My talk at HOPE XV: Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security: July 12-14, NYC

Promo video for my talk (also on youtube)

A decade ago, I was a panelist at HOPE X, the tenth Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York City. Youtube of that panel — on crowdsourcing research into the cyber-intelligence complex — still collects views.

On the way home from the conference, I wrote a humorous article describing my experience: my surprising, then interviewing NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake; the private spies who showed up to surveil the panel and seemed more interested in my articles than most people I actually know are; my rooted smartphone getting hacked … Ah, wonderful times, so long ago.

Now — well, next month, July 12-14 — I’ll give a solo talk at HOPE XV titled Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security.

Wait, what’s this conference again? Sponsored by the magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, HOPE is held every other year in New York City — previously in Manhattan, now in Queens at St. John’s University. Top-billed speakers over the years have included Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, frenemy of the state Edward Snowden, you get the idea. Typical offerings include lockpicking villages, ham radio and vintage computer stuff, vendors, film screenings, socializing, controversy real or ginned up, private spies watching me, people hacking my phone … plus panels/talks.

You can check out the conference website here, speakers’ bios over here, various promo videos HOPE requested way over here, and short descriptions of every panel/talk all the way over here. The description for mine:

Fake news or flawless? Our computerized elections are neither. To truly understand corporate, closed-source election computers requires understanding how they fit into the wider electoral system and its interlocking parts. Douglas’s investigative journalism will provide case studies documenting how it can go haywire: the 2016 Kremlin cyberattacks on U.S. election infrastructure exposed by whistleblower Reality Winner, the MAGA-led Coffee County elections office breach still compromising Georgia’s statewide voting software, and more. Such details will show how you can help secure elections: scrutineers, statistical forensics, free software voting companies … the list goes on. He will address democracy’s evolution, too, scrutinizing statist voting within the bigger picture of human collaboration.

I’ll create an online reading list for attendees interested in learning more, as well as an overview diagram of the election system’s interlocking parts.

As of this writing, I don’t know which exact day and time my talk will be, but the conference website should be updated with that information any moment [UPDATE Jun. 15: My talk is at 7 p.m. on Friday July 12 in Marillac Auditorium; 50 minutes total including Q&A]. If you decide to attend and want to get together, email me: dal@riseup.net. I plan to arrive a day early and stay a day after. Otherwise just watch my talk afterward on Youtube or at the happenin’ headquarters of DouglasLucas.com.

Will I get into any zany HOPE incidents this decade around? Probably. If I encounter anyone from Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) — their three uses of the word security there totally isn’t overcompensation or anything — I have some remarks for them, including regarding my potential lawsuit over their FOIA deni… but that’s another story.

Just remind me not to root my phone.

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This blog post, My talk at HOPE XV: Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security: July 12-14, NYC, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2024/06/02/talk-hope-election-security-july-nyc/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or related topics) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Fading fun at Norwescon 46 on Friday … and the future?

Note (added Apr. 8, 2024): On initial publication this blog post incorrectly stated that Friday night lacked a flesh-and-blood DJ. There was one, in fact, by the pseudonym mcbaud300. When I was briefly in the ballroom, I didn’t see mcbaud300, but I did see a sign that led me to wrongly conclude the DJ was artificial intelligence. Below, in the apropos section of this post, I’ve added a photo, by Michael Citrak, of that sign, which read VIRTUAL DJ. That’s actually the name of a product that replaces physical DJ gear—such as turntables—with software, not something the replaces actual human DJs with software. Thanks Norwescon Discord for the corrections.

On Fri. Mar. 29, I attended Norwescon 46, the annual four-day science fiction convention nowadays based in Seattle (okay, SeaTac) that’s been running continuously since 1978. This was my first Norwescon — which I assume means North West Convention, though I’ve never seen that explicitly stated. Previously I’ve gone to a few other conventions: ConDFW (2009), Wiscon (2009), and Conflation (2014 or so).

Since I live in the Emerald City, I could bypass hotel room fees. And by limiting my participation to Friday only, I wasn’t diverting too much time away from work or toward crowds, which by nature repel introverts such as me. Before departing for the convention, I told myself to have a good attitude, to make the most of it, and — well, I had a good time, but it felt faintly elegiac. Like something that, if you look down to check your wristwatch too long, might not be there when you look back up.

The Frequently Asked Questions explains what Norwescon is all about:

Norwescon is the Pacific Northwest’s premier science fiction and fantasy convention and one of the largest regional science fiction and fantasy conventions in the United States. While maintaining a primarily literary focus, Norwescon is large enough to provide a venue for many of the other aspects of science fiction and fantasy and the interests of its fans such as anime, costuming, art, gaming, and much, much more.

Norwescon features hundreds of hours of panel programming, over 200 panelists specializing in fantasy, science fiction, horror, science, and more, the Philip K. Dick Awards, a 6,000+ square-foot Dealers’ Room, Writers’ Workshops, a full masquerade, an art show, dances, and more!

In the early afternoon, I parked by one of the far walls of the overpriced, crammed DoubleTree guest lot and started hiking on foot to the hotel. Long before I reached the lobby, it seemed the science fiction convention had already begun, outright, straight up in my face. Yes, right there in the parking lot. Where I was confronted with —

The Knightscope autonomous security robot

My surprise halted me. Recovering, I snapped two photos:

At first I was quite confused, thinking this was some Doctor Who Dalek-esque creation of the convention’s. But I soon confirmed it’s the hotel’s, and in fact, the hotel has been using the Knightscope for several years. The convention staffer I spoke with seemed unperturbed by the strange device, or perhaps resigned to it, trailing off his discussion of the subject matter …

In my photos, it looks stupid and harmless, comical even — like a big inflated balloon — but in real life, it’s actually kind of intimidating, as my video below hopefully shows. If I understand Knightscope correctly, the self-driving gizmo records surveillance film for optional review by humans later. Gives you those warm fuzzies that we’re all in this together, trusting one another to do our best and forge the optimal outcomes for our communities, right?

In a slogan asserting that crimefighting is impossible without such high-tech interventions, Knightscope’s website boasts that You need superhuman abilities to fight crime. Let’s be frank, law enforcement and security forces have long been keeping crime at the Goldilocks levels required to maintain whichever heinous balance of power the highest-ups prefer, a la cyberpunk novelist William Gibson’s character Ainsley Lowbeer. Fighting crime is something else entirely, and while outsourcing it to these robots might prevent automobile smash-and-grabs, that likely comes at the expense of us further forgetting how to use social support and shunning/approval to do so, because everyone can just be hyper-surveilled constantly and the unseen, promised Good Guys with superhuman abilities, far away somewhere, can help dispense justice on command for a fee. Turn your brain off; escape into adoration of the superhuman, the supertastic Knightscope!

Would there be actual superheros inside the hotel, with sincere hearts? Say, Phoenix Jones — real life crimefighters dressed up as superheroes? Didn’t the genre’s classic writers want readers to respond with this-worldly heroism, rather than robots replacing what’s left of people?

As I walked side by side with the Knightscope filming the thing, I really felt it was deliberately staring at me through its camera apertures. Maybe because I was blocking its vision. I don’t think the Knightscope carries any weapons, yet I couldn’t help but think of the Star Wars robot R2D2 and its Taser-style electric shock prod. About halfway into the video below, I start laughing, as does a couple nearby in a car, observing l’affaire robot. Then the couple starts their vehicle, ready to leave, kind of pinning me in from behind; the robot seized this moment to start coming at me from the front, shown in the video’s final seconds. I died then, and this is my replacement writing to you now.

High on panel: Managing unsolicited submissions in the era of AI

Waldo

Once I entered the hotel proper, collected my badge, and saw a man hilariously dressed as Waldo from Where’s Waldo as well as a large Doctor Who Dalek prop carried by attendees, I headed for the panel titled Managing Unsolicited Submissions in the Era of AI. Four panelists: Podcastle editor Craig Jackson (moderator); Clarkesworld founder, editor, publisher Neil Clarke; Uncanny Magazine managing editor Monte Lin; The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction publisher Gordon Van Gelder. The panel discussed exactly what its title says, a Turing Test problem that became major news in multiple outlets once Clarke opened up about it last year.

In other words, all these robots from without are assailing our science fiction — what can we do about it from within?

Below, I embed the seven-post thread I made on Bluesky loosely transcribing portions of the thought-provoking panel. Bluesky, you may know, is a Twitter-esque rival to the platform commandeered by Elon Musk; it has a smartphone app and no longer requires an invite code to join, though it still lacks DMs and support for video uploads. To read the seven posts directly on Bluesky, you can click through the below embeds, or follow this link, even if you lack a Bluesky account and don’t sign in, as with Twitter of yore.

As the panel concluded, I felt elated. Following the past few years of reading and writing science fiction, and doing investigative journalism and copywriting and philosophy research assistance — all of it writerly work, freelance jobs making up the majority of my mostly solitary life — suddenly, fresh topics I’ve been curious about were being discussed back and forth live among knowledgeable panelists and inquisitive audience members, all of them friendly, not competing to see who can be the most cruel at ripping off strangers’ heads or minimizing their every word, unlike much of social media and the offline realm. I’m not enough of a joiner to say I felt like I belonged or anything definitive like that — but I was really glad I came and looked forward to additional panels and events.

T-shirt for sale at Norwescon from Arkham Bazaar and Sigh Co. Graphics. Depicts a Lovecraftian Elder God.

I resolved to check out Clarkesworld more often, then headed downstairs to the general area by the lobby, where my newfound excitement encompassed the various booths. There were H.P. Lovecraft-themed T-shirts for sale, a table with riddles written on wood with vendors offering clues, a huge supply of free books for the taking, and more. All at once these science fictional images, usually confined to my bookshelf, had bloomed all around me, left, right, up, everywhere I looked. I even asked some vendors research questions about miniature painting, related to my fiction-writing, and got some good leads. Again, a topic that had almost entirely existed in my lonely head for years was now in the flesh, and everyone cheerfully acted as if that were normal rather than the other way around.

Place of refuge losing luster

I ducked out for lunch, again seeing the Knightscope patrolling the parking lot. To the restaurant through hectic, smelly traffic. Something I ordered didn’t quite agree with me; my mood soured a smidge. Already I’d seen every vendor booth (though I forgot to check the art show, unfortunately). Hurrying back for another panel felt like a chore.

Wasn’t there something backward about all this? The last time H.P. Lovecraft wrote anything new was almost a hundred years ago. Isn’t there something more we can do about AI-spam besides write our Congressfools and beg the FTC chair, tactics that I myself do but that still feel dated next to real cutting-edge resistance? And that cumbersome Dalek prop, that robot-y Doctor Who creature attendees had carried through the hotel, was derived from a TV show that began more than a half century back. I assumed the Dalek lacked onboard electronics to theoretically counter the sleek, unapologetic Knightscope, which would probably vaporize it. Okay, not really. But all the same, though the unsolicited AI manuscripts panelists were certainly informed from their front-line battles with that particular problem, and led a truly interesting discussion, the convention as a whole was now feeling, to my postprandial self, like an enclave for out-of-touch museumgoers. There were very few in their Gen-Z twenties present, and when they were, it was typically because they were assisting their vendor parents.

From the start, I knew Norwescon wouldn’t be some best-in-class, outward-connecting headquarters of artistic resistance (is there such a place anywhere?). I wasn’t expecting earth-shattering revelations from any panelists. Why not just go home? Why couldn’t all — rather than merely some — of the panels be put online, with the audience able to type in questions, as mainstreamed during the years the United States called COVID-19 a federal public health emergency?

Because of the vitality, of course. Physical presence in such an environment, enjoying such conversations, festival like, brings its own energy surplus, or did initially. Now I just felt drained and was urging myself to keep going, a familiar self-flagellation from decades ago at university where I’d scolded myself to hurry, to make it to ̶p̶a̶n̶e̶l̶s̶ classes on time. I’m not sure why my mood had inverted. Maybe it was that, born in urban Texas, I’m unaccustomed to the obligations of participating in an interesting, mostly benign group-self — the convention, that perhaps I’d joined simply by being there — and unfairly demanded nonstop perfection from it. Maybe it was the sense of an unthinking eternal return, passing by the same booths over and over, the same unpurchased H.P. Lovecraft T-shirt over and over, has-been consumerist ants stuffed into an airless maze, the largely unacknowledged winds of change outside — not just Knightscope, but a collapsing trade economy, a birth strike and children insufficiently raised — steadily working on blowing down the insular walls of any type of convention anywhere.

Well, I’d only attended a single panel. Another might clarify things? I drove back to the hotel, seeing upon my return, industriously cruising past, the Knightscope.

Orbiting another panel: The rest of the world in space

The next panel I’d selected from the programming (also available here) was titled The rest of the world in space. A pair of space historians gave basic information about, and showed photos of, recent non-U.S. space missions. Below, I’ll embed my four Bluesky posts from the panel. Click through the embeds, or follow this link, to see the posts directly on Bluesky.

To me it felt a little like two gruff older guys showing you their favorite Wikipedia timeline. A chill way to ooh and aah over non-U.S. spaceships. It was good that one of them mentioned, albeit very briefly, the Belarusian dictator — without mentioning his name, Aleksandr Lukashenko — and his longstanding alliance with Putin as the real reason behind a Belarusian astronaut’s joint publicity photo with the Russians. I wish he’d said more, but he did not step out farther on the limb of the supposedly unspeakable, not during this panel anyhow.

When their presentation ended, I asked the panelists about the legal penalties (or not) for failing to de-orbit artificial satellites, and how the graveyard orbit fits into that framework (or not). Once again it was wonderful to talk with actual human beings highly knowledgeable about subjects I’m interested in, many of them underreported, yet powerfully impacting people, usually without their understanding. I regained some enthusiasm — tempered somewhat this time.

Briefly I met up with one of my fellows from Clarion West Writers Workshop class of 2008, Caren Gussoff, and we commiserated about the introvert struggle of attending a populous convention. We finished talking and she left; now I had a few final Friday hours to wander around, hoping to locate value.

Odds and ends

Exploring the hotel indoors, where windows were firmly shut and people were packed like proverbial sardines — an unofficial early estimate from Norwescon staff says 1,800+ people attended across the four days — I reckoned that one out of every eight or so individuals was masking, as in, against COVID and/or RSV and/or whatever this very recent bird flu in Texas is, something that jumped from birds to cattle to humans like a UFO from the microbial dimension. I was masking, as I do for packed-like-sardines settings such as schools and hospitals. It often appeared that more were using canes to help with walking than were using masks to help with preventing the spread of respiratory diseases.

I find it difficult to draw conclusions from the absence of widespread masking. In May 2023, the federal government declared the public health emergency over, and the CDC hasn’t collected as much COVID-19 data since, though their wastewater monitoring is interesting and as of this writing says COVID-19 viral activity is low countrywide. We might imagine scientists and science fictioneers hacking together their own experiments to audit or replicate data, bridging knowledge and questions from expert to novice levels and back again, testing out various hypotheses motivated by public interest and with complete transparency for public data, so that anyone interested could observe, doublecheck, and understand. Building something for sampling or imaging viral titer from the air, as scientist Justin Lee says, accurately assessing airborne transmission dynamics, ideally in real time. We might also imagine scientists and science fictioneers at the hotel bar, drinking to assuage the guilt and shame of a dissociated society that too often refuses and mocks effort, DIY innovation, and self-governance, even when those endeavor to keep us alive and buying H.P Lovecraft-themed swag as the Knighscope watches from outside a window.

Galaga, fun but dated…

Easier challenges to conquer were the extraterrestrial enemies in Galaga, one of the many arcade games available that didn’t need quarters — I’m not sure if the games were part of the hotel or the convention, but I think the latter. Lighter fare.

As the night wore on, I checked out the ballroom. Looked like a carbon copy of the one I saw at Conflation in St. Louis circa 2014. It had a bar. It had a dance floor. It did not, however, have a human DJ [see correction at top of post—there was a human DJ, one by the pseudonym of mcbaud300—note added Apr. 8, 2024]. The DJ was some unseen robot — a sign touted this fact. The beautiful people danced and danced; for a few minutes, I watched from afar, before turning around to leave.

Photo of mcbaud300 that night by Michael Citrak (added Apr. 8, 2024)

Likely I would have had more fun had I attended more panels, literary-focused ones, or participated in events specifically designed to facilitate socializing. There was a Speed Friending event I should have tried, where attendees converse one-on-one with a line of others for a few moments each, discussing interests, seeing if they might want to hang out more after the event. There were many rounds of charades I failed to attend as well, among them one on a Star Trek theme, which sounded really fun. Maybe some other time, some other life.

Concluding in the lounge

One area I enjoyed, and returned to often, was Norwescon’s lounge: essentially two hotel rooms, connected by a door, emptied out in favor of tables and chairs, free chips and soda, and other comforts. People — most, probably fifty years of age and up — gathered around in conversation, many already knowing each other. One told the heartbreaking story of how she’d lost her son due to a drunk driver. All the bureaucratic transportation department studies, good or bad, would turn to ash in the face of such a recounting. A while later, an older guy in a brown Jedi robe demonstrated the lightsaber he’d built, modeled after Luke Skywalker’s in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. I of course gravely intoned: I see you have constructed a new lightsaber.

The lounge spawned a few random encounters with people my own age-ish, and as I got to know them a tad, I observed a certain pattern I’ve seen before. Namely, when they asked my background in science fiction and fantasy, and I began talking of my writing it during Clarion West Writers Workshop and in the subsequent few years, their attentive eyes focused on me — they seemed not a little impressed: Here we have an author on our hands! Then I explained that, though magazine acquisition editors were quite complimentary of my work, I never managed to sell any stories and partially as a result, transitioned to focusing on investigative journalism for roughly a decade, despite my druthers. That made their gaze drop, their hands fiddle with a phone or piece of candy. Then, once I said how recently, I’ve resumed fiction-writing, still without selling anything but with a better understanding of the world — now their eyes would look at me, again interested, albeit less so than at first. You can really feel an audience — even just one person in a casual conversation — drifting in and out of interest, reducing or increasing the amount of approval they’re expressing in reaction to your words.

Of course, at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, the reverse would happen: I’d talk of journalism publications to the lounge listener’s interest, then switch to discussing fiction-writing and at once get the silent you lost me, what’s that squirrel outside doing? While people naturally and rightfully have different interests, at Norwescon I couldn’t escape the sense of a terrible siloing taking place. Science fiction at this convention. Journalism at that convention. CDC COVID-19 policies over yonder. Belarusian dictator, trail off. Knightscope surveillance, trail off. Tactics beyond begging Congressfools, trail off. If no one faces up to that which determines our lives — governance, spy agencies, propaganda, the sharing or censorship of knowledge — then a shrug, for if all that remains for the triumph of evil is for good people to say they work so they deserve to just be happy, doormatting for injustices is (mostly) your right in the marketplace, even when the consequences harm everyone. The phallic toy weapons notwithstanding, inaction (or the milquetoast minimum) doesn’t really match the morals presented in the beloved science fiction and fantasy novels, but magically holds court nonetheless, all that dissociated guilt and shame and fear.

The fun conversations, the vitality between lonely souls sharing obscure interests, guarded by walls the outside of which includes a recent auto-coup attempt… With such threats largely unchallenged — yes, I know the news says it’s all under control, just as they did before the 2016 general election — conventions like Norwescon may have fewer and fewer attendees, no new blood. Every time I turn around in Seattle, another business closes, so will science fiction conventions suffer the same fading, fading away?

I asked above what science fiction could do from within to combat the robots assailing the genre from without. It’s as if there’s a monstrous, metalmade elephant in the room with no one’s face, and yet everyone’s face, attenuating anyone’s attempts to initiate efforts or escalate them into radical approaches. But the only superheroes within the hotel walls are us. As if the New Wave of Science Fiction never ended, I could have belted out Tell us more! when the space historian alluded to Lukashenko; someone could put together panels about tactics, mutual aid, strikes, boycotts, the provisioning of alternative governance; attendees in lounges could discuss ideas, and goals, and steps to get there for whatever problems — drunk drivers, out-of-control AI, space debris, or even the Justice Department’s endangerment of Sci-Hub and its founder Alexandra Elbakyan. Just going along as done in the past is robotic. Forging a human future requires not obeying the siloes — nor activism-scolding roommates, spouses, co-workers — but building bridges between concerns and perhaps even organizing new kinds of conventions, full of surprises.

Science fiction, involved in the future, a metaphorical realm where Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard does something about injustices other than sit on his hands gloating about don’t think too hard don’t care too much — all the threats the genre and the world face today, the roving surveillance bots, the AIs, the pandemics, the international spy agency subterfuge, even censorship of the genre’s Hugo Awards affecting big names such as Neil Gaiman and confirmed to have global political motives — they all have a science fictional flavor. Recall William Gibson’s remark to the effect that, for understanding the 21st century, reading 20th-century science fiction is a wonderful toolkit. But it doesn’t help much to merely understand, say, the chemical formula of some corporate poison if it completely kills you. To combat injustice, to protect ourselves, we have to cease existing primarily as escapist voyeurs, and actually take risks, actually open up the toolkit, actually use the tools.

I’m glad I went. Maybe someday I’ll go again, see what’s new, in the future.

My Norwescon badge hanging at home in my apartment
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This blog post, Fading fun at Norwescon 46 on Friday … and the future?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2024/04/02/fading-fun-norwescon46-friday-future/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or related topics) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

My letter to Coffee County, Georgia officials highlighting three key findings of my recent investigative article

Previously unpublished surveillance image of Trump co-defendant Misty Hampton outside the Coffee County elections office on Dec. 15, 2020.

Today I emailed a PDF letter to the Coffee County Commissioners, the Board of Elections and Registration, the election supervisor, the county administrator, the County and/or elections board’s legal representation—Jennifer Herzog and Tony Rowell for Hall Booth Smith; Ben Perkins and Wes Rahn for Oliver Maner—and the only newsman in the otherwise news desert county, editor of Douglas Now Robert Preston. I separately sent the letter to multiple Coffee County residents who have a history of boldly speaking out during public meetings.

The four-page letter does what this blog post’s headline says. On Dec. 19 of last year, the Daily Dot published my latest investigative article, of some 4000 words. It concerns a federal lawsuit over procuring the county’s records related to the infamous elections office breach, most memorably the missing silver laptop used at work for years by then-election supervisor and now Trump co-defendant Misty Hampton. Also on Dec. 19, I self-published a blog post with additional important information cut from the article due to length considerations. My letter takes three revelations from the article, and some information from the blog post—mostly, truths I uncovered about the county not coughing up records—and compressed them down to bullet points for the county leaders’ convenience.

Of the many goals here, one of them is for Coffee County to produce all records from the breach, its run-up, and its aftermath (another interesting goal is Hudson’s proposal; see the article and blog post for more on that one). The unprecedented elections office intrusions in Coffee County were part of an unprecedented campaign planned by top Trumpers, even Trump himself, to arrange for technicians/operatives to make, and take off with, exact copies of the voting software still used across the battleground state of Georgia and myriad jurisdictions beyond. Amplifying this information, sending it to editors, or even advancing it in some useful way (via phone calls, emails, records requests, digging in trash bins outside Dominion Voting Systems offices, et cetera) might, I don’t know, affect some sort of huge upcoming election thing and (more important than that outcome) the narratives we are made to tell ourselves about it. Yeah, seems like there’s something happening later this year on the 5th of November, what could it be again? Remember remember…

Without further ado, the PDF letter as a fancy embed (or download):

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This blog post, My letter to Coffee County, Georgia officials highlighting three key findings of my recent investigative article, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2024/01/04/letter-to-coffee-officials-highlighting-three-findings-investigative/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post (or the underlying article) in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or related topics) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Extra material for my Daily Dot investigative article about Coffee County, Georgia missing laptop likely relevant to Curling and Trump cases

Misty Hampton in the Coffee County elections office with the silver laptop, Feb. 22, 2021

Note: All four surveillance images in this post, previously unpublished, are published here for the first time.

Today the Daily Dot published my new investigative article, entitled EXCLUSIVE: A missing laptop could be key to prosecuting Trump. This rural Georgia county only recently admitted that it exists. Prior to publication, I worked on it for about half a year.

Some material was cut to make the article shorter and more focused on the missing silver laptop.

However, of the cut passages, I can post below as paragraphs in a bullet-point list the ones that are, in my view, urgent and important. Think of them as DVD extras showing you deleted scenes from the theatrical release.

To be serious, I believe it might help residents of Coffee County—in the swing state of Georgia—as well as interested people elsewhere to have access to this information immediately. Without further ado:

  • Here’s a summary of the breach by the federal judge presiding over Curling v. Raffensperger, Amy Totenberg in the Northern District of Georgia.

    For her account of the intrusions, Totenberg drew on cybersecurity experts’ declarations—including their review of computer forensics and the surveillance footage—in a Nov. 10, 2023 ruling: the breach included “various individuals and entities (1) providing and gaining unauthorized access to Coffee County voting equipment, data, and software over the course of multiple dates; (2) copying, downloading, and imaging the County’s equipment, data, and software; (3) uploading and sharing that data and software on the internet via a file-sharing website; and (4) further distributing physical copies of forensic voting material downloaded from Coffee County.” (Online distribution was via private access, not public internet.)

  • Some, notably Coffee breach-funding lawyer and onetime Trump lieutenant Sidney Powell, who has pleaded guilty, have tried to justify the intrusions by claiming the elections board approved the electronic collection of the computers’ contents. They offer insufficient documentation to support this claim; further, no board quorum has ever been found to have authorized copying the elections data nor does the security video show any quorum in the elections office during the breach. In a deposition, then-Board of Elections chair Wendell Stone denied that the board gave permission to examine their systems. The civil disobedience or altruism arguments sometimes made are undercut by the plundered proprietary voting software, almost three years later, having never reached the public, nor rival political campaigns, only the breachers’ allies, as far as can be determined.

  • If the subpoenas lawsuit is successful, it might spell out why the county’s public statements, which have focused on Hampton, have been so careful not to mention by name then-elections board member Eric Chaney, who was caught on film participating in the breach. “I didn’t do anything without the direction of Eric Chaney,” Hampton said in deposition. The plaintiffs in the subpoenas case go further, saying Chaney, who has not been charged, “warned Ms. Hampton of her impending termination the evening before” and characterizing him as a “key participant[] in planning and executing the breach.”

  • A letter that counsel for the plaintiffs in the subpoenas case sent to county attorneys in April and filed this month argues that crucial Eric Chaney-related records were improperly withheld by county manager Wesley Vickers and senior county lawyer Tony Rowell, a pair multiple interviewees described to me as the area’s de facto diarchy.

  • Examples of how the lawyers seem to have more power than the people they represent:

    Listening to their lawyer Ben Perkins discuss legal issues at their Nov. 14 meeting, every elections board member said they were not informed of the desktop seizure before it happened, which he told them their then-underling, former election supervisor Rachel Roberts, had been involved in. Ernestine Thomas-Clark, who has long sat on the board, asked the lawyer to clarify how they could in theory terminate him when they hadn’t hired him. Fireable like any board vendor, Perkins was retained by county manager Vickers this June—an appointment some members have described as appearing out of nowhere one day, without their input or vote, something Perkins acknowledged in the meeting. Except for the two initial Oct. 24 motions, he has provided lawsuit filings to board members only when asked, according to board members who told me such requests were rare.

  • Surveillance footage—procured by Coalition for Good Governance despite months of Coffee claiming it had been irrevocably lost— shows senior county lawyer Tony Rowell in December 2020 meetings with people who would go on to participate in the breach. The plaintiffs’ analysis of the video shows that prior to the intrusions, Rowell spent hours and hours in the elections office with, among others, Misty Hampton, Eric Chaney, Ed Voyles, and Cathy Latham. Voyles, who has not been charged in the Georgia-Trump RICO case, chaired the elections board two years prior to the meetings. Latham, like Hampton a Trump co-defendant who has pleaded not guilty, chaired the Coffee Republican party at the time of the intrusions. Also a Trump fake elector (imposter in the Electoral College process), Latham was in a position to have possibly connected Coffee County with MAGA D.C. shortly before the breach.
Misty Hampton, Ed Voyles, and holding the coffee mug, Tony Rowell, in the elections office, Dec. 3, 2020
Ed Voyles (seated), Eric Chaney, Tony Rowell (holding cup) in elections office, Dec. 10, 2020
  • The Coffee County Commissioners, almost never mentioned in discussions on the breach and the most powerful county executives under law, have the ability to fire their vendor Hall Booth Smith—including Tony Rowell—and county manager Vickers, though not Oliver Maner (the elections board’s vendor for legal services). I repeatedly contacted all five commissioners with questions on the subpoenas lawsuit and a CCTV still of the silver laptop, asking if they’re satisfied with the performance of the county’s de facto diarchy. County commissioner Jimmy Kitchens told me “I have no comment”; county commissioner Oscar Paulk deferred to legal counsel Tony Rowell. The other three commissioners never responded.

  • In Judge Totenberg’s same Nov. 10, 2023 ruling, she concisely addressed the underexamined cybersecurity plight of state voting systems and the possible ripple effects of the breach: “The importance of the security, reliability, and functionality of state election systems, classified by the U.S. Homeland Security Department as critical national infrastructure, cannot be overstated in a world where cybersecurity challenges have exponentially increased in the last decade. The dynamics of how a breach in one part of a cyber system may potentially carry cybersecurity reverberations for the entire system for years to come exemplifies the important concerns raised in this case.”

  • The Curling v. Raffensperger plaintiffs seek to force the swing state of Georgia to (on the vote capture side) abandon mandatory electronic ballots and in most circumstances use hand-marked paper ones, that will (on the vote tallying side) still be scanned by computers but always audited.

  • The GBI report (critique; critique) omits reference to the silver Hewlett Packard altogether and instead, any laptops it mentions are either nondescript or an old black Toshiba. Their report acknowledges that the Toshiba had last been used in 2015—the Obama era, and thus not relevant to the breach, the run-up to it, or the aftermath, except as a red herring that the county many times brought up in place of the silver laptop.

    Also per the GBI report, in August 2022, surrounded by three of his lawyers—including Rowell of the de facto diarchy—recently resigned elections board chair Wendell Stone refused to participate when the Bureau tried to interview him in person. Then, making his public statement in June 2023, Stone promised “transparent” elections to the locals in front of him—but did not share that eight days earlier, the GBI had seized their elections office desktop.

  • Local lawyer Jim Hudson’s proposal for independent and possibly pro bono counsel and the idea of asking the Department of Justice for help are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Hudson’s idea, while nebulous to some ears, at best would allow those most affected by the intrusions—Coffee voters—to participate in a bottom-up inquiry into all aspects of the breach and its aftermath, aided by the independent counsel and able to notify the Justice Department of any criminality discovered. The Department of Justice, by contrast, boasts multistate range and federal muscle, but without a strong defense of the local public interest in place, they would risk being seen, fairly or not, as just another set of politicized outsiders, at worst sparking more resentment than repair.

  • A November poll in the New York Times shows Trump ahead of President Joe Biden in five of six battleground states, including Georgia. Legally, nothing prevents an incarcerated individual from running for president, nor indeed, from serving as president. However, the Supreme Court might affirm state or local officials disqualifying Trump due to his inciting of the Jan.6 auto-coup attempt. If not, my guess is, Mar-a-Lago house arrest would be set up for such a presidency.

  • My final two paragraphs from an earlier iteration of the article:

    With bold leadership missing like a silver laptop, jitters about the GBI or other law enforcement behind every Eastern red cedar—paranoid or justified—proliferate; simultaneously, the known extent of the Trumpers’ multistate breach plot grows, reminding voters from coast to coast that their jurisdiction could have been hit. “Scared to death” Matthew McCullough, fulminating against the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, must not be the only Coffee County official afraid “to go to jail.”

    Aside from the immense force of the breach records lawsuit and its costs, it seems the only way the county’s status quo will change is if the region’s residents, perhaps in conjunction with the DOJ, perhaps aided by Hudson’s vision for independent counsel, reshape the area’s stepped landscape of power themselves. The Trump era cannot be locked up by any prosecutor, nor can it be compartmentalized away with the click of a television remote—the healing of truth and reconciliation would be more realistic. Cybervulnerable Election 2024 is less than a year away. Self-governance requires effort.
Misty Hampton with the silver laptop in the elections office, Dec. 15, 2020
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This blog post, Extra material for my Daily Dot investigative article about Coffee County, Georgia missing laptop likely relevant to Curling and Trump cases, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2023/12/19/extra-material-dailydot-investigative-article-laptop/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post (or the underlying article) in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or the article) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Why’s the CIA’s David Shedd texting me out of the blue?

The image shows a text-message sent from 17034082506 on Wednesday August 3 at 5:20 a.m. The message reads: "Good morning Ed. This is David Shedd writing from our new place in south Florida in response to your wonderful update letter. Before writing more, I want to make sure that you get this note and the text works.  Warm regards, David"
There’s more to this than meets the eye

On August 3, I woke to see on my smartphone a text from David Shedd, a retired career intelligence officer who started at the CIA as an intern decades ago and climbed the ranks to senior management, even meeting with Obama face to face in 2008 to discuss continuing the agency’s torture program. Why is a lifelong spy who also headed the Defense Intelligence Agency messaging me at five in the morning? He’s as spooky as anybody in international espionage: he was on the transition team of organized crime-linked Donald Trump, he’s on faculty at Patrick Henry University — a Creationist school requiring all students and staff to attest that the Bible is their deity’s inerrant word — and who knows what else. And now he’s in my texts.

Back to back in 2018, I wrote one article, for Buffalo’s Daily Public, and contributed to the writing of another, at Boing Boing, regarding video footage Shedd ordered censored that year. So that’s why I’m on his radar generally. But all that was more than four years ago. Why ping me now?

First, some background to contextualize his odd message.

The Backstory

Left to right on the whistleblowing panel: Heather Marsh, moderator Laali Vadlamani, David Shedd, Ewen MacAskill

On February 27, 2018, the Oxford Union held, then censored at Shedd’s demand, a three-person panel on the very topic of whistleblowing. Here in the United States we don’t hear much about this debating society, but in the United Kingdom the Oxford Union is a huge deal: not only have Malcolm X, Winston Churchill, and additional historic figures spoken there, but over the years three of their student presidents have become U.K. prime ministers. A few months ago, one of the planet’s biggest newspapers offered the headline: How the Oxford Union created today’s ruling political class.

The controversial panel, held in the forum’s Goodman Library, consisted of philosopher and human rights activist Heather Marsh, longtime Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, and Shedd. Toward the end of the evening, the spy didn’t fare well in a back-and-forth with Marsh about torture and other subjects involving how hurting people in shadowy cages is bad actually, so with a politican’s pettiness, Shedd told the Union never to release the video recording. Marsh and her lawyers contend the Union is contractually obliged to upload the film as promised to youtube, which they’ve so far failed to do. The handful of photos they posted don’t count.

Marsh, Shedd debating during panel. Her friend is former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

A few months later, Marsh became a whistleblower herself, posting audio of her portion of the panel as well as a transcript. She wrote an accompanying analysis of the censorship, too, discussing how free speech for corporations, predators, and tyrants is shrilly upheld but the words of women and other marginalized people against the powerful are regularly shut down. When the Oxford Union bills itself as the “world’s most prestigious debating society” and the “last bastion of free speech” — then agrees to third party censorship of their own footage of a panel on whistleblowing — the society reveals its ultimate loyalty to the likes of Shedd making up the protection racket that today’s governance amounts to, where the arch-abusers run wild, occasionally promising security and belonging to the gullible who surrender their self and become obedient.

Learning of Marsh defeating Shedd, and Shedd’s subsequent censorship demand, I decided to cover the story and bought phone numbers for the his homes so I could ask him for comment. Through public records sites, personally identifiable information of just about anyone in the United States, king or streetsweeper, is available online legally in exchange for lucre. I politely called the Shedd-associated numbers, which did not include the one he texted me from. His wife — I think that’s who answered — came to the phone, but didn’t put him on the line. “Stop with the harassing phone calls!” she said, though I’d been well mannered, and though her husband had been a senior manager at a notorious worldwide purveyor of waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation — you know, harassing people, to say the least.

Marsh, Shedd debating during panel. Read more about ICE.

Politely seeking comment is harassment? They clearly have an outsize sense of persecution. I simply wanted to ask him straightforward questions such as Mr Shedd, should I describe you in my article as petulant? Or do you prefer petty? How about sore loser? Anyway, my calls to his homes were the only contact I’ve ever had with Clan Shedd, and since I didn’t get ahold of the man himself, I’d never had contact with him until his weird SMS. It’s a routine thing: journalist writing article requests comment; doesn’t hear back. But more than four years later, a sudden text?

To finish up the backstory, note that while the Oxford Union student newspaper mentioned the controversy in 2018, and so did the World Socialist Web Site that same year (one; two; three; four), nobody else — besides me (with my in-depth reporting), Marsh, and social media supporters — has uttered a peep. Even Ewen MacAskill, the third panelist, has said nothing from his perch on good terms with the highly influential Guardian newspaper. Likely that’s because in the aftermath of the censorship, the Oxford Union gave MacAskill a paid lecture series to talk to audiences about, you guessed it, whistleblowing. You see, experts on whistleblowing don’t talk about censorship they know of. They keep quiet like good puppies awaiting treats. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Now fast-forward to this summer, what triggered Shedd to contact me out of the blue.

Why now?

In the time frame of Shedd’s message, two things were occuring that might have prompted him to send me his strange little note.

One: Unbeknownst to me until late August, the Oxford Union in July asked Marsh to give a solo talk, something she wrote about today on her Patreon in a public post. She asked if they’d post the panel video — with Shedd blurred and muted if necessary, something they’ve done before when an individual didn’t want her performance published. In response, the Union ghosted Marsh. Presumably the debating society, following up on her question, asked Shedd if he’d change his mind, and the hierarch must have said No. And had nothing better to do than text a freelance journalist deceptively — petty and petulant and a sore loser — worrying about how all this is going to reflect on his legacy. Silverbacks like Shedd love legacy: parades, presidental libraries, pyramids. Retired and aging, he must fear the facts around February 27, 2018 will correctly tarnish his status in history. Books and articles are routinely published that trumpet Shedd (and separately, the Oxford Union), so he’s accustomed to accolades, not dissent.

Shedd sitting on the panel looking angry.
Subterfuge Shedd losing debate

The other: On an ongoing basis I have for years submitted pieces to mainstream and alternative media sites that either focus on, or include, Shedd’s censorship. Revelation of the facts in a large venue would greatly help impute guilt to Shedd in the public record so he can accordingly be shunned and feel shame, unless of course his emotional processing is atrophied, which it probably is from aiding in the command of the CIA. That organization has a long history of propagandistic manipulations of the media. See for instance Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein’s 1977 Rolling Stone deep dive on the topic addressing cover-ups of how the United States news media “worked hand in glove with the Central Intelligence Agency.” All that said — to indicate the water I’m swimming in — I have no evidence, nor even intuition, that anything illicit has happened with my freelancing, but it’s within the realm of possibility somebody at such a venue told somebody who told somebody who told somebody a freelancer named Doug is still working on winning amplification for this story, and it reached Shedd’s ears.

With the 2018 and 2022 contexts established, let’s scrutinize the spy’s missive.

Scaredy cat’s sneak attack

Good morning Ed. This is David Shedd writing from our new place in south Florida in response to your wonderful update letter. Before writing more, I want to make sure that you get this note and the text works. Warm regards, David

The message arrived at 5:20 a.m. Pacific time (I’m in Seattle). Assuming he was actually in Florida, that would be 8:20 a.m. Eastern. Pretty early to shoot off a mysterious communiqué — maybe he was in a bad mood, rising on the wrong side of the bed after earlier listening to the Oxford Union ask his permission to publish the video. Since he apparently controls them now and apparently told them No way.

I have no idea who Ed is, if anyone. In December 2020, Shedd authored an op-ed titled “Edward Snowden Should Not Get A Pardon Under Any Circumstances,” so I don’t think Shedd means him.

Shedd looking offended and off guard.
Shedd on the debate panel he lost

As stated above, I’d never before seen this (703) 408-2506 number, but it’s a northeastern Virginia area code where the CIA is located some ten miles from D.C. And my trusty public records services confirmed it belongs to David R. Shedd. Now I have a convenient number to call him at in case I need to request comments again. And so do you.

Regarding Shedd obtaining my phone number, maybe he paid for public records too, maybe he successfully stored my digits for over four years and put in the effort to move them to his (703) 408-2506 device, or maybe, as I documented the Austin-based private spy firm Stratfor assisting with in an unrelated but similar matter, he called a friend with access to surveillance databases and got it that way, saved himself a few bucks. He spearheaded the 2008 revisions to Executive Order 12333, which outlines when and how federal intelligence agencies may spy, so I’m sure he knows multiple ways to grab someone’s digits.

Here’s the big question. Why the deception gambit? The message asks the recipient to respond to confirm the connection is good. Why not just address me as Douglas and say … what exactly? Stop talking about me getting whopped in that debate?

Surely after more than four years, it was no mere pocket-dial or oopsident. If you’ve spent time reading leaked cables between government agents and the like, you know they pick words carefully and stamp security classifications on their papers and all that jazz. Somebody in the spy-versus-spy, backstabber-versus-backstabber world of meetings in the White House and the intelligence agencies is probably going to take his communications pretty seriously especially in light of Marsh concurrently asking the Oxford Union to release the recording.

To understand this better, let’s turn to the spy glossary created by that Austin firm Stratfor, sometimes called a “shadow CIA,” staffed with former military, former intelligence agency spooks, and an assistant to corporations in defending against activists. They define disinformation in part as “A plausible story designed to confuse the other side or to create an uncomfortable political situation.” Pinging the system means in part “Emitting information that is designed to be intercepted by the other side. Usual purpose: figure out their response patterns. Other uses, confusing the other side.” In short, subterfuge is a way of life for these people, including propaganda and manipulation of media like freelance journalists. They’re not serving the public honestly; they’re serving the shareholders and themselves; so why expect a message from a straight shooter?

My guess is Shedd, too timid to use his own name, was trying to bait me into responding, and/or stress me out: I’m watching. CIA is watching. But if you ask them for comment, they’ll just say I must have dialed the wrong number. Hahaha!

Since vanishingly few have ever published about the whistleblowing panel censorship, you have to wonder who else besides the Oxford Union Shedd is intimidating. He’s not stopping me.

David Shedd keeps losing

This is a color photograph of the whistleblowing panel showing the moderator on the left, Ewen MacAskill on the right, and in the center, Shedd looking surprised and off guard

Such childish antics are among the activities of egregious human rights-violating hierarchs — when they’re not losing debates. Because on their side, they don’t have the truth. He prefers propaganda and fears the facts.

If Shedd’s goal was to scare me, he failed. Fragile Shedd lost again. Whatever the CIA (or Stratfor) may say, protection rackets for the highest bidders, as Marsh pointed out on the panel, aren’t security. As she said, “security is strong involved and supportive communities networked with other communities.” When I moved to Seattle in 2016, I began participating with local chapters of the Hearing Voices Network and Food Not Bombs. These egalitarian movements — and more associations with genuine activists — have afforded me close friends who, unlike many among the civilian/loyalist population, understand my work and show up to support me regularly or when something spooky happens like Shedd’s text. Protective, interlocking horizontal networks turned Shedd’s grenade into a grape bouncing off me harmlessly.

I think, somehow, one day, the whistleblowing video will be released. And then Shedd will have an opportunity to realize he’s not entitled to exceptional treatment. It’s not just his lifelong subterfuge that he tried to deploy on me. I think he’s also trying to fool himself. The longer the footage stays secret, the more easily he — and the public — can follow the head-in-sand, pro-impunity bipartisan philosophy of “look forward, not back” to avoid facing the truths Marsh (and others) have brought forward about our real legacy of torture, governance protection rackets, and so many more injustices. And the more petty and petulant Shedd’s sore loser legacy becomes.

Shot of panel shows moderator watching Marsh with her hand raised, likely making a point, as Shedd looks on with angry expression.
Still the debate winner
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This blog post, Why’s the CIA’s David Shedd texting me out of the blue?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/09/01/why-cia-david-shedd-messaging-me/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn 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 one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE

Note (added 31 August 2022): Two philosophically minded Greek physicians, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who lived around the second century AD, and Hippocrates of Kos, aka the Father of Medicine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE, would have made stronger examples of severe misogyny in ancient thinkersread here to see why but the philosophers I discuss below, Thales and Hippo of Samos, are revealing too.

Protest at US Supreme Court today after ruling

Today the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the green light to criminalize abortion. Half the fifty states are now expected to do so. This is an authoritarian assertion of control over women’s bodies; it is forced childbirth for those pregnant.

Some 2600 years ago, the progenitors of Western philosophy walked around ancient Greece conversing with each other, their followers, and the military leaders who grew up with them as tutors. (Anaxagoras taught Pericles; Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.)

The received view sees these men, and their conversations, as the starting point of Western philosophy. The ivory tower, the think tanks, the intelligentsia all starts with them.

Even Supreme Court decisions, the justices’ clerks pouring through tomes in the library, are built on this intellectual edifice that rests on ancient Greek philosophers.

The ancient thinkers kicked off Western philosophy with masculinist bias. For those not familiar with the word masculinism, consider it the opposite of feminism. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, contemporary philosopher Heather Marsh defines masculinist theory as “based on research that only includes men or is presented from an exclusively male point of view or which sets the experience of men as the normative standard.”

Read W.T. Jones’ five-volume A History of Western Philosophy, covering thousands of years, and you will see not a single woman is included in all those pages. That’s masculinist theory for you. The tomes discuss battle and blood and sweat, but nearly nothing about caregiving and reproduction.

When the foundations of the intelligentsia were being built in ancient Greece, how did masculinist theory arise? After all, women have been heard more and more lately through #TimesUp, #MeToo, and #OpDeathEaters; today’s ruling is a slap in the face, trying to turn the volume down on women and the topics often associated with them.

Thales: All is what?

Drawing of Thales by Ernst Wallis based on a posthumous bust that was itself guesswork; note the heroic appearance given to the ancient philosopher

W.T. Jones and others present Thales as the father of Western philosophy. In the sixth century BCE, he lived on the Mediterranean shores of what is now Turkey.

If you look at standard resources such as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on him (provided by the University of Tennessee at Martin), you will learn the most important idea of Thales was that all is water.

His metaphysical theory — all is water — is classified as material monism. Material meaning he didn’t say all is something nebulous such as energy, but all is something definitively material, water. As for monism, that means all is just one thing. Unlike, say, Empedocles, another philosopher of the era, who reduced existence to four different things he called “roots,” Thales credited water alone with being the universe’s fundamental stuff.

In her highly readable book Thales of Miletus, philosophy professor Patricia F. O’Grady explains what all is water actually means. Thales envisaged water as a cyclical, pervasive medium. Cyclical like the water cycle: puddles evaporate into clouds which rain; the rain solidifies into mud and maybe rock that eventually liquefies. Pervasive as in water existing everywhere as a kind of backdrop from which familiar objects (trees, sand, etc.) emerge and back into which they dissipate as they move and change. Thales is awarded historical importance for his theory partly because it is held to represent the beginnings of looking at the world scientifically: attributing happenings to the natural substance of water rather than supernatural divinities.

That may be the complete story of Thales’ idea.

However, it is a speculative reading, but Thales may have meant his water to have semen-like qualities. This is not something explicit I have come across in readings on Thales, but a passage by the famous ancient philosopher Aristotle suggests it to me. (Thales left no primary source writings, so we depend on other philosophers, particularly Aristotle, to learn his views.)

Conjecturing how Thales arrived at his watery theory, Aristotle suggests Thales may have observed that “the semina of all things have a moist nature, whereas water is the first principle of the nature of moist things” (983 b27).

The “semina of all things have a moist nature” is a pretty evocative phrase: it says all things include semina, or seeds — seeds in a broader sense than just sperm — and that these seeds are moist. He then says water is the first (fundamental) thing, when it comes to moist items, which apparently include everything since all things have moist semina.

It also seems to me Aristotle, or Aristotle’s Thales, is trying to associate the two — the water and the moist semina.

Not so much a “I proved he certainly meant this” and instead a psychological reading, as in: Gee, what do you think these guys are really talking about here with all this stuff about moist generative seeds?

He may have just meant botanical seeds, or Aristotle may be suggesting that an observant Thales saw, ubiquitous, moistness and seeds — even sperm, which is watery. Maybe the metaphysical water of Thales was intended to be understood as sperm or more plausibly sperm-like, with motive and generative powers, as Thales imbued it.

I could be flat-out wrong. Thales’s word for water, ὕδωρ, does not mean semen anywhere in ancient Greek. But I think the Aristotle passage is pliable enough for us to consider that Thales might have connoted, not “all is semen,” but “all is water, which is a lot like semen.”

Aristotle’s hypothetical Thales going on about semina, and seeds (of some sort) somehow being relevant to his foundational water, suggests the founder of Western philosophy may have been arbitrarily prioritizing men, a way of making men’s seminal fluid close to the foundational stuff of reality. After all, why could it not have been vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? If Thales was giving his foundational water qualities of semen, that would mean other, non-semen things fall in approval by comparison. A woman risking childbirth, a dangerous feat, would not be of foundational importance, if what’s close to the most important thing (water) is semen rather than her fluids. And if so, that is the historical origins of today’s Western intelligentsia: masculinist bias.

(I should note there are probably other ancient thinkers with views about sperm that I am simply unaware of. I just happen to have recently studied Thales and Hippo of Samos.)

Hippo of Samos: Listen up, men produce the soul

Ancient Greek vase showing physician bloodletting a patient

Roughly a century after Thales, in the fifth century BCE, the philosopher and physician Hippo of Samos said something similarly prioritizing semen in his explanation of the universe. He is conventionally described as coming from the island of Samos, but in fact he may have come from any number of places in the ancient world.

The theologian Hippolytus from a few centuries later records in his book Refutation of All Heresies the otherwise unavailable words of Hippo of Samos: “semen […] manifests itself to us […] from moisture […] it is from this [i.e. the seed] that, [Hippo] says, the soul is produced.”

In other words, Hippo believed the soul derives from semen. Moist semen, if you want the details. The soul is not the entire universe, but of course the soul is rather important.

If we agree it is semen, and nothing else, from which the soul is derived, then we might look down on other substances. What about vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? These are not soul-producers, according to Hippo of Samos, but we nevertheless know their importance in reproduction. They are left out of soul-production by Hippo of Samos because of masculinist bias: he’s established an exclusively male point of view, setting the experience of only men as the normative standard. He’s arbitrarily left out vaginal arousal fluid and amniotic fluid (and other things) to focus exclusively on semen.

Again, these ancient thinkers are those held by the ivory tower to be their system’s origins. It’s a commonplace that an undergraduate philosophy degree is good preparation for law school, with philosophy majors besting other majors in LSAT scores. Learning that everything is semen or that nothing but semen has a role in producing the soul sends a clear message as to whose voices are to be heard: men’s. Moving from that in the classroom to law school to clerking for the Supreme Court … well, you get the idea.

There are probably other ancients besides Thales and Hippo of Samos who have outlined masculinist systems. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, Marsh writes the opinion that women are “subjugated by nature” is “an opinion philosophers and scientists have pontificated about for centuries with long treatises on passive eggs and active sperm.” It seems injustices need justification; we give way too much honor to philosophers justifying the unjustifiable.

The eye of biology

A single man can inseminate many, many women. But if you want humanity to survive, you wouldn’t want your species to consist of a single woman. She might die in childbirth (which is more dangerous an activity than often realized) and at the very least she will have to dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to pregnancy and presumably caring for a completely dependent infant across years. So, multiple women are needed, whereas just one man can get the evolutionary ejaculatory job done. Therefore we have a glut of inseminators: too many men. But humanity has to make sure to have enough women. Ergo, women are of higher survival value to the species than men. This argument appears to me rigorously true.

From unheard to heard

When men do not hear women, they pay a price.

I have spent many hours in coffeeshops sitting with some male friend discussing Western philosophers. What about the ancient philosopher Anaximenes, a material monist who said all is air? Stroking our chins, wondering whether we’re made entirely of water or entirely of air, seems a silly question isolated people on thrones would talk to each other about if they are exempted from salt-of-the-Earth efforts such as domestic cleaning, childbirth, taking care of houseplants, etc.

Old, small pot on the left; new, larger pot on the right. The reverse spider plant is named The Enterplant after Star Trek’s Enterprise spaceships

Of course, intelligentsia paints a lot of prestige onto philosophers — think of elaborate printed editions for the complete works of WhicheverAncientopholes — and I haven’t had too much success convincing my guy friends it’s all a bunch of hype. There’s a kind of machismo of the intellect, I’ve read more Empedocles than you, which to many men is worth more than successfully repotting a houseplant for the first time (as I did today!) or planning a hike with a friend and her dog.

The masculinist intelligentsia has spent millenia downplaying basic activities of life, activities frequently associated with women. Look at billionaire celebrity Elon Musk, promising Mars without ever once discussing who will provide the caregiving on his spaceships. He is speaking of a masculinist space fantasy, like those old Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novels with familyless protagonists who fly around the universe and save it singlehandedly without ever needing to do laundry or cook a meal. Maybe those who say laundry and cooking are irrelevant are often those who have someone else to do it for them.

Too many of my male acquaintances who look up to the right-wing machismos, the Jordan Petersons, the berating ex-military youtube coaches, are the very same guys I know who are simultaneously in financial desperation, abusing opioids, and at risk of (or already committed) suicide.

It may seem dramatic, but it really is a battle between life and death. In her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin explores her lack of interest in the warfare superiority stories told by the conventional sources, and her preference for stories about, say, gathering food with children:

(“What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization,” Lillian Smith observed.) The society, the civilization they were talking about, these theoreticians, was evidently theirs; they owned it, they liked it; they were human, fully human, bashing, sticking, thrusting, killing. Wanting to be human too, I sought for evidence that I was; but if that’s what it took, to make a weapon and kill with it, then evidently I was either extremely defective as a human being, or not human at all.

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

Men can also feel disgust at bombings and delight at gathering food. We men need to stop telling ourselves the stories of masculinism and ask women what they know. Maybe someday men can provide traditional male virtues too, such as strength, in ways that are not harmful but helpful.

Resistance

Mexico’s movement for abortion rights took several years of effort, but it paid off

Even amid the masculinist forces of hierarchy and war, to flourish in life requires growing, increasing one’s autonomy; the Supreme Court pushed women down today, taking autonomy away, but things don’t have to end here. The stakes are higher than many just seeing the headlines might know. For example, the National Right to Life Committee is calling for criminalizing aiding people in finding abortions. (Planned Parenthood and others currently continue to assist pregnant individuals in just that manner.)

In Mexico, the abortion rights movement took several years to build the capacity for marches, occupations, and even strikes, and it paid off: in September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court decriminalized abortion across the country. Those in the United States may be unfamiliar with having a prosocial, genuine nation around oneself, and may be unfamiliar with the kind of work put in by such a people to win political gains. From Sofia Tafich’s excellent article “Abortion Rights Movement Grows in Mexico“:

on March 9, 22 million women participated in a milestone national strike, #UnDíaSinNosotras (A Day Without Us), to visualize a Mexico without women. No women in the streets, no women at work, no women in school, no women shopping, no women on social media. The business group Concanaco Servytur estimated that if every woman took part, their absence could cost the economy up to 1.37 billion dollars. Women who couldn’t participate for personal reasons were invited to wear purple as a sign of solidarity.

Instead of accepting defeat, individuals in the United States can join forces and escalate their efforts, perhaps starting with some of these tactics. Responding to the Supreme Court, Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner tweeted today:

Dethrone and turn the volume down on wrongly hallowed masculinist philosophers and academics — don’t be fooled by their weighty editions in fancy fonts — and turn the volume up on people putting in the work for great justice.

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This blog post, Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/06/24/opposition-to-roe-v-wade-since-the-sixth-century-bce/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn 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 one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Dear Dad

Note: A letter to my late father written early this morning. I don’t have a current mailing address for him, so I’m putting the message here.

Me playing Little League baseball catcher in 1992

Dear Dad,

You promised me that when you turned 50 we would go on a ski trip to South America. But on 1 March 1994, when you were 49, you shot yourself to death.

For the past 28 years, I have remembered that promise several times a year. It enters my mind of its own accord and leaves likewise. A loop that seems impossible to close.

I didn’t even like skiing. In fact, I hated it. It terrified me when you would send me, an ungainly child, down black diamonds and double black diamonds.

But I was a boy who wanted to be with his father.

For the past 28 years, when I have thought of you and your self-destruction, it has been with excuses for you. With one exception. In 2019 a nurse told me to write a letter to you with my nondominant hand. I did and was surprised at how angry it was. I put the letter away. The excuses for you continued.

This week I went to a West Seattle park that has a small baseball diamond. A dad brought his middle school son and his son’s friend there to play. I watched what a good father this man was. He listened to what both boys said with his undivided attention. He handicapped himself to level the playing field. He gave both boys enthusiastic encouragement.

You weren’t there.

You had a responsibility as a father to teach me how to take care of myself. How to provide myself with self-generated safety. But you abdicated that responsibility, broke that parental promise.

I more or less know how to generate safety for myself, how to work as a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and cook for myself and much more; however, I just can’t seem to make myself believe it’s efficacious enough. There has been no father to confirm my adulthood by showing pride in my skillful successes. That results in a constant low-level anxiety that I soothe with constant intense thought, talk, and writing.

It is correct to say that there are many angles from which to view your death, including the role of your own family and wider social forces. But Mom is getting much older now and one of my nephews killed himself earlier this year. After decades, I’m done, for now, with giving you the “to some extent” and “on the other hand” treatment.

After three or so years of just talking about doing it, I’ve finally hung up inspirational quotes and photos around my home. It is far past time to no longer be on your side, apologizing for you to onlookers.

I can parent myself.

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Replace dissociation about endangered kids with saving children

Note: This post inspired by #OpDeathEaters, about which you can learn more here, including bona fides from the ivory tower.

Students from Pathfinder K-8 walked out today to protest gun violence against kids (source)

Lifelong learning is something we should aspire to; adults often act as if they’ve got it all figured enough, but as the latest school shooting shows, we have a lot of work to do, particularly in confronting head on the awful things that happen to kids — and addressing them.

From regular learning to social emotional learning

Imagine elementary schoolkids practicing reading on a classroom computer. They get points upon finishing a book, and then their next book is at a higher reading level: it’s more challenging to decipher, with bigger words, longer sentences, and new punctuation marks. In contrast, adults often assume they’re finally on thrones forever, at a permanent level of knowledge and fit to judge anything that passes before them. If a difficult-to-read text comes their way, these lordly adults presume the writing must be poor and put the book down. How could it possibly be that their reading level still could improve further?

The same is true of ear-training. Little schoolkids are sometimes taught to recognize the sound of a major chord versus a minor chord. They’re awed to observe their auditory perception of music improving, much like someone with bad vision putting on a pair of corrective eyeglasses for the first time. But when adulthood arrives, well, exhausted wage-slaves are frequently boxed into making the choice they’ve watched their friends make. Kill curiosity! For sadly, it’s practical to do so, sort of. Don’t think too hard. Don’t care too much. The genius of a bop improvisation or a book using open rather than closed punctuation remains perpetually out of reach.

People need support and freedom to develop, even as adults. The oligarchs (name names!) undermining and blocking our growth as individuals and societies must be arrested, and their antisocial systems replaced with prosocial ones. The obstacles to doing so are far less about technical solutions and far more about, to use an education industry buzzword, our social emotional learning.

A look at two stories of trauma can convey a sense of the social emotional development required to free up lifelong education in safety for all. Education, knowledge: they lead to everything else, including gun-free campuses.

Seeking a savior from out the skies to answer his pleas

One of the key reasons we don’t rescue kids from danger is our habit of looking for messiah/savior politicians or celebrities who will do it for us while we munch popcorn and discuss the relative merits of their televised appearances.

I’m not immune to this. My close friends know that in the past year, I’ve gained a slightly embarrassing taste for autobiographies by the heavy metal musicians I idolized in my teens. It’s like Real Housewives, but dudetastic.

Last month, when no one was looking, I finished up Confess by Rob Halford, mostly known as the longtime singer and lyricist of Judas Priest, a very influential heavy metal band that began in Birmingham in 1969.

A common theme in Halford’s lyrics is messiahs, saviors who will arrive, likely on a flying motorcycle, to fix things for us (so we can keep doomscrolling). Consider these excerpts from his lyrics to “Exciter,” the opening track from Priest’s 1978 album Stained Class:

Stand by for Exciter
Salvation is his task
[…]
Who is this man?
Where is he from?
Exciter comes for everyone
[…]
He’s come to make you snap out
Of the state that you are in
Look around and make you
See the light again
[…]
Only when there’s order
Will his job be done.

[Exciter sounds like a strongman politician imposing “order.” right?]
Once offensive, it’s now harmless dad metal. So it goes

Similarly, an excerpt from Halford’s lyrics to 1990’s falsetto freakshow “Painkiller”, the title track off Judas Priest’s 1990 album by the same name.

Planet’s devastated
Mankind’s on its knees
A savior comes from out the skies
In answer to their pleas
[…]
Flying high on rapture
[…]
With mankind resurrected
Forever to survive
Returns from Armageddon to the skies
He is the Painkiller
This is the Painkiller
Wings of steel Painkiller
Deadly wheels Painkiller

If we look beneath the shiny songs with shiny saviors, we can ask: Why might this theme be so prevalent for Halford? I’m not certain, of course, and things in life are rarely so direct, but I think it’s interesting how his childhood trauma fits with the lyrics of multiple classic Judas Priest songs.

Confession time

On pages 24-26 of the hardback edition of his autobiography, Halford discusses how, at approximately 14 years old, a pedosadist at an after-school program raped (“fondling”) him and some of his friends.

I was scrabbling around for information [about sex in general and homosexuality in specific], and getting nowhere. It was all a mystery to me. And what happened at my latest after-school activity didn’t help.

A small local metalworks began an informal scheme where kids could go down one day a week after school and learn to use equipment like lathes, vices, and drills. I suppose the thinking was that they would get ’em young and we might be interested enough to take up apprenticeships with them a year or two later.

Even though I had no interest in working in the factories—as I’ve said, the idea horrified me—I still went along with a couple of my schoolmates. It was only for an hour after school and, well, it was something to do. It beat being bored at home.

Unfortunately, we quickly found that the bloke giving the mini-workshops had a very different take on the idea of “get ’em young.” He wasn’t interested in teaching us the finer points of engineering. He just wanted to cop a feel.

The mustachioed, middle-aged bloke would show us how to make garden trowels or pokers for the fire, then hover over us. He’d give me a piece of metal marked with a pen line, tell me to file down to the line, and, as I filed away, he’d put his hand on my bum or down the front of my trousers.

The guy would walk round the workshop, from boy to boy, feeling us all up, and nobody said a thing. He never said a single word to us while he was doing it. It happened every week … and yet me and my mates never even discussed it. It was like it never happened.

I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, and while what he was doing didn’t arouse me—it seemed dirty, and sordid, and nasty—I just thought, Well, OK, is this what gay guys do? Is this how it works? It even made me wonder: Does this stuff go on in all the factories, then?

The weird thing was that we kept going, for six weeks at least. Fuck knows why. I just didn’t know what else to do. Then one week, after a particularly intrusive fondling, I mentioned to one of my mates on the way home that I was bit bored of the sessions.

“Me too!” he said, with what sounded a lot like relief. “Shall we stop going, then?”

“Ar,” I said [in Black Country accent].

And that was it. We never mentioned it again.

On pages 31-32, Halford describes in some detail how, when he started working in theater as a teen, he was raped by an older pedo coworker, and how, during that crime, Halford similarly experienced a child’s horrifying inability to understand, let alone stop, what was happening.

Did you notice how child Halford and his child friends never mentioned the fondling aloud to each other, and they stopped going to the pedo after-school program by discussing quitting it in an only indirect manner?

Dissociation is one term used for this. I’ve heard dissociation defined loosely as tuning out in the face of overwhelming emotion. Maybe he sang for decades of saviors because he hadn’t been able to process what had happened to him.

What happened to Halford (either time) is sort of what’s happening to adults today, except grown-ups have more choice and responsibility. Scary information about coronavirus—hey, did you hear about this company Center for Covid Control that’s a scam?—swirls around, and like the schoolkids at the metalworks after-school program, too many adults have trouble processing what is happening, and won’t even admit that much, Gollumizing about how their pain is unique and special rather than quite similar to that of everyone else in their town. After lengthy struggles, people might slip away from an abusive organization here or there, but the idea of going on radical campaigns against all of them is left to fantasy novels and video games. It’s just too much to face, or so adults typically claim.

Clearly nobody showed up to help young Rob Halford in the two very sad and infuriating situations. Not to idolize him or anything, but in the end he had to help himself, of course with assistance from his allies, by coming out as gay publicly in 1998, by releasing his autobiography in 2020, and so on. Don’t we all wish this could happen faster and we could work together? So we don’t have to look back, 15 years from now, saying I wish I’d known in 2022 that…

A look at another story, this one of non-trauma, shows how all can turn out very different.

Saving a Child’s Life

In January, the documentary filmmaker and former therapist Daniel Mackler posted one of his musing videos to his youtube channel, where he’s quite profilic. I find Mackler’s videos thought-provoking, although I disagree with some of his perspective, and I really appreciate the ones where he shares anecdotes and observations from his travels.

In the video, titled “Saving a Child’s Life — A First In My Life” and about 12 minutes in length, Mackler talks about saving a drowning kid out of a hot spring in the country of Georgia. Not only that, but he talks about the aftermath, how the child handled this trauma. I’ll transcribe the relevant parts below.

I was in the capital of Georgia, in Tbilisi, which from what I learned in Georgian means something along the lines of ‘hot water’ because there are hot springs […]

And one day, while I was sitting in [a hot spring], a father brought a little boy, and they were at the edge of the pool, and the boy was maybe four years old — three, four years old was what he looked like to me, but I was sitting there without my glasses, so I couldn’t see very well […]

I was just in my own world, I wasn’t really there to interact […] At some point, I was sitting out of the water, with just my legs in the pool, and I looked and I noticed that the little boy was there dipping his legs in the pool in the other side, and the father was gone. And I thought to myself, That’s not a very good idea […] but there were other people around […] I just thought, Okay, people are watching […]

So I just went back into my world; I was sitting […] eyes closed […] a little bit in lala land, it’s really hot […]

I look up and the little boy’s not there. […] He’s in the middle of the pool of water, under the water, but I’m really blind [with my eyeglasses off …] He’s waving his arms […] like he’s kind of swimming, but not swimming very well […] Nobody’s doing anything […] I’m seeing this kid move his arms and […] suddenly I realized, this kid’s not swimming [… I’d wondered] is this kid holding his breath and playing? […] Something in me, this little voice in my head says: Get this kid out of this water. So I jump in […] I’m like, Dude get in the water and get this kid out!

I picked him up and I realized: he wasn’t breathing. And he was pretty much limp. And I noticed his belly was all distended, with [hot] water in it […]

I brought him to the edge of the pool […] I turn him around, and I did the Heimlich Maneuver on his belly, not hard enough to really hurt him, but just to expel the water and it actually expelled the water first from his lungs […] and he coughed out all this water […] oh my God, he was drowning […] I turned him around to make sure he’s okay, and suddenly he vomited all over me […] he vomited all this yellow vomit all over me and into the pool of hot water […] he vomited some more […] suddenly the place erupted: people were coming over, and this guy who was in the pool also, he came over, and he’s talking to me in Georgian and Russian, and I’m trying to talk to this kid […] the kid kind of clings on to me like a little animal […] And I’m just holding him […]

The father was in the bathroom; he went to the bathroom and left his kid alone. Not a good idea! His kid could have died. So I handed the kid to him and the father took him and went off with the kid […] And then this guy who was sitting there in the pool started talking to me. And it turned out that the guy spoke Spanish. And I speak Spanish. He was a Georgian fellow, but he spoke Spanish. Well, he told me in Spanish, he goes, You just saved this kid’s life. And I realized it was true. […]

I suddenly just started crying. It was just overwhelming […]

The father came back [… he was from Moldova …] thanking me in Russian and shaking my hand.

And then the little boy came and he wanted to shake my hand. And I was worried that he’d be traumatized. As it turned out, I stayed in the hot water and just tried to skim the vomit off the water. And I stayed there.

The little boy did come back and he wanted to get in the water. And I talked about it with the guy who spoke Spanish. And I was like, This little kid, do you think he’ll be traumatized? And [the Spanish-speaking guy] wasn’t sure!

But what happened is the little boy did come in the water. But he kept taking water in his mouth *spit* and spitting it out, like in an arc! So I started doing it with him! And the two of us were doing it sort of as a game. And I realized, he was replicating his trauma. […] This little boy had no fear of me. And he wanted to bump me, he’d fist-bump me like a million times, he wanted to splash water on me. And I realized, he really loved me! And the thing is, I felt this! I loved him! It was like, you know, I don’t have children, but I do have children: and he was one of my children. It was so dear. […] If I hadn’t jumped in the water and saved him, if it had gone on for another minute, for all I know, he would have died […]

By playing with me in the water, by spitting the water out, and me spitting it with him, and us having fun, it was like he got back on the horse, as it were. And he made it his own experience. Where he made a new friend out of it! And I really don’t think he was traumatized by it! And that was so important to me; that was something that was very meaningful to me, because it’s a horrible and sad thing when a child learns very early on to become afraid of something that’s beautiful like the water. […] I don’t think this boy felt that, because he came [back] in the water. And he also learned that adults who are not his family, complete strangers, can be beautiful people, they can save your life.

Lessons from the two stories

When Halford sings of messiahs and saviours, it makes sense: for children. A kid of three or four doesn’t understand how to assess the risk of entering a hot spring. A kid of three or four doesn’t understand how to assess their swimming skills. A young teen troubled about sex does not know what is going to occur his first day at the theater or entering an after-school program. In Halford’s case, he was raped.

Who does understand these matters? Adults. Sometimes, though, out of our comfort zones, any of us can be surprisingly uninformed about what we will find. We might not know, right off the bat, know how we will find the inner strength to do the right thing. And there will always be for each of us consequences grave. Comfort zones cannot remain lifelong excuses. That’s because adults can, at least to a little degree, and then increasingly, self-direct, self-educate, and improve, especially when collaborating.

In most places people are taught collaboration means something extroverted and flashy: to succeed means to have a bestselling, raunchy book called Confess published. But it can also be “just” saving a drowning kid in a hot spring (and, as Mackler goes on to say in the video, making a new friend from the experience: the Spanish-speaker invited him back to his family’s house in a different part of Georgia, and Mackler took him up on the invitation a few weeks later, went and lived with the Spanish-speaker’s family for a while.) Or it can be both.

Since United States public education is on the ropes, possibly even disappearing, we really will have to teach each other, which, even though it’s the hard way, is in the long run, better. Confronting and openly discussing childhood trauma of ourselves and others is a good way to start.

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This blog post, Replace dissociation about endangered kids with saving children, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/05/26/dissociation-about-endangered-kids-replaced-by-saving-a-child/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn 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 one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. Also, gimme all your money!

How attacks on scientific integrity necessitated countrywide school sickouts

Note: In 2022, I’m once again writing 52 blog entries, posted every Sunday. Today: Post 2 of 52. Flash fiction by me will soon arrive weekly too, by February, with these regular nonfiction blog posts continuing.

Note: The photos in this entry are from this seven-tweet thread by NPR journalist Libby Denkmann who attended a student-led protest outside Seattle Public Schools headquarters on Thursday.

Protest sign reads: "New years resolution: Don't die at school"

For one or more days this past workweek, according to data firm Burbio (accessed today), 6,003 public schools in the United States have been actively disrupted, defined as campuses not offering in-person learning. The country has around 130,000 public K-12s, but the Burbio statistic is still shocking. On Thursday, Seattle Public Schools said: “Due to very high absentee and quarantine rates, several Seattle Public Schools have either transitioned to remote learning or have been closed.”

On Friday, the Washington Post reported on the sickout movement: schoolkids countrywide, sparked by the increasing number of illnesses and deaths from the current Omicron mutation wave, are refusing to attend compulsory face-to-face classes unless adequate COVID safeguards are put into place. Many educators are sicking out as well; other industries are seeing their own sickouts, the term there referring to employees not showing up due to the ‘rona (current infection or risk thereof) and perhaps with r/antiwork-style resisistance thrown in too.

The Omicron wave has surrounded my own life. Here in the Emerald City, I’ve watched a friend suffer his own breakthrough illness from the latest variant in the last month; I’ve seen multiple businesses temporarily closing due to staffing shortages. (And during Spring 2021, a brave student in a math class I taught informed us she’d contracted a pre-Omicron version of novel coronavirus, a scary ordeal for her and the rest of us.)

U.S. authorities have provided the public with mere bargain bin quasi-solutions

Photo of student leader talking into microphone at podium
“Do you guys care more about our well being? Or our test scores?”

Many of the public health measures in the United States are only half functional, akin to leftovers from the discount pile. School district spokespeople talk up ventilation and (years back) handwashing, but anyone who has entered campuses in poor neighborhoods knows about unopenable windows and empty soap dispensers. Meanwhile, The Center for Covid Control—accused profiteers running pop-up testing sites from coast to coast—has been reported, by health departments and city governments and consumers and journalists and others, to the Washington state attorney general, the attorney general in Florida, and attorney generals elsewhere for fraud, notably sending people invented test results while they were still waiting in line to produce samples. And the three vaccines offered in the U.S. offer only some protection (I received three doses of Pfizer), decreasingly so as mutations erupt continually, as anyone who has endured, or received a text message about, a breakthrough case realizes.

For USians, better public health measures found around the world feel shrouded in a fog of war. The multiple other vaccines planetwide, let alone the laws/pacts controlling who can ship them internationally, aren’t on the radar of the average stressed person trying to get by. Even the University of Washington nanoparticle vaccine (study in Cell), which should be making headlines regularly and prompting inquisitive auditing from investigative journalists, is largely unknown. That one, presently in stage three trials, aims to inoculate against SARS, MERS, SARS-CoV-2, and every other present or future coronavirus (and variant thereof) in the beta segment. (Orthocoronavirinae, to which the popular term ‘coronavirus’ typically refers, has 45 virii divided into four genera, one of which, and nowadays the most dangerous to humans of which, is the beta segment containing 14 of the 45 species.)

To date, official statistics suggest 5.5 million have died from COVID so far worldwide, not to mention long-haul and other medical problems confronting survivors.

Scientific integrity attacked

Staff for Seattle Public Schools superintendent Dr. Brent Jones stopped media from questioning him

Who has the time and freedom to educate themselves on the COVID trainwreck such that herd mentality may be minimized? Very few have hours and hours available to conduct independent (and thus usually unpaid or underpaid) autodidactic research on an unfamiliar issue to an understanding approaching intermediate level or above. That leaves many to affiliate with a meme-simplified, speculation-heavy side such as right or left, vaxx or antivaxx, probably partly in hopes of cliquing up with others for sheer survival rather than mastering a topic in accordance with impersonal logic. There are professionals who in theory are paid to address crises expertly, but they succumb to untruth too.

Such politicization is evidenced, for example, in the additional information, released Tuesday, about emails involving chief White House medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci. You might recall that Fauci emails from the initial months of the pandemic were published in June 2021 in redacted form by Buzzfeed News (3234 pages of emails) and the Washington Post (866 pages of emails). Republicans on the federal House Committee on Oversight and Reform saw unredacted versions made available in camera by the Department of Health and Human Services and, while they couldn’t make copies, they were allowed to take notes on them, a task I assume done by skilled transcriber underlings.

The additional information newly revealed includes records related to a February 1, 2020 phone conference between Dr Fauci, his then-boss Francis Collins, and several of the world’s leading virologists.

It shows some of the world-renowned scientists believed, at the time, that it was likely the novel coronavirus was human-altered and that it may somehow have escaped a Wuhan lab. Virologist Robert Garry, for instance, wrote that he was unconvinced the pathogen evolved naturally. Evolutionary biologist Andrew Rambau wrote: “The biggest hinderance at the moment (for this and more generally) is the lack of data and information […] I think the only people with sufficient information or access to samples to address it would be the teams working in Wuhan.” There are no certain answers yet; just sufficient smoke to point to a serious fire of some sort.

Definitely the National Institutes of Health officials wanted an ass-pull cover-up for political reasons. Garry told The Intercept that after the call, he was advised not to “mention a lab origin as that will just add fuel to the conspiracists.” Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier wrote in one email: “further debate would do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular” (see also; see especially). Fauci’s boss Francis Collins advised the virologists to shut down talk of unnatural evolution or a lab leak—to protect “international harmony.”

By March 2020, Garry had changed his mind based on scientific evidence, coming to believe instead that SARS-CoV-2 likely developed without human intervention, but the recently exposed NIH officials’ insistences a month prior don’t exactly inspire trust in the intelligentsia, now do they.

Tuesday’s news connects with ongoing reporting from Vanity Fair about NYC-based EcoHealth Alliance and its pre-pandemic interest in working with Wuhan virologists (all institutions in China are mixed up with the Chinese Communist Party). In October 2021, the magazine reported the National Institutes of Health belatedly acknowledged EcoHealth Alliance enhanced the capacity of coronavirus to infect humans to such an extreme that the nonprofit had violated its own grant conditions by not reporting the danger they’d created. The same Vanity Fair piece discusses the grant proposal EcoHealth Alliance sent to the Pentagon’s research arm DARPA in 2018, recommending a partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to construct SARS-related coronaviruses into which they would insert “human-specific cleavage sites” as a way to “evaluate growth potential” of the pathogens.

The connection between those reports and last week’s? Virologists on the February 2020 conference call expressed startlement at an unusual segment of the novel coronavirus’s genetic code: a furin cleavage site that makes the virus more infectious by allowing it to efficiently enter human cells. A month later, in Nature Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal that’s part of the prestigious Nature Publishing Group portfolio, scientists on the conference call, including Garry, published “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” in which they downgrade February 2020 suspicions that novel coronavirus was likely to have been lab-altered to possible but unlikely. I’m told that, in oversimplified terms, such virology research essentially entails comparing protein shapes of various virii strains to one another statistically to assess likelihoods of how precisely the pathogens may have changed or evolved over time.

Pointing to the Proximal Origin study, Garry corresponded with The Intercept about its report on this past workweek’s newest puzzle piece to say the March 2020 study reflects his revised view. In any case, the latest information involving the February 2020 conference call is a story of top virologists told to downplay their then-suspicions not for scientific reasons, but for political ones. That’s obviously bad for scientific integrity. And the March 2020 paper doesn’t rule out that SARS-CoV-2 could have been created through artifical techniques.

Shall we speculate about the origins of COVID-19? One possibility is that scientists pursued making coronavirii far more dangerous for whatever good or bad reasons, a practice controversial among scientists, and then SARS-CoV-2, perhaps enhanced in its danger to humans, slipped out of a Wuhan lab accidentally. Then maybe people associated with the research panicked, because money was being misused, and anything they might try to say to explain themselves would just sound nefarious. There’s no smoking gun; at minimum, it’s yet another example of opaque or mostly opaque systems impairing science and public health.

And we can all imagine less charitable possibilities.

Now what?

Two students holding protest signs. One reads: "Prioritize safety." The other says: "We can't learn unless we're safe."

Weakening scientific integrity (requested cover-up) and radical science (transparency, intellectual independence) predictably worsens large-scale public health problems. That’s very evident in the somewhat separate but still COVID19-related case of Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower Dr Rick Bright, if you study the formal complaint he filed in May 2020 (exhibits; some exhibits missing).

Politicizing science, as NIH brass sought in February 2020, certainly doesn’t help reveal the origins of the pandemic, one of the more recent iterations of the powerful’s longstanding and ongoing genocide of global humanity, particularly those disabled or dispossessed. Authoritarians don’t need to put soldiers on the streets (though they do that as well) to terrify or decrease populations when they can just ignore their public health needs from yachts.

Thankfully, the pandemic’s origins don’t need to be completely understood for clear-eyed students to fight for their right not to inhale this thing, something of extra importance for people blocked from nutritious food, aerobic exercise, or other boons strengthening respiratory and immune systems, as well as blocked from free quality masks, infection testing that actually works, and the legal entitlement (for those with disabilities, which is ultimately everyone if you think about it) to free appropriate public education that should include transparency for all of us to learn exactly what the powerful—both government and corporate actors—are doing to us.

Some but not enough educators have been supportive of the schoolkids, but will more adults support them as is their grown-up responsibility, and if so, how? I’ll write about that next weekend.

After all, why should children have to be the ones to do this?

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This blog post, How attacks on scientific integrity necessitated countrywide school sickouts, 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 the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/01/16/how-surrender-of-scientific-integrity-necessitated-countrywide-school-sickouts/. 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 one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. Also, gimme all your money!

Saving dolla dolla bill: how and why to overcome talking trash cans

Note: In 2022, I’m once again writing 52 blog entries, posted every Sunday. Flash fiction by me will soon arrive weekly too, by February, after I finish figuring out the tech details of where precisely on this website I might place it so you can conveniently leave comments.

Broken trash can lid, covered in olive oil, in front of a bookcase in my kitchen
Trash can lid got wrecked; image sent, as explained below, to the Something Corporation

Last April, I wrote about how and why to make beet root smoothies, with such costly ingredients that even Michael Laufer, the (afaik) badass and classy wine connoisseur anarchist who teaches people to make their own s̶m̶o̶o̶t̶h̶i̶e̶s̶ pharmaceuticals, might deign to have a sip.

In that post, I explained techniques to save money, such as cold-calling companies and asking for a discount. That, in my own experience, can yield exasperated annoyance from customer service staff at one extreme, and at the opposite extreme, third-off coupon codes good forever. Another great idea is to join (or start!) your local Food Not Bombs chapter, where long-term volunteers frequently have brilliant ideas for grabbing free grub, among them identifying which restaurants share surplus food, locating which dumpsters offer scavenging divers the best cuisine, and more.

Today I’d like to tell you about this one time I got something for zero bucks from a corporation. Except it ain’t fancy feast.

Time for the trash can

Contrast meme shows muscular body with a CRT television head posing before a cowering modern televisions. Caption says,

CRT Televisions:

I am literally a radioactive blackbox
strange signal goes in
picture comes out
I will not break for 50 years

Modern TVs:

Your TV needs an update please connect to the internet
Mainlain that meme truth

The Internet of Things is the market segment for turning everyday consumer objects into online gizmos. If you fondly sing the praises of CRT televisions—no, not Critical Race Theory TVs, I mean Cathode Ray Tube ones—because they work unfailingly for half a century, and you correctly cast insults down upon giant flat-screen televisions that cost thousands but don’t work since they suddenly require downloading a patch from Samsung or some other corp, then you too know the pitfalls of the Internet of Shit.

Gizmo-ification of everything even extends to trash cans. Of course, finding a trash can for your kitchen at the thrift store is the best! But at embarrassing moments, I’ve dragged myself into awful domestic big box stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond (beyond … where?). Those shameful moments when I’ve been absolutely convinced I immediately need a towel of a certain color or some stupidity like that. Besides punishing shoppers with in-store video advertising so loud you can hear it clear across the building, a nightmare retailer of this type will showcase for you the very latest in consumerist horror.

Yes, I mean today’s trash cans, the Internet-equipped ones you can talk to.

Let’s get something straight. Such technology can be important for people with disabilities and for other situations that may not leap to the minds of the privileged. I’m all for such innovations and would love to hear about them in the comments. Lemme know if I’m wrong, but I somehow doubt the trash cans at Bed Bath and Beyoncé are the ideal options for such scenarios. And yeah, maybe a USian with a disability—like, say, infatuation—is driven to go to Bed Bath and BayBey because the legit need to impress a love interest has somehow got twisted into the anxiety-laden, bonkers idea that it all hinges on having that towel of the exact right color. We’ve all been there, mutatis mutandis, right?

Photo shows three trash cash: compost, recycling, and garbage. One hand on chin, an amused woman ponders into which to deposit that dragged by her other hand, a man.
Gotta save money betterez now, because reasons, i.e., ladies first

That said, before discussing saving money on a trash can, let’s by all means inspect a newfangled, expensive trash can that talks.

Oh Goddess, please (don’t ever) trash me

Witness, if you will, the 58 liter, dual compartment, voice-activated, motion-capable, stainless steel—excuse me, make that brushed stainless steel—trash can a California-based company lovingly crafted just for o̶u̶r̶ ̶w̶a̶l̶l̶e̶t̶s̶ us.

Marketing image of $200 trash can shows hand operation of motion-capable lid
Yeah buddy, mine’s got radiation
Marketing image of $200 trash can shows its open lid below a dialogue bubble reading: "open can"
Open can, because I really gotta go!
“This is the evolution of 20 years of science and technology, bringing you the best of the best” in trash

Our world-class instance of talking trash above has on Amazon 5 stars after more than 10,000 reviews, which, the way things are headed, I may be adding to soon enough myself as a drunk but giggling ghostwriter. For the uninitiated, that’s writing fake reviews for dough, Mac. Gotta fund unpaid/underpaid human rights investigative journalism and random musings somehow, for example, with donations from people who have $200 trash cans and a sense of humor.

A three-star Amazon review by the mononymous, TP-astute Paul sounds, to be conciliatory, fair and balanced:

I love everything but the fact that you can not turn off the voice sensor. I play music in the background all day. The can open when it hears something close to “open can” in the music. And it happens alot. It will wear out real fast. There is no switch to turn off the voice sensor and keep the motion senor on. I can not find a microphone hole to plug it with tissue paper as a hack to fix the issue.

The $200 price tag does not include tax, nor your crucial rush-speed shipping and handling. And don’t forget the recurring expense of the bespoke liners—admittedly featuring swank double-seam construction and an even swankier perfect fit, to be sure—for which you’re gonna need to liquidate your entire cryptocoin portfolio.

By the way, California’s top-tier trash can company is called: simplehuman.

News you can use: today’s token-saving tip

As the renowned economist Snoop Dogg suggested implicitly in his scholarly, NSFW treatise Drop It Like It’s Hot—ticking my tongue like said rapper when that song came out in 2004, I practiced its beat on my shower wall for cumulative hours and hours, not knowing myself to someday become an aspiring if reluctant ace businessman aiming for European citizenship plus frugal trash cans—a scientific study (reportedly) shows handling cash is like snorting coke, and probably only partly because many dolla dolla bills are themselves contaminated with traces of cocaine. Illustrating unSnoopy high diction, the scientists of the latter link write dryly:

The contamination may occur through direct contact during drug trafficking with the same people handling the cocaine powder and the money; or rolling up the banknote for sniffing the powder through the tube formed.

[link added, obviously]

If subject matter experts reading this know the (likely news-savvy) researchers in question are lacking in scientific integrity and are as desperate for clicks as DJ Snoopadelic (and freelance bloggers), then please, correct me in the comments. Hiphop historians, I admit, I’m curious about The Snoopzilla’s personal trash can …

Anyhow, another way to ask corporations for freebies is to amuse them.

For example, this past week, akin to fond memories of Julia Child a century ago corresponding with her faraway penpal via slow snailmail across the Atlantic, I corresponded, via chat with support agent, with some outsource contractor as bored as I was. I needed to know if my auto insurance provided roadside assistance at no or minimal additional charge. I forget how it started, but she typed a lol; I sent a <3. I asked if her roadside assistance coverage included all of North America. “Yes, it covers the United States,” she said, PR-perfect. Hmm, I said, how about Mars? “That would cost millions to get your car up there,” she said, “and it would cost us millions to get our tow truck up there, so no :)” How about Jupiter, I inquired. She and I left it there—sorry, no wedding to invite you to—out of my perhaps overly cautious reticence, not wanting to creep out a random employee accidentally, though in my experience, internet customer service agents appreciate this sort of thing as an escape from raging Karens. And, to the point, they’ll not infrequently become far more helpful and suddenly drop, as though its temperature has been heated, a discount code. (Don’t try this, incels; learn how to take a shower first, then baby-steps from there.)

Photo of otherwise admirable whistleblower Dr Bright answering questions for rich powerful politicians instead of the public, and don't even start with civic religion comebacks to that, Boomer!
Sup, I gotta question too, ’bout those docs you dropped, Doc

In terms of trash cans, not too long after the latest pandemic hit Seattle, I tripped over my trash can lid—which was on the floor from, essentially, pandemic stress incl. my unpaid/underpaid researching of the good DHHS whistleblower Dr Rick Bright (where the rest of those exhibits, Doc? Beware testing the patience of this otherwise supportive-of-you indie journalist, not to mention bewaring the possibility of a forthcoming appeal, after which comes a lawsuit in a summons carriage, where my pro bono lawyers at?). The lid broke. I despaired of buying or even finding another such flawless trash can. That beaut was dirt cheap, yet supplied all my funky kitchen needs. It didn’t have WiFi. And best of all, I didn’t need to talk to it, and it didn’t try to talk to me.

Thus, hoping for a free lid, I typed a politely obsequious message into the website of the Something Corporation, clicked submit, and promptly forgot about it. I don’t want to name the corp, lest I be accused of doing product placement—this is my real name byline website, where I aim to give you the truth, not my ghostwriting hack jobs, which hey, if you want those, email me at dal@riseup.net, yo! And let’s face it, I don’t think the Something Corporation wants to be on my blog, either, where I recommend dat research shizzle showing which corporate actors are connected to which others, etc. As for simplehuman, fuck them.

Here’s a slightly redacted version of what I sent on an April 2020 Friday:

Photo showing broken trash can lid in front of bookcase in my kitchen
Exact image for the exacting, sent by me to the Something Corporation

Dear [Something Corp],

About 2-3 months ago, I bought my black [Something] trash can #xxxx at a small hardware store here in Seattle. I can try to find the receipt if you need it. I’ve been really excited about your product because not only did I not want a flimsy cheap trash can, I also didn’t want some ridiculously expensive voice-activated trash can either. I do not need to talk with my trash can! Yours is Just Right and fits my kitchen perfectly.

However, yesterday, due to covid19 stress my kitchen was a mess with random stuff lying all over the tiled floor, including the black lid to your #xxxx black trash can (don’t ask). Then I, while cooking, tripped and fell, like something out of slapstick, sending olive oil flying everywhere and my foot landing on your trash can lid, breaking it, including cracking pieces and everything. Sad face!

So I’m wondering if you could sell me a black #xxxx trash can lid independently of the lower section of the trash can. I took 3 quick pictures and stuck them on my website to show you what I mean, see links below. 1 of 3 shows the #xxxx black lower trash can body, which is still standing completely fine where it should be, just now sadly bereft of a lid. 2 of 3 shows the broken lid on the floor, complete with olive oil goo all over it. 3 of 3 shows the impressive damage I managed to do while falling, breaking off that black piece of the lid.

1 of 3: [deleted]

2 of 3: [deleted]

3 of 3: [deleted]

[…]

Soooooooooo how much would you charge me for just the black lid thingie to go on top of my black #xxxx, to replace my broken lid? How would payment be processed and so on?

Thank you very much,

Imagine my grateful surprise when on the following Monday I received a response. Behind the 1950s corporate mask of a writing style, you can almost see the employee (not a contractor, judging by his email addy) laughing, or at least smiling, as he beneficently elects to exercise mercy on behalf of the nonhuman Something Corporation:

Dear Douglas,

Thank you for contacting [Something Corporation].

Thank you for the images. As a general practice, [Something Corporation] does not provide replacement parts as products are manufactured and are sold as a unit.

However, as a onetime courtesy I have arranged to pull one lid from production. Delivery might take up to 14 days via UPS ground […]

Sincerely,

First M. Last
Something Corporation
E-mail: FLast@Something.com

“pull one lid from production” … I’ve always wondered what happened to the rest of that particular trash can, its lid perhaps raised away on a forklift-plus-pincer by a burly Joycean laborer and, like a commodity out of Das Kapital Volume 2, transported and transported, ultimately to land on the doorstep of my wizardly Seattle high castle. Maybe it’s at, if not Snoop Dogg’s, then First M. Last’s house.

In trash canclusion

Radicals made bitter sometimes assume corporations and their outsource contractor firms to be full of evil enemies. They are! But also, they’re full of bored people who might hate their CEOs more than radicals do. And besides, people aren’t static blocks. They might be an evil enemy in the morning, a bored boss by the afternoon, and a true hero in the night. And so on. Ideological purity doesn’t generate prosocial change—it’s at best just a stopgap measure that makes our social/emotional pain and uncomfortable questions go away … for the short run.

And besides, you really wanna save money on trash cans? Use old grocery bags. Even the smartest of us are sometimes stupid and in need of the genius obvious.

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This blog post, Saving dolla dolla bill: how and why to overcome talking trash cans, 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 the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/01/08/how-and-why-to-overcome-talking-trash-cans/ 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 one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. Also, gimme all your money!