Review of the novel Shantaram

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays, but more practically, whichever day I get to it. Here’s entry 7 of 52.

Note: I haven’t forgotten about Biden! I’ll post about him next week.

Note: You should probably skip this review if you want zero spoilers.

The cover of a paperback edition of Shantaram. It shows the book's title and authorship, plus a blurb, a building, and the sea.
The edition I have

On Monday I finally finished reading the 2003 novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The semi-autobiographical bestseller came to my attention because Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose August 2018 sentencing I reported on in person, included it in her art from the FMC Carswell prison in Fort Worth Texas, specifically in the piece reproduced below. The book is 933 large pages in the paperback edition I have (pictured left), so it took me quite a while to finish. Here’s what I gained from it, what I didn’t like, and my thoughts on whether you should consider reading Shantaram, if you haven’t already.

First, a quick summary. The story revolves around the main character Lin, who, after escaping imprisonment in his home country of Australia, where he’d robbed banks to maintain a drug habit, arrives in India with a false passport to live as a fugitive. There he participates in many areas of life unfamiliar to many Westerners or non-travelers, among them a restaurant-and-bar where fairly well-off migrants from Western countries reflect, as Lin sits at their table, on the ups and downs of their shifting fortunes and gossip about Mumbai. Lin meets the goofy and basically nonstop-happy Prabaker, an Indian taxi driver whose characterization is an offensive Sambo caricature, not a careful depiction of a fully realized individual. Prabaker becomes a sidekick for Lin and invites him, when the fugitive’s chips are down, to live in the city’s friendly Colaba slum. The Australian accepts, and then provides improvised medical services to the slum dwellers, an endearing (but also borderline stereotyped) section of the novel that shows the inhabitants of Colaba owning little, yet helping each other tremendously with little to none of the war of all against all common in the so-called civilized world. In other news, Lin somewhat randomly meets an elder statesman of a large gang/mafia, the oddly philosophical Abdel Khader Khan. Lin’s in love, too, with one of the restaurant-and-bar crowd, a Swiss woman named Karla who’s in the habit of offering purplish one-liners about life. The fugitive assists her in liberating her friend Lisa from the vile Madame Zhou’s prostitution/slavery den. Zhou retaliates by getting Lin thrown into a wretched prison once more, this time in India. After the Australian suffers much behind these new bars, Khader bribes the authorities to free him. In gratitude, and to learn skills for revenge, Lin goes to work for Khader in Mumbai’s criminal underworld, swapping out currency and trading passports on the black market, plus physical training and fistfighting members of a rival gang. This dark side of Lin increasingly comes to dominate over the slum doctor side, culminating in the fugitive travelling to Afghanistan as a gun-runner for Khader. Due to battling in that country, he barely makes it back to India, where he soon heads to Zhou’s for revenge. At the novel’s climax, he finds Zhou already a wreck, and, changing his mind, chooses to let her live. Lin muses that the cheerful slum dwellers, not the macho criminals, are the truly heroic ones — which doesn’t stop him a single inch, for another 100-or-so gratuitous pages after the climax, from continuing to fistfight members of rival gangs and promising those men in his particular gang that he’ll go on future missions beyond Mumbai with them, presumably a setup for the sequel I haven’t read, The Mountain Shadow.

As many reviews have noted, the best aspect of the novel is its vivid, lively depictions of various places. These off-the-beaten-path settings include Prabaker’s native village of Sunder, the Colaba slum, Zhou’s slave den, the Australian prison (in flashback), the prison in India, Bollywood sets, Afghanistan mountains and caves, a temporary settlement built atop a skyscraper, and more. The author’s personal experience of the environments enrich his portrayal of them, as when you stumble upon a Reddit post by a stranger who’s not dedicated to writing, but who’s suddenly putting together gorgeous, moving prose because they’re talking about something they’re profoundly invested in personally and know all the fascinating details of. For audiences starved of adventures, Shantaram seems as good a way as any, short of actual travel, to experience unfamiliar locations. But, then again, I unfortunately haven’t read many realist stories set outside Britain, Europe, and the United States. To read about India in English, there are probably many worthy alternatives to Shantaram out there; it’s simply a matter of finding them.

The novel is also enjoyable when it focuses on a bank-robbing druggie gone wrong changing for the better, into a compassionate doctor living and practicing among the friendly dwellers of the largely ignored, but massive, slum village in Mumbai. At these points, the book seems, or did to me, spiritually uplifting, and it really piqued my curiosity about this slum and similar parts of the planet, not that I know how accurately Gregory David Roberts depicts Colaba. In these portions, the novel reads like a modern-day Les Misérables, the 1862 French novel (and mainstay Broadway musical) about the ex-convict Jean Valjean who similarly improves his lot and turns to helping others. (I don’t know, but given reporting about Reality Winner’s numerous altruistic endeavors throughout her life, I imagine this component of the novel might appeal to her especially.)

Sadly, the Les Mis-esque portions of Shantaram don’t win out. As the pages mount up, Lin becomes heavily invested in the drug lord Abdel Khader Khan, treating him as a father figure godsend. Now that he’s in thrall to Khader, Lin’s altruistic side fades away, leaving readers to wade through seemingly endless tough-guy scenes of macho dialogue and beat ’em up. The book gives the impression that each twist and turn of these rival gangs scheming and warring against each other are of utmost importance to Roberts, but readers more interested in thoughtful humanity will probably lose sympathy with the suddenly swaggering Lin, as I did, and hang on only for the descriptions of the unusual Afghanistan setting, where the Australian’s warlike side emerges full blown, without any real apology. Toward the end of Shantaram, I was reminded of author Peter Straub’s Blue Rose crime novels from 1988-1993, in which again, labyrinthine complexities of plot are supposed to be gripping, yet really, reading, trying to keep track of the reversals and revelations, having my patience and memorization capacity taxed, I was just hoping for Straub to go rogue from corporate expectations and write something that simply interests or amuses him, as he did in his 1999 novel Mr. X, namely the fun scene, wholly unnecessary to the plot no one remembers anyway, of a college kid on amphetamine, sleeplessly blazing through tests and causing assorted humorous troubles (as best I can recall from having read that book a decade or so ago, anyway. Also, still waiting for a Peter Straub comedy of manners novel.) It isn’t really required for fiction to be a Rube Goldberg machine of cloaks, daggers, and derring-do to maintain audience interest, but living in a world of easily digestible intellectual abstractions and unnoticed emotional hypervigilance, that’s what audiences today are trained to look for from corporate entertainment: whether it’s the banging jolts and high-pitched shrieking of the ubiquitous cartoons everyone from toddler to adult seems to watch nowadays, or the action-heavy, fatal exploits of weapon-toting superheroes in blockbuster movies, characters in film will switch sides, chase MacGuffins, navigate ridiculous plot twists, and try to kill each other for hours and hours, and since all this is usually folks’ starting point with art, other options aren’t always readily salient. Anyway, to sum up Shantaram along with its reliance on needless hyperstimulating plot machinations, Lin first gains reader sympathy, going from gun-waving druggie to altruistic slum doctor, then loses it, dwindling into a cardboard gangster character working his studly way through the forgettable mazes of noir plot. The fugitive’s climactic forgiveness bestowed upon Madame Zhou, as predictable as a million other Christian-esque forgiveness stories (see for instance the Star Wars movies, where blowing up inhabited planets, committing mass genocide, is no significant obstacle to redemption: no trials, no reparations, no transformations, no nothing), makes little lasting impact on Lin after quick passages of him standing before her musing yet more aphorisms before returning to beat ’em up (where sure, he sometimes muses additionally, but he keeps on in the gang, doesn’t he). Among other things, Lin blames his second imprisonment for his downfall, but as I’ll conclude below, I think there’s more to his dark side coming out on top than the novel openly expresses.

The poor characterizations are another problem with Shantaram. Lin’s sidekick, Prabaker with the never-ending flashbulb smiles, was already mentioned briefly; he’s largely a troubling Sambo caricature, the offensive stereotype that paints people who aren’t white and are classed far below the colonial rulers and their offspring as happy and loyal and stupid untermensch. The women, Karla and Lisa among them, are routinely described in terms of their attractive physical appearances, and their roles are mostly delimited to how they impact the Australian and his sex drive. I suppose both these flaws were regrettably par for the course in 2003, prior to the widespread adoption of social media, but I’m glad white male authors can’t so easily escape with this sort of unaware, compulsive thing anymore.

Shantaram's author standing in front of a waterfall with a jewelry necklace, a vertical line of red paint on his bald forehead, and a giant grin.
Photo of Gregory David Roberts in 2020, by EmpathyArts

Finally, I want to talk about how Lin seems, to me, unreal, depersonalized. I’d imagine someone who robs banks, busts out of prison, and travels the world to be a person of great strength, for good or ill. Maybe I’m wrong, and there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in my philosophy, but I’d expect such a fugitive to have bold opinions, disciplined willpower, and definite preferences. Yet Lin floats, without much volition, as if pushed by undescribed waves, from healing doctor to warlike gun-runner, to someone listening to music on a beach or drinking in a bar, to many other roles, with little explanation of his zigzagging path beyond obvious observations in his first-person narration to the effect that, say, strutting gangsters want attention and aren’t happy in themselves. Duh. Papering over this depersonalized way Lin comes across are corny aphorisms from Karla and the-author-speaking-through-Lin. Many reviews have mocked these purple groaners, but just to give one example, I’ll open to a random page in the middle of my copy. Page 451: “there’s an innocence, essential and unblinking, in the heart of every determination to serve.” Huh? Essential and unblinking? Well, maybe? After reading hundreds of these easy-on-the-ears, yet ultimately cryptic, assertions, one or three every few pages, I lost my hopeful tolerance that I might learn from them something profound, and began to grow exhausted with them and the book overall. The one-liners seem to cover for the lack of a real Lin — Why did he gain that doctoring ability in the first place? Why India, or Karla for that matter? — so Roberts shoehorns the aphorisms into just about every available spot, apparently trying to create the illusion that meaningful things are happening. Lin turns to Khaled as a father figure, hoping the drug lord (who himself spouts paragraphs of undergraduate-sounding metaphysical theories into the eager ears of the fugitive) will provide something of substance, perhaps an understanding of life that Lin lacks. But Khaled is himself just some puffed-up mob boss, impressive only because the author repeatedly insists through Lin that it is so. The understandings never really come — except as more charlatan’s aphorisms. It isn’t just that Lin was pissed off to get imprisoned again, and so became a gangster when he should have remained with the friendly folks at the slum. It’s more crucially that, despite what we’re told of the prison-break and doctoring abilities and other superhuman attributes, there isn’t actually much of a Lin to begin or end with; referring himself to the ignoble Khaled for answers is just one dead end he tries of several. So in the absence of a more real, perhaps more determined individual to follow, the author instead fills too much of the novel with the supposedly cool scenes of rival gang fights. With all his anxious musings and flailing, flip-flopping soul-searches, Lin certainly doesn’t know himself truly, not even by the end of the novel, which to be fair is the first released in a planned quartet — if readers have the patience for whatever the grand total page count and grand total aphorism count end up at.

For all its problems, the novel does cohere quite well, and Roberts’ evocative, vibrant descriptions of the unfamiliar-to-me settings are worth the price of admission. They make me want to visit India even, and might be very enjoyable for you as well. The book includes a sampling of fun curios, from dancing bears to commentary on the challenging and sometimes dangerous peculiarities of Mumbai transportation. However, given all the complaints against the book described above, including the automatic turn-offs of weak/caricature characterization, there are probably better works about India and Afghanistan in English out there, more deserving of 900 pages’ worth of reading time. I definitely decided against reading the sequel (The Mountain Shadow), which racks up nearly another 900 pages. Reviews of the sequel say that with the autobiographical material burnt through and thus unavailable to him after Shantaram, Roberts piles on the aphorisms even worse in The Mountain Shadow, as the crime plots continue their needless complexities that don’t even titillate as intended. Beyond the setting descriptions, expressed sufficiently in Shantaram, I don’t think there’s more to learn from Roberts. So as 2021 gets underway, I’m now turning to read all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. There’s only so much time.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Review of the novel Shantaram, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/19/review-novel-shantaram/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

RIP Chick Corea, fusion jazz keyboardist

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 6 of 52.

Note: I received a few comments on previous blog posts. Just yesterday I found them in my moderation queue and approved them. Thanks for your patience! Later this month, another post on Biden and a post about some Seattle graffiti. Also, I revised the Gamestop post from earlier this month a little, and fixed the aspect ratio on the snow pictures in my preceding entry.

Today the official Chick Corea website announced the fusion jazz keyboardist, who won 23 Grammys and recorded with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, died Tuesday at age 79, due to a rare form of cancer. His official website currently shows the announcement on its front page. Here’s the unfairly meager New York Times obituary. For the uninitiated, the fusion genre means something like rock + jazz, often with electric rather than acoustic instruments. It was huge in the seventies.

A page from a Chick Corea album booklet. It shows a standing Corea holding a small electronic keboard as if ready to play it, dressing in something that resembles a bath robe, along with red slippers. The rest of the image consists of a track listing, personnel information, and other data for the album.
Amusing photo of Corea, in red slippers, from his 1986 album

In my teens, I took lessons for several years on the electric bass guitar from an amazing jazz player. Before the lessons, this teacher would sit in the music store’s basement practice room, rehearsing alone. One thing he would play in these solo moments was the speedy intro to Chick Corea’s song “Got a Match?” with all the excellent articulation in his right hand that you hear from longtime Chick Corea bandmate John Patitucci. I’d stand outside in the hallway, not wanting to enter and start the lesson just yet, so that I could hold my breath and simply listen.

Learning to play parts of such songs myself, with the help of the instructor, taught me to really appreciate a lot of jazz, including Chick Corea. It was his self-titled 1986 album The Chick Corea Elektric Band that really stuck with me. (I still haven’t put in enough effort to get into his other work; my bad.) The song “No Zone” was nicely otherworldly, speaking of mood states and possible meanings far away from the familiar world of corporate radio and conformist peers. “No Zone” leads into “King Cockroach,” an epic tune with a deservedly grandiose ending. I must have listened to that album at least a thousand times in my life so far.

When I played the 1986 compact disc for others, they too often said, as if pronouncing a verdict of no worth, “This sounds like video game music” or “This sounds like porn music” or “This sounds like weird Miami Vice drug/coke music.” I’ve never been much for group affiliation, so saying A is bad because it resembles B is an argument I quickly reject. Why not just evaluate A on its own merits? Being in a hurry is one legit reason I can think of, and I’ve heard it said that ethics requires analogous reasoning: the only way to rationally show that an act is unjust is if it’s shown to be sufficiently similar to another act already agreed to be unjust. I don’t know what to make of that and its infinite regress. I do think it’s bizarre to listen to music and quickly dislike it merely because it bears similarities to some other music/thing.

Maybe give this 1986 live performance of many of the songs from The Chick Corea Elektric Band a chance on its own merits. The video was recorded at the Bern jazz festival in Switzerland. If you like it, you might also enjoy (uh oh, things similar to each other) Jaco Pastorius’s band live in Montreal in 1982, plus Tower of Power playing “What is Hip?” in Chicago in 1977. Until next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, RIP Chick Corea, fusion jazz keyboardist by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/11/rip-chick-corea-fusion-jazz-keyboardist/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 5 of 52, just something simple and fun.

Last weekend, I departed from Seattle with some friends and went up to Snoqualmie Pass, just an hour’s drive outside the city. There I snowshoed on the easy Gold Creek Pond trail. It was my first time to ever snowshoe. The path started at a trailhead by a street, continued through a valley, and reached the snowed-over Gold Creek Pond. Other paths progressed past the pond, but I didn’t get a chance to check them out. Except for the final pic, I took the following DLSR photos of the snowy surroundings. I had a great time and plan to go again.

Right by the trailhead for Gold Creek Pond path. Some wore masks; others didn’t

A valley the trail passes through

Looking back at Summit East from the frozen-over Gold Creek Pond

Amazing how far you can see, out in Nature

Makes me think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness

Part of Gold Creek Pond wasn’t frozen over

On the shore, a shirtless guy after diving in the icy lake

Until next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/05/photos-snoqualmie-pass-gold-creek-pond-trail/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Gamestop & r/wallstreetbets: fairness just a starting point

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 4 of 52. Barely made it this time, on Saturday night!

Note: The second half of my two posts on Biden will come in February.

Note (added Sunday 31 January ’21): Motivations of the diverse r/wallstreetbets members can be found by searching the subreddit. From my readings of it, the community seems to largely share a disparagement of institutional investors, and a disdain for hedge funds shorting and destroying companies (not to mention their impact on the trade economy at large), though they sometimes admire various top dogs in the Wall Street world. To look further into the subreddit’s motivations and/or vibe, you might start by checking out the post histories of its members u/DeepFuckingValue, u/stonksflyingup, and the subreddit’s Ask Me Anything from Friday. My purpose is not to lionize these users, whose numbers are too large to permit easy generalization anyway, but to explain what’s happening and point to further texts that readers interested in the topic might consider digging into.

This past week, many among the now seven million-plus members of the subreddit r/wallstreetbets pushed a hedge fund, Wall Street financier Gabe Plotkin’s Melvin Capital, to close out its short position in the video game retailer Gamestop. With a few billion dollars, Melvin had bet against the beloved yet beleaguered Texas-based store. The subredditors persuaded each other to buy Gamestop stock en masse, boosting the price dramatically and causing Melvin to hemorrhage financial value. Plotkin’s peers on Wall Street then infused Melvin Capital with massive funds to keep it afloat, but the fund still had to flee the Gamestop battle. By then, Melvin had reportedly lost a stunning third of its assets, at the hands of average (apparently mostly U.S.-based) Internet users.

Following the same rules as the hedge funds, the subredditors won this round of the capitalism board game, thanks to their large numbers. Similar situations happen with unions. Corporations band together in cartels, increasing their number and power, to control markets; paid-workers unite in trade unions to (try to) control markets as well. Each side calls the other criminal cheaters, with the illegalities of the rich far outweighing those of the middle class and poor struggling to survive. Governments attempt to intervene as their donors and blackmailers wish, aiming to keep up the ongoing exchange of goods/services without which civilization would have to change paradigm.

Some of the subredditors are expressing surprise that various Wall Streeters aren’t taking their side. r/wallstreetbets has been stanning Dr Michael Burry of Scion Asset Management for a year-plus, presumably a partial result of the investor’s name recognition from the 2015 hit movie The Big Short. They are now realizing he’s dissing them publicly. That was on Tuesday, when in a tweet he soon deleted, Burry tagged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement arm and wrote of the market battle: “what is going on now – there should be legal and regulatory repercussions. This is unnatural, insane, and dangerous.” Burry owned 1.7 million GameStop shares last September; assuming he hadn’t changed his position, the subredditors, without aiming to benefit him, just gave him a bonanza of nearly a quarter billion dollars, almost 1400% in four months, on paper anyway, and he still called for legal repercussions against them.

It looks quite like Burry can’t abide rubbing elbows with the several million ordinary people on the subreddit, can’t let his class status slip, despite them praising him for months and months and possibly handing him a gigantic windfall. No, Burry wants the rabble hordes arbitrarily blocked from doing what hedge funds like Melvin Capital or his do.

More big names than Burry are troubled that the public beat a hedge fund at the capitalism competition. Others of the ruling class are calling for an investigation into r/wallstreetbets, treating everyday folks playing capitalism like the game it is as a potential crime. Financial apps such as Interactive Brokers abruptly blocked the users’ ability to buy Gamestop shares (and other stocks also involved) and, it appears, Robinhood Markets sold away shares of users who’d bought Gamestop on margin, something reportedly permitted by their one-sided terms of service but in opposition to userbase trust. Like The Daily Show (corporate television) smearing Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011, the fourth branch has rushed to describe the redditors condescendingly (the audience for the news media are the politicos and intelligenstia of the status quo, not the public). The Biden administration, which as rent deadlines approach has yet to deliver the promised $2000 stimulus cheques, is “monitoring the situation.” But forces as disparate as Republican senator Ted Cruz and Democratic House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been lining up behind the subredditors.

The capitalists’ own propaganda paints them as shrewd alpha males who deserve their yachts and affluenza legal defenses as reward for their (or their parents’) trading skill, yet the moment unions or the public, following the rules, or at least the logic, of the money game, manage to exploit a weakness in the ruling class’s position on the game board, the powerful overturn that board and bring out force. Consider the disproportionate targeting that happens in meatspace. Fancy restaurants place tents and tables on nearby public grass by a sidewalk without significant hassle from the authorities, perhaps mere food safety regulation assessments; homeless people pitching a tent in the same spots will face violent sweeps from security forces. Well-to-do civic associations can shut down streets for parades, stopping vehicles, but Black Lives Matter protesters objecting to street executions by cops will be arrested or worse for doing the same thing, while reactionary legislators in multiple states strive to legalize running over traffic-blocking protestors. Thus, it’s not about who has the best knack for surviving and thriving in a trade civilization, because once the public discovers an effective tactic, the ruling class knocks them back down and then sets the board in position again, acting like everything’s back to normal business hours.

The illogic continues to the economic system as a whole. The dangerous effort of creating humanity in the first place by giving birth does not pay, but building tasers or using them to kill people, including those diagnosed with mental health problems, does pay. Less dramatic examples can be found too. Substitute teachers are paid to bone up on their subjects during certain hours of the day (planning periods) but not during other hours (evenings), and the students aren’t paid to learn. Therapists get paid to help clients overcome addictions, but aren’t paid to work to overcome their own addictions. An economic system is just a board game, often with moneytokens (or other tokens such as indulgences to buy from priests to get into heaven). If the board game doesn’t make sense, there is every reason to start playing a different one.

Fairness, but to what end?

To date, much of the conversation around r/wallstreetbets has focused on the lack of fairness in the financial system. Humans have an innate desire for fair treatment, as observed in experiments on primates, and more simply, as observed in children. Debates over whether $10/hour, $15/hour, $20/hour, or some other rate constitutes fair pay are perennial (why not an arbitrary amount like $50,000.000033785/hour?). For instance, James Joyce’s protagonist Mr Duffy tired of such predictable and myopic talk in the author’s short story “A Painful Case” published more than a century ago in 1914. People have taken for granted that a wage system is it, and got hung up on comparing who gets paid how much, for a very long time. But the understandable call for fairness is simply a starting point. Questioning and ultimately replacing the wage/trade system itself is more important.

Just because a game is fair, doesn’t mean it’s good. Bad games, neutral games, or good games can all be either fair or unfair according to whether the rules are followed, or not, by whichever sides. Like fossil fuel companies, Billionaire A and Billionaire B can compete in the capitalism game to see who can drive humanity extinct most profitably. Their capitalism competition can be played fairly, or unfairly, but either way, we all end up dead. In the hundreds of thousands of years of humanity (not just 2500 years back to ancient Greeks), we have organized the production and distribution of goods/services into multiple different economic systems across multiple different civilizations, with a variety of results. Those experiments wait outside the corporate media spotlight, so fixed as the news spotlight is on mesmerizing everyone with the vastly overemphasized war criminal politicians or those seeking to replace them with saleable identity labels. Further, the emphasis on left brain charts describing the production, circulation, and distribution of goods, from Royal Society fellows like Karl Marx (also a racist), merely scratch the surface of what’s going on with humanity. Underneath, we want not to hoard abstract money-tokens; we want to feel good, get to know each other and ourselves, explore, share, grow, and so on. It is possible to organize production and distribution in ways that respect this.

More detail would take too long for a blog post, so here are some suggested readings for people interested in this topic to pursue. As the trade system continues its slow implosion, and the oncoming effects of global warming increasingly throw lives into disarray, it’s a good time to explore alternatives. It’s not unrealistic; every day, people quit their paid-jobs to go shut down pipelines or reunite with nature or try any other number of outside-the-box ideas. Thus to conclude, the short list of texts involving economics (and the personal relationships and emotions below the surface level of existence described by economics) that readers might find helpful.

  • Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels The Dispossessed (1974) and Always Coming Home (1985)
  • Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books
  • To know what came before, try Robert L. Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers (1953, seventh edition 1999) and reading canonical economics texts firsthand. Those canonical economics texts can be old and written with archaic language and examples, so check sites such as OpenCulture.com to find secondary sources to help with understanding
  • Marcus Brancaglione’s Universal Basic Income (2016), translated into English by Marcio Rolim and Fabiana Cecin
  • Crimethinc.com, especially To Change Everything
  • Follow @YourAnonCentral for general world news and analysis

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Gamestop & r/wallstreetbets: fairness just a starting point by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/29/gamestop-wallstreetbets-fairness-starting-point/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Meet new president Joe Biden, Part 1 of 2

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. This week, the ideal day is today! Here’s entry 3 of 52.

Note: Since this two-part post is lengthy, have a Table of Contents. If you want to jump straight to the videos of Biden, you want Part 2, which will be published the last week of January 2021.

Part 1

  • Trump leaves the White House
  • Inauguration of Joe Biden
  • Senator Biden encouraged the Patriot Act
  • Senator Biden sponsored the notorious pro-prison ’94 crime bill
  • Empire on parade and impunity
  • Carefully planted distraction stories (Pizzagate and QAnon)

Part 2

Coming next week (toward the end of January 2021)

Environmentalist Greta Thunberg returning Donald Trump’s mockery of her as he leaves office, the target of multiple investigations, some led by criminal prosecutors, others by independent activists, and facing a possible second impeachment

On Wednesday, the Trump administration vacated the White House. Donald Trump’s wide-ranging connections with organized crime families, the Casablancas and Epstein rape networks, and other wrongdoers (the KGB, cocaine rings, and beyond) are all amply documented with 100+ sources from court documents and investigative journalism reports here at Spooky Connections, an open-source, independent research project I pointed readers to in my post last week. The demagogue’s four years atop the executive branch saw many liberals startled at how others around them — sometimes including family and friends — turned eagerly to both reactionary beliefs and a cult of Trump as some sort of extraordinary savior. This after whistleblower Reality Winner sacrificed her freedom to alert the public to Russia’s hacking efforts against U.S. voting infrastructure just days before the 2016 election. While the regime of the corrupt Russian oligarch Vladimir Putin tortured anarchists, encouraged domestic femicide, and pushed propaganda into the U.S., Trump, with his decades of ties to the Russian mob, left the public wondering who really runs the United States.

View of National Guard from Biden’s motorcade for the militarized inauguration. (Source.)

Now that Joe Biden, a longtime Democrat, has assumed the presidency, the cognitive dissonance his supporters once decried Republicans for engaging in is easily seen on social platforms as members of the media, the intelligentsia, the literati, and academics give Biden a pass for his well documented misdeeds. “He’s a good man,” I see on Facebook, while on Twitter, comfortable careerists fave, retweet, and otherwise celebrate the new administration. Knowing better after #MeToo, they ignore not just Biden’s history as a senator — we’ll quickly review two stand-out troubles from those days: his history with the Patriot Act and mass incarceration — but also they ignore his shocking creeping on children, which Part 2 of this post will show via primary source footage from sources such as C-SPAN.

As a senator, the new president was very encouraging of the Patriot Act when assisting its passage a month after 9/11. The bill expanded government surveillance — for instance, empowered by the Patriot Act, the FBI, without needing a warrant, and after getting a mere rubber stamp from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, could now force medical providers, libraries, bookstores, universities, ISPs, and others to hand over records on their clients or customers. The bill also placed every non-US person under threat of indefinite detention via secret evidence (secret law is tyranny). During the Senate session when the Patriot Act passed, Biden extolled the bill, and said “Some may say it doesn’t go far enough.” He then proceeded to explain how he would prefer the Patriot Act strengthened.

As for mass incarceration, Biden as a senator sponsored The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, also known simply as the 1994 crime bill. Calling for the law’s reversal, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU wrote in 2019 that “this legislation offered money to states that adopted harsher sentencing laws […] While those grants expired in 2001, similar incentives persist today […] Washington [DC] spends billions annually to support state and local justice systems — with many of those dollars allocated under outdated metrics designed to encourage arrest and incarceration.” Designed to encourage arrest and incarceration. The more prisoners, the more money (prisons are a major part of the US trade economy), leaving prison investors no incentive to remedy the underlying structures facilitating narcotics abuse in the first place. In the mid-nineties, tough-on-crime was a popular stance for politicians. Like today, they presented themselves as heroes saving fearful donors from the scary world outside their gated communities. Such images have of course been upturned repeatedly. Journalist Gary Webb, writing his award-winning Dark Alliance series for the San Jose Mercury News, revealed that money fueling the US-backed covert war against Nicaragua came from profits off Los Angeles’ 1980s crack cocaine epidemic. For a long time, drug running has funded off the books govcorp activitiy, or as KRS-One puts it, “You claim I’m selling crack / But you be doing that.” (Webb was ostracized by his media peers for being outspokenly correct, and unable to get work, he committed suicide.) One journalist writing at Harper’s in 2016 found out, when he interviewed top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, how bluntly the powers that be think about and plan such crimes as drug trafficking:

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.

Ehrlichman’s forthrightness just a few years ago is, I think, an example of what Heather Marsh calls the empire on parade, or the empire’s coming-out in the media. A bit more than a half a century ago, in the era of black and white TV news, such an outright admission of lying and vilification to arrest political opponents, to a random reporter, might have blown up as an astonishing revelation leading perhaps to urgent discussions from the streets all the way up to Congress (see the Church committee in the seventies). Now such admissions/boastings are just a business model, and sociopathy; the authorities do not particularly take pains to hide their cruelties. Indeed, as Trump illustrated, they brag about their vileness openly to applauding audiences. Who could forget Trump bragging on the 2016 campaign trail “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” or outright proposing the continuation of war crimes, the slaughtering of innocents: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.”

The empire is able to come out on proud parade like this because too many, especially among the influential commentariat, are repeatedly showing that they will tolerate such behavior, often based on partisan selectivity: Those in the correct political party are allowed to prey on others; I won’t say anything. If presidents and others in power are granted impunity for wrongdoing, in other words, if there are no consequences, if everyone just goes along with it, then they will keep it up. I don’t only mean the current question, whether the Biden administration will pull an Obama (“Look forward not back“) and let Trump escape accountability, as Obama helped the Bush II administration escape accountability. I mean Biden himself, his past and presumably, his ongoing behavior.

Part 2 (coming next week) will review primary source footage of Biden, most of it collected together by conservative commentator Richard Armande Mills in 2017 and posted in a 31-tweet thread, where the now-president fondles kids, strokes their faces, smells their hair, and generally behaves as a predator would. I will find bibliographic data for each of the videos, to make the need to investigate Biden even more undeniable. Until then, I will close out this Part 1 by discussing the distraction stories that are attempts to cloak the wrongdoers from justice by making those who talk about the authorities’ jaw-dropping predation seem like “kooky conspiracy theorists” even when their evidence is straight from C-SPAN. Thankfully, the dam is bursting and, as with Jeffrey Epstein becoming a household name recently, more and more are coming to realize what is happening and the calculated silence of careerists is becoming increasingly a liability when they face the public.

Carefully planted distraction stories

In 2014, I spearheaded a campaign to raise money for restitution payments court-ordered for the PayPal 14, young federal defendants singled out because they, like thousands of others, had launched denial of service attacks against payment services (including PayPal) after those international companies blocked donations to Wikileaks following their publication of about a quarter million U.S. State Department cables.

For months and months, activists used the hashtag #PayPal14 to inspire donations and discuss the subject. But then, the very day of the PayPal 14’s sentencing — I reported from the court date in October 2014, the only journalist in attendance — PayPal launched a #PayPal15 [sic] marketing campaign, a ham-fisted effort to deflect attention from the company’s eagerness to have these idealistic young adults prosecuted, which was making their brand look out of touch and vengeful. I bring this example up to show that such duels against activists from the powers that be aren’t “conspiracy theories” or the rantings of unhinged people. It’s pretty common, and it was surreal, like a Philip K. Dick story, seeing, on my phone outside the courthouse, the corporate attempt to drown out news from my allies and me.

In 2015, Heather Marsh initiated #OpDeathEaters, building on earlier work such as #opGabon; combining the two means this campaign for inquiries/tribunals into pedosadism among the powerful has been ongoing on for about a decade. Multiple academics have amplified or written about #opDeathEaters, bringing credibility to the campaign and its named source. (I wrote about it here myself last year when I was given screener files for the Investigation Discovery special about Jeffery Epstein.) #opDeathEaters relies on trustworthy material including primary source footage, court documents, and investigative journalism. In contrast, the wacky stories of Pizzagate and QAnon — more like bricolage than stories, really — do not have an accessible originator using a real name, nor academic support, nor quality evidence. But like the #PayPal15 campaign, the goofy (to outsiders) Pizzagate and QAnon noise are attempts to protect the wrongdoers by taking attention away from the real story and placing it on unimportant garbage.

Next week, the video clips of Biden, many of which can already be found here or here if you’re curious.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Meet new president Joe Biden, Part 1 of 2 by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL:
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/23/meet-new-president-biden-1-of-2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Check out SpookyConnections.com

Note: In 2021 I’m going to publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Today is a day late, but hey. This is entry 2 of 52.

“Name names! Name names!” That’s what an older gentleman, an autodidact and FDR-style liberal, told me from across the table at a Fort Worth coffeeshop a few years ago, before Jeffrey Epstein became known to average households. I’d been talking about vague criminal forces and their slippery control over our world. He wanted specificity, but it can be hard to remember who did what, each precise molecule of data, when drinking daily from the firehoses of books and social media. For me at least, if I’m not in the process of studying something or preparing a presentation, all that information becomes a blur, a mood or zeitgeist rather than the articulated facts of a rap sheet. Thankfully for both the forgetful and everyone else, the new website SpookyConnections.com delivers dossiers of top wrongdoers the planet over, and the site is steadily adding more and more.

This is a screenshot of the front page of SpookyConnections.com. It shows the faces of eight millionaires or billionaires, along with their names, nationalities, income level, and occupations.
Screenshot of SpookyConnections front page

Their About us page says Spooky Connections is a research project and “an independent international open source investigation to probe transnational organized crime. We operate using open source information from established news outlets and primary sourced documents to graph, map, and document a clear understanding of organised criminal networks and activities.” SpookyConnections.com is also currently linked in the bios of three major old school Anonymous twitter accounts: @YourAnonCentral, @OpDeathEaters, and @OpCanary.

The URL derives from the slang term spook meaning a spy or other espionage agent. While a president enters and leaves office in the space of a few short years — maybe a single term or less — the unelected often spend decades, no matter which party is in power, at agencies such as Central Intelligence, implementing war crimes and then implementing their celebration via propaganda, pulse-pounding TV shows and movies, or other seductive coercion manipulating the emotional responses of populations. This unfortunate truth about the architects of our (un)societies is well documented in books such as Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, James W. Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable, and Top Secret America by Dana Priest and William Arkin. See also Heather Marsh’s blog post “The intelligence mafia.” Reading these texts remedies an archaic “how a bill becomes a law” view of our governance.

In the boxing ring’s other corner from the spies, the Spooky Connections website mainly consists of two features or areas. First, the profiles. The front page is illustrated with the faces of eleven (at the time of this writing) repulsive VIPs, much like a deck of cards spread out for inspection. Clicking one of them takes you to a page dedicated to exposing that single individual, using reputable sources including investigative journalism reports and court documents.

Let’s take Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev as an example for what the Spooky Connections drill-down on one person looks like.

The image is a screenshot of the beginnings of the Dmitry Rybolovlev dossier. Subheadings are Introduction, Murder Allegations, The Maison de L'Amitie - Donald Trump deal. That information is on the right. On the left is Ryboloviev's face, an expandable table of contents, and a list of his connections to others, including family.
Screenshot of the beginnings of the Dmitry Rybolovlev dossier

The image above is Spooky Connection’s profile of Russian billionaire and art investor Dmitry Ryboloviev. Below the picture of his displeased face, users can expand the table of contents or a list of his connections to others, family among them. The write-up is straightforward and readable, in the familiar format of an encyclopedia entry. Yet this one is custom-made to focus not on PR fluff but on credible accusations and criminal connections. The text includes subheads for easy reading: Introduction; Murder Allegations; The Maison de L’Amitie – Donald Trump Deal; The My Anna yacht and parties with young girls; Holdings; FC Monaco; Monaco-gate; Citations. This last, Citations, is particularly important so that readers can find the sources for the dossier. The write-ups beneath each subhead reveal plenty of unsavory information on the man. For instance:

Dmitry Rybolovlev remains close to the Kremlin, as evidenced by his friendship with Yuri Troutnev, one of the right arms of Vladimir Putin. [18] Donald Trump Jr., invited in September 2008 to a real estate conference in New York, had explained that “the Russians” now constituted “a rather disproportionate part” of the assets of the Trump family empire. [19]

And also:

during divorce proceedings it was revealed he took a vacation on his yacht off Croatia with “young girls whose passports said they were born in 1988 and 1989 but they looked much younger in photographs that were taken on this occasion,” according to court papers. They partied on his yacht “My Anna,” named after his daughter. [20] According to court proceedings Dmitry Rybolovlev admitted to sleeping with his butler, his assistant, and students which he happily shared with other oligarchs. He said “he appreciated only teenage girls, younger than his own daughter”. 

Learning that this is who your rulers are is much like when some children have to confront the grim facts that their caregivers are actually incapable of nurturing them, or do not love them, or are dangerous to them. Usually in such a horrible situation, those kids’ selfhood/personhood diminishes; rather than acknowledge their caregivers, whom they can’t escape and who rule their lives like gods, are ongoing active hazards, it feels safer to blame themselves as not good enough, and withdraw, too afraid to express themselves fully, take big risks, or put themselves out there, choices that might draw attention in a hostile universe. In adulthood, the child then stays on the recliner, tuning in only to the familiar and predictable pabulum of corporate TV programming or ineffective by-the-book solutions, blaming themselves instead of the system and not willing to look their leaders in the eye to pursue answers based on their true natures. Expecting politico predators to arrest themselves isn’t going to work; to get different results, we have to try strategies that are different, such as strengthening ourselves and launching independent, international, victim-led inquiries/tribunals into the trafficking industry, an option I discuss here.

Spooky Connections’ other big feature is the graph. By clicking the button on the side (which consists of three hexagons resembling biological cells clumped together), users can easily access the graph at https://www.spookyconnections.com/graph.

A graph connecting various very important predators.
Screenshot of graph view at Spooky Connections

The graph, similar to images from crime shows where police detectives combine clues on the wall to track down a suspect, can tell you quite a bit about these individuals’ relationships. For instance, the way I clicked the tool, shown above, suggests Donald Trump does not access the United States Mafia through Allen Weisselberg (CFO of The Trump Organization), but could through lawyer Roy Cohn. Because Spooky Connections is adding more VIPredators regularly, the tool should become more powerful in time. I’m not sure what the “Play” button is supposed to do; perhaps I am using it incorrectly. Clicking “Graph Commons” at the bottom left takes the user to a Spooky Connections page on graphcommons.com, where the “Play” button supplies various visualization features that I need to experiment with more to understand. In a few places, typos or notices such as “Work in Progress” alert the reader to the unfinished nature of the Spooky Connections website. The site also has a “Support Us” button leading to a donate page on donorbox.

One of Spooky Connections’ huge advantages is its global nature. Especially as international news bureaus have shut down due to lack of funds, corporate newspapers teach audiences that they are to be concerned with the news of their own country, not the news of other countries. (This is because countries are primarily segregated economic markets.) But the VIPredators travel all around the world, do business all around the world, commit crime all around the world. Closing your eyes to what they’re doing in the other 190-odd countries is obviously going to present an incomplete picture. Yet Spooky Connections offers a full view, one that will eventually become the status quo as more and more are accustomed to chatting with and befriending strangers abroad thanks to social media, email lists, etc.

Why clique up with and empower your opponents — I’m thinking of authors wanting to “picked” by corporate publishers, or citizenries silently accepting the crimes of the “lesser evil” in exchange for bread and circuses; in short, remaining infantilized rather than achieving greater and greater autonomy — when a handful of independent researchers can accomplish this and point the way forward?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Check out SpookyConnections.com by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL:
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/14/check-out-spookyconnections/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Running as exploration and adventure

Note: In 2021 I’m going to publish at least one blog post per week, on Wednesdays. Last year I didn’t quite make it, but this year I will. This is entry 1 of 52.

Note: The off topic photos of salad bowls are here to update readers familiar with the post where I introduced that regular meal of mine. Here’s how the dish is getting made these days. I introduced this salad for my first post of 2020, so I think it’s fitting to bring the bowl back for the beginning of 2021. The images show the salad bowl that was made adjacent to mine a few days ago by someone who really knows what she’s doing; hers was much more visually appealing; my meal, with ingredients strewn together haphazardly, simply disappeared into my happy stomach unphotographed.

A chalkboard at a gym reads: Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.
Great message for an indoor gym; but, time to step outside

I used to go to the gym regularly and run on the treadmill with a portable MP3 player keeping me company. COVID-19 nixed the gym habit, and rain nixed my little music device. Now I’ve learned to pound pavement hearing the various songs of the outdoors, something I’d wanted to try for a long timebut did not have the strength of self to dare do.

Jogging without headphones places me much more in touch with the environment. Every little sound that comes my way reminds me I’m an animal taking part in a very physical world. It’s like camping, but each and every day. Usually, at least in the WEIRD world (Western Educated Individualistic Rich Democratic), the car and the cubicle lock adults into a zombie state; they forget, for instance, that their vehicle is thousands of pounds of metal hurling down the highway thanks to explosions, and treat the ride as a no-thought-required luxury cruise where they can eat and scroll their phone. Humans: from hunters persistently chasing prey to hunching over glowing screens with backaches and, above all else, predictable, safe, risk-free routines that keep them infantilized. It’s easy to understand how the treadmill fits in here: the runner watches another titillating screen, wears isolating headphones, and times the run on the machine’s complicated computer. Its flashing lights replace the jog in nature with something as scientifically managed, rigorous, and efficient as an assembly line. You don’t even go from a Point A to a Point B.

A well-known image which shows an amusing take on human evolutio. At the left, a monkey walking with four limbs on the floor. By the time evolution reaches the midpoint, it's a man standing with a spear and good posture. By the time evolution reaches the far right of the image, the man is hunched over again like the monkey,  two limbs on the floor and two limbs on a computer keyboard.
Makes me think of the Alexander Technique

Since I’ve been running outdoors with no headphones for a month or so, what other differences have I noticed? It’s amazing how much you learn about your surroundings when daily you run around them, any which way, not necessarily sticking to a planned course. Think of all the things that might be going on in your town that you don’t know about. Just today I saw that Seattle, whichever government department it was, placed a sign threatening a shockingly steep $1,500 penalty for anyone dumping waste in a cul-de-sac near me. For years I’ve seen sofas, scrap metal, chairs, and other junk dumped there, and now the story continues with escalating stakes and conflict between the cost-saving polluters and the neatnik authorities. What will happen next? It’s a miniature story right outside my doorstep.

Salad bowl as described in caption.
Incomplete salad bowl, so far with spinach, kale, red cabbage, and cucumber

At that cul-de-sac, there’s a somewhat rickety and certainly steep staircase climbing a hill; by the top, a wood fort stands, like one that might stand in a backyard for kids to play in. Whenever I run past it, I wonder what its function is, who built it, what its story is. Once you’re on the other side of the hill, it’s possible to walk a little bit and then take a trail circling around to, from another direction, the base of the staircase. Bigger infrastructure nearby inspires wonder too. I live by the “Low Bridge,” also known as the Spokane bridge, where the Duwamish River empties into Elliott Bay. (So come at me, bro!) When I was in zombie mode in my car, heavy metal blasting, I’d just assume the Spokane bridge was a drawbridge, even though I’d never seen it raise up to let ships through. It has a sidewalk for pedestrians, so nowadays I run across, a friend of the bridge, so to speak, getting to know it a little bit more each time. One day, before I could progress far across the bridge, a guard rail along its sidewalk came down and stopped me in my tracks. Next to me, vehicles were also stopped by a separate guard rail. Then the bridge very slowly swung in horizontal arcs to let the boat through. Finally it arced back together into one piece. Who controls all this? Does the bridge have a mind of its own? There’s a creepy tower by it that I can see from my apartmentperhaps the bridge boss is therein?

The West Seattle High Rise, the Low Bridge aka the Spokane bridge, and the mysterious guard tower
Scary tower + 2 bridges

My friends and I joke about this tower, because it looks straight out of some paranoiac novel. A different day, I was running across the bridge and happened to see a man come out of the top of the tower, the little room up there, onto the tower’s balcony area to gaze around the cityscape. I don’t know if he was satisfied or dissatisfied with what he saw, but he quickly vanished back into his lair. What’s his story? He some kind of wizard? What’s the tale of this tower? None of that does the driver typically see or think about, too busy zooming past while stressing over traffic. The treadmill gerbil in the gym definitely doesn’t take in all these unusual experiences either. Think of the multitudes of buildings you drive past routinely, the architectures and plants unobserved, the mysteries of who owns them and what they are doing with that ownership unbeknownst to you. Yet running outside, you feel part of the same highly active, physical world as the buildings (as opposed to a cerebral or deadened world), and might be inspired to research a particular structure you encountered next time you come to a computer.

There are plenty of other fascinating surroundings I’ve checked out since switching to jogging outdoors. To get certain places, it behooves me to run alongside train tracks. The gravel beneath my shoes there is so uneven that in spots, I have to really pay attention, which makes the exercise almost like a hike. These days I know that the trains near my neighborhood are usually the BNSF company’s; when did I ever notice and think about things like that before? I didn’t, just a drone on the unchanging treadmill. I’m grateful for my current newfound ability to run, listening, through grassy parks, down dirt paths following the Duwamish River, as close to the Seattle shipping terminals as their defenses will allow (Hi Homeland Security!), on sidewalk trails to their ends and then continuing alongside long streets leading into downtown, scrutinizing as I pass by the shops and other buildings I never knew were there. It’s like being an adventurous kid, exploring on a bicycle.

Salad bowl as the caption states.
Added avocado, sesame seeds, and edamame.

Why didn’t I do this before? Seattle is a gorgeous city with plenty of walkable (and runnable) paths, whereas North Texas, where I’m from, consists of unappealing corporate parks, car dealerships, tract houses, and strip malls. But it’s much more than that. A person has to have a sufficient measure of strength to hurl themselves, panting hard, through the cold pouring rain and dark, down paths that aren’t yet paths. Where no one has planned for someone to run, where the person is creating the trail beneath their sneakers as they go, creating the idea. It requires engagement and participation with the world with all its detailswatch your step on the uneven gravel! look that building up when you get home!instead of withdrawing, giving up, and hiding in bed with unhealthy but comfortable habits, often grandiosely reassuring oneself falsely that one is achieving greatly.

I’d better get to bed. Getting up before dawn to run somewhere that’s just miles from my door, and I’ve never even been there before!

Complete with dressing and quinoa cooked in turmeric, ginger, and coconut milk

p.s. If you like the thoughts in this post, you might enjoy the videos of the vlogger shiey, aka illegal freedom. The artistic videos, a type of travel journal, show off his athletic, even daredevil, exploits exploring urban jungles, particularly restricted areas.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Running as exploration and adventure, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/06/exercise-exploration-adventure/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Two passages by chairperson of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Today is Tuesday 27 October 2020. This year I’ve been trying to post once a week.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report was presented to President Nelson Mandela on 29 October 1998. We’re coming up on an anniversary of that date. Might be worth learning more about the SATRC, then, yes?

Besides the anniversary, another reason the TRC is important is the objective of #OpDeathEaters. That’s to establish an independent, international, victim-led tribunal/inquiry into the pedosadist/trafficking industry. When I was first hearing about #OpDeathEaters, my mind was like, what on earth is an inquiry? I think inquiries have some similarities to truth and reconciliation commissions. Here’s what I wrote about all that on May 31:

There are examples of inquiries, or efforts toward them, on both the small family/community level and for entire countries and planetwide. For instance, in Finland, the Open Dialogue method, under experimentation for implementation in the United States, is getting the best documented results for first episode psychosis (mental health): 85+% of the people helped by Open Dialogue never have a psychotic break again and never need psychiatric drugs. In Open Dialogue, if a person acts bizarrely, say a teenager at a family home, the mental health professionals head over instantly (not: schedule a thousand-dollar appointment for two months later after the patient’s psych ward lockup and the professional’s ski trip). The Open Dialogue practitioners maybe given the teen a benzo for sleep. While he’s sleeping, his family or friends might say to the professionals: “Let me tell you what really happened.” In other words, control the narrative and cover up wrongdoing. The Open Dialogue professionals don’t permit this. No one can begin until everyone can participate. Then, once the person who was in an altered state wakes and is calmer thanks to sleep, everyone gathers to have a small-scale inquiry. What happened? Is the coach at the school abusive? Let’s get that coach present to hear what he says about the accusation of abuse. Is the food at home causing the teenager distress? What can we do differently, together? It’s the same on the country or global level. For example, consider the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which took place as apartheid was formally ending in that country. With varying degrees of success and failure, the South African TRC required human rights violators from both the white supremacist reactionaries and the revolutionary liberation movements to—on live television, on live radio, and with the victims’ families present and participating—confess their crimes in detail (while asking for limited amnesty). Inquiries and their similar cousin, truth and reconciliation commissions, existed prior to the South African TRC, but in studying and discussing how to set up such solutions, the South African TRC is a landmark people often start from.

Truth and reconciliation commissions are a way forward, but setting them up sounds complicated! So, start at a good beginning.

Vol. 1 Chapter 1, is the Chairperson’s forward. That’s Chairperson Desmond Tutu. I have been reading Volume 1 when able, and I marked two beautiful passages, one paragraph each, that I believe deserve a wider audience in the United States.

Both, paragraph 33 and paragraph 67, are from the Criticisms and Challenges section of Desmond Tutu’s forward. Here’s paragraph 33:

It would have been odd in the extreme if something as radical as this Commission had met with universal approval and acceptance. It would have been even more odd had we been infallible and made no mistakes as we undertook the delicate task of seeking to help heal the wounds of a sorely divided people.

I think multiple USians get really snobby and insist no solutions are possible when they have lost hope or feel too much emotional pain internally. The above passage serves as a balm.

Here’s paragraph 67:

It is to give substance to our cry from the heart that politicians should really stop playing ducks and drakes with our future – for the greatest sadness that we have encountered in the Commission has been the reluctance of white leaders to urge their followers to respond to the remarkable generosity of spirit shown by the victims. This reluctance, indeed this hostility, to the Commission has been like spitting in the face of the victims.

The reluctance of white leaders to urge their followers to respond to the victims’ generosity of spirit continues today.

Readers who want to know more about how to solve systemic injustice can study the South African TRC if they’re unfamiliar with it. Time to develop concepts like inquiries and determine how we might use them in this chewed-up world.

Texas case count musings

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…except when I’m not because reasons, pandemics, life, etc. This was going to be a placeholder ‘oops’ post for Week 26, but as usual, I kept typing…

Note: I updated last week’s post some; you might like to take a look at it again: Happy Rioting, Self-Defense, and Fucking Up Shit!

Note added Thurs 2 July: Links for recent articles at NPR and the Economist discussing COVID-19 spreading not by protestors but by parties, and a ProPublica article from July 1: “Internal Messages Reveal Crisis at Houston Hospitals as Coronavirus Cases Surge” Blame those on top, not your neighbor

I have a huge blog post in the works, giving an overview of, and listing resources for, escaping the box of conventional psychiatry. But it’ll have to wait another seven days or so, as I need to sit this workweek out, at least in terms of blogging. Although I’ll keep typing:

For unknown reasons, I’ve felt sad today and late yesterday.

Here in Seattle, the past 48 hours or so, I’ve been thinking, off and on, about Texas, where I’m originally from, probably because of the COVID-19 news there and everywhere. More than 5,000 new cases per day now in Texas. Over the past few months, Texans have told me not to worry about it. Around March or so, I offered to connect a regional hospital in Texas with PPE donors in Dallas; hospital staff declined, saying more PPE wouldn’t be necessary, though I suspect also the (current) neurotypical standard of seeing vulnerability as fault might have been at play. A Texas parent insisted to me that her adult offspring must not think about faraway coronavirus because it’s too stressful: I order you to stop texting these grown-ups about it, Douglas. Texans close to me recently went to gyms and salons and lectured me on their safety and how Trump would get this all fixed. (Except he and his are causing it.) But these are all well-documented, predictable reactions of propagandized humans to pandemics and politicians, just like during other outbreaks, such as this one a century ago.

The solution isn’t to vote for your destroyers but to arrest them, following realistic and practical steps (informed action feels better than anxiety), and thankfully although many of my Texan friends from the past few years have disappeared from my life — I guess they’re too weakened to risk the unpopularity pursuing unusual topics might bring; but, I don’t know for sure, since we no longer talk, typically — skyrocketing follower counts of, and widespread interactions with, good accounts show that more and more people globally are taking interest in helping themselves and others each day (instead of just buying and selling every last iota in a self-destructive race to the empty top), so maybe humanity will get somewhere, presently.

I also see many nice little evidentiary pieces of a better world. The neighbor out on his lawn playing his acoustic guitar and smiling, for the first time I’ve ever seen him smile. Customers in the grocery store swaying to the music from the overhead loudspeakers, when they were pretty much never doing that previously. All these little things add up: a reality with time for tasks other than serving powerful employers. Yet the clock is ticking till the unemployment payment boost evaporates on July 25/26/31 (depending).

Chart showing new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, adjusted for population size. Europe, Canada, and Japan are decreasing or flat. The United States is exceptionally bad in its skyrocketing.
From the New York Times link above: the United States is exceptionally diseased

So why the fishbowl picture at the start of this post? The past few days I’ve been unfortunately thinking (I’d rather think about something else) that the real core of reactionary Texas ideology is its premise that the individual is not affected by anything but the individual’s own willpower; the individual is not affected by the environment, and to speak of how conditioning or pollution or pandemic might be impacting you, according to the Randroid/Texas vision, is to confess your moocher inability to climb from rags to riches by innovating through the sweat of your He-Man brow, etc. It occurred to me that these increasingly infected Texans are sadly stuck in a small pond, and proudly don’t know it. Like fish in a fishbowl. And unaware of the rising temperatures — they of course think global warming is a hoax, just like Donald Trump calls coronavirus a hoax (and calls global warming a hoax) — and dismissive of any other possible impact from any other possible attribute of their surrounding environment, the Texans swim around their small pond telling each other they will succeed, they will innovate! Meanwhile, all the multinational criminal conspiracies destroying the planet/environment, are like a person the fish can’t or just won’t perceive, walking up to their fishbowl, grabbing it, and, while the fish continue to explain their rugged individualism (or so very hairsplitting neoliberalism!) to each other, just throwing the bowl at the wall. The bowl is flying toward the wall, the water is sloshing out, and the medium-size fish is sucking up to the biggest fish (in hopes of paid employment in eating other fish) and insulting the smallest-size fish for protesting, but it doesn’t matter, they’re all about to hit the wall, victims of much they once vaguely sensed and slammed the mental door on (“you shouldn’t think too hard”), or, well, victims of being goldfish I guess (metaphor strain!).

I want to type something like, “Please specify the conditions within which, what changes would need to happen so that, you could give your time and assistance not to celebully politicians who have willfully killed many people, but say, to Food Not Bombs, who hasn’t killed anyone and only tries to help?” but I need to do some dishes and then go to bed, I guess, and I’ve never got an answer from anyone to my “what conditions, if any, are required so that you might…” question. It’s basically asking the general public to admit what accommodations we might need to obtain asap, to combat rather than support our extinction. Which things to fix first (maybe these). And we’re pressured to see needing/procuring accommodations as making us less than. But even that “pressured to see” is pointing to an environment, which under rugged individualism, doesn’t exist and/or can have no effect on rags-to-riches High Value Men / Action Figure Superheroes. We’re pressured to see the bad environmental circumstances surrounding us (poverty, mass shootings, no/low access to quality food, anyone could continue) as personal failings, when really, those circumstances aren’t the fault of everyday people, and without talking about them loudly, we won’t ever fix them by convicting those causing them.

I want to power off my laptop and never power it back on. Death tolls getting to me today, and all the bots, and all the humans who have turned themselves into bots (“you shouldn’t care too much”), screaming that masks are a myth, or whatever, at the ER and ICU and other medical professionals on Twitter and in Texas who are asking for help. I should be grateful I’m not there, but it feels in some ways that I still am…

28 June 2020, The Dallas Morning News: We went inside Parkland’s COVID unit during its ‘worst week’ as coronavirus cases spike in North Texas

The critically ill patients in Parkland’s COVID-19 Tactical Care Unit couldn’t wear masks even if they wanted to. They each have a plastic tube jammed down their throats, straight to their lungs […] It’s eerily quiet on this long, open ward and the 30 patients on ventilators seem frozen in place. They’re unconscious, sedated with powerful drugs, in part to prevent them from ripping out the lines that are keeping them alive. […] Not one would hesitate for a nanosecond to trade the invasive plastic tubes for the masks that we, breathing free on the outside, get to wear. Not the 52-year-old man in one bed or his 77-year-old mother a few beds down. Not the man who went on a ventilator Friday night or the one who has been on a machine for more than two months […]

Note also that whistleblower Dr Rick Bright filed on 25 June 2020 an addendum (10-page PDF … it says “second addendum”; what was the first?) to his whistleblower complaint (89-page PDF) about Trump cronies retaliating against him because he “insisted on scientifically-vetted proposals, and […] pushed for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19″ so they could push ineffective, shit drugs for you to take instead. The addendum documents the authorities on the warpath against his efforts to get his position back and threatening those who might help him do so.

Hopefully, this pandemic will teach people, even in Texas, that far from being a singlehanded titan of industry, each person is just a tiny speck, just one 7.6 billionth of the people alive today (let alone past and future people, as well as nonhuman animals), and imagining a single person as a willpower-y Robinson Crusoe, or belting out that the virus/environment won’t impact you because you think it’s fake, is like trying to section off with floating rope one part of the swimming pool from somebody else in another section peeing. Doesn’t work.

We’re all in this life thing together.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Texas case count musings by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/06/29/texas-case-count-musings/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Quick Seattle news: King County phases and West Seattle Bridge

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Today’s simple and quick entry is for Week 24. Week 22 was my #OpDeathEaters review of the recent Investigation Discovery special focused on pedosadist Jeffrey Epstein, and Week 23 was my updating that post. Expect a longer post next week.

King County phases

Image is a frame from Star Trek. The action is on board some Federation ship or other. A hand is seen firing a phaser weapon at a smiling Federation shipmate, whose uniform seems to be invincible against the weapon.
Fools, your biz phases are useless against me! (Star Trek phaser image from here.)

On Monday 15 June 2020, King County (includes Seattle; and, the only county in the country named for Martin Luther King Jr.) applied to
the Washington state health department seeking permission to move from Phase 1.5 (aka modified Phase 1) to Phase 2, which are stages of the state government’s (un)safe start plan to re-open the overt trade economy (the economy you see in the newspaper, as opposed to covert trade in weapons drugs and humans, and as opposed to non-trade organizing of goods and services, see below). Phase 2 would mean more people out of their homes transacting business during the pandemic. According to a BizJournals.com article, the Washington state health agency could authorize the King County escalation from Phase 1.5 to Phase 2 as early as Friday 19 June 2020. Here’s King County’s 37-page application.

The application comes the same week as the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — a research institute once used by the White House for coronavirus projections  — forecasts more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States by the first of October. I still think roughly three-quarters of a million or more U.S. residents will die by the end of the year from COVID-19, and (averaging things out somewhat ridiculously) every USian remaining alive on 31 Dec 2020 will know personally at least one person novel coronavirus has killed. To point out that humans are unfortunately regarded as expendable in the face of dolla dolla bill is correct and a good start, yet also incomplete. Living in a trade civilization means just about everyone almost always gets their bar soap, celtic salt, guitar strings, lube, and pretty much everything else from quid pro quos (exchange/trade). As a result, the correct yet incomplete observations about the imbalanced scales (life versus business) can seem a needless attack on those producing or consuming goods and services, that is to say, basically all of us. To help amp up the growing sense among the public that life and interactions are nevertheless more valuable than trade and transactions, requires goals (such as these and these) and inclusive, effective replacement systems to facilitate noncommunist sharing planetwide. Instead of getting bogged down in debating which trade economy phase we should watch the authorities re-open upon us, we must expand/strengthen and defend the approval economy for all that for millenia we have already opened. From that approval economy for all post by Heather Marsh in 2013:

The trust networks and reputations which make up an approval economy are part of the daily life of all societies already. The people you invite to eat a dinner you have provided are typically people who have earned your trust and approval. They will usually provide similar benefits to you if they are able, and if they consistently do not they may begin to receive less invitations. We care for grandparents who are unable to reciprocate because we recognize ourselves as part of a continuum of family obligation which cared for us when we were young and will hopefully do so again when we are old. When we ask the identity of an absent group member, their reputation and approval rating is frequently implied in the answer, and sometimes we ask for referrals outright. Even as anonymous participants on some internet sites our input is ranked and voted up and down, contributing to our reputation. Sometimes our internet reputation is already used to introduce us to wider societies providing basic needs, such as couchsurfing.

Approval economies are the natural economies of human society. We separated power from societal approval and exchanged society for trade relationships so long ago most cannot imagine an alternative, but it is still there in the most basic units of society. Economies based on trade relationships with financial systems as tools of coercion and control cannot coexist with peaceful and just societies. Power will be concentrated in able bodied traders and hoarders as long as we continue using trade economies.

West Seattle Bridge

A close-up image of the West Seattle Bridge with large visible cracks beginning. The cracks look something like veins on a palm.
Cracks in the West Seattle Bridge, image from Seattle transportation department March 2020

In the last year I’ve been working some as an educator teaching algebra to middle school kids. Obviously the students asked me, Math sucks will we ever need to know this in real life??? I told them, you know how Seattle has all these bridges? Well, we will need to know graphs and variables and equations to repair them someday…and already that day has arrived.

On 23 March 2020, the West Seattle Bridge, a major piece of infrastructure in this city, was suddenly closed with only a few hours of warning to the public. Well, the portion of the Bridge that spans the Duwamish River and gets you in and out of West Seattle, anyway. The Lower Spokane bridge, also known as the low bridge, right next to the West Seattle Bridge, is showing deterioration too, it was reported last week, and is currently being monitored; the low bridge is closed to regular vehicles (travel permitted only for emergency and other essential vehicles), though it might open to regular vehicles between July 12 and August 1. Around the day the West Seattle Bridge was first closed, the information coming out from the authorities strongly suggested the West Seattle Bridge would remain shut for all of 2020. They also explained the Bridge might reopen in 2021 — or never. Today we learn the Bridge at the earliest will open in 2022.

Wait, where am I getting all this information from? For all your West Seattle Bridge coverage funky needs regarding the basic facts, reported thoroughly and well, I recommend the West Seattle Blog’s tag for the West Seattle Bridge Safety Project, plus adept searching of the West Seattle Blog’s website and twitter. Furthermore, today between 1pm and 2:30pm Pacific, the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force holds its second meeting online: join (maybe an archive will be available at that join link afterward as well?), or read the 2-page PDF agenda, or simply continue reading this post. You can find information on such upcoming meetings from the West Seattle Blog, among other sources. Check out the Seattle transportation department’s website for the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge Safety Project (including its FAQ), consider signing up for email updates from them, and if you want, see other stuffs.

The Bridge disrepair is dangerous enough that in May 2020, the Seattle transportation department snailmailed Seattle residents near it the following notice (scanned and screenshotted by me):

Image is a May 2020 notice from the Seattle Department of Transportation to those in properties within the immediate bridge fall zone, saying a potential bridge collapse could pose a life-safety risk. It has a bird's eye view of homes near the West Seattle Bridge and the low Spokane bridge, surrounded by bureaucratic text from the Seattle transportation department, phone numbers to learn more, etc.
West Seattle Bridge is maybe falling down, falling down, falling down… according to this May 2020 notice from the Seattle Department of Transportation snailmailed to residents near the structure

The notice says: the Bridge “remains an evolving situation […] properties within the immediate bridge fall zone […] where a potential bridge collapse could pose a life-safety risk.” Not every day that a bridge falls on our heads!

Here are some updates/notes from today’s West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting. Engineers are checking the West Seattle Bridge daily. The Bridge is showing new hairline cracking every week due to its own weight and thermal stressors. As the below flowchart from today’s meeting shows (Seattle transportation department employee Matt Donahue is the lead engineer regarding the Bridge), engineers/whoever are currently trying to figure out if it’s time to repair the bridge or time to replace it. The flowchart indicates that decision should come this summer. Repairing the Bridge would mean the earliest possible opening date would be in 2022; replacing the Bridge (complete with controlled demolition!) would mean the earliest possible opening date would be somewhere between 2024 to 2026. Assuming things go as planned…

A flowchart from Matt Donahue showing possible pathways to reopen the West Seattle Bridge. A division into two pathways: repair or replace.
Repair or replace flowchart from 17 June 2020 West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting

Donahue also said in today’s West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting that so far, the engineers’ analysis is that the Bridge can be repaired (it’s technically possible to do so), in that those working on the Bridge haven’t yet found anything that would preclude a repair, but the main question is, should the Bridge be repaired or instead replaced. Most frighteningly, Matt Donahue said it remains possible that the Bridge will suffer a “catastrophic failure” (fall on our heads).

In light of the ongoing catastrophic failure possibility, plus the ongoing pandemic and the ongoing overt trade economy implosion, I’m still curious if auto transit across the Duwamish River will actually ever be possible again. Will the West Seattle Bridge ever really re-open? Will an everyday Seattleite like me drive across it ever again? It would be great to see solid information, rather than my intentionally provocative speculation, addressing if brain drain (skilled individuals leaving the United States for countries accessibly offering health care and other basic services) is impacting efforts to repair or replace the Bridge, or what “opportunities” other countries might be evaluating as their governments and corporations ponder the United States’ inability, in various regards, to fix itself. After failed state, does “international rebuilding” come next?

An image of the West Seattle Bridge from below, an angle that makes it seem large and soaring
An image of the West Seattle Bridge, by Ellen M. Banner, posted at The Seattle Times in March 2020

As always, what we aim to do with our economies plural, or with the cracking West Seattle Bridge, is up to us. To widen our perspectives/paradigms and to force-multiply our capabilities for self-governance, I especially encourage readers to check out these two posts by Heather Marsh and her books, and to follow these Twitter accounts: @YourAnonCentral, @OpDeathEaters, @OpDeathEatersUS. There’s also me, @DouglasLucas on Twitter as well as this blog, my email (DAL@RISEUP.NET), etc. Thanks!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Quick Seattle news: King County phases and West Seattle Bridge, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/06/17/king-county-phases-west-seattle-bridge/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.