ben turner's autobio
ben turner's autobioe-mail mesee my wuntsah!my political platformben turner's autobio

My name is Victor Benjamin Turner. I am 41 years old. I go by Ben, even though my first name is Victor. My parents didn't like the sound of "Benjamin Victor Turner" so they switched the two names, thus confusing my superiors and teachers afterwards for years to come. I am proud of my first name, as Victor is my grandfather's name. I know him by reputation more than I knew him from memory. He was a famous anthropologist, as is his wife, my grandmother. They have been particularly concerned with the roles of rituals and rites of passage in culture. Victor was a proponent of liminality, the dissolving and resulting conflict of one's identity through transition to a new phase in one's life. Edie is a proponent of communitas, the equal status a community enjoys after sharing a simultaneous rite of passage. Rites of passage, ritual, and liminality have become key components of my chief intellectual interest, the digitization of identity and reputation in the form of

Me and Grandma in Virginia.

In many ways, I don't know my parents very well either. They were both born in England, into poor families enduring World War 2's strife, moving to the U.S. as young academic hippies (my dad became a professor very early), and eventually becoming rather well-off. The promise of moving to the U.S. and taking a shot at the American Dream became reality. On my 26th birthday, I asked my parents to start telling me more about their lives before I knew them. You know, what they were like when they weren't bossy old parental units micromanaging my life. Back when they were like, "All that marriage and having kids stuff is 6's and 7's! Poppycock! Pure bollocks!" Back when they rode motorbikes, smoked pot, and made fun of old fuddy-duddies with kids. "Gots to take me trouble an' strife on a ride in the lorry." Bloody limeys.

In England as a 6-year-old boy!

I grew up in the United States, spending one year abroad in England when I was 6. So I am out of touch with my heritage. My parents are British, but a good deal of my mom's side is Chinese. I'm second-generation American. People say they can usually tell I'm Asian by the eyes, but the dark skin throws them off a bit. I have wavy hair too, from my father's side I guess, but usually my head is shaved so people can't tell anymore. I can't relate with the Chinese side much, since the only identification I had with it was a strict mother's upbringing. But as I grow older, I find that I think about things very much as a Chinese and British person would politically and socially, despite growing up in the States. I can only conclude that this is genetic since my parents did not stress such mindsets to me as I grew. I am very competitive and believe in a free market, as a result of being an American, but socially I act more like a Chinese person (where asking about family, money, and jobs is not taboo but something you ask upon first introduction) and have a concern for those less fortunate than me (which I take to be more of a European trait politically these days). I have a feeling that I somewhat need to be given explicit permission to take things over, bred into me by some Asian respect for elders and authority, and perhaps for the chain of command instilled in me by the military. But it clashes with my American entrepreneurial spirit to fail hard.

Me and my family in our kitchen in Dallas.

I think most of my relatives never left China. The rest of me is MacNeil -- Scottish, which by its nature includes a little English and Irish, most likely. I grow very Chinese facial hair but it can be a little reddish and wiry like a Scotsman's. I grew up mostly in Texas, but my accent is regrettably most similar to a Californian one. I sound laid back. I would've loved to have had an English accent. Also, apparently I'm related to some guy who pirated for Queen Elizabeth I. And I'm also related to some prince of Bumblefuck, Angland. I'm glad my gene pool diversified later. Hybrids succeed.


UT Austin, Texas Fight...

I studied Latin at the University of Texas at Austin. I was out of my league, taking classes with a bunch of serious grad students and people going into the clergy. They were all at least 5-8 years older than me. I wasn't even good at Latin. My teacher in high school emphasized literary constructs and the stories, not the grammar and vocab. (which meant I got to enjoy the literature instead of over-analyzing it, which is a good thing in the long run!) I didn't study enough, and I wasn't mentally prepared to appreciate the college experience. I admit that now. I used to not talk about it. I mean, I loved all the Catullus, Juvenal, and Virgil that I read, and the culture studies and Greek language courses made it all worthwhile. But I never felt like I belonged to the classics department while at college. I didn't really relate to much else there, either. No parties, no frats, no school-sponsored activities.

Visiting Rome after high school graduation.

Instead of being a normal college kid at UT Austin, I continued with something I showed aptitude at: computers. I started with my dad's Apple computers, moved up to Tandy and Macintosh Plus (Dark Castle!), built my own systems, and so on. I used Prodigy, The Sierra Network/ImagiNation Network, and BBSs. I designed web sites for different people, which was extremely good money during the Web's wonder years, when Yahoo! was just a toddler and advertising was nearly non-existent. The industry was expanding fast, the standards kept being updated, and clients would pay ridiculous amounts for the privilege of having a useless web site that didn't help their business generate revenue.

Billy, Me, My Mom, and Slavek at Showbiz Pizza.

I had two employers in particular during that time who gave me a chance. I was so young at the time, by no means a professional, but they were very patient, supportive, and business-savvy. I procrastinated a lot and made a lot of mistakes, but they put up with it. They seemed to like the product most of the time. I respect them so much. I don't apologize for being bull-headed sometimes during brainstorming and presentations of concept designs, because that was MY job. But I do apologize for my inexperience and not behaving as professionally as I should have. At any rate, the latter employer I became very good friends with. I met her on several occasions in person, and she took good care of me. I eventually caught up with her later and was ecstatic to learn that she's extremely successful, and far more happy down in Miami than in the northeast. She enthusiastically provided me a recommendation for grad school that I'll always owe her for.

In college I began to think about how much my friends meant to me.

There are many people who were immeasurably important to me who are all gone now. One friend was like my online mother. We competed together, journeyed together, administrated together. She died in real life while we were not really on speaking terms. I regret that. As a single mother, she finished top in her class in high school. She became a very successful IT manager at Coca Cola in Atlanta. Her children became very successful in their own rights. She died prematurely.

Me and Yassine.

I lost touch with a childhood friend of mine who I could probably now talk about a lot with. He was Algerian, and studied international politics at the same university I did. I'd probably relate with him pretty well now that I'm interested in politics and have been studying Arabic and the Middle East recently. He advanced much faster intellectually than I did and so he probably lost interest in talking to me for that reason. Plus, we moved apart. I found him on MySpace not too long ago and we caught up. I'm glad. Now I see people I knew in high school having kids with their long-time spouses, while I'm single and searching for a life, for a career.

My buddy Slavek I've known since the second grade when I first moved to Texas. We still hang out and he's doing really well, married with a great job. He's probably the most honest friend you could have -- I can trust him completely. I feel like I've missed key events in his family's life, which I regret.

There are friends who I talk to now who I feel are drifting away as well. It happens in time, but when do you stop being irresponsible and put your foot down and re-establish?


daytrading, web design...

While in college, I used my web design money to trade stocks online, a practice which was very popular at the time of the great net bubble, although not amongst my college peers. (one time I was like, "Dude, did you see CCGI go up 50 points today?" and this other guy in the lunchline was all, "Maybe when I'm 35 and old..." I was also getting a minor in business (its UT equivalent being the Business Foundations Program) and found I had a knack for finance and accounting as well. Trading stocks was pretty easy at the time (let it ride!) but the classes helped establish a deeper understanding of the market, which enabled me to recognize that the bubble wouldn't last, despite everyone saying different. Still, I would bring books to read in class because I wasn't quite zeroed in on the topic yet.

My work for the Official Austin Powers Collectors Club.

By that time, I used the Internet for just about everything. I spent hours doing different things online. Gaming, chatting, studying, doing errands, all of that. I had more online friends than offline friends. It just worked out that way. I worked online, I played online. I was an online whore. So? I earned a lot, picked up programming and networking skills, became a referencing demon, and met some of my most valued teachers through it, mentors I desperately wanted.

eudaimonia tattoo.

Well, I made a lot of money trading stocks for two years, and I lost part of it. I learned some useful strategies about how to game the market and use my technological knowledge to my advantage. I learned how to filter out all the financial noise and how to trade off a chart. I developed a bottom-line killer instinct. But I decided it would never be a sustainable living for me, at least at that point in my life. It's the way I feel about playing no-limit hold 'em poker now. Love the game, am pretty damn good, but it's not realistic to play for a living. Trading's stressful! I don't find trading personally fulfilling in any way. It's more like something one would do on the side. I also felt at the time I quit like I had to experience life more in order to become a better trader. I felt a responsibility towards contributing to the world.


US Army...

Not long after 9/11, I got it in my mind that I wanted to join the Army. It shocked my friends and family. They thought I was kidding, like most enlistees' families do who aren't military families. Seeing the images on TV of NYC and DC, while my trading screens were frozen because Wall Street had shut down immediately, I felt like I'd be well-suited towards tracking those terrorists down. I felt like I had to take care of fellow Americans, and that I was hurting my country by not volunteering to help. I felt like I had a meaningful purpose in life. The world opened up to me.

Me and MonkeyPope.

This was a calling; I think I just wanted to become a professional in something that really mattered, and was gravely important. Sure, I'd love to become a teacher, but what do I know yet? Or I could become a writer, but what would I write about when I hadn't experienced anything? How about going into business? Well, I'd already realized that most of business was a soul-less grind unless I was one of the lucky few to become successful entrepreneurs. An artist? No aptitude for it. Lawyer? Doctor? Are you kidding me?

Hunting terrorists, studying foreign policy, and protecting the weak seemed like a career I could really dedicate myself to. My condition for enlistment was that I would be guaranteed to learn a language. I got what I wanted in my contract and I signed up. As it turned out, I was given much more than I expected; the Army life fit my work ethic also. I felt like I could be useful for once. And grow up a lot in the process. The no-bullshit, direct leadership and can-do attitude were appealing. The esprit de corps was inspiring. At the same time, I felt intellectually challenged by the field of international relations, a feeling I didn't have academically in other fields.

I went to basic training, then learned Arabic for over a year at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I realized it was the best thing I'd ever done. It was my college experience. I've grown up a lot, been exposed to different ways of life, and am doing something rewarding. The friends I've met in the Army are friends for life. And they come from all backgrounds as the military is the most diverse institution in the entire country. I've traveled a lot in my life, mostly to Europe, so seeing different people was nothing new. But living with them in the barracks? Seeing 17-year olds already married with kids on the way? Consoling a 21-year old buddy whose wife just filed for divorce and custody of their three kids while there was nothing he could do about it at basic training? Culture shock. The military churns out babies and marriage certificates, all paid for by the taxpayer. It's just normal in the military. And, in my opinion, it works out pretty well.

Me and Ryan in Iraq.

As I began comparing myself to the more respected soldiers, I realized that I was in good shape and am competent for battle. I volunteered for airborne school to become a paratrooper, and then I went to 5th Special Forces Group, where just about everyone is senior-ranked and has over 10-15 years of experience with many combat tours. I got to use the best equipment, and went to the best schools. I served with the best.

I was happy, proud of my unit. I worked hard, raising my athletic, linguistic, and technical achievements. No one ever pushed me into this way of life. In fact, most everyone discouraged me from this, just like they have with web design, learning about computers, and trading stocks. Some friends didn't want to talk to me after I joined the military. It weirded out members of my family. My parents were very supportive, I must add. They were just concerned for my safety.

I had a blast. And I've met some of the strongest friends I've ever had. I haven't really been around so many young people who felt confident and content with their lives. People here are happy with what they've done, and, in one way or another, try to improve themselves and help others. It's a far cry from the cutthroat trading world, or the envious, sarcastic tech industry.

I deployed to Iraq in 2005 to 2006. I got to travel quite a bit and managed to head north and west, but mainly stayed in Baghdad. I served with Marines and Iraqi Special Forces. I participatd in foot patrols, raids, burned down an Al-Qaeda propaganda center and emptied an IED factory. Iraqis called me their brother and gave me gifts. I saw the streets of Baghdad, the small towns in the desert. I saw violence, I saw politics, I saw a vast military machine at work. Luckily no one I knew has died or been injured. The experience didn't change my life, but it DID give it a lot more substance. I was glad to return home but in some respects I wish I were in Afghanistan or Yemen or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia -- I joined to hunt Al-Qaeda and it's what motivates me. I am flabberghasted at the ignorance exhibited in pushing for the occupation of Iraq in order to stop Al-Qaeda, when AQ's base of operations is in Pakistan/Afghanistan!

I also got in trouble. I had an online diary and posted photos of my time in Iraq, but my command found out through dubious circumstances and I was pulled from my team and given shit duties for the remainder of my tour. I returned home and continued being the bad apple, but I made the best of it and eventually became a good sergeant for the headquarters company and was honorably discharged from the Army to the dismay of my co-workers. I like to think that I thrived through adversity and proved to my fellow soldiers that I was worth a damn to them. There is a lot I learned as a result of working at a headquarters level as opposed to a battalion level (which is insulated but closer to what's actually going on in war), so it wasn't all bad. I got to see a lot more in my career than most junior enlisted soldiers do. I must admit, however, that I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth towards those involved in my blogging/photo trouble. I was pretty pissed about how the episode was handled, despite my understanding of operational security regulations, which continue to be vague and which continue to ruin peoples' careers and severely stifle soldiers' desires to blog and contribute to national debate as citizens.

I certainly learned who my friends are. Those who stood up for me I will be eternally grateful to. One of them, my boss's boss, eventually recommended me for graduate school. I want to stay in touch with him because he's one of the most competent people I've ever met.

Me in Iraq.

To add insult to injury, some of the things I wrote in my journal offended people close to me also. I hurt an ex (who endured a deployment long-distance with me) by saying that she was adding stress to my situation. I hurt my dad because I criticized some of the things he said. I drew the ire of another ex. All at the same time.

That wasn't a great month for me. I did make up with the ex and my dad though, and I think we were stronger as a result.

I am an INTJ personality type. I think my main flaws used to be that I didn't always project confidence and I felt uncomfortable around groups of people. But five years in the Army bred that out of me. I take initiative and am not afraid to put myself out there. I have learned that a lack of leadership disappoints people, because some people have innate leadership and when they don't bring it out, then the entire group suffers.

I find myself less nice and thankful to my parents than I should be. I want to correct that. They do everything they can for me, and I'll usually return in kind with some sarcastic remark (they're still too nosy sometimes!) or something else dumb. I feel like I owe something to my parents, and that I can't pay them back yet.

But I'm trying.


Georgetown Foreign Service...

In early 2007 I separated from the Army, knowing I would miss being with sarcastic, mean bastardly soldiers and returning to dealing with civilians, who often have prudish senses of humor and little sense of urgency. I visited Australia and Fiji as a present to myself. I slept in the quiet night in the Outback and saw the collapse of Aboriginal well-being. I'm somewhat closer to my parents now and I go to cooking classes with my mom to learn how to cook from the best Dallas chefs.

In the Outback.

I applied to graduate school and got wait-listed at two, rejected from two, and accepted at two. To be honest I felt kind of robbed because I either wasn't exposed to this area of study or it just didn't really exist formally or I just wasn't ready to be interested in it yet. In my life in general, I've found that the less I push myself to explore, the less I get out of life and the fewer opportunities I come across. There's so much out there but it's hidden from our sight by either our ignorance, others ignorance, or people not looking out for us. I've incorporated this lesson into my life: testing my limits is the only way to improve myself, because no one else is going to hand life to me.

Jack the Bulldog

I went to Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. This is the school that I was first interested in when I began thinking about a Master's. I studied for my GRE while in a freezing cold tent in Al-Anbar in order to get into this place. I saw it as a career change but one that I could not have undertaken without my Army experiences. The token military student that looks good for their numbers.

I met some very close friends in Georgetown, had a horrid relationship while I was there. Worked for Homeland Security doing social media analysis in a job which was pretty much tailor-made for me. But it was shift work and, despite my having some pretty awesome bosses, supervisors, and co-workers, I had had enough and needed to move on again.

I'm trying to roll together enough of a stake to be able to help those less fortunate than me, towards international development and decent policy and technology. But it takes massive amounts of money. I believe in the Special Forces motto, "De Oppresso Liber", or freedom from oppression. I see myself as an American citizen striving to improve civics and governmental efficiency. It had wreaked havoc on my ability to settle down and get a job and get married and have kids, but it's something I needed to do for myself in pursuit of finding the competence and opportunity to help others. I've left so many people and places behind, because I felt like I was fighting for my future well-being's survival by trying to get a career I could deal with. It's been brutal, brutal, brutal. The internet, though, has always been there, and through it I am able to stay in contact with so many of the wonderful people I've met.

As of 2011, I was set to leave DC, a city I deeply love, after an apartment fire which pushed me out of my favorite apartment in Logan Circle pushed me out of several relationships and into a graduate program in New York at NYU. It brought about an abrupt end to a more fulfilled life in which I did have a stable group of good friends, and I had even converted to Catholicism and lived down the street from a parish I could call home.



New York. If you can make it there, you really can make it anywhere. I came to New York chiefly for school. I got into NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, where I got to study and experiment and play within the best lab/workshop/hackerspace I've ever seen. We studied digital art theory, web frameworks, Arduino, 3D printing, materials and genetics and drones and and glitch art. We made things talk to us, to each other, and to the world. For a guy who grew up with BBSs, MUDs, the Metaverse, Neuromancer, id Software, etc., I could not have felt more at home studying technology, art, culture, and telecom all in one place.

Most importantly, I was finally learning how to build things. I made things spray scents when I received tweets. I could build puzzles out of analog circuits. I could construct a 3D mesh of an image of my face and manipulate it. I had the freedom to code in any language or framework I wanted. I built for my thesis an alpha version of my dream I began to understand the magic behind technology and art, the business of creating art through not just pushing the envelope but also understanding the media.

I would not have come to NYC if the payoff didn't have the potential to be huge. My friends were mostly in DC and I had nothing of value when I moved north. But I came for school and intended to find a family and to find a career as a builder, a developer, a coder.

NYU graduation photo

I got an early break through an internship at The Colbert Report as someone to help out with maintaining and fixing code. I got to see the writing staff at work, as dysfunctional and as varied and as creative and clever as I would expect the top comedic writing talent in the country to be. I saw Colbert as a serious professional, firing off rounds of concise, insightful critiques on how to make things funnier, while at the same time making it seem effortless to dance with guests or work the crowd or tell a joke. The man is a genius, as are many of his staff, but they are also very professional at what they do. Oh, and their security is a bunch of military veterans whom I share kinship with.

I managed to get a summer internship at a startup, ChatID, a team that was nice enough to let me work with them even though I started off with little to offer. I picked up a lot of python, mongodb, javascript, and awareness of the coding ecosystem, though. Most importantly perhaps, I had a foothold towards becoming a coder in a very competitive town with an abundance of young talent. I'm no longer so young.

Hawai'i with my brother

I also, during the summer, got to visit the Galápagos Islands with my dad. The islands, as a result of what I hope is my life's work,, have become a focal point for me. Symbiotic competition and adaptation, human conservation, diversity and genetics and ancestry and harmony. I got to share it all with my dad, and hopefully he was able to understand a little better what makes me tick.

Galapagos, with my dad.

By the end of my time in school, I had already lived in 3 different places (mostly in the East Village, where I am now, just as Ai Weiwei used to be). I had dated and lost, but have now found a special woman, and without jinxing it, we're starting a life together. I've also become a full-time developer at a digital ad agency, The Barbarian Group, where I essentially get to continue building cool things just like I did in ITP and did in prototypes I did in my spare time the rest of my life.

To make it clear, I took a gamble and I came to the biggest city on Earth, and I've found what I'm looking for. I've had to come a long way to get here, and there's been a lot of doubts and failures and restarts, but also a lot of new friends, experiences, and lessons to learn. In other words, I've had quite a life and it's only just beginning.

NYC rooftop

I guess I wrote all this because I hate going to someone's personal site and not being able to find a damn thing about him. This is for anyone who's curious, but I'm also hoping it's for anyone else who's not sure where they're going in life, not sure if it's all going to make sense in the end. My life isn't written out in full yet, but with all those setbacks, you hopefully will get the good times as well.

-July, 2013


my interests...Conquerer/Discoverer/Creator!
f. scott fitzgerald . grim fandango . stockholm . the transparent society . the secret history . alexander the great . moby dick . filter . korn . l'étranger . norman cook . jay-z . ak1200 . meat beat manifesto . chris farley . nicolas poussin . howard stern . industrial . juvenal . the critic . impressionism . pro-choice . well-roundedness . trée wilcox . straight-forwardness . fiona apple . autechre . nyc . cynicism . conan o'brien . dante's inferno . quiet . massive club parties . itp . stanley kubrick . gwyneth paltrow . aphex twin . agnosticism . heat . prometheus . cosmopolitanism . special forces . lance arthur . mash-ups . hannibal . half-life . british accents . pasta & pesto . special forces . picasso . pisarro . gothicism . julius caesar . pope . rants . socialism . robin hood . braveheart . love actually . white stripes . drum'n'bass . daniel negreanu lamb . virgil . matrix . sean connery . the 11th hour . rome . shakespeare . the scream . darklands . will ferrell . morisot . run lola run . chris carter . austin . edward norton . the x-files . card games . dracula . millennium . dali . roger federer . paris . jet li . future sound of london . basketball . stephenson's metaverse . keira knightley . techno . me . me . me . me . nocturne . stoker . pantera . val kilmer . zork nemesis . cézanne . rome . stephen colbert . battlestar galactica . ambient . jessica alba . type o negative . mary and percy . no-limit hold 'em . phil ivey . shelley . trent reznor . fdr . henry rollins . a prayer for owen meany . jungle . hannibal . satchmo . gillespie . zoolander . xerxes . london . poverty reduction . boobs . tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough . angelina jolie . google . nintendo . running . wes anderson . chris cunningham . curb your enthusiasm . barcelona . the matrix portishead . family guy . civilization/civ2 . uma thurman . catullus . cliffs notes . robert deniro . the amazing jonathan . aristotle . frankenstein . madonna . 'dolorous' . se7en . cats . "the state" . dj dara . tyler durden . ricky bobby . sasha baron cohen . snl . melbourne . that 70's show . francis ford coppola . jfk & rfk & mlk jr. . raphael's the school of athens and disputa . the apprentice uk . brian regan . hadrian . the abyss . the daily show . u.s.t.a. . genghis khan . silence . van gogh . kids in the hall . indy jones . thief: the dark project . rage against the machine . loyalty . ferris bueller's day off . waistlines . unadulterated love . freedom for the oppressed . information! . procrasti...oh damnit, I'll just finish this later...carpe cras! (or carpe chicks, as a good friend quipped) finit.

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