#StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 47 of 52.

Note: Thanks to Prison Abolition & Prisoner Support (PAPS) for connecting me with a researcher who prefers to remain anonymous.

Rally in Germany in June 2021 for Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners. At center, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya holding up a picture of her imprisoned husband

Today, Saturday 27 November 2021, is the international day of solidarity with political prisoners of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus. I picked out two to write, Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya, whose biographies are below. I explain how you can write Belarusian prisoners too, whether by snailmail like me or via online only. Plus, I supply a refresher and updates on Belarus overall, explanations why the United States public should support the Belarusian pro-democracy activists, and some additional knowledge-drops.

Quick refresher and updates on Belarus

Regular readers of my blog know I’ve covered Belarus here before; to review that material, just click my Belarus tag.

As his uniform suggests, Lukashenko’s living in the past

For those new to the subject and for anyone else wanting a quick refresher on Belarus, here’s the situation. To the surprise of many, Europe still has one last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, predictably called “father” by his supporters. Protected by and allied with Russia’s Putin regime, Lukashenko ascended to the presidency of the landlocked eastern European country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in 1994. Recently, he’s kept power by stealing the country’s 2020 presidential election. Besides his embarrasingly out-of-fashion USSR-style clothes, Lukashenko controls the country’s media and industry; he also maintains the death penalty in the only European country to have it (the executed are shot in the head). Meanwhile, his riot police arrest protesters, snatch-and-grabbing innocent bystanders as well (see two-minute Human Rights Watch video). The dictatorship plots or carries out assassinations (including murdering a journalist), his forces engage in widespread torture, beatings, rape, and he particularly goes after those Belarusians who challenge his fake authority.

Pro-democracy protest in Minsk, 16 August 2020, photographed by Максим Шикунец

The country’s opposition movement is led by former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who rightfully won the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Detained immediately after her victory when she challenged the bogus results giving the presidency to Lukashenko, she was then apparently forced to record hostage-like videos conceding the election and calling herself a “weak woman.” Previously I wrote up my research about the NY Post publishing strangely edited footage of Belarusian opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser’s murder, footage originally created by the regime, without informing their readers the video initially came from the dictatorship. Further, as #OpGabon/#OpDeathEaters first noted nearly three years ago, and the Washington Post deigned to cover only less than two years ago, video “deepfakes” in politics is becoming a norm. Videos aside, the strong Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made it to Lithuania, where she remains today with her two children. For Belarus, she chiefly seeks release of political prisoners and free and fair elections. She also supports term limits, human rights, and allowing Belarusians to vote on the question of getting away from union / integration with Russia.

As for updates on Belarus, consider two stories from this month. First, the refugees on the border between Poland and Belarus. In retaliation for sanctions placed on Belarus by the European Union, Lukashenko is threatening to cut off gas from Russia to the EU, energy deliveries that pipe through “his” country. To strengthen his position, Lukashenko has weaponized refugees, creating a political crisis for neighboring Poland and endangering human lives. Using the state-owned travel company Tsentrkurort, the dictatorship lured Iraqi citizens to the Belarus-Poland border by helping them obtain fast, easy Belarusian visas. They also turned people from elsewhere into refugees on the same border. They did this by organizing their travel and, according to witnesses, forcibly transporting people by truckload. The refugees are now trapped in grave danger, including risky weather conditions and beatings, since Poland is violating its obligations under international law by refusing to help them. In short, the dictatorship, with tricks and trafficking, is treating these desperate people as pawns for its European geopolitical struggles. Thankfully, some locals and other human rights defenders have been rendering direct aid to the refugees, but more help is very much needed. Second, via a million-dollar deal, an ex-warden in Lithuania—he worked in the carceral system for nearly forty years—apparently helped the Lukashenko regime dodge those same EU sanctions, meant to impair the dictatorship, by arranging for the banned export of heavy-duty trucks manufactured by the sanctioned regime-owned company BelAZ. The furious Lukashenko is trying to stop alleged leaks of sanctions breaches (perhaps including this ex-warden story), saying publicly that “bastards” are “spying” and “seeking to inform the collective West” of his human rights-violating regime evading sanctions.

Meet Sergei Tikhanovsky

The podcaster sitting behind a desk with microphones etc.
Vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, imprisoned husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky

The first political prisoner I picked out to write is Sergei Tikhanovsky. He’s the husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children. A popular vlogger in his forties, Sergei Tikhanovsky in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. The channel, still active thanks to his allies, often focuses on the stories of everyday entreprenuers, a topic of great importance in a former Soviet country. In May 2020, Sergei Tikhanovsky announced his candidacy for presidency and was arrested, supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia but primarily for his candidacy, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when his wife stepped in to run for the presidency herself. Sergei Tikhanovsky remains in prison to this day. You can find additional biographical information on him here in Russian; you can translate that webpage into English using Chrome.

Embedded below, a May 2020 episode, 71 minutes long, from “A Country for Life” comparing living in the United States with living in Belarus. It’s Sergei Tikhanovsky, two months before his arrest, interviewing Kate about her impressions returning to Belarus following her 14 years in the United States.

Write:

Sergei Tikhanovsky
222163 ST-8
Zhodino Street
Sovietskaya 22a
Belarus

Meet Maryja Uspenskaya

Still from the propaganda footage apparently shows Andrei Zeltser from the back. He's in the apartment holding a shotgun. Maryja Uspenskaya apparently standing in the background.
Maryja Uspenskaya, apparently now incarcerated at a mental health center, in the background of propaganda footage purportedly showing the Belarusian KGB’s murder of Andrei Zeltser

The second political prisoner I picked out to mail is Maryja Uspenskaya. She’s the wife of Andrei Zeltser, whose murder in the Belarusian capital of Minsk at the hands of Lukashenko’s KGB I wrote about previously on my blog. I also discussed how Zeltser, an employee of the Pennsylvania-based IT firm EPAM Systems whose founder supports the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, is reportedly a US citizen, but the US media outlets which loudly questioned his citizenship immediately after his death never bothered to follow up and answer their own question; I discussed how I’ve been trying to contact the US State Department to get a definitive answer on his nationality, but in addition to the Department of State shutting down the phone number for journalists to call, and their mail server bouncing back emails, other evidence suggests, perhaps due to brain drain, the lights are slowly turning off at the State Department: increasingly, nobody’s home. That’s overstating things a little, yet still, for my US friends, renew your passports now.

For all the valid news concern over Andrei Zeltser’s murder, there’s simultaneously an unwarranted dearth of information surrounding his wife Maryja Uspenskaya (are we seeing a pattern yet?), who to all appearances is in the background of the KGB’s propaganda footage of the murder. In fact, the apartment where Zeltser was shot to death likely belongs to Maryja Uspenskaya or her brother. Her family seems to own the unit; maybe she was subleasing. That would help explain why Zeltser called the local cops as plainclothes strangers busted down his door: likely he didn’t think it was the KBG arriving, just random criminals instead. And maybe the KGB wasn’t even after Andrei Zeltser. Perhaps they were primarily after Maryja Uspenskaya’s brother or Maryja Uspenskaya herself. After all, the couple had been going door to door to collect signatures required for, I believe, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s dispute of Lukashenko’s election theft.

On October 9, the pro-opposition online media outlet Nexta (as in “next generation”) tweeted that Maryja Uspenskaya was tortured in the notorious police detention center Okrestina, known for severe abuse of pro-democracy protesters. “I admit it,” Lukashenkt told the BBC this month. “People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre.” Nexta went on to say Maryaj Uspenskaya’s “outerwear was seized and the heating in cell was turned off in -1 degree outside.Maria doesn’t have any basic things with her — change of clothes and toothbrush.”

On October 22, a twitter account created two months ago and using the name Oleg But tweeted that “Andrei Zeltser’s wife was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to Novinki. Maria Uspenskaya will undergo a psychiatric examination.” Novinki means the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health. I assume she’s currently there, but I’ve found no other source corroborating that tweet.

As far as I can discern so far, no current information on Maryja Uspenskaya’s status is available in English, which is highly worrisome.

Based on interviewing her acquaintances, Charter 97 approvingly describes Maryja Uspenskaya as a “very energetic and combative” person. Observers noticed how Andrei Zeltser was handsome and younger than she. Charter 97 also describes Uspenskaya as “positive, very cheerful. She loved her husband very much and treasured her relationship with him. She and Andrei went to psychologists: they had no problems but just wanted to build an even stronger relationship.” That’s really cool!

Write:

Maryja Uspenskaya
Nauchno-Prakticheskiy Tsentr Psikhicheskogo Zdorov’ya
Dawhinawski Trakt 152
Minsk 220053
Belarus

How to write Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners

Mailman for Hermiston Oregon’s first snailmail route, begun May 1914

The Minsk-based Human Rights Center Viasna, formed in 1996 to aid arrested pro-democracy protesters and their families in Belarus, maintains this database of Belarusian political prisoners (but oddly, it lacks entries for Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya). You can pick prisoners from there and/or write the two I selected.

If you want to send mail via online only, check out the Vkletochku project. According to the English version of their webpage, their volunteers will translate what you type into this form, even, if you wish, sending you by email any reply.

If you want to write via snailmail, then Human Rights Center Viasna provides this helpful article with the lovely title “Support has no boundaries: how to write letters to political prisoners if you are outside of Belarus.” It answers many frequently asked questions about snailmailing the prisoners. The prisons are more likely to accept handwritten letters, for instance, and they require letters to be written in Belarusian or Russian. The Viasna article also supplies handy templates translating prefab English letters into Belarusian and Russian.

The following three articles from various sources, all in Russian but available in English via Google Translate in Chrome, provide additional nitty-gritty tips: 1, 2, 3.

For those like me writing by snailmail from the United States, the first step, if like me you don’t speak Belarusian or Russian, is to write your letters in English, then have them translated. You can ask around for translation help; check individuals using the relevant hashtags like #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus to see if any will translate for you or connect you with translators. After handwriting your translated letters into unfamiliar script on white pages, add supplies for the prisoners to snailmail you back. In theory, the United States Postal Service should be able to answer what kind of postage they will need; if not, hopefully someone else can answer this. Take the finished envelope to the USPS station, photograph your work to share online, and talk with a postal worker to have it snailmailed. The postal worker might explain various additional requirements. I’ll try this myself next Saturday. In the meantime, USPS Publication 141 has some additional information on PDF page 143, and maybe the @USPSHelp twitter account will reply to a question of mine with extra details.

Whether you send mail via online only, or by old-fashioned postal service, take a screenshot or photograph of your work, then wipe metadata, then share the images online and/or share them with me (dal@riseup.net). I’ll post my work and anyone else’s next weekend.

Why the United States public should support the Belarus opposition

Guitar pick with anarchy sign

Because it’s fun and even euphoric to interact not with stupid frenemies but courageous individuals who deserve support. Yes, it can also induce irrational shame-attacks as a result of growing up in and being surrounded by a smug population hostile to effortful activism; but, the only way out is through. With time and supportive networks, such an irrational shame-attack can be consciously disagreed with and it can pass like nothing more than a brief spooky breeze.

Also, the United States public tends to imagine that its presidential elections revolve around voting. Besides the flaws in the secretive, corporate, closed-source computerized election equipment that have been well documented for decades, consider that pressuring the authorities to support the Belarusian opposition instead of Alexander Lukashenko could powerfully improve domestic well-being in the US as well as the country’s international standing. The leaders of the red religion in the United States support Trump, who in turn supports Putin, who in turn supports Lukashenko, ironic since Lukashenko loves the USSR while top pro-democracy Belarusian opposition figures like Sergei Tikhanovsky are huge advocates for small-biz entreprenuers. The leaders of the blue religion in the United States — who, as a commenter on last weekend’s post noted, may not mind TrumPutin all that much since hate for TrumPutin takes heat off Democrats as Joe Biden continues to enjoy power — can at least be pressured to change policies if the public puts in massive effort.

Next weekend: Progress of #StandWithBelarus letter-writing and #PardonRealityWinner efforts

Speaking of effort, as stated above, next weekend I’ll post to my blog how my snailmailing the two Belarusian political prisoners went, e.g., any issues at the USPS station.

Next time I’ll post, too, about progress related to my entry last weekend on the #PardonRealityWinner campaign. Namely, my contacting the US Pardon Attorney as well as my local elected officials.

If you do the same for either campaign or both, feel free to email me (dal@riseup.net) or comment below to share your progress!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, #StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition, 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/2021/11/27/writing-belarus-prisoners-international-solidarity-opposition/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

#PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 46 of 52.

You probably remember the name Reality Winner and at least some of her story: in May 2017, when Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey for his investigation into the Putin regime’s interference with the presidential election on behalf of a certain cheeto-colored demagogue, a whistleblower in her twenties leaked a classified document detailing how the Russian military hacked US election systems just days before the November 2016 election. I reported in person from her August 2018 sentencing in Augusta Georgia, where, in the Trump administration’s first espionage case against a domestic whistleblower, Reality Winner was given the longest prison term ever for a disclosure to the media.

This week, news in the United States — whether social, corporate, or other — will likely focus on Reality Winner again since the Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday is changing her status from her current home confinement situation (began June 9) to three years of supervised release, phase similar to the more familiar, state-level term parole, which technically no longer exists on the federal level. Her ankle monitor will finally be removed. Recent and ongoing media of various types continue to focus on her case, especially this week.

As a result of the news, the public may have a lot of questions. This post provides an overview of her case, the leaked document and its implications, as well as the surrounding media discourse, plus definitions of relevant Bureau of Prisons jargon and a menu of actions you can pick from to help Reality Winner gain a pardon, the chief goal her family is calling for help with.

Who’s Reality Winner again? What was that document about?

Reality Winner is an idealistic, intelligent, and altruistic Texan. The two best sources of information about her as a person are probably the 2017 New York Magazine profile titled “The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread” and the twitter feeds of her family: her mother Billie J. Winner-Davis, her sister Brittany Winner, and her (step)father Gary Davis. If you’re interested, follow those accounts, or at least know how to search their tweets. A good rule of thumb for whistleblower cases: get your information not from the social-climbers and co-opters, but from their families, loved ones, and lawyers like Reality Winner’s attorney Alison Grinter. (The whistleblowers themselves are usually under gag orders.)

Beginning of the document Winner leaked

Winner is also an Air Force veteran who, at the time she snailmailed the restricted document to The Intercept, was working for Virginia-based spy contractor Pluribus International. You might know the US spy agencies — rebranded intelligence agencies especially following 1970s revelations of scandals such as Operation Mockingbird — are mostly staffed by contractors, whose trade secrets and other private properties are exempt from public oversight due to the laws of biz. In other words, the so-called intelligence community, its structure if not particular individuals within, is motivated not by public safety, but by profit and worse. For Pluribus International, the multilingual Winner translated into English surveilled terrorist communications from languages such as Farsi and Pashto. As Trump was firing Comey, a secret network board system, akin to a classified version of Reddit and accessible by Pluribus International staff, ranked a certain document highly, indicating wide interest in it.

The document, and The Intercept article about it, describes cyberattacks, carried out just days before the 2016 elections, by Russian military hackers against more than 100 local election officials in the United States and at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. In short, Winner gave everyone information required for self-governance, gave everyone necessary knowledge otherwise unavailable. That includes any voting vendor staff who, without security clearances, would not have been able to access such protective classified information unless it appeared in open discourse. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a June 9, 2017 post on his personal website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Reality Winner “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.”

Such computer vulnerabilities ultimately show how state, corporate, or other criminal actors (or combinations thereof), anywhere in the world, can manipulate elections, anywhere in the world, to secretly condition the public into believing lies. As philosopher and former Wikileaks Central editor Heather Marsh explains in my article from Winner’s sentencing:

“This document is more than just evidence of Russian interference. In many ways, the US election is a high-profile, long-term investigation into the nature of how democracies work today. Opinions are manipulated by organizations such as Cambridge Analytica in conjunction with intelligence collection by organizations such as Wikistrat. These are problems which have plagued all democracies for years now–Canada’s 2011 voter suppression robocalls and Andrés Sepúlveda’s decade-long manipulation of Latin American elections are two earlier reported examples of modern election interference.”

Marsh’s quotation continues in my article from her sentencing. The public’s understanding of TrumPutin wouldn’t have developed to the extent it did, had Winner not gifted us (and Congress) with the secret document.

In that same article of mine, long-time elections integrity activist Bev Harris explains the cyberattacks described Winner’s in disclosure are part of the same cyberattacks that make up the last count in then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s ’12 Russians’ indictment against the Putin regime’s military hackers. The top prosecutorial agency in the United States issuing an international criminal indictment drawing in part from the deed of this imprisoned whistleblower, an individual in her mid-twenties wrongly called by that same agency’s lawyer Bobby L. Christine “the quintessential example of an insider threat,” suggests, as do many other things, that Winner deserved a medal, not a prison sentence, and at the very least deserves a pardon now.

Sinners in the hands of an angry audience

First page of revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards's 1741 sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Audience
Reality Winner did nothing wrong

FOX News ran a paint-by-numbers campaign tarring Winner, the arguments of which are easy to dismantle. The TV hosts, typically on whatever forms of speed — just hit pause and look at their eyes; also, how do you think they manage to broadcast nonstop? — raged about how on social media, Winner called Trump an “orange fascist” and messaged her sister about hating America. Besides considering Trump’s actual fascism and horrible things done by the United States (for instance, by the CIA), just imagine for an analogy that you’re waiting at Discount Tire for the mechanics to finish with your car. In the morning, a caffeine-deprived mechanic in the back employee area, perhaps a decorated veteran like Winner, grouses to another mechanic about hating Discount Tire’s early start times and lack of vegan food in the break room. As afternoon arrives, the same mechanic and a third mechanic talk together about how the company does offer them good things too, including the opportunity to tinker with a steady stream of various automobiles. By evening, the mechanic says they have mixed feelings about Discount Tire and the company should make some improvements. That’s essentially what the comments of Winner and everyone else venting about politics on social media boil down to. It isn’t difficult for those outside tunnel vision to understand.

Meanwhile, on the mainstream US left, comfy members of the public have seemingly decided that nothing is possible except voting for evil on un-auditable computerized election infrastructure while making fun of whistleblowers’ unusual names. If horrific human rights violations happen every day and humanity goes extinct, well, the thinking seems to go, at least they got a few more moments to [insert distractions here]. Expecting lifelong entertainment, these audiences will get angry when instead they’re presented with education.

The duopoly stereotypes above are fortunately dissolving faster and faster as the public, especially younger generations, communicate interpersonally more and more, thanks to the Internet. However, the propaganda battles online continue, as does increasing authoritarian control of the online world.

Bottom line, fight for justice: don’t be a newb whose biggest ‘contribution’ this week is shitposting lazy remarks about Reality Winner’s excellent aptronym; instead, learn more about her case (below) and select a way to help her get a pardon (also below).

Recent or ongoing media offering more about the whistleblower and/or the document she disclosed

Photo from stageplay Is This a Room

Reality Winner is the subject of Is This A Room, a new Broadway stageplay based on the transcript of her FBI interrogation, during which she was not Mirandized: she was not read her rights, not for remaining silent, not for a lawyer’s presence. This (il)legal sleight of hand was pulled off in the courtroom by the prosecutors denying the context and insisting Winner “would have felt free to terminate the encounter.” But the eleven FBI agents, each male and almost all of them armed, pressured her in many ways, tantamount to coercion, including by bullying her into the titular seven-by-nine-foot unfurnished back room she told them was “creepy” and “weird.” With her cramped into the claustrophobic space, they blocked the doors and proceeded with the supposedly voluntary interrogation. According to reviews, the stageplay — I’ve yet to see it — reunites the transcript and the context, helping to alter our crazymaking world into something new that actually drives people sane.

(Such isolation and control as the FBI agents’ is similarly employed elsewhere in our lives to produce bogus psuedo-realities. To take one example out of zillions, consider an antidepressant trial started when the COVID-19 pandemic started. How’s the confound of a terrifying pandemic removed from the analysis of the psychopharmaceutical’s efficacy? Likewise, the context of study participants being paid and promised better lives, is likewise snipped out by contractor scientists who sometimes even hold conflict-of-interest patents on the pills in question, since unlike salaried scientists, contractor scientists, akin to those contractors staffing spy agenices, are exempt from disclosure requirements, that is, transparency and accountability requirements.)

Is This A Room, 70 minutes with no intermission, runs at the Lyceum Theatre through November 27. Official website; buy tickets. The stageplay has received critical acclaim and sudden popularity.

Given the success of the stageplay, the Broadway Podcast Network recently launched a series entitled This Is Reality. With more on the way, they presently offer four full episodes, released between October 18 and November 17. I recommend listening for great, up-to-date information about Reality Winner, her case, and more, including how the 1917 Espionage Act, more than a century old, is used federally not to prosecute individuals for sharing military movements with foreign enemies, but to prosecute domestic whistleblowers for sharing restricted knowledge with the public (usually via the media), i.e. the enemy of authoritarians is the public, you and me.

The DC-based Dworkin Report, hosted by politico Scott Dworkin, cofounder of The Democratic Coalition political action committee, offers a trio of recent interviews. First, from August 4, an interview with Winner’s lawyer, Dallas-based Alison Grinter. Second, from October 5, an interview with the whistleblower’s sister, Brittany Winner. Third, from October 7, an interview with Billie J. Winner-Davis, Reality Winner’s mother who on social media fiercely advocates for her family every single day. Those Dworkin Report links have been going down sometimes, so if they’re temporarily unavailable, try elsewhere: first interview, second interview, third interview. Make sure you listen to Scott Dworkin’s interview of Billie J. Winner-Davis, the whistleblower’s mother. I’ll note two things about it. First, she calls upon Biden to grant her daughter clemency (a pardon is a form of clemency). Second, about Glenn Greenwald. After I spearheaded a successful effort to drag him in 2014 long before it became popular to do so (see here, here, here, here, and elsewhere), I switched to just ignoring Greenbacks, since that’s often the most effective way to turn someone’s volume down. However, Billie J. Winner-Davis says something in the third interview that I think is worth making an exception for, worth amplifying. Reality Winner was burned (arrested) as a source for The Intercept because (as the official story goes, anyhow), journalists there not only talked with government officials trying to confirm the document’s veracity (which is fine), but also sent them the document itself (which isn’t fine), enabling them to track the whistleblower down from various clues associated with the document. Asked about that, Billie J. Winner-Davis told Scott Dworkin:

“Glenn Greenwald is, I mean, he’s hard to figure out; he likes to use Reality to create, you know, a social media storm. But that’s what he’s doing: he’s using her. I wish he would just stop. You know, I have gotten so much support from people from The Intercept and from First Look Media who have reached out to me personally who have expressed the regret about what happened to Reality and who have expressed their support for her and for our family. Glenn Greenwald is not one of those people, and I just wish he would go away.”

I predict that during this new decade, revelations will arrive of popular US-based or US-ish lefty journalists being on the take (receiving illicit money from) the BRICS regimes such as Putin’s. Occasionally I look at job openings at tiny “radical news” outlets and see the high pay and think, yeah, this doesn’t add up. As Spock might say, simple logic. An important byproduct of Winner’s leak has been the reactions of others, exposing who cares about inflating themselves as Great Men while supporting red-brown alliance (red commies cliquing up with brown fascists as oft black-clad anarchists go on as DIY as ever) and BRICS interests (here’s looking at you, clan Assadnge), versus who cares about human rights, including for whistleblowers who are women (and thus too often downplayed or ignored), as well as open democracy over authoritarianism.

Another source of information: documentary filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck’s 93-minute movie United States vs. Reality Winner that premiered earlier this year.

Finally, my August 2018 article from her sentencing is the only detailed narrative from the courtroom, and one of the very few written detailed analyses, besides the original Intercept article, of the leaked document. I’ve also written posts about her case here, which you can find via clicking my blog’s Reality Winner tag. I have some additional unpublished investigative material I plan to pull together for release soon.

Cover art for Worldly Wise vocabulary book 4 shows a pencil sketch of an owl with words on the owl's front
Vocabulary workbook series given to students at in my K-12 in the eighties and nineties, in Texas

Frequently asked vocabulary

Like any bureaucracy, the carceral industry and the Bureau of Prisons in particular have their own specialized, intentionally impenetrable jargon. Since these terms will be thrown around this workweek — and in the future regarding other federal whistleblower cases — here’s a quick glossary explaining what the lingo actually means on the federal level and how it pertains to Reality Winner.

Note: To follow the below, it helps to understand the timeline of Winner’s imprisonment: after sentencing, she was moved to incarceration at FCC Carswell in Fort Worth. Then on good time earned, she was moved a little early to incarceration in person at a halfway house. Next, on June 9, she moved to home confinement, still considered incarceration, involving conditions such as a buzzing electronic ankle monitor, and requiring frequent reporting to the halfway house for drug testing and the like. Then Tuesday she’s no longer incarcerated, but on three years of supervised release, basically the federal equivalent of parole.

Now the definitions. On Monday I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about these terms, but any mistakes are mine.

Supervised release) A period of time after incarceration that’s supposed to help prisoners re-integrate back into society. Sort of a midpoint between full Bureau of Prisons custody and living out in the free world. It’s close to the more familiar, state-level concept of parole, which no longer exists on the federal level. If a prisoner on supervised release is held to have violated conditions, the Bureau of Prisons can yank them back behind bars for the remainder of the sentence.

Halfway house) To be exact, halfway house is an umbrella term that encompasses a few different types of facilities. Generally, though, and in Reality Winner’s case, a halfway house means what the Bureau of Prisons calls a Residential Reentry Center (RRC), unsurprisingly run by a private contractor. Typically, federal prisoners go to these halfway houses directly after incarceration and physically stay there. Later, during home confinement, the prisoners frequently report to the halfway houses, which set the conditions of their home confinement period.

Home confinement) Still considered incarceration, home confinements see prisoners living at home with a heavy electronic ankle monitor. They’re expected to obey strict conditions and report to the halfway house periodically.

Clemency) Formally speaking, clemency isn’t a federal concept. Informally, though, it refers to the remedies an executive can give prisoners, among them commutations and pardons. Reality Winner asks for clemency, specifically (and more precisely) a pardon.

Commutation) A commutation is a federal remedy that essentially speeds up a prisoner’s sentence. A commuted sentence is stopped early; prisoners’ sentences are over sooner than they would have been otherwise. But with the behind bars, halfway house, and home confinement phases over on Tuesday, Reality Winner is no longer seeking a commutation; instead, she’s seeking a pardon.

Pardon) A convict receiving a federal pardon is no longer a felon; in the eyes of the law at least, they’re fully and completely forgiven. Yet there’s no federal expungement: the pardoned individual’s case still happened. The point of the pardon is that legally, any and all the felony conviction disabilities, as the adverse consequences are called, are removed. That said, what specific employers or apps choose to do regarding a pardoned former felon, may be up to them.

Expungement) This isn’t available at the federal level. Expungement is a state-level remedy. For example in Texas, an expungement (“expunction” in the Texas statutes) means files about a crime are destroyed and the offense is removed from the person’s criminal record.

Parole) A state-level concept. Parole technically no longer exists at the federal level; it’s been replaced by the concept of supervised release. For general audiences, though, it’s fair enough to imprecisely refer to someone’s supervised release as parole, but for the more exact among us, supervised release is correct.

Probation) This doesn’t relate to Reality Winner’s case. Probation is something imposed in place of incarceration. For example, at a sentencing, a federal judge might impose two months of probation on a defendant as opposed to two years in prison.

Office of Probation and Pretrial Service) Also known as the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, this is the bureau in the judicial branch that not only administers probation, but also administers supervised release.

Probation officer or supervised release officer) Employed by the Office of Probation and Pretrial Service, this person is the one making the day-to-day decisions about a felon’s supervised released conditions. Technically, they’re called a supervised release officer. They might refer to themself as a probation officer, given their employer. That may even be true of Reality Winner’s officer, despite her being on supervised release, not probation.

Those are the vocabulary terms for how the federal carceral system is supposed to work, although as a May 2017 article I wrote for The Cryptosphere shows, things may play out differently in practice, suggesting a strange mix of incompetence and/or decision-makers who aren’t on the up and up, to say the least.

#PardonRealityWinner

It’s important to recognize that even on supervised release and afterward, Reality Winner, though outside prison walls, isn’t free. Her felony record and plea agreement will continue to prevent her from fully speaking out about her case and the leaked document and its implications. On Monday, I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about that adverse consequence of her conviction and the additional adverse consequences I describe in the two paragraphs below, but again, any mistakes are mine.

Reality Winner standing next to a Christmas tree at home and smiling
Photo of Reality Winner taken by her mother in December 2016. A pardon would be the best present

While Winner’s on supervised release for three years, she must obey strict conditions, which may vary according to her supervised release officer’s interpretations or caprices. To legally dispute the officer requires expensive, time-consuming, and stressful requests to the court in Augusta Georgia. Winner on supervised release has a curfew (can’t leave before 6 a.m. and has to be home by 10 p.m.) and must remain physically within the Southern District of Texas, though it’s the Augusta Georgia court that convicted her that ultimately calls the shots. The officer may choose to continue the surveillance of her smartphone. References in interviews to dating apps blocking her as a user revolve not around the supervised release conditions, but rather those apps querying databases and determining she’s a felon and thus barred from swiping.

Without a pardon, Winner will suffer what lawyers refer to as the disabilities of being a felon. For example, she’s banned from certain federal lands (the specifics are complicated). She’s not eligible for various federal benefits such as housing. She can’t own weapons (not uncommon in rural Texas), nor, in a strange provision, may she own body armor. Certain other countries may forbid entry or permanent residency to a U.S. felon. The list goes on.

A pardon would delete all of the above problems and restore Reality Winner’s freedom. It would allow her to share the full story. Like the full story, a pardon would also send an enormous domestic and international signal that the United States does not endorse TrumPutin-style autocracy. In other words, in the interest of open democracy, the United States Government has the need and ability to pardon Reality Winner not just for her, but also for itself and the public. Obama commuted the sentence of, but did not pardon, whistleblower Chelsea Manning; that suggests a pardon for Reality Winner can indeed happen under the Biden administration, but it will take significant effort.

Here are several ways to make #PardonRealityWinner happen:

  • Correspond with the US Pardon Attorney by phone +1 202 616 6070, by email USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov, and/or by snailmail: U.S. Department of Justice / Office of the Pardon Attorney / 950 Pennsylvania Avenue – RFK Main Justice Building / Washington, DC 20530. It would be very helpful for them to be deluged with international messages explaining how a pardon for Reality Winner would improve the international standing of the United States after the Trump administration convicted her for keeping the investigation into Russian interference alive.
  • Share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner, including in places other than your most familiar/comfortable social media sites. For example, during offline conversations, on social media sites you aren’t yet familiar with, via art such as graffiti or music, and so on.
  • If you know more than one language, translate and share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner.

  • Politely badger elected officials about Reality Winner, always pushing for the goal: pardoning her. Schedule appointments, call, donate a small amount to get them to actually reply (hey if corporate interests can bribe so can constituents). I’ve talked about Reality Winner with Kamala Harris at one of her campaign stops; I’ve talked to federal staffers, etc. If you haven’t done similar already in your life, you should, even just for the interesting experience.

  • Anything else you can dream up. Don’t listen to the naysayers boasting of their cynicism to promise themselves it was wise to have given up in life. Beautiful Trouble is a handy resource book / toolkit for learning nonviolent tactics.

  • Sign the online petition, but don’t let that stop you from doing any or all of the above.
Photo shows Reality Winner sitting atop a bale of hay petting a large horse looking up at her.
Billie J. Winner-Davis’s photo of Reality Winner on Nov. 19, 2021

Creative Commons License

This blog post, #PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021, 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/2021/11/22/realitywinner-whistleblower-supervised-release-pardon/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 45 of 52.

On September 4, I answered my phone to hear the voice of a man in his thirties or forties: “I’m calling you out of nowhere, and this is a pretty strange call and pretty strange request, so bear with me.” With an opening like that, how could I not keep listening? (I recorded what happened at the time but never got around to blogging about it until tonight.)

Just before the phone rang, I was at home in my high castle, right, reading obscure histories of northeast Oregon towns, digitizing old documents, or whatever it is I do with my eccentric life when I’m not substitute teaching, ghostwriting for dimes scraped off someone else’s dollar, or otherwise answering to the trade economy’s myriad commercial imperatives.

When my phone rang, I thought, Probably another damn spam call. Those in the United States know how they’ve been getting worse in the past few years: another sign of the times, likely. But hey, the area code was 213. Los Angeles! Maybe, just maybe, opportunity was knocking. Hey, even anti-careerists can daydream.

Well, I was wrong. Opportunity wasn’t knocking. Hilarity was.

You won’t believe what happened next

After his fantastic opening line, the mystery caller then explains he’s looking to get an email account with Riseup Networks. For the uninitiated, Riseup is a longstanding Seattle-based provider of email and other tech services for millions of activists worldwide. They’re a savvy collective with decades of meritorious history.

I’ve been using Riseup email—dal@riseup.net—since 2012. Back then, Riseup gave out email accounts to anyone who agreed, or clicked that they agreed, with certain basic human decency principles, free of charge, donations encouraged. Nowadays, Riseup no longer just hands out email accounts. If I recall correctly, they stopped around 2016. Tightening things up; could be. Yet another sign of the times, likely. Currently, to get a Riseup email account, aspiring users need an invite code from someone who already has an account and is willing, in some algorithmic digital trust network sense, to vouch for them.

So, the mystery caller tells me he specifically wants a Riseup email invite code. I say I’m curious how he got my number—not because I’m offended, I explain, but because as a journalist/researcher, I often dig up information on people, and I want to know his tricks.

Like steam exiting the depressurizing coolant expansion tank of an overcompensating pickup truck’s tortured engine system, he barks odd laughter. He can’t help but tell me he ran a search for “riseup.net” and came across my email address and phone number in some online Freedom of Information Act filing of mine. When I used to conduct adversarial interviews more often than I do now, I was amazed at how readily interviewees expectorated the information I sought. Today I understand it’s because they’re tightly wound bio-psycho-socially. If, like Kevin Costner at the climax of his cheesy Robin Hood movie, you aim your interviewing bow and arrow just right, they become spectacularly undone with unintentionally confessional words torrenting out of their big mouths. You might be surprised at how far playing dumb as an interviewer can get you in life, unless you watch the old detective show Columbo.

En garde!

Climactic scene from Spaceballs where, in the evil spaceship, the lovable rogue character and the Darth Vader character face off as if in fencing, but hold their base of their lightsabers just above their clothed, uh, groins.
Spaceballs, the 1987 film masterpiece for every serious thinker

To his black market credit, the mystery caller recovered his poise quickly. Of course, under no circumstance was I going to give him, a total stranger, a Riseup invite code. But I wanted to see how this call was going to go down, and I think he wanted to see, too. That meant at this point in the conversation, the two duelists had taken stock of each other’s lightsabers. The battle was now to begin in earnest.

He launches into a predictable sob story about how he lost his wife and dog and money and homework, could I please give him a Riseup invite code. Man, that’s all he’s got?

I tell him No, I don’t give Riseup invite codes to people I don’t know personally, ever. But I can tell him a good way of going about getting one.

He doesn’t understand I’m hinting at volunteering. He tells me of some corner of the Internet where people are, he says, selling Riseup invite codes. I tell him if a Riseup account is linked to scammers, it poisons the reputation of the account that invited the scammer in, or more generally poisons the trust network of email accounts associated with the scammer, so don’t bother.

With the embarrassing bravado of a demagogue, he pivots to his next attack.

Really? Really?

Then the caller tells me he knows, of all people … the founder of Bitcoin! None other than the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, whose legal identity, despite many theories, remains uncertain. Wow, someone knows the founder of Bitcoin and just so happened to call me on a random Saturday morning. Que suerte! Not.

Rule number one of an adversarial interview is to keep the interviewee talking. The more words they emit, the more likely they’ll mis-step. So I ignore, sorta acting like I, too, know Satoshi Nakamoto. Doesn’t everyone?

But wherever he’s going with his Bitcoin founder thing is lost because I start laughing, unfortunately breaking character. Out of my typical benevolence, I tell the guy he should join the Riseup Internet Relay Chat channel and volunteer his time, building karma that way until he earns an invite code.

The caller’s totally not interested in ye olde effort. By this point in the call, I’m getting bored. Time to wrap this crap up.

He asks me a final time for an invite code. I say No. “Why are you against it?” he pleads. And I say, “For one thing, because I do get these requests [by email] every other month or so, and they take up way too much time while I’m trying to get work done. Bye!”

A half hour later, he text-messages me a giant poop emoji. The poor thing.

If you use Riseup Networks and can afford to, please donate to them!

Modification of the Debian logo to include an A for anarchy and command line interface code to the effect of installing anarchism.
Riseup Networks images may be found here

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me, 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/2021/11/13/phone-scammer-riseup-email-invite-codes/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Reading ‘The catalyst effect of COVID-19’, a year and a half later

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 44 of 52. I skipped entry 43 due to travel in the last week of October. I took the photos herein from that trip. The coastal beach pics are off Highway 101 just south of Oregon’s city of Gold Beach. The forest ones are from northwest California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. You can find more photographs on my instagram account. Enjoy; I sure did!

Redwood trees and other forest items in northwest California

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization for the first time characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. Problems with the United Nations and its agencies aside, WHO is the authoritative international body providing global health education and coordination, a situation likely to remain until supranational power or the (hopefully informed) public replaces it with their or our next organization. Thus, its director-general’s written opening remarks from that fateful Wednesday’s press conference are quite historically notable. If you’ve never read them, you should; the document’s expertly composed and concise, put together in the heat of a very stressful geopolitical moment.

On April 25, 2020, philosopher Heather Marsh wrote a piece titled “The catalyst effect of COVID-19.” Her post too has had significant impact around the planet already, but if you’re from, or answer to, an intellectual background deriving from the last few centuries in Europe, you might find that assessment a little strange: How could something I’m not already aware of and that’s not on Netflix be important? I actually know an erudite, older activist in Texas who explicitly believes the corporate amplification awarded to Eurocentric thinkers, including Nietzsche, is based not on their demographics and proximity to power, but on merit. For such readers, consider it might be challenging to measure impact for an author who gets censored and who in 2014/2015 sparked worldwide and ongoing discussion of pedo human trafficking. Or just look at the academic credibility she already has. Or recall that the Communist Manifesto, which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sent from London to the European continent behind schedule, wasn’t considered historically important until decades after the 1848 revolutions it was meant to influence. Not everything important is already in the important! section of the university bookstore, and who’s arranging the shelving, right?

Walking through the California state park marveling at the redwoods, I was having reminded of Marsh’s “The catalyst effect of COVID-19” due to a wonderful conversation that led me to put a two-and-two together in, I believe, a new way. I’d like to share that small insight. Plus, let’s take a fresh look at Marsh’s post (her glossary may help in reading it; the reading grade is pretty high). A year and a half later, have her predictions about how COVID-19 would catalyze the world come to pass?

Beach and sea on a cloudy day in southwest Oregon

Why the most radical transformation the world has ever seen?

The main of Marsh’s post starts with an astonishing sentence: “We are, or will be, going through the most radical transformation the world has ever seen; people are justly terrified, excited, depressed, heartbroken and hopeful, all at once.” Humans in today’s form have been around for hundreds of thousands of years—and now, the most radical transformation ever? Why?

My little insight answer—besides other factors such as election cycles—that I came up with while the interlocutor and I were hiking back from the redwoods to the de facto trailhead, is that we have two pan- things arriving together, one of them unique, for the first time in our history. As the globe has learned in the past two years, pan- means every, as in everyone and/or everywhere.

The first pan- thing, the unique one, is global communication. As opposed to feudal villages, where you might go your whole life knowing your entire town but never a stranger, we’ve now been approaching a point where everyone can communicate with everyone else, or at least try to do so. Many have made or hinted at this “Information Age” observation—whether that’s Marsh, journalist Barrett Brown, or simply Seattle-based heavy metal band Queensrÿche. Even Marx and Engels noted nearly two centuries ago the importance of “the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another.” In 2010, merely six years after the introduction of Facebook in 2004, then-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt said: “There were five exabytes of information created by the entire world between the dawn of civilization and 2003. Now that same amount is created every two days.” Some are still left out of this info-flood—perhaps people with developmental disabilities, or those doomed to spend their lives down in mineshafts, or others somehow blocked from or not desiring tech access. However, though estimates vary, social media platforms nowadays have billions of users, and that doesn’t count the tremendous amount of additional people if you consider shared accounts and shared devices.

The second pan- thing is the pandemic; humans have suffered pandemics before, but now everybody can talk about one of them—in real time. In the past, crises that have affected all have been too complicated or too removed to impact the daily experience of plenty of individuals such that they understand what’s going on. For instance, issues are around ozone layer depletion/recovery and the Montreal Protocol banning CFCs are simply over the heads (pun intended) of individuals unfamiliar with the subject: Something new will go wrong with the sky? Yeah whatever! Even the frustrating topic of money, seemingly universal, is pretty much irrelevant for decorative members of contemporary royalty, kept in lifelong gilded cages. Yet everyone is threatened by contagion; the novel coronavirus can infect anyone, no matter who or where you are. I imagine there must be exceptions, very few, to universal awareness of the idea of COVID-19 contagion risk (even if some disagree it’s a genuine risk), but—perhaps to the surprise of reactionaries—refugees near the Del Rio International Bridge between Texas and Mexico (a human rights crisis heightened in Sept/Oct of this year but existing previously and surely again) understood the concept of anti-coronavirus mitigation measures, and so do infants, in their own faint way, when they feel their parents’ stress or enjoy/endure longer, soapy bath-times. To sum up, basically everyone on the planet has some understanding, however minimal, that a serious pandemic, or the idea of it for those who (incorrectly) disagree it’s serious, is going on.

In short, for the first time in human history, rare exceptions aside, not only is everyone talking with everyone, but everyone is talking with everyone about a somewhat easy to understand problem that affects all: contagion, from a widespread respiratory virus. I think that’s one huge reason why COVID-19 is catalyzing unprecedented change. Humans are fundamentally driven by knowledge and communication, and are now equipped to share their actions, experiences, and ideas in hopes of overcoming the more or less understandable (if in some aspects shrouded in mystery) planetary crisis and any other crises that surface.

The key point: two rival economic ideologies converting into a single global mono-empire

After saying the thought-provoking lines “It is very tempting to stop everything and live in the moment, but some things need us to be alert, careful and creative. One thing I have been saying for years is the US, China and Russia (and others) are all headed for a major crisis in 2020 (which is here now!) and so is the world generally. While some states are undergoing terror and totalitarianism, others are seeing unprecedented opportunities for healing,” Marsh continues: “The key point is that we are scaling up into a mono-empire from a system of two rival economic ideologies (cold war communism and capitalism).”

In the United States, a younger person may be familiar with trying to convince a reactionary Boomer that capitalism is dumb. The reactionary Boomer might, well, react by saying: “A little stupid sometimes maybe, but communism is far worse, therefore capitalism is the only answer.” Reminiscent of former UK prime minister and arch-conservative Margaret Thatcher insisting that “there is no alternative” to market economy worth anyone spending any time on. If you try to ask Boomers not about capitalism versus communism, but rather about capitalism versus feudalism, or capitalism versus whatever’s coming next, you might get blank stares, or the conversation might improve and open up. Such dialogue demonstrates that Cold War-era USians generally see political options forever boiled down, as in Manicheanism, to two opposing choices: communism or capitalism. That vanishing, yet still influential, stage of history is getting converted, and converted fast, into a single planetary empire.

What is this global mono-empire of supranational power? International tech corporations manipulating, disappearing, and propagandizing knowledge or “knowledge” while permanently storing our personal data that joins other permanently recorded information for their management of a reputation economy that will continue and worsen the extermination of the poor (read more and evidence here). To know what to do about it, we need, among other things, to see what’s before our eyes, as Marsh’s post explains.

Beach, crags, hills, road, etc.

Three things to watch for: diminishing trade economy, law of the last circle, and escaping the mono-empire

Before getting started on this section proper, a quick vocabulary note. To read the below passages, as a kind of shorthand, you can think of an endogroup as, due to emergency conditions and fear/guilt symbiosis, affiliated people claiming they have an exclusive identity, idealizing an image (perhaps a leader or symbol), and believing an exceptional myth of their endogroup, while empathic and euphoric conduits to life outside their endogroup are blocked. Endosocial strategies are not necessarily bad, but endosocial extremism is. Endosocialism is contrasted with exosocial expansion, the “[u]ninhibited expansion of self through continual establishment of euphoric conduits through relationships, discovery, creation, spirituality, etc.” Exosocial expansion is something humanity needs more of. (Read Marsh’s book on self since it’s more complicated than this quick Cliffs Notes-style summary.)

Here’s the first thing to watch for from Marsh’s April 2020 post: dramatically decreasing importance of trade.

One, the [trade] economy is not going to be nearly as important as it was before. This may be unimaginable to people who have been accustomed to framing all of our problems in terms of economics, but think of how religions and states faded as the dominant endogroups when new transcendental endogroups appeared. Things that appear essential to society can fade into irrelevance if they are based only on endoreality, as [trade] economics is. The crash we started the year [2020] off with will not simply produce a depression and then recovery. Instead, it will illustrate the fact that economics now is simply an abstracted power structure [consider] with no underlying support in universal reality (like all endoreality). Economics as we know it, is dead. This does not mean it will disappear completely overnight, or that it will not remain in some form in some places, but, like religions, states, families, and other formerly dominant endogroups, it will no longer be the dominant or authoritative power structure in our lives. This is explained in great detail in The Approval Economy which will be published one day.

I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about how the trade collapse/change is playing out in most countries, but I’m aware of what’s happening here in the United States and in a few other places. Of course USians have heard about supply chain problems, such as the article last month in The Atlantic titled “[The United States] is running out of everything.” Those in the know for the past few decades have acknowledged the taboo subject of how in the US, far from its intelligentsia able to remain forever smug about not signing portions of international law from a catbird seat position, will find itself increasingly dependent on, and unable to force compliance from, those it previously mocked (or invaded). USians might notice non-USians are more and more vocal on global social media every day, and that the centuries-old hell is other people Eurocentric philosopher tomes are not stopping, say, Myanmar rebels from sharing their news online. But like trusting Nate Silver in 2016 that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, many in the United States today promise themselves that we’re in just another merely temporary economic downturn. Instead, what’s happening will be far more transformative. I’ve started tracking this topic on my blog using the tag economics and the header “worldwide trade economy collapse/change.” You might consider that, as international experience demonstrates, USians are typically exceptionally helpless and all too often admire an idiocracy, especially when it comes to insisting social support is for only weaklings and imposing shame for it. But the US is going to need social support badly; and, the US won’t be able to provide enough of it from within. For more on this, and other topics such as the international implications of US federal FATCA law (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), see my blog’s Leaving the US tag.

Verdict? Yeah, we’re seeing the worldwide trade economy collapse/change come to pass, even if arriving in a strange, slow-mo, lumbering Frankenstein’s monster sort of way.

Here’s the second thing to watch for from Marsh’s “The catalyst effect of COVID-19”:

Two, in accordance with the law of the last circle, also explained in The Creation of Me, Them and Us, places like the US, and China are going to try to fall back to old real or imagined endogroups such as those around states, religions, etc. as the economic endogroups weaken. We have already seen this in the global reversion to various forms of endogroups producing widespread nationalism, sexism, racism, religious cults and every other form of endosocial extremism. This will continue in some regions, and we are still at risk of civil wars and other endogroup atrocities from this.

The retreat to far-right demagoguery playing out in many countries currently is an example of Marsh’s law of the last circle; think fascist Jair Bolsarano in Brazil, for instance, or the likely return of Trump in November 2024. Revivals of authoritarian, patriarchal religion would be another example, as in the “Christian America” antagonists in science fiction writer Octavia Butler’s 1990s Parable novels, who decades before Trump, chanted “Make America Great Again.” Another example would be Steve Bannon allying with Moonie cults that literally worship assault rifles and are setting up compounds in Tennessee and Texas. A lighthearted and non-harmful example would be my reading the recent autobiographies of the heavy metal rock star men I grew up idolizing, when I’m tired, depleted, and want to turn my brain off before bed. We all employ various endosocial strategies from time to time, but endosocial extremism threatens atrocities, already existent or forthcoming, and threatens to block exosocial expansion.

Verdict? Yes, the law of the last circle is increasingly observable, with people retreating from the possibility of evolution by fleeing, in greater numbers than just prior, toward their former (real or imagined) endogroups.

The third and final thing to watch for from Marsh’s post is the global mono-empire, and how to resist it. The global mono-empire can be seen, for example, in Mark Zuckerberg’s October 28 announcement—in response to revelations, of the manipulation and misery of Facebook and Instagram users, that whistleblower Frances Haugen provided to the Wall Street Journal and the Facebook Consortium—that Facebook will rebrand to Meta. The prefix meta- means “transcending”; it’s seen in terms such as metaverse, metacognition, and metafiction. Facebook’s new brand identity, Meta, suggests transcendental improvement, but will mean only transcendence above that Cold War binary of capitalism or communism, into the global mono-empire of knowledge hoarding and manipulation (propaganda), permanent personal data storage (no privacy), reputation economy, and so on. Note that Facebook, and any future Meta, will (continue to) have users who think of themselves as small biz capitalist, state communist, corporate capitalist, anarcho-communist, or as humans equal to some other ideology, but it doesn’t matter, with surveilled fixed identities, they will all answer to these tech corporations … unless,

Thankfully, the public can also scale up with its pan- connections to each other, with regional communities interconnecting for mutual benefit while retaining insofar as possible, their own autonomy, self-governance, and cultures. The public can resist the global mono-empire, while supporting, or revoking support for, international, transparent, peer-promoting epistemic communities providing expertise with the help of knowledge bridges (decode that mouthful here). In her post, Marsh provides a 14-point list of opportunities activists can pursue to take advantage of the pandemic to achieve worthy goals. The COVID crisis is not only an opportunity for the global mono-empire, but also for us. For instance, one of her suggestions is, since public transit was becoming free of charge in many places, not to let it become unfree ever again. Seattle failed to accomplish that goal. During the early phases of the pandemic, the City of Seattle made bus rides free; then in later phases, the transit authorities said, time to return to paying bus fare. As far as I’ve been able to make out from my high castle, Seattleites hearing news of the upcoming change explained to each other they just knew that doing anything to stop it would be unrealistic, so the transit authorities said Wow that was easy and resumed charging money for bus rides, unhindered. And Seattle conservatives don’t care if bus rides cost money because they hate the idea of anybody (beyond families, churches, and other masculinist endogroups) providing or using goods and services for sheer fun, like basking in the sunlight that funds Earth life for free. (All of life is literally free; ultimately, the sun is paying for all this.) I don’t know what the status of the free public transit goal is outside the United States. Imagine if there had been just 14 journ-activists available, each one tracking a single of the 14 goals worldwide; then we’d know, and maybe more people would have been persuaded to understand and pursue the 14 aims! It can still happen, there’s some word that starts with d and rhymes with phonate that may be relevant. Regarding resisting the mono-empire, Marsh writes about the importance of her proposed global commons for public data (GetGee) and suggests using the news of supply chain problems to encourage, not development of evermore hierarchical forced trade dependency, but development of collaboration through networked fostering of strength and support. Check out her ‘The catalyst effect of COVID-19’ post for the other fascinating points on her list of 14 goals, which might call to mind, somewhat, how Marx and Engels created a 10-point plan in the Communist Manifesto (recommending for instance the abolition of all rights of inheritance) or the Black Panther Party put forth their 10-point plan in 1966 (demanding among other things an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people).

Beach on cloudy day with small island in distance

All of the above in one encounter

Driving back to Seattle, I parked along the way—somewhere off Highway 38 in southwest Oregon—to buy a cap for the air inflation valve of one of my tires. As the commercial jingle has it, I got in the zone: AutoZone! Therein I had a single encounter that encompasses all three points Marsh’s post recommends watching for.

A heavily tatted clerk rung up my tiny plastic bag of four tire air valve caps at the register and grumbled aloud about how AutoZone store staff (trade) is supposed to be a family (families are fine but converting workplaces to one hints of the law of the last circle) and how the other employees were letting him down by not coming in and working overtime (economic trade collapse/change, as r/antiwork posts from this month also suggest). Forgetting I was apparently the only dude in the store, and perhaps the whole rural red area, with long hair and an anti-COVID19 face mask on, I tried to make a joke about how the forthcoming zombie apocalypse might be filmed by Tarantino, you know, Quarantine Tarantino. The tatted clerk ignored me entirely, instead initiating a new conversation with an employee in the back (sticking with his workplace trade endogroup dominance battles rather than experiencing an emotional conduit with an outsider offering something punny). The tatted guy beseeched the second employee to come in as soon as possible for overtime. That other employee refused. The heavily tatted clerk began loudly bemoaning the general state of things. “I want to rejoin the Army,” he said bluntly. “I want to go back to Afghanistan!” Since his trade economy endogroup is collapsing, then it’s law of the last circle, at least in his imagination, reverting or regressing back to his former cherished endogroup, the hierarchical militia of Pentagon mercenaries he’d belonged to before. I punched in my payment card’s PIN and did the remaining button-presses, thereby entering my transaction and other personal data into permanent ledgers for manipulation use by the global mono-empire, regardless of whether the bureaus of that mono-empire advertise themselves to their populations as capitalist, communist, or perhaps someday soon, neither. When I left O̶m̶e̶l̶a̶s̶ AutoZone, I enjoyed the cool night weather (primary euphoria / exosocial joy), reminded myself to be grateful for the valve cap as I installed it and for my knowing how to install it in the first place, i.e. not being afraid of car maintenance as many are (gratitude, another emotion associated with exosocial interactions, in this case with older siblings who taught me car stuff), and finally, plain ol’ smiling and feeling good from this great trip I’d just enjoyed (rather than, as I know some do, including Western thinkers amplified by academia, arguing that happy nature hikes should be permanently off the table since the trails eventually come to a end, causing nihilistic sadness). Were the public having a blast sharing free essentials (among the recommended goals in Marsh’s post), providing for one another, as Food Not Bombs does (it’s real! it’s realistic!), I and others would be freed from unwanted paid-employment, and could more often enjoy examples, small or big, of expansive exosocial life.

These dark sands may secretly proffer platinum and other lil’ resources

Timelessness and chaos

Visiting the redwoods, you inevitably think of how these giant trees, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old, were here long before you were, and will be here long after you’re gone. A thought that might feel scary in an extreme endosocial headspace/environment, becomes natural and good in the exosocial great outdoors. Your time is part of, not some stupid endogroup cult, but the greater timelessness of Mother Nature.

In the United States, it can be common for activists to brag that any proposed change is unrealistic, especially if the origin of the proposal is not the usual vaunted Angry Intellectual Men. People telling each other (due to propaganda) that they just know of good change, that’ll never happen, is actually the only real obstacle. If people went out by the truckloads to catch invisible Pokemon a few years back, they can be convinced in truckloads to read books. Well, maybe. Among many other reasons, as a result of such US-specific barriers to activism (at least among my generation), I’m leaving the country, eventually, an aim of mine fans of this blog will be familiar with. It might take a while, and I worry over leaving people I care about in a metaphorical sinkhole they or those around them might not be able to see, but …

Elsewhere in the world, the COVID-19 catalyst effect might mean many people going outside and rediscovering efforts like Food Not Bombs, sharing food with each other in new and joyous ways. In the United States, movements afoot to ban dual citizenship, lock down borders permanently, and deprive residents even further of quality knowledge and trust might eventually mean something horrifying countrywide. Myanmar, and the open air prison of Palestine, a stage-setting for security forces training and live weapons industry advertising expo, come to mind.

Philip K. Dick also comes to mind, one of my favorite science fiction authors, whose stories have been popularized by Hollywood movies that strip out almost all his philosophical content and replace it with action heroes and fight scenes. PKD’s stories deal with questions around defining reality and acting authentically. Ultimately, he banked on the courage of the public and his “secret love of chaos.” Instead of picking identities demanded by the mono-empire’s drop-down menus, we can choose to change daily, or even moment to moment, in our chaotic world. You see a lot of that in the forest or on the beach. Crashing waves, bickering birds, falling trees. Slowly erranding slugs. Happily climbing humans.

I’ll give PKD the last word:

I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe — and I am dead serious when I say this — do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.

Photo of fallen leaves, standing redwoods, etc.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Reading ‘The catalyst effect of COVID-19’, a year and a half later, 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/2021/11/07/reading-catalyst-effect-covid19-year-half-later/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 42 of 52.

The image is a screenshot from a TV news segment. It shows John Moschitta Jr. in academic attire promoting his new ten-minute university spoof. Above, there's a caption saying: "World's fastest talking man sings bad in 20 seconds, 1987." It's a reference to the Michael Jackson song "Bad."
Motormouth John Moschitta Jr. of the spoof university that in ten minutes covers literature, biology, economics, physics, psychology … and football. (More)

This Wednesday, October 27 at 6 p.m. Pacific, I’ll give a talk in person to the University of Washington computer security club Batman’s Kitchen. Simultaneously, the event will be virtual: the Zoom meeting link is –> here. I should have the audiovideo file afterward; if so, I’ll put it on youtube and share it on my website. Total duration, including Q&A afterward, might be 90 minutes or so. Plus or minus a few.

I’m calling the presentation “Hacktivism meets journalism” and my main aim is to help those into computer security better understand how to plug into the media ecosystem. Secondarily, as hopefully helpful context, I’ll provide a brief overview of the past, present, and future of hacktivists and journalists working together, for better or worse. There was a big to-do about such things around 2009-2015, and in some ways there still is—such as, for instance, Department of Justice federal indictments! And of course this month, we’ve seen results of courageous whistleblower Frances Haugen sharing thousands of internal Facebook and Instagram documents with the Wall Street Journal and multiple news outlets referred to collectively as the Facebook Consortium.

My personal aim is to present the material without using notes (save for an outline) and to make a few other upgrades to my public speaking performance. That’s my recent CELTA lingo coming in handy! (CELTA certification courses recommend ESL teachers establish, per lesson, a main aim and a secondary aim for learners, and a personal aim for themselves.)

The image shows the cover art for a collection of Theodore Sturgeon short stories titled "And now the news..." The art shows newsprint as backdrop for a flugelhorn, a reference to the titular story about a man who stops consuming media and moves to the wilderness with his musical instrument.
Neat review here of this collection of Theodore Sturgeon short stories

News blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States

And now the news…

France. A two-year-long independent investigation into rape and related crimes by the Catholic Church in France—offenses from the 1950s onward—concluded on October 5 and formally found that impune clergy and other religious functionaries abused hundreds of thousands of child and teen victims. Then the witting Church covered up the wrongdoing.

The independent commission, called CIASE, published its final report this month. It’s in French, but the English translation will be released by the end of this year; however, the final report’s summary has already been made available in English. The 32-page English summary lists 45 actions recommended for any long process of repair.

CIASE webpage for the final report

CIASE advises that “compensation shall be paid either directly to the victim[s] or, in the event of the death of the latter, to the indirect victim[s]” (part of recommendation 31) and that reparations should not be funded by “appealing to the faithful for donations” nor by “socializing the financing” but rather “through funds recouped from the perpetrators” (part of recommendation 31). Also, the “criminal record of any person […] mandated or assigned by the Church to be in regular contact with children or vulnerable persons” needs systematic checks (part of recommendation 1). The commission suggests closely examining “[i]n what ways the paradoxical obsession of Catholic morality on issues of sexuality could be counterproductive” (part of recommendation 11). Pressure and other efforts by the public would help make these changes happen.

YAC.news put out an article on this subject on October 6 titled “Decades Of Impunity And Child Rape At French Church Exposed.” Along with the CIASE summary in English, that’s my primary source for this news blast bullet point. The YAC article stresses the need to end impunity:

To understand to tremendous impact and consequences this report has and will have on Churches all over the world, let’s simply quote the bible: Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” As this story continues to unravel, many questions remain, how will those who represent the Church handle this? How are those who hide the truth going to deal with their crimes? One thing is sure, it is time to end impunity.

Adverse childhood events or ACEs (in psychology lingo), such as damage from pedosadists upheld by the unsafe Catholic Church in France, violate and impair the formation of self/selves within what Heather Marsh’s book The Creation of Me, Them, and Us calls a “personal membrane”—a concept somewhat similar, yet more precise, than everyday terms like “personal bubble” or “mental health.” The intensity and severe lifelong consequences of such destruction done to defenseless children probably explain why readers typically feel greater disgust at pedo predators than at, say, armed robbers threatening a grown convenience store clerk, though that too is obviously a bad deal. Adult clerks can, in theory, defend themselves and comprehend the wrongdoing that’s happening to them; kids are far less able, or even unable, on both counts.

Belarus. Reading my blog entries tagged Belarus will get you up to speed more thoroughly, but in short, to the surprise of many, Europe still has a dictator. That’s Putin-protected Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, a landlocked eastern European country formerly of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko, portraying himself as a man of the people and predictably called “father” by his supporters, ascended to the presidency in 1994 and has cliqued up with Russia’s authoritarians for over a quarter century. He even wears long out of fashion USSR-style clothes.

According to Human Rights Watch, Belarus is the only European country with the death penalty. The executed are shot in the head; their families are not informed of the death date or burial place.

Image shows the opposition leader in front of a microphone stand, raising her fist
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Exiled Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (her twitter; her website) is the opposition leader, deemed a “terrorist” by the dictatorship. That classification can be found on this recent version of the Belarusian KGB’s Excel spreadsheet where the security-for-Lukashenko agency lists people the regime deems terrorists, also known as people who terrify the regime; Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is listed on Sheet 1, Row 730. Her husband Syarhei Tsikhanousky, a popular opposition vlogger, was arrested during protests shortly after announcing over youtube in 2020 that he planned to run for the presidency; he couldn’t follow through from behind bars, so she, in her late thirties and formerly an English teacher, announced her own intention to become president that same year.

But with a fraudulent election, Lukashenko took a sixth term as president in August 2020. The psuedo-election led to mass protests, and then mass arrests—including snatch-and-grabs of bystanders—by riot police. That’s described in a quick Human Rights Watch video, uploaded to youtube on 16 September 2020 and embedded below.

After more than a week of his silence about the fake election keeping Putin ally Lukashenko in power, Donald Trump, asked if he had a message for Moscow regarding Belarus, used his enormous White House megaphone to say weakly “doesn’t seem like it’s too much democracy there” and to call the opposition protestors “peaceful.” But Trump omitted any mention of the dictatorship’s violent crackdowns and omitted any support for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, instead using the topic of protests as a diversion for labeling anarchists in Portland Oregon and elsewhere “very bad people.” (To understand Trump, study the dossier on him at Spooky Connections. Additional context may be found at YAC.news, namely their July 2021 article “What’s happening in Belarus?” or the five-minute video version.)

That’s background; now Belarus news from this month. On October 11, at the International Legal Conference in Nuremberg, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in opening remarks:

today there is no rule of law in Belarus. Today Belarusians find themselves in a situation of a complete legal default. In a situation when 200 people can be arrested and prosecuted just for writing their opinion online, as happened a week ago, or when we hear stories of inhuman attitude towards political prisoners, we must do everything we can to restore the rule of law in Belarus.

Flag preferred by the Belarus opposition and hoisted in Minsk on August 17, 2021 by protesters saying “We will not forget, we will not forgive!” 

The situation Tsikhanouskaya refers to from early October was the opposition and dictatorship’s clashing responses to the September 28 showdown in which an IT specialist in the Belarus capital of Minsk, Andrei Zeltser, died at the hands of the Belarusian KGB.

Zeltser, a dissident in his early thirties and a programmer employed by Pennsylvania-based EPAM Systems—both the company’s founder and Zeltser supported the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus—was reportedly a US citizen, but multiple news outlets have pointed out his citizenship has yet to be confirmed by the US federal government, and the same outlets have failed to follow up with an answer to their own question (i.e., is Zeltser really a US citizen?).

That’s why I contacted the US State Department to ask last Monday. If you check that agency’s contact page for journalists, you’ll find they no longer list a number for journalists to call, as they once did under the Obama and Trump administrations. Instead it asks journalists to email PAPressDuty@state.gov. Thinking maybe the diplomats simply removed a still-functioning number from their website to decrease total call volume, I dug up the old digits and rang, dialed, pressed the buttons, or whatever it is we do with phones nowadays. The recorded voice of an extremely cheerful young woman greeted me. Ms Robot-of-State told me the same thing the current website says (not quite so bluntly): Just email PAPressDuty@state.gov already, okay? That doesn’t sound too diplomatic … Say, what happened to that Trump-era news about how the State Dept was losing staff? Just three months ago, Foreign Policy reported: “New research has found that nearly a third of the U.S. State Department’s diplomats and professional support staff are considering leaving the department and are actively looking for new jobs, pointing to a crisis of morale and management”. Seems among other factors, the U.S. brain drain is slowly turning the State Department into a quasi-ghost town. (To overstate things … but people in an declining empire, as they fawn over centuries-old civic religion relics, aren’t known historically for having up-to-date perceptions of what’s happening …)

Technical readout shows two mail servers at state.gov
You’ve got mail! Or not

After the failed phone call, I emailed the State Department, also on last Monday. All workweek, I received zero response. Why doesn’t Ms Robot-of-State like me? Then yesterday I finally got something: a useless “Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender” reply: “<PAPressDuty@state.gov>: TLSA lookup error stimson.state.gov:25.” That’s port 25 for SSL, and a related misconfiguration or other problem on the State Department’s Stimson mail server, presumably named after Republican Secretary of State Henry Lewis Stimson who contributed to the internment of Japanese-US people and explained in his diary they were imprisoned for their supposed untrustworthy “racial characteristics.” My dig command tonight shows State.gov has two mail servers, the other at christopher-ew.state.gov (whoever that one might named after), but nobody I’ve asked can tell me the history/context/implications of TLSA lookup errors in general, if any exists. Every time I ask a tech bro, they tell me what I already know, “25 means SSL,” or “there’s a problem with their system.” Yeah, these days we all have truckfuls of problems with their systems, don’t we. Perhaps I’ll ask Batman’s Kitchen on Wednesday…

Trying to confirm Zeltser’s citizenship in other ways, I searched two pay “find dirt on US people” sites, Intelius and Infotracer, for any “Andrei Zeltser” or “Andrew Zelter” in Pennsylania, but turned up nada except for a few people with the surname Zeltser in Penn’s Woods who might be family members. Due to time constraints, I’ve yet to pursue the question that way. Contacting EPAM Systems might be another fruitful avenue, for readers following along at home who may want to pitch in. Life is short and you haven’t lived until you’ve done this sort of thing at least a few times.

It's a screenshot from the Belarusian Investigative Committee
“Fatherland”? I bet you can guess if this ministry supports Lukashenko or the opposition

The citizenship or lack thereof of the dissident Andrei Zeltser is one of the lesser mysteries surrounding his murder by the Belarusian KGB; another is the dictatorship’s propaganda footage of the shooutout. As far as I can determine from what’s accessible to me, news of the IT worker’s death initially reached the United States and the UK via BBC Monitoring, a pay Beeb service for fancy-pants commercial clients like news publishers, blackmailing spy firms, and the UK government—but I repeat myself.

The very same day as the murder of Zeltser, the Belarusian dictatorship released video they claim to be footage of the firefight between the programmer and the KGB, a quick turnaround strongly suggesting pre-preparation. That timeline comes from CBS citing Reuters; CBS said on October 1 the (pro-dictatorship) Belarusian Investigative Committee released the video on September 28. Apparently there’s no separate Reuters article with the footage; just Reuters upstream in the supply chain from downstream CBS. The Rupert Murdoch-owned NY Post ran the shootout video on September 29; I believe they were the first mainstream US outlet to do so. While the NY Post article correctly couches the video as “apparently” showing the murder and correctly refers to Lukahsenko as a “dictator,” it doesn’t explain the origin of the video as his regime; instead the piece merely says the NY Post obtained it, or the stills of it at least, from Reuters. On October 17, via LinkedIn’s pay-to-play Sales Navigator features, I messaged NY Post journalist Emily Crane, whose email address I couldn’t find online, for clarification as to how the NY Post obtained the footage and its ultimate provenance, but no response. The NY Post sentences are positioned such as to make it seem “Belarus’ State Security Committee” may be the source, but the NY Post doesn’t state that explicitly. In case the point isn’t clear: without telling them so, the NY Post showed its readers video released by a dictatorial regime, within hours of their KGB’s murder.

Compared with other accounts of the murder, which indicate Zeltser phoned the emergency 102 number to request help from police, given that plainclothes strangers were yelling at him while breaking down his door, the propaganda footage omits any phone calls by the dissident and shows him shooting first, a less favorable account than what may have actually happened. Lukashenko’s regime quickly turned the showdown into a story about the alleged heroism of a poor KGB agent killed, apparently by Zeltser but maybe not, in the shootout.

Still from propaganda footage purportedly showing dissident Andrei Zeltser moments before his death at the hands of the Belarusian KGB

Where’s the dictatorship’s original, official URL for the propaganda footage, so we can compare any existent versions? To date, I haven’t been able to find it, if there is any single URL; not speaking Russian or Belarusian doesn’t help. Charter97.org, an independent Belarusian news site supporting the pro-democracy opposition whose editor-in-chief Natalya Radina was called a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International while she was behind bars for coverage sympathetic to anti-Lukashenko protesters, re-published an article by Belsat TV, a Belarusian television channel formed in 2007, that raises many questions about the film and says of its genesis:

The first publication about the incident was made by the blogger Nexta at 19:37. At 20:19, an edited video of the incident was published by Zheltye Slivy Telegram channel associated with the state television and law enforcement agencies.

(Here’s Nexta’s Wikipedia entry. According to a Charter97.org article the day of the murder, the “video of the incident […] appeared on the state ONT TV channel’s telegram channel.” Regime television in Belarus includes All-National TV (ONT) and Belarus 1. The pro-regime Zheltye Slivy Telegram channel may be found here. I don’t know what the connections are between Zheltye Slivy and All-National TV.)

Due to time constraints, I’ll leave it there, but I’ll try to pick up next weekend. Why didn’t CBS or NY Post mention Nexta? What’s wrong with the propaganda footage (see here and here)? What did the neighboring tenant see? Was the Belarusian KGB after Andrei Zeltser or after someone else in the apartment unit (a question that has been raised elsewhere), and in either case, why this particular dissident or dissidents? How did the opposition and dictatorship clash in response to the KGB’s murder of Zeltser? What’s Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya asking international audiences to do about the dictatorship (it includes writing Belarusian political prisoners for November 27, the day of solidarity with them)?

United States. Just like Donald Trump did on April 26, 2018, on Friday Joe Biden signed an executive order keeping secret Assassinations Records Review Board / JFK assassination files. It’s a reminder that the stage show politicians are not the ones running our anti-society.

If you haven’t studied the JFK assassination, you’d probably be astonished at the degree to which legit researchers focused on the event agree in broad terms on whodunit and why. You’d probably also be astonished by the depth of their footnotes/bibliographies. I heartily recommend James W. Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable, Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, and Anthony Summers’ Not In Your Lifetime / The Kennedy Conspiracy. Reading them closely really contributed to my immunity against falling for the billion-dollar flash of US politicians and their promises.

The cover art for JFK and the Unspeakable

Whodunit and why? The short version requires me to define deep state, an ordinary poli-sci term that existed for years and years prior to Donald Trump’s co-option of it for his own vile purposes. Any country’s deep state consists of the unelected spy/natsec people in power for decades, regardless of whoever might be the current White House occupant we’re all supposed to pretend is in charge. In this country, the impune criminal John Brennan, to whom many sublate themselves, would be a great example of a powerful deep stater, and many (not all) deep state job listings may be viewed simply by visiting usajobs.gov/search and filtering by classification level. These people are a non-homogenous bunch with their own warring factions and blackmail games.

The above-mentioned JFK assassination researchers differ on the precise details, but in short, top deep state authoritarians arranged Kennedy’s Dallas death, including with gunshots from the grassy knoll (probably Mob-connected hitmen), since he, though no perfect person, wouldn’t sufficiently get with their program, including his desires to abolish the CIA and end tax loopholes for resource corporations. Oswald was a very manipulated fall guy.

Lone Nutterism, a kooky faith peculiar to the United States, insists that at pivotal points in 20th-century US history, solitary madmen with remarkably good aim inexplicably pop up to shoot effective leaders sympathetic to poor people and peace. About a decade ago, when I was reading the above three tomes, I was tutoring a pair of Eastern European immigrants to the United States in English. They told me that when such assassinations happen in their lands, the public just assumes the so-called security services are changing from one figurehead to another. We all shared a good laugh at the United States’ exceptionally bonkers Lone Nutters.

The systemic function of Lone Nutterism is to remove such assassinations from causal matrices, to render them unanalyzable except by the flimsiest of prefab theories. It reminds me of psychiatry’s lie (see blogroll) that severe mental illness is caused by remarkably powerful fluke genes, usually portrayed as acting in isolation, inexplicably popping up and destroying the minds of those inhabiting the bodies said genes reside in. No bigger picture allowed. In both cases, history, context, and people’s very lived experiences are deleted in favor of dumbed-down but widespread delusions.

Anyway, yup, Trump in 2018, and Biden on Friday, both signed orders to continue the secrecy around JFK files. You know the old joke, right? A new idol—say, a junior senator from Illinois—finishes waving to the cheering crowd and enters the White House for day one of his new adminstration. He is sat down, shown the Zapruder film (that infamous, grainy black-and-white footage from JFK’s assassination), and asked: “Any questions?”

“Yes,” our new president says. “What’s my policy?”

Music. As an Easter Egg, here’s the opening track “Seventeen Years” off Ratatat’s self-titled album released in 2004. I love the main, descending melody’s stately rhythm.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States, 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/2021/10/24/talk-batmanskitchen-france-belarus-jfk/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle?

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 41 of 52. I took all the photographs during the past workweek. The shots show (variants of) Southern Magnolia trees in West Seattle near the Chelan Cafe.

Magnolia fruit

Circa 2009, when I lived in North Texas, I enjoyed learning about trees with a field guide. I taught myself to distinguish between sycamores, oaks, and so on. That might not seem a big deal to those who grew up taught such things. But for those who grew up in front of glowing screens, stuck in their heads, identifying components of Nature can be a pleasant bridge toward actual reality.

One kind of tree that has stood out to me ever since has been the magnolia. You might have heard of the moonlight and magnolia myth, based on a line from the 1939 Gone with the Wind film. The myth refers to unjust romanticization of the antebellum South, likely alluding to the sweet smell of the tree’s blooming white flower, since the magnolia grows especially in the Southern portions of the US.

Perhaps the best known type of magnolia is the evergreen Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora), native to the US South. In 2009, I wrote a blog post about the biggest Southern Magnolia in Dallas / Fort Worth, which lives at what was then called the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. This summer, I revisited the towering tree and wrote about how sadly, via a sweetheart deal, the City of Fort Worth took the 109-acre park out of the commons (well, city government-controlled commons) and handed it to the BRIT nonprofit, its private management, and its board of directors, who as of a 2019 tax filing included local billionaire Ed Bass. In addition to charging admissions fees, BRIT told the public to stay away from the region’s biggest magnolia by putting up chains and Do not enter, Do not climb signs. But are humans and magnolia trees free to touch elsewhere, possibly in the Pacific Northwest?

Urban setting, with tree

To my surprise, I recently noticed that along one of my jogging routes in West Seattle, multiple accessible magnolias grow. My 2008 copy of the National Wildlife Federation’s Field Guide to Trees of North America says that various types of magnolia are native to the United States and Canada. The entire book unfairly leaves Mexico out of North America; I don’t know if Southern Magnolias are native there. The book’s maps (showing US and Canada only) suggest that for the most part, magnolias are local to the US South. That includes the Southern Magnolia species, as you might expect from its name. So what are magnolias doing in Seattle?

The field guide explains that the Southern Magnolia is grown worldwide as an ornamental species. The only West Seattle magnolias I’ve come across so far are on the property of the Chelan Cafe, obscured from some angles by columnar maples. The long-standing restaurant, open since 1938, offers highly tempting but very non-vegan chicken fried steaks and other Southern cuisine, which maybe explains why decorative Southern Magnolias are around the property: to fit the theme.

In the last workweek, I asked a Chelan Cafe employee for more information, and while he didn’t know when and why these particular trees were planted, he said he believes they’re actually dwarf magnolias. Dwarf magnolias are variants of the Southern Magnolia that grow shorter, and are thus easier to plant ornamentally in rigid urban settings. The City of Seattle’s remarkable tree inventory map agrees that the Chelan Cafe magnolias are Southern Magnolias, but doesn’t say if they are or aren’t dwarf magnolias, or any other variant. Meanwhile, Lou Stubecki, who manages Trees for Seattle, the umbrella for the City of Seattle’s urban forestry efforts, told me by email today—I showed Stubecki the same photos you’re seeing on this post—that the plants look like the Southern Magnolia cultivar called “Little Gem.” They’re shorter in stature and have smaller leaves than the regular Southern Magnolia species. Plot twist: Little Gem and Dwarf Magnolia mean the same thing. Two names for the same variant of the Southern Magnolia.

So in a sentence: Southern Magnolias (at least the dwarf/little gem subtype of them) live in Seattle because in addition to growing natively in the US South (and perhaps elsewhere), they’re also planted decoratively worldwide.

I think two lessons can be drawn from this everyday life Q&A.

Southern Magnolia near electronic gizmos

First, the public shouldn’t risk taking the commons for granted, whether city- or genuinely public-managed, as the City of Fort Worth’s giveaway of the Botanic Garden shows. Many in the United States who wake up to horrifying “political” realities eventually choose to push them out of mind, limiting themselves to “toxic positivity,” lighthearted conversations, funny memes that are (apparently) apolitical, corporate entertainment, and the like. Rest and recreation are crucial, lighthearted conversations can be lifesavers, and resistance doesn’t have to mean sorting through terrifying data all day every day. However, I don’t think just putting scary topics on permanent ignore is a solution either, despite what the latest ’60s-esque quotes might claim about personal comfort. Injustice crops up in our neighborhoods already and will continue to do so, possibly taking our favorite trees down with it.

Second, states internationally employ a startlingly high degree of complexity and violence (or threats thereof) to control how such entities as plants are moved around worldwide. In my own efforts to emigrate, I’ve read through a lot of bureaucratic Canadian documents to try to determine if bringing my houseplants across the border by car would be permissible. The closest I got to an answer was that it would depend on the whims of the particular CBSA border guard, who would most likely wave my little green friends through as typical houseplants; but, that wasn’t certain, since the plants I take care of, while quotidian, nevertheless aren’t on Canada’s list of “automatically approved” species. (I’m now thinking I’ll go to the Netherlands anyway.) I can’t find anything intrinsically wrong with the concept of societies knowledgeably monitoring their geographic borders and responsibly regulating the movement of plants, which after all could qualify as invasive species or carry contagious pests. But like the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, understandings of why and how plants should be spread or constrained was stolen from the public over centuries and placed into the hands of states regulating ultimately on behalf of corporate supranational power. Consider this astonishing excerpt from human rights activist Heather Marsh’s 2016 blog post The supranational empire:

For almost one hundred percent of human history, people lived in autonomous, networked tribes. Their feats of exploration and the knowledge handed down over generations were equal to or greater than more complex societies, even in highly specialized areas. The medicinal knowledge of the Kallawaya in pre and post Inca society included brain surgery in 700 CE and using quinine to cure malaria before anyone else. The navigation and seafaring skill of the Polynesians brought them to over 25 million square kilometres of territory between Easter Island, New Zealand and Hawaii and also took them to America and possibly close to Antarctica. Polynesians and probably many others were not following or seeking food. They explored even when their survival needs were all met. Kallawaya still travel great distances to share their knowledge and skill, not because they need to but because it is their accepted social responsibility to do so. Kallawaya traditional knowledge includes uses for almost a thousand plant species and Polynesian traditional knowledge allows them to navigate using 220 stars. All of this knowledge was preserved in oral tradition for hundreds or thousands of years and was shared by the tribe, held by those with the interest and aptitude to learn it.

Leaves of another West Seattle magnolia

Try explaining public sovereignty/knowledge (when it exists) to a CBSA border guard giving you grief about the safe snake plant rising from your floorboard. Some ministries and bureaucrats do excellent work, of course, but ultimately, states and especially corporations have snatched knowledge away from members of the public, who often no longer know that they don’t know the details of, say, trade or FATCA agreements controlling cross-country shipments of currency or plants. That leaves us stuck with semi-opaque bureaucratic rules, the caprices of individual enforcers, and worse. Self-governance is violated or impaired. Thankfully, in many cases, our understandings and power have changed for the better across the last decade due to journactivists (journalist + activist) spreading quality information, human rights defenders putting their lives on the line, and other forces.

Finally, I’ve visited the Washington Park Arboretum only once, but readers interested in Seattle trees might find it a great place to go. I hope to check out the arboretum again soon. Below, let’s branch out to other items:

News blasts: Just some hyperlinks…

Screenshot from an anime shows an angry male character saying: "Fighting fascism is a full-time job!"
“Fighting fascism is a full-time job!” (From Star Trek: LD)

In the interest of time and brevity, I’m omitting important items from the past workweek regarding the United States, tech updates, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change.

For next weekend, I aim to post about Belarus. But if you want a head start, check out these two writings from Charter97.org, editor in chief Natalya Radina. Amnesty International named Radina a prisoner of conscience after her 2010 arrest for “organizing mass disorder” (reporting favorably on pro-democracy protests by the opposition to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko). She’s now an exile in Poland and said in 2011, when the Committee to Protect Journalists gave her an award, that “all of Belarus today is a big prison” because of, among other reasons, “foreign indifference.”

I’ll leaf it at that!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle? 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/2021/10/17/why-southern-magnolia-trees-seattle/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction!

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 40 of 52. I skipped weeks 37, 38, and 39.

Note: My two entries in August providing sleep tips (Part 1 and Part 2) recommended sleep lab founder Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep. But it turns out the book is sketchy. In November 2019, Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey, who has a background in economics and math, posted a devastating critique of Walker’s bestseller, which Guzey put together across two months (and updated most recently in April 2021). I updated my two sleep tips posts with this information. I regret the blunder and suggest checking out Guzey’s critique.

Screenshot of relevant portion of letter from the IELTS people saying their re-marking of my writing test results in no change of score.

When confronting a challenge, I often throw myself into it, paying attention to educational materials on the subject only concurrently, not in advance. It was this way with substitute-teaching or volunteering with Food Not Bombs. “Take these to the dish pit,” a Seattle FNB non-leader leader said during the last decade, handing me dirty trays as we cleaned a Thai buffet in exchange for surplus food to redirect to the dispossessed, including some of our own number. “What’s a dish pit?” I asked. Looking back, such incidents are amusing moments, but at the time, they can be embarrassing, painful. It’s what happens when you throw yourself into things. Thankfully, if a person sticks with something—and has an inquisitive, adaptable mind that stays out of ruts—improvement also happens.

Image showing a portion of my IELTS General test report form, with black highlighter covering personal identifying information save for a photo of me.
Another doc from planet paperwork

For leaving the United States, I knew if I continued comparing countries via watching youtube videos, and kept on musing endlessly about possibilities, I’d never get anywhere (literally). That’s why, while messing around with Canada’s Express Entry eligibility estimator, I decided to, among other actions, just go take the computer-based IELTS General exam in San Diego to prove English proficiency as required of non-students seeking permanent residency in the northern nation. I crammed for two days and, as expected, aced the reading and speaking sections, but made a sole mistake in the listening part (you hear audio texts only once, so no wandering attention nor confusion with the test format allowed!) and—I bungled the writing component. Despite a summa cum laude bachelor’s—a double-major in philosophy and, wait for it, writing—and despite years and years of paid freelance writing, including multiple news media publications, standardized writing tests and I simply don’t get along. Long ago, I similarly bombed the GRE’s writing section, repeatedly! Yeah, shove it, standardized tests.

I took the IELTS General on September 9 (see previous post); my test report form, dated September 11, eventually arrived in my PO Box showing the following scores: 8.5 overall, 9 reading, 9 speaking, 8.5 listening, and 7.5 writing. Since higher IELTS General scores help a non-student migrant gain admission to Canada and a handful of other Anglosphere countries, I got grumpy about that last grade, and looked to see what my options were for vengeance.

Turns out, there’s a procedure called Enquiry on Results, or equivalently, for the sake of SEO keyword stuffing, Inquiry on Results or simply EoR. Within six weeks of a test report form’s date, an IELTS test-taker can get a section(s) re-marked, for, of course, a fee.

A pyramid showing the hierarchy of power. At the top, supranational power. Below that, security militias. Below them, science and academia. Under those, comfortable citizen. Under comfortable citizen, impoverished citizen. Below that, caregivers and slaves. Below them, criminals.
The completely contingent order of things. (Source)

Anecdotal reports suggest EoR cannot lower your score; however, I couldn’t find official documentation from IELTS authorities proving that’s the policy. Google-savvy and forum participants suggested official documentation doesn’t exist, at least not online. I thought briefly about phoning the IELTS authorities overseas, but then decided, whatever, it fits my general knowledge of academia that it’s unlikely for EoR to lower my score, only keep it the same or raise it. Make no mistake, these myriad migration paperwork hurdles have the distinctive reek of academia/intelligentsia. Well, my destination thoughts were shifting from Canada to the Netherlands anyway. Better just to wing it, to purchase an Enquiry on Results for my writing section. YOLO!

I called the testing center and was asked to email the director with EoR in the subject line. I did. After some back-and-forth, my EoR request was officially in and paid for on October 4. Pretty ironic: the first task on the IELTS General’s writing section tells candidates to type an everyday letter, say to a newspaper or in order to complain to a company—and here I was, asking for that task to be re-graded, by means of me writing email letters with the testing center staff, communicating with perfect competence.

The higher-up graders re-marked my writing section and by email I received the new, or rather, not new, score in a PDF on October 6. You can see the outcome in the screenshot starting this post. My score didn’t change a smidge. Blegh. Vengeance denied. Had I prepared better, I would have spent more time with official practice materials or free/low cost courses specifically on the IELTS General writing section available on MOOC platforms such as edX, Udemy, Coursera, etc. Because as we all know, exams don’t evaluate your writing or English proficiency. They test how well you take the test. But the point was to throw myself into the actual emigration process. Psychology score, A+. Home economics score…F.

Well Canada, you and I had a few flirty dates, but it looks like there won’t be any more nights out on the town for the two of us. I don’t have enough points to meet your high standards. That’s okay, I have gray—oops, grey…er, grijs—in my stubble now; I’m no teen who can’t handle rejection. Besides, you have mining companies with active licenses for profiteering off the genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. And your money-laundering transnational criminals in Vancouver are protected by Chinese spies. *Hangs up*

This is the distracted boyfriend meme. A shocked girlfriend, labelled Canada, looks at a distracted boyfriend, labelled Doug, as he checks out a passing woman labelled Netherlands.

Personal update: Pfthird Pfizer Pfjab Pfgoing Pfine

This past workweek in West Seattle, antivaxx and antimask protesters waved signs during five o’clock traffic in my neighborhood. Aside from the bald dude in the, what’s that Dutch word, *scrolls up*, grijs hoodie, who, though he lacks camo pants, sorta resembles a typical contractor you’d find working for a company like Craft International (a merk firm and friend of spy biz Stratfor with a mysterious habit of hanging around events like the Boston Bombing)—I have no idea who the grijs dude is, just sayin’ he looks a bit creepy—it seemed a fairly ordinary group of Seattle rightwingers of the new school. I stopped my car in the parking lot behind these vaccine hesitant folks to get a photo for the blog entry you’re reading now.

When I saw the flag, I knew it was going to be bad

Giving their respiration a wide berth, I walked to a suitable site to hold my phone up at ’em. Seemingly in unison, the women chorused, “Are you going to write about us?!?!” The ;) ;) @}->– @}->– flattery in their voices twisted this writer’s face into an involuntary smile. Like thundering storm clouds above a parched man in a desert dropping rain: acid rain. I told them Yes and continued thumbing my phone. Then one protester lady asked: “Are you going to write ill of us?” Interesting choice of words, there. They asked where to read, so above the noisy traffic I shouted: “DouglasLucas dot com!” Maybe they’ll comment and tell us more about Mister Grijs Hoodie.

A satisfactory photo achieved, I headed back to my car by the same circuitous route in reverse. I crossed the street. Suddenly I was passed by Mister Grijs Hoodie! He had his bald head down, his face sternly focused, and he was powerfully striding alone, whither I know not. I should specify, relative to being a Craft International employee (which I’m including almost entirely for joke and to link readers to stuff), it’s far more likely he’s a complete nobody, for instance a run-of-the-mill bargain bin patriarchy boss of some local Kik group for definitely-not-advisable hookups (read: loss-leads), which, as #OpDeathEaters has been pointing out since 2014, is, like, same diff, or can be, you know, more precisely, the everyday consequences of supranational pedo propaganda from above swamping populations with dolla dolla bill masculinist ideology rebranded to sound like freedom. Not to mention human trafficking. [Hey! Are you an editor or other potential payor reading my blog? Find academics vouching for #OpDeathEaters in that same diff link. That’s the completely contingent order of things—for now!]

Nothing hurts me except bad hair days

A surprisingly high portion of the cars passing the protest were repeatedly honked in favor. Not surprisingly, those one-note vehicles tended to be jacked-up pickups with needless stickers of an out-of-character Calvin urinating. I saw only one person indicate disapproval: a driver doing their daily grind, gripping the steering wheel with one hand and with the other, like a time-warped Roman emperor, presenting an unmistakable thumbs-down.

The wild hyperlocal antivaxx advertising blitz appearing in my neighborhood did not detain me from getting my third Pfizer (booster) jab Friday, courtesy of my public education employment. Although I follow news on twitter, email lists, and elsewhere too much from my own good, even I almost missed last Monday’s study in The Lancet, among the globe’s most prestigious medical journals—a study written up by The Hill. To oversimplify, the research indicates Pfizer-BioNTech protection against novel coronavirus infection drops significantly—approximately in half!—four to six months after the second jab, with the specifics varying depending on the scenario, mutation, etc. Thus, boosters. As with, say, the tetanus shot. According to the CDC and FDA in September, certain Team Pfizer folks can get the third jab once a minimum of six months since their second jabs has elapsed. Hopefully better vaccines (here’s looking at you, University of Washington) will be approved soon and become widely accessible for all, so we can be done with these less than ideal, but still very helpful, interim measures.

Trees, etc.
I took this photo in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park this past workweek. The image shows happiness

I embed an image from the exam room not to boast, but to model good behavior, to encourage people to get vaccinated. Of course I know Pfizer and other Big Pharma companies have horrifying histories of wrongdoing (an easy peasy first stop, Wikipedia criticism section footnotes, when they exist), but the risks thereof are, in my case, far less than the risks of suffering COVID-19. The Pfizer press release about the third jab has the expected advertising but also a lot of interesting links for people who might want to dig.

I’m too exhausted by the coronavirus vaccination debate to go into more detail, but the big picture might be helpful: if you don’t experience something firsthand (while knowing what you’re looking at, too), you have to decide whether to trust information from others. Documents may be more reliable than most people, but even with documents, you have to trust they’re real and not forgeries. How do we accomplish this as humans?

Like we always have: with trust networks. As far as I know, that’s a term that kinda originated with cryptography, but the phrase intuitively makes sense, right? My unfairly overworked primary care physician, whose performance is usually stellar, recommended the bestseller Why We Sleep to me (see note above starting this entry). I assumed she had read it closely, when probably—I’ll ask next time I see her, because mapping trust networks, even for oneself, is of life-and-death importance—she heard about it on a podcast or something, while HIIT sprinting or Wim Hof breathing. I presume she then passed the recommendation from the podcast (or whatever) to me, and despite the intuitive misgivings I initially felt about Matt Walker’s marketing image, I got swept-up a bit in his glitz. I mostly listened to Why We Sleep, while driving or exercising, meaning I didn’t read individual sentences in print, a way of reading that makes it easier to be careful and critical. I just had it on in the background to learn by osmosis. So I got fooled.

From what I’ve read so far, Walker’s never directly acknowledged his critic, the Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey.

It's the "you vs the guy she tells you not to worry about" meme, with glitzy Matt Walker Ph.d. on the left in the "you" slot, and subway-riding, high or sleep-deprived lookin' Alexey Guzey, DIY on the right in the "guy she told you not to worry about" slot. Walker has a blue dress shirt fit for a country club. Guzey has a very Moscow leather jacket, slightly pink undershirt, legit sexy countenance, and so on.
Corporate spotlight decreasingly needed for winning crushes’ attention … but will our ability to search for non-corporate knowledge-sharers be fully seized by the powers that be?
Example of actual public diplomacy. @TheBoobla versus @sleepdiplomat … Fight! … Boobla wins!

Having read most of the devastating critique by Guzey, who ended up on international news himself to tear apart Walker, I lowered the glitzy guy’s reliability score as a science source in my personal trust network, and updated my blog entries accordingly. Actually, early on, I emailed Walker’s press person once or twice with various questions—on twitter, Walker goes by @sleepdiplomat, and says he wants to spread his message everywhere—and never got a reply; he could have been occupied, of course, but sometimes, mentioning my news publications gets me at least a politer version of He’s too busy for you (e.g., I’ll ask him!! <3 <3 <3 and then they never do). Based on how my primary care physician reacts when I ask her about this, I’ll adjust her trust network reliability score (especially on the topic of book recommendations) down, up, or not at all. Same for whatever podcast (or other source) she got her Why We Sleep info from. Unlike cryptographers, I don’t have actual numbers scoring people in my head (each person would have multiple scores, one per topic). It’s just something I think humans do all the time, semi-automatically, unless they’re effectively brain dead. (Oops, that’s rude to actual brain-dead people, who, uh, won’t be reading this.)

Imagine if IELTS and academia tested people, not on avoiding typos during unrealistic, one-shot English exams, but on the everyday life-and-death practice of adjusting trust networks. You know, critical reasoning and media literacy classes. In fact, spy agencies (public or private) use trust networks too. For a few years, I read thousands of Stratfor emails, and their staff was expected, when relaying to internal email lists the insights they heard from their sources, to give each source a letter grade to indicate their reliability (as well as other information about the source, the reliability of the particular insight, timeliness, and so on). There were similar trust network instances in the zillions of State Department cables and additional public, classified, or otherwise restricted documents I’ve read. We all do this when evaluating information. It’s just that the spies’ goals are antisocial, and mine, and hopefully yours, are prosocial. BTW, spying these days doesn’t merely mean cloak-and-dagger stuff, like car-bombing journalists critical of Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, as in this April 2012 conversation: a 24-minute excerpt of the bugged recording of Lukashenko’s then-spymaster was published by EUobserver in January 2021 here (see also the 12-page English transcript or the 8-page Russian transcript; this related DW article in English too). Spying also means high-level marketing crap like Stratfor employees writing the majority of this or that article released by your favorite corporate media outlets. That’s an observation still true yet a bit past its sell-by date, since now the Dems openly run CIA and military spy candidates; heck, might as well openly put them on mainstream media mastheads while they’re at it. (If your bar is lesser evil, explain it not to me, but imagine how you’d get ratio’d for explaining it to actual torture victims who use twitter.)

It's a Stratfor memo regarding El Chapo. The email illustrates Stratfor use of sourcing criteria such as Source Reliability, Item Credibility, Source Description, and so on. It uses the code US714 to protect their source, whom I identified years ago as Aaron Grigsby.
Example of spies using their trust network with sourcing criteria. US714 was Aaron Christopher Grigsby, then a director of the Texas state police Ranger divison. Source a decade ago.

I’ll close this section with three more observations. First, I know wonderful people who are far too busy (perhaps a single mother or a prisoner with limited or no computer access) to do the countless hours of reading required to really evaluate, say, scientific papers. So they often have to go by, for instance, their affinity for a rando shiny podcaster, because again, we all use trust networks. What else are we going to do, not look up information, not sift through reading options by some means? I understand, but get slightly annoyed, when twitter radicals call these people fascists; in a remote-controlled (autogenocide) way they are, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel, when radicals could try instead to save them from the peril (by aiming at the top authoritarians cuz else, regrowing hydra heads). Similarly for academics who’ve lived their whole lives in the ivory tower and have never stepped foot in a prison, long-term psychiatric lockup facility, non-Western country (me!), and on and on. We’re all in this sort of boat, just for different topics.

1960s international smallpox vaccine records of US citizen

Second, a few short years ago it was fashionable in the hacktivism/transparency realm to fund vaporware websites with a Great Man on top supposedly to change things, but these vaporware projects didn’t employ trust networks (among other problems), just glitzy marketing. We were supposed to trust our emergency-based need to get wrapped up in trusting their machismo. GetGee, the global commons for public data, allows users to employ trust networks when looking at research.

Third, if disinfo feels hopeless, remember it’s startling how effective a) history and b) reframing things can be. For instance, if someone’s para about vaccine passports, you can show them international smallpox vaccination records for US citizens from more than fifty years ago, or reframe the concept by saying, hey, to go into a bar serving alcohol, or to pilot a two-ton metal box powered by explosions down the freeway, we have to show age passports. And yes, I know both the conventional and alternative medical industries can be untrustworthy (see links on my blogroll), everything around ‘securitized’ border enforcement too, and that COVID-19’s origins deserve more investigation; but, uninformed speculation is cheap and funding investigative journalism (which sometimes requires travel to do well) is expensive.

So yeah, I got my third Pfizer jab Friday, and Sunday, 48 hours later, pfno pfside pfeffects pfso pfar.

Blog update

Recently I received a donation for my blog from a reader—thank you! (Hic haec hoc, huius huius huius!) The donation encourages me to keep blogging. For anyone else who might be interested in donating, here are the donation options, to which I just added snailmail.

This past month I made tinkery updates across the website, mostly under the hood; some, though, you might notice. Do tell if you spot any problems or have any suggestions. I overhauled the blogroll (see right sidebar, up) for the first time in years and years. I replaced http:// links across my site with absolute https:// links. Digitizing my belongings to prepare for emigration, I came across a nice print ad for the 2017 bookstore talk I did, and added that to the in the media section, where it looks, um, good! I grumble about the monkey see, monkey do requirement of social proof in marketing (completely contingent social order…for now!), but, whatever, it’s good to have more, how shall I say, self-esteem or something like that, and enjoy these sorts of thingymaboppers, at least while I’m still a loudmouth resident of the loudmouth United States!

By the way, the bookstore I spoke at is called Burning Books; it’s in Buffalo, New York. After over ten years, they’re now expanding, more than tripling their floor plan and adding designated event space, all without leaving their location. Everything will be fully accessible, too. Below, their fundraising video and gofundme link.

GoFundMe link

Reminds me, YAC.News has a fundraiser going also, as well as a community Discord currently open to new users.

Because these blog posts usually take more than a day to write when they’re lengthy, and because offline readers have advised me that shorter posts would be easier for them to take in (time-wise), I need to figure out how to change this blog, and how to modify my time and energy investments in my overall writing more generally. A few weeks ago, I was working on a very long post about Beto O’Rourke and realized I really need to rethink my efforts. Diverting huge chunks of my time and energy away from my longform fiction- and nonfiction-writing goals to pin down, by skimming seemingly identical NPR articles at 3 a.m., the exact date the Del Rio international bridge closed during the ongoing refugee crisis, and who actually issued the order to close it (various local/regional mini-authorities stumbled over each other trying implausibly to claim the ugly credit in the media spotlight), is fascinating, but maybe not the best sort of time-sink every single weekend. I do enjoy writing journalism (especially were I able to do more investigative work uncovering as-yet-unknown ‘revelations’). And summarizing/analyzing other journalists’ work in reframed language weekly is, to borrow from Pokémon Go, super effective, biz-wise and persuasion-wise, in terms of staying in readers’ minds on a regular basis. For example, these posts not infrequently convert into incoming messages from people I haven’t heard from in awhile, asking me what’s up and what do I think of xyz popular issue. Yet such posts should just be a sole theater of war among several, not my only battlefield.

Then there’s the damage to psychophysical health from end-gaining (sacrificing healthy means to ensure ends are achieved, which might compare with emergency-based structures). To write something called lengthy, like this blog post, it helps the writer tremendously to keep the material in short-term memory (RAM for computerheads) while working. Especially if the content’s not strictly outlined (this piece is pretty outlined). The more creative, the more the creator needs to have all the data (even imaginative data) for the piece readily accessible in their minds, even to the point of boiling, such that the energy must be discharged (mixing my engineering metaphors). Taking breaks to tend to houseplants, do the dishes, or complete other sanity- and health-maintaining tasks risks losing the data’s salience. So you find yourself with a hacker hunch, crooked over the laptop, flies circling the sink, and Dutch roommates, if you have those, perhaps eyeing you suspiciously. Good luck with the 9-5 schedule, too. While potentially liberating, such pedal-to-the-metal practices can be risky, especially if an inexperienced and/or broke person doesn’t intersperse them with rest and/or has insufficient social support.

Meme. Top half shows helicopters arriving at what I assume is some Dutch government building. Top half is labelled: How the American president arrives. The bottom half shows a guy in a suit waving and riding a bicycle. It's labelled: How the Dutch Prime Minister arrives.
U.S. president, but yeah

The problem is particularly acute for me in terms of creating a freelance/entrepreneurial business plan to meet migration requirements of the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. I haven’t picked the Netherlands for certain yet, but I imagine I will have in roughly two or three weeks, at which point I’ll buy a one-way overseas plane ticket months ahead of schedule to give me salient countdown timer motivation. (Psychology score, A+; home economics…) The business plan for writing in the Netherlands is mandatory. That’s why, despite frequent exercise and cooking super-healthy veggie-rich meals at home, I’ve been suffering moodiness and lethargy lately: much of it revolves around my fear that I’ll soon have to devote most of my time and energy, i.e. my life, to content-marketing, not the reading and writing I’d rather do. Though it’d perhaps be fun to run a content-marketing business in the Netherlands for vegan restaurants, free software firms, and antipsychiatry / critical psychiatry service providers called something like, Idealistic Content Marketing (how do you say that in Dutch?). With long-term substitute-teaching assignments and CELTA training, I was able to squeze some blog posts and fiction-writing in, but it wasn’t easy, and I found that eventually the employment system—at least in the United States—beats avocational activities out of overworked employees. Optimizing routines, honing goals + plans, and the like can help tremendously, and cutting costs through, say, miraculously finding good roommates, but, also, let’s not kid ourselves.

Meadow, trees, blue sky with clouds, and in the far distance, sea and sun
Another photo I took, same day, same park… lovely place

To close off this section, let’s consider how I’ll blog for this year’s remaining 12 weeks. The last post will of course sum up my 2021 year of blogging. The penultimate entry will explain with bullet points how I made it through a full calendar year, for the first time since 2013, without a manic episode or psych lockup. That leaves 10 weeks. Then there are three series I started in 2021 with a single post and never finished: Meet new president Joe Biden, part 1 of 2; Views of happiness: Journey versus destination, part one of two (this should actually be three parts); and Review of education books, part one of two (this should actually be four parts). That’s six posts needed to conclude those series. Leaving four weeks. I want to post about trees in Seattle, and maybe finish the Beto O’Rourke URL-as-tome. That would leave two weeks … I also wanted to do news blasts for Colombia, and I never finished with the Haitian presidential assassination news blasts, but no one has solved that murder yet, so nobody else finished the story, either.

Division of labor makes an interesting way to look at this business plan, life plan challenge. The titles change, but in the forms of media-writing I know, including print-only fiction and journalism, there are usually four roles in my experience (call them what you want): researcher at the most granular level, then writer, then editor, then producer at the most birds eye-view level. I need better self-production skills, so I imagine there’s, if not an app for that, then quality courses I could check out on the various MOOC platforms, and book recommendations I could ask friends/mentors for. Just not any books by disgraced sleep diplomat Matt Walker.

Maybe the best plan for my blog in 2022 would be the following formula, to which there could be occasional exceptions: one observation from daily life, one philosophical/political/whatever lesson drawn from it, and then an international news blast or two. Heck, maybe even a music and fiction section after the news blasts! (See, I keep adding stuff…) If anyone has thoughts, suggestions, or requests for this blog, I’d love to hear them!

News blasts: US, China, Worldwide Trade Collapse/Change

Get ready, because these are a doozy.

Does it? Much, though not all, wrongdoing is in the open nowadays. Other factors may be more important than darkness, such as lack of good framing, endless grains of news sand staying decontextualized, and the antisocial system of carrots and sticks that corporations condition us for. Oh, and don’t forget cowardice

United States. On September 23, the Washington Post published a lengthy op-ed by influential neocon Robert Kagan, cofounder of the notorious warmonger thinktank Project for the New American Century. Kagan’s op-ed is titled “Our constitutional crisis is already here” (full text at Cryptome) and argues that, unless his health fails entirely, Trump will be the next Republican presidential candidate. Kagan says come November 2024, the United States will reach its biggest crisis since 1861, with widespread mass violence and a federal system breaking completely. He blames the cults of personality surrounding demagogues for the impending doom, and just like the Washington Post itself, he makes the evergreen claim that democracy will die, though Kagan prefers November 2024 as the date to put on the coroner’s report.

While we’re still forced to work, in some senses, alongside liberal states against outright fascism because innovative alternatives to the liberal order need greater amplification and effort and funding (and uh, commissions from editors) and knowledge of self, health, and wealth—the sneak attack, the edutainment style returns like that, my philosophy keeps it plain and simple, the kingdom of hip-hop is within you—it might be a worthy endeavor to introduce some rigor upon these sales slogans about democracies dying and failed states. Nation-state is an incoherent package-deal concept, but to roll with it for a while, the idea of an international order of liberal nation-states is typically traced back to 1648’s Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Whatphalia? I must have been roaming the hallways that day in AP European History. What criteria must such liberal nation-state countries meet to count as successful or failed, alive or dead? There are of course readable scholarly books on such subjects, for those with time, i.e., not salaried at the Washington Post or Idealistic Content Marketing.

China.

Youtube offers plenty of videos from US individuals who’ve relocated to China as obedient reflectors, playing by the rules and keeping their mouths shut. Footage from these moneymaking individuals suggest they have a pretty good life in China, happy but helpless. Well, good for them. Now let’s talk about the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, and the propaganda war around it in the United States. Trump, who tweeted in April 2013 that China owns DC, won reactionary hearts by telling his followers he would resist the Chinese government’s encroachments on the United States, but he himself has been a bigly CCP beneficiary. In October 2020, Forbes put together a helpful guide to The Donald’s debt, which astonishingly totaled at least a billion dollars. (And you thought your student loan debt was bad!) The Forbes guide looks at multiple Trump properties, but let’s just consider the 1290 Avenue of the Americas location. More than two hundred million dollars for that New York City property came from the CCP-owned Bank of China. That bank says the debt was sold to Vornado Realty Trust. Maybe so. But without transparency, maybe Bank of China is still a creditor on the building, if say, after the sale, Vornado sold it right back. Opaque transactions we can’t audit don’t help explain. Whoever the current creditors are, guess when the debt comes due: November 2022, the mid-term elections. There are more connections between Trump and China, such as his pledge- and likely constitution-violating hiring of firms with majority CCP ownership in early 2017, and the eighteen trademarks granted to Donald and Ivanka Trump in late 2018 by guess who, the Chinese government. That’s the reality, while they’re telling their fans they hate China. As the top predators block their constituents on social media, they party together and laugh about you wearing their T-shirts, didn’t you know? Meanwhile the US left is misled by garbage-news from channels loyal to the CCP and Putin (see here and especially threads here and here). Note it’s both obviously bad Trump and wrongly beloved Obama who sided with Putin to bring us to this brickbat BRICS point. A busy and hardworking activist asked me the other day to explain what the problem with fake news website The Grayzone is. “Red-brown alliance,” I started off succinctly, meaning the longstanding and continuing pattern of Commies allying with Nazis (see news blast above regarding the thankless duty of grumbling anarchists, when forced to pick between the two, to support the liberal order over the outright fascists, while still shoving reframing, truth-bombs, and nonviolent/self-defense other bom—nevermind, into faces). Grayzone founder and head honcho, your local Assad apologist Max Blumenthal, successfully pressured the Southern Poverty Law Center to take down this article. I dare him to try my website, I’ve shielded myself with lengthy paragraphs! The article explains, on the Internet Archive at least, how presently, fascist propagandists like Steve Bannon use intermediatry hops to convert left-wing resentment (paging Nietzsche, or better, The Creation of Me, Them, and Us on the struggle between reflectors and negative images in Hegelian setups) into unwitting support for Putin-, CCP-, Assad-, etc. aligned talking points. As the first track of Lupe Fiasco’s Birth of the Cool album propounds, check your ingredients before you overdose on the cool. Might be a bit Tatmadaw when those discussing the CCP’s horrifying Uyghur genocide find themselves told by USians that it’s a “Karen” move to feel cross-border, cross-sect empathy: “Yeah, tell us again Karen, how the Uyghur genocide actually affects you” and the like. Nope, empathy across distances is a good thing. Finally, whataboutism is increasingly not accepted online, so I don’t have to put a long disclaimer in here about multiple awful genocides caused by the US.

“What is this garbage you’re watching?” the US fifties father says, thrusting the remote control like a gavel. “I want to watch the news!” (Points for those who know the music video source.)

Well, if there’s anyone still reading after that giga-paragraph, such was my understanding prior to this blast, so now we crank the volume! I’m basing the below largely on the September 28 YAC.news article, “Prelude to war: China’s plot for world domination,” and the links therein. Heather Marsh’s 2014 post “World War III: Pillage and plunder” provides some helpful historical background about power shifting from the British empire / Five Eyes / etc. to the Chinese empire, and then her 2020 post “The catalyst effect of COVID-19,” offers more crucial background, regarding the present attempt at a planetary mono-empire, transcending the Cold War binary and dangerously trying to sublate us all into obedient nothing-humans. Back to the YAC.news post.

The excellent article explains “China’s goal is global ideological and economic domination. To achieve that, it is spreading propaganda, expanding information operations, amassing economic and social influence, and sabotaging democratic political systems.” The article gives backstory and context such as “The CCP has had a monopoly on power in China since Mao Zedong first obtained control in 1949 after a grueling civil war. The CCP currently has more than ninety million members, not including non-Chinese loyalists scattered worldwide. Over 70 percent of the CCP’s members are men” but in 2019, more than 42% of new members are women, contemporary gender parity in joining authoritarian destruction. Here’s a key paragraph from YAC.news:

The CCP does not seek ideological conformity but rather power, security, and global influence. President Xi promotes China’s authoritarian governance as being superior to democratic political systems and seeks to spread “Chinese wisdom” throughout the world as a “contribution to mankind.” Xi speaks of China’s prosperity as proof that the path to prosperity does not lead through democracy. Unlike the United States and the fallen Soviet Union, China is currently not spreading its ideology through the installment of authoritarian strongmen or through military conquest. Instead, it promotes itself as “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. Chinese officials commonly speak of the “right” of nations to choose their political systems, often advocating the right of countries to be ruled by nondemocratic regimes. When paired with China’s economic and political measures China’s policy reinforces authoritarian regimes and weakens democratic systems around the world.

There’s much more to the YAC.news article. Chinese spies protecting Vancouver money launderers, CCP (and Russian) support for Assad and the Myanmar junta [also Lukashenko in Belarus, noted by YAC elsewhere], and People’s Liberation Army strategy—the PLA recently allied with the Taliban as the Chinese have been taking possession of abandoned US armament in Afghanistan, where resistance continues (now hear this and consider). In July, China threatened to nuke Japan. If you think you’ve heard bellicose rhetoric from Texans, watch the CCP video embedded below that went out to two million subscribers (source one, source two):

What does it take to descibe more than just the US as imperial?

Speaking of war, note that like the physically unfit Trump, China is campaigning against effeminate men and other non-machismo experiments with beauty. China’s TV regulator this month banned the “abnormal aesthetics” of “sissy men”; in February, Wang Hailin, the screenwriter vice president of China’s National Film Literature Association, ranted in moronic binary form: “If a man pays too much attention to his outfits and his makeup, it means that he is trying to avoid responsibility and our society is going backward. …If we have more sporty and manly men, it means that our society is moving forward and improving.” Gee, so simple even authoritarians can understand it, unlike, say, cutting their toenails.

The Chinese government harasses Chinese nationals on Canadian soil. The Toronto Star reported last month that a Chinese student located in Canada retweeted three posts critical of the CCP or against its interests, from his fake-name twitter account with only two followers. That was all it took for the Chinese authorities to contact him (in Canada) and his family (in China) with threats. They told him to delete the posts or “face trouble.”

In November 2019, the Toronto Sun detailed how dozens of Chinese in the Vancouver area are getting in person visits on Canadian soil from “Chinese officials” due to their anti-CCP online posts. “When we meet in my office, they want the blinds closed,” Brad West, mayor of Port Coquitlam (just outside Vancouver), told the paper. “They’re that fearful.” He said the Canadian “government has been doubling down on the same approach [to this problem] for decades now and the proof is in the pudding. There hasn’t been a change and things have gotten worse.” The article concludes with the mayor saying, “Maybe I’m being too simplistic in thinking, but when dealing with a bully, there does come a point where you just have to stand up for yourself.”

Wray testifying to Congress. Yeah, I don’t trust his agency or face either, but look. The FBI director isn’t talking to us. Neither is Reuters. They’re both talking to other wack members of the security services, intelligentsia, etc. We’re the (presumed apathetic) public listening in on this particular regional gang giving each other data about another regional gang, the CCP, and we’re deciding not only to care, but to act.

Where else is the CCP harassing Chinese nationals? In the United States. In July 2020, Reuters reported on FBI director Christopher Wray’s explanation of China’s “Fox Hunt” program in an hour-long presentation to the conservative militarists at the Hudson Institute. The program sees Chinese citizens, some also US green card holders or US citizens, who are anti-CCP dissidents, finding themselves blackmailed on US soil—told “return to China promptly or commit suicide” for example—by CCP “emissaries” suddenly showing up and using the Fox Hunt targets’ family members back in China and even in the United States “for leverage.” At the Hudson Institute, Wray said there are “hundreds of [Fox Hunt] victims” in the United States, and the CCP forces use “a variety of means of coercion” against them. “If you use your imagination,” Wray said, “you’re not going to be far off.”

The FBI director points out that any Chinese company is required to give the CCP any information its requests on anything. That includes data of USians using Tik Tok, owned by a Chinese firm that tries to censor mention of the Xinjiang concentration camps where Uyghur and other minorities are incarcerated by the CCP for indoctrination, torture, rape, and death. The CCP has also created an international state-sponsored organ trafficking industry.

Canada and the United States aren’t the only places China’s influence activities reach. As linked in the YAC.news article, intelligentsia guy Larry Diamond and other intelligentsia guy Orville Schell, wrote a November 2018 report at the influential conservative Hoover Institution think tank, on the Stanford campus, about China reaching beyond its borders in nefarious ways. The report’s 48-page second appendix, titled Chinese influence activities in select countries, draws on typical intelligentsia sources (journalists, academics, bureaucrats, yadda) to list example after example of CCP influence and harassment operations in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Quoting from the second appendix:

China seeks to make itself more palatable to democratic societies by using many of the customary vehicles of soft power—such as state-funded research centers, media outlets, university ties, and people-to-people exchange programs […] In conjunction with the dramatic expansion of Chinese economic interests abroad, the Chinese government has focused its influence initiatives on obscuring its policies and suppressing, to the extent possible, voices beyond China’s borders that are critical of the CCP. Targeting the media, academia, and the policy community, Beijing seeks to penetrate institutions in democratic states that might draw attention or raise obstacles to CCP interests, creating disincentives for any such resistance. Chinese economic activity is another important tool in this effort. Beijing is particularly skilled at using economic leverage to advance political goals in the realm of ideas […]

[For Australia, for instance:] In June 2017, a joint investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had warned the major political parties that two of Australia’s most generous political donors had “strong connections to the Chinese Communisty Party” and that their “donations might come with strings attached.”

More of CCP leader Xi Jinping … I wonder what kind of red wine that is?

YAC.news published a separate article on September 21, “China’s war on global education,” which says: “The Chinese government is actively working towards undermining academic freedom globally. Currently the CCP is influencing academic discussions, monitoring Chinese students abroad, and censoring scholarly inquiry. Chinese nationals have reportedly had to alter their behavior and self-censor to avoid threats, harassment, and authoritative backlash. Individuals who show interest in democracy, pro-democracy movements, or criticize the ruling class are monitored and reported on by CCP informants and spies.” To help combat such CCP coercion on university campuses, Human Rights Watch in March 2019 issued a 12-point code of conduct (3-page PDF). It advises measures such as speaking out in defense of academic freedom, recording instances of CCP infrigements on same, disclosing Chinese funding, and more.

The September 28 YAC.news “Prelude to war” article concludes:

China is not only on the warpath to subvert democracy but also pervert our global social contract built around human rights which was designed to in theory protect us from the blood lust of tyrants after the second world war. While the weakening of the human rights charter has been underway for more than half a century by despots that go unchallenged or democratic countries such as the United States that violate it with impunity, China’s plot for power aims to outright erase it. […]

Any effort to combat the CCP’s growing influence and reach must start with cracking down on transnational organized crime, especially that originating from the Golden Triangle and being spearheaded by China-linked Triads. Aggressive anti-money laundering measures need to be put in place across North America and Europe to cut off CCP funding. Anti-money laundering measures must include an international crackdown on illicit or suspicious real-estate and luxury asset acquisition across major metropolitan cities such as Vancouver, Canada, San Francisco, U.S., and London, U.K, among many others. A serious inquiry and crackdown on the vast network of Triad linked – Chinese diaspora based businesses used as fronts for human trafficking, such as spas, beauty salons, and general stores is also necessary. Any effort to curb China’s dark money should avoid arousing xenophobic sentiments, which would only serve to distance potential allies and disenfranchised Chinese in diaspora leading them back to the grip of the CCP. Legislation must also be amended to hold politicians and officials found to be colluding with the CCP judicially accountable. Those actively receiving funds from CCP linked organizations while promoting the party’s interest also need to be subject to transparency measures and held judicially accountable if found complicit […]

In order to secure democracy journalism across democratic countries must regain independence from CCP complicit media moguls and sponsors. Civil society must also be given the tools and training to allow complete transparency on the whereabouts of its funding and any CCP linked connections of its most vocal members. In order to circumvent China’s financial grip, with the Belt and Road Initiative, on financially strained countries, wealthy democratic countries must provide, corruption free, infrastructure development. Accountability and an end to impunity for officials, royals, and wealthy individuals residing in democratic countries must also gain priority to counter China’s narrative of western hypocrisy and instability […]

Currently some democratic states have sent naval assets to the Pacific to curtail CCP expansionist actions however without serious moves at home China grows bolder and stronger. Ultimately if China’s plot is not stopped and democracy is not reinforced the countdown to military confrontation at a global scale is underway.

Go read the whole thing at YAC.news and follow the links, including those in that appendix, so that you remember not to forget.

Worldwide trade economy collapse/change

Record-breaking numbers of container ships in August 2021 backed up off the coast of southern California (Source)

A year and a half ago, in her post “The catalyst effect of COVID-19,” philosopher Heather Marsh wrote: “We are, or will be, going through the most radical transformation the world has ever seen; people are justly terrified, excited, depressed, heartbroken and hopeful, all at once. […] the [trade] economy is not going to be nearly as important as it was before. This may be unimaginable to people who have been accustomed to framing all of our problems in terms of economics, but think of how religions and states faded as the dominant endogroups [cults, to oversimplify] when new transcendental endogroups appeared. Things that appear essential to society can fade into irrelevance if they are based only on endoreality [cult mindsets, to oversimplify], as economics is. The crash we started the year off with will not simply produce a depression and then recovery. Instead, it will illustrate the fact that economics now is simply an abstracted [consider] power structure with no underlying support in universal reality (like all endoreality). Economics as we know it, is dead. This does not mean it will disappear completely overnight, or that it will not remain in some form in some places, but, like religions, states, families, and other formerly dominant endogroups, it will no longer be the dominant or authoritative power structure in our lives. This is explained in great detail in The Approval Economy which will be published one day.” She then goes on to supply a list of specific opportunities that activists could pursue during the pandemic to establish/defend a world that’s much more exosocial [based on balanced, euphoric interactions rather than predatory, draining transactions].

In Seattle, when I stop by grocery store news-stands for a few moments, the papers are full of the latest headlines about the ongoing implosion of the trade economy. Maybe your area news-stands are similar. Even booksellers are affected, as Quartz reported on September 16: “Publishers are warning sellers and consumers that supply chain issues have forced a major slowdown in book production and threaten a shortage of certain titles for the rest of the year. Supply chain problems have touched almost every aspect of book production, storage, and delivery, mostly as a result of Covid-related bottlenecks. […] because many books are printed in China, the route from printer to the bookstore is currently fraught with bottlenecks. Port congestion, lack of shipping containers, a shortage of dockworkers, and trucking staffing problems are impeding the movement of books from warehouses to store […] publishing delays are likely to hit independent booksellers harder.” On September 13, Tubby & Boo’s, a New Orleans independent bookstore focusing on science fiction and fantasy along with titles of interest to queer communities, put together a 15-tweet thread detailing problems with raw materials, costs of production, distribution/circulation of commodities, and so on.

System collapse — that’s the warning from global supply chain workers according to a September 29 article posted by CNN Business. The piece centers on the joint open letter from International Chamber of Shipping and other shipping industry groups to heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly last month. The industry organizations asked the UN “that our transport workers are given priority to receive [World Health Organization] recognised vaccines and heads of government work together to create globally harmonised, digital, mutually recognised vaccination certificate and processes for demonstrating health credentials (including vaccination status and COVID-19 test results), which are paramount to ensure transport workers can cross international borders. We also call on the WHO to take our message to health ministries.” The supply chains are expected to buckle further toward the end of the year when employment contracts come up for renewal.

What does trade’s downward spiral mean for how we organize ourselves? Today, wage slavery is compulsory: the completely contingent order of thingsfor now—is that almost everyone must pick between Employer A or Employer B or Employer C to toil for moneytokens, or feel shame for begging in a world where free essentials aren’t cheerfully shared, or die. Sometimes the authoritarians describe this wage slavery as freedom; other times, they admit it’s compulsory, as in late September, when Gary D. Cohn, chief economic adviser to Donald Trump, also an IBM vice president, told Yahoo Finance that “we need to force people, in many respects, to reenter the workforce.” For more on IBM’s witting complicity with fascists, read investigative journalist Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust: How America’s Most Powerful Corporation Helped Nazi Germany Count the Jews.

I’ll try to make the worldwide trade economy collapse/change a recurring feature of my news blasts. If you feel dismay, remember, as John Donne (sorta) said in other words centuries ago, don’t respond by building emotional walls and blaming yourself for the corporate destruction making our lives difficult. I think I’m taking a little liberty with Mr Donne. Point is, reach out, talk about shame to throw it out the airlock, strengthen yourself, build bridges, and stick up for yourself and others!

Art Blasts: Theodore Sturgeon, Wanda Landowska

Since from now on it might be fun to include blasts, timely and untimely, about all forms of art, let’s look at some fiction and music real quick. Like trying to get a cranky vehicle started, I’ve been having trouble getting my own fiction-writing going as much as I’d like (although it is going, just slowly), so someone (Hoi!) recommend a while back that I do stuff about fiction to build up enthusiasm. Art blasts may help with that. This weekend’s are apropos of nothing; most aren’t timely at all!

Fiction, other) I have a friend who just published a poetry book, and another friend who just sold two fiction tales, but I haven’t read them yet. Sorry for the delay, y’all. I’ll get to your work soon!

Fiction, Theodore Sturgeon) One of my favorite writers is the late Theodore Sturgeon, mostly known for his stories of science fiction and fantasy. His work might be described as a bridge between the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction (circa 1938 – 1946), in which scientists like Isaac Asimov portrayed cerebral, familyless men exploring the universe and saving it nearly singlehandedly with hard rationality, and the New Wave of Science Fiction (1960s and 1970s), in which anti-authoritarian authors, such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick, focused on soft sciences (anthropology, sociology, etc.) and promoted/debated counterculture ideals. Sturgeon’s ponderings on love and his lyrical style, seen for instance in his screenplay for the famous Star Trek: TOS Amok Time episode, was a huge influence on the far more famous Ray Bradbury.

This two-minute, 2013 video from Open Road Media, which has been digitizing Sturgeon’s backlist, will vibe you with the author quickly:

The above Sturgeon video and facts have been familiar to me for a long time, but this past week I was delighted to stumble, for the first time, on the last issue of the Steam Engine Time fanzine, from March 2012, which contains a lengthy, well-sourced biographic and analytical essay on Sturgeon’s work by Matthew Davis, and ruminations on Sturgeon’s 1953 story “The World Well Lost” by Dick Jenssen aka Ditmar. Jenssen explores how “The World Well Lost,” written at a time when in the United States homosexuality was still voted by psychiatrists into being a diagnosable mental illness, shows bigoted homophobes as objectifiers obsessed with superficial appearances, while love is shown as a connection between what people have on the inside, regardless of the anatomy of their naughty bits. Before reading Davis’s essay, I already knew a lot about Sturgeon, but his piece told me things even I didn’t know. For instance, Sturgeon wrote for the black-and-white TV show Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953), which predated The Twilight Zone. I love the latter, but have never seen the former, so I was startled to learn from Davis that Sturgeon wrote the very first Tales of Tomorrow episode, “Verdict from Space.” I haven’t seen it yet, but the full 28 minutes are on youtube, giving me something to watch asap!

Music, Wanda Landowska) At the end of Sturgeon’s best known novel, 1953’s More Than Human, he describes ethereal post-humans inspiring humanity, and one result of the inspiration is “a child Landowska listening to a harpsichord.” He means Wanda Landowska, Polish pianist and harpsichordist, born 1879, died 1959. If you enjoy Bach, as I do, you might be more familiar with the widely available interpretations of his music by eccentric and deceased Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. Yet Landowska was very famous in her day, and still is among those knowledgeable on the musical era. Both keyboardists performed Bach’s 1735 Italian Concerto. We can use Gould’s popular interpretations as a sort of baseline to compare Landowska’s earlier interpretations against.

Glenn Gould, piano, squeaky chair, and mumbles, 1959
Wanda Landowska, harpischord, 1936

Same thing for Bach’s two- and three-part inventions from 1723, pieces I used to annoy my family with by playing them on the piano over and over. Both Gould and Landowska recorded the inventions, Gould in 1963-64 and Landowska in 1959. Hers are all up at the Internet Archive; his are all on youtube here. We might compare Landowska and Gould’s performances of a single piece from that set of compositions, the 13th two-part invention, in A minor:

Gould, piano, squeaky chair, and mumbling, 1963-64
Landowska, harpsichord, 1959

Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have anything to say about Gould, Landowska, and JS Bach right now—I was just sharing. In future posts, I hope to share music by Debussy, Grimes, Queensrÿche, Savant, and others. It’s been a weekend of typing; now I’m at last spent of words. Until next time!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction! 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/2021/10/10/ielts-enquiry-on-results-pfizer-blog-newsblasts-china/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 36 of 52.

Gates to Another World! The Might & Magic RPGs, known for mixing fantasy and science fiction, inspired me as a kid

In last week’s post, I broached the subject of emigrating from the United States. I mentioned two bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining permanent residency in Canada via Express Entry: the Educational Credential Assessment and the General version of the International English Language Testing System. (I’ve been researching other possible destinations as well, such as Costa Rica.)

Since that blog entry, I received my ECA results and flew to and from San Diego — a short trip I arranged just two nights prior to departure — to take the IELTS exam, not offered here in Washington state. Below, after giving three additional reasons for emigration, I discuss how my ECA and IELTS went. In fact, I just got my IELTS scores in while writing this post. The information herein is from my perspective, that of a single guy in middle age; emigration requirements assuredly vary to some extent for families, etc.

But first, a telling experience at the Seattle airport on my way south. My flight was delayed, so I wandered from the gate to a shop. Package of salty cashews in hand, I approached the register. All at once I realized I’d accidentally cut in front of a mother tending to her toddler. With my palm, I acknowledged my error and gestured mildly for the pair to resume their rightful place in line. As I stepped back, the mother, visibly startled at the unusual turn of events, inched forward and purchased her items. Then, leaving the shop, she profusely thanked me, even though it was I who had made the mistake. This latest little example of the systemic injustice of masculinism felt dismaying. As a traveler, just some lone, middle-age guy with a big backpack, I was on easy street, yet here she was, tiredly laboring to create and nurture the next generation of humanity, but compelled to behave a bit as if she’d done something wrong and I’d done something stellar. My dismay quickly turned to optimism, however. After all, I was actually seeing this unfair and ancient imbalance — which I didn’t perceive as a young Texan — and so are increasing millions of others daily, through human rights news, brilliant analyses, and brave actions. The flood will continue to crash down the barriers.

Now some music to set the tone as the main of this post gets underway.

The 2015 song “E.V.A.” by the London-based band Public Service Broadcasting. “I’m on the edge of the opening … I feel excellent! I see clouds and the sea. I’m beginning to move away …”

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

First, the United States is a gigantic bubble where quality knowledge is difficult to discover. Just look at the emoji menu on your virtual keyboards. In the U.S., it’s rare for even educated people (formally or autodidactically educated) to be able to match more than a very few flags with the correct countries. Elsewhere, it’s a quite common skill for literate people. Besides that example, think of how important it is to have good information. If you want to quit smoking, for instance, excellent advice will lead you to success. Poor advice won’t. If you’re surrounded by misinformation and disinformation, it’s no wonder things are going downhill. Extend that to the quality of knowledge you access on any topic, such as child soldiers. Breaking out of the US prison of anti-info at this point in my life simply feels mandatory.

Second, consider the exceptionality of the United States with regards to worldwide taxation systems, not just for the powerful, but as it applies to everyday individuals. A helpful Wikipedia list shows that, with some tiny exceptions, only four countries tax their citizens residing abroad on their foreign income: Hungary, Eritrea, Myanmar, and the self-proclaimed greatest place on the globe, the United States. The other 190-ish countries don’t; perhaps some think if a citizen isn’t using the domestic roads or hospitals or other public services, they shouldn’t owe tax. Thus, if you’re a Spaniard living in South America selling stories to magazines, you don’t owe taxes back home to Spain. But, if you’re a US citizen and business executive in Ho Chi Minh City, then you do owe money not just to Vietnam, but also to Uncle Sam, on your Vietnamese pay every year, if your income exceeds $108,700 USD (as of this writing). Owing back taxes puts your passport at risk. While the $108,700 threshold is much higher than typical US citizen English teachers or writers ever need to worry about — they can claim the foreign earned income exclusion — simply failing to file a tax return annually will jeopardize half your undeclared assets in civil court. In some circumstances, there may even be criminal penalties. Just as a cop following a car in the United States can find plenty of reasons to pull the driver over after merely a minute or two, aided by the existence of complicated driving laws, so the complicated tax requirements ensure any USian anywhere on the planet is arrestable at any time: it’s likely anyone’s tax returns (or lack thereof) can be read in such a way as to find a (so-called) crime or excuse for inflicting civil pains. (That’s not even bringing up global surveillance and assassinations of US citizens and anyone else by the US.) Meanwhile, taxation for many non-US citizens is much simpler, a half-hour affair once a year rather than days or weeks of trying to decipher snarls like “Go to Part IV of Schedule I to figure line 52 if the estate or trust has qualified dividends or has a gain on lines 18a and 19 of column (2) of Schedule D (Form 1041) (as refigured for the AMT, if necessary).” Switching from US citizenship to another country’s is a way to escape such time-consuming, stressful insanity while getting the hell out of a failed, rogue state. Though there’s a potential irony: What if you switch citizenship to a country that doesn’t tax non-resident citizens on foreign income … until they do, shortly after you become one of their nationals? I suppose countries without a history of doing it would be a safer bet. In short, just like most “developed” countries do not link health insurance to employment, but rather provide it as a right (a better idea especially in a pandemic), most countries do not link taxation to citizenship, but rather to residency. The United States “excels” at yoking health insurance to employment and yoking taxation to citizenship.

Wrongly beloved Obama signing FATCA, part of the HIRE act, into law. As wily as a pickup artist, he did not mention FATCA in his official remarks on the legislation’s passage.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, meet the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which became US law in March 2010. In the words of the IRS (accessed today), besides the impositions on individuals (sorta covered by my paragraph above but see also here and elsewhere), FATCA “generally requires that foreign financial institutions and certain other non-financial foreign entities report on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders or be subject to withholding on withholdable payments.” DLA Piper, a global firm of business attorneys, explains in an 11-page PDF FAQ that FATCA’s “direct and profound” impact on foreign financial institutions means that in participating countries, all non-US banks — all of them — with customers born in the United States must search out, identify, and disclose information about those customers’ accounts for reports to Uncle Sam, including details on interest, dividends, and other income. And at the non-US countries’ own expense. In other words, FATCA is a measure to force non-US banks to report to Uncle Sam on their US customers — and foot the bill for it. The individual FATCA agreements between the United States and the many participating countries can be found at the Treasury Department website here. For example, fearing “catastrophic effects” on its financial sector, Canada hands to the US authorities private bank account information of average Canadians, even sometimes for accounts with balances under the $50,000 USD threshold. As another example, the Colombian bank Grupo Bancolombia says it must comply with FATCA by “permanent monitoring” of account holders and by supplying annual FATCA reports to the United States. That again shows how the US-centric law “imposes expansive compliance obligations” (as DLA Piper puts it) on foreign financial institutions. Which is a big reason why, while banks in some countries — Luxembourg and Georgia among them — welcome US citizen customers, some banks in others simply refuse to do business with US persons. Germany’s large Augsburger Aktienbank bank, for instance, announced in January 2021 that, due to FATCA burdens, it would no longer serve US individuals; gauging from social media, it seems to have stopped doing so. They’re not the only ones. News sites catering to US persons living abroad say they’ve received many reports from their readers who have suddenly found their bank accounts closed. Even people with tenuous connections to the United States, such as those who receive citizenship due to birth here but leave as infants never to return, can suddenly find themselves owing a lifetime of tax to Uncle Sam. In sum, FATCA is yet another reason to switch away from US citizenship. A tax consultancy to US citizens abroad says in 2020, a record number of them renounced their citizenship (continuing a multi-year trend that’s easy to find news articles about online); FATCA was often a top reason they cited. People dumping US citizenship over FATCA even include average teachers of English to speakers of other languages. The former US citizens can then provide a Certificate of Loss of Nationality in hopes of keeping their foreign banking service.

The infamous Trump wall we keep hearing about is not only to keep supposed “undesirables” out…it’s also to keep US citizens in.

To renounce US citizenship, a process that takes about a year, US citizens must undergo interviews with consular officials (which must be nerve-wracking!), perhaps have the last several years of their tax returns audited, and pay the world’s heftiest fee for dumping a so-called nation-state: $2,350 USD. Every year, the US Treasury Department publishes a list of people who break up with the United States — here’s 2021’s. But have no fear. According to an article on the subject at The Conversation, by the year 1796, the sailor James L. Cathcart, aiming to improve his fortunes, changed identities/citizenships/allegiances eight times all before age 30!

Exploring the wider world

Outside the practical difficulties, what about the social-emotional ones? As the link above about child soldiers mentions, growing up in the highly polarized United States resembles growing up in a country at civil war. Some kinda weird, slow-mo, nonstop civil war. A perpetual low-intensity conflict, an unacknowledged counterinsurgency homeland. So maybe it’s no surprise that working on leaving rips a person up. Like long threads inside, representing relationships, turning twisted, dry, dead, and finally disintegrating into mere memories, even as other threads, like spider silk, shoot out into the wider world, expanding, seeking purchase. Or, maybe growing up in a civil war-like country is akin to being in an abusive relationship: trauma bonding and all that.

Sometimes it seems never to change, sometimes it seems inevitable that the United States completely collapses. US reactionaries — those laughably believing they conveniently just happened to be born into the most godly country, most godly religion, most godly everything, despite lacking experience beyond heavily curated bubble excursions, where foreign tour guides put on performances for their wealthy customers by flattering the United States — will say, If you don’t like it leave, and then when you do, tell you you’re a traitor. Meanwhile, US liberals and far left are typically unreachable. Liberals seem convinced the Powers That Be have no idea who Rachel Maddow or Bernie Sanders are, so liberals anticipate Maddow and Sanders will any moment now pull off an unsurveilled sneak campaign to successfully remedy all the problems described above in time for board games this weekend. Finally, the US far left too often uses “systemic forces” as code for “nobody can do anything about anything, so inaction is justified.” Sometimes it seems if you’re going to emigrate, you’re on your own, offline I mean, with those who can relate consisting of glowing text that vanishes once you turn off your device. But in truth, offliners have helped from time to time, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some amazing activists in the US who do amazing things!

Despite online encouragement, emigration still feels like a thoughtcrime. I’ve been told I owe it to the United States to stay, since the country “let me” be a teacher, and that I owe it to the US not to throw up my hands at the problems by leaving. It’s strange the grip the US civic religion has on people. As a commenter on last week’s post suggested, compare the US stigma against living elsewhere with the attitude of the British — probably due to their history as a former imperial power (the world is transitioning from British rule to Chinese rule, or maybe already has). Many British haven’t hesitated to live their whole lives in another country (or multiple), and are respected by their fellow British for doing so. That can be seen in Alan Turing’s family, for instance; his father was a member of the Imperial Service for the British Raj.

Let’s emigrate from these unpleasant thoughts with some music, and migrate toward jumping the ECA and IELTS hurdles.

The 2008 song “Ruins of the Realm” by Texas-based James McMurtry. “Dancin’ in the ruins of the Raj, Queen and country’s noble cause … Dancin’ in the ruins of the South, Confederate flag taped over my mouth …”
My WES report on the app. Who’s allowed to live where? A stupid quandary, merely rearranged by states in various forms, till we decide on disobedience, cross borders en masse, and make the decisions

Education: a most powerful weapon you can use to complete paperwork

As I explained last week, Canada uses something fancily called Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) to see if non-Canadian academic degrees are equivalent to those provided by Canadian universities. And for the sake of dolla dolla bill, maybe. Those seeking permanent residency through Express Entry will need to have the transcript from their degree-awarding uni evaluated by one of five designated organizations. In my case, I went to more than one university, but I had to provide the transcript only from the final awarding school. Out of the five options, I picked World Education Services because they apparently have the fastest turnaround time. The other four orgs are Canadian gub’ment entities.

I found the process fairly straightforward. Like you’d expect, I had to carefully work my way through a few bureaucratic websites, but nothing insurmountable. I got TCU (my alma mater), the National Student Clearinghouse, and World Education Services lined up, three ducks in a row, and paid the ridiculous fee of about $240 USD. After a few days, the World Education Services app notified me their review of my academic records was complete and I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ my records were found satisfactory. The WES report is good for five years from date of issue; an important fact, since people can apply for Canadian permanent residency multiple times, and often do. WES (everybody’s an acronym these days, even DAL) forwarded the report on to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I assume at some point in the application process I’ll need to give Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada my WES reference number. Paperwork, paperwork. However, it’s a hurdle jumped!

Instead of all the paperwork and injustices, we could refuse to cooperate and instead cross borders sans permission, erasing them under our feet as we go. It might seem absurd to envision that as a goal, but huge numbers of people follow unusual goals at a moment’s notice very often, whether it’s something safe like in 2016 when thousands installed an app to go outside and hunt invisible Pokémon because they saw advertising, or something dangerous like in 2014 when thousands in Burkina Faso burned their parliament buildings and chased out oligarchs because that public has created a culture where such actions are not mocked as pipe dreams but appreciated, as I understand it.

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

My last blog entry explained how Canada, and a few other countries, require aspiring immigrants to take the General version of the IELTS test to prove English proficiency, regardless of, say, being a native English speaker with a summa cum laude humanities degree and lots of news media publications. Since the test isn’t available in Washington state, and because I’m in a hurry, I booked my computer-based exam for Thursday September 9 in San Diego.

Last week I took this photo, obviously one of the greatest works of art known to humanity… um, I’m joking…

The IELTS General has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. You get an overall score, and separate scores for each of the four sections. Higher scores mean more points for meeting immigration thresholds (which assess points for other things, including academic degrees and favorable employment history), so I really wanted to do well. For both the individual sections and the overall grade, scores range from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest), and come in point-five increments: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and so on.

There’s a lot of nitpicks on the IELTS. Audio texts are played just once, so if your attention wanders, you’re toast. Spelling has to be perfect. I was particularly worried about typing dates and other numbers/quasi-numbers in acceptable styles. Some words, such as occasionally, I seem to misspell no matter how many times I look them up. Using The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS for Academic & General Training (a paperback or PDF from 2014 but apparently not out of date), I crammed for two days and hoped for the best.

I had to arrive at the testing center at 8:00 a.m. At 7:55 a.m., I yanked the door handle, reminded myself occasionally has one s, and went in. I ascended the mini-labyrinth of staircases and discovered it was just me and one other test-taker, a bright young woman from Ghana aiming to move to Canada to become a behavioral health technician, that is, a psych ward orderly. Strange coincidence, right?

So friggin’ official

After our pockets were emptied, and our passports examined, and our faces photographed, and our COVID-19 waivers scrutinized, she and I were shepharded into the computer-packed testing room. The staff read us a long list of rules, including a stricture about leaving our passports out on our desks. Then the ordeal began. Even though the testing center was nearly empty, staffmembers, several times throughout the test, approached and picked up our passports for close inspection.

The listening section was easy, except my version of the test — test-takers receive different questions — had the dreaded map. While some test-takers don’t get a map at all, getting it means the computer shows you a crummy drawing of a location, such as a zoo, with nondescript boxes representing sublocations marked with letters. You have to match those letters to the correct place on a table of places. For instance, a box might be the zoo’s aquarium, where whales named George and Gracie are swimming around, or the zoo’s theatre, where tickets to educational movies are on sale, or the zoo’s testing center, where it’s determined to which cages the mistreated animals may migrate. The map stuff made a somewhat complicated setup visually, and much to my chagrin, I hadn’t practiced map questions, so by the time I got the hang of the visual arrangement, the audio text (complete with “distractors”) had already begun: “… after that, turn right, no excuse me, turn left, and find at the end of the path the exhibit of enormous venomous snakes.” So I think I blew one of the map questions.

The reading section was extremely easy. I don’t think the average English-speaking humanities graduate should sweat it.

The writing section, well, I mentioned a week ago how I bombed the writing section every time I took the GRE. Standardized writing tests and I don’t get along, so no high hopes for my performance on the two IELTS General writing tasks. But, I got them done.

The speaking section came last. This took place across a table from an interviewer, who recorded the three-part conversation with a little digital device. I was pretty nervous. A test-taker’s speech is marked, among other things, for successful use of a variety of sentence types (compound, compound complex, etc). I worried I’d bungle that, plus fail to make enough eye contact. At one point the interviewer asked me a prompt about why employees are or aren’t important to a business. I replied something akin to Although we might think of businesses as abstract entities configured on Secretary of State documents, in truth they exist concretely as human beings, the staff, whose well-being most certainly translates into good customer service and thus increased capital accumulation for the firm, speaking generally of course. The bemused interviewer gave me a look like You gotta be kidding me and ended the interview early. (Or so it seemed to me.)

Outside the Oxford International center, I discovered the other test-taker was a really cool person and gave her my card after writing a bunch of critical psychiatry resources on the back. Then I waited for my results.

My scores just came in:

I aced the reading and speaking sections (hah!), nearly aced the listening section (8.5), and got an overall score of 8.5 — but as predicted, the writing section was my minor downfall: I received a 7.5. Still, those scores are high enough for, say, entering any graduate program at the University of British Columbia (a uni known in Canadian court for its use of Proctorio academic surveillance software).

Test-takers can pay to have their IELTS re-marked, even just a single section of it, in a procedure called Enquiry on Results, but you have to make the request within six weeks of the date shown on the test report form. Numerous posts online suggest it’s quite common to get a small score increase this way. Internet commenters also suggest an enquiry on results will only keep your score the same or raise it; there’s no way for it to lower your score, they say, so it just costs money/time/effort. If I can confirm that with official IELTS documentation or a phone call — so far I haven’t been able to — I may ask for my writing section to be re-marked.

Anyway, another hurdle out of the way, or mostly.

San Diego stuff

The US-Mexico border near San Ysidro, grabbed from here

A funny thing happened on my flight to California: the passenger to my left was an Air Force veteran, and one of his sons was a mathematician creating those bizarre financial instruments at Goldman Sachs. Another reason to leave the US: seems everywhere you go, if you really ask and look, someone’s a private spy, or unrepentant soldier, or confidential informant, or bankster, or other unsavory character.

I didn’t have much free time in San Diego. Before the IELTS I had to cram, and after the test — it takes several hours, especially once you add in the waiting and formalities — I was exhausted, and crashed. Friday was free.

I considered going on foot to Mexico and back, via the San Ysidro border station (roughly sixteen miles south of San Diego but accessible by the Blue Line light rail). Non-essential pedestrian travel to/from Mexico/US, such as for tourism, is banned binationally at the federal level, at least until September 21, but according to San Diego locals I spoke with, the border station basically doesn’t enforce the ban, at least not for US citizens. Numerous online posts at various sites focusing on such topics agree. There are even USians blithely uploading footage of their touristy visits to Tijuana, pandemic or no pandemic. This guy’s 25-minute youtube video from last May shows a back-and-forth from San Diego/Tijuana, so I was able to at least visit virtually. His video includes ad placement, so I wonder if he declared business as the purpose of his trip, or if the San Ysidro station (with the pedestrian bridges frequently shown in news footage) even requires US citizens, or any people, to justify their cross-border walks. I concluded that because Mexico’s entry stamp includes a date, a trip during the ban would be a bad thing to have on my passport, especially while trying to emigrate. So I stayed domestic and read this reddit post from two weeks ago instead. It describes adventurous travel from San Diego to Tijuana and suits me a bit better than the 25-minute video. If you want to vicariously go to Baja California, it’s worth a down-time read or skim.

Aside from my meeting an amazing young vegan who quit caffeine to help with her sleep — an unusual and admirable display of responsibility and effort, restoring faith in humanity and maybe, dare I say, even in the United States to some small degree — that pretty much covers my past week in San Diego.

Until next time…

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles 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/2021/09/13/leaving-unitedstates-reasons-jumping-eca-ielts-hurdles/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

On leaving the United States

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 35 of 52. It’s Labor Day Weekend, so a Monday entry still counts! I skipped weeks 33 and 34 due to finishing up an intensive six-week course to (successfully!) become CELTA certified in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Note: I have a post in progress about Afghanistan and radical mental health in the United States, connecting the two by discussing cognitive dissonance. As a result of my recent and current workload and that entry’s length, I haven’t been able to complete it, and now need to put together something simpler (this post) instead. I’ll get the Afghanistan and mental health writing up eventually, but in the meantime, I urge you to read the timely story of Cindi Fisher and her struggle to free her son Siddharta from Washington state’s notorious Western State Hospital. See here, here, here, and here.

Outline of the U.S. superimposed on Mars pictured in outer space. Source, a Finnish tabloid in January 2021.

I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and moved to Seattle in 2016. That relocation was one of the best things for my life. Over the years, others from afar have encouraged me to migrate. Without their stimuli and the Internet, I’d have stayed in the Lone Star State, never participating in the Hearing Voices Network, never overcoming myriad challenges and increasing my autonomy, such as upping my cooking skill, substitute teaching for multi-month assignments in a huge city with a stressful crack-of-dawn commute, and dealing with painful social/emotional obstacles while interacting/transacting with people of wildly different demographics in a major urban environment. I’d have simply stayed a native Texan, brought up by prep school to belong to academia, isolated and not knowing it, locked in tunnel vision and praising the tunnel.

As I near six full years in Seattle, the time has come to move again — moreover, the time has come to leave the United States, even to get citizenship elsewhere someday. It’s a strange thing to do as a USian. In this country, no matter how much catastrophic medical debt piles up, no matter how many schools get shot up, no matter how often unemployment benefits cruelly expire, making a very specific plan for emigrating — as opposed to Just move to Canada! fantasies — is something you simply don’t hear about. Who does that? USians feel they’re already the most important country: not only the pro-Trump or neocon reactionaries, but also the faux rebels, who insist that if there’s a problem on the world stage, the US must always be the country most at fault. In other words, whether USians love the country or hate it, both agree that, regardless of topic, no other country can possibly be as important. Ever. In their eyes, history has come to an end. But most of the planet’s people live elsewhere, along with their changing cultures, changing languages, and the rest. It’s time to experience that; time for my own history to start a new chapter, while it’s still legal to leave.

But why, and how? On computer-y activist-y twitter, there are occasionally declamations by USians of how persecuted they are, and how special they are, and how they’ll soon leave the country for the better pastures they so richly deserve as rugged swashbuckling heroes and so forth. You’ll find that while I see terrifying political problems here too, my perspective is quite different! I see that for USians, who as a whole including me are to some extent quite tranquilized and emotionally + intellectually stunted (see arguments below), the idea of emigrating generally feels anxiety-producing, even downright scary — just try to talk someone here into renewing their passport, for instance. So I’ve decided to document my strange journey on my blog, full of specifics so maybe someone else will be able to figure out their own path to achieving the same thing someday.

This post is structured into why and how: First two little reasons why to emigrate, next two big reasons why, and finally two hows: a discussion of destinations I’m looking at, and then a discussion of practical steps I’m currently taking. Pertinent music before getting underway:

Son of Lonesome Dove novelist Larry McMurtry. “We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the gray herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”

Little reason for leaving 1 of 2: across-the-board life improvement

In summer 2019, shortly before COVID-19 showed up, I visited Victoria BC (and a little of Vancouver) alone, and later wrote blog posts about it. One thing I discussed is how moving to a place that’s better or worse in whichever ways can dramatically improve or worsen your life across the board, as opposed to the individualization of social problems, also known as the fundamental attribution error. Or more plainly, as @debihope put it in 2010: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” Or, I’ll add, smog, sprawl, and so on. Imagine a bunch of variables:

a: safety of air (lack of air pollution)
b: savings on cost of living (lower prices and so on)
c: rarity of mass shootings
d: education level of the population
e: prosocial or antisocial behavior of the population
And whichever additional variables.

Then imagine each location as a combination of those variables. Fort Worth is the sum of its ratings for air safety, cost of living, frequency of mass shootings, education level, social or antisocial behavior patterns, etc. Seattle is the sum of its ratings for the same variables. Victoria, Vancouver, and more, identical. This is all very straightforward and logical; it might seem strange to USians only because every day the corporate propaganda is screaming that we’re the best, that evidence is what nerdy losers consider, and that problems are almost always congenital rather than almost always environmental (even one’s bodily host, full of microorganisms, can be considered part of your mind or soul’s environment, as this thought-provoking book discusses).

Sinkhole in San Antonio, Texas, 2016. (Source)

So that’s why moving to a better place can improve your life across the board, but even moving to a place with a lower sum rating can be an improvement in that it can strengthen a person if they’re up to the challenge — and the lower-sum place might have hidden gem aspects to it as well.

Little reason for leaving 2 of 2: recent news revealing the United States as a sinkhole

“It’s really heartbreaking to see children intubated by COVID,” a Texas pediatrician working in hospitals said last week, and the country has just surpassed 2/3 million novel coronavirus deaths with over 160,000 new cases daily largely due to the Delta mutation, but all the same, in southwest Washington state on Friday September 3, the fascist Proud Boys, all-male enforcers for Trump reminscent of Hitler’s Youth, were riled up by false social media posts by another far right group, Patriot Prayer, that wrongly claimed a student faced arrest for not masking. Skyview High School, Alki Middle School, and Chinook Elementary all locked down as Proud Boys tried to gain entry to school grounds. Teachers and faculty guarded doors to keep the Proud Boys out as school security addressed them (I don’t know the details of what exactly school security did). Among the work I do is teaching, including in secondary schools, and fighting off Proud Boys is not really how I want to spend my time as a teacher, a factor in my emigration goal. The eight-second video below (source) is from outside Skyview High School on Friday.

Saturday, September 4, 50+ armed Proud Boys were on the hunt in Olympia, the Washington state capital. Gunshots were fired (I’m not sure of the specifics), and a female independent journalist, Alissa Azar, was assaulted by the Proud Boys. Details are still emerging.

Click through to see her thread
31-second clip (source). Azar can be heard screaming “get off me!” as Proud Boys chant “Fuck antifa!” and yell misogynist slurs

Labor Day Weekend’s not over yet; there may well be more craziness from the Proud Boys forthcoming in the Pacific Northwest.

The fairyfly, a type of wasp, is less than 0.2 mm / 0.005 inches long, about the diameter of a fine pen’s tip — yet the fairyfly has cardiac activity, a tubular heart on its back.

Turning to Texas, a pro-snitching, anti-reproductive rights law — the most restrictive in the country — went into effect there on Wednesday September 1 after the Supreme Court upheld it in a 5-4 “shadow docket” ruling. The law bans abortions once cardiac activity can be detected in the fetus, usually six weeks into pregnancy, typically counting from the first day of the last menstrual period (which might not be tracked or trackable, adding confusion and difficulty into the time equation). The Texas law makes no exceptions for rape or incest and relies on private individuals to enforce it; as the New York Times explains, it “deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or ‘aids and abets’ a procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win.” Snitches and bounty hunters. I wasn’t the inseminator, but as a quasi-supporter quasi-bodyguard against protestors decades ago, I accompanied a pregnant friend to a clinic for her abortion arrangements; such activity would now be “aiding and abetting.” As this five-minute Pussy Riot song “Hangerz” explains, “fundamentalist abortion-bans are about hijacking control and ownership of women’s bodies,” though some of the reactionary foot soldiers fighting for such bans may not perceive that frightening truth themselves.

What’s the “shadow docket” component of the Supreme Court ruling? The shadow docket is contrasted with the Supreme Court’s “merits docket.” But wait, what’s a docket?

The docket is the official schedule of proceedings before a court. When I covered multiple federal sentencings of hacktivist/transparency movement defendants (such as whistleblower Reality Winner’s), I’d sign into PACER, the electronic system for accessing federal court documents, and take a look at the docket to see what time the hearing began and in which courtroom. The docket listed not only that info about the sentencing hearing, but also information about and links to each pleading (a written statement a party puts before a court) and much more, which I would read and write about journalistically. “Docket” more generally refers to the workload before a court, as in “the court has fifty zillion cases pending on its docket.”

So that’s docket — how about the merits docket? The Supreme Court’s merits docket is the 60 to 70 or so cases the robed, priestly, and surely heavily surveilled justices will consider each term, hearing oral arguments from lawyers and pondering the pleadings, to make rulings supposedly on the merits. The merits docket cases are usually scrutinized by scholars, sometimes broadcast by media, and so forth, hopefully aiming for an ideal of transparency, because thankfully some refuse to lose their curiosity about what the ruling class is up to.

Halls of justice painted green, money talking… apathy their stepping stone (music; lyrics)

The shadow docket, on the other hand, is a catch-all term for Supreme Court rulings that, with some variation, are typically accompanied by no oral arguments from lawyers, no reasoning from judges, no identification of which justices voted what, and are released with unpredictable timing. That unpredictable timing makes informing the public about them difficult. For example, not of the Supreme Court shadow docket but of something similar, in Reality Winner’s case, her exceptionally restrictive plea agreement — remember, her leak was a huge component in the story of how the United States was smashed (partly) by Russia, sometimes called the battering ram of China in this global transition from the British Empire to the Chinese one, and thus, her leak helped decloak Putin’s ally Trump, so her punishment has been unusually severe — wasn’t filed until the day of her sentencing, which made reporting on her exceptionally restrictive conditions impossible for the many members of the media attending the hearing: we were given no time to read the plea agreement closely before the news cycle moved on. The Supreme Court’s shadow docket is likewise difficult for scholars and journalists to review. There’s no time for amicus briefs or activists to arrange protests (or sabotage!).

Though the term shadow docket was coined in 2015, something of a shadow docket has existed ever since the Supreme Court has. For a long time, shadow docket rulings were primarily minor, anodyne matters, like granting a side an additional two weeks to file a motion because the top lawyer came down with pneumonia. Over the past four years — during both the obviously awful Trump and wrongly beloved Biden administrations — there’s been a dramatic uptick in shadow docket rulings from the Supreme Court, another sign of the law vanishing. Shadow docket rulings are used now even for controversial cases, such as the new Texas abortion law. (Read more about the recent use of the shadow docket, a major loss for accountability and transparency, in this February 2021 testimony to Congress.)

A two-minute Anonymous video uploaded Friday September 3 points out that the Texas tactic of circumventing the federal protection of reproductive rights by shifting anti-abortion enforcement from the state government to private individuals could be expanded to circumvent any federal protection, such that private individuals are allowed to enforce any new state law regardless of what federal law might say on the matter. Do you realize what an end-times move that is? No more constitutional protections from federal law; your neighbors enforce the local law, to collect bounties. The Anonymous video also announces Operation Jane, named after the Chicago underground abortion service started in 1969, to either take down online systems for snitching/bounty-hunting on Texas women getting abortions, or to poison the data collection by flooding the online systems with garbage information. Indeed, a website seeking snitch reports of people violating the new Texas law has already been spammed thanks to a viral digital protest, including one programmer creating a shortcut for iPhone users to easily submit worthless data repeatedly.

I could offer examples of the sinkhole United States forever, but let’s look at just a few things more, quickly.

Remember the coup attempt on January 6? “A failed coup is practice for a successful coup,” Yale historian of fascism Timothy Snyder said this summer, referring to history and the very possible, perhaps even likely, scenario of Trump returning in 2022 or 2024, maybe by force. I recently came across a two-part interview with Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who’s given harrowing firsthand accounts of the coup attempt. The interview from July — part one and part two — is really worth listening to, because though our feelings on cops may be closer to this, Dunn seems a very straight-up dude, easy to empathize with, and his retelling of the insurrection is very expressive and evocative. (The Dworkin Report also interviewed lawyer Alison Grinter last month regarding Reality Winner’s commutation and pardon efforts.)

Remember, in this connection, the words of multiple Holocaust survivors in 2019 (Rene LichtmanRuth BlochBernard Marks): ICE is equivalent to the Gestapo, and their current ‘detention centers’ really are concentration camps where genocidaires crush minorities. Replace “the United States” in your head with “Nazi Germany” and ask yourself if living in such a place makes sense. Even if privileged USians think themselves exempt from such matters, recall that in May 2020, during Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, the National Guard in Minneapolis swept affluent streets, yelled Light ’em up! and shot paint canisters at non-minorities for the “crime” of standing on their porches, as in this 20-second video (source) that the mainstream media later followed up on:

Big reason for leaving 1 of 2: Unreachable USians and their counterarguments

The above establishes there’s no way for USians to opt-out of having the increasing fascism arrive on their own doorsteps. But plenty of people have legit reasons for staying in the country. Maybe they’re the sole caregiver for a dear dying relative. Maybe they’re dedicated to a project such as cleaning up the Duwamish River by Seattle. I even read a curious story about a monk in his fifties, a psychiatric survivor, who, protesting the rush of technology, took a “vow of stability” never to ride in a vehicle or leave his city (save rarely and on foot), though the story of his (nonsexual) relationship with a 23-year-old woman is a bit odd; in the U.S., twenty-three is typically not the age to take such a vow, and the story treats her as his mere sidekick. Anyway, there are all sorts of understandable reasons a person might decide not to leave the United States. And other countries aren’t automatically perfect — for good or ill, there are coup attempts and actual coups all over the place presently: see yesterday in Guinea on September 5, or the likely Steve Bannon-facilitated one in Brazil tomorrow on September 7 for fascist Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro. Whatever the case, each person’s life is their own to find their own path.

Still, there are common fallacious arguments against emigrating that I’ve heard repeatedly from USians and would like to address. These arguments arise in USian conversation when I bring up my goal of emigrating. The arguments make me feel like the majority of USians are unreachable on this topic, though judging from the programmer video above, the kids are all right; maybe I’m just getting old.

The most frequent anti-emigrating argument I hear in the United States is that it’s only a possibility for those with financial privilege. To be fair, this is not my best subject; nevertheless, there are certain awkward truths to be said. Since there are many who have willfully changed countries — including leaving the U.S. — while in poverty, the argument that emigration is only for the privileged is untrue, and speaks more to typical USian myopia. I don’t have the link handy, but I remember reading on r/IWantOut, a subreddit for emigration advice, of a USian in their late teens who sold everything and took a huge risk to just drop themselves into an Eastern European country, I think, and figure it out on the go. Lots of r/IWantOut posts share such stories. There are also many easy-to-find youtube videos of USians telling their stories of how they emigrated while similarly in poverty. Counterexamples, boom! With only $1000-$2000 USD in savings, which she calls a “pretty significant” amount, the woman in the video below moved from Chicago to cheaper Madrid to work as a teacher assistant, receiving a meager income (about $1200 USD per month). “It was one of the most amazing years of my life,” she says. “I’d recommend the experience to everyone.”

Volunteering and hanging out with US activists has taught me that many of them are simply pretending to be poor (even to themselves); maybe they don’t have a lot of cash daily, but they come from highly professional families who deliver money to them regularly, or would in emergencies or if asked. “Emigrating is a privilege” often means rather “I don’t want to have a confrontational conversation with my family/friends on this topic” or “I must follow a bizarre Kantian imperative to never lie, so when my family asks, I can’t tell them I sold my guitar to get $300 for something they approve of, when I actually sold it to pay an Education Credential Assessment fee they don’t approve of; not lying to my family is more important than my life and dreams going permanently down the drain.” People, especially women, are constantly shamed for being bold and taking risks, and socially ‘rewarded’ — She is just so sweet! for staying in servitude and remaining meek. So the “money privilege” arguments about emigrating are actually about those paralyzing emotions under the surface, I think, not about actual budget questions.

Further, as I experienced myself, those from upper class families in the U.S. are very often lacking in skills (paid caregivers did the domestic tasks when they grew up; parents or paid accountants did their taxes and paperwork; and so on). This sort of thing hits Reddit regularly, such as these stories of nightmare roommates not doing their dishes ever. It’s pretty inhibiting to grow up in a U.S. golden cage, especially since such families tend to endorse conventional psychiatry. Pedosadist Jeffrey Epstein arranged for psychiatrists to give his victims Lithium and Xanax for their tranquilizing/sedating effect; psychopharmaceuticals are a weapon of control that dull the moxie required to emigrate.

Spinal Tap explains

To counter these various discouragements, including the shaming, ressentiment-style crab mentality around emigration if you can emigrate, it must be because you are bad since you have money, whereas I can’t do it, because I am good since I don’t have money — I’ve lately been thinking of inspirational friends and reading inspirational books. One friend I know simply refuses to pay her student debt (my heroine!). I also just finished reading the autobiography of guitarist, philosopher, and Paganini/Liszt-style showoff Yngwie Malmsteen (who could really use some intervallic additions to his playing such as fourths, sixths, sevenths, ninths, elevenths). In Relentless, Malmsteen writes about riding his motorcycle up and down the stairs of his Swedish high school as a teen. I was a bit like that as a teen, too. In Texas, such energy often means (at least for white kids in prep schools) getting psychiatrized, but for him in Sweden, he got away with it, then later, upon receiving an offer to play in a Los Angeles band, flew across the planet for the first time to this city he’d never heard of (pre-Internet days), bringing with him nothing but his guitar case with an extra pair of jeans crammed inside. He ended up living in a run-down warehouse for a while in a violent neighborhood, playing for cheesy Steeler and getting his bearings; it got him to where he needed to go next. And only yesterday, a world-traveller friend recommended to me Mark Ehrman’s book Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, which I haven’t read yet, but it looks great.

Well, your guide to leaving the U.S., that is.

Even disability may not be an insurmountable obstacle to leaving. People who have been intensely psychiatrized may legitimately worry about family/friends calling the police and having them hospitalized if their plan to leave the country seems grandiose or otherwise insane. Breaking things down into plausible step-by-steps may help persuade policers, or another option is simply outwitting one’s opponents. It can be done. Witness the amazing book Bipolar 1 Disorder: How to Survive and Thrive by Molly McHugh, originally from the United States. Despite a history of manic psychosis, she slowly, after much trial and error, managed to get off her psychopharmaceuticals and travel the world with her son.

I had a creative writing teacher once who told the class he kept hearing explanations from us for why ideas put forth wouldn’t work; he then said, why not give explanations why they will work?

The other counterargument I hear frequently is that, in the face of collapsing supply chains and rising fascism, a USian should stay here and fight. I hear it so often that I wonder where the phrase originates; USians never say they want to remain here and fight or stay here and battle. It’s always stay here and fight. The collocation appears in translations of the Iliad and the stage play Death of a Salesman. Vivid, monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words like “stay” and “fight” are usually preferred by English speakers over Latinate clunkers like “remain” and “battle.” But I still wonder if there’s something more to the phrase’s frequency.

Anyway, let’s say I agree to remain here and bat — I mean, stay here and fight. What’s step one? The very first page of Sun Tzu’s millennia-old book The Art of War, studied by US generals, the KGB, and the Vietcong alike, says warriors must “determine the conditions obtaining in the field.” He asks fighters to consider, among other questions, “Which army is stronger?” and “On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?” I’ve never heard a USian, who insists we must stay here and fight, address such questions of Sun Tzu’s. At a glance, the Pentagon is stronger than antifa, since antifa lacks aircraft carriers, fighter jets, tanks, and so on. USians generally lack discipline, too, since every day almost all down corporate soda and other junk food along with countless hours of corporate entertainment (eating healthy is disciplining and strengthening).

If this is a consular ship, where is the ambassador?

In short, if this is a US activist battle, where are our battle plans? Were I to spit the above paragraph at a stay-here-and-fight advocate, they might say, as if dismissing the entire subject, “antifa is morally stronger,” but Sun Tzu lists moral force as just one factor among others. Verily verily, a serious fight requires serious observation, planning, and effort. My observation is, in terms of a US football metaphor, the idealists and radicals in the United States are way behind in the fourth quarter, too far behind to rack up enough points on the scoreboard to win against supply chain collapse and fascism. Enough evidence of that for me is that Seattle activists I know refuse to factually assess the battlefield in the first place and rely on subtly insulting each other into agreeing that everything will be fine and those who disagree are simply being negative or uncool.

Lots of antifa and other activists in the United States are working hard, as social media sometimes shows, and I don’t mean to denigrate that effort. Maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth from particular experiences. But there’s definitely an unacknowledged deer-in-the-headlights thing going on with many of us here. And that naive attitude is part and parcel of how USians typically view life. In this amazing article for the New York Times, novelist Brian Morton writes:

Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price. But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.

Try explaining to the Proud Boys or the National Guard that antifa will win simply because your fabulous bumper sticker slogan says so — you may find their disagreeing force overpowering.

One last thing. We know reactionaries, whether of the neocon or Trumper flavor, believe all must be made equal: equally subject to their rule that Only he with enough moneytokens deserves to eat; all others must starve or hope for shameful charity. The US left also tends to believe all must be equal. When I tried to explain to a Seattle leftist in person that whereas in the World War II era, the country incentivized very cerebral people (physicists, etc.) to immigrate here, now it’s the opposite, it’s what’s called a “brain drain” where some of the country’s brightest, seeing the sinkhole, are fleeing to other countries where their abilities will be welcomed and rewarded. That has long-term negative consequences for the United States, y’know? But the USian I was explaining this to got mad at me: they said it was offensive to suggest that some people are smarter in some areas than others: the phrase “brain drain” alone was offensive. So it’d be hard to convince such a person to divide up an antifa army to put some on intelligence work (researching opponents’ street addresses and supply chains), others on street brawls, and some on both, because on the US left, everyone has to be as equal as the rightwingers insist everyone must be under the dollar sign. With that differences-denying kind of mentality widespread in the country, nobody can honestly evaluate the conditions on the field and win.

Satirical 1957 sci-fi novel. I haven’t read it yet, sadly

Big reason for leaving 2 of 2: growth through adventure

All the news, arguments, counterarguments, and counter-counterarguments can stack up like a gloomy list of gloomy factoids, some of them debatable or personal, but they ultimately matter little in comparison with my biggest reason for aiming to leave the United States and get citizenship elsewhere. That’s simply the drive to embark on a challenging adventure, to get out of my comfort zone, to stop metaphorically hiding under the bed, and grow/develop as a person. I’ve written about that in many places on my blog, and will in the future, so I won’t talk about it here much.

I will say, however, three things.

First, notice how many USians will downplay the importance of this cross-border adventure thing, yet play video games where they’re flying airships to new lands to have virtual adventures (or perhaps they’re reading or watching fiction with the same journeying tropes). So, it seems adventure, etc., is necessary in life, and hiding under the bed, perhaps as a good psychiatric patient, is a downward spiral that will be met with more pills and pats on the head from the authorities.

Second, psychologists have an interesting concept called flexibility of thought, or cognitive flexibility. Regardless of his brave youthful journey across the globe to Los Angeles, Yngwie Malmsteen nowadays continues to play the same tricks on guitar (c’mon, man, that trademark descending ostinato lick of yours? why not play it ascending at least once in your plentiful recordings? or try inspiration from a different classical musical genre such as impressionism?). Similarly, people everywhere keep hiding under the bed. This is a huge topic, but the idea is to have enough adaptibility to meet unfamiliar challenges. I’ve heard cutting away the safety net, having no Plan B, can really help, so that you devote all your time to your goal, but on the other hand, poor risk-assessment and foolhardiness don’t work, either. Just something I think about regarding emigration; I’m no expert. But I’ve long seen chest-pounding USians call themselves adults because they remuneratively serve corporations or their ancillaries on salary, yet be literally too terrifed to walk off a sidewalk or climb an enticing tree and sit in it. Hello, we’re losing our childhood birthright of curiosity and courage because of how we came to be ruled by Death Eaters.

Third, as USian leftists debate who is or isn’t privileged in this country, and typically prefer to hear the perspective of a union organizer down the street rather than indigenous people on the other side of the planet, the real tragedy is that USian comforts are provided by multinational corporations benefitting from destruction that turns people into refugees who must cross countries without any choice in the matter over whether they’re privileged or ready enough to leave their homes or not. USians seeing refugees on boats somehow still remain convinced they themselves are of a special, exceptional sort when it comes to emigration. Perhaps USians are different, at least in terms of our unadmitted social and emotional crippling

Salvation destinations

Enough of the why. Now for how.

Initially USians tend to approach the topic of foreign destinations as a fantasy and actually enjoy talking about it — for pretend. The stressful details of renewing a passport or taking an IELTS test go out the window and everybody daydreams aloud about which country they’d go to and why.

I’m thinking about going to a country where I can gain citizenship, but that might not be a linear process. Some countries are very difficult to earn citizenship in, for instance many European countries. So I might have to go to Country B first, perhaps to improve at a required language or improve employment history, before going to Country C and getting citizenship there.

Let’s indulge the make-believe a little, yet spiced with facts. Here are my current preferences/thoughts. Bear in mind that different places within a country are, you know, different. In the service of brevity, the below kind of commits the Star Trek fallacy of one p̶l̶a̶n̶e̶t̶ country, one culture.

Canada: This would be ideal for me in many ways. In British Columbia at least, I could visit Seattle easily and easily research northeast Oregon in person for my fiction project, too. The electrical outlets are the same, the bioregion, at least in British Columbia, is the same — same trees, same weather. Hearing Voices Network chapters exist in Vancouver and Quebec City. Sort of an easy, beginner way to leave the United States. I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming lottery draw of permanent residency Express Entry applicants, maybe as soon as late September, requiring far fewer points than the usual threshold. You get points by, for instance, having post-secondary education credentials, higher IELTS scores, or good full-time employment history. Frequently in the United States nowadays, paid-jobs that actually take more or far more than 40 hours a week are classified on paperwork as part-time, but the USian emigrant can (try to) provide a letter from the employer that the work was tantamount to a full-time job; I’ve heard from a recently successful permanent residency applicant that such letters can often pass muster. Full-time job offers from Canadian employers especially boost points. However, Canada, or parts of Canada, can be expensive, so I’d probably have to pour a lot of time into teaching, which might be a good idea for a few years as I continue to improve my health via a compounding pharmacy. It’s also a decent place to be vegan, I’ve heard.

Amsterdam. (Source)

The Netherlands. Rising sea levels aside, the advantages of this country and its Amsterdam capital city are fairly well known, belonging to the European Union being just one of them. It’s also where the Hearing Voices Network began, so — pending further research — I assume it’s a great place to continue escaping conventional psychiatry’s grip. However, I’ve heard the Netherlands is expensive, or parts of it are, and to become a citizen, you have to learn Dutch, which to me looks like long strange strings of letters, but who knows, maybe I’d change my Dutch-ignorant mind someday. Most importantly, there’s a Dutch-American[USian] Friendship Treaty that eases the path for self-employed US entreprenuers to live in the Netherlands long term. I’ll look into that, see what the possibilities might be for various types of online writing and/or tutoring businesses. It’s another decent place to be vegan, I understand.

Spain. Another European Union member, and currently tied with Germany for the strongest passport in the world (measured in terms of mobility), at least on this index. A big draw for me would be improving my Spanish from slow and clunky to fast and fluent. I assume (haven’t checked yet) that Spanish skill is a requirement for citizenship. There’s of course a history of radical politics in Spain (and dictatorship). I’ve heard it’s an okay enough place to be vegan, at least in certain cities. And it just seems really cool to me. I like making big decisions based mostly on intuition — like James McMurtry’s we mostly go where we have to go — not laundry lists of pros and cons, and somehow Spain just feels really exciting. It’s a challenge to get EU citizenship, though…but things happen? Spain may be expensive, and there are no Hearing Voices Network chapters there on this international list, but perhaps by savvy emailing I could find a chapter that does exist and just isn’t on the radar yet.

My future-o?

México. The US news claims there are many problems in México, maybe to scare USians off (I mean really, who the hell wrote this? I didn’t write the “scary” subhead tho…that was an editor). But even if there are some bigly problems — like, say, Proud Boys trying to bust into schools? — well, like I suggested above, regardless of the across-the-board life improvement idea, there may be hidden gems where not expected, and life isn’t about greedily grabbing comfort anyway. Plus, despite a narco-state, amazing social movements (see also the Mexican Supreme Court ruling unanimously to decriminalize abortion on Tuesday September 7). I could improve my Spanish and live cheaply, perhaps teaching English language leaners for a while at an established school (there are some interesting job listings presently that I think I qualify for). My Spanish would skyrocket, and so would my employment history, as a teacher I mean (what about writing?). It’s a little hilarious that despite USian chest-thumping about the strength of its almighty trade economy, and the supposed evilness of so-called Mexican illegals heading north, it’s perhaps more practical for some college-educated USians to get certain good jobs by heading south. With such an improved employment history, I could maybe go to Europe later. Sadly, there’s no Mexican Hearing Voices Network chapter on the international list, but the same emailing savvy might turn something up. I don’t know what veganism is like in Mexico, but hey, with all the corn-based chips and tortillas, at least it would be easy to avoid gluten! I think…

Moon seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere

Some country in South America, esp. Argentina or maybe Uruguay. The ideas here would be to improve my Spanish, see different stars and a vertically inverted moon, and live cheaply thanks to the US dollar. I have a friend who moved from the US to Argentina and supports herself fully with online content marketing writing and some tutoring side jobs, in the US a pretty hopeless way to try to support oneself longterm except maybe in rural areas, perhaps with nontraditional housing (e.g., an RV), though maybe I’m unaware. I briefly met a Seattleite, big into queer community stuff, who moved to progressive Uruguay and seems to be doing well there. I’ve heard it’s hard to be vegan in South America, and that I might find it hard to make friends there, though of course there’s a lot of variety on a whole continent! Unfortunately, the international list of Hearing Voices Network chapters lists not a single one there. However, the aforementioned Molly McHugh, author of Bipolar 1 Disorder: How to Survive and Thrive, also wrote a book about living in South America, so I’ll have to read it asap!

Those are the places I’m chiefly considering. Two more quick resources. Nomad List provides dossiers on various worldwide destinations, detailing things like cost of living or Internet connectivity quality, and I’ve heard it’s a pretty accurate site. Then, Totalism lists unusual places to live, especially for Europe. Hackerspaces, intentional communities, punk houses, artist spaces, zones like that. I might be wrong, but I imagine doing well in such money-saving environments, as opposed to one’s own apartment, would require cut-throat social skills.

Practical, specific, actual, real-life, not-kidding steps

Music video for “Another World” by French metal band Gojira (lyrics)

Like I said at the start, it’s time for me to get going, to emigrate. Hell, in the hours and hours it took to write this post, I could have already become a European citizen! That’s a joke, but…

I decided to just throw myself into the process, to complete some practical, specific, actual, real-life, not-kidding steps even if I don’t have a full picture. Besides what you might expect — looking at job postings, sites like Nomad List, and playing with Canada’s Express Entry points estimator tool — there are three things I’m doing.

First, I’m digitizing, discarding, donating, or selling belongings. The fewer objects I have, the easier it is to move. It’s taking surprisingly long, maybe because the items are laden with emotional meaning. I’m having to grab records from Texas, too. I have about half of the records I want from Texas so far.

Second, I’m having my Bachelor of Arts degree evaluated for Canada. It’s called Educational Credential Assessment. Canada wants to ensure non-Canadian academic records are truly equivalent to Canadian degrees, so applicants have to pay a fee to one of five designated organizations to have them assess the transcripts. I went with World Education Services, because they’re apparently the fastest, and I’m hoping to get an Express Entry application in before the next draw for permanent residency, which as noted above, may come later this month.

Third, I’m taking the IELTS general exam on Thursday. That acronym stands for the International English Language Testing System, and it’s pronounced EYE-ults. Even if an applicant is a native English speaker who’s putting together the next installment of the Oxford English Dictionary, Canada (and some other countries) want the person tested for English proficiency. IELTS is the predominant way to go about it. The higher the IELTS score, the more immigration points when your application is considered. I just booked the exam two nights ago. Since the IELTS isn’t offered in Washington state, and not nearby any time extremely soon, I’m suddenly going to the border town of San Diego to take it. So, now I have to cram. Maybe very little study time was a bad idea; when I took the GRE test trying to get into grad school, I flunked the writing section, multiple times! (Probably a blessing in disguise, because I don’t want academia to steal from me the joy of working on my fiction, nonfiction, etc.)

Anyway, it’s time; and on Wednesday, it’s off to San Diego, the border town!

… Maybe while there, I’ll just head south, never to return. ;)

It could be that my sense of humor is not always apparent. Source.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, On leaving the United States 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/2021/09/06/on-leaving-the-united-states/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.

Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 32 of 52.

Note: Turns out Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep isn’t so excellent after all, contrary to what I said in this entry when I posted it on 14 August 2021. In November 2019, Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey, who has a background in economics and math, posted a devastating critique of Walker’s bestseller, which Guzey put together across two months (and updated most recently in April 2021). I regret the blunder, and highly recommend checking out Guzey’s critique.

Exhausted and sedated. Me in bed, 1999, trying to wake up

This post continues last week’s. That entry covers how when I was younger, suggestions for good sleep seemed few and far between, and psychiatry provided no help — in fact, the conventional mental health industry just made things worse, as in this very sad story, published Friday and written by a third-generation Chinese-Malaysian woman living in Kuala Lumpur: after Grace Tan developed insomnia brought on by understandable worries over her right eye’s inflammation, the prescription of twelve different sleep and other psychotropic drugs in a single year, including recommended force-feeding of pills, disabled her, a multilingual translator, world-traveler, and marathon-runner, to the point she’s now diabetic, jobless, and bedridden. There are better ways; perhaps we could pursue them.

Here in the United States, people — even many nominally “progressive,” thinking of themselves as imbued with correct politics — thump their chests and insist they’re fiercely independent rugged individualists who don’t care what others think or feel, but clear-eyed observation is enough to show that they’re, or we’re, stuck in comfort zones and at the mercy of predatory employers, landlords, politicians, and the rest; what’s more, the apotheosis of creating wealth for the wealthy (“work”) maintains a fearful climate in which USians, scared of what bosses think, don’t address their problems aloud, and instead, Gollum-like, quietly recast them as unique and innate specialnesses. The reality is, some 20% of USians take psychiatric drugs (estimates vary), so whatever the particular demons — opioids, alcohol, gambling, the list goes on — it’s likely neighbors and friends are in the same or a similar storm. Rather than die by keeping romanticized pain secret in order to uphold fake pride, let’s learn to enjoy strengthening ourselves, together.

Last week, I advised developing three skills for falling asleep: two related to mindset, and one, the information that’s helped me most with falling asleep, related to lighting. Now I’ll continue with a grab-bag of additional sleep suggestions, mostly revolving around falling asleep, but still touching on staying asleep and waking up promptly. After that, two very quick news blasts on Haiti and Serbia.

Ya gotta knows how to doze

The F&SF issue. Interesting reviews on Goodreads.

Lighting, extra. I discussed lighting and sleep in my 6 August ’21 post, but since then, I chanced across something neat on the topic. SF writer and amateur astronomer Jerry Oltion’s science column in the May/June 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction covers, in a quick six pages titled Let there be light, the history of humanity’s lighting inventions. He starts with the naked eye and proto-humans gaining control over fire an estimated million years ago. Oltion then blazes through (see what I did there) the subsequent history: torches, animal fat lamps, vegetable fat lamps, the central draft fixed oil lamp in 1780 and the hunting of whales for it, candles (including some using beeswax and then paraffin), gas lighting in the 19th century, incandescent electrical bulbs, fluorescents, phosphorescent coating, sodium vapor streetlights, electroluminescence and various light emitting diodes (LEDs), and predicted future improvements to LED technology. There’s no tip in his text directly tied to falling asleep, but I think Oltion’s article is a handy, compact overview to have around on the subject for anyone wanting to delve in deeper.

Caffeine-laced tights. Not necessary, not revolutionary.

Ban caffeine. I don’t mean governments should ban caffeine necessarily (although they have before, and the FDA and US state governments have called or made caffeinated alcoholic drinks, blackouts in a can, illegal), but rather, you should ban caffeine from your own life — save for emergency use. Using a dramatic term like ban in my head helps me stay on the no-caffeine wagon. The very first posts to this blog, nearly thirteen years in the past (see here and here), focused on my trying to quit caffeine after admitting my life was to a great extent controlled by the stupid chemical. Really, it took me a decade of on-again, off-again to cut it out permanently! I basically never have caffeine nowadays. Imagine you’ve never had caffeine before. You’re at a baseline level of wakefulness as a result, assuming all else is equal. Now you have coffee. This is great! Enhanced energy is yours. You keep downing coffee each morning. After several mornings of this, you’re dependent: in the morning, prior to caffeinating, you feel miserable from withdrawal. Caffeinating no longer even brings benefits; merely deceptive pleasure that’s actually from just removing the withdrawal. That’s a theory of caffeine-researching scientists in a May 2008 New York magazine article, and it holds true in my experience. The journalist summarizes the scientists: for habitual users, the “positive feelings we associate with drinking coffee don’t represent a net gain in energy or alertness; they’re really the result of withdrawal maintenance.”

From what I’ve seen, only rarely using caffeine brings three amazing boons. First, you can keep some around for an emergency situation, or maybe for something like a job interview where you need to appear peppy. You can sip the caffeine once, reap real benefits, then immediately quit it again without suffering withdrawal. Second, whenever you wake up, you’re instantly ready to go without having to toddle to the beverage and drink it for permission to start your day. Third, cutting out caffeine helps tremendously with falling asleep. The New York article quotes psych professor and coffee researcher Laura Juliano: “You have people drinking caffeine all day and taking sleeping pills at night.” That’s madness! The article also quotes the director of a sleep lab, Charles Pollak: “We routinely ask patients who are insomniacs to discontinue the use of caffeine, or reduce it” But I say quit it entirely. It’s a physiological stressor, contributing hugely to the total amount of stress paralyzing whole populations. Consider that, maybe, you’re not a born failure with a broken brain; it’s pouring corporate sugar-caffeine junk down your throat daily that has a harmful effect on your mental state.

Uhura has had it. Via @swear_trek.

Yet there’s one barrier I haven’t been able to talk people trying to quit it through. Namely, they quit caffeine, then notice no improvement in their sleep problems, and then use that as proof that caffeine-drinking or lack thereof is irrelevant to their issues. They begin drinking it again (like I did during a decade of struggle). So once more: imagine. You’re onboard with Captain Kirk & co., flying through a gaseous planet’s unruly atmosphere. The Enterprise is struggling with five lightning bolt-crazed nimbus clouds, four tornadoes, three hurricanes, two dust devils, and a partridge doing LSD. Despite the dire situation, Spock, in the science officer seat, manages to take out one of the five nimbus clouds with a mighty volley of technobabble. “We’re down to four nimbus clouds, but it’s not any better,” Chekov complains. Then Kirk makes an astonishing decision. He says, “I can’t tell much difference either” — he raises an executive forefinger — “Spock, bring the fifth nimbus cloud back.” Spock narrows his famous brows. “Captain, I find your order illogical.” Kirk shrugs and says, “What is truth?” Surely now Uhura must lay down the law: In the quest to remove difficulties, fewer problems are better for the Enterprise than more, so regardless of the men’s foggy perceptions, there’s no good reason to resurrect the dangerous cloud. Don’t give up after overcoming just one threat; before it’s smooth sailing, the journeyers have to eliminate most or all of the weather hazards. In other words, to improve your sleep, you have to overcome multiple factors — caffeine, glowing screens, tobacco use, lack of exercise, ignoring routines and rhythms, and on and on — before noticing improvement and succeeding.

No more nicotine. Another stimulant to eliminate. As Madness Radio host Will Hall likes to point out, humans have been altering their states forever: it’s a major part of life and presumably always will be. So I don’t mean to be a prude. But coffin-nails should be for special occasions, if at all, and certainly abandoning your natural energy rhythms for cigarette boosts is a bad move. Anarchists buying corporate poison … shaking my damn head.

Avoid alcohol. A depressant to eliminate. To quote from the appendix of Dr Matt Walker’s excellent book Why We Sleep: “Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep […] Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.” Again, I find alcohol to be a special occasion thing. It does help me loosen up and play guitar better, especially around other musicians, yet the long-term solution to that is to figure out how not to be so stiff emotionally in the first place. When I go months and months without alcohol, I perform better in life overall, including for falling asleep.

Herbal tea to the rescue. To replace caffeine at coffeeshops, or “decaf” coffee which still has a bit of caffeine in it, order herbal tea. It’s caffeine free. There’s a variety of tasty types that offer a range of benefits for different ailments. Some herbal teas induce sleep, so they’re good to add to wind-down rituals. For that, I like Yogi Tea’s soothing caramel bedtime tea and Traditional Medicinals’ Nighty Night Extra.

Miss large meals and beverages late at night. A long-time practice of athletes. To stabilize sugar levels after the fast of sleep, have a little protein immediately upon waking and immediately before bed (almonds work for me). Following morning exercise, eat a huge meal, then taper the portion sizes down as the day progresses. Digesting large meals during sleep distracts the body from, well, sleeping. Too many fluids = gotta pee. However, if it’s really hot, be sure to drink enough water to protect against heat exhaustion and other heat hazards. With the conventional mental health system focusing on Are you still taking your meds? it might seem strange to emphasize so strongly what food and beverages we ingest and digest. But think about it. With arms and legs like rays off to the sides, the gastrointestinal tract is centrally located in the body, suggesting its central importance. The thermic effect of digestion burns lots of calories, i.e., the body expends massive energy on digestion, because it’s crucial. You are what you eat.

Stick to a schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Otherwise, it’s like giving yourself jet lag. Monday through Thursday, you’re in a particular city; then you stay up on the weekend, as if flying to a different time zone. The weekend woefully ends, and it’s back to the first city, or maybe even off to a third time zone. No wonder people feel like garbage. When I’m arising at the same time each day, if one night I have to stay up late, then even if I procure only three or four hours of sleep total, I still manage to wake up and drag myself (without drinking caffeine!) to wherever on time. Walker says in his book’s appendix that sticking to a sleep schedule, to the point of setting an alarm if necessary for initiating wind-down, is his single most important tip.

Exercise, cardiovascular exercise in the mornings, do it. Professional athletes aside, don’t exercise hard in the evenings, as the energy can keep you up. In contrast, morning cardio, in my experience, is great for stabilizing someone and their sleep schedule. I like running, but some like swimming, others bicycling. In the past few months, I’ve been learning to jump rope, which is time-saving compared with distance running.

u/gogumara turns jump-rope into artful dance and makes it look easy

Cool temperature in the bedroom. Global warming heat-domes and wildfires don’t help, but if you can, keep your bedroom slightly cool, for instance by sleeping nude or nearly nude, perhaps with sweat-absorbing bamboo sheets (cooler than cotton). Also bamboo pillows and bamboo mattress protector. The ones linked are the ones I use and like.

Hot bath with magnesium flakes before bed. A warm bath is obviously relaxing, including for muscles and sinew. A bath slows you down, necessary preparation for entering and engaging in that enormous eight-hour task of sleeping, one-third of your life, take it seriously. Moving out of the bath means stepping into cold air, and that sudden temperature drop assists with inducing sleepiness (just like the cool temperature in the bedroom). Magnesium flakes are friggin’ expensive, but putting them in the bathwater will help with relaxation, muscle recovery following exercise, and falling asleep. Topical magnesium lotion for massage, same thing. I hear from my awesome primary care physician that there’s a lot more to the magnesium stuff; I just haven’t read much about it yet.

Sleep at night, not during the day. I try to always avoid napping. If I get little sleep on a night, I’ll still drive myself to endure till the next sundown, to keep my sleep schedule intact. That’s served me well. Some cultures have siestas; and admittedly, brief naps can be nice. Elders tend to nap because as people age, bodies apparently produce less melatonin, resulting in trouble with falling asleep, something Walker goes into in great detail about in his book (along with the connection between sleep loss and dementia). In the Why We Sleep appendix, Walker says not to nap after 3 p.m. Stay diurnal. Working at night especially wreaks havoc on humans. One of my favorite bands, R.E.M., conveys the hell of nightshift work in their fantastic 1998 song Daysleeper (“I see today with a newsprint fray / My night is colored headache gray / Don’t wake me …”).

It’s in 6/8 time, which unlike 4/4, somehow makes me think of sleep…

Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t fall asleep. There are two biological systems governing sleepiness that operate independently of each other. One is our circadian rhythm, where, a little like a sine wave graphed across time, you involuntarily have more or less energy in cycles throughout the day. For instance, it’s well known that people have a slump in the early afternoon (when siestas are generally scheduled in some countries). Similarly, people sometimes get second-wind energy boosts if they stay up super late, as their rhythm fluctuates. Distinct from these circadian waves is adenosine. It’s the “sleep pressure” molecule that simply accumulates in the brain the longer we go without sleep, making us tireder and tireder as time goes on, a positive linear slope, until we finally collapse. Thus, getting in bed for sleep right when your circadian rhythm starts supplying you with a natural energy boost might prevent you from falling asleep. Lying there for hours won’t help; it’ll make you only more anxious about sleep. So get up, keep the LEDs and loud music off, and do something simple like sit in a warm bath reading something not too thought-provoking. The adenosine will add up, and the circadian crest will eventually turn toward a trough, and you’ll be ready for nighty-night. Even fungi and cyanobacteria have circadian rhythms; you can’t fight millions of years of Nature’s rhythms, so learn them and work with them. For instance, I believe there are distinct names for the various cycles in a human’s daily circadian rhythm. I don’t yet know the names; learning them would be a good first step toward being able to identify which precise phase I’m in as I go throughout my days and nights.

What kind of globetrotter wants to carry this CPAP crap around the world with them? Image source.

Sleep position. When I was very little, I decided to sleep on my back. I reasoned that if I slept face down, the additional weight from my body would push my heart to beat faster, tiring it out sooner and leading to an earlier death. For some reason I don’t remember, I didn’t consider sleeping on my side, maybe because I found it uncomfortable. Fast forward to my thirties, when now I snore some. The medical industry would want to throw a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine at me (pictured) to combat the apnea/snoring, which is literally gasping for air. That gasping seriously disrupts sleep quality and in very bad cases, it can even kill people in the night. See for instance Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for whom — in addition to cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs — sleep apnea was a contributing cause of her 2017 death. Well, you know me, I want solutions to increase, not decrease, autonomy. I learned that relative to sleeping on your back, side-sleeping, especially with your head propped up by a big pillow and a hand or two, increases airflow. You want to sleep on your left side because, among other reasons, your small intestine empties to the left, meaning if you sleep on your right side, you’re asking your digestive tract to work uphill for eight hours. I started sleeping on my left side. My sleep quality increased dramatically — I was far more rested the next days — and a co-sleeper confirmed the snoring decreased significantly, enough so she wasn’t bothered. But then I had another problem! My left arm felt tingly during the days, asleep along the left side and left pinky, some sort of odd nerve problem. Via online forums, I learned this is actually a common complaint people have when they start side-sleeping. Maybe the additional body weight newly pressing down on the left side all night long? I asked a sleep doctor about it and predictably, the professional knew not a damn thing. Like a knee hit with a hammer, the doc just spat out predictable responses to whatever I said, no better than if I’d simply searched WebMD.com. Anyway, after an MRI ruled out certain serious worries, I had a nerve test done, where they stuck needles into my left arm and sent electrical jolts into it to move my fingers, just like how in ordinary life, the brain sends electrical jolts to do the same. It was pretty cool! This neurology test identified the problem as originating in my left elbow. So, they narrowed it down. I then adjusted how I splay my arms as I’m falling asleep. I continue putting my right hand sandwiched between the pillow and my head, raising my airway. But I stick my left arm out in such a way as to keep pressure off the elbow. That approach reduced the tingly, arm-asleep issue somewhat. Yet during the night, I sometimes move my arms around involuntarily, meaning it’s unpredictable how much pressure the left arm will get and how much it’ll tingle the following day. The neurologist also gave me a pad to wear around my left elbow during sleep, but I haven’t experimented with it yet, my bad. I do hypothesize that perhaps the whole problem is due to being slightly overweight, and that fixing that by continuing to taper off the psych drugs would help restore normal sleep, maybe making the left arm issue less of a deal somehow? We’ll see.

Sounds like bedtime. Some find that playing white noise or other soothing sounds helps them fall asleep. It can smooth out the random jarring sounds from the outside world, like dogs barking or cars backfiring or, heaven forbid, gunshots, screaming, etc. Luckily, I tend to automatically tune out urban noise, at least here in Seattle, when falling asleep. I know some people find success with earplugs. I used to co-sleep with someone who played ocean sounds when falling asleep, and it was nice because I started associating the ocean sounds with her. That was years ago. Experiment to find whatever works…

Me reading in some bed or other, 1999. Oops.

Use the bed for only sleep and…? If you read advice on sleep, there’s a standard phrase advising readers to use the bed for only sleep and sex. The idea is that mentally associating the bed with non-sleep activities makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. But why use the bed for sex, then, since sex isn’t sleep? I asked a sleep doctor the question once, many years ago. He admitted there’s no reason other than convenience. So ideally, partners or someone engaging in solo-sex would use a separate location (such as another bed if there’s one available, or more creative ideas), keeping the sleep-bed dedicated to just that one purpose. Many will read for prolonged durations in bed, but that can be problematic, associating the bed with mental effort instead of with chilling and slowing down. This also means leave your glowing gadgets out of the bedroom. Remember, sleep is a major component of your life, so it makes sense to have an area dedicated exclusively to it.

Run away from psychiatrists. Getting hooked on sleep-inducing psychopharmaceuticals is, well, a bad idea, as Grace Tan’s story linked in this post’s first paragraph illustrates. Scary articles about bizarre Ambien behavior pop up regularly. If I use an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine to aid in falling asleep, the next day my mind usually feels fragmented, like all the pieces of memory and emotion from the previous day haven’t been sorted by sleep, giving me no fresh start. A little melatonin is not too bad to take sometimes, especially to cope with unavoidable problems like jet lag. It’s a naturally occuring endogenous hormone. But if you’re doing well with sleep overall, a mere two or three milligrams of melatonin in rare instances is definitely enough — I’ve seen melatonin for sale in stores in single pills of 10 milligrams each, which is crazy excessive, and I can picture people sadly taking it daily after drinking corporate sugar-caffeine all hours.

In Why We Sleep, Walker writes in chapter 14:

“Results, which have now been replicated in numerous clinical studies around the globe, demonstrate that [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] is more effective than sleeping pills in addressing numerous problematic aspects of sleep for insomnia sufferers. [The therapy] consistently helps people fall asleep faster at night, sleep longer, and obtain superior sleep quality […] More importantly, the benefits of [the therapy] persist long term, even after patients stop working with their sleep therapist. This sustainability stands in stark contrast to the punch of rebound insomnia that individuals experience following the cessation of sleeping pills. So powerful is the evidence favoring [the therapy] over sleeping pills for improved sleep across all levels, and so limited or nonexistent are the safety risks associated with [the therapy] (unlike sleeping pills), that in 2016, the American College of Physicians made a landmark recommendation […] Published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the conclusion from this comprehensive evaluation of all existing data was this: [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] must be used as the first-line treatment for all individuals with chronic insomnia, not sleeping pills.”

Ergo, the funny little men in white coats aren’t the answer, as the popular two-minute novelty song from 1966, embedded below and created by one-hit wonder Napoleon XIV, hints (“the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time…”):

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia strives to alter basic behaviors and beliefs around sleep. I’m not sure individuals actually need such therapists, though. Therapists can get their clients confined in mental hospitals or hooked on drugs. Maybe just read this post, or Walker’s book, or similar, and implement the ideas yourself? You likely gain more confidence and autonomy that way, anyhow.

Wind-down ritual. It’s good to have a soothing evening ritual that you do daily to slow down and prepare for bed. Mine basically involves checking in with my logbook followed by a hot bath with herbal tea. I’ll read something non-challenging while bathing, to take my mind off things. Nowadays, as night approaches, I really look forward to my wind-down ritual.

Variety, spice, life. Some things I recommend might not work for you; your mileage may vary. For instance, sleepers seem to differ greatly when it comes to napping or preferences for soothing fall-asleep sounds.

Horror stories. Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep is packed with terrifying facts about just how badly living short on sleep screws up your physical health, your mental health, and your performance on tasks, including intellectual and creative ones. Consider the harm bad sleep inflicts on physical health (chapter eight in his book): scientists conducted

“carefully controlled experiments with healthy adults who had no existing signs of diabetes or issues with blood sugar. In the first of these studies, participants were limited to sleeping four hours a night for just six nights. By the end of that week, these (formerly healthy) participants were 40 percent less effective at absorbing a standard dose of glucose, compared to when they were fully rested. To give you a sense of what that means, if the researchers showed those blood sugar readings to an unwitting family doctor, the GP would immediately classify that individual as being pre-diabetic. They would start a rapid intervention program to prevent the development of irreversible type 2 diabetes. Numerous scientific laboratories around the world have replicated this alarming effect of short sleep, some with even less aggressive reductions in sleep amount.”

Or the harm bad sleep inflicts on mental performance: “Sleep six hours or less and you are short-changing the brain of a learning restoration benefit that is normally performed” — a big reason why early school start times impair young learners. Also drowsy-driving car accidents: “This coming week,” Walker writes, “more than 2 million people in the US will fall asleep while driving their motor vehicle”, usually micro-sleeps, such that per car, “there is now a one-ton missile travelling at 65 miles per hour, and no one is in control” even if only briefly. He adds, “Shamefully, governments of most developed countries spend less than 1 percent of their budget educating the public on the dangers of drowsy-driving relative to what they invest in combating drunk driving.”

At the end of the book, Walker concludes:

Within the space of a mere hundred years, human beings have abandoned their biologically mandated need for adequate sleep — one that evolution spent 3,400,000 years perfecting in service of life-support functions. [… This] is having a clear [negative] impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children. This silent sleep loss epidemic is one of the new public health challenges we face […] a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur. I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality […] Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake

Good news. If you prioritize sleep, you now have a secret weapon. You’re no longer a sleep-machismo type, self-sabotaging by needlessly burning the candle at both ends and bragging about how few hours you sleep. Instead, you’re stronger and healthier, more attractive, more productive, and more creative! Walker makes up a fictional advertisement for sleep:

Amazing breakthrough! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

“The ad,” he explains, describes “the proven benefits of a full night of sleep.” Imagine doctors putting that on a prescription pad!

Brick by brick. If this all feels overwhelming, simply pick one bullet-point to experiment with and implement in your life. Baby steps. It’s better to spend a month mastering a single improvement than it is to not do anything or try to do everything at once and fail. And remember, if you implement simply one little thing, you, like Chekov and Kirk, might not notice improvement. You just have to keep going, adding more bullet-points until you finally do succeed. Good luck!

News blasts: Haiti and Serbia

Haiti. My posts two weeks ago and last week discussed the assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse just a little over a month back. As recently as June, intense gang violence in the capital city was displacing thousands and contributing to buildings being burned down and to rape. The assassination then added more instability in a place already suffering from famine. Now, on Saturday morning, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck western Haiti. The prime minister Dr Ariel Henry said on Twitter the Haitian government will declare a state of emergency. While the earthquake this morning, because of its location, isn’t as devastating as the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that destroyed critical infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands, today’s disaster has killed hundreds so far and significantly adds to the chaos in the country. On August 2, the UN Security Council said the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been formally raised; this morning’s earthquake increases the odds that will happen, I suspect. I’ll continue news-blasting about the unsolved assassination next week.

Update Sunday August 15: More than 700 deaths in Haiti due to the earthquake now, according to the Haitian civil protection office, which also notes nearly 3,000 injured and nearly 7,000 homeless. The tropical storm Grace is hitting the country, too, with heavy rains forecast for Monday, further complicating relief efforts. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states in a 3-page PDF report from today that the “quake could not have come at worst time for Haiti, which is still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July and escalating gang violence which has resulted in the internal displacement of around 19,000 people in the country’s southern peninsula, greatly worsening an already precarious humanitarian situation, with some 4.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance prior to the quake.” The report also says their Emergency Operations Centre “has been fully activated and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing with support from international partners. Preliminary assessments are being carried out under the leadership of national authorities, but it will likely take days, if not weeks, to fully assess the scale of damages and humanitarian needs.” The most urgent humanitarian needs are likely to be for medical assistance, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Here are photos from the earthquake compiled by NPR.

Badassery in Serbia. Yesterday the AFP published this fun article: Cave hermit gets COVID-19 vaccine, urges others to follow. Below, I embed a photo from the article and the 90-second video the AFP posted on twitter.

70-year-old Panta Petrovic: “The coronavirus does not pick. It will come here to my cave, too.”

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This blog post, Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia 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/2021/08/14/fall-asleep-skills2-haiti. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading 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.