The Q&A: Tom McCarthy

TOM MCCARTHY’S 2005 debut, “Remainder”, managed what the jackets of so many first novels promise: a fresh and—in this case—unsettling take on contemporary life. It is about a brain-damaged man who marshals millions of pounds and a troupe of actors, consiglieres and forensic experts to reconstruct a memory. It is an intentionally confusing and difficult book that manages to draw on both Proust and Beckett, yet remain intoxicatingly readable…

McGurk’s Suicide Hall

McGurk's Suicide Hall
Image from The Bowery Boys

Just finished reading Luc Sante’s Low Life: Life and Snares of Old New York and was amused by the volume of material devoted to my ancestor John McGurk’s notorious Bowery bar – McGurk’s. He served whiskey shots needled with benzene, turpentine and cocaine sweepings, in an environment bad enough to drive his ‘girls’ to suicide. Six succeeded in 1899 alone, succumbing to quickly quaffed drams of carboxylic acid. McGurk was run out of town soon after, relocating to California, where his reputation apparently prevented his daughter from enrolling in convent school. He died in 1913. McGurk’s was demolished in 2005 and 295 Bowery has been rebuilt as part of glass complex, and looks the better for it, I do declare:

295-299 Bowery


Soviet Agit-Prop (Global Security)

“[The] single, simple, self-evident explanation is that the enormous act of defection, of betrayal, treason, is almost invariably the act of a warped, emotionally maladjusted personality. It is compelled by a fear, hatred, a deep sense of grievance, or obsession with revenge far exceeding in intensity these emotions as experienced by normal, reasonably well-integrated and well-adjusted individuals.”

“All [Soviet defectors] in the writer’s experience have manifest some behavioral problem – such as alcoholism, satyriasis, morbid depression, a psychopathic behavior pattern of one type or another, an evasion of adult responsibility – which was adequate evidence for an underlying personality defect decisive in their defection. It is only mild hyperbole to say that no one can consider himself a Soviet operations officer until he has gone through the sordid experience of holding his Soviet “friend’s” head while he vomits five days of drinking into the sink.”


  • (Suggests Eleazar Lipsky’s The Scientist as fodder for finding sociopath/psychopaths.)
  • Neurotic. Prepsychopathic. More interesting from ops standpoint. Characterized by strong conflicting currents visible as “spottiness” by an outside viewer. Characteristically unable to evaluate friend/foe objectively.
  • Middle-aged. Period of life from 37 on, which shows the highest incidence of divorce, infidelity etc. “Middle-aged revolt”


    Alienation in interpersonal relationships. Lack of close friends in the Soviet colony. Evidence of coldness in personal relationships. Personally difficult to get along with. Arrogant, offensive, sullen, hostile….

    Career situation. Evidence or reasonable inference of difficulties in job situation. Resentment of supervision, direction, interference. Evasion of job responsibilities. Lack of appropriate career progression. Resentment of others’ progression.

    Family situation.

    Non-Duty Outlets. Avoidance of other Soviets. Excessive drinking. Infidelity. Wasting time away in trivial diversions. Predominance of diversions over responsibilities and obligations.

    Personality. Agressive vs. submissive evaluation. Rigid and compulsive behavior patterns. Anxiety and self-protective maneuvers. Unusual shyness and over-dependency. Or anxious efforts to over-please, over-submissiveness. Preoccupied with self (“McLandress dimension”), selfish, overestimating own problems, ideas, outlook. Excessively implusive, chronically impatient, easily angered. Hypersensitive, feelings easily hurt, unable to accept criticism. Tendency to blame others, evade own responsibility. Arrogant, excessively prestige- and status-conscious, anxious to impress everyone with own brilliance and importance. Great mood swings, depressions, evidence of low self-esteem or self-estimate. Constant criticism of others, fault finding, sarcastic manner, sarcastic or anti-social type of humor. Rigid, highly organized, inflexible personality or its opposite.

    (“On the Recruitment of Soviets,” Studies in Intelligence, 1965)

  • Spies as Suicide Bombers

    Graham Greene, an Mi6 correspondent during his days in Lagos, wrote that “espionage today is really a branch of psychological warfare. The main objective is to sow mistrust between allies in the enemy’s camp… The real value of the two scientists [Fuchs and Nunn May] to the Soviet was not from their scientific information but from their capture, and the breakdown in Anglo-American relations that followed. A spy allowed to continue his work without interference is far less dangerous than the spy who is caught.” (1968) Which brings us to “Anne Chapman” et al.

    From Xinhua

    Given their limited access, it seems likely that the spies apprehended were running agents and transmitting material – what has come to light seems of little value, and was unlikely to have been classified at all: airport diagrams, discussions of ground penetrating small yield nuclear weapons – so why, after ten years of investigation, bother busting them at all? Besides the personal snaps of the winsome staff of Future Map Advisory Services LLC., the salient feature of the news coverage surrounding the spies has been their gross incompetence. Their clumsy craft (invisible inks, dead drops, ludicrous code words etc.), their pathetic approaches – it hardly seems worth ten years of investigation. A few observers (see editorials) suggested it was a carefully timed ploy to disrupt strategic arms limitation talks ahead of G20, or perhaps force Russia’s hand on some Iran-related matter.

    Something isn’t adding up. If the spies’ antics were really as amateurish as they say, why wait ten years to catch them? The United States is downplaying the threat of Russian espionage, has agreed to withhold something from the press as leverage against Russia, or has simply learned to emphasize the incompetence as a way to mitigate the discomforting thought that there might be vast networks of foreign spies and saboteurs at work in the United States and there’s little our special policemen can do about it.


    From a FOIA-released WWII training manual for special officers:


    A: General

    Freedom – financial – social – movement – leisure.

    B: Essential details

    Name – history – documents – clothes – behavior (money-associates-tastes-local conditions-table manners-slang-mannerisms).

    iv. Coming down to business – change your line of appeal to suit the case, eg for a priest, based on religious grounds, etc.

    Let concrete suggestions come from him in the first stages.

    Test reactions thoroughly before coming out into the open.

    Sound by half-suggestions.

    From the first give him the suggestion that we are part of a powerful and well-organized body – prestige counts heavily.


    Spam, Theatre-based Counter-electronics

    Create your own schematic

    Israeli boarders would have been well advised to shield the transmissions of their targets. In 2007, against Syria, they easily scrambled signals, “injected” false information into networks – and they should have at least blocked cell and sat and ship-to-shore communications from their flotilla. Next time they will.

    My own ECM battle is going well from a technological standpoint, even the most sophisticated spam emails are being stopped. These are semantically smart messages, designed to stoke an author’s ego “great site” etc. Lately they have also begun mirroring successful messages. Am beginning to develop Stockholm syndrome.

    Rig Names

    Oil Rig - thanks to Peterson Security

    Piper Alpha… Deepwater Horizons… rigs have beautiful names.

    The Deepwater Family:
    Deepwater Discovery – Drillship type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 2000
    Deepwater Expedition – Drillship type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 1999
    Deepwater Frontier – Drillship type rig. Owned by Deepwater Drilling LLC. 1999
    Deepwater Horizon – Semisub type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 2001
    Deepwater Millennium – Drillship type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 1999
    Deepwater Nautilus – Semisub type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 2000
    Deepwater Navigator – Drillship type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 1971
    Deepwater Pathfinder – Drillship type rig. Owned by Deepwater Drilling LLC. 1998

    A few (all offshore):

    Borgland Dolphin (a semisubmersible rig)
    Cuu Long (VietSovPetro, 1982)
    Dada Gorgud – Semisub type rig. Owned by Socar. 1980
    Deepsea Trym
    Ekofisk X – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by ConocoPhillips. (Also Eldofisk)
    GSF Key Manhattan – Jackup type rig. Owned by GlobalSantaFe. 1980
    Mad Dog – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by BP.
    Ocean Whittington – Semisub type rig. Owned by Diamond Offshore. 1974
    OffRig Pioneer – Semisub type rig. Owned by OffRig Drilling ASA. 2008
    Perro Negro 4 – Jackup type rig. Owned by Saipem. 1977
    Petrojack IV – Jackup type rig. Owned by Petrojack ASA. 2008
    Petrolia – Semisub type rig. Owned by Petrolia Drilling. 1976
    Rowan Gorilla IV – Jackup type rig. Owned by Rowan. 1986
    SC Lancer – Drillship type rig. Owned by Schahin Cury. 1977
    Scooter Yeargain – Jackup type rig. Owned by Rowan. 2004
    Sea of Azov Rig 02 – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by Chernomorneftegaz.
    Searex 10 – Tender type rig. Owned by Marlin Offshore International. 1983
    Searex 4 – Inland Barge type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 1981
    Shahid Modarress – Jackup type rig. Owned by NIOC. 1974
    Shelf 7 – Semisub type rig. Owned by Lukoil. 2004
    Sneferu – Jackup type rig. Owned by Egyptian Drilling. 1980
    Snorre Rig 01 – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by Statoil.
    Super Sundowner XXI – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by Nabors Offshore. 2006
    Thistle – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by BP.
    Transocean Polar Pioneer – Semisub type rig. Owned by Transocean Inc.. 1985
    Transocean Wildcat – Semisub type rig. Owned by Vildkat Holdings Camyan Ltd. 1977
    Troll – Platform Rig type rig. Owned by Statoil.
    Viking Producer – Semisub type rig. Owned by Viking Drilling ASA. 1969
    West Titania – Jackup type rig. Owned by Seatankers. 1981
    WilStrike – Jackup type rig. Owned by Awilco AS. 2009
    Zoser – Jackup type rig. Owned by Egyptian Drilling. 1982

    There aren’t many old ones. I sought them out.