Fifty Shades of Red Pen

For a recent episode of the Skeptical Pervert podcast, Joreth read 50 Shades of Grey at Eunice and me.

I tried to read it when it came out and couldn’t get past the second or third chapter at all. Eunice was blisfully ignorant of the horrors that lurked within. So we made an entire episode of the two of us reacting in horror, specifically to the scene where Christian and Ana negotiate the terms of their relationship (and Christian violates Ana’s consent multiple times during the consent negotiation, which was…special).

Anyway, in the process of re-acquainting herself with the contents of that book, Joreth took a literal red pen to its pages, which you can see here.

And also, check out the podcast. We think it’s rather fun!

Curse you, Denisovans!

This is a tooth.

Well, technically, I suppose, it’s a drawing of a tooth. (ce n’est pas une dent.) Still, it gets across the idea. A tooth has a particular shape vaguely like this, and, as all fools know, a tooth (at least the ones in the back) has two roots.

So gather ’round, it’s time for a story.

Let’s set the Wayback machine to, like, 1999 or so. I had a root canal done on one of these. A root canal is a rather unpleasant procedure in which a hole is drilled in the top, the nerve inside and down the roots is reamed out and then filled in with…well, I don’t know what it’s filled in with. Concrete, maybe. Something. And then a crown is stuck on the top.

Anyway, I had this done, and for years afterward every visit to a dentist was kind of a variation on the same theme:

Dentist: *takes X-rays.*

Dentist: *looks at the X-rays*

Dentist: “Ah, I see a root canal. Wait, hang on, there’s a weird shadow. It looks kinda like…hmm, not an abcess, it’s just…what is that?”

Dentist: *hammers on my tooth with a little metal thing*

Dentist: *Touches my tooth with an ice cube*

Dentist: “Does that hurt?”

Me: “Nope!”

Dentist: *shrugs* “Huh, weird. Whatever.”

That’s our backstory. Our tale takes place yesterday, when I’m in an office working on having a crown (a different crown) replaced because it’s failed. Cue the normal X-rays, “hmm that’s strange,” only this time, something changes.

This time, I have a dentist whose mind is fueled by the desire to Know. A dentist not content to shrug and say “weird, whatever.” A dentist illuminated by the blazing light of curiosity that dragged our ancestors from the trees and sent them across the savannah to invent tools like spears and slings and particle accelerators, all because “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” isn’t a good enough answer. He’s like, weird, something strange here, let’s look further.

Now, molars have two roots. Everyone knows this. One tooth, two roots.

Except that he does a bunch of X-rays from different angles and guess what? Fuck me dead, that tooth I got the root canal on, it has three roots.

Three. Roots.

And the dentist who did the root canal, he missed that.

It happens, apparently. It happens more in some genetic groups than others, and it might be related, as it turns out, to interbreeding with Denisovans somewhere in our ancient Homo sapiens lineage.

Representative illustration

Loooong story short, over the past twenty-something years, that unfilled third root has been quietly accumulating cruft like old FORTRAN code, and now they need to fix it.

But apparently they don’t want to remove the crown—not sure why, but for whatever reason they have to leave the crown on, which is made of metal by the way, drill through it, and re-do the root canal.

Anyway, my dentist was all “This is way above my pay grade, you’re gonna need a specialist for this. Oh, if they can’t drill straight through the crown, the other option is to go at it from underneath, which means they drill a hole through your jaw into the bottom of the tooth, fix the root, then put a bone graft in the hole.” Which, I mean, I’m no medical professional, but that sounds straight out of a Stephen King novel. “The Toothening,” something.

So that’s a thing.

Hacking as a tool of social disapproval

“The street finds its own uses for things.” —William Gibson, Burning Chrome

Last year, my wife, my co-author, and I launched a new podcast, The Skeptical Pervert. We talk about sex…and more specifically, we talk about sex through a lens of empiricism and rationality.

The Skeptical Pervert’s website runs WordPress. Now, I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to web security, and I know WordPress tends to be a rather appetizing target for miscreants, so I run hardened WordPress installs, with security plugins, firewalls that are trained on common WordPress attack vectors, and other mitigations I don’t talk about openly.

I run quite a few WordPress installs. My blogs on franklinveaux.com and morethantwo.com run WordPress. So does the Passionate Pantheon blog, where Eunice and I discuss the philosophy of sex in a far-future, post-scarcity society. In addition, I host WordPress blogs for friends, and no, I won’t tell you who they are, for reasons that will soon become clear.

I automatically log hack attacks, including failed login attempts, known WordPress exploits, and malicious scans. I run software that emails me daily and weekly statistics on attacks against all the WordPress sites I own or host. I also subscribe to WordPress-specific infosec mailing lists, so I am aware of the general threat background.

Because WordPress is such a common target—it’s the Microsoft Windows of the self-hosted blog world, with everything that implies—any WordPress site will get a certain low level of constant probes and hack attempts. It’s just part of the background noise of the Internet. (If you run WordPress and you’re not religiously on top of security updates, by the way, you’ve already been pwn3d. I can pretty much guarantee it.)

The fact that I host WordPress sites not connected with me to the outside world gives me a good general baseline reading of this background noise, that I can use to compare to hack attacks against sites that are publicly connected with me.

And the results…well.

In all the years I’ve been on the Web—and I started running my own Web sites in the mid-1990s—I have never seen anything even remotely close to the constant, nonstop barrage of attacks against the Skeptical Pervert site. Joreth and Eunice are probably quite sick of my frequent updates: “Well, the firewall shows over a thousand brute-force hack attempts against the Skeptical Pervert site so far today and it isn’t even noon yet” (seriously, that’s a thing that happened recently).

Here’s a graph showing what I mean. This graph covers one week, from June 13, 2022 to June 20, 2022. The “baseline” in the graph is an average of several WordPress sites I host that aren’t in any way connected to me in the eyes of the Internet at large—I don’t run them, I don’t put content on them, my name isn’t on them, I merely host them.

Note that the attacks don’t scale with traffic; the More Than Two blog has the most traffic, followed by franklinveaux.com, then the Passionate Pantheon blog, then the Skeptical Pervert.

So what to make of this?

Part of it is likely the long-running social media campaign my ex has been running. Attacks on franklinveaux.com and morethantwo.com increased in the wake of her social media posts.

But that doesn’t explain what’s happening with the Skeptical Pervert, which has turned out to be targeted to an extraordinary degree.

Now, I don’t know who’s attacking the site, or why, so this is speculation. It’s hard to escape the idea, though, that when a site and podcast explicitly about sex, co-hosted by two women of color, talking about non-traditional sexual relationships is targeted, at least part of the answer might simply be the same old, same old tired sex-negative misogyny and racism we see…well, everywhere, pretty much. The fact that my ex doesn’t like me (and will say or do anything to get other people not to like me) doesn’t explain what’s happening here.

It’s easy to blame conservative traditionalists, but Eunice reminded me there’s another factor at work as well. The Skeptical Pervert approaches sexuality from a rational, evidence-based, skeptical lens. In the United States, there’s a stubborn streak of misogyny amongst the dudebros of the skeptics community. A podcast with two women that looks at sex from a highly female-focused, feminist point of view taking on the mantle of skepticism? It’s possible there are dudebros who will perceive that as an encroachment into their space.

In short, I don’t think this is about me. I think this is about women talking openly about real-world non-traditional sex, and getting the same pushback that women always get when they dare to do that.

If the podcast were just me, or me with obviously male co-hosts, I don’t think the level of Web attacks would be anywhere near the same.

The street finds its own uses for things. In the hands of people threatened by or frightened of non-traditional voices, the Internet has become a safe, anonymous tool of harassment.

Looking for Help

For those of you who don’t know, my former partner and co-author Eve Rickert has engaged in a years-long, public, and very noisy campaign against me.

That campaign coincides with a long-simmering legal dispute about ownership of the company we co-founded, Thorntree Press, and the book we co-authored, More Than Two. A lot of people know about the public part of the dispute, but not a lot f folks know about the legal part. My ex is attempting to claim the trademark on “More Than Two,” a phrase and website I owned for many years before we ever met; forced me out of the company we started together; and has tried to get me to give up ownership of our joint copyrights.

The legal dispute is now heading to court. In the interests of complete transparency, I’ve put up a timeline of the legal dispute you can see here.

Back when all this got started, after I left Eve, a client of hers named Louisa Leontiades went back through nearly twenty years of LiveJournal history contacting female-identified people who had interacted with me, looking for people willing to say negative things about me. Here are a couple of examples of messages she sent, redacted to conceal the people she sent them to:

Example Facebook message

Example email

She claimed to be a “journalist,” though she failed to disclose her financial arrangements with my ex, which is a serious and significant breach of journalistic ethics.

I heard from a lot of people asking me “Who is this Louisa person who just contacted me?” And now I need your help.

If you received a message from Louisa Leontiades about me, regardless of whether you responded to her or not, my attorney would like very much to speak with you.

This doesn’t mean you have to testify in court or anything like that, and it doesn’t mean your name will be revealed to my ex or to Louisa. He would like to speak with people who were contacted by Louisa (or by anyone else claiming to be a “journalist”) asking about me.

If you were contacted this way, please email me at franklin (at) franklinveaux (dot) com and I’ll forward you contact information for my attorney.

Thank you so very much.

Goodbye, Kyla, I miss you

Two days ago, my cat Kyla died.

It happened with little warning. She was still eating and drinking, but her weight crashed, until in less than a week she was skinny enough I could feel her ribs when I pet her. She would bat at the side of her face with her paw when she ate, as if she were in pain.

That happened once before, and the problem turned out to be an abscessed tooth. I took her to the vet, they removed the tooth, that evening she was clearly feeling better and by week’s end she’d rebounded.

On Friday, I brought her to the vet, expecting the same thing.

She never made it home.

The vet did her lab work and came back with the diagnosis: end-stage, terminal kidney failure.


I first met Kyla on October 6, 2010. I didn’t think I wanted a new kitten. She thought I was wrong.

I’d gone with my partner Zaiah to visit her parents, who had a litter of Tonkinese kittens. Kyla climbed in my lap and snuggled up to me. For the rest of my time there, she stayed with me, always returning to my lap whenever I moved her.

“No,” she said. “You’re my person now. That’s it.”

Zaiah kept telling me “I think you have a kitten now.”

“No, no, no,” I said, “I don’t need a kitten.”

I had a kitten anyway.

Kyla spent the first three years of her life living on my shoulder.

She stayed with me everywhere. She rode around on my shoulder all the time, she slept curled up on top of me. I don’t know what makes cats choose one person over another, but once that choice is made, they’re quite stubborn about it.

No matter what I was doing, she wanted to be a part of it. She was so insistent about this, I even ended up using her as a scale for talking about the sizes of different styles of programmable microcontrollers, after she photobombed a picture I was taking.

She went camping with us (and had a great time).

Whenever I worked on a novel with my co-author Eunice, Kyla could be found, as often as not, curled up on my lap. I had to be careful about what I left on the computer desk, because she had a path she would follow—floor to bed to night stand to desk to lap—when she wanted to curl up with me, and anything in her path would quite likely get knocked to the floor.

On Friday, the vet laid out the news in stark terms: Kyla’s kidneys had failed. I could spend many thousands of dollars on veterinarian ICU and there was a small chance she might rebound briefly, but the odds were against it. Without that, she was unlikely to live through the weekend. Even with the most aggressive intervention, she was still unlikely to live the weekend.

So I made the difficult choice to say goodbye.

It still hasn’t really sunk in. I still catch myself thinking “I wonder where Kyla is—oh.” I’m emotionally wrung out.

Goodbye, Kyla. I was privileged to know you.

How Facebook convinced me democracy is in trouble

Today, in The Street Finds its Own Uses for Things:

I noticed something funny when I logged into Facebook last week. My feed, which is normally filled with ads for video games, photography gear, and complicated kits for Stirling engines you can build at home, was absolutely jam-packed with ads for far-right pro-Trump merchandise, antigovernment T-shirts and posters, gun holsters, and “conservative news” sites.

And I mean jam-packed. I’ve never seen this quantity of advertising on Facebook before; literally an ad following every single friend post.

The whole secret of advertising on Facebook is you can target your ads. You can specify exactly who you want to see your ads; for example, when we ran ads for the first porn novel we co-authored, Eunice and I targeted people with an interest in reading who were 35 or younger and lived close to a university, figuring this would likely be the sort of person interested in far-future, post-scarcity science fiction smut.

So why would Facebook, that giant creepy Hydra in the cloud, show me alt-right ads when it knows I’m a lefty Portlander?

Because the advertisers know I won’t buy their products. They don’t care. That isn’t why they’re spending tens of millions of dollars on Facebook advertising.


So first, the ads.

I’ve gotten in the habit of aggressively blocking these ads when they appear, and blocking the companies that place them. Doesn’t matter. There are a zillion other companies placing near-ident0cal ads for near-identical products, and sometimes (this is a telling bit) even with the same stock photos.

The ads look lik e this:

If you ask Facebook “why did I see this ad?”, Facebook will show you the demographic the ad was targeting. And these ads are completely ignoring the laser-focused demographics Facebook likes to brag about. They’re shotguns, not sniper rifles.

So why? What’s the point? Why target so broadly, when it increases your spend without generating sales?

So here’s the thing:

I don’t believe they’re trying to generate sales.

That’s not the point. They aren’t interested in selling you gun holsters or T-shirts. I mean, if you buy some, that’s a bonus, but I believe these ads are a propaganda effort. The purpose is to put right-wing slogans and ideas in front of as many eyeballs as possible. They’re advertising ideas, not T-shirts.


The American political right is very, very good at propaganda. Liberals sneer at “Let’s Go Brandon,” the right-wing oh-so-clever “fuck Joe Biden,” but the thing is, it works. The people who use it don’t care that it’s juvenile. It makes them feel part of something. It’s a tribal identity marker.

And human beings like feeling like part of a tribe.

The hoodie up there that says “Proud member of the LGBFJB” community? It means “Let’s Go Brandon Fuck Joe Biden.” VClever? Not really. A great identity brand for a certain kind of person? Oh yeah.

And this brand is everywhere.

Branding and marketing and propaganda matter in political discourse. Arguably they matter more than policies and proposals and all that other wonk stuff.

They want this branding everywhere, and they’re willing to pay to make that happen.

People don’t make rational decisions. People make emotional decisions and then rationalize them. Often, those emotional decisions are predicated on feelings of belonging and inclusion. The right gets that, in its creepy way. The left? Not so much.


The thing is, the political left is doing nothing to counter any of this.

Do I think this Facebook propaganda is working?

Yes. Yes, I do.

It creates the illusion that right-wing ideas are more popular than they really are. It paints a false picture of what Americal looks like and what Americans want. It lets the right dominate the discourse in ways that the left won’t even try to counter.

The modern American right is intellectually and morally bankrupt, a seething cesspool of reactionary hate. But they get propaganda. They get it on an instinctive level, in ways that confuse lefties.

And that makes them far more effective than their numbers and policies alone would suggest.

The Lucifer Effect effect

Eve loves to read to me. It’s one of the love languages we share, and it’s been a part of our relationship for years. We’ve read fiction (like Use of Weapons) and non-fiction (like Parasite Rex) together.

The Lucifer Effect is a book by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who designed the now-infamous Stanford prison experiment. The Stanford prison experiment was an attempt to understand the dynamics of deindividuation in prison environments. Zimbardo hypothesized that prisoners lose their sense of individual identity in institutional settings. The experiment, which had been focused on prisoners, ended up showing that prison guards become abusive not because they are evil or abusers, but because the psychological environment of prison creates enormous pressure for otherwise normal people to become abusive and sadistic. The experiment recruited a group of college students to role-play prisoners or guards in a false prison. Within days, the students assigned to guard roles became so violent, abusive, and sadistic, and tortured the students playing the role of prisoners so severely, that the experiment was discontinued.

And the book has turned into a rough ride for me.

Reading the book, which goes into great detail about the physical and psychological abuse inflicted on the “prisoners” by the “guards,” has been surprisingly difficult. When Eve reads this book to me, I find my blood pressure shooting up, I end up angry and irritable, and I have trouble sleeping.


This is Venango Elementary School, in Venango, Nebraska, the tiny town where I grew up.

It’s more fair to say this was Venango Elementary School. It closed for lack of students decades ago. Venango had 242 people living in it when I was there; at the last census, the population had fallen to 167, none of whom are children. The grounds are still maintained by a retired gentleman who’s lived in Venango most of his life, but nobody’s had a class here in a very long time.

When I was in middle school, I was socially isolated and alienated. I was the only kid in town who didn’t follow football, and the only one who owned a computer. I had no friends, and spent my time building model rockets or dialing computer bulletin boards from my TRS-80.

Needless to say, I was bullied extensively during my career in middle school. The two worst offenders were the two Mikes, Mike A. and Mike C. They were both a couple of years older than I was and quite a lot bigger, and they were inseparable. One of them—I think it was Mike C., though time may have garbled that detail—was fond of coming to school in a T-shirt with iron-on letters on it that spelled out “It’s nice to be injected but I’d rather be blown.” (It’s about cars, geddit? Geddit?)

The particulars of the abuse I suffered at their hands is as predictable as it is tedious, so I won’t bother cataloging them. The official response from teachers and faculty was also tediously predictable; they were aware of the abuse but not particularly motivated to intervene.

I went into high school shy and with few social skills. Then, about the time I was midway through my senior year, I changed.

I had always believed that the reason I was bullied was the reasons bullies gave for bullying me: I wore glasses; I didn’t like football; I liked computers. It took a very long time for me to learn that the content of bullying is completely separate from bullying. That is, bullies bully because they are bullies. If I didn’t wear glasses, if I didn’t like computers, if I did like football, they would still have bullied me, they just would have bullied me about different things.

But that wasn’t the life-changing revelation. In fact, it didn’t come until after the life-changing revelation.

The life-changing revelation was that bullies bully people who don’t fight back. If you want to end bullying, you walk up to the biggest, meanest bully of the bunch, reach back, and punch him square in the face. When bullies realize you bite back, they look for easier prey.

So I went into college with a whole new attitude about violence, one that a lot of folks who know me now find difficult to believe. I was, for a while, quite willing to resort to casual violence in the service of self-protection. I got into fistfights often, and learned yet another lesson: victory does not go to the biggest or the strongest person in the fight. Victory, nine times out of ten, goes to the person who escalates fastest, the one willing to do what the other person is not. I could get in a fight with opponents far larger and stronger than I was, and I almost always came out on top, because I escalated swiftly and aggressively.


I am not the person I used to be. Or, more accurately, I am not the people I used to be. I’m not the shy, friendless, unsocialized bullying victim I was in Venango. I’m also not the aggressive, in-your-face, ready-for-a-fight guy with a hair trigger I was in college. In fact, most of the time it’s hard for me to connect with either of those mindsets any more.

But man, this book.

This book does not mince detail. It describes, directly and even clinically, the abuses suffered by the “prisoners” on behalf of the “guards,” abuses that range from verbal bullying to refusing to allow the prisoners to use the bathroom and forcing them to urinate and defecate in their rooms.

When Eve reads this book to me, I’m transported back to the person I was in college. I can feel my body amping up—I can feel the adrenaline, the shaking, the hair trigger coiled up inside me ready to explode that I used to feel back in my college days whenever someone would start harassing me. And I mean that literally; my hands will shake while she’s reading.

I can identify with the group of students who were made into prisoners. I can understand what they’re experiencing. And I believe that if I had been chosen to participate in an experiment like the SPE and had been assigned to the role of prisoner, there is a very strong likelihood I would have injured or killed one of the “guards,” or been injured or killed myself in the attempt.

It’s been rough, this book. It’s brought me viscerally back to a time and place that I haven’t been in for more than half my life now. We’ve had to switch from reading it in the evening before bed to reading it in the afternoon, because when we read it at night, I can’t sleep.

The book is an excellent deep dive into the underworld of institutional evil (and it’s astonishing how closely the casual abuse that happened in the faux prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building mirrored the abuses in the real world at Abu Ghraib, and for exactly the same reasons). It’s a book I think everyone needs to read, now more than ever, and I’m glad we’re reading it.

But man, it’s turned into a painful slog.

2015: The Year in Review; or, Bugger Off and Good Riddance

Here we are, nearly two weeks into 2016, a land of promise filled with mistakes yet to be made and nascent errors still unhatched. It is customary, as the calendar ticks over from one arbitrary designation to the next, to look back upon the road traveled and ask questions like “what the hell was that?” and “how in the name of God did I get here?”

In the spirit of that tradition, allow me to take a moment to offer a retrospective of 2015, a year that can well and truly fuck right off.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, many parts of the year, taken on their own, were quite joyful. To help separate the good from the bad, I will be using a thumbs up icon for the bits I liked and a red X for the bits I didn’t, because I’m told clarity in communication is a virtue.

In matters such as this, it is difficult for any of us not to be an unreliable narrator. We are, after all, only imperfectly aware of how others see the world, and even of how others perceive the events in which we take part. That said, I will endeavor to be as objective as I can about the massive suck that made up an unfortunately disproportionate part of the year now past, and to polish what nuggets of win I can find amid the rubble.


Mechanical Difficulties
The year started with replacing the engine in Zaiah’s car, a four thousand dollar expense necessitated when Jiffy Lube installed a defective oil filter and then refused responsibility for the error, causing catastrophic destruction of the engine. Always a nice way to start the year. Lesson learned: Jiffy Lube is not a place where one should do business. This turned out to be a theme; hang onto the thought, I’ll get back to it.

In the meantime…


Seclusion and Murder
2015 (woe be unto it) started on a good note. Eve Rickert and I spent some time in the same remote wilderness cabin where we wrote More Than Two. It’s a lovely place, far from…everything, really. It’s a lovely place with a lovely (if murderous) cat and a great way to spend the first days of a new year filled with promise and the hope of a bright new future. And the murder of small furry animals by an adorable feline, but you have to take the bad with the good, or so they say.


Carelessness of the heart
Eve and I spoke at a poly conference, which was a lot of fun save for the fact that I met a delightful woman whose interest, initially quite mutual, I feel I handled poorly. I was not appropriately cautious and became aware of significant incompatibilities too late to avoid hurting both of us unnecessarily.

So, yeah, lesson learned. Mindfulness at all times in all interactions with other people? It’s a thing I need to do.

This was also when I began to fully grasp the weird–and often dangerous–ways that the one-sided intimacy inherent in being a writer and speaker who offers up bits of one’s inner life for public consumption can distort human interactions, especially with new acquaintances. Another lesson learned: Flirting with fans is a dangerous game, and is a risk I’m no longer willing to take on myself or expose others to.


Bionic penises
The next few months of 2015 were relatively calm and reasonably normal, at least for those values of “normal” as one might expect. Hmm. Normal. There’s a word I use only cautiously, and perhaps should consider striking from my vocabulary altogether, except insofar as it has a negation in front of it…but I digress.

The first third of the year was all about bionic cock. Eve and I got serious about launching a business to investigate producing the dildo that provides sensory feedback to the wearer, by which I mean Eve, who is rather the amazing mastermind and who has a can-do attitude that would make Ernst Stavro Blofeld jealous, enrolled us in a business accelerator competition that brought us together with investors and mentors and taught both of us how to say “penis” in a room full of people without blushing–a valuable business skill, it must be said, if one’s aim is to develop a bionic penis.

Penis, penis, penis. See? Hardly a twitch.

It turns out that business accelerators are a lot of work. We did market research about penises. We built business plans around penises, and had our penis business plans examined, dissected, critiqued, and torn into teeny tiny shreds by a procession of investors and business leaders. We built value chains focused on penises. We constructed penis value propositions for penis market segments of folks who want to know what having a penis feels like. I’ve run my own business since about 2001 and I learned more about how to run a business between February and May of last year than in the ten years before.


Sick kitties
My cat Kyla has never been terribly healthy. Shortly after she adopted me and declared me hers, when she was still a very young kitten, she got a respiratory infection that nearly killed her. I spent long nights awake with her, holding her and rubbing her chest, and she eventually recovered.

While I was away in Canadia-land dodging Kurgan raiders, she got sick again and very nearly died.

Well, technically speaking, she did die. Twice. She stopped breathing, and Zaiah brought her back with kitty CPR.

She’s a fighter, Kyla is, and she really, really likes being alive. Kinda like I do. She got through it with minor damage to her balance that seems to be permanent, but she did bounce back. So I suppose on the whole that’s good, or at least better than the alternative, but it’s bad it happened.


Indiana Jones Goes to a Swinger’s Conference
2015 was the year Eve and I started getting more speaking conventions than we could hope to say yes to. One of those invitations was a swinger’s convention in Canada that wanted us to talk about ways to do non-monogamy beyond swinging.

Swingers have a problem. Since at least WWII, swinging has been the go-to style of non-monogamy for people outside the leather scene. But now it’s getting harder and harder for swing clubs to find new members, what with Millennials growing up witht he idea that polyamory and other styles of non-monogamy are just options among the many out there and TV shows about polyamory and all. You don’t need the structure and safety of a swinger’s group when non-monogamy just isn’t that big a deal.

So we said yes, hopped into a rented car, and were on our way.

We were driving along the Crowsnest Highway (insert appropriate Scottish joke about taking the crow road here) when from out the window of the car I spied with my little eye something beginning with “ooh, look, pull over, that looks like the ruins of an old mine shaft up there!”

Eve, familiar in the years we’ve been together with my many and varied eccentricities and often given to indulging me, pulled over. We looked at the mine entrance, a few hundred feet up the side of a slope.

“Think we can get up there?” I said.

“Sure,” she said.

So we started the scramble up. We climbed up an embankment, past a row of trees, up over another embankment, and..whoa. Serious Indiana Jones moment.

The detour cost us several hours, dirt all over our clothes, and more than a fair bit of hard physical labor, but man, was it worth it.


Have a nice trip!
I have long been something of a straight arrow when it comes to the many pleasures of chemical mind alteration.

I know, I know, hard to believe, what with me being an Internet sex gargoyle and all, but until I was in my late 40s I never once experimented with any chemical alterant beyond alcohol. I didn’t try any recreational drugs at all until I was 46, when I experimented with hallucinogenic mushrooms–an altogether positive experience, and one I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while. I didn’t even drink ’til fairly late in the game.

We arrived at the swinger event considerably dustier than we had been, and were offered ecstasy by a person who apparently quite likes the experience of swinging while on E.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve not dabbled far into the ocean of recreational biochemistry, and in fact have barely gone so far as to build sand castles on the beach of recreational chemistry, the waters being not to my liking and even the sand being more coarse and gritty than is perhaps entirely pleasant, and the sun and sounds of the gulls are…where was I going with this metaphor? Anyway, I’ve never felt the siren song of pharmacologicals, but I will admit to a certain level of curiosity about ecstasy. So we accepted his offer.

Ecstasy is not an easy molecule to synthesize by any measure. It’s a complex, fiddly, two-day process that involves a lot of extremely close monitoring and very careful mucking about, and one of the waste products of a more popular synthesis pathway is elemental mercury. All of which means that what’s often claimed to be ecstasy in the dystopian nightmare that is the market for street drugs is anything but.

I’m still not 100% sure what it was we took. Google suggests it was methamphetamine, based on its color, consistency, and the absolutely miserable night we had.


Ten carbons, fifteen hydrogens, one nitrogen, all the rage and hate of Lucifer after the Fall

I want to impress upon you, Gentle Readers, exactly what “miserable night” means. To do this properly, I will wander off for a moment into a story about a bucket of chicken. When I had first met my former wife, she and I were kinda sorta in what kids today might call a “quad” with two close friends of mine, and we spent many a night doing things to make a bishop blush, often with a video camera. We got some bad chicken at a KFC one evening–salmonella, I believe the diagnosis was. My friend’s girlfriend and I spent about three continuous days on the bed together barfing our guts out more or less nonstop. It was a waterbed, see, so whenever she would start throwing up, the waves in the waterbed would start shaking me, and then I would start barfing too, and that would set her off, and…you get the idea.

I describe this because I can now say it was the second most miserable time of my life.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, not every moment of the experience was bad. The first four hours were great, seeing as how we both had turbocharged libidos and couldn’t get enough raw animal sex, and raw animal sex is not something that I’m normally on distant terms with–Internet sex gargoyle, remember?

But after that…

The closest I can come to describing what the rest of the night was like is I had the visceral experience that there was something in my body that hated me and wanted to hurt me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop moving…I don’t often use the word “evil,” and when I do, it’s not usually about organic molecules, but meth is an evil, evil molecule. I can not comprehend why any human being would knowingly take that stuff in full awareness of the ride it was going to give them. Dante’s most vivid descriptions of Hell are a walk across a breezy tropical island compared to what meth feels like, assuming that is in fact what it was. Without hyperbole, I can state with confidence that I would rather get hit by a bus than experience anything like that ever again.

One star. Do not want. Should you, Gentle Reader, ever want to go down this road, learn from my example. Do not trod this path without a testing kit, which if you’re in the US you can find here and if you’re in Canada you can find here. Wish I’d’ve known about that sooner.

The weeks following the swinger convention were a whirlwind of chaos, the kind of chaos only two chaosbunnies in the same place can create.

My sweetie Maxine came into town, and we spent weeks traveling the deserts of the Pacific coast photographing ghost towns. Mining towns, railroad towns, logging towns, you name it, we visited it–a journey I’m still in the process of journaling.

Maxine and I are both chaosbunnies, so the two of us together is pure concentrated chaos. Into any such maelstrom good and bad must go. I will touch only on the hilights here, some of which I have not yet documented.


Camping in the Wilderness
This is, as it turns out, something Bunny has become quite adroit at, with a set of mad camping skills that’s little short of awe-inspiring. Seriously, when the Big One hits and civilization collapses, I hope I happen to be on the same side of the pond as she is. Build a campfire in the pouring rain, armed with nothing but a flint and a soggy roll of toilet paper? She’s the one to do it.

We had a fantastic time, even if there was rather less sex than perhaps there could, or should, have been. (Note to self: next time, plan a less ambitious schedule and leave more time for the horizontal mambo.) It was fantastic to spend some quality time with her in the deep desert.


Break a rib!
It is telling, I think, that when you make a list of all the things that went wrong during the year, you keep forgetting “oh, yeah, I broke a rib.”

If I could go back in time and give information to the younger me, I would definitely tell myself “don’t try to cross that stream on that slippery fallen log.” Well, first I would tell myself the Powerball numbers, but after that, I would definitely tell myself the thing about the log. Well, okay, the Powerball numbers, the stock price for AMZN throughout the second half of the year, and then the thing about the log.

But I lack access to a time machine, and so the younger me said “hey, look, a log across a stream! That seems a reasonable thing to walk across!”

Fast forward a few seconds and I was tumbling into ice-cold snow runoff, pausing just long enough on the way down to whack my side against the log.


The desert defeats us
One of the stops on our tour was an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s and since left alone, high atop a mountain in the middle of Black Rock Desert.

Or rather, one of the stops on our tour was supposed to be an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s.

It took us rather a long time just to find the old road–little more than a narrow, rutted dirt track, really–branching off the paved road in the direction of the mountain. It took us a couple of hours to crawl along that road, such as it was, to the base of the mountain. It took us another hour to climb halfway up it, then two minutes to realize that the grade had become so steep that the van simply would not move, even in low gear–and, for that matter, the wheels wouldn’t spin either. Another minute after that convinced me that any additional tilting at that particular windmill would only destroy the transmission, which was already slipping.

From there, it took five minutes to realize that turning around was an absolute impossibility, five minutes to realize that the van could not back down the grade as heavily loaded as it was without the back bumper digging into the earth, twenty-five minutes to unload everything onto the side of the dirt track, half an hour to back cautiously down to the point where a wide spot afforded opportunity to turn around with only a moderate chance of tumbling off the edge of a cliff, and half an hour to load everything back into the van again.


Black Rock desert. That thin dark line in the lower left is the “road” we came in on.

It should be noted here that before we set out on this journey, Eve had suggested I get a GPS locator beacon, in the event that, I don’t know, we should encounter problems deep in Black Rock Desert or something. I pooh-poohed that idea, because, really, what were the odds? Next time, I will not so easily discard that idea.

I still haven’t fixed the damage to the van’s transmission. The shop says the transmission needs to be replaced. So far, they haven’t been able to come up with an estimate. I’m not optimistic.


Bored and Terrified…at the Same Time
Our misadventure in Black Rock Desert was merely the appetizer for the main course of mechanical suck–the price, I suppose, of adventuring in a 23-year-old camper van.

We set out on the last leg of our trip straight over a mountain that Siri, in all her passive aggressive navigational glory, didn’t think to send us around. That particular part of the adventure will most likely get a blog post all its own, filled as it was with ominous signs and squadrons of US Marines, but the hilight, which I will briefly mention here, was definitely the trip down the far side, during which with a thump and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke the van’s brakes failed.

We were, at the time, in a remote area unserved by cellular signal–indeed, it’s quite likely that most of the natives were entirely unfamiliar with any communications technology more advanced than the telegraph, or perhaps smoke signals–and 70 miles from the nearest town.

Therefore, with no other options availing themselves, we spent almost the entire night on a white-knuckle journey across seventy miles of narrow and windy mountain roads in first gear at about ten miles an hour with no brakes, relying on engine braking to manage our speed.

I did not, prior to that night, realize it was possible to be both utterly terrified and completely bored at the same time.

The next day, we found a Les Schwab service center. I’d never heard of Les Schwab before I moved to Oregon, but Zaiah swears by them. “Great customer service!” she told me. “Awesome warranty!” she told me. I was skeptical, but when I bought the van I had the brakes serviced at a Les Schwab.

It took them an hour just to work up an estimate–never a good sign when it comes to brakes. They gave me a number. I choked. “Well, we need to replace everything in the front,” they said. “…” I said.

“We looked you up in the computer. You still have a thousand miles left on your warranty,” they said. “It will all be no charge.”

“…!!” I said.

Sometimes, fortune favors the foolhardy.


Uterine Thunderdome
June decided to continue the theme of random bodily injury started with the rib thing in May, because why mess with what works, amirite? And so it came to pass that I ended up with weird pain that left my doctor scratching his head and muttering about the possibility of a kidney tumor, that got worse and worse until eventually I ended up in a CT scanner shot full of contrast that made my eyes feel like they were melting.

The CT scan was illuminating, both as to the nature of the problem (appendicitis) and to why it was tricky to figure out. Apparently, my internal geography is as unorthodox as my romantic life.

More distressing, perhaps, was finding out that such unusual innards are often the result of a situation whereby a person becomes pregnant with twins, one of which absorbs the other early in development in a kind of uterine Thunderdome–two fetuses enter, one fetus leaves.


I have no idea if Tina Turner was there or not. It was too dark to see.

But hey, there’s a silver lining. From now on, if anyone gets all up in my face, I can say “don’t fuck with me, man, I ate my twin!”


O Canada
Eve, in her ongoing attempt to make me more self-sufficient in the nutrient procurement department, has been encouraging me to learn the dark arts of cooking and baking, by whose secret alchemy ingredients are transmogrified into food.

As part of that ongoing effort, she had me decorate a cake for Canada Day. I must say, I think it turned out rather well.

A most excellent representation of the spirit of Canada, if I do say so myself.


The Big Book of Franklin Gets It Wrong
2015 is the year my memoir, The Game Changer, finally saw the light of day.

Writing it was rough. For years–decades, really–I’ve written about polyamory and kink and relationships, but I’ve never really told my story. I’ve talked a lot about the things I believe, but not very much about how I got there. The Game Changer was a new kind of writing–one that’s not very comfortable for me.

It also tells the story of things I’m not proud of. It’s about the mistakes I made and the people I hurt, because those are the experiences that led me where I am. In fact, while I was writing it, I called it The Big Book of Franklin Gets it Wrong.

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s reached a lot more folks than I expected it to. I am deeply grateful for that, no matter how hard it was to write.


Dancin’ the Blues
One of the many things I’ve been working on this year is learning to blues dance.

I’ve always quite liked to dance–generally more gothy than bluesy, and without a partner–but partner dancing is new to me. Eve’s been teaching me, and it’s turned out to be rather a lot of fun.

In the fall, Eve and I went to Northwest Recess, which is rather like Burning Man only with fewer flamethrowers and a lot more dancing.

A whole lot of folks got together in the middle of nowhere, set up tents, and spent several days dancing without the distractions of civilization, like Internet, television, or potable water. And it was absolutely lovely. How come nobody ever told me how much fun blues dancing is?


More bionic penises
2015 was the Year of Travel and Presenting. Most of the presenting revolved around polyamory, but we took just enough time from talking about the whys and hows of multiple lovers to talk bionic cocks at Arse Electronika.


The second-generation prototype lacks the glowing lights, sadly

We were told we’d won the Golden Kleene Award for tech in sex, but weren’t able to pick it up as we had to depart for the airport immediately after our presentation to head to Europe. That right there ended up becoming the theme of the next five weeks.


Roads go ever ever on, over rock and under tree
The book tour. Ah, yes, the book tour.

What to say about it? The book tour was very, by which I mean parts of it were very good and parts of it were very bad but none of it was mediocre.

I started touring with The Game Changer a couple of weeks before Eve joined me for the European leg with More Than Two. I also ended up in urgent care midway into the second week, diagnosed with bronchitis.


The bunny ears are mandatory. The bunny ears are always mandatory.

As for the European bits…

We miscalculated, we did. During last year’s book tour in Canada and the US, we lived in the back of the Adventure Van traveling from town to town talking about polyamory. We packed our European schedule with the same density of events, neglecting to consider that:

  1. We would be on foot or relying on public transit for most of the tour;
  2. We would be dragging all our luggage with us everywhere we went; and
  3. We would be dependent on the schedule of the trains for our schedule.

They say good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment. If that’s true, we’re now so absolutely brimming with good judgment we should be on the Supreme Court and at least seventeen less supreme courts.

Meeting people was amazing. The folks we met on the trip were absolutely wonderful. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so utterly exhausted in my life. By midway through, we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth, putting one foot in front of the other, and all those other cliches that one resorts to when one is too damn tired to be able to think.


This is how most mornings started: double-fisting cups of tea.

And it was still unbelievably amazing.

One thing we never did get used to: no cats. Such a dearth of cats, in fact, that on no fewer than three occasions we were forced to seek company of the feline variety in various cat cafes across the European continent.

We spent our last night in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower, drinking champagne and looking out over the city. I got to cross “spin poi in front of the Eiffel Tower” off my bucket list.


I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list.

We flew home the day before the terrorist attacks in the city. When we hit the ground in San Francisco, we both had a bit of a freakout about it.


Oh, you wanted to breathe with those lungs?
On returning, finally, to Oregon, I visited my doctor to follow up on the bronchitis thing.

He did the poking and prodding doctors do, and then welcomed me to the wonderful world of adult-onset asthma, the result, apparently, of the pneumonia I had in Atlanta a few years back and the more recent spell of bronchitis.

If there were a god, I think he or she should have made us from something a bit more durable than meat. Just sayin’.


The last twist of the knife
2014’s last fuck-you was the destruction of Zaiah’s engine by the incompetent boobs at Jiffy Lube. Not to be outdone, 2015 had to get in its last little dig in the same spirit of giving, when the radiator in her car–the same one we’d only just put a new engine in–erupted in a cloud of steam.

Fortunately, this was a far less expensive fix. Still, they say it’s the thought that counts.

So that’s the way it was, the Year of Very. I still hold out some hope that 2016 will be a bit less very, though I have a feeling that this year will be a bit of a roller coaster as well. And I don’t even like roller coasters.

In which Franklin has a weird appendix

For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with weird pain in my lower back. It’s been an ongoing thing that has followed a consistent pattern: I wake up in the morning in intense pain, take ibuprofen, the pain goes away, I go about my day, and it comes back the next morning.

Being a middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation, I did what any middle-class citizen of an industrialized twenty-first-century nation would do in such a situation: I consulted the Oracle at Google. And lo, the Oracle at Google said that this might be a kidney infection, so I should talk to an actual practitioner of medicine rather than Googling my symptoms.

And so it came to pass that I made an appointment with the doctor, on the day before I was scheduled to head to Canada for several weeks. The doctor poked and prodded my back, made me pee into a cup, asked me lots of questions, and said “hmm” a lot. Then she disappeared for a while, leaving me to sit in a small room with an old-fashioned electro-mechanical clock on the wall that reminded me of the clocks in the elementary school I attended in the plains of Nebraska.

A short time later, she returned to say that whatever my issue was, it definitely wasn’t a kidney infection (take that, Google!) but it could be a kidney tumor, and I should make an appointment for a medical imaging test. Oh, and stop taking ibuprofen, that can aggravate kidney tumors.

Naturally, on my return home, I consulted the Oracle at Google once more, and Google obligingly filled me with horror stories about renal adenomas and such. I also made an appointment to have the imaging done–something that would, they said, take a month to schedule.

Head now completely filled with the possibilities of a rapid and gruesome death, I ventured to Canada, sans ibuprofen.

The pains kept getting worse, and then worse after that, until finally Eve offered me industrial-strength painkillers…that did pretty much nothing. Well, nothing save for making me feel like my head was stuffed with cotton balls, anyway.

So I called my doctor who suggested I make my way posthaste to an urgent care center for imaging.

Now, we live in a twenty-first century world that still clings to nineteenth-century notions of borders. My insurance, as it turns out, is not valid in Canada. So we piled into a car, Eve and I, and drove across the border to Bellingham, where I explained the situation and was admitted with alacrity.

A short time later, I was able to mark “Get a CAT Scan While Wearing Bunny Ears” off my bucket list.

For those of you who have never had a CAT scan, the whole experience is a bit “bureaucracy at the DMV meets a scene from a science fiction movie.” You’re cataloged, bar-coded, and wheeled into a futuristic-looking room where the technician feeds you into a giant machine with displays and blinky lights and a big spinny thing.

That part’s pretty cool. The bit that’s less cool is the stuff they inject you with to make your innards show up better to the machine.

“You will feel hot,” the dude said. “And then you will feel like you’re peeing. Relax. You’re not.”

That didn’t exactly fill me with images of pleasant frolics through a lovely garden, but the reality turned out to be even less pleasant than he suggested. He shot me full of some transparent liquid and I could feel it traveling through my body as a wave of intense heat. Even my eyeballs got hot–something I hope never to experience again. As promised, when it hit my waist, I felt like I was peeing, though he’d neglected to mention that it’d feel like I was peeing hot lava.

Then the machine did its spinny blinky thing and Was wheeled back.

After a bit of waiting, an earnest-looking and overworked doctor came in to give me the news: my kidneys were fine. No problem at all. The problem, he said, was totally different: I had appendicitis. And, apparently, my morphology is as unorthodox as my ideology. My appendix is in entirely the wrong place; the end of my large intestine points toward the front of my body and curves up, leaving my appendix pointing straight up at my liver like a defiant middle finger raised against one’s oppressors. (I’m not saying I have an oppressive liver, mind you; it’s a metaphor. Work with me here.)

He told me the Three Wise Men (the doctor, the radiologist, and the surgeon) had consulted, and my appendix was right on the threshold of the point where they would normally opt to remove it, but after some deliberation they’d made the decision not to. He gave me a CD of the CAT scan (complete with autorun.inf file–seriously, has anyone in the entire world not got the memo on why autorun is a terrible fucking idea?) and told me to follow up with my doctor, who should figure out what to do with me.

So the problem is still ongoing: I wake up in the morning with pain that dissolves at the touch of ibuprofen, even though it’s intractable in the face of rather more potent painkillers, and go about the day.

Apparently, my insurance only covers out-of-state medical care if it’s an “emergency.” I’m not sure if “appendicitis that’s right on the fuzzy border of requiring surgical intervention, so we’re going to pack you up and send you home” is an “emergency” or not. A part of me is still holding my breath wondering if I’m about to be hit with a huge hospital bill for all of this.

But hey, no kidney tumor! That bit was a huge relief; we (my sweeties and I) were, I think, more worried about that than we’d realized at the time this was all happening.

Operation Choke Point; or, We Know What’s Best For You

Before I can really go into the things I want to talk about, I’ll need to offer you, dear readers, a bit of back story.

As many folks who’ve read this blog over the years know, I am, among many other things, a game designer. I’ve developed a game called Onyx, which I’ve maintained and sold since the mid-1990s. Onyx is a sex game. It’s designed for multiple players, who move around a virtual “game board” buying properties. When another player lands on your property, that player can pay rent or–ahem–work off the debt.

I sell Onyx on my Web site here. It’s lived there for many years, and for the past thirteen years or so, I’ve accepted credit card payments for the registered version of the game via a merchant account provider called Best Payment Solutions.

This past April, I received notification from Best Payment Solutions that they were terminating my account. They gave no reason, other than they “sometimes terminate accounts for risk reasons.” In the thirteen years I’d been with them, I’d only had one chargeback–a rather remarkable record I doubt few businesses can match. Didn’t matter.

I was told that BPS would no longer work with me, but their parent company, Vantiv, would be happy to give me a merchant account. Vantiv’s underwriters, I was told, had looked at my Web site and had no problem with its contents.

So i did the requisite paperwork, turned it all in, and…nothing. For weeks, during which time I was effectively out of business.

Then, four weeks later, I heard back from Vantiv. We’re so sorry, they said, we thought we could give you a merchant account, but we can’t. When I asked why, the only thing they would say was “risk reasons.”

Thus ensued a mad scramble to find a new merchant account underwriter, a process that’s normally very time-consuming and tedious. I finally found another underwriter, which I will decline to name for reasons that will become obvious once you read the rest of this post, and I’m back up and running again…but not before I was out of business for over a month.

Onyx registrations pay my rent, so as you might imagine, this has been a stressful time for me.


Okay, that’s the backstory. A sad tale of a merchant account underwriter that got cold feet for no clear reason, I thought. Annoying, yes, stressful, you bet. But one of those things that just kind of happens, right? Banks make business decisions all the time. So it goes.

It turns out, though, that I’m not the only one this has happened to. Indeed, it’s happened to lots and lots of people. The same pattern, across different businesses and different merchant account providers: A business receives a sudden notification that their merchant account (or in some cases, their business checking account) is being terminated. When they ask why, no answer beyond “risk reasons” is forthcoming. Porn performers, payday loan services, dating sites, fireworks sellers, porn producers, travel clubs…it’s a very specific list of folks who are having this problem. And, not surprisingly, there’s a reason for it.

The reason is the Department of Justice, which for the past couple of years has undertaken a project they call Operation Choke Point.

The goal of Operation Choke Point is to pressure businesses in morally objectionable fields out of business, by leaning on the banks that provide services to those businesses. If you can’t get banking or credit card services, the reasoning goes, you can’t stay in business. So the DoJ is approaching commercial banks, telling them to close accounts for individuals and businesses in “objectionable” industries.

It should be noted that the businesses being targeted are not breaking the law. Lawful businesses and individuals are losing access to lawful services because the government objects to them on moral grounds.

The banks being pressured to close accounts are reticent about talking about it; however, one business owner, whose instincts were in the right place, apparently managed to get a recording of a phone call in which his merchant account processor (EFT) told him they were pressured by the government to close the account. His recording has made it to a Congressional hearing looking into the program. (Some banks have reported being told that they would be investigated for racketeering if they failed to close accounts belonging to targeted businesses, despite the fact that the targeted businesses are acting lawfully.)

There’s a backlash brewing. Congress is starting to hold hearings about businesses targeted without due process. The DoJ has backtracked. The FDIC, which was involved in pressuring banks to terminate targeted businesses, has reversed course. All that is good. And yet…and yet…

I can’t help but think the backlash isn’t because people really believe the program was wrong, but rather because it included one industry that is considered politically sacrosanct by the Obama administration’s opponents: guns.

In addition to adult businesses, Operation Choke Point targeted small gun and ammo retailers. And there’s a small, cynical voice inside my head that whispers, if they had contented themselves with going after people like me–people who make or sell things related to sex–would anyone have cared? The right-wing blogosphere is filled with angry rants about Operation Choke Point, as well it should be…but none of the angry rants mention adult businesses or porn. They all focus on guns. And I just really can’t make myself believe that the people rising up against the program have my interests at heart. If it were just me, I believe we wouldn’t hear a peep out of them.

Don’t get me wrong–for once in my life, I’m glad the Republicans are taking action about something. But I hold no illusions that next time, they will still have my back.


By the time all was said and done, I lost somewhere around $700 from the problems I had. Not a lot, really, in the scheme of things, though I did have to scramble to make rent this month. It could have been worse.

I know there are a lot of folks in various adult-related businesses who read my blog. I’d really love to hear from you guys. Has this happened to you, or anyone you know? What was the outcome? Let me know!