put my images on my own server and linked to them there.)

The problem is compounded by the fact that LiveJournal has never wanted you to move. There’s no graceful way to export your LJ blog. There is an exporter of sorts, but it only exports a month at a time. The Wayback Machine at archive.org doesn’t archive LiveJournal posts, at least not consistently (it has crawled my blog only 37 times despite the fact that I have some 1,700 blog entries).


This is a huge problem. LiveJournal was one of the first blogging platforms, and a tremendous amount of very valuable information about the rise of social media is in danger of being lost.

This is, of course, the curse of the modern age. A diary written with pen and paper can be lost in an attic for centuries and then, once discovered, provide insight into the lives of people in a long-gone time. But we don’t record our lives that way any more. Today, our journals are kept on computer servers–servers owned by other people. And there’s no leaving these journals in an attic for a century for future people to find. They require constant, and sometimes very difficult, work to maintain. Anything you host on someone else’s servers for free is subject to someone else’s whims.

I am dedicated to doing the work to preserve my journal. From now on, I will not be posting new journal entries here. This blog will remain for as long as it can, and I will post links here to blog updates over on blog.franklinveaux.com. I encourage others to do the same. Anything here is subject to the vargarities of Russian law and should be assumed to be unstable, subject to deletion without warning.

From this point forward, please link to new blog posts on blog.franklinveaux.com, not LiveJournal. Over the next few months, I plan to work on linking my most popular LiveJournal entries back to their mirrors on franklinveaux, and updating links there to point ot blog posts there rather than here.

Oh, and the last person to leave LJ, please remember to turn off the lights.

Everything I needed to know about game theory, I learned from Italian publishers

There is an Italian version of More Than Two. Or rather, there is, in an alternate universe in which the Italian publisher who published the Italian-language edition of More Than Two was honest and abided by its agreements, an Italian version of More Than Two. Alas, that universe is not this universe.

In the universe we live in, the publisher signed an agreement, but then never made the payment that would have activated the rights transfer. They also added a foreword without consulting with us first, something explicitly forbidden in the agreement.

Okay, so that’s shitty and all, but the place where things get especially weird is that so far, every Italian person we’ve talked to about this has nodded sagely and said, “Well, yes. That’s Italy.”

Since things have gone sideways with the Italian publisher, I’ve heard a number of stories of commiseration from Italians. This is, it seems, about par for the course when one sets out to do business in Italy.

Which is really weird, when you think about it.

But I didn’t come here to complain about the Italian publisher of More Than Two. I came here to talk about game theory.


Say you’re a businessperson who deals with a certain…unsavory element buying and selling products you legally oughtn’t. Say that, for your security and that of your clients, you always do business anonymously. You don’t know who your clients are, they don’t know who you are, and never the two of you shall meet. You do business indirectly: you leave a suitcase full of money under the tree stump at the old Dearborn farm, and your client leaves a sack with the shady goods under a trestle out by the abandoned railroad bridge.

This is a variant on the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, which I’ve touched on before in the context of polyamory. This is a classic problem in game theory. You have a choice: leave your money or leave an empty suitcase. Your mystery client has a choice: leave the goods or leave an empty sack. If you both leave what you’re supposed to leave, you both benefit. If one of you leaves what you’re supposed to leave and the other leaves nothing, then whoever left nothing makes out double–he gets the money and the goods. And if you both leave nothing, neither of you loses but neither of you gains, either.

In game theory terms, you each have a choice: cooperate (C) or defect (D). Each of you chooses C or D. If you both choose C, you both benefit a little; if you both choose D, neither of you benefits but you also don’t lose; if one chooses C and once chooses D, the person who chooses C loses and the person who chooses D gains.

The temptation, then, is very strong to defect.

Ah, but what if you don’t have just a single exchange? What if you have a standing arrangement where you do the transaction every Friday night at midnight? If your mystery partner defects, you will naturally lose trust, and you’ll have no reason to cooperate. But if both of you defect all the time, neither of you is getting what you want! Presumably you want the goods more than you want the money, and presumably they want the money more than they want the goods, or else you’d never agree to the exchange. So what benefit is there in both of you practicing an all-defect strategy?

So the calculation is a bit different in one-off exchanges (where there’s strong incentive to defect) vs. an ongoing relationship (where there’s incentive to cooperate).


These situations play out all the time in real life. Every day, we have choices to cooperate or defect, where defecting might give us short-term gain, but at the cost of long-term success. Some of those choices are made in situations where there won’t be an ongoing relationship, and some in situations where there will.

Most of the time, we know the other player in these games; it’s rare the other side is totally anonymous. It’s also rare each side is powerless to seek redress if one party defects. In fact, you could make a case for the notion that’s what civilization is: a system designed to prevent people from practicing an all-defect strategy without consequence.

We are a social species. Social entities have to work together. If everyone defects all the time, social structures break down. This is, in fact, hypothesized as the root of altruism: for social species, altruism has positive survival value. Working together, we can accomplish more, and survive challenges we can’t survive apart. (There’s a book about this, in fact; it’s called The Evolution of Cooperation.)

But there’s no getting around the fact that defecting does offer a short-term payoff, especially if you do it and your partner doesn’t. And there’s a huge penalty for cooperating if your partner defects. Them’s the facts.

In most human societies, most people cooperate most of the time. In some societies, however, it seems people are more prone to defect.

The Italian publisher applied and all-defect strategy with us. They defected when they didn’t pay us, and defected again when they added a foreword. When we complained, they said they’d stop selling the book until we resolved our differences; and while we were in the process of negotiating with them to do so, they defected yet again, continuing to sell and advertise the book when they’d said they’d stop. And then, when we complained again, they said, “Ok, sue us, Italian courts are so slow it’ll never go to trial–and even if it does, we don’t have any money anyway.”

So finally, we stopped trying to negotiate, issued a statement, and started filing takedown requests. From the publisher’s perspective, this probably felt like a defection. And neither we nor the publisher got what we wanted. And everyone shrugged and said, “Yeah, that’s Italy for you.”

Worse, the fact that we pulled the plug probably validated the publisher’s idea. “See,” they might say, “this is why we behave the way we do–because, look, people are always screwing us!” When you practice an all-D strategy, your partners are going to defect too. Which means you should defect, because they’re going to defect, so why should you be the only chump cooperating?


But here’s the thing: Since we are, arguably, evolved to be cooperative; since most of the encounters we have are not one-off exchanges (and even if they are, word gets around–if you screwed your last ten customers, the eleventh might not want to deal with you); and since societies need some minimum level of cooperating in order to function…why do we occasionally see places where people appear to play an all-D strategy?

One person Eve and I have spoken to has suggested that Italy has such a long history of corrupt, dysfunctional politics and essentially broken legal systems that people have developed a habit of breaking rules, simply because in a corrupt society, you must break rules simply to get anything done. This pattern has played out in Russia as well, another place where, it seems, all-D strategies are common. If that’s true, it would seem to create a perfect storm of positive feedback: people begin to defect routinely, as a matter of course, because the social systems have become dysfunctional. This causes the social systems to become more dysfunctional, because societies in which many people tend to defect are intrinsically dysfunctional. That increased dysfunction causes more people to defect more often in their exchanges with others, which leads to greater dysfunction, and so it goes.

Which, if that’s true, bodes ill.

There is, right now, in the US White House, a person who has made a career of defecting. The Cheeto-in-Chief is notorious for screwing his contractors, his vendors, and his financial backers; that’s why he ended up in bed with Russian banks–American banks refuse to do business with him. His Orangeness has surrounded himself with people who also tend to practice all-D strategies; indeed, one could argue that the Tea Party was virtually built on a foundation of all-D behavior.

I fear that, if this idea becomes entrenched enough in US society, it will become normalized to defect as a matter of course, in all kinds of business and social interactions. Once that positive feedback loop sets in, I’m not sure how, or if, it can be reversed.

And people will sigh, and nod, and say, “You got screwed by an American company? Yeah, that’s the Americans for you.”

A society that works this way will never remain a world power. (Russia, I’m looking at you here.)

The Return of the Spam Tsunami

As regular readers of this blog know, I am an amateur infosec researcher, and I track spam and malware as a hobby. And, as many of you know, there are certain names–ISPs, people, affiliate networks, content delivery networks–that tend to come up again and again whenever you do a deep dive into the seedy, twisted world of spam and malware.

A while back, I wrote a blog post about a prolific spammer named Mike Boehm, who makes money sending spam emails that advertise affiliate links on affiliate Web sites. Every time someone clicks a link in one of his spam emails, they’re redirected through a network of computers, all designed to put distance between the spam email and the final site, until eventually arriving at an affiliate Web site, which pays Mr. Boehm for the referral.

Lately, I’ve found myself buried under a blizzard–nay, dare I say, a tsunami–of spam emails that all have very similar characteristics. They advertise a site, usually with a cheap top level domain that nobody wants such as .stream or .science or .faith. Visiting the site shows a plain white page with an animated “Loading” graphic. Then, after a few seconds, you end up on a completely different site, the one actually advertised in the spam.

These spam emails have some but not all of the characteristics of Mike Boehm spam. It’s been hard to track them, because they use complex JavaScript to attempt to hide how the redirection works, what affiliate network they’re using, and where they redirect to. I’ve been collecting examples, and as the number of these spam emails arriving in my inbox has risen, so too has my blood pressure.

Today, it finally reached the point where I sat down and did the work to take apart the tricky JavaScript redirectors and figure out what’s happening.

Lo and behold, the JavaScript is used to redirect visitors through Clickbank, a favored affiliate network used by Mike Boehm in the past.

The system works like this:

Basically, the spamvertised site contains hidden iFrames and/or hidden divs that have a redirection JavaScript. The redirection JavaScript attempts to conceal where the page is redirecting to. The code on the Spamvertised pages looks like this:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”hxxp://[spamvertised domain]/ajax/get_js/main/”></script>
<title>Loading…</title>
<meta hxxp-equiv=”content-type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″ />
</head>
<body>
<div style=”position:absolute;top:-1000px;left:-1000px;height:0px;width:0px;”><a href=”hxxp://www.buzsounds.faith/tr11/6/685/416/510/81/26391725/index.htm” style=”border=0;”><div></div></a></div>
<div id=”show_loading”>
<center><br /><br /><img src=’hxxp://[spamvertised domain]/ajax/get_imgl/loading.gif/’ /></center>
</div>
<div id=”content” style=”display:none;”>
<iframe id=”content_window”>
<html>
<body>
<center><br /><br /><img src=’hxxp://[spamvertised domain]/ajax/get_imgl/loading.gif/’ /></center>
</body>
</html>
</iframe>
</div>
<script type=”text/javascript”>
$(document).ready(
function() {
if (ajax._loaded == false) {
var _doc = ajax.getIframeCW(document.getElementById(‘content_window’));
_doc.body.innerHTML = ‘<html><body><center><br /><br /><img src=\’hxxp://[spamvertised domain]/ajax/get_imgl/loading.gif/\’ /></center></body></html>’;
}
}
);
ajax.getMainPage(
param1,
param2,
param3,
param4,
param5,
param6,
param7,
qs
);
</script>

The JavaScript loaded from the script tag assembles a URL from the parameters, then loads the content of that URL.

getMainPage : function(m,l,li,s,u,o,c) {
var _u = “”;

if (u == ”) {
if (o == ” && c == ”) {
_u = host_name+’ajax_m/get_main_page/’+m+’/’+l+’/’+li+’/’+s+’/’;
}else{
_u = host_name+’ajax_m/get_main_page/’+m+’/’+l+’/’+li+’/’+s+’/’+o+’/’+c+’/’;
}
}else {
if (o == ” && c == ”) {
_u = host_name+’ajax_m/get_main_page/’+m+’/’+l+’/’+li+’/’+s+’/’+u+’/’;
}else{
_u = host_name+’ajax_m/get_main_page/’+m+’/’+l+’/’+li+’/’+s+’/’+u+’/’+o+’/’+c+’/’;
}

}

if(qs != ”) {
_u = _u+”qs/?”+qs;
}

$.ajax({
url: _u,
success: function(data) {

if (pg_st == 0) {
var _w = window;
_w.location = data;
}else{
$(‘#show_loading’).css(‘display’,’block’);
$(‘#content’).css(‘display’,’none’);
var _doc = document.getElementById(‘content_window’);
_doc.src = data;
_doc.onload = ajax.flip;
}
}
});
},

The URL that’s assembled contains nothing but a text string to yet another URL. And, as it turns out, that URL belongs–surprise!–to Clickbank.

In the past, Clickbank has been reasonably responsive to spam complaints. I won’t say they’re great (they’re slow and often don’t take action until I’ve complained multiple times), but they do eventually shut down spamming affiliates.

They shut Mike Boehm down multiple times, and for a while, I was seeing very little spam from him.

This new tsunami of spam, accompanied by the sneaky attempts to conceal the Clickbank redirects, suggests that he’s back to his old tricks, but this time trying to prevent anyone from complaining and having him shut down again.

I’ve managed to find the affiliate IDs he’s using and file complaints with Clickbank. I hope they shut him down again.

There’s a degree of entitlement among spammers I rarely see outside abusers.

Movie review: The Great Wall

We didn’t plan to see The Great Wall. We actually intended to see Get Out, but owing to an unfortunate accident with a parallax time distortion unit and a group of Brazilian terrorists, we ended up in the theater a week early. The only movie that had not yet started playing was The Great Wall, starring a bunch of CG space aliens, Willem Dafoe as John Hurt doing an impression of Keanu Reeves, Matt Damon as Matt Damon, and Tian Jing as an archer-specialized player character from Skyrim.


Seriously, tell me this isn’t glass armor from Skyrim.

So, with some trepidation, we ventured into the theater, expectations and parallax time distortion unit appropriately recalibrated.

The movie goes something like this:

MATT DAMON: The Chinese have the secret of black powder. We do not. Let us venture to China and steal black powder from the Chinese.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Wait, what? If they have black powder and we don’t, doesn’t that mean they have better weapons than we do, thus making stealing from their military kind of a bad idea?
MATT DAMON: That’s why we brought expendable extras with us. Plus, I have a magnet.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Why do you have a magnet?
MATT DAMON: Because unlike you, I read the script.
EXPENDABLE EXTRAS: Hang on, back up a second. What was that part about expendable–

CG SPACE ALIENS come out of NOWHERE and kill the EXPENDABLE EXTRAS.

MATT DAMON: Matt Damon!

MATT DAMON and MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK kill a CG SPACE ALIEN and chop off its ARM

MATT DAMON: Let’s take that arm with us.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Wait, what? Why?
MATT DAMON: Because it’s a CG space alien’s arm, of course!


Arr! Spoilers be down below!

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Hey Matt Damon, we’re being chased by mounted nomadic warriors! We should run away!

They RUN AWAY and discover a GIANT WALL with a whole bunch of ANGRY CHINESE ARCHERS atop it

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: I think we should surrender.
MATT DAMON: I have a better idea. We should surrender.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Ah. this is going to be one of those movies, isn’t it?
MATT DAMON: Yes. Yes, it is.

They are taken before the HIGH COMMANDER and INTERROGATED. WILLEM DAFOE quietly LURKS in the BACKGROUND.

MATT DAMON: Look! We have a space alien arm!
HIGH COMMANDER: Your space alien arm impresses us, Matt Damon. I will put you in a prison cell.
RANDOM SOLDIER DUDE: I can’t find the key to the cell.
HIGH COMMANDER’S UNDERLING: Put the prisoners on top of the wall instead, because that totally makes sense.

SPACE ALIENS attack the WALL. ARCHERS FROM SKYRIM jump off the WALL on BUNGEE CORDS to SHOOT and STAB the SPACE ALIENS because that makes TOTAL SENSE and it is TOTALLY how you defend a WALL from attackers who have NO PROJECTILE WEAPONS. WILLEM DAFOE quietly MUNCHES SCENERY in the BACKGROUND.

MATT DAMON: Space aliens are attacking the wall! Matt Damon’s sidekick, grab a red cloak and go all bullfighter on them while I shoot them with trick shots using my bow!
LEGOLAS: Eh, I’ve seen better.
ALIEN QUEEN: Oh shit, there are white people up on top of the wall! Retreat! Retreat!

They have a VICTORY CELEBRATION. The CHINESE MILITARY taunts MATT DAMON for his BOW.

MATT DAMON: Watch as I do some complicated trick shots with my bow.

MATT DAMON does some COMPLICATED TRICK SHOTS with his BOW and manages not to PUT HIS EYE OUT or ANYTHING.

HIGH COMMANDER: Your complicated trick shot with a bow impresses us, Matt Damon.
LEGOLAS: Eh, I’ve seen better.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Matt Damon, you should put on a bungee cord and jump off the wall.
MATT DAMON: Why?
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: To show that you trust us.
MATT DAMON: Well, first of all, I don’t trust you. Second of all, this is the most inane strategy I’ve ever heard of for defending a fortification.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: What’s wrong with it?
MATT DAMON:
MATT DAMON: So you have a wall…
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Right.
MATT DAMON: And you have blades on the wall and trebuchet and archers and all kinds of stuff.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Uh-huh.
MATT DAMON: So you just stand up on the wall and shoot the space aliens. And drop things on them. Like rocks. Or hell, I don’t know, like bombs, since you have explosives and stuff.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: But they climb the wall!
MATT DAMON: So build an overhang at the top! With doors in the floor that you can shoot and drop bombs through and stuff!
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM:
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Nope, not getting it.
MATT DAMON: You guys suck at walls. The whole point of a fortification is to deny your opponents access to a piece of land without needing to engage them in hand to hand combat. When you really think about it…

The dialog WEDGES

PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: This dialog sucks. I’m outta here.
WILLEM DAFOE: You came here to steal black powder?
MATT DAMON: Yes, we did.
WILLEM DAFOE: I, too, came here to steal black powder. I have devised a cunning plan. I have hidden supplies and weapons all along the road and I have made preparations to steal the black powder from the armory. When the space aliens attack, we can be on our way.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: If you’ve done all this preparation, why didn’t you steal the black powder and run away like, ten years ago?
WILLEM DAFOE: Because I’ve been waiting for Matt Damon.
MATT DAMON: Ah, right, of course.

HIGH COMMANDER: You have a magnet. That is how you killed the space alien at the beginning of this movie.
MATT DAMON: How do you know?
HIGH COMMANDER: The legends speak of a time when the Emperor was cruel and wicked, so the space aliens came to punish him. Now, every sixty years, the space aliens come out of hiding in the mountains and roam the earth for food.
MATT DAMON: Wait, what? A large number of organized, highly aggressive, large predators only come out once every sixty years? How does that ecosystem make any sense at all?
HIGH COMMANDER: It worked for Pitch Black, didn’t it?
VIN DIESEL: Hey, leave me out of this. My movie rocked.

A SPACE ALIEN starts rampaging on the WALL in the middle of the NIGHT

HIGH COMMANDER: Quickly! We must kill the space alien!

A SECOND SPACE ALIEN comes up BEHIND THEM and ATTACKS

HIGH COMMANDER: Clever girl.

The HIGH COMMANDER DIES

PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Now I am in charge!
MATT DAMON: Great. We should capture a space alien.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Did you not just hear me? I said I am in charge!
MATT DAMON: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Okay, so what we’ll do is we’ll make some alien tranquilizer–
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: I am in charge. Also, how on earth would we know anything about alien physiology or biochemistry? What makes you think a tranquilizer–
MATT DAMON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then we’ll put the alien tranquilizer on harpoons, see. And we stab the harpoons into the aliens and use the magnet to keep them from fighting back! And then we put them in a cage!
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: We have never before thought of using harpoons, capturing aliens, or using magnets. Fortunately, we happen to have a whole bunch of harpoons and alien tranquilizer just lying around, even though this idea is completely new to us and we’ve never even considered it before. And look, there’s an alien-sized cage just lying here! Also, even though we learned that magnets incapacitate aliens hundreds of years ago, we have never considered using magnets in any of our fortifications or defenses because of reasons. It’s a good thing you came by to save us, Matt Damon! Also, I’m being so sincere right now. No, really, I am. Sarcasm is not known to my people.

A FOG rolls in. The aliens ATTACK. MATT DAMON jumps off the WALL on a BUNGEE CORD to fight tranquilized aliens HAND TO HAND instead of just waiting for the TRANQUILIZER to work

MATT DAMON: I have captured a space alien!

The PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM opens a DOOR in the bottom of the WALL and they come out and get the CAPTURED SPACE ALIEN

MATT DAMON: Wait, what? You have a door at the bottom of the wall? Then how come I jumped off the top of the wall on a bungee cord like a dumbass?
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: You didn’t ask. I do not think you came here to save us. I think you came hear to steal our black powder.
MATT DAMON:
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: I can’t tell who’s worse, us or the space aliens. At least you don’t see them screwing each other for a percentage of the profit.
RIPLEY: That’s my line.
BURKE: Go for the black powder! Do it! Do it!

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: The next time the aliens come, you and I and Willem Dafoe should steal the black powder and run away.
MATT DAMON: That’s a terrible idea.
BURKE: No, that’s an awesome idea!
MATT DAMON: I am the hero of this movie. Stealing and running away isn’t very heroic.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: You’re a loser snowflake cuck.

The SOLDIERS find a TUNNEL that has been dug through the WALL

PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: The space aliens have dug a tunnel through the wall! Now they will destroy the world, just like the creatures in Pitch Black, which was a much better movie!
MATT DAMON: You guys really don’t understand static defenses, do you?

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: Willem Dafoe and I have blown the door off the armory and stolen the black powder. Come with us!
MATT DAMON: No.
WILLEM DAFOE: Wait, what? Why?
MATT DAMON: Because unlike you, I have read the script.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: You’re a loser snowflake cuck. I am going to write SUCH an angry tweet about you.

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK knocks out MATT DAMON and writes SUCH AN ANGRY TWEET. WILLEM DAFOE and MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK ride off with the BLACK POWDER

PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Matt Damon, your friends have stolen the black powder and run away.I will put you in a cell, since we have finally found the key. Also, we will now get onto hot air balloons which have failed all of our tests and fly to the capital, where we have shipped the captured space alien in a cage. Let us be off.

They get into HOT AIR BALLOONS that have FAILED ALL THE TESTS. The NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS all PLUMMET TO THEIR HORRIBLE DEATHS. The BALLOONS bearing MAJOR CHARACTERS all WORK JUST FINE.

WILLEM DAFOE: Go walk up that hill and see where we are. I promise not to steal your horse and all your supplies and ride off into the desert, leaving you stranded.
MATT DMON’S SIDEKICK: Okay.

WILLEM DAFOE steals the HORSE and ALL THE SUPPLIES and rides off into the DESERT, leaving MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK STRANDED

MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: You promised!
WILLEM DAFOE: Ha! I had my fingers crossed!

WILLEM DAFOE is captured by RAIDERS and tied up next to the BONFIRE. The RAIDERS start PLAYING with the BLACK POWDER next to the BONFIRE

WILLEM DAFOE: Oh sh–

WILLEM DAFOE, the RAIDERS, and EVERYONE WITHIN A MILE are blown SKY-HIGH by the BLACK POWDER

MATT DAMON: I will get on a balloon and ride it to the capital city and kill the queen space alien.
CHINESE NERD: Aren’t you afraid the balloon will blow up and send you plummeting to your gruesome death?
MATT DAMON: I am not a non-player character.
CHINESE NERD: I’m riding with you.

They FLY to the CAPITAL CITY. The SPACE ALIENS are RAMPAGING

CHINESE NERD: We can cover the captured space alien with bombs and let it go! When it goes to the queen it will blow her up!
MATT DAMON: See, that’s what I’m talking about. This is why nerds rule the world.

They cover the CAPTURED SPACE ALIEN with BOMBS and let it GO. It heads straight to the QUEEN

CHINESE NERD: Okay, now shoot it with a flaming arrow to set off the bombs!
MATT DAMON:
MATT DAMON: What the…
MATT DAMON: Are you fucking serious?
MATT DAMON: You couldn’t have put a timer on them?
CHINESE NERD: Do what where?
MATT DAMON: A timer! Like a slow-burning charge…
CHINESE NERD:
MATT DAMON: …a glass envelope with a starter charge in it that ignites when the queen bites down, a chemical delay fuse…
CHINESE NERD:
MATT DAMON: Anything? Anything?
CHINESE NERD: Nope, not getting it.

MATT DAMON SIGHS

MATT DAMON: Okay, I will go up this tower and make a daring trick arrow shot that will save the world.

MATT DAMON makes a DARING TRICK ARROW SHOT that MISSES. The world is not SAVED

LEGOLAS: Loser!
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Okay, I will go up this tower and make a daring trick arrow shot that will save the world.

The PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM makes a DARING TRICK ARROW SHOT that BLOWS UP THE QUEEN. The world is SAVED

LEGOLAS: Eh, I’ve seen better.
PLAYER CHARACTER FROM SKYRIM: Matt Damon, we have captured your sidekick wandering alone in the desert without a horse or supplies. You can take him with you or you can take black powder with you. Your choice.
MATT DAMON: I choose Matt Damon’s Sidekick.
MATT DAMON’S SIDEKICK: It’s like I don’t even know you any more!
PADME: That’s my line! It’s pretty awful, though. You can have it if you want.

PADME dies of CONSUMPTION
The movie ENDS

Moving into the Modern Era

I first released my sex game Onyx twenty years ago. I’ve been maintaining it and distributing it from various Web sites ever since, and to be honest, the Web sites I’ve been distributing it from haven’t advanced a whole lot in that twenty years. Seriously, if you want to see the Web as it was in the 90s, look no further than my Symtoys site. (Mobile browser compatible? Pah! What’s that? In my day, we surfed the Web on dial-up from a Mac IIvx!)

As I work on making Onyx 4 more accessible and modern, I’m also working to dust off my own corners of the Web. And I’ve just completed a big part of that.

I am pleased to announce a brand-new, modern Web site for Onyx. And I’ve also dragged my boots out of the mid-90s and upgraded to a completely new Web shopping cart for all my posters and stuff.

And you can help me celebrate!

Special offer! Use coupon code

newsite17

on checkout for $6 off registration!

Download Onyx here!

On building a culture of consent

It’s predictable. That’s the most infuriating thing about it: it’s so goddamn dreadfully predictable.

If it were a surprise, we could at least say that it was surprising because we didn’t expect it. If we didn’t expect it, that means we were expecting something else. But god damn if it isn’t dreary in its monotonous predictability.

Five and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post called Assault and Consent in the BDSM Community. It concerned a person I know who’d been raped by a well-known leader in the Portland BDSM scene1. When she came forward about the assault, the BDSM scene closed ranks behind him and against her. It wasn’t until many more women stepped forward to say that he had raped them, too, that he was eventually run out of the scene…but it took a long time. And during that time, the predictable and monotonous drumbeat of minimization and victim-blaming and “well I never had a problem with him” bullshit (newsflash: you never had a problem with him because you’re not in his preferred victim demographic, duh) was all you could hear in the local community.

I’ve talked about this before, of course. It, and a succession of similar events like it with that same old same old unwillingness to deal with abuse in the community, was the reason I left the BDSM scene. I am still kinky, and I still consider other kinky folks to be my people, but god damn so many of the organized BDSM communities are dysfunctional when it comes to consent.

Ironically, given all the lip service it pays to consent.

None of this is news, at least to anyone paying attention. We live in a society where access to other people’s bodies, particularly women’s bodies, is considered as much a right as free speech and the right to bear arms. I mean, hell, access to other people’s bodies is a goddamn advertising campaign, as this photo I took of a sign in a storefront in California quite plainly illustrates.


You know she was asking for it.

And here’s the thing: It’s not just about sex.

Access to, and entitlement to, other people is so pervasive, so intimately woven into the fabric of Western society, that it’s the backdrop against which our lives are played out.

Not just access to other people’s bodies, though there is that, but access to other people. Access to other people’s time, other people’s attention, other people’s creativity, other people’s expression.

If you’re a woman, you know this already. If you’re at all creative, or if you’re someone who’s even moderately famous, you know this already. If you’re a woman who’s well-known or even moderately famous, you know this so thoroughly you probably don’t even need to read the rest of this blog post to know what’s coming.


I wrote recently about a storm brewing in the Italian poly scene over the Italian language version of More Than Two. It’s something Eve has also written about.

And before I go any further, I want to say that no, I’m not claiming what’s happening with the book is in any way comparable to rape. If that’s the idea you come away from this essay with, you’re not paying attention.

Instead, what I want to say is that the casual entitlement to other people, the offhand attitude that suggests that person A has, by right, an expectation to access to person B, and should B object to this access, A can be expected not only to trot out the same old tired objections we’ve heard a hundred times, but A’s friends F, U, C, and K can be expected to do the same, is the common thread that unites many different forms of consent violation.

That’s the thing. That’s the maddening, infuriating, and painfully mundane thing about this. People who feel an entitlement to access to other people can be counted on to justify that entitlement in the same exact ways, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about physical assault, emotional labor, control over another person’s choices, or any other kind of forced intimacy. The same tools–victim-blaming, gaslighting, feigned “neutrality,” cries of “oh, but I’ve never had a problem with him!”–get use against any kind of non-consensual access to other people, sexual or not.

And it’s so predictable we barely even notice. Might I point out how fucked up that is?

Eve recently shared her blog post in a 2,500-member Italian polyamory Facebook group, one of two major groups in Italy. By then there was already a roiling, seething mass of innuendo, speculation, storytelling, and weird narrative growing around the problems with the Italian version of More Than Two, which is what typically happens in the absence of information; we are a storytelling species, and we make up stories to explain the world, without even knowing we’re doing it.

So she posted. And the result was…well, it was indistinguishable from what happened five and a half years ago, around a different issue in a different community halfway around the world.

We don’t like it when people we admire do something wrong, and we are, as a species, quite predictable in the ways we will hold on to the idea that folks we personally like are Pure And Noble, and folks who tell us inconveniently unpleasant things about them are Bad And Wrong.

Different situation, different crime, same disregard for consent, same rationalizations and reactions.

Fuck me if it’s not as monotonous as clockwork.


On each rotation of the center gear, someone says “But she’s overreacting!”

So let’s cut to the chase.

If someone writes a book and you like it, that’s cool.

If someone writes a book and you want to see it published where you live, that’s cool.

If someone writes a book and you work with the publisher to attach a foreword to the book that you wrote without talking to the authors about first, and then you fight back when they want it removed, that’s not, and never will be, cool. That’s the sort of pervasive attitude of entitlement to other people I’m talking about.

If someone writes a book and you go to the publisher misrepresenting yourself as speaking on behalf of the authors, that’s not only not cool, it’s creepy.

If someone writes a book, and you do these things, and the authors complain, and then you begin a campaign of throwing anyone who you think publicly or privately supports the authors out of groups and events and leadership roles, that’s…that’s…

Sadly, that’s as predictable as the rotation of a gear.

Because that’s how entitlement works. That’s what entitlement is. It’s the belief that that access to another person, be it physical or emotional or psychological or whatever, belongs to you, it’s yours by right, and anyone who tries to take it away is depriving you of what’s rightfully yours.

And the victim blaming, closing ranks behind the consent violator, “oh it was all in her head” stuff? That’s also part of how entitlement works, because entitlement isn’t just some random guy who thinks he has the right to have access to you, entitlement is a system. It’s a pattern of beliefs. It’s the water in which we swim.

It’s the advertising message we see hanging in a store window while we’re walking down the street.

This idea, that entitlement is not just a personal failure of boundaries but a toxic environment in which we live, is central to the whole idea of consent culture. And it distresses me when people who represent themselves as part of a community built on a culture of consent behave this way.

I quit the BDSM community because by the time I left it had not succeeded, even after decades, in building a meaningful culture of consent.

I see the poly community headed the same way, and it’s heartbreaking. This is not okay. Let’s do better.


1 Last I heard, he’d moved to Seattle and was gaining a reputation as a rapist in the BDSM scene there, too. Funny thing, though. In all of US history, as near as I can tell, there has never once been a successful rape prosecution against a rapist who was in a kink relationship with their victim. Not one. If you want a 100% guaranteed free ride to rape with total, irrevocable legal immunity, join the kink scene. Now you know.

The Italian language version of More Than Two

There’s a strange thing that happens to writers who are in the public eye.

I’ve been writing about polyamory for many years, starting in the late 90s, when I first started talking about polyamory on Xeromag. The Web site started out as a site for the small-press magazine my former business partner and I are doing, and each of us wrote a little bit about ourselves. I wrote a page on polyamory and another on BDSM. I wasn’t really expecting to reach a large audience, and I was not really writing it for anyone in particular; mostly, I was writing the things I wished I could go back in time and tell myself ten years earlier.

But the things I wrote connected with a lot of people. Pretty soon, the Xeromag site became that site about polyamory–oh, and something about a magazine too. In 2006, the polyamory content was getting so much traffic that the rest of the site was groaning under the load, so I moved all the polyamory content to its own server and its own domain at morethantwo.com.

In 2012, I started dating Eve Rickert. In 2013, she said “Hey Franklin, we should write a book together!” In 2014, we published More Than Two.

Like the Web site, the book exploded, becoming far more popular than even our most optimistic hopes. In 2015, we did a tour of Europe to support the book. We dragged our suitcases around the streets of Amsterdam and Berlin, Bruges and Rome, Madrid and London, talking to people–sometimes through translators–about intimate details of our lives and experiences.

Then the funny thing happened.

When you write about your life in a way that resonates with people, it creates this weird sort of situation where fans of your work feel like they know you, even though you don’t know them. It’s a strange and disconcerting experience to talk to a complete stranger who knows intimate details of your life and feels connected to you. It plays tricks on your mind. Human beings are social animals, hard-wired to attach emotionally and form intimate bonds with other people, but our emotional selves never evolved to cope with the Internet and mass media.

Most folks navigate this very well. We met tons of fantastic people and had some unforgettable experiences, and even though our book tours have been miserable, uncomfortable things that have left us physically and emotionally exhausted, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

But sometimes, that weird one-sided intimacy creates some weird, messed-up situations. The border between self and other can get fuzzy, and when it does, that one-sided intimacy can lead to some dark places.

A person who feels like they know you can feel entitled to you. And that can cause a lot of damage. Entitlement is the soil in which abusive behavior grows.

Eve has written about a situation playing out in the Italian poly scene that’s creating knock-on effects all the way across the ocean. And, as is often the case with these sorts of situations, there’s a lot of speculation, a lot of rumor, and a lot of storytelling going on. (We humans are a storytelling species. We invent stories to explain the world, often without even being aware of it.)

I urge everyone to read her essay, which you can find here. I support what she says.

It started small. Little things, not a problem on their own, but in retrospect pointing to poor boundaries, to that fuzzy distinction between self and others. One of the people who helped organize our book event in Rome, Mr. Boschetto, did a lot of work to help make the More Than Two book event successful. However, in the process, he also sought to attach himself more to us than we realized, involving himself more and more closely with us without really getting consent first. Like all creeping boundary violations, this happened gradually enough that we didn’t recognize it at first.

Things came to a head with the Italian-language version of More Than Two, which has turned into a nightmare. The Italian publisher has not abided by the terms of our contract, a matter that we’re still resolving. On top of that, Mr. Boschetto added a foreword to the book without prior consent, perhaps assuming there was greater personal connection than there was.

Okay, I get it, shit happens, and sometimes boundaries get muddled, and you work it out and move on. But in the past week, things have come off the rails in a spectacular way, one that makes it hard to assume good intent. People who have been trying to work with us to resolve the matter—people we specifically reached out to to help—have been barred from Italian poly events for working with us.

And now, we’re told (and Eve has seen), he’s taken to threatening people who disagree with him under Italy’s antiquated libel laws, under which a person can be imprisoned for saying something that offends another person even if what is said is true.

It’s impossible to reconcile these actions–banning people from events for working with someone in a professional capacity, threatening to have people imprisoned for saying things he doesn’t like–with someone whose heart is in the right place. The poly community can survive a lot, but no community can stay healthy if it silences dissent.