Entries Tagged 'Digital Ideologies' ↓

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

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

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

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

First, some background to contextualize his odd message.

The Backstory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why now?

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

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

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

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

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

Scaredy cat’s sneak attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Shedd keeps losing

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

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

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

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

Shot of panel shows moderator watching Marsh with her hand raised, likely making a point, as Shedd looks on with angry expression.
Still the debate winner

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Why’s the CIA’s David Shedd texting me out of the blue?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/09/01/why-cia-david-shedd-messaging-me/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

My 2021 year of blogging in review … and 2022 website plans!

Note: In 2021, I wrote a new blog post every weekend or so. I skipped Week 51 for various reasons. But here’s the final entry for this year, number 52!

Video game image of birds above mountains, flying into the distance
From the ending of Final Fantasy 3/6 on the Super Nintendo

In 2021, I blogged for an entire year consistently for the first time in my life. I wrote a new entry each and every weekend, pretty much. The effort totaled 42 posts.

This post describes what I learned from the experience as well as my writing plans for 2022. Then in closing, a list of all 42 posts from 2021 with their titles and hyperlinks; the ones I recommend most are in bold.

What I learned from a year of blogging

Tweet shows an ASCII progress bar reaching 100% to indicate the end of the year.
Year 2021 completed

Before 2021, I wrote blog posts often, but I was either rusty (years back) or simply hadn’t yet managed to pull off a full year of nonfiction blogging (2020). That’s now changed with my completed year of blogging in 2021.

My blog entries this year have usually been about matters of social significance … except in many ways, I wrote them for me, primarily to improve my blogging skills and consistency. Putting together an entry remains a lot of underpaid/unpaid work—often a single post, when all is said and done, eats up an entire weekend—but it no longer feels particularly overwhelming. Nowadays I’m confident I can bust out such a blog post easily. Might feel sleep deprived and a bit out-of-body after making phone calls and staring at PDF details for ten hours straight, but such mild nuisances are at this point mere matters of routine.

Regarding writing craft. Readers have told me they don’t have much time to read my posts, what with crumbs to clean and kids to feed. They’ve asked for shorter posts. And I have been shifting toward providing shorter entries. Plus, I usually now include reader-friendly subheads and try to stick to a single point or two, or at least mark where my train of thought diverts to a side topic. That wasn’t the case when I began in January, but now it thankfully is.

Another big lesson I learned was how important the under-the-hood elements of a blog are. For example, this year, for the first time in half a decade, I updated the blogroll (list of links on the right side). To oversimplify, online writers shifted from the blogosphere to social media half a decade or more ago, but now we seem to be returning, at least a very little, to individual URLs, so it was time to spiff mine up. I added, across my website (here and here specifically), images of publicity I’ve received over a decade-plus from various venues. I scrutinized my whole website to upgrade hyperlinks from HTTP to HTTPS. I improved the leave-a-comment area to hopefully make it more enticing for readers to use. For instance, it now optionally sends you a notification email after I approve your comment following its initial hold in the moderation queue. All that stuff took not exactly gigantic, but still significant, amounts of time.

Many of my posts include original research, the result of excitedly engaging sheer curiosity. While writing about the Belarusian dictatorship declaring opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya a terrorist, to take one example of dozens, I found the Belarusian KGB’s online Excel spreadsheet (since taken down) where you could see her designation on Sheet 1, Row 730. It’s my hope that readers might share my curiosity and click through to see such a crazy spreadsheet, and thereby become more invested in themselves (their own curiosity, passion, etc.) as well as in the Belarusian pro-democracy resistance that involves the United States too. Hopefully such research—even if some items, like the online KGB spreadsheet, aren’t exactly revelations—makes my posts unique in a field where journalistic competitors often offer nothing more than speculation. I remembered what I already knew from a decade ago, my days of pouring through Stratfor emails, that it takes quite a lot of time to conduct such research and fit it into a post, especially since researchers never know ahead of time for sure what they will or won’t find.

I don’t like the dumbed-down approach, even if it would generate dolla dolla bill. Yet I’m having to slowly drag myself in that direction, kicking and screaming, since this blog made, in 2021, less than $20 USD in donations. Bear with me for a moment; I’m not going to complain, just point out some facts that impact whether this blog will continue, not in 2022, but in 2023. Too often, audiences haven’t deigned to consider any story wherein they themselves might need to change, including when it comes to forking over cash; since in the blog relationship, audiences monopolize the power of the purse, that leaves us with a story about how independent content creators should alone bear the burden of changing. Have you tried Patreon? Are you on Medium? I’ve heard people are having success on Substack, why aren’t you there yet? When I do comply with those requests, audiences typically move the goalposts, mentioning yet another site they expect me to add a profile to instead of opening their wallets. In the final analysis, just as audiences are slow to change from banal complicity with oligarchs to amazing resistance against them, so they’re likewise slow to warm up to the idea that they could deliver donations instead of unsolicited advice about how I might could milk donations out of some other third party. Well, authors have been complaining, er not complaining, about this for only hundreds of years. And besides, blogging, even unpaid, is a much better way to spend time than being forced to work in a mine or not having any freedom of expression. It’s just, when I leave the United States for the Netherlands in mid- to late 2022 if they approve my business plan (under the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty), there’s every reason to think I just might have to quit blogging in 2023 due to lack of income from it.

I’ve ghostwritten oodles of content marketing pieces in the past decade and I’ve recently begun a highly regarded content marketing certification course—but I hope not to revamp my blog in that style. Thankfully, even putting out verbose, meandering posts routinely led to or at least likely facilitated additional opportunities for me this year, including giving a talk at a college hacker club and a quite sizable, important venue commissioning a nonfiction essay from me for 2022. And I’m not much for another option sometimes seen: the telegraphic, truncated style of listing seemingly endless human rights violations. I hope some readers find the variety of subject matters, quotations, history, literature, etc., threaded together in my posts a valuable and somewhat unique sales point rather than an erroneous lack of message discipline.

Screenshot from an 8-bit Castlevania video game showing Dracula's destroyed castle and the words: "You played the greatest role in this story."
Readers separate blogs from diaries, as, uh, Castlevania reminds us …

Speaking of impact, that was the best thing about this year of blogging. In a handful of instances, individuals contacted me, perhaps people I hadn’t heard from in a long time, asking for more information about something in one of my posts. Because of a June entry, for example, pharmaceutical consumers who’d never heard of how and why to use compounding pharmacies until my writings are now getting their pills in custom dosages, whereas they were previously limited to the manufacturers’ increments due to fog of war, lack of knowledge. When I wrote about the Belarusian KGB’s murder of Andrei Zeltser, an employee of a Pennsylvania-based IT firm who like that company opposed the Lukashenko dictatorship, I wrote about how his wife Maryja Uspenskaya, the sole witness to his shoot-out death—about which the regime created propaganda footage that spread around the world—was placed in a psychiatric hospital, with, worryingly, no info available in English about her whereabouts or well-being for more than a month. I mentioned how Uspenskaya had been left off lists of Belarusian political prisoners. The day after my entry, the opposition leader herself tweeted to recognize Maryja Uspenskaya as a political prisoner. (Progress on her case still needs to be made.) The point of these examples is not to humble-brag but to show that, instead of centering a career/life on complying with corporate publishers, DIY bloggers can have impact, so why not try it yourself? And definitely, much thanks to everyone who’s been reading this blog, commenting, contacting me, sharing the entries, critiquing, donating, and more. That’s what separates a blog from a diary.

My writing plans for 2022

There’s more I need to do for my website on the technical side of things. In terms of design, readers understandably want something formatted well on their phones and tablets. I could make improvements there. I need to install and regularly use better analytics so I can observe factually what’s happening with reader traffic, not just imagine things in my needy head. Probably I should provide chatty video with screensharing graphics of open records requests and the like; in 2021, I did start a youtube channel.

Image from unknown video game shows a character named Myra looking out the window of a tower and saying: "What a nice day outside. Whelp, time to get back to the computer and make some shit for 7 people to read."

In 2022, I’ll aim to post on the same day—maybe even at the same time—every week, as that consistency would probably increase audience loyalty and prevent audience attrition. For the United States, Sunday mornings would likely be best, meaning I could write and line everything up on Saturday, then do a final revision in the morning after a night of sleeping on the prose, then click publish and shoot off the teed-up social media posts.

In 2021, I took off several weekends—ten, to be exact—but some additional weeks I took halfway off, so to speak, putting up short “placeholder” posts instead of leaving the blog blank of new entries. In 2022, I want to hit all 52 Sundays, even if some entries will be very short. That consistency will let you know you can tune in at the same bat time, same bat channel, every single weekend.

I’ll make my final decisions on these matters in the next workweek, but in short, douglaslucas.com/blog will continue more or less as is for 2022, just with the above changes in the pipeline. I’ll even keep the same Note: In 202x… intro, except modified for 2022!

My big news for 2022, however, is that I’ll start writing and self-publishing new flash fiction! That means each item will be 1000 words or less. My web hosting service told me DouglasLucas.com can have more than one WordPress blog installation. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to say hello and leave comments at a new subfolder of this site, probably douglaslucas.com/fiction/2022, which doesn’t exist just yet. At first—in January 2022 and perhaps in February 2022—I’ll simply make available two of my already completed “trunk” stories (old stories) that haven’t ever been published, self- or otherwise. I’ll get the new fiction blog configured and maybe write up some of my research into northeast Oregon and the year 2036, the setting of some of my forthcoming fiction. But the main focus will be new flash fiction pieces. They might or might not connect with my 2036 setting (still thinking that through).

The 2022 fiction blog will mainly be intended to do for my fiction-writing what my 2021 nonfiction blog did for my nonfiction-writing. Get me accustomed to quickly and consistently creating what one of my creative writer friends, Aelius Blythe, calls literary graffiti fiction. To that end, I’ll probably use plot formula, standard tropes, prefab characterizations (e.g., Star Trek characters as in fanfic), and so on. The 2022 fiction blog isn’t supposed to win any prizes; it’s supposed to be fun; it’s supposed to repair the rust on my fiction-writing gears. Though you can still comment, share, donate, etc. if you want! I’ll try to engage a visual artist(s) to sketch. Maybe each entry can have a single, quickly sketched image at the top.

And while the 2022 nonfiction blog (this one) will continue mostly in the same vein as in 2021, I hope to focus more on original investigative journalism work, although that might end up in other-published places since I have some sneaky biz ideas for commissions. Whether the original investigative journalism work is self-published here or other-published, some of my posts here, whatever the content, will remain defiantly noodly, philosophical, random, simply about the moments of our strangely global lives …

List of all 42 posts from 2021

Behold, listed below, all 42 of my 2021 blog posts. The 22 in bold are the entries I most recommend. And what’s this? Ahem, that’s my donation page! So that you and I and anyone else can continue enjoying this site without paywalls, without advertisements, without wrong walls ….

January 6: Running as exploration and adventure
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/06/running-exploration-adventure/

January 14: Check out SpookyConnections.com
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/14/check-out-spookyconnections/

January 23: Meet new president Joe Biden, part 1 of 2
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/23/meet-new-president-biden-1-of-2/

January 30: Gamestop & r/wallstreetbets: fairness just a starting point
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/30/gamestop-wallstreetbets-fairness-starting-point/

February 5: Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/05/photos-snoqualmie-pass-gold-creek-pond-trail/

February 11: RIP Chick Corea, fusion jazz keyboardist
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/11/rip-chick-corea-fusion-jazz-keyboardist/

February 19: Review of the novel Shantaram
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/19/review-novel-shantaram/

February 2: Seattle graffiti about coronavirus
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/27/seattle-graffiti-about-coronavirus/

March 5: Vaccinated, first jab! Here’s how it went
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/05/vaccinated-first-jab/

March 13: Views of happiness: Journey versus destination, part one of two
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/13/happiness-views-journey-destination-1of2/

March 20: How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/20/trauma-anniversary-curiosity/

March 26: The battleground of names
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/26/battleground-names/

April 3: Antipsychiatry playlist
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/03/antipsychiatry-playlist/

April 10: How and why to make a beet root smoothie
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/10/how-why-beet-root-smoothie/

April 17: Review of education books, part one of two
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/17/education-books-review-1of2/

May 1: Shucks, I missed entry 16
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/01/shucks-missed-entry16/

May 2: Postmortem on a specific failure to #AbolishICE … and a reboot?
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/02/postmortem-specific-failure-abolishice-reboot/

May 15: Here’s some math empowerment
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/15/shucks-missed-entry18-math-empowerment/

May 22: New, optional notifications for commenters … and Myanmar news blast
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/22/new-optional-notifications-commenters-also-burma/

May 29: More features for commenters; Colombia news blast
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/29/more-commenters-features-colombia-news/

June 5: Benefits of making a timeline, both personal and anti-corporate … plus global resistance news
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/05/benefits-making-timeline-personal-anticorporate-global-news/

June 13: FOIAs and the rest of life, now with executive function
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/13/foias-executive-function/

June 19: How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/19/how-why-compounding-pharmacies/

June 26: Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/26/thoughts-photos-neoregon-belarus-us-newsblasts/

July 2: Just two videos for fun this week: Star Trek and Jordan Reyne
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/02/two-forfun-videos-startrek-jordanreyne/

July 10: PNW heat dome, climate change media, and optimistic fiction, plus Myanmar and Brazil news blasts
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/10/heatdome-climatechange-media-optimistic-fiction-myanmar-brazil/

July 17: Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/17/north-texas-thoughts-summer-2021/

July 24: Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/24/revisiting-biggest-southern-magnolia-dfw-cuba-texas/

July 31: COVID-19 update: masks, Delta mutation, evictions; news blasts: Haiti and United States
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/31/covid19-masks-delta-evictions-haiti-us/

August 6: Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/06/fall-asleep-skills1-news-haiti/

August 14: Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/14/fall-asleep-skills2-haiti/

September 6: On leaving the United States
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/06/on-leaving-the-united-states/

September 13: Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/13/leaving-unitedstates-reasons-jumping-eca-ielts-hurdles/

October 10: IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction!
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/10/ielts-enquiry-on-results-pfizer-blog-newsblasts-china/

October 18: Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle?
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/18/why-southern-magnolia-trees-seattle/

October 24: Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/24/talk-batmanskitchen-france-belarus-jfk/

November 7: Reading ‘The catalyst effect of COVID-19’, a year and a half later
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/07/reading-catalyst-effect-covid19-year-half-later/

November 13: Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/13/phone-scammer-riseup-email-invite-codes/

November 22: #PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/22/realitywinner-whistleblower-supervised-release-pardon/

November 27: #StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/27/writing-belarus-prisoners-international-solidarity-opposition/

December 12: Progress on #PardonRealityWinner and #FreeBelarus
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/12/12/pardonrealitywinner-freebelarus-progress/

December 19: Intellectual history for hacktivists: Video of my 27 Oct ’21 talk at University of Washington hacker club Batman’s Kitchen
https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/12/19/intellectualhistory-talk-uw-hacker-27oct2021/

An image from the Super Nintendo game Pilotwings shows a rocketman landed on a pad in the water, with the words "Great landing" above him along with some instrumentation dials.
My blog made it safely through all of calendar year 2021!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, My 2021 year of blogging in review … and 2022 website plans!, 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/2021/12/31/2021-blogging-review-2022-website-plans/ 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.

Intellectual history for hacktivists: Video of my 27 Oct ’21 talk at University of Washington hacker club Batman’s Kitchen

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 50 of 52.

On October 27, I gave an in-person talk to the University of Washington computer security club Batman’s Kitchen. The presentation was simultaneously virtual over Zoom. I obtained the video file back a bit, but was busy substitute-teaching at the local youth jail for three weeks; that assignment completed Friday, I’m today making the video available, right above!

The title of the talk on the first slide, Hacktivism meets journalism (or something like that), is a little misleading. Because of time constraints—I created the presentation in a hurry, within something like a 48-hour period—the majority of the material I provide is actually intellectual history as it applies to people, especially young activists, interested in computer science, including but not limited to those going into the field as a profession.

Some helpful details. The footage is under two hours and fifteen minutes (since hundreds of years of philosophical history can’t particularly be conveyed in a quick monosyllabic bumper sticker slogan). The Questions & Answers section begins at 1:48:12. Download the .MP4 file or the powerpoint if you like. I’ve added this event to both the in the media page and the front page of this website.

In related news, I created a youtube channel finally, where this Zoom footage may be found. If 100 people subscribe to my nascent youtube channel, where I’ll use words like nascent without apology, I can customize my youtube URL. So whatever you do, don’t hit that like button, and definitely don’t smash subscribe, for we here all believe in reverse psychology.

Next talk, I’ll not waste time with cutesy images of cats and Castlevania—older generations in the United States want those things, but thankfully Gen Z doesn’t need them, I observed—and hopefully cut the metacognitive authorial intrusions that permeate my speech. Minor flaws aside, I hope people learn something from the video! Share as thou wilt.

Even more #PardonRealityWinner progress

Again an Ursula K. Le Guin stamp!

Yesterday, I put into a USPS dropbox my snailmail letter to the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney, advocating for a pardon of Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose story you can read about here (my article from her sentencing), here (my entries about her on this blog), or by following her mother Billie J. Winner-Davis on twitter.

Reality Winner and her whistleblowing to alert everyone regarding Russian military hackers executing, just days before the 2016 elections, cyberattacks against US voting infrastructure, remain of key importance.

Consider, for example, Friday’s Washington Post opinion piece authored by three retired Army generals expressing grave concern that, in the aftermath of the 2024 election, a politically divided US military will be vulnerable to foreign attacks and will see rogue units supporting a successful coup by Trump (or some other reactionary demagogue). “Not a single leader who inspired” the January 6 coup attempt “has been held to account,” they write correctly. While failing to address the country’s private spies and private militias such as those Blackwater members pardoned by Trump, the three retired generals urge convictions for the January 6 conspirators, mandatory civics reviews for Pentagon members (hey throw in some international law while at it!), and coup-based war games along with defensive intelligence work.

Without Air Force veteran Reality Winner, it’s quite possible—maybe even probable—that such a WaPo piece wouldn’t exist, since we’d be living in a universe where Trump would be perceived as a horrible but legitimate ongoing occupant of the White House, akin to how many viewed George W. Bush while he was in office (prior to that war criminal’s latest rehabilitation as an affable, Michelle Obama-hugging grampa).

(Side note: The opinion piece also states: “Imagine competing commanders in chief […] Biden giving orders, versus Trump […] issuing orders as the head of a shadow government.” Well, imagine as well the public heading yet another shadow government that, instead of issuing orders much, horizontally helps one another in everyday ways as we do during natural disasters, another example of regular government breaking down. Imagine that shadow-government-of-the-public recognizing its own power and expanding it. That would be genuine self-governance.)

Achieving a pardon for Reality Winner would send a strong signal domestically and internationally that the United States refuses Trump/Putin-style autocracy. The Office of the Pardon Attorney does give advice to the president regarding pardons in some cases (I don’t yet know the details of that). Plus, whatever intern opens the envelope might start an interesting water cooler discussion, you know? And such things matter.

I based the letter on the one I sent last week (PDF) to Joe Biden; I improved the text overall, too. If you want to use my letter as a basis for your letter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, clicky-click for a PDF or clicky-click the below embed to read it. You can always share your own beseeching of the Office in the comments below or online elsewhere. Consider using the #PardonRealityWinner hashtag.

RealityWinnerLetter_OfficePardonAtty_DouglasLucas_18December2021

Remember, smugly explaining to each other that wisdom means defeatism is out, whereas taking specific, real life, step by step, existent, active-y action yourself to achieve huge prosocial goals is in. If you prefer to be out, well, then just psychology reverse. :)

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Intellectual history for hacktivists: Video of my 27 Oct ’21 talk at University of Washington hacker club Batman’s Kitchen, 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/2021/12/19/intellectualhistory-talk-uw-hacker-27oct2021/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning of the document Winner leaked

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinners in the hands of an angry audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from stageplay Is This a Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequently asked vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#PardonRealityWinner

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

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

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

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

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

Here are several ways to make #PardonRealityWinner happen:

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, #PardonRealityWinner: Whistleblower moves to three years of supervised release on November 23, 2021, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/22/realitywinner-whistleblower-supervised-release-pardon/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You won’t believe what happened next

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

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

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

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

En garde!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/13/phone-scammer-riseup-email-invite-codes/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

Redwood trees and other forest items in northwest California

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

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

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

Beach and sea on a cloudy day in southwest Oregon

Why the most radical transformation the world has ever seen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach, crags, hills, road, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach on cloudy day with small island in distance

All of the above in one encounter

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

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

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

Timelessness and chaos

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

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

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

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

I’ll give PKD the last word:

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

Photo of fallen leaves, standing redwoods, etc.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Reading ‘The catalyst effect of COVID-19’, a year and a half later, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/07/reading-catalyst-effect-covid19-year-half-later/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the wider world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

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

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

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

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

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

So friggin’ official

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scores just came in:

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

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

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

San Diego stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Leaving the United States: more reasons why, and jumping the ECA, IELTS hurdles by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/13/leaving-unitedstates-reasons-jumping-eca-ielts-hurdles/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

On leaving the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spinal Tap explains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big reason for leaving 2 of 2: growth through adventure

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

I will say, however, three things.

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

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

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

Salvation destinations

Enough of the why. Now for how.

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

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

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

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

Amsterdam. (Source)

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

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

My future-o?

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

Moon seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, On leaving the United States by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/06/on-leaving-the-united-states/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Postmortem on a specific failure to #AbolishICE…and a reboot?

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 17 of 52.

The image is a high quality photograph of protestors, primarily Hispanic, crossing a bridge above a freeway. One in front, a young boy, carries a stark sign that simply says "ICE Kills" in black and red against a white background.
From Los Angeles, July 2019, the Homeland Security Kills Rally. Photo by Ronen Tivony via Getty Images

This post is a reflection on my failed, and unfortunately short-lived, attempt to help #AbolishICE in the summer of 2018. When considering the horrifying cruelties of the camps of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency under the federal Department of Homeland Security, I think it’s important to look at the experiences of everyday activists and what we’re trying — or shrugging off trying — to do. Maybe then we can reboot our efforts and try again, better this time.

ICE camp in McAllen, Texas, I believe in 2019. Nietzsche wrote approvingly of “men without pity” in 1881: “it does not seem to them so unfair that others should suffer” In the video, the big cheese without pity is former vice president Mike Pence

For those who think calling the ICE centers concentration camps is extreme, consider the words of multiple Holocaust survivors in 2019 (Rene Lichtman, Ruth Bloch, Bernard Marks): ICE is equivalent to the Gestapo, and their current ‘detention centers’ really are concentration camps where genocidaires crush minorities. The sadistic abuse by la migra at these camps is well-documented here by Gabriela C. Romeri. Borrowing from her article, the DHS’s own oversight reports found that children imprisoned at the camps reported wide-ranging abuses: officials pointing their guns at the children, shooting them with tasers for amusement or punishment, hitting or kicking them, and threatening them with rape or death. Additional reported abuse included: agents stomping children; punching children in the head, sometimes repeatedly; kicking one child in the ribs; tasering several children; denying them food and forcing minors into stress positions. Further, children held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water; forced to sleep on concrete floors or share overcrowded cells with adult strangers; denied necessary medical care; bullied into signing self-deportation paperwork; and subjected to physical assault and rape. Mothers of infants were denied diapers; trashcans were removed from crowded holding cells and feces and other fluids were seen along the floor. The Associated Press reported in September 2018 that federal Health and Human Services (somehow or supposedly) “lost track” of 1,488 migrant children — a number that must be no coincidence: 14 represents the Fourteen Words white supremacist slogan, and the number 88 is HH (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet), a common code for Heil Hitler. Furthermore, Nazis frequently combine 14 and 88 into 1488. Presumably many of the “lost” children were enslaved (trafficked). The pedosadist likes of Jeffrey Epstein do not obtain their slaves singlehandedly; the powerful trafficking networks are planetwide organized crime. They have to grab kids from somewhere, and ICE camps along with everything surrounding them make for perfect crime scenes.

What the IBM-Nazi collaboration says about the importance of knowledge control

The color photo shows, sitting atop a wood board or table, an IBM Hollerith tabulator, which looks like a strange combination of a telephone, computer, sewing machine, and typewriter.
An IBM Hollerith machine. (Source.)

It’s a little, but increasingly, known fact that the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), popularly recognized for products such as the Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer and the first-rate line of Thinkpad consumer laptops (prior to Lenovo acquiring them in 2005), aided Nazi Germany in carrying out the Holocaust. The collaboration, overseen by IBM in New York City, was carried out in Germany by IBM subsidiary the Dehomag Corporation. Dehomag’s punch-card tabulating machines, called Hollerith machines, were installed at the major Nazi concentration camps, where SS personnel, following training by IBM who knew what was going on, used the tabulators to track information on prisoners. Arrivals, transfers, deaths, occupations, and slave labor details were all catalogued on IBM Hollerith machines. The SS also supplied Reich central authorities in Berlin with that data on an ongoing basis.

In addition to the outright horror, killing millions relatively quickly is a complicated logistical challenge. As explained in investigative journalist Edwin Black’s book IBM and the Holocaust: The strategic alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, the Hollerith machines helped Nazi leadership “prioritize, schedule, and manage the seemingly impossible logistics of genocide across dozens of cities in more than twenty countries and territories. It was not just people who were counted and marshaled for deportation. Boxcars, locomotives, and intricate train timetables were scheduled across battle-scarred borders—all while a war was being fought on two fronts. The technology had enabled Nazi Germany to orchestrate the death of millions without skipping a note.”

The black-and-white image shows a punch card, an old-fashioned, gridlike paper record about the size of a dollar bill. It has a German word, Rassenamt, printed in the midle, along with the SS bolts and the number one.
Example of IBM custom punch-card for the SS Race Office. (Source.)

The Reich using Hollerith machines at their concentration camps representated a huge, profitable commercial victory for Big Blue. Further, IBM didn’t sell the machines to the Nazis, but instead, merely leased them (as in today’s corporate software ecosystem where endusers rarely own much but typically just lease ‘their’ apps, ebooks, etc). The leasing arrangment forced the Nazis into dependency on Dehomag/IBM, just as individuals and schools/universities and even governments presently are dependent on, rather than governing over, Silicon Valley. In 1934, Dehomag’s director, Willy Heidinger, bragged (in a statement that emphasizes with astonishing bluntness the role of medical control):

We are recording the individual characteristics of every single member of the nation onto a little card […] We are proud to be able to contribute to such a task, a task that makes available to the physician [i.e. Adolf Hitler] of our German body-social the material for his examination, so that our physician can determine whether, from the standpoint of the health of the nation, the results calculated in this manner stand in a harmonious, healthy relation to one another, or whether unhealthy conditions must be cured by corrective interventions […] We have firm trust in our physician and will follow his orders blindly, because we know that he will lead our nation toward a great future. Hail to our German people and their leader!

Dehomag was directed from New York City by IBM head Thomas J. Watson. Between 1933 and 1940, Watson courted Nazi business and made Hitler’s regime dependent not just on the leases of Hollerith machines, but also on the unique punch-card paper IBM sold. When the Nazis ran out of that fluid capital, they had to replenish their stock of paper by going as customers to IBM, who, at the same time as its employees even had sales quotas for working with the Reich, somehow continually managed to evade the Treasury Department in D.C., a top-echelon bureau formally tasked with stopping domestic firms from trading with official enemies. Hmm, curious, that. The business between IBM and the Nazis kept going: Dehomag serviced/repaired the Hollerith machines on site at the concentration camps regularly. Even food allocation (i.e., who would starve and who would be fed) was managed by the Nazis using an IBM proprietary database system. Unless humanity elects to establish a universal database, a global commons, owned by everyone, for organizing and sharing public data, we’ll continue to have such opaque databases of proprietary control as the Nazi’s, where injustices occur aided by secrecy. (Of course, injustices also occur in plain sight, especially since nowadays people lack shame or a sense of duty to the vulnerable, and have trouble putting the disparate puzzle pieces together to recognize that their emotional responses have been conditioned from above; it’s ‘secrecy’ through flooding everyone with distracting trivia and corporate entertainment.)

The black-and-white photo shows men in suits sitting around a table.
Hitler and IBM president Thomas J. Watson (among others) meeting in Berlin, 1937. (Source.)

Did IBM face consequences? As World War II progressed, Big Blue sold Hollerith machines to the Allies also, playing both sides. After Armistice Day, no IBM executives were charged with war crimes, and their profits from working with the Axis were shielded from reparations. Not only that, but Hollerith machines were used to handle records at the Nuremberg Trials — Big Blue playing both sides and the referees too — and IBM formally requested compensation for its Hollerith machines getting damaged during the war. Legal cases since have had mild success but nothing full, due to reasons such as statute of limitations. IBM’s business steamrolled on: not as IBM contracting with the powers that be, which is the usual phrasing, but IBM (and big tech today) as the power that is, needing to trade its products somewhere anywhere, and looking down to the lowly governments below as dependent customers. Two examples follow. Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks’ The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974) — an interesting instance of a U.S-published book that has been censored; my paperback copy has black ( DELETED ) marks throughout — says “The first step in the [CIA’s] evaluation process [for obtaining a spy] is to run a ‘namecheck,’ or trace, on the person, using the CIA’s extensive computerized files located at headquarters in Langley [Virginia]. This data bank was developed by International Business Machines exclusively for the CIA and contains information on hundreds of thousands of persons.” Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock’s book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (2008) mentions IBM’s work “as a major provider of computer systems to the Pentagon and the NSA.” Have the highest levels of warfighters ever really been defeated?

What does all this mean — is it just a random contingency that tech companies happen to be so powerful, and is interest in the Internet and technology a mere “subgenre” of anarchism or activism, less important than, say, the heart-pounding physicality of black bloc streetfighters skirmishing with cops? After all, Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, wrote “Make no mistake — The Holocaust would still have occurred without IBM. To think otherwise is more than wrong. The Holocaust would have proceeded — and often did proceed — with simple bullets, death marches, and massacres based on pen and paper persecution.” Is the difference merely something quantitative, that the technology enabled the Nazis to automate genocide and to massively multiply the killing, murdering millions relatively quickly with cold efficiency, beginning a new era of military intelligence, two words combined that can’t make sense?

The image is a black-and-white poster showing an open eye looking upon a city. German words are written on the poster, translated in my caption.
Creepy Dehomag poster from circa 1934 reads in German: “See everything through Hollerith punch cards.” (Source.)

It’s more than quantity: the IBM-Nazi use of Hollerith tabulating machines were the contemporary beginnings of yoking genocidal domination based on knowledge together with mass data. Although you might debate the particulars, big picture wise, human behavior has always stemmed from knowledge: everything else is downstream. It might appear that the celebrity who’s the sexiest calls the most shots, but emanating like magic from the high, remote towers of the intelligentsia, the definitions of sexy and celebrity (and whatever else) are too often imposed, not from a community’s storytellers and mythmakers who must answer to their neighbors, but from above. Similarly with initial definitions and emotional responses around things like black blocs and cops. Community storytellers lack the amplification and computing power of the powerful intelligentsia-magicians. To outsmart, or route around, the force-multiplying technology wielded by the supranational powers (especially spy agencies), is like seizing a staff away from a wizard, or besting a wizard in spellcasting. If the public wins at this magical duel over abstractions (and the logic systems for organizing our abstractions and connecting them to the physical realm, i.e., software, networks, etc.), then control of mythmaking and other knowledge creation finally return to the public’s control, and hence the public regains control of all that which is downstream as well. That controlling the fount yields the most power must have been why, for instance, Winston Churchill was obsessed with, and kept close tabs on, the Bletchley Park professor types, including Alan Turing, whose organization after World War II grew into GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA; unlike many other British leaders in his orbit, prime minister Churchill intuitively understood how powerful this wizard-staff of software structuring of abstraction information was and would become. Computer software isn’t just goofy game apps on a smartphone: it’s ‘instruction tables’ (to use Turing’s phrase that later was changed into ‘software programs’) for logically processing information itself, and that can translate into knowledge itself, which not spy agencies from above, but the public from below, must control, if control over everything else is sought. Such a picture, introduced to the public from 2010 to 2012 by WikiLeaks Central (an adjacent but separate organization from WikiLeaks, including in terms of ideas and agenda), was challenging to see a decade ago, but based on offline conversations in Seattle anyway, with those roughly ages 25-30, I imagine many bright young people really into the Internet can see it more easily these days. It’s become all the more obvious, at least in broad strokes. Then again, it’s a picture that, though comprehensive and incisive, can quickly be overwritten for some when the louder, seemingly more accessible advertisements from various ideologies (e.g., Marxist groups) pop up, as they do nonstop here in Seattle, diverting people from taking on corporations and spy agencies (through mechanisms such as lawsuits, the Magnitsky Act, inventions, mutual aid infrastructure, etc.), toward smaller goals regrettably fleeting.

Now imagine refusing a defector from the IBM-Nazi collaboration

The image shows a screenshoot from the game. It's a low-tech three-dimensional shooter from the first person perspective. The player sees their gun. They're in a stone castle, where images of swastikas and Hitler decorate the walls.
Wolfenstein 3d computer game from ’92. No information technology, no propaganda, just shoot, you grunt.

Pretend it’s the early 1940s and a higher-up at IBM’s German offices, perhaps one of the lowest executives in the C suite, goes to meet with the Nazis about more Hollerith machines they want for a planned concentration camp. The Nazis give him completed paperwork describing plans for the camp and what they expect from the Dehomag tabulators. Walking back to his office, our fictional employee, sickened by his collaboration with the Reich (sickening which began a few months back), decides to defect to the public. He worries passersby can see the growing sweat stains on his suit. Hell, he worries he’s going to bang right into another pedestrian, because he can’t focus on walking correctly for all the thoughts wheeling in his head: about the opposition newspaper he sometimes bought when no one was looking (telling himself it was out of mere curiosity), about an antifa group he heard gathered sometimes in the back of a nearby art gallery, and about his family, especially his son, who though ten and unusually talented at the violin — which won him enrollment at a special music conservatory — still has trouble reading simple German, and always seems disconnected from everything around him.

The black-and-white photograph shows the Buchenwald concentration camp in the bakground, with a rally in the foreground.
Antifa rally at Bunchenwald concentration camp, 1945. (Source)

That night, the defector pretends to his wife over the dinner she cooked that he has back pain forcing him to stand and not sit nor sleep. Then he stays awake into the small hours, drafting an anonymous letter stating his severe disagreement with IBM’s Dehomag. It’s something of a rant; it doesn’t mention the plans, nor does it make any threats to his employer. But it’s powerfully worded, and it does demand Dehomag drop its relationship with the Nazis. Between the lines, the letter conveys: Or else. He isn’t quite sure or else what, but then again, he’s now not quite sure how far he wants to go with this, or if he’ll chicken out and change his mind. Maybe it’s all just crazy thoughts arising from the back pain he really does sometimes have? And his son does love the conservatory — music is the only time he’s not spaced out. But the sun comes up and, after downing some coffee and putting on a suit without sweat stains, our defector leaves home for the office of the opposition press newspaper. His conversation with the editors, filled with specific details, lead them to conclude he’s telling the truth about who he is and the planned concentration camp, and the editors print his anonymous letter as soon as possible.

Switch from our defector focal character, to the back of the art hall, where indeed an antifa collective comes together the next afternoon. There are just three of them, one woman and two men, relatively inexperienced and young, not at all the hardened crew the defecting executive imagined. Perhaps against their better judgment, they’re proudly discussing the successful sabotage another antifa group apparently carried out last week, covertly cutting signalling cables. They lament reports of human cargo packed into freight cars, of people beat with batons. Then one of the men asks if the others saw the anonymous letter in the opposition newspaper. They haven’t, so the guy fills the rest in. He’s the most ungainly in the group, bookish and a little overweight. He says, “Through our contacts, we should find the person who wrote the anonymous letter, and help him break from Dehomag. He probably knows a lot. He probably has a lot of coworkers sympathizing with him. Fucking up Dehomag could really save lives, protect the vulnerable from the Reich.”

“What, are you joking?” says another of the men. “Those bourgeois businesspeople. They wear fancy suits, they have fancy salaries, and their kids go to fancy schools. I don’t want to do anything that benefits them.”

The ungainly guy blinks, staring startled at the other two as if they must know something he never has. Maybe the other man is simply dissing him in an effort to impress the woman (who’s turned aside to straighten a portrait hanging on the wall), but so petty a motivation is typically beyond his own rationale. He dismisses the possibility from his mind, which suddenly feels destabilized, dizzy somehow. There simply must be a logical misunderstanding somewhere. “No,” he says, “the beneficiaries of this effort would be the concentration camp prisoners, not the letter-writer.” The other man repeats himself: “I’m just not going to help those bougie business types.” Later the ungainly guy thinks, he could have added, The letter-writer is a means to an end: not palling around with him, but saving the victims. Besides, who knows what this letter-writer is really like; we have to find him first. Had he more social skill, he might also have said: You won’t try anything far riskier than trying to seduce women. The letter-writer opposing the Gestapo seems braver than you. But such conversational ability is beyond him, and his own background — his own suits and schools — hangs heavy in the silence. He stumbles away, not sure where he’s going, and realizes he could take a breather in the bathroom. As he opens the bathroom door, the other man heads for the portrait-straightening woman with a new grin stretching wider and wider across his face.

Who are your sympathies with in this admittedly thrown-together, cliche-ish story? I’d suppose people would support the defector, the irritatingly inept ungainly guy, the violin-playing child, and maybe the two women (although their stories are sadly only hinted at, if that).

The image is from the video game. It shows Hitler's face as he's being resurrected out of some sci-fi cryo chamber. According to the dialogue box, he's saying to the player:  "What, you're going to fight against me? You damn fool."
From the 1988 NES video game Bionic Commando and my childhood.

But when something loosely analogous happened in summer 2018, when Microsoft employees anonymously told their employer to drop contracts with ICE, those I imagined would be sympathetic reacted in a way I didn’t expect. After reading the news of the Microsoft employees (presumably living in and around Seattle), I suggested to Seattle activists offline that we figure out who the anonymous Microsoft employees nearby were and support/encourage them in shutting down Microsoft’s contract with ICE. Perhaps we could bring them food, or introduce them to other activists, or something? I was shocked how many Seattle activists immediately balked at the idea of helping ICE camp prisoners by locating and offering strike support to rebelling Microsoft employees. The Microsoft employees don’t need their employer’s permission to cease coding and maintaining software platforms for ICE; they could just stop. But in that case, they’d definitely need support from wider society, which our conversation unfortunately quickly depicted as a bean-counting debate over whether the programmers, unknown to us personally, likely could or couldn’t afford to purchase their meals, rather than as an issue of support overall (including legal and emotional support and connecting with others). The balking activists cited software developers’ salaries and lifestyles as justification for choosing not to help ICE camp prisoners in this way. Decent disgreement might have been, say, if Microsoft drops their contract with ICE, wouldn’t la migra simply redirect to get the vanished help from another company instead, for instance Dell or IBM? Or, couldn’t Microsoft just hire more programmers to replace any striking ones refusing to code for ICE? Those weren’t the disagreements that happened. Despite posters in Seattle bedrooms calling upon viewers to #AbolishICE, deciding how to (not) accomplish that goal was based on affinity for apparently well-off programmers or lack of affinity thereof, as if abolishing ICE should be based on personality contests or who you would or wouldn’t go to a bar with. That being said, fortitude and social/verbal skill is required from anyone (including 2018-era me, who didn’t have enough of either) who suggests face to face that people collaborate in actually planning out and following through on doing something as huge as providing strike support to employees walking out on their jobs to challenge a Gestapo-like federal agency.

As the history of the Reich using IBM’s Hollerith machines shows, information technology is crucial in multiplying and structuring mass genocide, and in gaining control over the information associated with it, information people get used to and start taking for granted. Somebody should unplug that stuff, and not everyone in the world — of seven billion people, 190-odd countries, multiple major religions — is going to see eye to eye on lifestyle topics like suits and violins, and not everyone is going to come from the same background of economic class. Perhaps instead of using those differences as excuses for pettiness, we could use them as strengths. Am I missing something?

It ain’t over till it’s over: rebooting

Unplugging the computer systems upon which ICE crucially depends would have, and still could, have a tremendous effect in fucking up la migra. I haven’t followed how the internal Microsoft rebellion has played out since the New York Times published the above-linked Microsoft anonymous employee letter in 2018, and I’m unsure what the present status of the ICE camps is. However, Reuters reported last month that the Biden administration wants to increase their funding by 22% supposedly to root out white supremacy, and I know from my day job that released children are making their way into the public school system, a system already overwhelmed for the usual reasons, plus trying to return in-person during coronavirus. I’d assume ICE camps are continuing as usual, and by default, I’d distrust messages from the blue religion saying all is well or will be shortly if we just trust the authorities, or messages from the red religion saying the White House is trying to overrun the country with terrorists by uncaging children.

As sources such as ItsGoingDown.org, Crimethinc.com, and search.twitter.com show, there are still people out there in the United States working to #AbolishICE in various ways. Focused on other concerns instead, I haven’t followed the topic as much as I should have. If anyone has any good leads on projects for abolishing ICE, or thoughts, please drop them in the comments.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Postmortem on a specific failure to #AbolishICE…and a reboot?, 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/2021/05/02/postmortem-specific-failure-abolishice-reboot. 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.

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.