Friday 26 May 2023

"Three Days of the Condor" and the Tenth Anniversary of "The Sour Grapevine"

Sharing Intelligence

I'm still obsessing over "sharing intelligence."  May 15th was the tenth anniversary of this blog.  I wrote the first post 15 May 2013.  My original intention was to create a platform for whistleblowers, a space for all those insights and complaints about university education which circulated behind closed doors.  That collective participation never happened, and the project became the one-man band it is today. Rereading my first post I see my concerns about "education" haven't changed.  Over time, the blog has strayed from language, literature and the university per se,  into those questions I have found "curiouser and curiouser" like money and politics.

Three Days of the Condor

One of my favourite spy flicks, Three Days of the Condor, is approaching its 50th anniversary.  On this the tenth anniversary of The Sour Grapevine, I find myself reflecting on the naive optimism--my naive optimism--in interpreting the ending of Three Days of the Condor.  Here's the ending of the film:


On "Changing the World"

Condor (played by Robert Redford), a CIA analyst, has discovered a rogue CIA operation to invade the Middle East.  To protect the secrecy of the plan, the CIA hires a contractor to assassinate Condor and his colleagues.  Might sound farfetched but, then again, compared to the invasion of Iraq, it's small potatoes and somewhat more rational.  What catches my attention today is Condor's (and my) only slightly hesitant conviction that the New York Times would publish his story.  In 1975, I thought it was obvious that they would publish.  Today? Not a chance in hell.  Condor's (and my) other assumption was that publication of the story would change the world.  "Change the world" is what we tell kids these days, right around the time they are becoming suspicious about Santa Claus.  The last fifty years of humanity (as opposed to technology and physics) prove that stasis and apathy always prevail.  I find myself submitting to Sabine Hossenfelder's claim that "free will is incompatible with the laws of physics."

On Whistleblowers

Despite our romantic convictions that righteous individuals taking on the system are the heroes of modern times, whistleblowers,  in general, do not fare well.  Joe Darby blew the whistle on the torture and other crimes being committed by the US in Abu Ghraib prison.  Edward Snowden revealed that the USA was systematically spying on American citizens with a program called PRISM.  William Binney, a precursor of Snowden, created  ThinThread, and revealed that the NSA was fraudulently wasting billions on Trailblazer and, at the same time, ignoring the Constitution by collecting massive amounts of data on US citizens.  Katharine Gun revealed that the US was asking British intelligence to help blackmail UN diplomats into voting in favour of the invasion of Iraq. Gary Webb exposed that the CIA was allowing the importation of cocaine into the US in order to provide funding for the Contras in Nicaragua.  None of these whistleblowers have done well from the good they tried to do.

Blogging as a retirement hobby

I have no right to expect this blog to be influential.  I have always declared it "a hobby" and, as such, no more compelling for an audience than toy trains or a stamp collection.  Nonetheless, it is impossible to write a blog for ten years and not wonder what, if any, effect it might be having.  As a professor, I allowed myself the immodest belief that I had a modest effect on my students' thinking.   The blog allowed me to continue at least the illusion of this the most satisfying aspect of academia.


Influence online in social media is measured in metadata:  how many views, likes, comments, shares, followers, subscribers, etc.  Starting out I never imagine that this was how I might measure success.  I imagined each of my posts having a long shelf life, potentially being quoted by an avid reader from far afield even after I'm gone.  But that's not how the world rolls these days.  So here's my metadata:  Google tells me that my blog has been viewed 753,405 times.  I have written 204 posts.  I have published 150 posts, the rest are unpublished drafts and stubs.

Most Viewed

My most viewed post is Canadian Politicians Were Caught Like Deer in the Headlights, but Why Are Canadian Journalists Censuring any Discussion of the Merits of Meng's Case? (with 6,490 views).  It's not one of my better-written posts.  It's not even one of my better posts on the Meng extradition case.  However, in this most-viewed post, I criticized the Global journalist David Akin and he had the grace to share the post with his readers.  Additionally, Google sends me a report each month telling me what keywords brought readers to my blog and, apparently, some people end up on this post searching the fairly common name "Richard Donoghue."  Finally, with some reluctance, I must reveal that a substantial number of my readers (47,500 views all total) come from China. 

Least Viewed

My least popular post was If Men Could Get Pregnant . . .  with 39 views, and I did quite a bit of research for that post.  There might be a message in these numbers that I do better when I stick to my lane--education, language and literature.  The message isn't clear, but it doesn't matter.  Only an academic in my field would understand the elating freedom of being allowed to write what you really think.  I have managed to stay within the bounds of "education"; that is, adding something new to what is already known.  I also believe that "learning" frequently requires "unlearning."  The word "narrative" comes from the core of my field. Frequently, the work of the blog has been a resistant reading of dominant narratives.

 Influence and Influencers

In my anniversary reflections, I Googled the term "influencers."  Did you know that Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian each have 450 million followers?  Big-name singers, actors and soccer players each have hundreds of millions of followers.  Make-up, fashion and magic typically attract hundreds of millions of followers.  There are no followers on my blog, but I do have 1,221 followers on Quora, where my answers have been viewed over 5 million times.  (To bastardize a Marshall McLuhan quote:  "The platform is the message.")


I have always imagined that I was writing my blog for a Canadian readership.  My core audience is 68 friends, relatives and acquaintances that I shamelessly email posts to without their permission.  To my surprise, Canada (19,900 views) is fourth on the list of countries where my blog has been viewed.  Apparently, the blog is almost as popular in Russia (17,500 views) as it is in Canada--which is slightly disturbing. My dominant audience is in the USA (506,000 views).  (Should I flatter myself that I am being tracked by the CIA, NSA and FBI?)  The unflattering conclusion is that I haven't really been getting through to my imagined audience, my imagined community, Canada.

My guru has advised me that with so many people using VPN and proxies, I shouldn't take these geographical numbers too seriously.  No matter.  I remain undeterred. The world may not change while I am still in it, but I believe in chaos theory and the analogy of "a message in a bottle."  So stay tuned.


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