Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pickpocket Mind Games in Las Vegas

By Glenn Campbell

Last night I misplaced my iPhone on the Las Vegas Strip. It appeared I was targeted by a sophisticated pickpocket at the Luxor casino. The incident was a powerful lesson in human perception and how it can be easily lead astray. This story has many layers and a surprise ending. What I learned may be more valuable than the price of any iPhone.

I was shooting video in the Luxor casino, in the Egyptian-themed entertainment areas away from the gambling floor, when I was approached by a man in tourist clothing who asked me what I was filming. I had already noticed him watching me and had already pegged him as plainclothes security, but I was annoyed by the intrusion. It was obvious that I was photographing the fake Egyptian statues at the front entrance of the casino that were deliberately placed there to be photographed.

I responding rudely. "Who are you?" Although I assumed he was security, there were no visible signs that he wasn't just a tourist. I wanted him to prove himself.

The man was slow and careful in his response. "My name is Scott."

"I'm just photographing this stupid tourist shit," I said. "You're in my space, Scott."

"I saw you at the top of the escalator and was wondering what you were photographing."

"Who are you?" I repeated.

"My name is Scott..." Then after a pause: "I am with the casino."

I accepted this claim because I had already seen him watching me, following me and acting security-like, even though there were no outward proof of it. (I had already checked for an earphone in his ear and didn't see one, but it could have meant those devices were just getting smaller.) I didn't get any less rude, however. As a photographer, I have developed a complex set of protocols when people don't want me to film. Sometimes, I back away gracefully and sometimes I'm an asshole. This situation, I felt, called for assholiness.

"Do you want me to leave?" I said.

"That isn't necessary," he said.

"Do you want me to show you my photos?"

"That would be good," he said.

I recalled the last video I shot and played it for him on the back of my camera. It just showed me moving past some smaller Egyptian statues to focus on a bigger one. No people or gambling areas were visible in the video.

This seemed to satisfy him. I asked if he wanted to see the rest of my photos, but he said that wasn't necessary. He withdrew, and I continued with my filming.

What I didn't realize at the time is that, in that moment I was showing him the video, he was within my "personal space"—that is, in close proximity to my body in a zone when one doesn't normally allow others to approach. In theory, he was within reach of my back pants pocket where my iPhone was located. I felt nothing and recall no sensation of being touched, but after two hours of intense filming on the Las Vegas Strip, my iPhone was missing.

I do not normally keep my iPhone in my back pocket, where it is more vulnerable, and not using my iPhone in the space of two hours is almost unthinkable, but this was a photography expedition, and I was totally concentrated on my camera. My iPhone was in my back pocket because all my other pockets were filled with batteries and camera gear I do not normally carry. Thus, my senses were disoriented. The pressure in my front pocket that I normally associate with my iPhone was actually a camera battery.

I noticed my iPhone was missing only after I had returned to my rental car and driven away from the casino. When I first got back to the car in casino parking, I was exhausted and dumped all my batteries and equipment from my pockets onto the passenger seat. I assumed my iPhone was there, but when I got to my destination, I couldn't find it. It was night, but I searched the crevasses and seat cushions of this unfamiliar car as best I could. No luck.

In my frantic state (ISA = iPhone Separation Anxiety, a common modern affliction), I finally put two and two together. I had no specific memories of my iPhone since putting it in my pocket as I first left my parked car, and this "Scott" was the only person who came close enough to me to take it. During my film shoot I was constantly moving and never even sat down, so I felt the chances of anyone else stealing it or it falling spontaneously out of my pocket were slim.

A few weeks before, I had read an article in the New Yorker about a "theatrical pickpocket" who lifted people's personal items as a sort of magician. He would tell people he was going to pick their pockets, so they would presumably be on their guard, but he would still have no trouble lifting watches, pens and other personal items off of them without them noticing. He even did it to other magicians like Penn Jillette.

The slight-of-hand artist in the article perfectly fit the profile of "Scott"—quiet, self-effacing, polite but annoying. I now figured the whole "with the casino" bit was a ruse to get close enough me to lift whatever was in my back pocket. He couldn't know it was an iPhone, but he might have seen that it was accessible.

This guy was smooth! First, there was the problem of getting close enough to my body to take anything, but he was also operating in a Las Vegas casino, probably one of the most intensely monitored public spaces on Earth. The article, however, made me see that it was possible. I also knew from living in Las Vegas that most casino security is focused on the gaming areas where money is changing hands. Relatively little attention is given to the public areas where no casino assets are at risk.

I felt that my iPhone was lost forever. If "Scott" was a professional, he would have left the Luxor immediately and moved on to another casino where I had no chance of finding him. I checked my photos and videos, but he wasn't on them. (He must have been smart about that as well.) I ran through all the damage control I would have to do to protect my data, and I added up the cost of the forced upgrade to a new phone.

Do not weep for me about any lost equipment. As a perpetual traveler, theft and loss happens to me frequently. I have had numerous computers and cameras stolen. I narrowly avoided a pocket-picking on the Paris Metro (and got photos of my assailant). I even had my passport stolen in a foreign country (if you call Canada "foreign"). I had an earlier iPhone stolen on Miami Beach when I went for a predawn swim. Each incident taught me something and trained me to arrange my life so thefts are no big deal. Every physical object in my life is replaceable, apart from a few key internal organs.

I refer to electronic thefts as the Forced Upgrade Program. Whenever I lose a camera, computer, or phone, it is just an excuse to upgrade to the latest technology. Alternatively, it can sometimes be a good excuse to let go of technology for a while and get back to the basics. In any case, the loss of a cellphone is hardly news in my world, but this incident was different. This was a mind game! Virtually all of my previous thefts were crude crimes of opportunity by criminals I assumed were drug addicts. This was different. If this was real, it was a smooth crime by a sophisticated criminal.

My iPhone was gone. By process of elimination, "Scott" was the only person who could have stolen it. There was no chance of getting it back, I figured, but at least I could do my civic duty by reporting the crime. I drove back to the Luxor to at least tell their security about it. I knew they would take it seriously, and they do have plenty of video cameras in the place. I didn't think I would recover my own cellphone, but at least they would be on the lookout for this guy in the future.

I knew Luxor would be especially concerned because this guy was claiming to be "with the casino". At least I would get a clear answer to what happened to my baby. If the casino did not have an employee named Scott working plainclothes security at the time I was there, then it was obvious that the fake "Scott" was a professional pickpocket and took my iPhone.

Luxor security was very responsive. I want to the security desk and filled out a form (shown above). A security officer came out to talk to me. He asked intelligent questions and took notes. Then he said he wanted to talk to his supervisor, and he asked me to wait.

When he came back, he had some surprising news: The casino DID have a plainclothes officer named Scott matching my description working in my area at the time of the alleged incident. They were concerning about my filming and had been watching my activity on video.

The officer said he didn't know how much of my encounter with Scott was on video, but they could probably call it up if they needed to. Would I like them to do that?

I laughed. "No, that won't be necessary," I said. "This has been quite an education."

The officer said he could still take my written incident report if I wanted to give it.

I said that wouldn't be necessary. I would take it as a souvenir.

I returned to my car, realizing that the only con artist was me. This New Yorker article had sensitized me to pickpockets and had made me believe anything was possible, even in a well-monitored casino.

Sure enough, with daylight the next morning, I found my iPhone lodged in a narrow crevice of my rental car.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

100 Tweets on Marriage

By Glenn Campbell

Below is a collection of 100 of my past tweets on marriage (tweeting as @BadDalaiLama). This list was assembled for the English language edition of my forthcoming book, The Case Against Marriage. If you would like to locate and retweet one of these tweets, you can find it by searching one of my two archives: the official downloaded Twitter archive or my own homemade tweet archive.
  1. Trying to capture love with marriage is like displaying a wild animal on your wall. As soon as you've nailed it down, you've killed it.
  2. Beauty cannot be purchased or possessed. If you try, all you'll get is bragging rights to the beauty that was once there.
  3. As a rule, Paradise turns into Hell as soon as you move there.
  4. If you're not willing to fight, stand up for your interests and defend your borders, then love is not the place for you.
  5. Love alone cannot bear the weight of all we ask it to do.
  6. Given the credit card of life, most spend it to the max as soon as they can, laboring the rest of their lives to pay the interest.
  7. A relationship cannot truly grow unless there is the realistic option to withdraw and renegotiate.
  8. A romantic relationship should not be confused with a parental one.
  9. A successful relationship isn't merging. It is sharing of independent viewpoints.
  10. Don't be a victim of your own cleverness—finding ingenious ways to sustain a relationship that really should end.
  11. Even after years of research and testing, there is still no clean-burning form of love.
  12. Every relationship is a balance between sharing and the need to preserve ones own identity.
  13. You can't prove love by killing freedom.
  14. If a little of something makes you happy, that doesn't necessarily mean a lot of the same thing will make you more happy.
  15. A bad marriage is the ultimate police state, with Big Brother watching your every move for signs of disloyalty.
  16. Love is not a steady state but an ongoing negotiation to get what we want.
  17. Adult personality cannot be changed from the outside, especially within the scope of romance. Change may happen, but only after you're gone.
  18. Love is a means of travel, not a destination.
  19. People in love are not sane. They are the worst people to be making fateful choices about lifetime commitments.
  20. It is remarkable how humans can willingly accept imprisonment in exchange for the approval of their family and society.
  21. Failed romances are one of life's great classrooms. You learn how people really work and how fantasy differs from fact.
  22. Gay couples who cannot marry must take their relationship in small discretionary steps in a process resembling reason.
  23. Falling in love with someone is the best guarantee that you won't be able to change them.
  24. Love is a condiment of life, not a main course. It can't give you a meaningful mission any more than ketchup is a food group.
  25. Given the choice between being lonely and losing yourself in a relationship, lonely gives you far more options.
  26. Love is a dance of "Closer, please, but not too close!"
  27. It is remarkable how love can turn lead into gold—and back to lead again shortly after marriage.
  28. Romantic love is a partnership, not a charity. You're not there to repair the other person or protect them from themselves.
  29. Happiness is not a permanent condition. It must be constantly renegotiated and cannot be nailed down in the future by any form of contract.
  30. Hubris is thinking your romance will last forever.
  31. It is plain enough to us when a friend gets drawn into an unproductive relationship. If only we had that same insight for ourselves
  32. Marriage is like giving guns to teenagers. Who among us, in the heat of passion, can comprehend the implications of "Til Death Do You Part"?
  33. Romance does not just combine the strengths of two people, also their weaknesses.
  34. If a relationship is faltering, don't fool yourself into thinking you need "more commitment" and fewer options for escape.
  35. The main effect of marriage is to tie people together by shared financial obligations. This is different than being tied together by love.
  36. The neutralizing of future discretion should not be mistaken for a declaration of love.
  37. In Medieval times, marriage was a necessity. You couldn't have sex, live together or have children without it. Today it is a vanity.
  38. The unmarried look longingly over the fence at those who are married. The married look longingly back.
  39. Marriage can give you a front-row seat to insanity no one else can see.
  40. In the beginning, love is defined for us by others. We have to fail many times before we learn to define it for ourselves.
  41. Romance is a futile attempt to reproduce the apparent security and unconditional love of childhood.
  42. It's a bad sign for your relationship if you're watching your words and editing your thoughts to not trigger an explosion.
  43. Ice is water that got married. Those free-flowing days are over!
  44. Instead of making one grand decision based on faith, you should make many small decisions based on knowledge.
  45. In every relationship, you have to fight for what you want, especially from those you love.
  46. The greatest wealth is the freedom to change.
  47. Just because you love someone doesn't mean you can live with them.
  48. It doesn't say much for your relationship if you think you need marriage to lock you in and make it harder to escape.
  49. If one fat person marries another, they'll both get REALLY fat. Same with any other mutual defect.
  50. Looking back on our own romantic obsessions, we are bound to exclaim, "I can't believe I fell for that!"
  51. Loss of libido is a crisis only if you are already committed to a relationship that depends on it.
  52. Gays battling for the right to marry is like men fighting for the right to wear corsets.
  53. Love is harmless. The obligations that follow on its heels are not.
  54. Loyalty isn't all that admirable if it makes you hold on to a dysfunctional relationship.
  55. Making babies is the standard turnkey solution for couples who can't think of anything else to use their relationship for.
  56. Many a marriage is kept marginally afloat by the herculean efforts of one party who mistakenly takes the wedding vows literally.
  57. Romance is powered by the need to believe, which can sweep all sorts of disturbing evidence under the carpet.
  58. In any relationship, how you argue is more important than what you argue about.
  59. You can't reason with the gambler, the addict or someone in love. They may agree with your logic, but it won't change their behavior.
  60. In romance, you build the theatre, write the script, choose your own role and cast a lead actor. Don't rant at all actors if the play sucks.
  61. Marriage is the most effective Redpill you can take. In a few weeks you'll start seeing your partner for who they really are.
  62. In any relationship, there are times you draw close and times you pull away. You damage the former if you try to prevent the latter.
  63. Marriage, under the law, has nothing to do with love. It is an economic incorporation that most relationships are much healthier without.
  64. Much of what we call romance is the attempt to outsource responsibility for our own life. 
  65. If you grew up in a paper mill town, the smell of wet paper would remind you of home and you'd probably marry someone who smelled like that.
  66. Love without flowers, chocolate, jewelry, children, alcohol, codependency or interior decorating. Can you imagine such a thing?
  67. Marriage and home improvement recursively justify each other.
  68. In romance, you are not a therapist, protector or parent. You are a consumer, willing to pay a reasonable price for a quality product.
  69. Even a "successful" marriage runs the risk of freezing your life in place and bringing an end to creative growth.
  70. Only in romance are people expecting someone else to save them from themselves.
  71. Passion alone cannot fuel a long-term relationship.
  72. People in love build a mythology about their early days that involves some selective memory loss. When love ends, full memory comes back.
  73. Marriage is most destructive when you have to mute your own growth to match that of your jealous and less competent partner.
  74. The recurring error of investors everywhere is to take the "trend" of today and extrapolate it in a straight line into the future.
  75. People tend to confuse having a lot of obligations with having a meaningful life, so they pile on the obligations.
  76. Relationships are damaging when they disrupt the individual's direct negotiation with outside reality.
  77. Romantic love is a value-added service. If you are not receiving value in excess of the price paid, you shouldn't be using the service.
  78. Most forms of mutual protection become unequal over time, with one party giving far more than he is getting.
  79. Romantic relationships are successful only when power is relatively equal and each person remains responsible for their own problems.
  80. single — adj. the state of being able to do whatever you want with your life without having to negotiate with anyone.
  81. Someone in love is the perfect propagandist, trumpeting the positive aspects of their choice while obscuring the negative.
  82. Survival in marriage means carefully watching your words and not rocking the boat.
  83. Romance involves the acceptance of creeping change, often leading to conditions you never would have agreed to in the beginning.
  84. The dueling agendas of gay rights are "Government must stay out of our bedroom," and "Government must sanction our relationship."
  85. The greatest danger of marriage is the loss of negotiating power.
  86. The main fallacy of romance is thinking someone else can give your life meaning when you can't find it yourself.
  87. When your love is completely selfless, prepare to be abused.
  88. The only thing sadder than divorce is a failed marriage that does not end.
  89. The premise of many a Hitchcockian thriller—and countless real-life ones—is how your partner changes after you are married.
  90. You don't fall in love with a person but with an image of them which is partly a fiction in your own mind.
  91. The scary thing about intimate relationships is how one party accepts and adopts the dysfunctions of the other.
  92. There are no unconditional relationships. You have to fight for what you want, even from those you love.
  93. To be against marriage doesn't mean you are against love. It only means you don't want money to come between you.
  94. Walking down the aisle, taking the marriage vows, the bride is thinking: "What does everyone think of me? Am I doing this right?"
  95. We design our own romantic disasters. The opposite gender just fulfills them for us.
  96. When you find something thrilling, the worst thing you can do is commit yourself to repeating it. The thrill goes, but the commitment stays.
  97. You never know what a person is really like until after the honeymoon.
  98. Young people in love think they have things all worked out, but time will teach them otherwise.
  99. Your best asset in romance is to not really need it.
  100. Free will dies the moment you say "forever".
You can find many more related tweets be searching the archives (above) for "love", "marriage", "relationship" and similar terms.