#76 – Chicot De Jester, Alexandre Dumas BOOK REVIEW

September 8, 2018
krauserpua

Chicot de jester

Frankly, I don’t think he jests

The thing about reading Dumas is that his novels are such page-turners that I just can’t stop. After dispatching La Reine Margot last weekend I immediately turned my attention to the epic 100-chapter Chicot De Jester, also known as La Dame de Monsoreau, and the second in the Last Valois trilogy. You know a book is good if they’ve already made a movie about it by 1913. That’s the silent era, and those old cameras weren’t easy to carry around. Clearly, somebody gave a shit [1]

Chicot de jester movie

Ok, that’s more like jesting

This picks up after Charles IX has died and been succeeded by his weak-willed mummy’s boy brother Henri. The Protestant king Henry of Navarre has escaped back to his lands [2] with his wife, and Catherine De Medici mostly takes a back-seat, feigning disinterest in politics. So although the plot continues to concern the travails of the king of France in keeping hold of his throne against usurpers, it’s a whole new cast of characters.

Foremost amongst these is Chicot, Henri’s best friend and confidant who steers him to safety and nudges him away from all the blunders he’d otherwise make [3]. Chicot is a sharp-witted, outspoken court jester but also a good swordsman and bold cavalier – he’s a well-written hero who is easy to get behind. The other protagonist is Count De Bussy, the nation’s bravest swordsman and key protector of the Duke D’Anjou [4]. The latter is the primary conspirator against the king, and thus Chicot and Bussy are soon at odds.

Volume one in the trilogy, La Reine Margot, was a dark, bleak book with vicious murders and nihilistic plotting. In contrast, Chicot De Jester has a more upbeat, adventurous tone despite also dealing with plenty of chicanery and isn’t shy to pile up the bodies. I won’t spoil the plot but the key threads are as follows:

  • A beautiful young lady is chased by the treacherous Duke D’Anjou and his black-hearted henchman Monsoreau, who each betray the other to kidnap and force her into marriage. Bussy gets involved as her gallant and tries to outwit them to free her. This thread is mostly about gallantry and romance.
  • Chicot’s friend, a drunken faithless monk called Gorenflot, is knee-deep in a conspiracy to overthrow Henri III and Chicot must quash the plot without endangering his friend (or even letting him know what’s going on). This thread is mostly espionage and misdirection, not unlike a modern spy thriller.
  • The Duke D’Anjou’s four loyal retainers are at the throats of the king’s four favourites, with periodic ambushes, insults, and then finally a big pre-arranged duel. This is rather like The Three Musketeers.

Chicot covers

Between them, I think these jackets pretty much cover the bases

It’s a book of epic scope so there’s lots more in there too. I read this one across five evenings, knocking out twenty chapters at a clip after coaching my residential all day. It seemed like every scene had characters quaffing wine and eating repasts, which played havoc with my own diet – whenever I read about characters eating and drinking I wish to do so myself. It’s a miracle I’ve not become addicted to wine after reading so much Dumas.

I found this book to be beautifully plotted and quite exceptional in how it switched up the pacing, tone, and focus between the various sub-plots. I felt like I was watching a master story-teller at work and at no point during the one-hundred chapters did I ever feel like putting it aside. Chicot De Jester is a real gem, and while not quite matching The Count Of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, it’s only one notch below. I’m very glad I read it and can’t wait for the story to wrap up in volume three.

If you’d like to read volume two in a beautifully-written epic series, where one of the main characters could well be homosexual [5], try my A Deplorable Cad available here (with all my other products)

[1] Rather more of a shit than they gave to holding off the Huns a year later, it seems.
[2] Though he does occasionally pop up incognito in Paris, plotting a return for the throne.
[3] Jimmy The Jester in his role to King Nick of Hampstead, you could say
[4] According to his Wikipedia he was also a bisexual nonce so I no longer feel sad about how the story turns out for him. Fortunately, Dumas doesn’t even hint at either shirt-lifting or pillow-biting.
[5] Bodi

#75 – La Reine Margot, Alexandre Dumas BOOK REVIEW

September 8, 2018
krauserpua

“Nick, what’s with all these lurid spy novels? I thought you were attempting to become The Most Interesting Man In The World. Wasn’t your reading project meant to be studying world history, high-falutin’ theory, and the Classics?”

Well yes, but…..

“So stop with all your childish Matt Helm and Mack Bolan nonsense and get on with Alexandre Dumas. Can’t you read The Count Of Monte Cristo again and review that?”

You know what, lads? I can go one better. Having read all about Edmund Dantes and plowed through the five massive volumes in the D’Artagnan Romances, I have found myself a new epic Dumas series to read: The Last Valois trilogy. So, let’s have a look at that, shall we?

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Something I’ve noticed about Dumas is that his book titles never really tell you what to expect from the story. They are hardly inviting. Most of them are simply the main character’s title. There’s The Count (of Monte Cristo), The Vicomte (of Bragelonne), and in this case The Queen (Margot). As to what shit will go down in the stories….. it’s not really clear is it? But the cover shows some naked dude being thrown off a balcony into the arms of a howling well-armed mob, so it looks promising. Fortunately, all Dumas books involve similar elements:

  • A few swashbuckling young sword-fighters looking to align with a noble and make a name for themselves.
  • Some plotting and scheming older nobles, getting all Game Of Throne-sy with assassinations, honey traps, and espionage.
  • At least one fringe character (innkeeper, monk, hangman) who is a cheerful, excitable drunkard with special skills.
  • A doe-eyed beautiful woman having her honour consistently under threat of compromise, and a gallant protector who’ll cut down anyone to save her.

I try not to read even the back cover blurb of a book before I begin, preferring instead to go in blind and let myself get surprised. So, I didn’t know what La Reine Margot had to offer me. What I got was a long, exciting, intricately plotted palace drama that I thoroughly enjoyed. It kicks off like the Red Wedding in Game Of Thrones. It’s 1570s France and the reformation has led to a large movement of Protestants establishing a power base in Navarre, called the Hugenots. They are now slinking into Paris. The king of France, Charles IX, is Catholic as are most of the holders of public office. In an attempt to quell rebellion through marriage, the king’s sister Margot is to be married to the king of Navarre, Henry. The book begins immediately prior to the wedding in Paris, which has become a festival as all the Hugenots and Catholics get together to broker a peace.

I said Red Wedding didn’t I? You see, it was a trap. Charles IX and his villainous mother Catharine De Medici set it up to put their Hugenots enemies in one place and then on the night of Saint Bartholemew the Catholics run amok in assassination squads, murdering thousands of Protestants.

500px-La_masacre_de_San_Bartolomé,_por_François_Dubois

They were not fucking around

It’s pretty vicious stuff too. One thing I love about Dumas is how adroitly he can manage tonal shifts. For example, compare these chapters:

Chapter 16 (‘A Dead Enemy’s Body Always Smells Sweet’) concerns Charles IX leading a procession of nobles on a fun day out to inspect the corpse of his Admiral (a Hugenot) he’d had assassinated a couple of days earlier to trigger the massacres:

“From the principal gibbet hung a misshapen mass, a black corpse stained with coagulated blood and mud, whitened by layers of dust. The carcass was headless, and it was hung by the legs, and the populace, ingenious as it always is, had replaced the head with a bunch of straw, to which was fastened a mask; and in the mouth of this mask some wag, knowing the admiral’s habit, had introduced a toothpick.”

Soon after, Henry of Navarre, now under house-arrest in the Louvre, visits his mistress in her rooms. This section is in Chapter 21 (‘Madame De Sauve’s Apartment’).

“Do you love me, Charlotte?” asked Henry.
“I love you,” replied Madame de Sauve, with a fascinating smile, dropping her pretty hand into her lover’s.
Henry retained the hand.
“But,” he went on to say, following out his thought, “supposing I have guessed the word which the philosophers have been vainly trying to find for three thousand years – at least as far as you are concerned, Charlotte?”
Madame de Sauve blushed.

This book effortlessly shifts from palace intrigue, to romantic overtures, to bloody combat and, to me at least, never seems jarring. I like also that there isn’t really a hero in this. Modern genre fiction is usually quite formulaic in sketching out a hero, a villain, and a series of plot twists gradually honing in to a conclusion. Dumas was writing before pot-boilers became so restrictively styled. There are two dashing cavaliers in this volume, a Monsieur La Mole and his friend Coconnas [1]. They form an unlikely alliance that begins as each is a messenger for a rival faction and they meet en route to Paris. They deliver the messages and lodge at the same hostel, becoming friends and gambling together in the hostel lounge. That night is St Bartholomew’s, and as the violence erupts Coconnas attempts to murder La Mole in his bedroom. Somehow, they soon become inseparable friends.

It’s odd. Coconnas spends the first quarter of the book as a gleeful bloodthirsty murderer who massacres dozens of unarmed Hugenots and yet he’s a major protagonist. He ends up quite likeable.

The other two protagonists are Queen Margot and her husband Henry of Navarre, who form a mutually-protective alliance despite being married in name only. Both are adept plotters and much of La Reine Margot concerns itself with the pair outwitting Catherine De Medici’s multiple attempts to assassinate Henry. The queen mother is a fantastically wicked character, right up there with Milady from The Three Musketeers.

catherine-on-throne

She’s a proper Cruella Da Ville character

Most Dumas adventures involve characters questing across France, Belgium and England so La Reine Margot is unusual in that probably 80% of it occurs within the palace gates of La Louvre or within the king’s party when they go to hunts or to the castle of Vicennes. Dumas does a great job of sowing seeds of unease to make the Louvre a claustrophobic den of sinister machinations that are constantly imperilling Henry of Navarre.

I absolutely recommend this book but it doesn’t quite match TCOMC or The D’Artagnan Romances, so try those first. It’ll take you about ten years to read all those, and then The Last Valois trilogy will be waiting for you.

If you like the idea of a hyper-active writer filling volumes upon volumes with similarly-plotted and repetitive action, you’ll love my memoirs. All my books are available over at my products page here.

[1] Think of them as the Two Musketeers

#74 – Murderer’s Row, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

September 8, 2018
krauserpua

Have you ever wondered if spies and assassins go through troublesome periods of weak inner game? Daygame can be pretty tough, as we all know. There is so much to learn, technically, that it can feel like juggling ten balls in the air simultaneously and if just one ball goes wrong, you drop them all.

Matt Helm row
I’ve been coaching a residential this week, so the sheer weight of information that must be assimilated is foremost in my mind: Get your vibe right, and project some street presence. Then focus your eyes out onto the middle distance and begin scanning the streets to pick out appropriate sets. Sort your pre-approach tactics and then make a snap decision on whether to open. Throw in the buffer phrases, be sure to project the correct energy, and then come up with an opener.

Read the girl’s reaction, figure out where she’s at psychologically and then….. ah, fuck it. Just tell her she looks French, make some chit-chat, and ask for a number. I can understand why so many people can’t be arsed to learn real daygame so they just do the sick Cargo Cult parody of it instead. It’s easier [1]

Difficult as daygame is, we are merely competing against other normal men (or players [2]) and the prize for victory is banging a hottie and the penalty for messing up is frustration. Spies and assassins are up against tougher competition and play for higher stakes. So, I wonder how their inner game is.

Movie and book spies have a grand old time. Fast cars, beautiful women, winning big hands at a Monte Carlo casino, and high-speed ski chases down Swiss mountainsides. It sounds great. Unless, of course, you’re one of the spies who gets poisoned, shot, or crashes a burning helicopter into a mountainside.

If I was a spy I wouldn’t be one of those. I’d be one of the winners.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT

He thinks he’s winning

Anyway, I digress. There must be some inner game issues to deal with and, to my knowledge, no-one has ever written a Spygame Mastery or Spygame Infinite to help out with that. I’ve noticed with these Matt Helm books, of which Murderer’s Row is the next in my queue, that writer Donald Hamilton does indeed focus quite a lot on the inner game.

 

This book begins when Helm is called over to headquarters in DC to be told his month-long vacation is cancelled and he actually has to go down to Chesapeake bay and beat the shit out of a female agent, Jean, so as to make her fake defection to the Russians more convincing. Hamilton has us focus on Helm being rather uneasy about the job and most of the first few chapters are about his questioning his mettle and then battling to suppress the remorse he feels when she unexpectedly dies mid-way through a carefully organised beating (that she’d agreed to in advance).

Helm refuses to return to HQ for a debrief and instead disobeys direct orders and goes rogue, to atone for his error. He soon gets embroiled with a rich local family at each other’s throats as he attempts to re-establish Jean’s Russian connection so as to locate their safe house and the nuclear scientist being held there before being smuggled to the Soviet Union. Like the other Helm books, all the action takes place on friendly (i.e. non-Soviet) territory and most characters are either friendlies or simple criminals. Russian agents tend not to make an appearance until halfway through the books.

Helm’s mission is to ensure the knowledge inside the scientist’s head never makes it to the Soviet Union so he’s expecting to assassinate rather than rescue the poor egghead. His inner game is complicated further when the scientist’s young daughter shows up searching for her dad and engages Helm to help. Thus he realises he’s likely going to not just kill the boffin, but do so in front of his daughter.

And you thought getting your kiss-close rejected could be frustrating.

These Helm books tend not to have the rip-roaring action of a James Bond or Mack Bolan book. Whereas those lads are jet-setting around the world and riding ICBMs bareback into mountain ranges or jumping a sports car across a castle moat, Helm mostly sleeps in a grotty motel room and spends the whole book in a single podunk small town in the US. Hamilton is very deliberately making spycraft grimy, squalid, and unappealing. Quite the opposite of Jason Bourne.

Like the others in the Matt Helm series, this book was well-written and the pages turned themselves. Also like the others, not a single woman can be trusted. All three female characters in this book betray Helm at least once. His male enemies are considerably more overt in their opposition to him. So far, I’m liking this series and see no reason to stop.

If you are getting tired of book reviews and would rather read about game, then you ought to look at my books here. No-one has ever written so much, in such detail, with such polish. When you’ve finished with those, you’ll be all gamed out.

[1] But doesn’t work. I may post on Cargo Cult daygame sometime.
[2] Who are super-normal, abnormal, or sub-normal. But never normal.

Ask Jimmy #2

September 3, 2018
krauserpua

We are quite pleased at the amount of interest shown in the first Ask Jimmy post and he’s had a look at the questions readers left in the comments below. I’m leaving it entirely up to him which ones he answers. Till then, here’s his thoughts on a question I put to him a few weeks ago.

Liam Gallagher

Clearly a wowser

Question: How long should you be a player?

6 months ago I was in Central London with my old mate Xants, rolling around, helping Xants look for skirt, Xants telling me how to get rid of my beer belly, when at one point we saw an excitable young pup running sets on Oxford Street. At one point he got kicked out of set, with a smile on his face and his chin up, just as we were walking past and seeing us watching, he acknowledged us and we got into conversation. At some point he asked me if I did game and I said that I did a few years ago, but I am 40 now and….. He looked at me through narrowed eyes and sagely advised me, as he talked over the top of me, that ‘age is just a number’. He then ran off down the street, as God is my witness, a jaunty ‘I’m a pickup artist’ hat perked proudly atop his head.

He missed the point of my statement. Who at 20 would understand the world through the same lens as a 40 year old man just because they share a common pastime? So, leaning heavily on my cane and puffing my pipe, I strolled on, probably complaining to TK about arthritis or gout.

As I reported last year, I am indeed back in London, working hard, saving up and bouncing around with the lads at the weekend. My girl is with me most of the year and I am on the whole pretty settled and moved along from those amazing, free-wheeling pickup days. I am happy with it all. I don’t know if it is because of my transition in particular or just the fact that most of my mates are getting older too, but the longevity of one’s game career has been one of the dominant conversations in our friendship circle this last year.

How long should we be players? How long should we pace the streets for hot skirt? It’s a juicy topic and I generally have two return questions for people when they ask that. My first being, do you move on from game through ‘preference’ or ‘necessity’? Are you off the team because you retire just after your peak but still on a high, or because you don’t get picked anymore? That young pick-up legend I met on Oxford Street was looking at it no doubt through the necessity lens. He thought I was complaining that ‘I can’t day game because I am too old’ (necessity), whereas I was trying to say ‘at some point, you’ll be over all this’ (preference).

(NB: I’m only 40, everyone at work thought I was 27. While I joke about it, I’m hardly past it).

You surely want to eject at a point that you choose rather than a point that confronts you? This may leave you having to accept that you quit while you still have a fair bit of juice in the tank, but also while your market value is still high enough to make you a chooser in the market place. We’ve all seen the fading Hollywood star who mismanaged his finances, left having to ruin is reputation doing junk movies in his later years because he didn’t milk it and cash out in time.

My second question is, what do you want out of life? If you just want to chase hot young skirt into your 50s, you will absolutely be able to, if you know what you’re doing. It’s been done before and it will be done again long after we’re all gone. I see it all the time, but from, let’s say early 40s, onwards, every year you spend you begin to take on some tiny compromises. It’s like weight gaining on you in tiny increments. The big thing is, you can be 50 and date a 21 year old 9, but it is more than likely going to be a sport fuck. Marriage [1] and kids are likely off the table. If you are 50 and decide you want kids, you’re going to be attacking the market from a very challenging position. You’re not Mick Jagger and having game, as good as it is, is nowhere near as much value as having written songs like ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ or even ‘She’s a Rainbow’.

So if you don’t want kids or marriage you’re fine, you’ve got years. But don’t stop reading yet, remember you may change your mind, as I did, for reasons I state below. I can only ever speak for myself [2] and here are some the things I noticed about me as got older.

Waning Enthusiasm – The novelty for game will probably wear off (but not much 😉 lol). The thirst for new skirt and just getting laid in general will wear off. You’ll always look at girls tits on the tube in summer, but sexual adventure in general will just slip down the priorities list. Likely far from your top three, it will likely not even be in the top ten. Of course it’s supposed to because by your 40s you’re supposed to have a family of your own. I remember last year telling Nick that (assuming I was single) if we met two double hot, slightly drunk, naive 19 year-olds in extremely short skirts, who wanted to party with us until the early hours back at our hotel, I’d say ‘no’ if my team had an important game that I wanted to watch. He didn’t believe me, but it’s absolutely true. Watching a great game is far more interesting to me than yet another bang with yet another skirt.

sidney-crosby-penguins-nhl-playoffs-1300

A game, yesterday

Shrinking Market – In my late 30s I dated a hot 19 year old who is now 22 and she would have married me if I’d wanted (and she probably still would). But at some point your market is going to begin to shrink. At 35 you’re top of your game and you can have almost anyone. At 40, you’re starting to be a bit of a wild card, maybe even a bit of fun. At 50, I guarantee you’ll still be able to clack hot young women, but at that time a family is a big ask for her and not all top drawer skirt under the age of 30 will be willing to commit to a 50 year old. When my dad was in is 50s, after his wife died, he dated a few girls in their early 20s, but they were clearly all just flings. Some may have married him I guess, but it was thin end of the wedge (meaning he got a bit lucky and the girls would have been making serious sacrifices, such as no kids).

Mismatched preferences – The larger the gap between you and your skirt, the less you are likely to share in values, preferences and desires. When you’re both 20, you can live the same life of work, clubs, festivals, political ideas and holiday destinations. I’m 40 and I’ve seen my last nightclub, I hope. Now this isn’t a problem, but what happens at 50 when I’ve seen my last beach party or maybe even my last long haul flight? Things you don’t consider now will rear their heads then, such as at 40 you have to change your diet significantly if you want to stay fit. That means your girl probably does too. Now that in itself isn’t a problem, but straight away you need to find a girl who is willing to make more changes and sacrifices for you.

Sacrificing your bloodline – All the above considerations lead to a fairly clear likely outcome. Men have it better than their skirted counterparts (I am talking here about women, not the Scottish) when it comes to shelf life… to a point. We can crank it until our 40s until we start to worry, but we do have a shelf life. I think I got out at a decent age. I didn’t plan it, it just happened. My girlfriend is much younger than me, good looking, a good friend and good mother and wife material. All this offered to me at the same time as I just couldn’t be all that arsed anymore.

If you want the family and that whole next part of your life, and if you can see it coming, then in your late 30s be sure to realise that you want to cash your value as close to the top as you can, balanced against getting the highest value mother you can find for your children. Now I’d suggest choosing the mother your kids want, rather than the porn star you want, in the same way you put your spare coin into a pension pot rather than spunk it on a red Porsche. You’re doing your future self a solid favour. I’m not saying you should settle with a 6, just that it’s quite possible you banged hotter skirt in the past. I look down the road and see how much I love my son, and I want my son to be as happy as possible. If I’d give my actual life for him, then I can surely choose an 8 over a 9, or a 7 for an 8 for him. She’s gonna be a 6 by the time she’s 30 anyway. I wonder if some people fall into the trap of thinking ‘I’m a pick up artist with a blog so my final girl will be the one my whole game career is judged against’.

It might be hard to walk away for good from the freedom of the single life and the sexual variety. Yes I think it is, because it’s so final. You close a book and can never, ever go back, not with much hope of doing it successfully. I notice back in Burnley the lads I know who have families and kids now are all really happy. They’re at times a bit downtrodden, possibly it’s because, as I believe, they did it very early before they got their money sorted and they cashed out while their value was still low and before they’d had time to experience any real adventure. But they’re happy and they love their brats. I don’t think, once you have a child, that you worry too much what point your wife is or was, as long as she is a good wife and mother. Like I said, they all look shit at 30 anyway. They’ll drop a point easy the five years between 23 and 30 and then after that God knows how fast they’ll plummet. It’ll be like taking a new car off the forecourt. If you don’t choose someone with good character you’ll be telling your mates ‘yeah she’s a total pain in the arse but she was a 9 once!’

By the time you’re 50 you’re probably not going to care all that much about shagging, so you might as well get busy making a little lad to take on the football match. Finally, for those of you who want to be single forever, let me tell you a story from my life this last 12 months.

The-Truth-About-the-Most-Interesting-Man-in-the-World-720x720-article

I met an old guy. 75 years old. I knew him through his wife (20 years his junior) and his daughter. I met him at a party. He was like my dad, handsome, charming and a deplorable Marxist, but I stupidly really liked him. He’d lived a grand life (probably on the tax payers’ dime) and we nibbled at each other about politics. I considered smashing his head in on the canapés but we said we’d go for a coffee sometime. No doubt he wanted to trick us into thinking political disagreements are just part of the ‘wonderful tapestry of life’ rather than a life and death struggle.

The funny thing was he confided in me at me at this party that he was very old. He told me straight three times ‘I’m not much longer for this world, James’. It was November when I met him and by February he’d died of pneumonia.

At his funeral there was a picture of him in his funeral magazine thingy. He looked good. He looked top of the world, in a nice suit, cool beard, smiling like the cat that got the cream. The point is, he looked a man in his prime. I asked his wife how old he was in the photo and she told me he was exactly 35.

My heart sank, a whole 5 years my junior.

I was regretful because I never went for that coffee with the old bastard and I listened intently to the service. The guy lived a marvellous life and he died at the age of 75 surrounded by his young wife and three kids. He’d done it right and he’d milked the world for everything it could give him. He’d won. I took it personally. We’re all going to die and it’s coming at us sooner than we think, so play the game as long as you want, but don’t let your opportunities pass you by. Who is going to carry you to the final resting place? Who is going to care when you go? You can die in a care home, or sort it by your own hand, or you can be surrounded by your family. I don’t believe in the myth of the lonely old man, single old men do just fine playing chess in the park with their mates or sitting in the pub watching the footy, but is it the first choice overall? What’s their final 6 years like? What is their final 6 months like?

Whatever you choose, you’re choosing it today with each decision you make and the last decade will come probably sooner than you think. Our time is finite. We’re not pick-up artists forever. Enjoy it while it lasts because what is freedom today could turn out to be a one way ticket.

If you’d like more of Jimmy, head over to his blog here. If you’d like more of Krauser and have your PayPal or credit card ready, consider my products here.

[1] I am just using the word ‘marriage’ in this post as a reference to ‘long term pair bonding’ I’m not advocating a position on the legal stuff. It’s just easier to type ‘marriage’ then ‘long term pair bonding’, though to be honest, I’ve probably gone and typed ‘long term pair bonding’ more in this footnote than I would have done had I simply used it in the post in the first place. I’d have probably only typed it twice, and this footnote is already 85 words long and I haven’t even finished yet.
[2] I’m always keen to point out that I am not an expert on skirt or dating, I ‘m probably not even close, but I am the world’s leading expert on my life and my experiences and I can just tell you what happened to me. Take that information as you please, I hope it helps.

#73 – The Wrecking Crew, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

August 28, 2018
krauserpua

The Wrecking Crew

A rare shitty cover for this series

There’s a reason I try to review books immediately after finishing them: everything is fresh in my mind and there are usually a few ‘hot takes’ I have on the content or writing style. It wouldn’t seem a big deal to leave a book a couple of weeks before getting around to writing it up, but in 2018 those couple of weeks have likely involved finishing another five books, the ideas of which have pushed the older book out of my consciousness.

Sigh. Life is hard.

Donald Hamilton’s second volume in the long-running Matt Helm series, The Wrecking Crew, is such a book. The story is pretty good. Helm has now rejoined Mac’s group of Cold War assassin’s working off-the-books wet-works for the US government. After fifteen years out, he’s put back through a battery of tests so Mac can assess if he’s still sharp enough. It turns out he’s off the pace as well as the books.

scaliadeath-poll-vote

Of course, wet-works would never happen nowadays

Intriguingly, Mac spins this as a positive by sending him to Sweden on a job knowing full well that their partnering Swedish intel counterparts have a leak, and thus Helm’s cover (as a photographer for a top nature magazine) will be immediately compromised. From there, the opposition will find out he’s past it and thus underestimate him. His job is to accompany the widow of a suspected double agent. He was murdered behind the Iron Curtain after touting publicly (he was a journalist in Sweden) that he’d discovered the identity of the USSR’s top agent in Europe. The widow is researching an article on fascinating locations in the isolated rural north of Sweden and needs someone like Helm to take photos.

Of course it’s all very fishy. His Swedish connect gives him away immediately before being gunned down in a double-double-cross by the shadowy USSR agent. He’s then palling up with a hot Swedish teen who is a competitive cross-country skiier and seems to fancy him. Eventually he finds himself in the northern mountains being directed to take very specific photos by this odd widow. It looks like her story is a ploy to get permission to photograph Swedish military installations.

As you’d expect from a Matt Helm book, everything is smoke and mirrors. There is more deceit and calculation than in the Jewish World Series Of Poker. It’s this feeling that everyone is lying and nothing is as it seems that I like about the Helm stories. Hamilton never loses his grip on the plot so it never spins off into gotcha moments or deus ex-machina. It’s tightly plotted throughout and all the characters stay in character.

Wrecking Crew

The key conceit of this book is that Helm is a fantastically savvy agent who has to deliberately play the part of a bungling idiot. For example, he arrives at his hotel and goes to his room:

A canny secret-agent type would, of course, have looked the place over carefully before turning his back on the closet and bathroom doors. Under other circumstances, I might even have done so myself, but I was playing a part, and my script didn’t call for any displays of professional vigilance. Mac had been emphatic on this point.

Mac had told him:

“But in many ways you’d have been better prepared for the job at hand if you’d spent the past month in a hotel room with a bottle and a blonde. Now you’ll have to use restraint. Don’t betray yourself by showing off any of the pretty tricks you’ve just learned. If somebody wants to follow you, let them follow; you don’t even know they’re there. What’s more, you don’t care. If they want to search your belongings, don’t set any traps for them. If you should get involved in a fight – God forbid – forget about weapons except in a clear and desperate emergency. And don’t give any unnecessary judo demonstrations, either. Just lead with your right and take your licking like a man. Do I make myself clear?”

The reason is that Helm’s real job isn’t to take the photos and keep an eye on the widow, but rather to draw out the Soviet super-spy and kill him. That spy is going to observe, circle, and nibble before deciding whether to come out of cover to bite. Helm can’t afford to tip his hand and send the spy back into deep cover. So in an early scene when the Soviet has some goons jump him, Helm has to forego his chances to beat them in a fight because he knows the Soviet has manufactured the fight merely to assess his competence.

It’s this kind of subtlety that shows why I vastly prefer the Matt Helm books over the Remo Williams Destroyer books. Remo just slaughters everyone in the blink of an eye. If anyone exposes him, he just ninja-death-touches them into silence. Helm follows the Sun Tzu school of strategic deception

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Who does that remind you of? Oh yes, this guy……

Trump

It isn’t just Helm who entered enemy territory on a mission to draw out hostile shadowy actors. Trump is cleaning out the Deep State and it would’ve been suicidal to take them on by a frontal overt assault. Instead he’s set all manner of traps, misdirections, and subterfuges to leave the traitors over-confident. He’ll tweet like he’s confused, make big noises about NFL players kneeling, and encourage former staffers to plant false stories in the MSM about porn stars and candid tapes….. and all the while secret assassins like Jeff Sessions, John Huber, and Michael Flynn are amassing the evidence that will take the Deep State down in one thunderous swoop.

You don’t purge enemy cabals by announcing your plans and letting them take counter-measures. Nope, you do it the Saddam Hussein way

Of course when you deploy strategic deception, it has to be so good that everyone outside the inner circle is fooled by it. That means you fool your own followers half the time, at least until the hammer drops. For the past two years I’ve felt like I’ve had Donald Hamilton narrating a new Matt Helm story to me, explaining the misdirection in the White House like he does in the Helm books. I’ve been watching all the chess pieces move into position and the clock tick down.

It’s been wonderfully relaxing.

My books are still on sale, believe it or not. Nothing has changed in the past hour since I linked them in the previous book review. Get ’em by clicking here.

#72 – Straight And Crooked Thinking, Robert H. Thouless BOOK REVIEW

August 28, 2018
krauserpua

straightandcrookedthinking.jpg

Some Jordan Peterson fans are cunts. Let me explain.

One of my favourite courses at university was called Introduction To Informal Logic given by the philosophy department [1]. The idea was to clarify the thinking of students when reasoning verbally, as opposed to the syllogisms and algebra of formal logic. Thus rather than learn all the logical syllogisms like this:

If A, then B
If B, then C
A, therefore C

We instead learned argument fallacies such as the No True Scotsman or the Logical Black-Is-White Slide. Then we’d be given sample texts and try to spot the fallacies. This is perhaps why to this day I get riled when a normal person says “fallacious” to mean “mistaken”, or “refute” to mean “repudiate”, or “invalid” to mean “false”. Each of the first terms in these pairs has a specific meaning in the study of informal logic.

I consider informal logic to be part of the meta-level of a well-trained mind. In crude terms, you could say there are several levels to a well-trained mind as follows [2], from most abstract to most concrete:

Screen-Shot-2017-12-05-at-11.14.57

Me, yesterday

Meta-level – The operating system of how you process information, classify information, and weigh evidence. The study of logic, scientific method, statistics and so on belong here. As does a purification process to purge sloppy thinking and ego that may corrupt the hard drives upon which everything is stored. This is all the how of thinking itself. It’s about the curation of your mental garden.
Theoretical level – The axioms and principles you’ve divined that seem to drive the world, including heuristics and rules of thumb. So that could be theories like r/K, evolution, Great Man theory, Hegelian dialectic or simple ideas like “everything is mating strategy” or “every situation has both the seen and unseen effects”. This is mostly the why but has a bit of what. These are the ideas that are applied to facts.
Classification level – The groupings of data, subject disciplines, and the interrelations between them. For example, you may divide martial arts between classifications of living/dead, or academic disciplines as bullshit/real, or decide one data set belongs in psychology but another in sociology etc. This is about allocating space in your mental matrix. You have different lines of soil for cabbages to the carrots etc.
Factual level – The raw data of observations about the world be it first, second or third hand. This is what most people would call ‘facts’. This is all what. It’s the individual vegetables in your garden, that you plant into the correct place determined by the classification level.

I’ve noticed over time that some people can be really good at some levels and awful at others. For example, Joe Rogan is a veritable treasure trove at the factual level because he has an inquisitive mind, hundreds of long interviews with experts in various fields, and his own interesting background in comedy, martial arts, and behind-the-scenes UFC. Unfortunately, he appears to have no solid world-view within which to locate and organise everything. He is a ‘surface skater’ rather than a systematic thinker. These guys are great at dinner parties because of all their interesting stories and factoids. It’s basically the Pub Quiz guy.

This is a curse endemic to anyone who hasn’t studied the canon of Western thought and literature. You need a reasonable grounding in the classics and history to begin mapping out your own world-view in organised fashion.

His friend and frequent guest Eddie Bravo is a weird conspiracy nut who seems incapable of processing the most basic things said to him, and is awful at the factual and classification levels. However his brain is naturally systematic and he operates well at the theoretical level. It is thus unsurprising that he revolutionised Brazilian Ju Jitsu by creating his own theoretical paradigm – which all fits together beautifully like a physical jigsaw – and inventing a ton of positions, transitions and ideas to fit into it.

Watching him ramble on in The Joe Rogan Show you’d think he’s a doped-up moron, but his undeniable world-class BJJ and submission wrestling achievements absolutely belie that first impression. He’s smart. Just…. odd.

If you’re an ambitious young man who wishes to cultivate his mind and become a renaissance man it is not enough to simply read a lot. Filling your mind with facts will not suffice. You need to cultivate the structure of your mind in addition to pouring in lots of new data. For this reason I absolutely recommend the study of informal logic. If nothing else, it armours you against rhetoric from others because you can immediately x-ray their arguments to spot the underlying logical bone-structure and the mistakes within it. It becomes harder for people to pull the wool over your eyes.

X-ray-man

Thoughless with his 1930 prototype

I chose to read Robert H. Thouless’ Straight And Crooked Thinking for a different reason. I consider it spring cleaning for the mind. The human brain is like an install of Windows 10 in that, if left untended, it will degrade over time. If all you do is pour in new information you are neglecting the structure and thus it’s easy for your ego to swoop in and begin fooling you with your own argumentative fallacies. It’s good to revisit informal logic to apply it’s lessons to yourself. That’s what I did here, pausing during each chapter to ask myself, “Do I make that mistake? Are my recent arguments fallacious in this regard?”

Though I’d recommend Weston and Flew over Thouless, I did get a lot of value out of this book. It’s written in 1930 and then revised in 1953 so it has a patient style without the recourse to fancy that a modern how-to-think paperback would have (Scott Adams, I’m looking at you). In 1953 writers didn’t feel the need to put bells and whistles on everything to maintain their ADHD reader’s attention. I like the old school style.

As for content, here are some interesting snippets I took from the book:

– Choosing emotionally-loaded words over more neutral words is a rhetorical device that is likely to stir up obstacles to dialectical reasoning. Just be clear the purpose of your communication and choose your vocabulary accordingly.

– Many arguments sound convincing until you realise the proposer is implying the qualifier “all” but will only defend the qualifier “some”. For example, “Muslims are terrorists” is very easy to defend factually if prefaced by “some” but not by “all”. Thoughless states it better than I can:

“We can put this in a more general way by saying that a common form of dishonest argument is the statement “A is B” when “Some A is B” would be true, but in which the untrue statement “All A is B” is implied for the rest of the argument.”

– There’s a very good discussion of arguments over words vs arguments over facts. The crux of it is that both sides may agree the facts but they define their words differently and therefore can’t reach agreement. Thoughless uses this example early on, about whether the colour green is a fact of the world or just how its experienced inside our minds:

“If it is realised that this is only a verbal question of whether we are to use the word ‘green’ for the colour of grass and leaves or for the experience we have when we look at grass and leaves, it is clear that there is nothing of interest to discuss. We use the word in either way…. all that matters is that we should use not use it in both senses without making a distinction between them when confusion might arise.”

That might sound like Captain Obvious once more triumphing with his Hammer of Obvious but Thoughless develops the idea in ways that were new to me and really helped. His key insight is that such arguments are really about “ought” not “is”. Both sides believe there is rhetorical power in recruiting a particular word to their side (e.g. ‘democracy’) so this is really a battle over ownership of the word, to use it to denote their preferred interpretation. It’s a rhetorical sleight of hand while the real factual world underneath isn’t changed at all. It is often a preliminary step before taking that word and committing the informal logic fallacy of equivocation.

JBP Twat

No, you clean YOUR room, pal.

Vox Day noted this is Jordan Peterson‘s primary sleight of hand and it exposes him as a worm-tongued charlatan. JBP constantly defines words his own way, far removed form the normal usage, at the “defend” stage of argument. He then picks up that word and carries it over to a new argument hoping to keep its power under the everyday use of the term. I realised it’s like a magician’s trick. Let me explain with a visual metaphor.

Imagine a gym where all the free weights are the same physical dimensions, but the density inside the plates and dumbbells give them different weights. So, they look identical but are different weights. They are identified with stickers, from 5kg, to 7.5kg etc right up to the big man weights. Jordan Peterson comes in [3] and walks over to the lightest girl weights. They are very easy to lift. He puts his own sticker alongside the 5kg, a number 3 to the left so that it now reads 35kg.

“Hey, Canadian” shouts a big beefy Texan. “Sticking a new number on doesn’t make it any heavier.”

Peterson isn’t phased. “Oh no, I’m not pretending it’s heavier. It’s just I’m recording my exercise regime on a different scale, where I apply a discount factor of x7. It’s just a precise way I like to define my numbers. It makes sense in the context of my own system. I don’t actually think it’s 35kg. It’s just a labelling convention I have.”

“Oh, I see” says the Texan, walking out the room at the end of his workout.

Peterson takes his dumbbells and walks to the other side of the room where some hot girls are working out. They never heard the earlier exchange. Peterson starts curling the dumbells in front of the girls. They see the 35kg marker on them.

“Wow! You’re strong!” they coo.

“Yeah. Special technique” he says, his ego preening in satisfaction at the successful con.

I see this type of move all the time, especially in the media. You define a term narrowly or specifically when pressed (e.g. the “Some X are Y” above) and as soon as the audience’s vigilance is reduced, you begin applying the term in the wider general sense (“All X are Y”). Personally, I’d never use such a sleight of hand.

So, I have conclusively proven all Jordan Peterson fans are cunts.

Perhaps you’d like to assign me ideas and positions the opposite of those I actually take, like Peterson’s fans do to him. If so, you’ll probably want to avoid reading my actual books, just like JBP’s fans don’t read his books either. However, I’d rather you did read them because then I’ll get paid. Order here.

[1] The two core texts were Anthony Weston’s A Rulebook For Arguments which lists all the fallacies very clearly, and Antony Flew’s Thinking About Thinking which is a discursive treatment of the same general content. Both are great.
[2] I’ve literally just invented this schema as I started writing this review, so don’t take it as anything more than a convenient typology to illustrate a point.
[3] Probably in a really gay cyclist Lycra outfit

#71 – The Silencers, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

August 28, 2018
krauserpua

 

There’s something strangely alluring to me, in fiction, about the border towns of Mexico. It’s puzzling why this should be but it is so and I shall attempt to reason it out. Before I go any further, why don’t you have a quick look at Robert Rodriguez’s [1] mariachi trilogy, of which the second – Desperado – is my favourite

Cool, no?

Many early hardboiled detective stories were written in the 1930s by writers based around LA so it was a common theme to have border-hopping as a plot convenience. Murders could flee south to escape the law, or smugglers could infiltrate north from Juarez. This built upon earlier Western novels that used the Mexico-US war as spice to it’s own Wild West.

There’s something sweaty, grimy and desolate about the border region. Even the wilderness is fraught with danger to a cowboy on his horse: thirst, rattlesnakes, bandits…. somehow it’s more exciting than the desert country in North Africa. Then of course we get to the border towns themselves.

Who could ever forget the Titty Twister?

This fourth Matt Helm book, The Silencers, gets off to a flying start in Juarez, Mexico. A female agent has infiltrated a strip joint to observe the operations of a suspected Soviet spy but her handler now worries she’s turned into a double agent. Matt Helm is sent down to El Paso so he can hop over the border, meet his connect, then extract the agent.

Dead or alive. Hence the title.

Stepping off the south end of the span, I was in a foreign country. Mexicans will tell you defensively that Juarez isn’t Mexico – that no border town is – but it certainly isn’t the United States Of America, even though Avenida Juarez, the street just south of the bridge, does bear a certain resemblance to Coney Island.

I brushed off a purveyor of dirty pictures and shills for a couple of dirty movie houses. I side-stepped half a dozen taxi drivers ready to take me anywhere, but preferably to the house of a lady named Maria who had lots of girls, it seemed, one of whom, at least, was the girl I’d been looking for since birth. If I didn’t like girls, there were many interesting alternatives. I was surprised to learn how many.

This daytime trip is merely a feint to see if he picks up a shadow. He returns the next evening for his mission.

Outside, we ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers and shills and the porteros of the various joints we passed who did their best to collar us and haul us into their respective establishments. A tall, gaunt, evil-looking character with a knife-slash across his nose was playing safety man for the Club Chihuahua. We let him make the tackle. It took him less than fifteen seconds to get us seated at a table in a dark room with a bar at one end and a girl undressing on a lighted stage at the other.

They are joined by two hostesses and the female agent takes the stage for her strip.

Matt Helm The Silencers

“All the way, Lila!” somebody shouted from the back of the room.

She smiled. The bloodhounds might be on her trail, but she was going to do her stuff regardless. The kid had guts. Well, I knew that. She’d tried to jump me, the time we’d got our identities confused in San Antonio. I’d been holding two guns at the time, like Wild Bill Hickok, but she’d jumped me anyway.

“All the way!” the M.C. yelled, and the loud speakers threw his voice at us from the dark recesses of the room. “All the way, baybee!”

She made her corner and passed across the front of the stage, swinging away from us. Her back turned toward us, she reached up and did something feminine and provocative with her hair, teasing, before she reached for the zipper. As the yellow dress opened from top to bottom, baring her back, a knife, coming from nowhere, buried itself to the hilt just below her left shoulder blade.”

And so begins a tale in which Helm attempts to track down a Soviet agent named Cowboy by baiting him with a microfiche of atomic test plans and a missile launch he intends to hijack. It’s good stuff, like a James Bond story at a lower pay-grade of spooks. All the usual Helm themes are there: gritty purposeful action, strategic deception, utterly untrustworthy women, and impersonal cold-blooded murder.

In the late 1800s it was all about Mexican bandits and revolutionaries. In the 1930s it was wetback dope smugglers and pimps, and by the 1960s its cold war duels. Lately the border town action is the drug cartels. The six primary border crossings into the US are now the scene of unprecedented carnage as cartels fight for control of these lucrative routes. The recent Sicario movies are a good example of how the old story structure has adapted to new villains and cultural tone. As are the Don Winslow novels.

Border towns appeal to the bottom-world grittiness of a hardboiled story. They have a geographical tone you couldn’t get in a Bavarian castle or a Yukon forest. There’s a sweaty, degenerate sexual vibe. It’s tequila, mosquitoes, sombreros, and street walkers. Love it.

If you like your degeneracy of the realistic sexual type, consider my products here.

Borderline

Very sleazy book

[1] Rodriguez is a pioneering filmmaker in shooting big movies on tiny budgets. He was among the first to use digital cameras and do edits and scores himself. He also famously had Johnny Depp star in Once Upon A Time In Mexico by cramming all his scenes into three days of filming to get him cheap. Sadly, RR is just another Hollywood degenerate.