Entries Tagged 'Culture' ↓

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.

Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 28 of 52; omg, the year’s more than halfway done.

The color photo shows a tray on a table at a Whataburger fast food chain store in Fort Worth, Texas. On the tray sit a large vanilla milkshake (over 900 calories) and a triple meat Whataburger (over 1000 calories). They look disgusting.
Fort Worth, TX, summed up? I took the Whataburger pic this weekend, but didn’t actually eat the “triple meat” burger or drink the large vanilla shake

I was travelling through central Washington state and northeast Oregon for a few weeks earlier this summer — now, in mid-July, I’m visiting my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas for not quite half a month. Besides seeing family and friends, I’m here to do research of a personal sort. Yet after six years as a Seattle resident, I can’t help noticing several things about the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, some bad, some good. I’ll share those observations. I was going to then provide news blasts about the current situations in Cuba, Haiti, and Germany, but this entry simply grew too long, and I gotta do some other stuff. Hopefully next week I’ll take on news blasts for those three countries. I’m an untimely fellow.

Bad stuff about North Texas

Graphic of SimCity game. Would you want to live here? Source.

Gridlock) Aside from traffic jams and the Lone Star State’s uniquely deregulated, isolated power grid — meaning during disastrous outages (including this year), Texas, its leaders boasting with pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps lies, cannot, unlike all other 47 contiguous states, receive energy sent as assistance from beyond its borders; the privatized electric system has yet to be fixed or replaced, even though lawmakers knew of its vulnerabilities: they chose to serve the power companies instead — I want to talk about another type of Texan gridlock. In Seattle, multitudinous fairy-tale roads wind up hills, passing idiosyncratic houses with quirky paint jobs, and in the distance are bridges, sailboats, mountains. Many of my Seattleite friends have never lived anywhere else, nor have they ever been to the South. Comparing my place of birth with the Emerald City’s highly commercial Northgate neighborhood (an exception to the usual Seattle beauty), I tell them North Texas is primarily composed of tract houses, billboards, strip malls, fast food joints, and car dealerships. That truth was really evident from the sky as my flight descended toward DFW Airport. During landing, I was reading the first chapter in a thought-provoking collection of essays from 2006, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.: Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes. It’s research for my fiction project set at least partially in northeast Oregon and 2036, because all time connects, and the colonial histories of NE Oregon often begin by trumpeting the settlers Lewis and Clark, whose expedition, commissioned by slaveowner Thomas Jefferson, journeyed, between 1803 and 1806, from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Northwest coast and back to St. Louis, thanks to aid from the enslaved, pregnant, and raped Sacagawea, of the Shoshoni and aged merely fourteen to sixteen years or so at the time of Lewis and Clark’s wrongly idolized quest. That’s not the version you heard in school, right? In the United States we aren’t taught the truth that Jefferson’s top goal for the expedition was establishing evermore commerce, nor that the explorers called the indigenous peoples Jefferson’s “children,” an insult that should call to mind Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Rivers also have hidden truths… In his essay Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars, in the Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes collection, Vine Deloria Jr. discusses how “Rivers do not, as a rule, create long straight embankments.” Indeed, rivers move over time, something a character mentions early in Cynthia Shearer’s excellent 2004 novel The Celestial Jukebox: “What you looking at there used to be the Mississippi River. Long time ago the river moved itself over […] River just change its mind and move sometime.” As the virtual flight attendants on the seatback televisions were politely ordering me to stow my tray table in the upright position, Deloria Jr. was telling me how Lewis and Clark misinterpreted Missouri River sandbar deposits, insisting with Enlightenment rationality that measurable straight lines must exist to explain the deposits as human-made, when actually they were natural phenomena. Lewis and Clark didn’t understand how chaotic rivers and Nature are. I glanced out the airplane window, and below, behold, North Texas, designed and coerced into “rationality” by long straight lines everywhere. Tract houses separated by long straight congested roads. Like some Cartesian grid Texans are all locked into. The pain caused by living apart from Nature should not be underestimated, even if Texan natives aren’t aware of it, as I wasn’t for a long time, though toward the end of my residency in Texas (I left at the end of 2015), I was frequently going to parks for just that reason. It makes me think of the ideology implicit in the 1991 Super Nintendo game SimCity, which I spent countless hours playing as a kid.

Screenshot of video showing tract housing in Fort Worth. Source.
Graphic of SimCity residential donuts. More industrial zones needed, but why? Image source.

A well-known strategy among SimCity gamers is to create “donut” neighborhoods: squares imposed on the land, usually in nine-by-nine arrangements, with train tracks or roads boxing them in, and a park in the middle to appease the unhappy residents. In SimCity, players are rewarded for engineering such supposedly rational cities. In real urban life, rivers are forced to flow “logically” in straight lines, like trees in some parks, lined up in discrete pots. As a video game-playing kid, I didn’t quite understand that these efficiency setups clash with harmonious ways of living with land, though I did play in undeveloped lots regularly, needing that. To be honest, not until very recently did I put two and two together, comparing rivers in rural areas with rivers in urban places, although a 2019 Seattle Public Library exhibit did briefly puncture my conventional consciousness on the subject. In Fort Worth, I grew up walking and jogging on the sidewalks by the Trinity River, and just assumed the embankments were naturally steep and unchanging, shaped conveniently for urban planners to impose at a moment’s notice, above either edge, unchanging sidewalks…

Despite Seattle’s beauty, the same story plays out there, too. Unfortunately I haven’t read it yet, but BJ Cummings’ 2020 book The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish looks amazing from this interview and this review. The book talks about how without displacing Salish indigenous peoples and trashing and forcibly diverting the Duwamish River, the city of Seattle as we know it wouldn’t exist. There would be no city forums for identitarians to debate which sect should get paid more wages for helping corporations drive us extinct. And in contrast to the dolla dolla bill, let’s-go-extinct-ASAP civilization of biz, which argues each individual is an autonomous sole proprietor capable of not caring what anyone else thinks, and worthy of paralyzing shame for any mistake actually caused by corporate destruction, I hope my discussion of rivers and gridlock ⁠— not to mention what volcano Mount Rainier and the Cascadia Subduction Zone might have to say — helps to show how people are in fact creatures of their environments, which of course doesn’t remove each individual’s responsibility to fight for something better. It’s interesting, too, how fiction-writing instructors typically badger writers into obsessing over their supposedly autonomous characters’ ex nihilo motivations, rather than learning about the settings they’re in: for instance, how does the local power grid, or train track, or river characterize a protagonist, or for that matter, a protagonist’s grandparents or neighbors? The so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 1950s presented familyless protagonists singlehandedly subduing the universe; but in the ’90s, science fiction writer Octavia Butler presented characters with extended families walking fiery highways as refugees, an entirely different take on life.

Photo by me this weekend beside wonderful Trinity River in Ft. Worth

Coronavirus confusions) From observation, I guesstimate that ten percent, or fewer, of North Texans are masking. As of 16 July ’21, for Texans ages 18 and up, only 53.9% are fully vaccinated and only about 62.6% are partly vaccinated (one jab of a two-jab series). By way of comparison, in King County, home of Seattle, as of the same date and for ages 16 and up, 75% of residents are fully vaccinated, and 80.7% of residents are partly vaccinated. That’s all according to public health data managed by regional government entities. As for masking, given my observations a few weeks ago, in the Seattle areas that might be described as very progressive or Green Party-ish politically, for instance, inside co-ops selling organic foods, I’d guesstimate that indoors, 90+% of people are masking. How this came to be so politicized, I’ll address in a moment.

This does not look good. Source: John Hopkins Univ COVID-19 map.

A disproportionately high number of those masking in North Texas are individuals categorized on bureaucratic paperwork as minorities (and then identitarian activists tell us we must all heed our opponents’ paperwork). Sometimes those groups tend to have less resources to pay for healthcare yet simultaneously tend to sometimes have more empathy and altruism, gifts of being slotted into negative image roles (differing from the idealized images, you know, white businessmen in suits and the like, who tend to live in grandiose, puffed-up headspaces). Because some of the people I’m visiting indoors are elderly, I wore a high-quality mask the whole time, and received mockery for it. In crowded North Texas restaurants, diners aren’t masking whatsoever. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that’s fine if you’re vaccinated; the UN-based World Health Organization (WHO) disagrees, telling even vaccinated people to mask, since they might be asymptomatic carriers — however, growing evidence suggests those vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are far less likely to be asymptomatic carriers; studies are underway in this regard for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and in rare instances, vaccinated people can still become diseased with COVID-19 (a “breakthrough” case), including as a sufferer of Long COVID. Adding to everyone’s confusion, the CDC stopped actively tracking all breakthrough cases, and now tracks only breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death. Meanwhile, the Delta variant of the virus, a more contagious mutation that grows faster inside people’s respiratory tracts than the original, currently accounts for at least a fifth of all United States cases, and COVID-19 is now on the rise in every US state; Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, just resumed mandating masks. Getting two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as I did in March, is effective in protecting against the Delta mutation (though less effective than against the original novel coronavirus), so that’s the basis on which I’m travelling (while masking, handwashing, physically distancing, and meeting only outside insofar as possible), plus the greatly decreased likelihood of a person with an mRNA vaccination being an asymptomatic carrier, something a Harvard-trained doctor I know puts his trust in. Apparently the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines similarly protect decently, though not perfectly, against Delta. Perhaps surprisingly, nobody on my flight to Texas (I’ve yet to fly back to Seattle) caused any trouble; each passenger masked as required without incident. Based on this 2018 study suggesting window seat airline passengers are least likely to catch respiratory illnesses, I got window seats. But SNAFUs (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) prevented me from getting tested knowledgeably, namely not receiving a timely response back from my primary care physician regarding how vaccination affects COVID-19 tests, likely because her underling completely didn’t answer my question. I asked something like: “How does being vaccinated, versus unvaccinated, affect COVID-19 serology and PCR test results?” And they replied something like, “Are you wondering what type of test you should get?” And it’s like, answer my question or link me to an answer! I’ve taken to replying to such responses, or front-loading my questions with, “If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to just say that,” and I find interlocuters usually react better. Instead of them trying to extract my motivations. Really, I should have figured out about the testing myself. But testing-while-vaccinated is another example of coronavirus confusions people are enduring. I’ve shown zero symptoms, not even mild ones, since the pandemic began; in fact, I haven’t had any sort of respiratory illness in years and years, probably owing in part to a vegan/glutenfree and low-sugar diet as well as frequent cardiovascular exercise and better sleep than in my past. That’s not to brag; it’s to link you to experience and info that might help. Best I can figure from the CDC in July ’21, for vaccinated people, serology tests to detect past infections no longer work (due to confounding with the vaccine-produced antibodies), but swab tests to detect current presence of the virus do still work. I’d like to get that done prior to spending extensive time with (vaccinated) elderly people indoors, just to be on the safe side; will see how that goes in North Texas. Finally, as for all this being politicized, let’s not forget in February 2020, the Jeffrey Epstein associate and likely Putin asset, former and probably forthcoming US president Donald Trump called coronavirus a “hoax” (as he calls global warming a “hoax”), and his administration punished US Health and Human Services Department whistleblower Dr Rick A. Bright for Bright’s insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” At least two-thirds of a million people dead of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic started, a decrease in population handy for the oligarchs who, thanks to advanced technology, no longer need as many toiling masses. Locking down hard everywhere for just 100 days would end coronavirus; that’s feasible (see New Zealand’s zero-COVID approach), yet the authorities in the US and elsewhere apparently do what they can to ensure COVID-19 continues, a new permanent paradigm of endless variants, a bit like 9/11 introduced a new permanent paradigm, terrorists as military targets instead of law enforcement suspects and everyone a potential terrorist. Well, maybe the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine will help. Or maybe people will read about coronaviruses prior to 2020 so that they understand masking against respiratory illnesses is a sensible precaution commonly done elsewhere for decades — not tyranny. Next thing you know, libertarians will whine about having their freedumb right to litter taken. I do think those badgering vaccine-hesitant people generally need to have better appreciation for why so many are correctly suspicious of conventional science and conventional medicine, though quacks exist in the alternative science/medicine realm as well, see “the disinformation dozen” spreading fear, uncertainty, doubt, and denial around the coronavirus vaccines. As the last few years have especially shown, propping up subject matter celebs like Neil deGrasse Tyson or whomever, conventional or alternative, and then trying to cheerlead them into winning an advertising blitz on behalf of vaccines or whatever else, is insufficient; having a propagandized public is harmful, whereas having a public capable of self-education is helpful. That requires overhauling our information system.

The color photo shows a grassy residental lawn with a Trump 2024 sign and US flags.
Pic I took this weekend of a Fort Worth lawn near Camp Bowie

The Decline of North Texas Civilization) I’ve been in Fort Worth a full week, and I get a general sense of exhaustion and torpor from Texans. I’m also witnessing little things falling apart. It’s just an anecdotal observation, but the motel I’m staying in — the same as when I last visited two years ago — is even more run-down this time around. When I arrived, the bed lacked pillows, the bathroom lacked towels, and various objects were broken. I’m not the kind of picky person who makes a fuss over such minutiae; the point is merely that North Texas appears to be slowly breaking down. The world has moved on, as those Stephen King Gunslinger books say. I feel tired and lazy, too, which I think is probably a partial result of the overall lower quality of life here, decreases in things like water quality, relative to Seattle. Although that could be my imagination, or more about the odd feelings I’m experiencing around being back here. Except for family member funerals possibly, I don’t think I’ll return to Texas any after this, which is a big change to accept internally. I’m finding the research information I was looking for, and long-ago acquaintances don’t want to meet face to face, probably because deep down, we both know we’re no longer actually friends with a fun energetic connection, or even shared values and interests, beyond fairly superficial things like Star Trek … so that makes sense. I was just curious how their lives have played out, and if they have anything new and exciting to say. Despite half the region now differing — a change I’ll get to below — at least half this region will still likely celebrate the probable return of a Donald Trump presidency, howling once again their bloodthirsty approval for his ideas like bombing accused terrorists’ innocent civilian family members. I hope someday even more people emphatically and consistently insist loudly that adopting If they aren’t paying your bills, then fuck ’em as a civilization-wide strategy has negative consequences for all.

Good stuff about North Texas

Pic I took this weekend of the Boulevard of Greens storefront near where Camp Bowie and I-30 cross

Refuge) Prior to my leaving for the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2015, Fort Worth had only one dedicated vegan restaurant, the noteworthy Spiral Diner on Magnolia Avenue in the Near Southside neighborhood. That neighborhood has continued to develop admirably since I lived here, although I don’t know what the unhappy underbelly might be. Of course, besides Spiral Diner, restaurants for pho and thai and other non-USian (“ethnic”) vegan-friendly food have existed in North Texas for a long time, I think particularly in Arlington (where, an elderly Republican in Fort Worth, panicking from a diet of FOX News, once told me, non-white terrorists are assuredly lurking and soon coming to get us). But now, in 2021, there are more, specifically vegan restaurants even here in Cowtown. There’s Belently’s Love on Bluebonnet Circle, which I haven’t tried yet, serving TexMex. There’s also the amazing Boulevard of Greens, where everything is vegan and gluten-free. They offer a number of smoothies, juices, bowls (including with quinoa and broccoli!), and other invigorating items. Boulevard of Greens really has shifted my visit from miserable to manageable.

It also deserves mentioning that North Texas, especially Fort Worth, has a lot of art museums and other cultural institutions. There’s the Modern Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Kimball Art Museum. I’ll probably go see this exhibition at the Amon Carter of work by a photographer born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The perfectionism of the classical music world can be misery- and stress-inducing, but the performances associated with the Fort Worth-based Van Cliburn Foundation can still be beautiful. And besides art, North Texas has plenty of parks. There’s a once frequent, but now rare due to that “rationally imposed” urban development, ecosystem in Arlington, a bog with unusual plants and animals, that I went to years ago. And of course, the excellent Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where I’ve gone many times. More than a decade ago, I wrote a blog post about a specific tree there, the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW!

Before the pandemic at least, there were also multiple enjoyable bars/nightclubs with live rock music, that I used to frequent. I can’t find it in me to look up if there are any outdoor shows by musicians I once knew. Guess I just don’t relate to Texas anymore. Reminds me of the song “I’m Not From Here” by the great James McMurtry, himself born in Fort Worth: “Hit my home town a couple years back / Hard to say just how it felt / But it looked like so many towns I might’ve been through on my way to somewhere else […] We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”

Wait, what?) Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, has long been one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states, Texas. But in the 2020 presidential election, Tarrant County went blue for Biden. Unfortunately, discussions of elections are dependent — a point still not often acknowledged — on secret, corporate, closed-source computerized vote-tallying. Who counted your vote, name the person! Where was your vote counted, go to the place! Can’t answer those, can you? Yet in the past in the United States, and in the present in Australia and elsewhere, people use(d) handmarked paper ballots, and the ballots were/are counted publicly, observably. Here’s a book and another book on the topic, worth reading. Not to mention the problems with democracy altogether (including direct, representative, and liquid): propagandizing hundreds of millions of people to come to an oversimplified consensus on things that don’t affect them and that they don’t know about, among other troubles. Anyway, I digressed. It’s just interesting to see my hometown turning blue for the first time in my life, if turning blue it indeed has. How can a person begin to appreciate perspectives considered very far-out, like anarchism, if they’re terrified of, or get screamed at or worse for, something as mild as voting for a Democrat? It takes a lot of strength to be a dissident. Maybe the reportedly Biden-blue Tarrant County heralds a change for the better for North Texas.

The Big Wheels, and Dignity) Since there’s little to no public transit in North Texas, I had to book a rental car for my trip. I reserved a polite, Seattle-sized compact vehicle (i.e., very small) and a GPS unit, one of those add-on devices that suction-cups to the front of the automobile. (Yes, I know most people just use their smartphones.) When I arrived, of course the rental car company had overbooked to protect itself against cancellations, so with few cancellations, there were no GPS units available. (And the capitalist Texans explain to each under how “rational” and “Enlightened” this system is, versus the depositories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, where nobody owns non-personal items, so if you want an object, just go grab one from the nearby depository, maintained by people who like to do that sort of thing and receive social approval for it.) With no add-on GPS units, the Alamo rental car company (Forget the Alamo, lol) asked me if I was okay with a car that had built-in GPS. I said yes. Except the only vehicle they had with built-in GPS was a Nissan Armada! It’s a full-size, Texas-sized SUV so huge it makes Suburbans and Hummers look tiny. I actually had trouble in a parking garage because the Armada almost hit the ceiling, and almost couldn’t squeeze through the entry lanes, you know with the lowered gate where you take your ticket. In US schools, you hear the word “armada” in connection with the Spanish Armada, a fleet which in battle with the British was completely destroyed! Maybe the Nissan marketers figured no one would remember such a trivial detail as the armada sinking. Once I figured out how to adapt my driving for the Armada — it brakes more slowly than a smaller car, for instance — I started having a hilarious time driving this ridiculous battleship, as a lone guy without a family to pack the air-conditioned seats. All other passenger cars, tiny next to my vehicle, fearfully defer to the surprisingly fast Armada, so I can easily change lanes at whim, king of the road in my big wheels. Guilty pleasure. More seriously, the Armada has Sirius XM satellite radio, enabling me to listen to — wait for it — Ozzy’s Boneyard. A few days ago, the channel/station/whatever was playing an interview with Ross Halfin. The rock photographer told a story about how, in short, a Led Zeppelin member (I forget which) disrespected him in person. Halfin said that after that, he decided never to let anyone else diss him similarly again; the radio hosts murmured their approval. What strikes me about this otherwise mundane conversation is that Halfin didn’t specify the means-whereby, how, he’d ensure others wouldn’t disrespect him — and the hosts didn’t ask. What actions does Halfin take when someone tries to disrespect him in person? What words does he say, and how does he say them? I mean, he (or most anyone) could say something like, Hey fuck you, I don’t take this kind of shit, a string of words that doesn’t exactly require a Ph.D. in Rhetoric to formulate (in fact, most intelligentsia I meet are completely clueless how to handle confrontational situations, stuck abstracting in their ivory towers). While bullies usually back down, what do you do if the bully doesn’t back down? What if it comes to fisticuffs, and what if you’re concerned about getting indicted for assault afterward? I’ve never seen a flowchart for this sort of thing, how to protect one’s dignity, the details. I think it’s extremely important and very overlooked. Insults have a way of piling up over the years, breaking down a person who’s never learned how to respond to them skillfully and quickly, making the person fall prey to internalized oppression and making the person suffer all sorts of health and psychological/sociological problems. Didn’t the civil rights movement in the ’60s address this? What if you don’t want to do a strictly nonviolence-only approach, perhaps because you’re itching to say, Hey shithead, cut it out, or I’m gonna run you over with my Nissan Armada! (Unless it sinks.) If you want to waste eight minutes of your life, here’s Out of Spec Reviews’ youtube take from DFW Airport on the 2021 Nissan Armada, so you can actually see this big-ass Behemoth. Or read about problems of car culture instead.

This blog post, Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas, 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/2021/07/17/north-texas-thoughts-summer-2021/. 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.

Just two videos for fun this week: Star Trek and Jordan Reyne

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends, but I’m more or less skipping this week (Sunday Jun 27 through Saturday July 3) due to travel. This entry, something of a placeholder, is number 26 of 52. We’re halfway through the year! So far, counting today’s non-entry entry as a missed post, I’ve missed only 3 posts in 2021. That means halfway through 2021, I’ve posted to my blog 23 times so far this year!

The idyllic, colorful photo shows a hill with bushes and trees. In the distance are more hills/mountains with trees, and above is a blue sky with white clouds
Photo by me, 23 June ’21, from Mt Emily Recreation Area, NE Oregon

I’m travelling this weekend, so I’ll get back to blog-posting in earnest next weekend. In the meantime, I’ll leave any readers out there with two videos.

First is the 34-second TV promo from the 1990s for a Season 3 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Hollow Pursuits.” So far, of Star Trek — I grew up in a Star Wars household, so I didn’t watch the better franchise until recently — I’ve completed The Original Series, The Animated Series, the first five movies, and the first three seasons of The Next Generation, and besides the wonderful fourth movie The Voyage Home (better known as the one with the whales), “Hollow Pursuits” is my favorite Star Trek story. I think the episode, which introduces the Lt. Barclay character, is amazing, but you wouldn’t know it from the hilariously ridiculous promo clip, which focuses on things other than the thought-provoking and empathy-generating story. Which I’ll admit, plot-wise, is over the top, in that so-bad-it’s-good campy way. Don’t be fooled by the goofy promo clip! Watch the actual episode someday, especially if you’re interested in mental health topics. It says a lot about psychosis and recovery: just replace the external, computer-created Holodeck room with a holodeck of extreme fantasy/delusion/escape inside a person’s head, but in either case keep the important help of social support and meaningful work.

“She’s accelerating out of control!”

Second is the music video, about five and a half minutes long, for the song “Johnny & the Sea” by one of my favorite musicians working today, Jordan Reyne. Here’s her Wikipedia entry. I could have picked any number of her songs, but while I was travelling through eastern Washington state and Northeast Oregon recently, “Johnny & the Sea” repeatedly came to my mind. I like her lyric lines “It’s through nausea and fear that we come to know how we are made” and “You forget how to swim once your life doesn’t throw you too far.” If you like the song, I recommend checking out the rest of her music, for instance the whole album that has “Johnny & the Sea” as its opening track, 2012’s Children of a Factory Nation. I love so many of the songs on that disc (to use an outdated term), but if you’re in a hurry, maybe check out “Wait (I Run Too Slow).” Or, for a more recent song of hers, listen to 2017’s “Birth Ritual.” What sticks out to me in her music are her vocals, her lyrics, her compositional style, and how well she plays her acoustic guitar (idk how she manages to get that bright percussive attack sound!). So yeah, everything about her music :-) She is her own person with her own unique style.

“none of these is as intimate with Earth as those who live on, live with, breathe and drift in its seas” — Theodore Sturgeon

Maybe I should someday post to my blog reviews of Star Trek, and more reviews of music…

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Just two videos for fun this week: Star Trek and Jordan Reyne, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/02/two-forfun-videos-startrek-jordanreyne/ 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.

Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This is entry 25 of 52. All the nature photos in this post were taken by me on 23 June 2021 at the Mt. Emily Recreation Area (MERA) in northeast Oregon’s Union county, on/near the Red Apple and Rock Garden trails.

Note (added early July ’21): Regarding the media noise around “critical race theory,” readers might find this hyperlink worth looking at: https://pastebin.com/Ex3AmsEz. It’s a collection of a hundred or so thought-provoking questions on the topic of race, for instance: “How many races do you think there are? What are they?

A colorful idyllic nature photo shows trees, a trail, and in the distance, tree-covered hills and blue cloudy sky

This week’s post will be a little shorter than usual due to travel. I’m even going to arrange into quick separate paragraphs my observations of northeast Oregon, where I’ve been staying for nearly a week now, mostly in the towns of La Grande and Pendleton. That’s after a few days in central Washington state, namely East Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities.

Not so good stuff about NE Oregon

Rightwing Signs of the Times) La Grande, Pendleton, and surrounding areas are predominately right-wing, with very few exceptions. Most of the exceptions are in the places you’d expect: the public libraries, the shops dedicated to bicycling, the hiking stores, and so on. In such rare blue/green oases, individuals mask up against coronavirus. Elsewhere, almost no one wears masks whatsoever. Some of the signs and bumper stickers I’ve seen have included: “Hey NFL, we don’t kneel here”; “Welfare: It’s not a career”; and “Trump 2024!” Despite such macho braggadocio, almost all the adult males in the area are visibly out of shape, dramatically so. There’s a health food store or two in Union county, and a farmers market, but generally throughout the region, most of the food offerings aren’t healthy. I guess the fast food and psychopharmaceuticals, in wide use across the country, don’t care what political words come out of someone’s mouth when they’re inflicting metabolic syndrome and other adverse effects on human bodies. Can’t do a wingnut march for Trump if you’re melting in a global warming heat wave while poisoned by corporate drugs and pseudo-food.

Radio Free Crazy) Meanwhile, stations on both the AM and FM airwaves in northeast Oregon are currently railing every single day against “critical race theory,” the right-wing boogeyman of the month. At one point, a radio show host drove himself into a rabid fury ranting against the Federal Aviation Administration recommending in a 217-page June 2021 report that the agency use genderless language (for instance, “aviator” instead of “airman”; “flight deck” instead of “cockpit”). The report argues an inclusive environment would draw more employment candidates, including women, into the industry. Although the news item is real, the examples (aviator, flight deck) that the host harped on felt really reheated from the distant past, given this 1992 George Carlin skit on a similar subject. The radio host claimed that the proposed language-changes would only attract coddled weaklings to the airline industry, thus jeopardizing passengers’ safety since during turbulence or other hazards, the coddled weaklings would not be able to fly with sufficient machoness, yadda yadda. The host also said the F.A.A./news articles were citing nonexistent or secretive research, but the 217-page report footnotes plenty of research on aviation employment trends and related topics. It’s wild that following the changes to defamation and fairness media laws in the United States over the past century, someone like the conservative radio “news” host can just say completely false things (e.g., that the research was nonexistent or secretive) and get away with it, no consequences at all, except when the public delivers them, such as via shunning.

Bumfuzzled Jesus Swords) There’s also a lot of that old-time religion in northeast Oregon. On the streetsides stand churches for every mainstream Christian denomination. Religious pastors preaching on the radio. Pastor Jeff Wickwire, who runs a church in my birth town, Fort Worth Texas, managed to follow me to northeast Oregon yesterday via the airwaves, his voice jabbing at me like a pointed finger out of my vehicle’s speakers. Wickwire was warning of protests and riots that “no one stops” and that make churchgoers “feel hunted.” The answer to the civil unrest, Wickwire explained, is to “Run to Jesus! Run to Jesus!” for “when we are confused, He is not confused,” and indeed, “when we are bumfuzzled, He is not bumfuzzled.” In an October 2018 sermon, Wickwire states that homosexuality is “against natural law, flying in the face of God’s intent for the two genders.” That makes me wonder if maybe Wickwire himself is secretly bumfuzzled… Also, I think it was Wickwire who a few days ago on his radio show (I’ve been listening to the radio here out of curiosity) discoursed at length about how the physical Bible book is a metaphorical armory, and the sayings of God within it are metaphorical swords. So when the Christian soldier is confronted by a heathen like myself, the Christian is supposed to strike with a sword by quoting a Bible passage. So that’s why when I get long messages from Christians, they’re studded with quotations followed with scriptural citations in parentheses. I just thought it was an odd tic, like maybe the Christian letter-writer just personally enjoyed or found comfort in writing out the quotations and citations, but now I know there’s a belief system behind it, the whole idea that a saying of God from the Bible is powerful enough and persuasive enough to be a sword to use in battle with unbelievers. “But I still don’t care!” (The sayings of Douglas, blog post 26 June 2021).

Prison) I have some photos and thoughts to share about Pendleton’s federal prison, the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, but that content will have to wait for another day.

Good stuff about NE Oregon

A colorful, idyllic nature photo. Shows trees, grassy hills, and a trail cut through them. Above are blue skies.

What You See Is What You Get) Locals in northeast Oregon are really lacking in guile, which is very refreshing after spending most of my time in the past five-six years living in a major urban city (Seattle), where undertones of rent, roommates, and careers seem to haunt conversations, too often adding a “war of all against all” vibe to interactions. I’ve been asking northeastern Oregonians highly unusual, highly specific questions for my fiction research, and — with the exception of some wary military veterans in the airport bar (I assume they were following longstanding military training to regard strangers’ questions with caution) — the NE Oregon residents have been free with their answers. They sometimes say rightwinger one-liners that would drop the jaws of someone not accustomed to red states, but at least you hear their garbage upfront and direct. Unlike liberals denying their hypocrisies, the red Oregonian locals aren’t particularly duplicitous. They seem not to have any reason to expect threats. When I said I work for Seattle Public Schools, one said, “Any place would be better than there!” and then continued on with rural friendliness. That being said, after Trump’s four years, people should know better than to treat these extreme reactionaries as laughable curios. They’re people, too. And they have significant political power. See for instance this May 2021 NYT article about the Greater Idaho Movement. And I imagine they’d treat me very differently if I weren’t a white guy. Hispanics are the largest minority here, but I’ve seen extremely few of other minorities in this region known for white supremacy.

The image is of a western hemisphere map. On the left is North, Central, and South America. The caption labels all these as America. On the right is just the United States by itself. The caption says: United States, learn the difference.

News From Mother Nature) Nature in northeast Oregon is amazingly beautiful. I’ve enjoyed great views of the Grande Ronde Valley, and on Wednesday I went running on the Red Apple and Rock Garden trails in the Mount Emily Recreation Area. The whole time on those trails, I encountered no one else. You can see my photos of the area in this post, and you can see even more of my photos of the area on my tiny instagram: https://instagram.com/omgdouglaslucas. I never had an instagram account until a little over a year ago. I was applying to some ProPublica paid-job or other; the application asked me to provide the URL of my instagram account, so I created one from scratch. Probably “omg[name]” is not what ProPublica The Proper had in mind, but whatever, not getting the gig is probably for the best: I can’t imagine having to use language I strongly disagree with, like “American” instead of “USian.”

I’m Getting Sleepy) I’ve more thoughts about good stuff in this region, but they’ll have to wait for another day. Also, thankfully I’m obtaining some great research info for my fiction-writing project, so that’s nice.

A colorful photo. It's taken from atop a hill with yellow grass and rocks. Below the hill is the vast Grande Ronde valley, with different colored rectangles of agriculture. In the distance, the blue mountains, and above, blue sky plus clouds.

News blasts: Belarus and United States

Belarus. My blog post last week includes a news blast that quickly explains the situation in Belarus. I’d just like to add this week two youtube embeds that provide more information from the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The first is just under six minutes in length. It’s Tsikhanouskaya’s TED talk from November 2020 entitled “How to be fearless in the face of authoritarianism.” She talks about how, to lose fear of authoritarians, members of the public have to show up for each other, by supporting one another, by attending rallies, and so on. It reminds me a little of Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the section where Gandhi describes how there’s a threshold point where the public loses fear of being jailed. Once they no longer fear jail, great things can be accomplished. I do think the jails in India during his day were not mammoth in size and scope like U.S. prisons are today, which makes a huge tactical difference. Still, the point Tsikhanouskaya made last November is somewhat similar to Gandhi’s back then. In order to lose their fear of authoritarians, people have to be very strongly connected with each other and must stand up for themselves and others. Being strongly connected with others doesn’t necessarily mean being an extrovert or cooperating directly with others. You can be connected with others via memories, re-reading old letters, having photos of loved ones, connecting with nonhuman things such as houseplants, Nature, etc. You can collaborate indirectly as in stigmergy. Now, the opposite of what Tsikhanouskaya (and Gandhi) say would be the attitude a friend JG—– expressed to me several times, when he kept asking me why I find whistleblowers worth reporting on. It was along the lines of, be smart, don’t stick your neck out, that’s the only way to go through life, else prison or other bad consequences. That attitude is also expressed by a character in Ursula K. Le Guin’s story “The Finder.” Her novella tells of a young man with special powers who, unusually, also has a strong sense of ethics. Like his father, he works as a shipbuilder, but when he learns a ship he’s tasked to build will be used by slavers, he no longer wants to be complicit and tries to figure out a way to interfere with the ship’s construction. Yet his father warns him: “You think I can turn the King’s [work] order down? You want to see me sent to row with the slaves in the galley we’re building? Use your head, boy!” I find JG—– and the fictional father’s emphasis on “reason” and “logic” strange. Anyway, the father is pointing out a tactical concern, that if either of them disobey, they’ll be caught, and in fact, the protagonist, despite scheming a clever way through the dilemma, does get caught for disobeying. So the tactical concerns do matter. But it’s interesting how little, offline, I hear people discuss ethical dilemmas beyond what to do in quarrels with friends (which are important too). I think this is because people have become comfortable with being essentially treated like zoo animals in cages, go to paid-job, sit in desk, come home, watch television, go to bed, repeat. Inside, though, they still have a spark wanting liberation; everybody does, and it just gets suppressed to varying degrees in varying ways. So while showing people, comfortable with their cages, something like this Tsikhanouskaya TED talk, they find various ways of ignoring or changing the subject. Yet they consume fiction where, for instance, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew goes around saving the day (in some episodes, anyhow). Imagine if a message of despair, pleading for rescue, came from a planet, and listening to it, Captain Picard just shrugged and said “Who cares? I’ll be in the Holodeck pretending to be a detective, fuck them” and the Enterprise starship just flies right past the pleading planet. Audiences would revolt. And yet they accept the same of themselves and each other in real life. Fiction seems to keep the spark alive, but then too often the spark doesn’t catch fire. We don’t discuss this whole topic enough, I think, in the United States. The second video is from 9 June 2021. It’s about 110 minutes long. It’s the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing on US Policy on Belarus. The first 60 minutes or so consist of the US ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher talking with the foreign relations committee. From about 72 minutes in, to the end, it’s primarily Tsikhanouskaya talking with them, though some portions of the hearing focus on Radio Free Europe president and CEO Jamie Fly. It’s annoying to hear the US senators wax on, throughout the hearing, about protecting press freedom and civil liberties, when the US abridges those domestically and elsewhere so frequently, but simultaneously, the tankie position influenced by Russian state media that anything the US supports — in this case, free elections replacing the dictatorship in Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya’s chief goal — must be bad, is parochial brain damage resulting from not seeing a globe with 190+ countries and shifting alliances beyond a 1960s Cold War bipolar order, where any particular country can do horrible things and sometimes take good positions also, if only out of self-interest. It’s like: rightwingers on the northeastern Oregon airwaves insist the US is the uniquely best country; tankies insist it’s the uniquely worst country, and neither really engage with topics on their own merits. On June 21, joint sanctions were imposed by the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States against the Putin-protected Belarusian dictator Lukashenka. Of course, while things look increasingly optimistic for Belarus and Tsikhanouskaya now, things might go bad in the future, but hopefully not. In the Senate hearing, Tsikhanouskaya concisely says “I would like to ask to add to the record an expanded list of suggested steps on the situation in Belarus by the US and other nations. These actions would help build up the momentum to launch a transition to elections, exactly what Belarusians demand. Otherwise, Lukashenka and other dictators around the world will feel impunity to freely break international norms to crush their opponents.” Ending impunity is the important point. My quick search didn’t turn up her expanded list of suggested steps; anybody have a link for it, if it’s available? If not, it’d make a good FOIA request. Also in the hearing, Senator Chris Coons (R-DE) asks her “I’d be interested if I might, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, in hearing from you about how you assess the extent of Russian influence in Belarus; how exactly it’s exerted; and how Russian support of the Lukashenka regime is changing Belarusian civil society at this time.” She answers: “At the moment, the Kremlin supports Lukashenka diplomatically, politically, and, you know, financially somehow. But I have to say, we want friendly relations with all the countries, including Russia, and propaganda is trying to show us that we are against Russia but this is not true. We are against dictatorship. And it depends on the Belarusians which pathway they will choose in free and fair elections.” Her reference to a pathway might refer to the Belarus-Russia union state, but I’m not sure. I wish she had said more, especially about that “you know, financially somehow” part!

United States – Current legislation to repeal the 2002 AUMF. In this news blast, I’m mostly summarizing the analysis article “Are US ‘Forever Wars’ about to end? US House pushes to repeal the 2002 war authorization” by YAC.news, as well as this Defense News article and this WaPo article. The US constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress. However, that power began eroding in 1991 with the Gulf War-era Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In 2001, following 9/11, a second AUMF was passed — with only one federal legislator voting against, Barbara Lee (D-CA) — that moved the power to launch wars from Congress to the presidency, more or less completely. This legal magic was partly accomplished by reams of paperwork that changed going after terrorists from happening under a law enforcement paradigm to happening under a war paradigm; in other words, instead of arresting terrorists, they became military opponents. (Terrorists were occasionally military targets prior to 9/11, but usually they were considered law enforcement suspects, not military enemies.) In 2002, a third AUMF was passed revolving around the US plans to lead an invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be a US government lie. So, three AUMFs, legally cited in the US as justification for Bush II-era electronic mass surveillance, Obama-era drone strikes, kidnappings, and torture, and Trump-era occupation of Kurdish-controlled Syrian oilfields and assassination of Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleiman. The AUMFs are the legalese-magic justification for the whole permanent war thing, where US presidents are constantly sending JSOC special forces and who knows who else (maybe these?) into whichever country, without having to explain it to Congress (who are in theory the public’s representatives; in other words, the AUMFs provide for the White House launching secret wars without having to justify them to the US public). Some of my relatives were born shortly after 9/11, so the United States has technically been at war, often secretly, in multiple countries, against the vague noun “terror,” for their entire lives. Massive Pentagon and spy agency budgets, Congressional legislators suddenly discovering their own country has a thousand-something troops in, say, Niger, and so on. All while the public is blasted with propaganda about the need to unquestioningly worship soldiers, who agree to kill strangers based on the orders of other strangers, sometimes trusting that this will all somehow defend their loved ones, proof not much provided. So it’s pretty remarkable that earlier this month, on June 17, the US House voted on a bipartisan basis to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The 2002 AUMF is no longer relevant since the Iraq war officially ended in 2011 and the Saddam Hussein regime has not existed since 2003. The Senate is supposed to take up the matter in mid-July; here are some more details about the upcoming Senate vote, with the thorny matter being getting enough votes from Republican senators, who typically do love them some war. I’m seeing divided commentary regarding how much repealing just the 2002 AUMF, with the other two staying in force, would actually change things, but for sure it’d at minimum be a good start, if only symbolically, to reigning in the expansive and secretive White House war powers and returning to Congress the authority to declare war, meaning launching a war has to once again be debated publicly. Imagine that.

The colorful photo is taken from atop a hill with yellowed grass and green bushes. On this hill, a solitary green tree stands to the left. Below is the Grande Ronde valley with the different colored rectangles of agriculture. In the distance, blue mountains; above, blue sky and white clouds.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/26/thoughts-photos-neoregon-belarus-us-newsblasts/ 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.

The battleground of names

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 12 of 52.

The image shows simple computer code that asks the user to input their name and age, then stores this data as a name dollar sign variable and an age dollar sign variable, and finally prints the information back out.
Screenshot of a tutorial for QBasic, a Microsoft programming language from the early nineties

In 2004, I began asking others to call me by my first name, Douglas. Before that, I’d been called a variant of my middle name (which I won’t share here for mundane privacy purposes). I wanted a fresh start, because I was just entering my first semester at a university, and also, I was annoyed by the various paperwork hassles seemingly everywhere when your legal name and the name you go by differ. For example, class rosters not specifying how you’re actually called encourage teachers to address you by what appears on the roster. Since many teachers labor under the unfair requirement that they educate very large class sizes, and thus face far too many students to always memorize the preferences of each successfully, try as they might, you as a student can go through months and months of unpleasantly trying to correct a teacher about your name, something that’s supposed to intimately characterize you. The indignity of being called wrongly is even more profound for those whose name changes signal giant shifts in their personhood, such as those who switch names as part of gender or religious transitions. Me, I just thought a fresh start and an end to the paperwork hassles would be nice.

The image shows Jim Carrey as Truman in the movie. He's standing atop steps and before a door. He has his arms and hands spread wide, and he's looking up, smiling.
Image from The Truman Show

It’s strange how names characterize us, isn’t it? Consider the eponymous name of the protagonist in the 1998 movie The Truman Show: unlike those around him pretending to be his neighbors, Truman is a true man. But names, at least when initially given, actually characterize the parents/caregivers, their aspirations for the infant who’s receiving some particular name in the first place. A sense of this reality is frequently missing from fiction, when authors pick a name to symbolize or allude to something about a character, rather than about that character’s parents or environment (including economic class). In other fiction, such disparities between a character’s true self and their name are portrayed, especially if the story involves a name change. While authors spend lots of time thinking over the given names characters go by among their peers, I think surnames in fiction don’t receive much scrutiny, particularly in terms of migration. If an author is writing a story set in 2030 in Nebraska, and currently in 2021 nearly all people alive with surname X live only in France, should the author provide backstory for why someone with surname X is living in Nebraska just nine years into the future? Or are surnames freebies for authors and readers alike? As long as it sounds good and plausible enough, maybe no bulletproof backstory is required. You could reduce such realism problems to absurdity by requiring an author depicting a coffeepot in a story to know how it got there, tracing it all the way back to the specific particles emerging from the Big Bang. On the other hand, books too often expect readers to assume narrators are white and show WASP-y names as the norm, presenting anything else as exceptions in need of explanations.

Since 2004, there’s been a certain discomfort with my first name, for many of those using it and me alike. I’m regularly asked the same question when meeting people: “Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?” The question stumped me for a very long time. Whenever I looked within, I discovered I legitimately don’t have a preference. Either is cool with me! So I couldn’t advise the question-askers, who as far as I could make out, wanted to be caring and accommodating. Just about every time I replied that I have no preference, the question-asker became frustrated. They said I should have a preference. But I didn’t. Maybe I hurt their feelings, as though they were going out of their way in offering to remember my preference, and my not having one stung like a rebuke, in some transactional world they exist in. Only this past month have I finally figured out something more about the question. I’ve been doing core strengthening in physical therapy to help with one of my legs (two surgeries on it in my life so far), and the physical therapist is extremely knowledgeable and competent. I like him, and I’m really grateful to have his excellent help. He told me he has a thing for trying to remember the best names to call people by. We were both a bit flummoxed by my lack of a preference between Doug or Douglas. I thought it over. I think the fact I get along well with this superb physical therapist enabled me to see something more about the question and my lack of a preference.

Here’s the answer, what’s been the answer all along: Doug and Douglas are the same name — just at different diction levels. Doug is informal; Douglas is formal. Compare “What’s up, Doug?” with “Listen, Douglas, we need to have a talk.” They’re the same name in two different forms. I don’t want to micromanage which level of formality my interlocutor picks for any particular conversation. I trust the appropriate diction level can just emerge naturally, simply from both parties’ interactions and the environment at large. Because I realized all this just a few weeks ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out in real life yet. But the next time someone asks me, Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?, I’m going to tell them one’s for informal, the other’s for formal, and that they can select between the two as they think proper. I wonder what will happen. As long as they don’t call me Doogie.

The image shows a black book cover, with the title More Than Human at top, and at bottom, the author's name plus "The provocative novel of six people who became--together--a new form of humanity" and in reference to the author, "whose work is increasingly being called a classic of its kind"
Original hardback cover of Sturgeon’s best-known novel

A common thread in the above — asking others to use my first name (revealingly, sometimes frenemies from the past still don’t, pointedly refusing to honor my request); trying to justify to readers a surname’s presence in a geographic location and time period; attempting to explain to strangers that the two forms of a single name are for different diction levels — is a sense of individuals having to legitimize their names, and perhaps themselves, to others. Names are usually social, bestowed upon us and by us as we pass life down through generations. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, each character on an anarchist moon has but one name, handed out by a central computer registry to keep things organized. In contrast to this socially-focused system, in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human, there’s a gripping moment when the first character we encounter, a lonely outsider, finally names himself. Initially, “Men turned away from him, women would not look”; however, after roughly five years living and working with the Prodd farming family, he learns to speak, though “always he preferred not to.” Eventually the farmer Mr Prodd asks him for his name (get it? Prodd as in prodding him). Because he has come to trust Mr Prodd, he’s able to fulfill this request. He thinks that a name “is the single thing which is me and what I have done and been and learned.” Despite his growing connection with the Prodds, he picks the name Alone, which he can manage to pronounce merely as a single syllable, Lone. That seems very individualist, but he chooses a name only when someone else asks him for it, so it’s an event both personal and social. (The book later follows Lone gathering what Sturgeon calls a gestalt, kind of a chosen family, from other outlier outsiders.) Does a person living on a desert island like a castaway need a name at all? Might they forget their own name? Finally, look at the concept of true names in Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. Characters and objects in that univese have two names, a common one that’s safely shareable, and a second, secret, true name that empowers them and gives others power over them if it’s discovered. In neither case, however, are the names chosen.

The image shows an Internet Relay Chat window, with the user having typed "Hello to all you good people!" with a smiley emoticon. To the right of the image is a vertical list of various handles for users, such as Jolo and herbie and sat.
Internet Relay Chat, what I was doing in the nineties

Online, as in certain types of radio communication, users choose handles, also known as pseudonyms or simply nyms. These lessen tendencies in conversation/debate toward the logical fallacies of personal attacks and arguments from authority, where interlocuters waste time saying “You only believe that because you are [insert identity attribute here]”, as in, because you’re tall/short/rich/poor/white/of color, etc. With nyms, individuals can choose personally meaningful ways to describe themselves, and the handles can become so meaningful that among those heavily involved in computers (or perhaps simply involved in online chatting), it’s common to go by the handles even in face-to-face conversation, rather than by legal names. Some users, in contrast, choose random characters (for example: ang) to identify themselves, not wanting to give their personal story away to strangers. And some change nyms frequently, rebooting their name over and over, trying to prevent others from assuming things based on what might have been past interactions with the person. When I play around with it, this aspect of computing (akin to writing under a psuedonym) can feel very liberating.

At top, the image has text saying "If I was the teacher, i'd give this kid an A." Below that, the image shows a schoolwork assignment, which reads: Defend your answer. Rather than follow the assignment (for whatever it was, perhaps math or English Language Arts), the student has drawn a fort around the word answer, and drawn a solider with a machine gun saying "Sarge, I don't know how much longer we can hold them!"
Must everything be so stressful?

It seems names should be a touching aspect of life, and fun to ponder, but they’re commonly just another battleground. Picking a name can feel empowering (because how could an unchosen name really represent/express who you are?), while keeping a name bestowed by others can offer connection linking the past, present, and future together. Maybe, like successful accounts of trauma that provide healing, names need to be simultaneously personally meaningful, and effective and connecting in social contexts. Really thinking names through, as opposed to dissociation from life (“it’s all a blur”), as well as good relationships for experimenting with names, seem very helpful for individuals trying to determine what might be their own best path.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, The battleground of names, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/26/battleground-names/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 2

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays — or two days late when I’m busy talking into a microphone at federal Congresspeople and switching from cooking with Pacific Foods coconut milk to cooking with Aroy-D coconut milk, each of those matters more complex than they might initially seem. Anyway, here’s today’s post, the one for Week 5.

Note: My first two blog posts this year, and last week’s, have all been updated a tiny bit. You might want to check out particularly the updates to my post about Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner’s clemency petition.

Note: This post obviously belongs, as Part 2, to a series of posts about my trip from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia in Summer 2019. Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

You-ess-eee-in. U-S-i-a-n. You-ess-eee-in. USian. Got it.

After leaving the border station and entering Victoria, I was amazed at how calm everyone was around me, at the immediate drop in ambient anxiety relative to the United States. I wondered if this was perhaps due to my current location in a touristy area, right by the border station and downtown attractions such as the British Columbia parliament buildings and the surrounding fancy statues. Or if the presence of universal health insurance coverage, next to no mass shootings, and a pervasive metric system might deserve the credit. Before leaving in earnest the area just around the border station — much like putting your shoes back on once through the TSA pornoscope — I took some time to fiddle with my backpack and figure out my OpenStreetMap.

The first Mapsco, uploader unknown. Company seems to still exist

Yeah, my time in Canada began with tinkering with OpenStreetMap, a significantly helpful component of this adventure. Directions without Google is a thing. OpenStreetMap somehow reminded me of science fiction and fantasy maps. If you originally hail from Texas, as I gloriously do, you might remember those old Mapsco books allowing travelers to find streets on a printed grid to explore their hometowns. Maybe we’ve been mapping ever since we first figured out how, real and fictional worlds alike.

And if you are from VARN-4, you might remember this…
OpenStreetMap: Clipper terminal, Victoria BC
Here be no dragons

Backpack secured, map in hand, I headed for the hostel. Along the way, drivers moved their cars with infinitesimal slowness, stopping for anyone within kilometers who might be pondering crossing a street someday in their lives. I kept looking around, bewildered. Where was, where was… was… something? Something was missing. No edginess anywhere. I was looking around for the absent anxiety like it might have been an overshadowed tree or lost ballcap, as some think God or envy should be objects, and if you can’t spot them in a (tele/micro)scope, they can’t exist. All this made me smile. I continued forward. Along the way, I saw an officialdom building for tourists and went in. I asked to convert some of my US dollars to Canadian dollars and stared at the result in my palm. What, exactly, is a loonie, what is a toonie, why are prices typically rounded to .05 increments, what coins will the hostel laundry machines expect, and why aren’t there any cops anywhere?

Little details differed constantly from the United States, keeping me wide awake and very alive. Canadian bills are super thin, and all week, I thought I was going to accidentally tear one removing it from my wallet. During World War II, creeping toward a full century ago, my grandfather, a highly capable man who ‘did a thing’ (or ten), like operate a bulldozer and repair septic tanks and run a gas station and supervise a school, wrote to his local print newspaper in East Texas explaining in terms possibly considered offensive today what people on the other side of the planet looked like. Makes sense, right, what else were they going to do eighty-odd years ago in that Deep South pocket of Texas to determine how tall or short these mysterious faraway strangers were, besides communicate with traveling human beings about it, including those travelers who might at times use words considered in some lonely ZIP code to be noncompliant, or even worse, unfamiliar? Heck, maybe (hopefully?) things I’m saying in this post will strike knowledgeable others in the far future as backward.

Time marches on, and new challenges keep humans constantly adapting and growing stronger — plenty of people don’t want that. We USians proudly know we can ask corporate Alexa/Siri about, say, Canadian bills and come across information regarding their thinness and maintain the superiority complex we USians all seem trained to have about being very stable geniuses (as most of us hide under our beds afflicted with chronic helplessness). And yet that mild fear, all week, of accidentally ripping the Canadian bills made me, perhaps like Mary the Color Scientist, amazed at how much there is in this gigantic world, 190-odd countries and seven billion non-USians, that most of my offline acquaintances and I do not know, in any meaningful sense, sometimes not even at the googling, pixels-on-screens level, since to learn about something unfamiliar usually requires first hearing about something unfamiliar, and then not snarling: “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.” If you have friends who will ask for the definition of an unfamiliar word when you use it, hang on to them…

Entering the hostel, I was met with a hilarious employee behind the desk, who was blasting Al Jazeera. In 2001 two US bombs destroyed an Al Jazeera office in Kabul, in 2003 a US missile attack hit an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad and killed a reporter, plus a leaked memo from a 2004 Blair-Bush II discussion, re: how about doing some more of that, was subjected to media gagging in the UK that looks to still be ongoing (source, source). Besides the moneychanger and the border g̶o̶d̶ guard, this was pretty much the first Canadian I would speak with at any length on this trip. And my country had bombed his favorite news network repeatedly. He was from another country originally and was eventually headed for yet another — migration that, while rarely spoken of or even imagined by hordes of USians (tons of exceptions), seemed a common feature of many I spoke with in British Columbia — and he’d passed through Los Angeles a while back. After I made my appreciation for Al Jazeera known, he passed on to me his conclusion from L.A.: “The United States has two types of people: the terrifying, and the terrified.” Nodding, I said, “And neither knows it.”

The hostel was really cool. I hadn’t quite known what to expect from online reviews and threads, as I’d never stayed in a hostel before, but everything went straightforwardly.

Nice place ya got there / we got here

A desktop computer offered easy Internet access, a lending library supplied books for half-asleep travelers to rest on their bellies while dozing on the couches, the few laundry machines were constantly in use by everyone, the kitchen had ample refrigerator space, cooking gear, and conversation, and there was a television room — I basically never watch TV, except maybe some downloaded Star Trek or Twilight Zone now and then, but I thought briefly watching Canadian news might be interesting. It was. The hosts discussed their differences with excessive politeness and grammatically correct, syntactically complex sentences. Changing channels at random, I finally understood why my decades-long Internet friend in the Canadian Prairies region had an email address ending in @shaw.ca. I mean, I knew Shaw Communications was a giant Canadian telecommunications company, but there it was, right there, a few y̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶s̶ metres in front of me on an everyday Canadian television screen. While stereotypes of the dumb USian might come to mind, and I’m writing a bit like that for humor, during none of this trip did I actually feel stupid, not because of a superiority complex, but because everything seemed really fun and exciting to experience, to learn about.

My bed for a week

One practical tip regarding sleeping. At night, my backpack was locked up in a locker, right? With a padlock and key. So where would I put the key while sleeping? I didn’t want to give it to anyone or hide it. My only remaining option, seemingly, was putting it in my shorts pocket — which had no zipper. As I rolled around in my sleep, the key came out of my pocket a few nights, and once or twice almost slipped down into the crack between my bed and the wall. Tip? From now on, shorts with zipper pockets.

Vegan food from Green Cuisine

Early on, I checked out Green Cuisine Vegetarian Restaurant, where I finally experienced one of the most common observations about the United Status versus other countries, an observation that does actually penetrate the USian hive mind somewhat. Yes, I’m talking about portion sizes. At the Green Cuisine buffet restaurant and everywhere else in Victoria, the plates, the bowls, the booths, the bar stool cushions, and the derrières atop those bar stool cushions, were smaller than their USian counterparts. I think the degree to which I had packed my bowls (see photo) drew some startled looks from the polite staff! And it wasn’t just restaurants and derrières. Victoria’s office buildings were shorter, the bus stop benches were narrower, and the tiny lots of the very few car dealerships I walked past were rather apologetic for existing at all. Whereas North Texas is one sprawling mass of enormous strip malls and totalitarian car dealerships. Prices (adjusting for conversion) were smaller too. In Seattle, the equivalent of the pictured meal might run you up toward $20 USD or above, easy. In Victoria, around $10 USD. (Tack on an .05 for Canadian dollars…kidding.) And of course, I grew up where this $21 USD meal is normal (from Allen Texas, 2019):

I hasten to add that while definitely preferring Seattle to Texas, after moving to the US Pacific Northwest, I’ve come to appreciate many things about Texas that I didn’t appreciate while living there — but that’s a whole ‘nother k̶e̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶f̶i̶s̶h̶ blog post, I reckon, y’hear?

Think about migrating, or just traveling, like algebra, where your geographic location is the term outside the parentheses, and it distributes to each term inside the parentheses, affecting each one. Since we’re living our best lives already, and we aren’t just daily growing stupider as we age confined in cubicles and helplessly hiding under our beds all day watching Frasier in the same ZIP code we were born in, certainly we all remember the distributive property in algebra:

5(a + b + c + d) = 5a + 5b + 5c + 5d

Similarly, geographic locations, starting with Fort Worth Texas:

Ft. Worth(a + b + c + d) = Ft. Worth(a) + Ft. Worth(b) + Ft. Worth(c) + Ft. Worth(d)

Seattle(a + b + c + d) = Seattle(a) + Seattle(b) + Seattle(c) + Seattle(d)

Victoria(a + b + c + d) = Victoria(a) + Victoria(b) + Victoria(c) + Victoria(d)

Now replace the variables a, b, c, and d with various conditions affecting your life, day to day and throughout your life span:

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 public, of professionals, etc.
And whichever additional variables.

Which of course gives us:

Ft. Worth(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Ft. Worth(air safety) + Ft. Worth(savings on cost of living) + Ft. Worth(rarity of mass shootings) + Ft. Worth(education) + etc.

Seattle(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Seattle(air safety) + Seattle(savings on cost of living) + Seattle(rarity of mass shootings) + Seattle(education) + etc.

Victoria(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Victoria(air safety) + Victoria(savings on cost of living) + Victoria(rarity of mass shootings) + Victoria(education) + etc.

Surely you get the idea: while it’s great, in truth mandatory, to improve yourself in this or that regard as an individual, it can upgrade multiple factors impacting your life a lot faster by just picking up and migrating to a better place. As opposed to, say, the individualization of social problems or what’s sometimes called the fundamental attribution error. More simply, from the originator herself of a recent but already well-known quotation:

Obviously, life and locations can be a lot more complicated, and even those with a lot of say in the matter choose to live in certain places only for all kinds of reasons. Some of the most amazing people I’ve met so far have lived in the same house their entire life. Still, I think the above is very worth considering, with far more seriousness than it generally is given.

However, often it’s not logic, like that above, that moves us to make huge leaps in our lives. Instead, it’s our hearts, our dreams, our art… So to conclude this installment, I’ll leave you with the song “I’m Not From Here” from fellow Texan (I’ll always be one) James McMurtry. An excerpt of his lyrics for the song follows. Until next week.

We can’t help it
We just keep moving
It’s been that way since long ago
Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds
We mostly go where we have to go


Creative Commons License

This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 2, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/02/05/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s today’s, the fourth of 52.

Note: Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

Last summer I took a trip alone from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia. That was my first trip by myself to another country. Gauging by the stress that multiple acquaintances say they experience when considering just looking at the passport application form, I am not the only USian for whom exiting the bubble of THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET feels overwhelming. Thus, instead of immediately plunging into an overnight quest to visit all 190-odd countries in the world and get to know all seven billion non-USian human souls, I decided to start small: merely ride a Clipper boat northward and sleep in a Victoria hostel for a week, then voyage homeward via same ferry southbound.

Yeah, um, how do we pronounce USian, y’all?

Propaganda against leaving the States is everywhere, and conversation about doing so is nearly never heard, so the overwhelm among us peons is understandable. Stuffing my single backpack for the trip with shirts and books and cotton swabs, I feared the metric system itself might attack me: tape measures extending murderous meters, test tubes spilling lethal liters, and the foreign atmosphere itself pressing down on my skull with the weight of killer kilograms. After all, just watch this stunning FOX News revelation of “the global tyranny of the metric system.” I demand the United States give up the huge portion of its military using the metric system, its fully metric Big Pharma dosages, and its fully metric dollar amounts!
James Panero trying to keep from laughing at 0:27 ?

If scientific units of measurement weren’t going to undo me, maybe I’d get frozen to death by the National Igloo that Mike Huckabee as Arkansas governor sincerely congratulated Canada on preserving:

However, I was ready to resist such fictional terrors. If dastardly, freezing decameters came at me hard, malevolently enlarging into subzero deca-space, I could defend myself, sweating wildly, swinging swords of middle school math, the unit converter app on my phone, or the Metric Act of 1866, which legalized the use of the metric system for weights and measures in the U.S. when President Johnson signed it, probably drunk and well on his way to becoming the first impeached very stable genius presiding over the world’s most sacred, most beautiful coun… Okay, I’ll stop shooting fish in a barrel saving fish in a peril and move on to the next crushing calamity faced by all USians who dare dream of, say, searching for paid-jobs north of Seattle by oh about 241 kilometers ⁠— I’m sorry! I’m sorry! 150 miles! 150 miles! I’ll be good! Stop threatening bodily harm to metric system advocates, fellow residents of the only intelligent country that has ever existed, the only intelligent country that will ever, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin…William Whipple? Uh yeah, also William Whipple, whoever he was…the founders, the Founders!

A slightly more highbrow fear came from the Hollywood-esque stories of beefy border agents versus millionaire heartthrob journadoodles — here’s the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 documentation of dozens of cases of U.S. border dudes’ suspicionless searching and interrogating of journalists who color outside the (map) lines, most not wielding Oscars — but I took whatever precautions I could implement in the time frame I had, because an even worse fate would be hiding under the bed for the rest of my life. Further, beyond the glare of edutainment re: suffering journadoodles — JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET — there are the almost 20,000 people since 2014 trying to cross borders who died in the Mediterranean Sea, to take one sole region recently, so cowardice would have been unjust to all of them. Think about it. Out of those twenty thousand people, imagine one who had really amazing sketch art to share, a fantastic decade-long relationship with an awesome cat to tell you about, hopes of walking around France, and that’s just .00005% of the individuals who died without a Committee To Protect People With Awesome Cat Stories Amazing Sketch Art and Hopes of Walking around France. Obviously the churnalism fan club will primly retort “First they came for the journalists, and after that, we don’t know what happened” which is as laughable as Huckabee’s Canadian National Igloo because once you turn off the roar of corporate media and the USian ‘anarchists’ who amplify corporations all day every day, you can hear your friends who are already trying to tell you what happened, to have a conversation about what’s happening you don’t need professional trade association membership or a New York Times subscription (to defeat their paywall, use your public library’s website, or simply turn off javascript). God, next, people are probably going to tell each other it’s unrealistic to go back to the days before individuals had to buy a credential for permission to tell someone Hi. Solutions should solve problems not for a guild but for everyone, and we can all already stop waiting around for a ZuckerBernie messiah, and just go right ahead, write teach speak learn sing cry laugh help heal hug. POINT BEING, in light of the much more serious injustices done to many more border-crossers around the globe, I made up my mind to just deal with any awful border shit that might happen and stop obsessing over encrypting my socks. [Note added 4 February 2020: This paragraph is a bit muddled, so just to clarify what I’m saying. Considering both the US-Mexico and the US-Canada borders, and both inbound and outbound crossings, there are definitely more than a million border-crossings per day. Yet from informal conversations, USians are scared to cross the borders because of news reports of border agent searches, seizures, and interrogations. Both the fear of crossing borders and the agent behaviors are getting worse. That strongly implies the news reports are not solving the problem, though they might be slowing down its worsening, which is about as exciting as the ‘healthcare cost climb slow down.’ With a million border crossings per day, why not just go, fade into the huge numbers? Life is short. The authorities wrongfully seizing good journalists’ encrypted laptops, and the celebully journalists blaring about how awful it was they got asked some questions at an airport, plus the pathetic fan clubs reflecting both sides in perpetuo, drowning out others’ far worse border-crossing problems including death are just causing audiences to hide under their beds. Regarding solutions solving things for everyone, obviously regional variations are required; I just want to point out that journalists must not be gods with special border blockbuster movies or special snuggly beds to hide under. Free speech for everyone. Might lose my FOIA fee waivers for saying that someday, but the docs should be leaked and hacked out and otherwise publicized anyway.]

Hidden by mental walls, but clear as day, near downtown Seattle, the Clipper awaits

My alarm blasted me off early one Thursday morning in July, and after a giant breakfast, I walked to a bus stop, then rode the bus to the terminal. There the Clipper staff made sure I and everyone else had our passports. At the destination waited the real border security. The vessel was pretty empty, just a few folks on it, including me. Seated, I stored my backpack in front of my legs. It’s startling how central your backpack becomes to you (or at least me) on a trip like this: suddenly, it’s your mobile house, and everything about it quickly takes on outsized significance for creature comfort and safety. After a while, we were off into the Salish Sea, headed toward Canada.

Finally getting underway, for real, felt thrilling. I’d just walked a ways, got on a bus, walked a bit more, and all of a sudden I’m in the middle of the fucking ocean sailing to another country. Stuck-minds of a species that once migrated thousands of miles on foot insist invisible borders are absolutely real and natural and necessary, not just partitions for economic markets, then go escape into video games where they fly across mountain ranges in airships, then at night asleep, they dream of rocketing into outer space. Perhaps for many people, the biggest mental reference point for the concept of going on an adventure is video games. My trip certainly felt like one at times.

Departing the U.S. via the Clipper, July ’19

Scene from Final Fantasy 6 (Japan) aka Final Fantasy 3 (US)

One of the first super intriguing sights I saw: beyond, in what I think were international waters, container ships sat anchored out, waiting their turns to dock at ports. Usually you imagine some commodity, maybe a jar of pickles or a pile of steel, just magically existing wherever sold, no backstory to it at all, but now with my own eyes I was seeing these gigantic cargo ships floating in the middle of the ocean circulating commodities in containers around the world. A former U.S. Navy sailor told me later that years ago, newspapers printed shipping timetables for people on shore to find out when boats would arrive or leave (whatever newspapers were).

Approaching Victoria BC, via the Clipper, July ’19

Crew tied Clipper off so it stays put

Docking fascinated me. It took a sturdy crewmember two or three tries to throw the pictured cable to the sturdy guy on land so they could tie off the boat. That way it’d stop moving and we could disembark. The voyage of this high tech vessel weighing hundreds of tons that just sailed nearly three hours crossing m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ kilometers and kilometers and kilometers, still came down to a burly guy tossing a cable to his burly counterpart standing nearby. Once they finished, we headed into the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) checkpoint.

Crossing a border checkpoint alone for the first time in my life, I stood wearing my backpack in a very white room with humans sorted into lines, cameras staring at us, and a handful of y̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ meters forward, several CBSA border agents sitting up high on a dais-like structure, separated into little booths so they could interview us aspiring incomers individually. Behind me, a father tried to quiet his talkative children: “Shh! This is very serious!” I waited in line, doing my best to appear casual and calm. With all the earnest seriousness everywhere, a rogue thought suddenly impinged on my mind. What if — what if I yelled, “There’s a b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon!” Everyone would break out into a panic as the b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon e̶x̶p̶l̶o̶d̶e̶d̶ expanded through the very white walls, turning all into f̶i̶r̶e̶ fun! I started to giggle. I started to giggle some more. I kept giggling, and then I saw my hero, my savior. Along the very white wall to my right hung a clear plastic box from which brochures advertised to tourists. Immediately I grabbed one and began reading it with scholarly focus. Did you know the Butchart Gardens began in 1904? My giggles subsided. Did you know its Rose Garden has 280 different varieties of roses? I was breathing again. Did you know that for the safety and enjoyment of all visitors to the Butchart Gardens, selfie sticks are NOT permitted? Now it was time for the CBSA guard to interview me.

I walk forward.

I peer upward at the uniformed g̶o̶d̶ guard staring down at me. In a gruff voice, he asks me routine questions. Occupation, destination, duration of trip, how do I plan to leave Canada? Everything goes straightforwardly until I mention I plan to stay a week in Victoria and then return home the same way I got here, via the Clipper. Why, he wants to know, am I just visiting Victoria? Why not go elsewhere also? YEAH, DOUG, WHY NOT? Bewildered, I stand there. What even is the appropriate answer? My mind flashes to Aristotle’s four causes, four different ways to answer a Why question according to the long-ago Greek philosopher who traveled across countries himself, thousands of years ago:

  • Material cause: Indeed, my legs could transport me elsewhere, to another place outside Victoria, maybe even to the National Igloo

  • Efficient cause: His question was stimulating me to consider journeying to Vancouver also

  • Formal cause: I was trying to take things one step at a time, and wasn’t in any particular hurry to see each and every place

  • Final cause: The objective was a successful trip; would leaving Victoria and encountering scary road signs with kilometers on them impede or facilitate that?

I said something, quite truthfully, about how I was also considering checking out Vancouver BC. He stamped my passport and granted me entry.

Another gub’ment! With Anglophilic buildings

I exited the border station into another country. But what was this? Something was decidedly different in Canada, or at least Victoria. Evident instantly. Not just me; something radiating from the people around me as well. Everyone, so calm. Everything, so chill. The people were even walking more slowly. This immediate drop in ambient anxiety, relative to the United States. Was I in some strange dream world? Were Canadians or Victorians all on Valium or Ativan and not telling outsiders? Or is tranquility just what universal health insurance, next to no mass shootings, and the metric system result in? What on Earth was going on here?

I’ll continue the story with Part 2 next Monday. But in the meantime, you might enjoy the excellent talk below, just under an hour and a half, by punk singer Henry Rollins encouraging people to experience life in other countries. The video would be a fantastic one to show students or really anyone interested in this subject. Until next week!

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This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/01/27/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-1/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Flower Fest 3 at Lo-Fi: Seattle music meets Guadalajaran

Seattle punks TERMINATor meet Mexican rocker Nathalia

September 11 in Seattle saw a moderate-size crowd sweating anxiety away in the Eastlake neighborhood before two Lo-Fi nightclub stages, where four local acts supported four bands all the way from Guadalajara for Flower Fest 3. The festival made a nice way to compare and contrast Mexican rock with rock developed from within the Five Eyes states (FVEY: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). That’s a term a little more specific—this writer pedantically notes—than “the Anglosphere,” which would include states such as Jamaica and South Africa where presumably (please correct in comments if wrong) local bands produce a very different sound than either Guadalajarans or FVEYers.

En esa noche

So how does music from México’s second most populous municipality differ from today’s Emerald City sound? First thing to know, if you’re reading this from outside the Pacific Northwest, is that grunge is basically over here. The four USian groups who played constituted two pop punk bands (one, Secret Superpower, easy on the ears and one, TERMINATor, more challenging), a heartfelt acoustic guitarist-singer with a bassist backing him up (Great Spiders), and a set of very talented, medium-hard rockers (Swamp Meat vs. Killer Ghost).

The highly enjoyable Seattle bands are, in the grand scheme of things, not too different from what you’d likely hear on a college radio station in any U.S. port city. Imagine 4/4 time, some nifty idiosyncracies sprinkled in, familiar instruments to hear for a respite at the bar … and you have the general idea. But what about the sound from south of the border?

Judging from Tuesday evenings’s excellent four viajeros (travelers)—an experimental noise-metal crew (Mortemart); an instrumental group of rockers (Mindhala); and two sets of all-around rockers with vocals (Uay and the all-women Neptuna)—Guadalajara rock is typically infused with more rhythmic variety and no fear of major intervals relative to the more strict FVEY sound.

Now let’s see how that simplistic binary plays out or doesn’t with each individual act. One caveat: I couldn’t make out lyrics of any band, so this is solely judging based on audio. And for extra explicit dorkiness, images of Guadalajarans are aligned right, and Seattleites are aligned left.

Seattle on the left meets Mexico on the right

Secret Superpower rocks

First up, locals in Secret Superpower (Soundcloud) sounded a bit like Garbage in a good mood, with Daniel Cutting’s steady drumming and Kira Wilson’s distorted bass underpinning guitarist Paige Spicer’s warm chords. The trio’s dreamy songs welcomed the night in well. For those who showed up early, Secret Superpower enjoyably situated the evening in the context of familiar female-fronted rock, with their own almost retro spin—happiness is too often uncool these days, but like yesteryear, Secret Superpower didn’t fear to put a smile on audience faces.

Confident drummer Daniel Onufer

Next came two local bands in one: Swamp Meat (Bandcamp) vs. Killer Ghost (Bandcamp). The first song of this badass conglomerate of bands featured a rumba-like drum beat that really showed off drummer Daniel Onufer’s confident playing. The second started off with a military-style march on his authoritatively cracking snare while Laura Seniow fingerplucked her bass and Lila Burns added sweet guitar melodies. Onufer’s confidence extended to dropping a stick and retrieving it without missing a beat and singing (and singing well) while drumming. The other guitarist, Sharif Ali, let loose with passionate vocals too. If there’s one word for this superband it’s confidence. Their skill breaks my binary already, because they inserted unusual rhythms that ventured outside radio norms.

Noisy Mortemart, perfecto

Third, a loud noise intro said shit was about to get serious with Guadalajaran psychedelic rockers Mortemart (Bandcamp). Synth player Chaka—fittingly dressed in a NASA T-shirt—guitarist Albert and bassist Kiaran constructed a rumbling howl that caused showgoers to instinctively look around at the P.A.—would it hold? Would our eardrums? With the independence viajeros have, Mortemart didn’t worry about audience reaction and kept going. With his bucket cornet, Eric issued plaintive cries over the aural thunder. Then Daniel’s drums kicked in with a driving beat on the floor toms, the horn’s perfect-fourth agonies now almost lost in the rumble. Kiaran’s bass grooved hard with an octave-based pattern and it was clear the rhythm section would put passion into every simple note as the soundscape continued to be built around us. Chaka even inserted some video game-like bloops and beeps into the strange mix. This writer bought Mortemart’s album Overthinking via Bandcamp and you should too—check out the song “The Healing part 2.” The album versions are far less experimental than the live show, which is good for iterated listening. Put the shoe on the other foot, and it’s a hard time imagining notoriously homebound USians traveling to Guadalajara and repeating this show of confidence. But hopefully someday!

TERMINATor’s Veronica Dye on flute

Fourth, Lo-Fi gave us Seattle-based TERMINATor’s popping punk (Instagram; got a link to their music? put it in the comments). The three-piece: Veronica Dye on drums and flute, Albie on guitar (with hat), Lauren on guitar also (no hat). Veronica looped her flute in for some songs, which gave the music a psychedelic edge, especially with Kevin Blanquies’ colorful, trippy TV static-ish visuals in the background. TERMINATor is currently filming a visual album, which sounds promising and super cool. We take back what we said about all USians in the preceding paragraph; these musicians, who aren’t afraid of challenging listeners while still delivering pleasing pitches, could totally play with confidence in Guadalajara. The looping flute (a simple three-note phrase) added some rhythmic risk. Not all is stable and predictable in corporate FVEY land.

2/3 of Mindhala

Fifth, Lo-Fi offered Mindhala (Bandcamp), an instrumental Guadalajaran band. Victor’s Stratocaster described long, tender arcs above the urgent bossa-like grooves of Anton on bajo electrico and Nathalaia on drums. Some of the fastest notes of the night came from Victor, Anton brought skill to his hammer-ons, and Nathalaia, who would go on to drum for Uay and Neptuna later in the evening, was just getting started with her ample abilities. It would be great to hear Seattle-based rock bands experiment with bossa beats and more technical playing.

Uay, un grupo excellente

Antepenultimately, Uay (YouTube; got more links, put them in the comments please!). This Guadalajaran band serves as a cool example of how Guadalajaran rock tends to differ from rock from the FVEY states. Unlike USians in general, Uay has no fear of vocal harmonies, stomping the kick drum every beat, using major intervals to build riffs, and rumbling regularly on the toms. Chaka (in his NASA T-shirt!) laid down powerful bass-playing that matched Nathalia’s hard-hitting drums. Kieran added extra percussion with a second snare; all this rhythm inspired a woman up in the balcony to dance in sexy circles. Vocals came from guitarist Oby and Nathalia (which made two drummers singing that night). This writer is predicting more great music from all these Guadalajaran musicians in the future and wouldn’t hesitate to hear them play again. Gotta make sure the orange boy-king doesn’t actually build a stupid wall, so that can happen.

Great colors behind Great Spiders

Penultimately, guitarist-vocalist Omar Shambacher’s Great Spiders (Bandcamp) played some thoughtful pop tunes with a bassist (know her name? leave it in the comments). This pensive music served as a nice breather between the louder UAY and Neptuna. It encouraged this writer sit down and rest for a few minutes, thinking over the night and being glad to live here in this corner-of-the-map city. Heartfelt songs long developed, Great Spiders sounded comfortable for FVEY-raised ears without sounding completely conformist either.

Neptuna canta en español

Ultimately, Flower Fest 3 closed with Neptuna (Bandcamp), four women from Guadalajara, all of whom sang as in the image from the balcony. The reliable, powerfully playing Nathalia drummed yet again, but this writer failed to get the names of the bassist, keyboardist, and guitarist (know them? by now you know where to add ’em). Nathalia frequently kicked on each beat in that Mexican style as the women sang in exquisite Spanish. Neptuna also makes use of rests (silent pauses in the music), something FVEY rockers all too often leave out. Go check out their Bandcamp and spring for the album Mar Rojo (Red Sea); this writer just did.

Hasta pronto

All the bands were totally enjoyable, but the Guadalajran music sounded more of a nation, fluxing and changing with vibrato and rhythmic variety…whereas the Seattle music was a bit more square, a bit more predictable, a bit more of uber-state Five Eyes. Travel generally enhances art, so remember, no bad borders, no wrong walls…

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Flower Fest 3 at Lo-Fi: Seattle meets Guadalajara by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article

Today Salon published my and Amy O’Neal’s new article, “Portrait of a failed president: Inside the art of George W. Bush.” As is usual in this industry, they made some changes. So, some extra text and images here for you.

Below are the images buried in the article’s slideshow. (Except for Felipe Calderón, whose portrait I took a picture of, the images come from TheBushCenter’s Flickr.)

Portrait of Tony Blair

Portrait of the Dalai Lama

Portrait of Felipe Calderón

Exhibit wall

While Vladimir Putin’s false-flag bombings of his own Moscow remained in, George H.W. Bush’s connection to the JFK assassination came out. Here’s that text:

He once said he didn’t remember where he was when John F. Kennedy was assasinated, which is like saying you don’t remember where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon or the twin towers came down. As journalist Russ Baker’s thorough book Family of Secrets reveals, Poppy was actually in Dallas the day before and probably the morning of November 22, 1963, when military intelligence figures led Kennedy’s motorcade to its fate. Poppy was also a friend of George de Mohrenschildt, Lee Harvey Oswald’s handler, and closely tied to Allen Dulles, whom JFK removed from the CIA directorship. Not to mention Poppy’s ties to Texas oil barons whose tax breaks JFK wanted to end. Draw your own conclusions about this “gentle soul.”

Also I want to note that Bush raised more than half a billion dollars for the complex. Presidents raise money for their libraries while in office (as well as after), which means the fundraising is an opportunity for influence to be exerted. Even foreign leaders can give sitting presidents secret donations for their libraries.

Creative Commons License

Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

The Value of the Stratfor Leak

My speech at Foley Square

On November 15, hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. WikiLeaks published these emails as the Global Intelligence Files. I’ve been researching them intensively for more than a year, and have published two articles on my research at WhoWhatWhy, one on General David Petraeus and one on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to kill Mexican drug lord El Chapo. That second also includes a lot of my research into Stratfor’s informants and clients.

The day of Jeremy’s sentencing hearing, I gave a speech at Foley Square outside the courtroom and some interviews about the value of the Stratfor leak. The leak will continue to benefit researchers for years and years. Journalist Chris Hedges (Wikipedia), journalist Alexa O’Brien (Website, Twitter), and defense attorney Jay Leiderman (Website, Twitter) also spoke at Foley Square.

If you want the short version, check out this interview of me conducted by Jeff Durkin (Twitter) of We Are Change Connecticut (Website, YouTube). It was right after the speech. The interview is about seven minutes long and came out really well.

If you want the long version, here is a video of all four speeches and more by Small Affair (Twitter, Tumblr, Donate, Occupy the Stage). My part is from 36:00 minutes to 49:30. Small Affair also took the picture at the top of this post. Below the video is the prepared text of my speech.

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This morning we saw young but longtime hacker and political activist Jeremy Hammond unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, the leak of which WikiLeaks is now publishing. The five million-plus emails Jeremy provided to us through WikiLeaks span 2004 to 2011 and consist of internal and external correspondence, files, and records of the firm’s analysts, spies, executives, writers, and other employees.

I want to talk for a few minutes about why what Jeremy did has been and will continue be so beneficial to us—that is, I want to talk about the value of the Stratfor leak, which is Jeremy’s contribution to what we can call the historical record or humankind’s knowledge repository or simply just the Internet. For more than a year, I’ve been intensively researching the complete cache of Stratfor documents in WikiLeaks’ possession. I’ve published two in-depth articles at WhoWhatWhy using my research, have a third coming out soon there, and many more in the works.

When WikiLeaks began publishing the Stratfor leak, which it calls the Global Intelligence Files, much of the reaction from the US mainstream media was dismissive. The Atlantic published an article the same day WikiLeaks announced the leak, titled “Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is WikiLeaks for Taking It Seriously.” The Atlantic writer, of course, did not read the five million-plus emails. Rather, he was probably acquainted with Stratfor’s free email newsletter reports and media appearances and was itching to discredit WikiLeaks and its source, who we now know was Jeremy. But what the Atlantic writer was acquainted with was just the surface of Stratfor.

The firm does so much more. In the 2004 to 2011 time span the leak covers, Stratfor provided training and created custom intelligence products—reports, predictions, assessments—for big corporations such as Hunt Oil, National Oilwell Varco, Parker Drilling, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, and for government arms such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines, and many more. These people weren’t reading the free email newsletter reports. They were buying intelligence products such as Stratfor’s Yemen attack database, in which Stratfor catalogued incidents of violence in Yemen with precise information such as GPS coordinates. They were, in Emerson Electric’s case, paying more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year for phone and email access to Stratfor employees who would brief them on political, economic, and security factors affecting their operations. So much of the information Stratfor was providing these clients is available to us now thanks to Jeremy, and most of it hasn’t been researched yet.

National security journalist Joshua Foust said this week that Stratfor isn’t that much different from a private investigator. P.I.s don’t have the clientele I just listed. They also don’t have Stratfor’s informants, who included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mexican diplomat Fernando de la Mora Salcedo, and DEA supervisor William F. Dionne, whom I interviewed and who provided Stratfor information off JWICS, a top-secret US government computer network. Much of what these informants were telling Stratfor is available in the leak, again thanks to Jeremy, and most of it, again, hasn’t been researched yet. So we still don’t yet know the full extent of Jeremy’s contribution.

Joshua Foust also said this week that the Stratfor emails “weren’t surprising” for people in the know. That’s false. And he said “weren’t surprising” as if the leak is already over. We’ve barely scratched the surface. The mainstream media in the US doesn’t want to research the information I’ve been describing, they’re not familiar with it, they don’t care. They bash Jeremy’s contribution on the one hand, but on the other hand, the New York Times (as documented by the NYT Examiner), NPR, and other news organizations collaborate or share information with Stratfor behind the scenes. That’s the US mainstream media for you, hypocritical. Turn them off.

There are easily decades’ worth of research remaining for the Stratfor documents. Not only are there more than five million emails, but many of them have PDF attachments of up to hundreds of pages each. Examples of these attachments include intelligence bulletins from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center, Texas Department of Public Safety threat assessments and situation reports, and intelligence products created by Department of Homeland Security state fusion centers. There are even intelligence products created by Stratfor competitors whom the firm was studying such as Total Intelligence Solutions, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, and Oxford Analytica. So Jeremy didn’t just provide us with information from Stratfor, but also from other private intelligence firms and government intelligence organizations. Again, most of this material hasn’t been researched yet.

But here are some of the greatest hits of what has been uncovered so far.

The previously unknown Trapwire surveillance system was one of the biggest Stratfor revelations. This company with CIA ties developed software for CCTV cameras that identifies or supposedly identifies suspicious behavior and manages and cross-references suspicious behavior reports from different locations and time periods. It also integrates information from license plate readers and other surveillance inputs. Trapwire has been deployed in DC, Seattle, LA, Las Vegas casinos, Atlanta, the London Stock Exchange, and right here in the NYC subways, 500 cameras’ worth according to Stratfor in 2010. If someone “sees something, says something” about you in a New York subway, your “suspicious activity report” possibly goes to TrapWire. Thanks to Jeremy, we better understand mass surveillance, which is crucial, because giving the people who brought us mass incarceration, more than two million people behind bars in the US, the technology to incriminate anyone, whether rival politicians or ordinary citizens, is obviously an immense threat to freedom.

My work at WhoWhatWhy on the Stratfor documents, thanks to Jeremy, includes an article about General David Petraeus, whom Stratfor shows was probably having an extramarital affair prior to previously known, which besides possibly being a military offense, suggests his mistress Paula Broadwell, who was an intelligence officer, may have had him in her crosshairs for a long time. That makes more sense of Petraeus’s downfall from the CIA and gives a better picture of internal government struggles. Another article of mine is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to assassinate Mexican drug lords. That’s a picture of the increasing militarization of law enforcement and the possible broadening of US assassination policy to merge the war on drugs with the war on terror–a push for a so-called “narcoterrorism” policy. Later this month WhoWhatWhy will publish another Stratfor article of mine of Mexican military presence in the US and US military presence in Mexico. Thanks, Jeremy.

Another contribution of his are the revelations in the media outlet Narco News about the US and Mexican governments easing the path for certain cartels to traffic drugs into the country. Instead of improving the Mexican economy so poor people don’t join cartels or legalizing drugs, the US and Mexican governments pick favorites among drug cartels in hopes that a preferred balance of power among them will reduce the drug war violence. Meanwhile they arrest people for smoking pot. This is a picture of what the drug war really is. And I’ve seen in my research that even Congresspeople are listening to Stratfor on so-called narcoterrorism issues.

Thanks to Jeremy, we learned private intelligence was looking for connections between Alexa O’Brien’s campaign finance reform group US Day of Rage and Islamic fundamentalism, which of course carries the threat of Alexa being smeared as a terrorist. That particular Stratfor memo was cited in her and Chris Hedges’ court case against indefinite detention that went to the Supreme Court. We also learned thanks to Jeremy that the Department of Justice has a sealed indictment against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, indicating the severity of the US government’s efforts against journalists and the Internet. This revelation was cited by Assange in an affidavit to Swedish police.

There are plenty of other revelations in the Stratfor documents. Those are just some of the greatest hits. You can get involved researching the Stratfor documents yourself. Look them up on the WikiLeaks website, where there is a search engine to look through them.

You might say, Okay, so we grabbed a few headlines, and maybe a few legal documents benefitted, but what’s the use, what does it all add up to? We know Jeremy’s legal case was unjust. The FBI knew Stratfor was being hacked for weeks and did not stop it, and entrapped Jeremy through their informant Sabu. Judge Preska denied Jeremy bail wrongfully. And the sentencing is irrational: if Jeremy had broken into the Stratfor building in Austin and walked off with hard drives, he might have a prison sentence of only about a year. There were other actions he did, but since the US government is cracking down on the Internet and journalists and their sources, he’s stuck with a much more severe sentence. So now he’s in prison. Are the news headlines, past and future, worth that? He says so, but are they really?

Yes. For one, these revelations are examples of why more and more people are ceasing to take the US government and traditional politics seriously. The fewer people trust in the Democratic Party, the better. People who grow disgusted with the System as a result of revelations such as these will begin to look to themselves and solidarity for solutions. Solutions such as the commons or mutual aid. Instead of trying to reform or overthrow the government, we can simply practice governance. Internet technology is a tool that makes mass collaboration for mass self-govenance possible, which is something Heather Marsh writes about, if you know her work. If not, read it.

The best way to look at what Jeremy did is to see it as a permanent contribution to humankind’s knowledge base, our knowledge base, the Internet. Think about checking your phone to look something up. We all know what it’s like to look something up online and find an answer, and we all know what it’s like to feel grateful when we find an especially good answer. That’s the sort of gratitude we should feel toward Jeremy. He improved our knowledge; he’s given us better answers, and they are answers about some of the most important things: what the powers who try to control us are doing. With better information, we can make better decisions and govern our own lives.

Fundamentally, Stratfor is a profit-driven business. It influences big business, government, and the media. It’s an organ of the powerful, but despite its power over all our lives, Stratfor’s employees are not vetted by the people and it’s not open to Freedom of Information Act requests. The knowledge it held between 2004 and 2011 was locked up behind closed doors.

But Jeremy freed it. For that, journalists owe him hard work researching the Stratfor documents, and we all owe him our thanks.

That evening, Vivien Weisman (Twitter) interviewed me about Barrett Brown and my Stratfor research to include in her upcoming documentary The Reality Wars, which is about hacktivists.

Also that evening, I was interviewed on Lorax Live (Website, AnonOps Radio, Twitter, Facebook) about the value of the Stratfor leak. The audio is not online yet, but I will update this page when it is.

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The Value of the Stratfor Leak by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.