Entries Tagged 'Health' ↓

How attacks on scientific integrity necessitated countrywide school sickouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientific integrity attacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we can all imagine less charitable possibilities.

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How attacks on scientific integrity necessitated countrywide school sickouts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/01/16/how-surrender-of-scientific-integrity-necessitated-countrywide-school-sickouts/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. Also, gimme all your money!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal update: Pfthird Pfizer Pfjab Pfgoing Pfine

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

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

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

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

Nothing hurts me except bad hair days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1960s international smallpox vaccine records of US citizen

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

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

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

Blog update

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

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

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

GoFundMe link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready, because these are a doozy.

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

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

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

China.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldwide trade economy collapse/change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Blasts: Theodore Sturgeon, Wanda Landowska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, IELTS Enquiry on Results, Pfizer + blog updates, and news blasts for US, China, and the worldwide trade economy collapse/change … plus music and fiction! by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/10/ielts-enquiry-on-results-pfizer-blog-newsblasts-china/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ya gotta knows how to doze

The F&SF issue. Interesting reviews on Goodreads.

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

Caffeine-laced tights. Not necessary, not revolutionary.

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

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

Uhura has had it. Via @swear_trek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Why We Sleep, Walker writes in chapter 14:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of the book, Walker concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

News blasts: Haiti and Serbia

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

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

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

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

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This blog post, Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/14/fall-asleep-skills2-haiti. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 31 of 52.

Note: Turns out Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep isn’t so excellent after all, contrary to what I said in this entry when I posted it on 6 August 2021. In November 2019, Moscow-based independent researcher Alexey Guzey, who has a background in economics and math, posted a devastating critique of Walker’s bestseller, which Guzey put together across two months (and updated most recently in April 2021). I regret the blunder, and highly recommend checking out Guzey’s critique.

The photo shows a child in bed reading. The child is me.
Me in bed reading, 1988

From my teens until my early thirties, the whole ordeal of trying to fall asleep was a nightmare for me. I was frequently late for high school; a gruff principal, patrolling the hallways, would bark “Why are we late!” at me as I dragged myself into the prison-like building. I never had an answer for him. Subsequently, paid-jobs were a challenge back then too, as a result of the sleep problem. Psychiatrists generally said there was little to nothing I could do about it, besides swallow their pills and pay their bills. Many people, not just psychiatrists, told me I was defective and needed to get on federal disability. There seemed to be no answers anywhere.

Later I learned a lack of skills was a common issue among prep-school graduates. I think the private K-12 idea was that youth needed to be taught to decline Latin nouns in all five declensions (poeta, poetae, poetae, poetam …), but the very stuff making up much of life — cooking, cleaning, and or even readying to fall asleep — didn’t need to be taught. Instead, it was to be dispatched by paid caregivers in the shadows, so the soon-to-be adult aristocrats, for their careers, could rearrange paperwork abstractions for banks or thinktanks or their parents’ businesses. Though I use the words tips and suggestions below, I really mean skills, abilities people have to learn or figure out; humans aren’t born knowing these things, so if they aren’t taught them and are too short on time or too weakened by corporate destruction to discover them for themselves…

As regular readers of this blog (or my twitter feed) know, across the last six or so years, I’ve intensely studied various health topics and dramatically changed my health practices accordingly. Nowadays, I’m able to fall asleep fine and get up regularly at, say, 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., to go jogging and then work public school substituting assignments lasting a month or more. Just this past workweek, I had to stay up till 4 a.m. creating detailed lesson plans — a requirement for a course I’m taking to get certified in teaching English to speakers of other tongues — yet after finishing, I was able to nab three, four hours of sleep and still trust myself to wake up in time to start, at 9 a.m., teaching the language learners from around the globe with the instructor watching, grading my performance. Clearly I’ve figured out some things about sleep.

I wish I’d learned these sleep skills earlier in life — as many do, especially those with strong employment histories — so in case others haven’t yet, below I provide tips for falling asleep. I don’t directly address the challenges of staying asleep or waking up promptly, though my suggestions will also aid individuals struggling with those two issues. I should note this post is written from the perspective of a single guy in his mid-life. I’ve occasionally had noisy roommates nearby, or partners with whom I’ve co-slept, but I can’t tell you the first thing about what it’s like to simultaneously deal with sleep and an infant, or other parenting circumstances.

Below I discuss three skills for improving sleep, especially falling asleep; next week I’ll finish up with additional ones. After the three sleep-improving suggestions, I’ll provide a news blast for the assassination in Haiti.

How to catch Zs with ease: three ideas

Recognize sleep’s importance. Imagine you spend a third of your life practicing the saxophone. Every day, for approximately eight hours total, you play scales and arpeggios, rehearse great saxophone songs, improve your sight-reading, learn how to repair the instrument, and more. Then a wild jerk appears and jabs his finger at you, saying, “If you dedicate a third of your lifespan to the saxophone, you should simply ignore the details and let whatever happens happen.” Obviously, the dude’s line of thought is ridiculous. Becoming an excellent saxophonist requires developing many different skills, planning and carrying out practice regimens, identifying and pursuing specific artistic goals, and so on. Ignore all that and your saxophone dream is over. Yet people with trouble sleeping often treat their problem the exact same way as the jerk. I did; confronting the challenge was too overwhelming: I was so far behind my peers that it was easier to make up postmodern reasons for why falling asleep well supposedly wasn’t worth worrying about (and I didn’t understand it was a skill I could study and develop). Almost everyone on Earth is going to spend a gigantic chunk of their lifetime asleep, maybe even a third of it, plus the time spent arranging sleep. So, sleeping is one of the biggest components of being alive. Therefore treat it as such, respectfully: read about sleep, experiment with different sleep practices, talk with friends about sleep, etc. Educate yourself on the topic.

To get good sleep, you have to fight for it (gently) every single day. Embedded immediately below is a 23-minute youtube video titled “Good Sleep — A Key to Good Mental Health: Ideas of a Former Therapist” by Daniel Mackler. The video has lots of helpful tips for good sleep, particularly in terms of mental health and psychosis. I really recommend watching it. The best concept I personally took away from the video is his idea that daily, you have to pour effort into ensuring you’ll get good sleep that night. He puts it like this: “The conscious part of me has a job, has a responsibility to set up my life so that I can sleep well.” To put it my own terms, each day, including each evening, the world will conspire to keep you up late or to otherwise ruin your sleep. For example, friends/family/telemarketers/spammers will call or message, enticing you to stay up and talk instead of winding down for bed. Capitalism will insist that resting is weak and that strength is burning the candle at both ends, as with the leech (“middleman”) company Fiverr’s advertisement from New York City subway cars, pictured above. Frightening or distracting noise might pollute your environment, preventing you from calming down for sleep. If you don’t battle these things daily, if you just ignore it all and let whatever happens happen, the myriad enemies of good sleep will completely take over. You have to battle for your sleep; for instance, by the late afternoon, start thinking ahead about how to ensure you’ll get enough good sleep that night.

Lighting and glowing screens. Cutting out light, especially glowing screens, as the night approaches has been the single biggest improvement for my sleep — ever. Quoting from chapter thirteen of the excellent book Why We Sleep by neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker:

“Before Edison, and before gas and oil lamps, the setting sun would take with it […] daylight from our eyes, sensed by the twenty-four-hour [circadian] clock within the brain […] tiredness, followed by sleep, would normally occur several hours after dusk across our human collective. Electric light put an end to this natural order of things. It redefined the meaning of midnight for generations thereafter. Artificial evening light, even that of modest strength […] will fool your [brain’s] suprachiasmatic nucleus into believing the sun has not yet set […] Sleep in modern humans is delayed from taking off the evening runway, which would naturally occur somewhere between eight and ten p.m., just as we observe in hunter-gatherer tribes. Artificial light in modern society […] tricks us into believing night is still day […] Artificial evening and nighttime light can therefore mimic sleep-onset insomnia — the inability to fall asleep within twenty-five minutes. By delaying the release of melatonin, artificial evening light makes it considerably less likely that you’ll be able to fall asleep at a reasonable time […] Just when things looked as bad as they could get for the suprachiasmatic nucleus with incandescent lamps, a new invention in 1997 made the situation far worse: blue light-emitting diodes, or blue LEDs […] evening blue LED light has a more harmful impact on human nighttime melatonin suppression than the warm, yellow light from old incandescent bulbs, even when their lux intensities are matched [… humans] stare at LED-powered laptop screens, smartphones, and tablets each night, sometimes for many hours, often with these devices just feet or even inches away from our retinas […] It has a very real impact on your melatonin release, and thus ability to time the onset of sleep [… in a study,] Compared to reading a printed book, reading on an iPad [glowing screen] suppressed [sleep-inducing] melatonin release by over 50 percent at night. […] iPad reading delayed the rise of melatonin by up to three hours […] Unsurprisingly, individuals took longer to fall asleep after iPad reading relative to print-copy reading […] individuals lost significant amounts of REM sleep following iPad reading […] the research subjects felt less rested and sleepier throughout the day following iPad use at night [… also there was] a lingering aftereffect, with participants suffering a ninety-minute lag in their evening rising melatonin levels for several days after iPad use ceased — almost like a digital hangover effect.

Emphasis added

Occasionally people say “dark mode”-type settings on digital devices help, but I doubt they help very much, since the problem existed severely enough with mere incandescent bulbs prior to 1997 and the invention of blue LED light. And it’s an option provided by the foxes who are guarding the henhouse.

Ideally, as the evening ends and night arrives, I shut off all glowing screens — hopefully around 8 p.m. — though sometimes paid or unpaid work requirements interfere. I use either natural light from windows, and/or soft warm yellow light from incandescent bulbs, to conduct my night-time routine (e.g., reading a non-challenging book in the bathtub prior to bed). As soon as I can, I turn off those incandescent bulbs, too. I make my bedroom as pitch-black as possible. And, right before bed, I don’t take one last quick look at my email: even a few seconds of that artificial glow is enough to falsely tell your brain it’s suddenly daylight.

Recently, when I was visiting Texas, I stayed in a motel room with a smoke detector on the ceiling straight above the pillows. A little green light on that smoke detector glowed all night long above my eyes. So the next day, I obtained duct tape and covered the light up. Elsewhere in the motel room, I used handtowels to block various lights, such as the glowing display on the air-conditioning unit. A pitch-black bedroom helps hugely.

From time to time, I go to one of West Seattle’s beaches in the evening to watch the sunset, which seems to help regulate sleep.

The sun is wonderous, gifting us all life free of charge (yep, everything in life is free), but artificial light pollution, particularly in urban environments, is an under-discussed problem. I really recommend, from Adam Kendall’s blog Ideas for saving the world, the post “Fixing light pollution.” I’ll excerpt it:

I think every street light should have a lid on top of it, so the light doesn’t go up into the sky. I think every building taller than 10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 10pm to 6am every night. I think every building between 5-10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 11pm to 5am. I think every street light except for those at crosswalks and street intersections should be turned off from midnight to 4am every night. I think every household should get four to eight free trees to plant around their house, so that the tree cover blocks household light from escaping into the sky. I think every street should be lined and covered with trees too, to help block the light from escaping into the sky. While doing all of that wouldn’t eliminate all light pollution, it would reduce it by a lot, enough to be able to go to a city park at night and see a night sky filled with stars as if you’re in the wild. Our cities should be lit up at night by the stars in the sky, not our artificial light. Turning cities dark at night would be good for the environment too. Our light pollution is drastically harming the lives of nocturnal species. It effects the migration patterns of birds. Cities are basically dead zones for all non-human species, and as cities continue to grow and take up more land, it’s creating the next great mass extinction period. Also, seeing the night sky is spiritually and mentally beneficial to people, it helps us connect with the earth, it helps us to connect with life and the universe when we’re able to see the night sky.

Next week I’ll continue with my remaining tips for falling asleep; for now, I’ll conclude with a fun, memorable quotation from sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement: “Sleep is delicious!”

News blast: Assassination of Haitian president

The color image is a screengrab from Al Jazeera. It shows the Haitian president boasting, with the translated caption: "I don't see how there is anyone, after God, who has more power than me in the country."
He finally saw

Today’s news blast continues the news blast from last week, which discusses the 7 July ’21 assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. Unless you’re really familiar with this situation, you might consider reading or re-reading last week’s news blast before continuing to my next paragraph. Also, the 4-minute “Start Here: Murder in Haiti” segment from Al Jazeera, embedded below, is useful for catching up on the basics of what happened, though the video is from July 8 and thus quite old, in relative terms.

The day Moïse died (with twelve gunshot wounds and an eyeball gouged out), the United Nations Security Council condemned the assassination and then the next day privately met at their in-NYC-but-not-in-NYC (extraterritorial) headquarters to hear from the representative of Haiti. Don’t you wish we all had a transcript and footage of that opaque meeting?

I wonder how little or how much the United Nations Security Council (which includes such unlovely permanent members as the Chinese government) understands about the assassination — on August 2 (just a few days ago), the Security Council president said:

“the issue of a possible peacekeeping mission in Haiti has formally been raised and discussions are ongoing.  The main concern right now is the safety and security of the United Nations mission currently operating in Haiti.”

On July 8, UN special envoy Helen La Lime told reporters that Haiti made a request for security assistance from the United Nations. That same day YAC.news commented bluntly: “A UN-styled military intervention may be considered, however, the [capital city’s] ongoing gang war that’s displaced 14,700 people make[s] the prospect challeng[ing].”

Seemingly no one among the worldwide public fully understands this assassination for sure, but without knowledge of the setting, nobody can get very far in figuring it out. Agence France-Presse news correspondent Amélie Baron, located in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, describes the context of the country in her passionate 24 July article “Asking the right questions in Haiti.” I’ll excerpt parts of her lengthy, amazing article:

“These days, my phone rings off the hook. “Why was Jovenel Moise assassinated?” […] The country is effectively missing from French history books. Despite listening to hours of lectures about the Napoleonic wars during my time at university in the French city of Nantes, I never heard the names Toussaint Louverture or Jean-Jacques Dessalines — heroes of Haiti’s independence movement against France, the colonial power […] the idyllic beaches of Haiti that were swamped with high-class tourists in the 1970s were no longer featured in tourist guidebooks – while tourism is all the rage in the Dominican Republic […] Because contemporary history cannot be learned in books, I decided to head to Port-au-Prince in February 2005 — my first trip on my own, and my first time out of Europe […] The country is seen as one of the most corrupt in the world […] Today, prisons [in Haiti] are massively overcrowded, full of men who are too poor to pay for a lawyer that could or would even want to take their case. Housed in dire conditions, they wait months, sometimes years to see a judge […] Funnily enough, only in rare cases do people with money end up in prison. They never even get arrested […] Why do some media outlets choose to call Haiti the “poorest country in the northern hemisphere” (debatable) rather than “the first black republic in history,” which is a more lasting and positive truth?

Regarding Haiti and its independence movement which concluded in 1804 and yet is missing from French history books — and history books here in the United States — an intriguing fact is that Bug-Jargal, first published in 1826 and one of the early novels of the late writer Victor Hugo, better known today for his novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, is set during the Haitian revolution. There are translations into English, but I’ve never read them (nor the French original).

So who were Moïse’s assassins, and who were the masterminds? Interpol, the United States including the FBI and Homeland Security, Colombia, and the Haitian police have all been investigating. On July 9, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Haiti requested security and investigative assistance from the United States and claimed “the investigation is being led by Haitian police forces on the ground.” With the reputation the FBI has for overpowering investigations by local and state cops in the US, I find that hard to believe. Haitian police did engage in a firefight with some of the suspected killers on July 8, so I imagine the Haitian cops have been mighty pissed off about the assassination.

Haiti elections minister Mathias Pierre, in a July 10 interview with the Associated Press, said the Haitian police force is weak and under-resourced, and “small troops” are needed from neighboring countries to prevent chaos. In that article the AP journalists write:

“The stunning request for U.S. military support recalled the tumult following Haiti’s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation — which lasted nearly two decades — as a way to avert anarchy.”

The Haitian police identified the suspected gunmen as either 26 or 24 Colombians and two South Floridians originally from Haiti but US citizens: 35-year-old James Solages and 55-year-old Joseph Vincent. Haitian police also said three of the assailants were killed in a shoot-out, but that might have been seven of the assailants; I don’t have the original source material and apparently there’s information discrepancies from the Haitian police anyway. The supplied details of the situation have been unclear and shifting.

That’s enough for today — I need to take my own advice and go to sleep — but next week, I’ll resume news-blasting about the Moïse assassination, including some discussion of Colombian paramilitary groups, the environment from which some of the suspects came. If you want to continue reading about the assassination yourself, I suggest these links: here, here, here, here, here.

James Solages, viewer’s left, Joseph Vincent, second left, paraded before the media by Haitian police on July 8. Photo by Joseph Odelyn for the Associated Press. Does anyone have the names of the four other men?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/06/fall-asleep-skills1-news-haiti/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net

COVID-19 update: masks, Delta mutation, evictions; news blasts: Haiti and United States

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 30 of 52.

Comedy and tragedy masks at Wilton’s Music Hall in London, photographed in 2011 by failing_angel/B

This past week in Washington state, where I live, the governor has recommended people in high transmission areas resume wearing masks for indoor public settings. His change comes along with more news about the novel coronavirus’s highly contagious Delta mutation, and along with the federal government ending the countrywide ban on evictions. Since June 28, the number of new cases in King County, home of Seattle, has quadrupled, according to county public health officer Jeff Duchin in an hour-long July 30 video embedded below. Some Seattle restaurants/bars just started requiring patrons to provide proof of vaccination. In light of all this, here’s a COVID-19 update — including a look at larger, systemic forces at work — followed by news blasts for Haiti and the U.S.

Masks 101 still missing

Many in the United States — typically rightwingers, but not always — see government advice or mandates to mask against the novel coronavirus as tyranny, imposed suddenly, ex nihilio: out of nowhere, without precedent. Such a belief betrays the country’s overall ignorance of history and the wider world.

Imagine someone coming to dinner at your home. Everyone is seated around the table. Diners are passing around a dish of sweet potatoes. One person, holding the dish, sneezes directly into it. The other diners drop their jaws. “Cover your nose when you sneeze!” someone says. But the same person responds by simply coughing into the sweet potatoes. “What the hell?” another diner protests. The sneezer-cougher explains: “It’s my freedom to spread my germs where I want. That’s individual choice. It’s what makes our country great.”

For good reason, it’s a strong social norm to cover your mouth/nose when coughing/sneezing (use your inner elbow, not your palm, since you might soon after touch others with your hand), so the sweet potatoes scenario depicted above is rather unlikely — but masking against COVID-19, a respiratory illness, is the same idea.

Consider too how surgeons mask, to protect against exhaling germs into a patient’s exposed body, and how masking has been used for decades in various countries across the world to guard against spreading contagious respiratory diseases, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a type of coronavirus first identified in 2002. SARS, and headlines about it, proliferated around the globe until the syndrome was contained in 2004. One of the ways it was stopped was — you guessed it — masking. From the article linked in this paragraph:

Japanese wear masks when feeling sick as a courtesy to stop any sneezes from landing on other people […] The SARS outbreak was a “turning point,” for Asia, said Chen Yih-chun, director of the National Taiwan University Hospital Center for Infection Control in Taipei. Before that, she said, Taiwanese saw masks as a stigma marking them as severely ill. “Why we always mention the SARS matter is because during SARS and before that to wear a mask was impossible and patients didn’t want to cooperate,” Chen said […] Japanese had worn them even in the 1950s as a safeguard against rising air pollution, a byproduct of industrialization. Now people who feel just “under the weather” in Japan wear them

I’m surprised how rarely analogies to everyday sneezes and coughs, and how rarely other countries’ histories, have been discussed by those trying to educate USians on coronavirus prevention. Instead, all too often, the commentariat got bogged down in the weeds of complicated scientific studies, partly to demonstrate their fealty to conventional science, which the public has lost a lot of trust in, understandably. It’s great, of course, to talk about whatever interesting topics online. But I think supplying the simple information above would have been more effective than the corporate media obsessing over studies. And still would be.

Scary new study on the Delta mutation

The image shows the Lollapalooza bill modified: the long list of band names has been altered such that each "band" is now simply named The Delta Variant
This year’s Lollapalooza lineup looks sick. By Eric Downs.

Speaking of scientific studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new one Friday that the New York Times reported on the day before.

The scary research says asymptomatic vaccinated individuals are spreading the Delta variant, a more contagious mutation of the novel coronavirus that grows faster in respiratory tracts, and it says Delta is causing symptoms in, and hospitalizing, even vaccinated individuals (“breakthrough” cases, as in the virus ‘breaking through’, or not being stopped by, vaccine-produced antibodies).

Over Twitter, I asked Dr Bob Morris, a Seattle-based epidemiologist, about the new study (who needs to wait around for official interviews and official articles, nowadays?). Dr Morris said the research is important in drawing attention to Delta’s high infectivity, but also that it should be interpreted with caution. The study is titled: “Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021.” In other words, the research focuses on large public gatherings, such as festivals, which cautious individuals have been avoiding for over a year now. Specifically, the study looks at an outbreak precipitated by Provincetown, Massachusetts’ Bear Week (bear as in queer slang for a lover with lots of body hair). That’s tons of people getting together in person to kiss and do additional naughty things, thus passing on the Delta version of the virus.

To say a study should be interpreted carefully isn’t to say the study is irrelevant; after all, plenty of huge public gatherings — superspreader events — are ongoing or upcoming in the United States:

The color image is a screenshot of a Chicago FOX News television affiliate showing an aerial view of the huge Lollapalooza crowd this weekend.
Friday’s Lollapalooza crowd. Source.
  • Happening now, the four-day Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, 100k people. While concertgoers must present vaccine cards or masks (which they might not actually wear), there’s also an exception for individuals who present a negative test result from the prior 72 hours (which with 100,000 people won’t stop some infected people from attending).
  • Happening Aug 6 – Aug 15, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, half a million to three quarters of a million attendees expected. No masks, no vaccine proof required.
  • More…
The color photo shows the cover of the novel Mutation by Robin Cook. The cover shows a strange boy, suggestive of genetic engineering.
This schlocky medical thriller scared me as a kid. Source.

Like the missed opportunities in explaining masking, another messaging error has been emphasizing the word “variant.” A variant can be made up of multiple mutations, so the words aren’t interchangeable (and ultimately there are no synonyms). But for popular contexts such as headlines, “variant” sounds neutral, probably harmless, whereas “mutation” has frightening connotations. I recommend using “mutation” frequently when explaining this stuff to everyday non-specialist audiences.

Eviction cruelty

The color photo shows the two suits at some event or other. McHenry, wearing glasses, is smiling huge, probably showing his pleasure at being near one of the top dogs, George W. Bush. Bush II looks like it's just another day on the job of mugging for photos.
Patrick McHenry with Bush II in 2005. Source.

In September 2020, the CDC implemented a countywide ban on residential evictions — but it ends today. The federal House of Representatives didn’t extend the moratorium; the final scene of the drama included a last-ditch effort by Dem legislators being blocked by North Carolina Republican Patrick McHenry. An estimated 15 million-plus tenants in the U.S. are behind on their rent and thus at high risk of getting kicked to the curb. Many of these at-risk tenants are planning to live in their cars, a common thing here in Seattle. However, some local and state governments, including Washington state, maintain their own eviction bans, independent of the federal government, continuing to provide protection against evictions.

The worsening poverty in the United States, and the slow-mo trade economy collapse worldwide, makes me think of teenagers at Seattle Public Schools or teenagers from around the world in Zoom classes I’m currently teaching in. Faced with impossible pressures emanating from the world of biz, they’re resisting quietly by setting boundaries with knowledge-hoarding institutions and credentialing authorities. They don’t ruin their health to show up early, or even on time necessarily, nor do they meekly obey demands that they silence their home environments or do this or that with their computers (factors over which they might not have control anyway). Boomers wail and gnash their teeth, telling each other that their power over trade should be absolute and that such boundary-setting heralds the End Times, but connecting survival to moneytokens and their silly institutions is the real insanity.

It’s sad to live in a world where millions agree: “Don’t have enough moneytokens? No food, clothing, shelter for you! At best, rely on shameful charity. You’re awful!” Sometimes capitalists argue for this system by saying that policies such as a ban on evictions enslave businesspeople. To some extent, as one of the billions of rats running through the maze of capitalism daily, I can sympathize with related concerns: nobody likes bureaucratic paperwork or edicts, when they’re stupid or illogical, and businesspeople have to feed their families too, and don’t necessarily have time to be a therapist/socialworker for particular tenants who disrespectfully and dramatically wreck buildings, which does happen sometimes. But rather than get caught up in myopic, stale metaphors like “It’s a balancing act!” or advocating for the low, low bar of tacking social welfare programs onto a sadistic economic system, I think it’s far better to point out history and the wider world, to indicate possible paths to a better future.

Color photo shows amazing sagebrush beneath an idyllic blue sky, mountains and hills in the distance.
June 2021 photo by me near East Wenatchee in central Washington state, where the Wenatchis/P’squosa were forcibly displaced by white settlers

For most of human history, and in civilizations such as the Indus Valley one, trade, biz, exchange — whatever you want to call it — existed, but minimally, relative to today (or that’s my understanding!); it wasn’t considered the epitome of life to which all else must be sacrificed. And more importantly, just look at a child drawing stick figures on a piece of paper, free of charge, and sticking it on the family refrigerator, also free of charge. The kid is motivated to do such things for fun/curiosity, to enjoy drawing, to share social approval with their family, etc. In a world without money, and with a public data commons for arranging details (such as transporting cement long distances), it should be fairly straightforward (versus for instance the sprawling social services industry cursing people as defective and needing drugs) for people to build houses and help those who live in them manage the various equipment (e.g., plumbing), free of charge for the same reasons as the kid drawing on a piece of paper. If you wouldn’t want your children abruptly demanding five dollars and seventy-six cents from you to stick their drawings on the fridge, why do you want adults to do the same for the housing system, plus lifelong debt etc.? A good system would be like: “Oh hey, that’s Latisha, she works on the plumbing around here, she’s awesome!” And Latisha walks up to the house and tells the residents about the cool new wrench she got that helps with fixing pipes. It’s really not that difficult to fathom, it’s similar to volunteering, and again, my understanding is, most humans have lived their entire lives in such a manner. (Guaranteed basic essentials would help the misfits/dissidents survive/thrive without having to pander for popularity.) When people hearing about this scornfully retort That’ll never happen, they’re likely expressing their contempt for multigenerational effort or their inability to withstand criticism for saying challenging things (like advocating for a world without a financial system), which — like a sole individual loudly coming out of the closet — has more power than people typically realize.

Ending the pandemic

A generic image.
First aid kit by dlg_images
Piccini kneeling on the sidewalk, hands in the air, as the riot gear cops surround her and gesture at her.
Shayla Piccini, pro-BLM protester who sued the City of San Diego over her arrest. See linked article below.

To help end the pandemic, I think individuals should get vaccinated (as I did) — the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine, not of mRNA design, likely will be very impressive, too. In the video embedded above, King County public health officer Jeff Duchin says:

“Do vaccines work against Delta? The answer is unequivocally yes. Although there might be a slight drop-off [decrease] in protection, vaccines offer excellent protection against Delta, particularly against serious infections, hospitalization, and death. And if you aren’t vaccinated, you’re at high risk of becoming infected and spreading infection to others.”

Dr Duchin also says, in the July 30 video, that 81% of King County residents ages twelve and up have received at least one vaccine dose, 75% of residents ages twelve and up have completed the vaccination series, and 65% of all King County residents (of all ages) are fully vaccinated. King County is one of the most highly vaccinated regions in the United States. Over the past thirty days in King County, 81% of COVID-19 cases are not fully vaccinated, 89% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are not fully vaccinated, and 91% of COVID-19-related deaths are not fully vaccinated. Most cases in King County are Delta mutation cases. Vaccination is the single most important thing a person can do to protect themselves and others; vaccination makes it much less likely, though not impossible, that a person will catch and spread COVID-19.

I also think individuals should mask, though it’s sometimes hard to be certain when exactly with the shifting public health messages. Prior to Delta’s spread, some doctors told me that with vaccination, I shouldn’t worry about masking or asymptomatic transmission. But now with the Delta mutation, I think I should. And what about elderly individuals, or those who are invisibly immuno-compromised? Not masking places them, and others, at risk. Masking doesn’t hurt anything (it’s just annoying to do); those calling it tyranny might consider what real tyranny looks like: the military dictatorship in Myanmar, for instance, is outright killing medical workers and attacking their facilities, exacerbating COVID-19’s spread to aid the junta in maintaining power. Yes, the United States has its horrors too, what with pro-Black Lives Matter protestors arrested by plainsclothes cops in full combat gear and hauled off in unmarked vans, or thousands of massage parlors in U.S. strip malls acting as fronts for billion-dollar rape trafficking. The list of nightmares goes on. Asking the public to wear masks so they don’t spread germs during a pandemic is not among them.

Dr Bright testifying at a Congressional hearing. He looks righteously angry, or at least emphatic.
Whistleblower Dr Rick A Bright. Source.

We’re now at 629,115 dead from COVID-19 in the United States — that official number is probably lower than reality, and it doesn’t include the frightening suffering of Long COVID (unless there’s death) — and blaming Trump for the toll will also help end the pandemic, so people don’t fall for the crazy snake-oil cures his administration was selling, and more. It’s not “political” or “annoying” to say 2 and 2 make 4, or that Olympia is the capital of Washington state, or that, instead of damning themselves, individuals should instead correctly accuse Trump & co. for calling coronavirus a hoax in February 2020 and for retaliating against Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower Dr Rick A Bright for his insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” and “a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” I mean, it might not be something to bring up to a partner while the two of you are trying to fall asleep, but I mean generally!

Finally, consider the fundamental role of corporate control and disinformation in our lives, and how to combat it. Read this 26 July ’21 YAC.news article — How corporations are choosing profits over life with COVID19 medications — or watch the four-minute video version, embedded below right before the news blasts. In short, governments across the planet are permitting Big Pharma monopolies to make decisions based on profit, not need. Only 1% of individuals in low-income countries have received a vaccine dose. That’s unfair, and for those who don’t care about fairness any longer, bear in mind it also allows more mutations to develop and proliferate to your doorstep. A stronger response, ideally a zero-COVID strategy, would stop a new permanent paradigm of unending mutations. The article concludes:

The CEOs of pharma corporations attributed the speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines to the [intellectual property] system, disregarding the contribution of public funding (paid by everyones taxes), people’s volunteering in clinical trials (risking their lives) and regulatory support (by professionals focused on saving lives). Millions of people are still waiting to benefit from the important medical innovations of the past year and half. Thanks to profiteering corporate leeches and the archaic intellectual property laws millions of poor people are being sentenced to death.

To fight Big Pharma’s hoarding, an idea, encouraged by YAC.news and others, is to support a proposal initially made by South Africa and India in October 2020: waive certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the sake of preventing, containing, and treating COVID-19. In October 2020, Doctors Without Borders gave five reasons people should support the #TRIPSWaiver to weaken Big Pharma’s power to hoard so-called intellectual property. Briefly, the waiver would benefit everyone, accelerate the COVID-19 response, include not just vaccines but also essential equipment such as ventilators, make needed COVID-19 medications and vaccines more affordable, and reduce corporate power. Six steps to support the #TRIPSWaiver:

Step 1) On this Google Map, click on a country’s X (not supporting the #TRIPSWaiver) or question mark (undecided). Clicking will give you pro-#TRIPSWaiver text to copy that includes the twitter handles of the country’s relevant authorities.

Step 2) Paste the copied text into a tweet draft, customizing it if you like.

Step 3) Attach to the tweet draft this graphic.

Step 4) Post the tweet.

Step 5) Suggest others do the same.

Step 6) Check out the #NoCOVIDmonopolies tweet storm here.

News blasts: Haiti and United States

Thanks for the map showing Haiti, Wikipedia!

Haiti, 1 of 2. Often when people think of North America, three large countries quickly come to mind. But there are hundreds of islands and multiple countries in the Caribbean, too. One of these is Haiti. (Another is Cuba, which I discussed in last week’s news blasts.) I first started thinking about Haiti as an adult when I was writing for the alumni magazine of the university I graduated from. In October 2013, I wrote an article for that magazine about an alum, Dr Ric Bonnell, who initially in 2007 went on missionary trips to provide altruistic medical care to Haitians, but then by 2009 decided he could provide better help by training native Haitian doctors and nurses, including assisting them remotely via Skype. I quoted Dr Bonnell as saying: “Providing unneeded or unwanted ‘help’ causes harm […] Always ask yourself, ‘How do I work myself out of a job? How do I make it so that my help is no longer needed?'” After putting together that piece, I’d perk up whenever I heard some friend, or some newscaster, mention Haiti, but I sadly didn’t know all that much more about the country. Fast forward to July 7 this year when, early in the morning, in an attack on his home in the capital city Port-au-Prince, US-backed Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. According to the country’s constitution, Moïse’s term of office ended February 7, but he ignored the law and remained in power, causing mass protests (see three-minute Al Jazeera video embedded below). U.S. mercenaries were spotted during these protests but apparently were limited to protecting Moïse. He’d already dissolved the country’s parliament — not a good sign. As Foreign Policy magazine explained on February 10, the State Department of the Biden administration along with the Organization of American States (OAS) endorsed Moïse’s prolonged presidency, pitting the David-size Haitian opposition against the Goliath-size United States et al. Haiti was already battered by the 2010 earthquake that destroyed infrastructure and killed an estimated quarter million people. Famine, as well: a 9 July ’21 Oxfam report, The Hunger Virus Multiplies, discusses crisis-level famine in multiple countries, including Haiti, where starvation has been a long-standing problem (as Dr Bonnell also noted). Making matters worse, the illegitimate Moïse apparently kidnapped opposition leaders and acted as a tyrant, saying bluntly in a February 7 public address: “I was supposed to leave, I’m still here. If you guys keep fighting me, I guarantee you that I will win.” Nerds can debate in prolix prose the legal or “foreign policy” angels dancing on the heads of courtroom pins, but demagogues boil down their dictatorships to such frank statements, titillating fascist crowds and terrifying their negative images (the ones they dislike). Back to Moïse’s July 7 assassination. YAC.news wrote an article that very day (talk about timely) titled “Haiti’s US-backed president Jovenel Moïse assassinated” (the source for much of this news blast item). The article states: “Prime Minister Claude Joseph said highly trained assassin[s], some speaking a mix Spanish or English with a US accent, assassinated the president at his home. The assassins yelled, ‘DEA operation! Everybody stand down! DEA operation! Everybody back up, stand down!’ Residents reported hearing high-powered rounds being fired and seeing black-clad men running through the neighborhoods, they also reported exploding grenade and drones buzzing overhead […] Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., described the attackers as ‘well trained professional commandos’ and ‘foreign mercenaries.'” This whole saga goes on, but I’ll get to it in next week’s news blast, as it’s too much to summarize here, plus I also want to look at more recent news on the assassination. But if you want to continue yourself, read this and this.

United States. Two news items in my home country. First, the January 6 coup attempt is the subject of ongoing hearings in Congress. In late June, the New York Times published the 40-minute video resulting from their six-month investigation piecing together radio transmissions, social media video uploads, police bodycam footage, and other sources to show what happened that day. The NYT summarized their key findings here. Of course, they’re too co-opted to use terms like “coup attempt” or “demagoguery,” but the astonishing video is definitely worth the watch. It will happen again; there will be another coup attempt. Second news item, Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose August 2018 sentencing I reported from in person (the only highly descriptive article that goes into detail about both the document she gifted the public and the scene at the courthouse that day), was released June 2 from full federal prison, FMC Carswell in Fort Worth Texas (where she and other prisoners contracted COVID-19), to a halfway house, and a week later, to home confinement. Below I’ve embedded some recent Winner family photos. Here’s her support website; you can follow her mom, Billie J. Winner-Davis, on twitter. As her sister Brittany Winner explains in a July 20 article, and as her lawyer Alison Grinter explained on Democracy Now! on June 15, Reality Winner still needs a full pardon to ease her felony conviction, remove the continuing plea deal-based censorship of her (preventing her from telling her story and sharing more information about the leak), and to promote healing for the country. On July 30, Winner accepted the Government Accountability Project’s Pillar Award. What’s really worth checking out in that regard is what Reality herself said when accepting the award. The 12-minute acceptance Zoom video is embedded below; she talks from 9:25 to 11:27. I especially like this part:

“there’s life with purpose and meaning and dignity […] Everybody who didn’t look away when the government called me a terrorist, people who wanted to find out who I actually am, I can’t thank everybody [enough …] when I’m ready, I’m going to be seen, I’m going to be heard.”

Reality reuniting with her dog on 3 July 2021 in Kingsville, Texas. Photo by Chris Lee.
Reality Winner with her new niece; sister and mother at her side. Source.
The image shows Reality Winner on home confinement, sitting on a recliner smiling and playing acoustic guitar. She's wearing an ankle monitor. She's not using a pick, but her bare hand, to strum.
#PardonRealityWinner. Source.

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This blog post, COVID-19 update: masks, Delta mutation, evictions; news blasts: Haiti and 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/2021/07/31/covid19-masks-delta-evictions-haiti-us/. 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.

Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 29 of 52. All photos were taken by me on 23 July 2021, except the small one identified in the caption as from my 2009 post. I took that photo then.

Note: See last week’s post for a reply by me to a reader’s question in the comments.

Texas Native Forest Boardwalk at Fort Worth Botanic Garden

More than a decade ago, in June 2009, I wrote a blog entry titled “Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW” (Dallas/Fort Worth). From my recent IP addresses in North Texas and Seattle at least, if you google “What’s the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW?” my writing comes up as a “featured snippet” search result. As strange as it is to be honored by Skynet, I’m glad the Google algorithms prioritize the post.

Anyway, Friday afternoon I visited — just before flying back to Seattle on Saturday — the hometown tree, which I hadn’t seen in years and years. I discovered some things have changed, not only the TexasTreeTrails.org webpage I cite in my long-ago entry for facts on the champion plant. (That webpage has moved here.)

You’re probably familiar with the structural device of dividing a topic into the good, the bad, and the ugly; let’s do that in reverse order, to end on an upbeat note before plunging into news blasts for Cuba and the Lone Star State.

The Ugly

The color photo shows the Cityview Car Wash building in Fort Worth, Texas. The Cityview Car Wash sign is partially burnt out. No people are visible; things seem a little decaying.
The world has moved on

On Friday I stopped by Fort Worth’s Cityview Car Wash too, because in the past few years, from a distance, I’ve often thought about this odd antebellum-esque store — in some ways, an opposite of the grand Southern Magnolia — where I took family automobiles as a prep school teen, not knowing any better. While the globe continues to warm (see my recent post on the Pacific Northwest heat-dome), it’s possible such expensive car washes in the South will keep going till the last possible moment, so rich white men can take their antique Mercedes and Jaguars there, and sit inside, having their shoes shined by elderly black men, or sit outside, watching their vehicles be towel-dried, by not-so-rich, not-so-white young men.

A streetside sign for Cityview Car Wash advertises monthly carwash plans
Your monthly car wash bill awaits

Along with the global weirding of weather we in the U.S. are already witnessing, my understanding is that water crises will be among the earliest and most salient enduser-facing problems of the coming climate change disasters. Of course, the outlandish car wash shops rely heavily on large amounts of water. I called Cityview Car Wash on Sunday to ask if they use recycled or reclaimed water. The low-level employee who answered the phone frankly said No, they use fresh water.

Picture it like a movie. Even as, by 2040, pollen counts double, and even as, by whenever, Fahrenheit temperatures in the 120s and higher become the norm, sweaty, sneezy Texans will still be sitting at Cityview Car Wash. The TVs will be blasting Fox Weather; security for the business will be provided by militarized police-tanks. The old white men will keep on watching teens haul huge long hoses to the parked Porsches. Close-up on a hose-sprayer held in a dark-skinned hand: the water is only dribbling out… only barely dribbling out… Close-up on a spigot valve being turned hard by a brown hand again and again. Another close-up on the hose-sprayer: it’s waterless now. It’s futile. With itchy eyes, the old Texan men look at each other. The South will not rise again.

But can the City of Fort Worth control such non-essential water usage during droughts? After all, they sell water to businesses in their jurisdiction, sourcing much it from the Trinity, the river discussed in my post last week.

Such local government regulation has had an effect on DFW car washes before. Due to dry spells in recent years, car washes in Witchita Falls, a corner of North Texas, have been required to change procedures when water conservation regulators threatened to shut them down. A City of Fort Worth drought contingency and emergency water management plan, effective May 2019, says (to oversimplify) that when a dry spell gets bad enough (“Stage 3” in the document),

“Vehicle washing … [at a] commercial car wash […] can only be done as necessary for health, sanitation, or safety reasons […] All other vehicle washing is prohibited.”

Note: According to City of Fort Worth water conservation manager Micah Reed in an email reply to me on Monday July 26, the emergency plan is updated every five years. The 2019 one I link and excerpt is the one that would come into effect in a qualifying emergency. I bet Micah Reed would make an interesting interviewee on this topic.

In short, the forthcoming water crises might bring power struggles between the Texan-beloved auto industry, and governments, not so beloved by Texans except when their business gets a gub’ment handout. Everyone underfoot getting stomped on by the two hierarchs going at each other, if they do, hopefully will intensify their growing interest in self-governance, taking care of themselves, each other, and the land as the giants continue their slow implosion.

Let’s turn to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to see an example showing how power struggles between local government and industry typically go down. This weekend was the first time I’ve visited the Garden in something like seven years.

The Bad

The Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, now chained off. Signs read: “Do not enter” and “Please do not climb in the trees. Thank you!”

Not far from adrenal-fatigued Texans and their thunderous, wastefully washed SUVs on one of the city’s busiest streets, University Drive, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, 109-something acres nowadays and the oldest major public garden in the state, grows peacefully. Depending on how you slice it, construction began on the Garden, then smaller and known as Rock Springs Park, in 1921, followed by, in various phases, early construction continuing on the area, renamed the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in 1934; some of that labor was part of FDR’s New Deal. The park debuted in 1935. However, none of the 750-or-so poor laborers from the earliest construction days were allowed to attend the opening ceremony, because the authorities wanted present only those who could afford fancy clothes. With limited exceptions, the Garden was also segregated, banning humans with dark skin, until roughly 1961 (more sources would help; anyone?). In 2009, the National Park Service (well, a bureau of the NPS) listed the core portion of the Garden on the National Register of Historic Places. The 111-page registration form can be found here; that certifying document and the 2010 Fort Worth Botanic Garden Master Plan (put together by various stakeholders including the city and a high-priced consulting agency) supply a great number of details on the Garden that this paragraph skips over for the sake of quick summary.

Same mighty plant, from my 2009 post. Note absence of chains. Neither a “do not enter” sign, nor a “do not climb” sign, back then.

The City of Fort Worth has owned at least some of the underlying land since 1912 and still owns all the Botanic Garden land today, but while I was happily living in Seattle, a bigly change transpired. In October 2020, the City of Fort Worth transferred its management of the Garden to the Botanic Research Institute of Texas, the BRIT nonprofit among whose board of directors — according to a 2019 tax filing — sits Ed Bass, of the billionaire oil-rich and locally powerful Bass family.

BRIT’s nonprofit structure notwithstanding, the management of the Botanic Garden has been privatized; the immediate ire the public has felt regarding the new biz centers on the Garden replacing the free admissions policy, more or less upheld continuously since 1935, with an in-real-life paywall. BRIT, on Saturday, charged me the $12 per adult fee to get in. (I was able to pay at the entrance; maybe tickets sell out sometimes, I don’t know.) Judging by a search of the #fwbg twitter hashtag, I’m by no means the only person frustrated about very rich, very faraway people putting a fence around local native trees, hoarding an imaginary right to visit them, then charging everyone to do so.

The local alt-weekly, the aptly named Fort Worth Weekly, tracked the City’s giveaway to BRIT with multiple stories, rightly troubled about the public getting dispossessed of the nearly century-old treasure. Lon Burnam, a longtime Democrat in the lower half of the Texas state legislature (not currently), a former executive director of the Dallas Peace Center, a Quaker, and a member of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, co-authored a May 2020 piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that warned the City of Fort Worth was giving BRIT a “sweetheart deal” (a yearly $3.35 million management fee the City pays to BRIT, separate from a one-time $17 million from the City to BRIT for repairs), unless specific steps are taken to protect the commons. A month later, Burnam told the North Texas NPR/PBS member station: “Basically, the city has abdicated a lot of control and a lot of their responsibility for managing the gardens.” Vaguely citing to the station some unspecificed “plans in progress,” BRIT didn’t even deign to be interviewed.

Friday photo of DFW’s biggest Southern Magnolia, leaving out the signs/chains

What I dislike about BRIT’s very-Texan management of the Garden isn’t just the admission costs, but also the practice of blocking patrons from the trees, further dissociating humans from Nature. I do remember, especially as the years went on (say, circa 2000-2015), that disrespectful people would trash the park and hurt plants (for instance by walking over them), but improving norms around respect for Nature would be the best solution, and could be implemented immediately by hiring knowledgeable employees who, in a manner similar to the best Park Rangers, would politely patrol the Garden and teach guests not to dishonor or disrupt the plants.

Ignore expired metaphors about balancing govs and biz; above, the true power structure (Source)

Instead of gentle monitoring and education done by live humans, BRIT opts for the economic efficiency of brute force: chain the trees away, stop humans from touching them. For decades no chains locked up the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW. If you look at my 2009 post’s comments, you’ll see youth climbing Southern Magnolias, including the grandest one itself, is quite ordinary. Tree-climbing (and tree-hugging!) should be encouraged along with respect for Nature. BRIT’s attitude reminds me of the Fort Worth Zoo, also a place dirtied by the oily hands of the Bass family. In December 2007, the Fort Worth Weekly discussed how Lee Bass and Ramona Bass led the creation of the Fort Worth Zoo’s Texas Wild! exhibit, falsely “showing how wildlife — mostly dead, stuffed wildlife — could exist in harmony with oil and gas drillers.” Reading any decently curated list of news articles from any day of the week should disprove that. I wonder if the new BRIT boardwalk at the Garden, pictured at the top of this post, so resembles the boardwalk I remember at the Fort Worth Zoo because of some Bass family contractor connection.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden giveaway suggests the regional government hierarchs, supposedly protectors of the public, will work hand in glove with the auto industry hierarchs when the forthcoming water crises fully arrive. Maybe any battling on our behalf will be, already is, and always has been, very minimal. Instead of abdicating oneself and begging intoxicated rulers to do something, we could try something else. What’s to be done?

https://twitter.com/fabianacecin/status/1394633434610511874

The good

Another Friday photo: the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW

I did enjoy some aspects of the new BRIT-era Botanic Garden. The Texas Native Forest boardwalk is nicely done; I’m referring to the actual physical boardwalk, which is well-built and fun to walk on. It’s clearly good to protect against some of the trash and decay that had built up over the Garden’s long years (the myriad disrepair was cited as a main reason to give the management to BRIT); of course, rather than the helpfully educating employees I proposed above, it seems the same strategy has been used as with public schools: governments underfund schools/parks, then victim-blame schools/parks for the resulting problems (e.g., trash build-up), and finally give them away in sweetheart deals to industry as the supposed saviors. Anyhow, this is supposed to be the good section!

Regarding governance, whether of car washes and parks or anything larger or smaller, it’s sad that large-scale democracy — clearly better than outright fascism — similarly turns, eventually, into oligarchy (rule by the few): remember that 2014 study by Princeton University and Northwestern University professors who found the United States to be an oligarchy? The Italian sociologist Robert Michels’s infamous iron law of oligarchy from 1911 states: “He who says organization, says oligarchy.” In other words, Michels argues that oligarchy can’t be avoided. Refuting such dark fatalism is the goal of philosopher Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books, so I recommend those thought-provoking texts to readers.

As for reconnecting with Nature, consider this menu of options:

  • Go vegan or close to it, which I’ve found helps build interest in, and empathy with, animals and their ecosystems

  • Learn orienteering (using a map and compass well). It helps individuals perceive and identify landforms and direct travel safely. In contrast, I’ve found relying on GPS blinds me to my environment. I have the third edition of champion orienteer Björn Kjellström’s book Be Expert With Map & Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook, but have sadly yet to read it. Looks really good though. Surprises me that most locals in Washington state and Oregon cannot name the various mountain peaks visible in the distance. Compare that with the worldbuilding/setting in better fantasy novels, as in Le Guin’s and Tolkein’s, in which you have a sense as you read that certain differing, named mountain peaks are northward while such-and-such plateaus are in this other compass direction, etc.

  • Use field-guiding books to identify plants and animals. Field-guiding improves visual ability overall and helps you learn names of plants and animals, in whole but also their various parts, as well as their ecosystems and the dependencies within those ecosystems. There are also ways to learn about the medicinal benefits of various plants, such as books or communities around such topics. Wandering around peering at birds or plants, a field guide in hand, also makes a good cover story for sneaking around to spy on what resource corporations are up to.

  • Read Ursula K. Le Guin’s middle and later fiction, which stresses the importance of leaving hyped-up “heroic” (adrenalized?) states, or just using them temporarily, and appreciating, and usually residing in, a calmer, seemingly slower approach to life. For instance, her 2000 Hainish science fiction novel The Telling describes the protagonist’s preference for conversation topics: “She heard about them, their cousins, their families, their jobs, their opinions, their houses, their hernias […] These dull and fragmentary relations of ordinary lives could not bore her. Everything she had missed in Dovza City, everything the official literature, the heroic propaganda left out, they told. If she had to choose between heroes and hernias, it was no contest.” The protagonist prefers to hear not about puffed-up heroes, but about everyday struggles with hernias. (Perhaps an exaggeration to make the high-contrast point, as the protagonist is heroic herself, as are her comrades, in a good way, unlike the official heroes of the state propaganda.)

  • For me, outdoor camping is intimidating for a variety of reasons, several of them irrational. But baby steps such as visiting parks, or going on day hikes (or running mountain trails!), can lead down the road to more challenging adventures. There are tons of websites and online communities around camping, but also around the simpler excursion styles. Even walking or jogging city trails can be adventurous. For instance, Seattle has a Seattle Trails Alliance; maybe an urban location near you has similar. I usually prefer going alone, but some enjoy having a travel buddy.

  • Somebody could make it a goal to liberate the Fort Worth Botanic Garden plants and figure out the steps to achieve it.

Any or all of the above have more “political” implications than might seem evident at first glance. Because a healthy society is made up of heathly individuals.

Compare liberation — such as reconnecting with Nature — with the practice of taking cold showers. I have two friends in Seattle who take cold showers every morning. At first, they told me, it was miserable. But soon after, they acclimated, got stronger, and the cold showers became enjoyable. Feeling their vitality in the morning became enjoyable. Strengthening yourself should feel good. If it doesn’t, or if it seems an abstract duty to be fulfilled like an awful chore, maybe you’re still heavily weakened by the wider world, and need to piece together the baby steps for escaping the damage and the comfort zones. Given the way things are going, the sooner each person improves how harmoniously they interact with Nature, the better. Nature isn’t going anywhere, and as time goes on, She’ll have more and more blunt things to say to us all.

Perhaps a resident of the nearby lagoon, a duck, or maybe a mud hen, takes a stately, solitary walk across Cityview Car Wash

News blasts: Cuba and Texas

Cubans protesting, 11 July 2021, Havana. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Cuba) More than six decades ago on the Carribean island of Cuba, the U.S.-backed right-wing Fulgencio Batista military dictatorship, which accommodated U.S. organized crime and human trafficking, was overthrown, resulting in the rise of leader Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. Prior to that leftist revolution in the fifties, the United States murdered thousands of Cubans. Since Fidel Castro took power and continuing today, the United States has harassed Cuba, including via an ongoing economic embargo/blockade (called by Cubans “el bloqueo“) enforced not by navy, but by law and sanctions. The embargo is an effort to collapse the Cuban trade economy. It causes much poverty there. Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted in favor of resolutions calling for an end to el bloqueo, the most prolonged embargo in modern history. Even recently, the United States made it difficult for expatriate Cubans to send money (“remittances”) home to the island, where some 11 million people live today. However, Reuters reported this month that the Biden administration might ease those remittance restrictions soon, and might also lift the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation that Trump hurled at Cuba like a curse days before he left the White House. These hints by the Biden administration are likely trial balloons, a way for the Biden admistration to test the waters by observing others’ reactions, and were publicly made probably due to the protests in Cuba earlier this month — I’ll get to those in a second. Another way the U.S. has harassed the country has been via a travel ban that has at times prevented ordinary US citizens from going to Cuba as tourists. There are many nuances of this ban, which has thickened or loosened with time and different White House administrations, which I won’t get into the weeds of here. The ban has served to keep USians ignorant of Cuba, as they are of most countries and most of humanity currently alive. The ban has also served to sabotage Cuba’s tourism industry. Cuba initially closed its borders for the pandemic, which also hurt its tourism industry severely. An additional item that should be mentioned as background before getting to the protests: the very high-quality Cuban healthcare system. At a former web directory for criminology professor Dr. James Unnever, there’s a short paper on that system, I believe written by Dr. Unnever, though I’m not exactly sure who wrote the paper, nor when. The paper more or less fits with what I know from others who have told me about their experiences in Cuba. Further, a YAC.news article from 12 July 2021, “Why are Cubans protesting and how can you help?” (the source for much of this Cuba news blast) states:

The small island nation of Cuba has one of the world’s best healthcare systems even after an ongoing embargo and sabotage campaign by the United States […]

In Cuba, there is a health center per 25,000 [people], neighbourhood clinic per 5,000 people, and a personal family doctor per 500 people. In [the capital city of] Havana alone, there is a clinic in virtually every street corner, each with a family doctor and nurse. Health workers nationwide have been out in full capacity visiting patients at every home. They have been educating residents about the new Cuban-made coronavirus vaccine [called “Abdala”] and informing them it has arrived while setting up appointments for vaccination. 

Throughout 2020 Cuba largely kept the [novel corona]virus beyond its shores, [but] the number of infected patients is […] now rising fast, with a record-breaking 2,698 new daily cases on Saturday [July 10], and a seven-day average now above 2,000 [as of July 12]. Cuba is facing the biggest known surge in the Caribbean. Critics of the Cuban government’s failure to contain the virus point out the government’s approval of foreign tourists, according to sources on the ground, specifically Russian tourists. They claim that the virus was allowed in despite warnings from the healthcare community. [Meanwhile] the island is undergoing an economic crisis and healthcare emergency as inflation and COVID continue to rise.

In Cuba, all citizens receive health care free of charge. According to the YAC.news article, “In the past several years, [Cuban] health workers have eradicated polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. The amount of malnutrition among 1-15 year olds is 0.7%, compared with 5% in the United States. Initially based in hospitals, the Cuban health system evolved into a primary care system that is based in communities”. The Cuban medical system prioritizes preventive care, public participation, community interventions, and a very high ratio of primary-care doctors to citizens. With those priorities inexpensively driving their health care system, the Cuban population scores very high on health measures. Yet I’m curious to know 1) Aside from human health, what was the strategy around the Castro government making medicine a sort of “unique sales point” in the international trade economy, and 2) how does the Cuban healthcare system approach severe mental health problems?

Color photo shows masked Cuban protestors marching, sometimes with their hands in the air.
Havana, 11 July 2021. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

That finishes up the background on Cuba. Now, to the protests, which made news in mid-July.

Earlier this month in Cuba, thousands of protesters hit the streets countrywide, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down; Sunday 11 July was one of the biggest protests the country has seen in more than two and a half decades. Diaz-Canel angered the protesters because of Cuba’s growing inflation and other trade economy woes, plus his government’s failure to contain COVID-19 since it let infected travellers in. These are legitimate local grievances. Reuters reported some violence by security forces against protesters, and notes that mobile internet (and thus widespread social media) was introduced to the country only two-and-a-half years ago, a huge factor in prompting civil unrest of whatever sorts.

While the protestors correctly have a point, the U.S. media megaphone, along with U.S. thinktanks and others, have used the local anger as a way to boost unhelpful voices calling for serious destabilization of the Cuban government in such a way as to benefit foreign interests, including United States interests. This has made following the protests online, via the #SOScuba hashtag for example, a bit confusing.

The YAC.news article also says:

Due to the lack of resources on the island an international campaign has been launched to supply the island with the materials needed for syringes. The campaign is being led by Cuba’s diaspora and international solidarity movements. Global Health Partners (GHP), a New York-based non-profit, has launched a campaign to address a shortage of 20 million syringes. Bob Schwartz, GHP’s vice president, told international media, “To date, we’ve purchased four million syringes. We hope to purchase an additional two million” 

Those who might wish to help with the GHP syringe collection campaign for Cuba’s vaccine rollout are directed here. I’ll note that a shortage of syringes in the United States federal stockpile was a problem noted early on in the U.S. response to novel coronavirus by Health and Human Services Dept. whistleblower Dr. Rick A. Bright. It’s mentioned in his whistleblower complaint from May 2020, in which Dr Bright explains how he was retaliated against by the Trump administration for insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19″ (among other related reasons).

Havana, 11 July 2021. Plain clothes police blocking a road during protests. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Back to Cuba, the twitterati also verbally sparred over blaming the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which is only one member of the U.S. “intelligence community” (a pro-spy rebranding of the more exact descriptor “spy agencies”). No smoking gun has surfaced proving meddling by specifically the CIA in these July Cuban protests. Surely the CIA is interested in Cuba, and history gives many examples of CIA-sponsored assassinations and coups in the Central and South Americas, see for instance Operation Condor and Operation Northwoods. But the twitterati spoke as if CIA meddling had already been definitively proven. It costs nothing and takes little effort to tweet opinions; investigation to find proof takes serious time, money, and effort.

Last time I checked, the U.S. has 16 or 17 (depending on how you count) spy agencies on the federal level. For instance, the FBI, the Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, and many other federal agencies all have spy bureaus that are part of the so-called intelligence community. There’s also the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and still others. Maybe the newly minted Space Force, the fifth Pentagon branch, has a spy agency component; if so, that would bring the total up to 17 or 18. And that’s just one country, the United States. There are nearly 200 other countries. I’d wager almost all of them have at least one spy agency; most probably have many more.

The tunnel-vision focus of twitterati on the CIA would be like — let’s assume the demons of Abrahmic religions are real for a moment — Christians, hooked on televangelists, seeing Satan behind every misfortune, and refusing to consider what roles in the misfortune might have been played by the Ifrit of Islam, or Samyaza from the Book of Enoch, or hundreds of other demons. With hundreds of spy agency opponents to choose from, it’d be best to find evidence, set goals, and execute, rather than compete to see who can yell “CIA” the loudest, which ultimately just ends up advertising the spy agency that the activists say they hope to obliterate. (Something JFK also hoped to do!)

The Cuban authorities admitted in tweets that a government website had been taken down by denial-of-service attacks. Anons participating in #OpCuba claimed responsibility. More on that in a 14 July 2021 YAC.news article.

https://twitter.com/YourAnonOnline/status/1415263475169906692
Translation: “We denounce that the website of our foreign relations chancellery has received a denial-of-service cyberattack since 11 July 2021. This attack generated false accesses in large quantities, compromising our servers.”

Texas) Some concluding thoughts about my approximately two weeks in North Texas. My trip improved as time went on, though the humongous Nissan Armada the rental car company stuck me with (see last week’s post) did start to sink: the check engine light came on some 48 hours prior to my flight home departing. But I turned the gargantuan vehicle back in at the airport no problem. No harm, no foul, I suppose. As my trip continued, I discovered more research data (for family and personal history) than I expected, including some fascinating and healing revelations that are too private to share on a main channel like this. Catching up with friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a long time was beneficial as well, and sometimes revealing about both sides in the interactions, in expected ways, yet also in unexpected ways. Bottom line: people are always changing, even if slowly; there’s no stasis outside abstraction; the only question is, will the changes be for the worse, or for the better? The changes are more evident when you haven’t seen someone offline in eight or so years. Three additional observations about North Texas in July 2021 might be of general interest. First, as at some Seattle places, multiple restaurants in Fort Worth are doing away with paper or laminated menus altogether, forcing customers to scan QR codes. Are laminated menus environmentally friendly, or are they plastic? Either way, you can’t even obtain a regular menu by asking, since they’re all gone. What about customers who don’t have phones, or who use their devices atypically? Avoiding needless paper is great, but everyone carrying around EMF-generating phones to scan QR graphics isn’t my preference: here are thousands of categorized studies showing EMF harms. I solved the problem by looking at the menus the stores had pasted on the windows. Or just using the blasted QR codes, if I had a phone handy. (In Colombia, where protests against president Iván Duque’s narco-state are ongoing, the cops are considering replacing their badge ID numbers with QR codes, which are small and difficult to scan for those with phones and impossible for those without; making matters worse, the public still has to know the cop’s badge ID number to get from the QR code to the actual identity, meaning, I think, the cop’s legal name.) Second point: I heard more Spanish spoken in North Texas than I used to hear, this trip. Maybe it’s a change in me and what I notice, but it could be (or could also be) Spanish speakers feeling safer or more comfortable asserting their primary language. That’s a change for the better. Finally, I got a chance to try out Belently’s Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant on Blue Bonnet Circle. Their all-vegan menu offers many gluten-free items, and their walls, painted wonderful colors, include delightful murals. That’s opposed to the default no-color beige walls that white people in the United States typically have in their homes and stores. Vegans, including those who also avoid gluten as I do, now have three strong vegan-specific options in Fort Worth that I can highly recommend: the long-standing Spiral Diner (largely comfort food and thus not the healthiest), the new Boulevard of Greens with organic juices (including beet juice!) and bowls (including broccoli and quinoa!), and Belently’s Love. See, even Texas changes.

Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, still bearing fruit in 2021

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/24/revisiting-biggest-southern-magnolia-dfw-cuba-texas/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas

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

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

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

Bad stuff about North Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good stuff about North Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog post, Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/17/north-texas-thoughts-summer-2021/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

Not so good stuff about NE Oregon

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

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

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

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

Good stuff about NE Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

News blasts: Belarus and United States

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/26/thoughts-photos-neoregon-belarus-us-newsblasts/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This is entry 24 of 52.

Note: Readers of last week’s post might enjoy seeing some of the revisions I made to it, such as the addition of subheads.

Note (added 9 July ’21): The argument in the last paragraph of this post is that psychiatrists’ dehumanization of their patients is revealed by psychiatrists not putting in effort on things like compounding pharmacies that would benefit their clients, but instead paying attention to those they do regard as valuable humans, such as their colleagues or Big Pharma representatives/ghostwriters.

Bottle of compounded quetiapine/Seroquel for custom dosage of 290 mg per night

When I lived in Texas during my teens and twenties, a decade or more ago, I’d not yet encountered a lot of high-quality information countering psychiatry. Here and there a friend might say something, or an unusual news item might flash across my radar, causing me to briefly question the psychology industry, but although these blips of knowledge did help dent my confidence in the mental health system subtly, I still remained, overall, a believer in and user of conventional psychiatric services. But there’s one very clear exception to this.

Even early in my experiences with the prevailing mental health system, I did realize the unavailability of psychopharmaceutical dosages in any increment desired was a red flag signaling that Big Pharma shouldn’t be trusted. If the pill-makers truly cared about the well-being of patients, they’d sell the psychopharmaceuticals in pretty much every dosage possible. For instance, AstraZeneca would offer quetiapine (Seroquel) at 300 milligrams, 299 mg, 298 mg, 297 mg, 296 mg, and so on, as well as at 301 milligrams, 302 mg, 303 mg, and the rest. That way prescribers and patients could select the dosages that would provide the precise antipsychotic effects supposedly needed (the distress the diagnosed experience is real and at times strange, but the chemical lobotomies, to use the term Big Pharma initially employed to introduce the pills to psychiatrists, aren’t long-term solutions). And simultaneously, the psych drug consumers could take as little of the psychopharmaceuticals as possible, in hopes of dodging or minimizing adverse effects including but not limited to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, tardive dyskinesia, fatigue/tranquilization, brain shrinkage — the list goes on and on.

On the familiar commercial market today, Big Pharma supplies the drugs only at certain dosages — in the United States, quetiapine/Seroquel can be filled in the 200-300 milligram range at a regular pharmacy only at 200 mg, 225 mg, 250 mg, 275 mg, and 300 mg — but patients deserve custom dosages of any increment, especially for the sake of tapering down or off the drugs. Helping a patient taper down or off, increasingly referred to as deprescribing, is just lately penetrating the consciousness of conventional medicine, since the pill industry planned patients to be on the drugs for life; doctors who aren’t up to speed on the topic are seriously behind. See for instance the amazing 16 March 2021 article in the peer-reviewed journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology by Adele Framer (aka Altostrata), founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, with the in-your-face title “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants and other psychotropic medications.”

Sometimes patients without compounding pharmacies attempt to break or cut their pill tablets at home, but this often doesn’t work well. For starters, a jeweler’s scale used to measure the cut tablet might not register small weights accurately or precisely. Making matters worse, if the individual at home tries to cut a tablet and screws up (little tablets can be slippery, among other reasons), they don’t get a second chance, since the monthly bottle contains only 30 pills. The psych drug consumer now has to try to pick tiny tablet shavings up off the floor where they fell and figure out how many of the crumbly shavings to swallow, along with whatever grody grime from the floor is sticking to the shavings. It isn’t convenient to weigh and cut pills yourself if you’re travelling, either. And how does anyone know if the chemical is evenly distributed across the total volume of the tablet? Breaking, say, a 25 mg tablet in half to obtain a 12.5 mg dosage won’t work if the chemical is mostly on one side of the tablet due to vagaries of the corporate manufacturing process. If the tablet is scored, that can help, but not enough for precision necessarily, and it doesn’t feel very encouraging when the regular pharmacist promises you the tablet will be scored and when you get home, it turns out it isn’t. Patients whose pills come in capsules, such that they can unscrew the capsules and count out each bead of the psychopharmaceutical to reach a custom dosage, may have better luck — I have no personal experience trying to customize capsule dosages at home, only tablets — but not all psychopharmaceuticals are available in capsule form.

Enter compounding pharmacies

Two compounded pills of quetiapine/Seroquel in my hand

Compounding pharmacies are your way to hack the problem of prefab dosages so you can obtain custom ones. Tons of USians taking pharmaceuticals have never heard of compounding pharmacies (which is why I’m writing this). To compound simply means to make a medicine by combining ingredients such that the result is tailored to the needs of a specific patient. For example, someone might need a particular medication, yet have an allergy to a dye ingredient used in the versions made at large by Big Pharma, so the patient goes to a compounding pharmacy to have pills created that are without the dye but otherwise the same. Shouldn’t all pills be tailored to the needs of each patient? Anyway, in the United States, compounded drugs are not FDA approved, but they or the compounding pharmacies are typically subject to other oversight, including state-level regulatory agencies. Compounding pharmacies work by basically doing similar weighing and cutting procedures as patients might try to do themselves at home, but the compounding pharmacists have at their disposal much better equipment and expertise to bring to bear on the task. I don’t know the history of compounding pharmacies versus the “regular” ones typically found in corporate drug stores like Walgreens, but I bet it’s fascinating.

To get started, the two things a patient mostly needs are an unconventional psychiatrist who will agree to prescribe at a compounding pharmacy (maybe they’ve already done so for other patients), and health insurance that will cooperate if the custom pills are expensive (compounded quetiapine/Seroquel is merely $40 USD per month out of pocket in Seattle). Finding such a doctor is easier said than done, but it’s definitely possible, especially nowadays with the widespread use of telemedicine. Health insurers sometimes cover compounded drugs; check their policies and fight with them if necessary.

Custom dosages are especially needed for reducing or eliminating dependence on psychopharmaceuticals. If a person diagnosed with severe manic-depression and psychosis has been on a dopamine antagonist (an “antipsychotic”) for decades, stopping cold turkey, or decreasing the dosage by 50% for two weeks and then quitting, can itself trigger psychosis — and sadly, psychiatrists will then claim it’s the “underlying disease” acting up, rather than admitting that the huge jumps in dosage via regular pharmacies, or via conventional psychiatrists, could have been at fault. In my case, in my quest to get off this crap, I recently went down from 300 mg quetiapine/Seroquel per night to a compounded 290 mg, a decrease of merely 3.3%, whereas going down to the next dosage AstraZeneca offers, 275mg, would have been a decrease of 8.33% or approaching 10%. That’s quite a difference that can have dramatic implications for whether an individual going down on such drugs remains safely functional or not. I’ll quote Framer’s article on the subject of protracted small, gradual tapers (I removed the footnotes; see the link above for the full info):

For decades, in both psychiatry and addiction medicine, there have been calls for research into tapering protocols for psychotropics so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms, with little result. We have found that very gradual dosage reduction at an individualized pace minimizes the emergence of withdrawal symptoms. Years ago, inundated by people with severe withdrawal symptoms from the “half, and half, and then off” reductions recommended by their prescribers, patient peer support groups propounded reductions of 10% per step, as suggested by many sources. Since 2011, SurvivingAntidepressants.org has advocated a conservative 10% reduction per month of the most recent dose – an exponential taper, the size of each reduction becoming progressively smaller, approximating the hyperbolic method endorsed by recent research. These gradual tapers to minimize withdrawal symptoms typically require the creation of customized dosages and take many months to several years, depending on individual tolerance for dosage reduction.

Some, like me, are in situations where even a 10% decrease might be too much too fast.

It’s astonishing how many conventional psychiatrists I’ve had to see, and maybe you’ve had to see, who never mentioned compounding pharmacies, for I certainly brought up my desire for custom dosages to them during face to face appointments. These were docs in corner offices packed with awards. Based on exposés I’ve read about the medical industry over the years, I’m guessing in medical school, doctors maybe hear about compounding pharmacies once or twice tops, and then go on to forget all about them. Too busy, I suppose: after all, the psychiatry industry invented the disease of drapetomania, which diagnosed as insane slaves in the United States South who thought they should be free; psychiatry decided homosexuality was a mental illness and then finally un-decided that by vote as recently as 1973 (that’s when 5854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the system of diagnoses, while 3810 were in favor of keeping it in); and lately, the psychology industry has been criticized for assisting the United States military and spy agencies in committing torture. Hmm, too busy to learn about the compounding pharmacy down the street. I had to quit going to a mental health center here in Seattle (for refills of the pills I’m still physiologically dependent on) because the psychiatrists there would work only with that center’s regular pharmacy. I suppose the effort to set up prescriptions with a compounding pharmacy was just too much for these precious lightweights.

Ultimately, this isn’t about science. (Refuting what studies supposedly show about psych drugs is too much to include in this single post; check the links in the first sentence for more on the topic.) What psychiatry is really about is name-calling, pointing fingers, damning or cursing some as official less-thans. Just like many cults, as this book analyzes in great detail. Reflectors/fans of psychiatry might feel this post has disrespected doctors and their diplomas, which they probably idealize, and they probably believe those diagnosed have all this stuff (nightly tranquilizer pills, lobotomies, electroshock, etc.) coming to them anyway, just because the docs said so, and well, maybe someday a third party messiah will come along and improve the mental health system or something, but eh. I actually had a conventional psychiatrist in Seattle tell me that in the past few years: Okay, she conceded politely, the mental health system might have some troubles, but “we just have to do the best we can” until some outside factor slowly reforms things realistically and all that. Thankfully, out of the 1-in-5 or 1-in-4 USians on psych drugs, with COVID’s psych drug shortages having provided a scary reminder of what’s happening behind the scenes of the industry’s shiny happy commercials, many, many, many people are no longer asking the hierarchical white coats for permission, and are busy horizontally helping each other improve their situations.

The colorful photo shows the Columbia River with a boat in it and a bridge across it. Hills on each side with a bird soaring overhead.
Easier to feel sane out in Nature, such as here, the Columbia River, seen from Grant county in central Washington state. (Photo by me, 18 June 2021)

News blasts

Belarus. There’s still a dictator in Europe: Alexander Lukashenko (alternate spelling Alyaksandr Lukashenka), protected by the Vladmir Putin regime in Russia. Lukashenko took office in 1994 amid the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In what would be hilarious were it not for the human rights violations under his rule, Lukashenko is really into the aesthetics of Soviet communism, wearing a decades-out-of-style uniform with a silly hat pictured in the video below (it’s a bit like George W. Bush’s fascination with official dress of station). Belarus is a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament and all powers centered on the president. Belarus keeps the Soviet-style KGB for spying on dissidents and arresting Lukashenko’s enemies. Lukashenko dictates all industry, major media, and education in Belarus. He claims to provide stability in Belarus, but he’s a chief cause of instability, and a puppet of Russia (which might sound familiar to US readers). Lukashenko jailed one of his major political rivals, banker Viktor Babaryko, and also jailed Sergei Tikhanovsky, a vlogger in his forties whose youtube channel “A Country for Life” was growing in popularity as Tikhanovsky interviewed members of the Belarusian public about the situation in their country. Tikhanovsky’s channel, started in 2019 and still active thanks to his allies, aims to show ways to a better Belarus by featuring everyday Belarusians’ stories and examples of entrepreneurs. But when in May 2020 Tikhanovsky was announcing his candidacy for president — Lukashenko has controlled that office since 1994, amid accusations of fraudulent elections — Tikhanovsky was detained supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, previously an English teacher and human rights activist, stepped in to replace Tikhanovsky in the presidential candidacy; they’re spouses. Her platform similarly emphasized human rights, democracy, freeing political prisoners, reinstating term limits (as opposed to Lukashenko’s dictatorship), and getting away from the union treaty / integration with Russia, viewed as an infringement on Belarusian sovereignty. She received many votes in the August 2020 election; some reports says she won, but according to leaked audio recordings involving poll workers, the dictator continued electoral fraud. He remains in power today. Soon after the election, the dictator’s regime threatened Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s young children, and she was thus forced to flee the country to Lithuania. Her twitter is here (in English) and here’s her English website. Allies of the couple have also faced intense political repression. Meanwhile more general mass arrests of dissidents took place in Belarus; plus, widespread organized crime and trade economy troubles are ongoing. Yet the largest pro-democracy march in the country’s history took place on 16 August 2020, with more than 200,000 people rallying. Pro-democracy protests continue even as these activists are assaulted, raped, and tortured by police. Lukashenko plotted assassinations of political opponents living in Germany (including via explosives and poison): a 24-minute excerpt of a bugged recording of Lukashenko’s then-spymaster was published by EUobserver in January 2021 here (see also the 12-page English transcript or the 8-page Russian transcript; this DW article in English too). The bugged conversation occurred in April 2012. At one point in the conversation the Belarusian KGB discussed killing a Belarusian-born journalist, Pavel Sheremet, who was living in Russia at the time and under constant surveillance. The spymaster wanted the assassination to send a public message, explaining to officers of the KGB’s Alpha Group: “We’ll plant [a bomb] and so on and this fucking rat will be taken down in fucking pieces — legs in one direction, arms in the other direction. If everything [looks like] natural causes, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way.” Pavel Sheremet was eventually murdered in a car explosion in Kiev in July 2016. Lukashenko’s forces currently use beatings, rape, and torture to maintain power, as well as fake rallies and Putin’s protection, but Belarusians keep demanding free elections, release of all political prisoners, and the fall of the dictatorship. Embedded below is a video, just under six minutes, from YAC on 25 May 2021, titled “How Belarus Is Being Held Hostage.” It is the source for most, though not all, of the information in this Belarus news blast.

Ethiopia. In 2019, after ending two decades of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Within a year, Ahmed nevertheless launched a brutal military attack on Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia. This is a bit like former U.S. president Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and within two months sending a 30,000 troop surge into Afghanistan, except domestically. Ahmed attacked Tigray after he received criticism for postponing elections (he claimed COVID-19 concerns). Many, including the corrupt and long-standing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Ahmed was postponing elections to seize more power. Then Tigray held regional elections in September 2020 anyway out of defiance. Things escalated from there, including (in chronological order) the Ethiopian parliament blocking funds to the regional Tigrayan government, the TPLF attacking a federal military facility, and Ahmed sending into Tigray a heavy military force accompanied by airstrikes. The Ethiopian federal government is falsely calling it a “law enforcement operation,” but it’s a full-scale invasion. There are more historical factors and multiparty tensions underlying the Tigray War, but the preceding gives some of the absolute basics. Most importantly, the two sides described are both accused credibly of atrocities, though most of the evidence points to the Ethiopian federal forces along with their Eritrean and Amhara allies. The civilians are being trampled underneath all these fighters, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities taking place. These include mass killings, abductions, daily rape and gang rape of civilians as collective punishment, and other horrors. In some cases, men are being forced to rape their own family members, and in one instance a mother was forced to watch the execution of her twelve-year-old son prior to being taken to a camp where she and other women were raped. The threat of famine is currently rising due to interrupted food shipments. It has also been reported that Amhara forces are committing ethnic cleansing. Multiple countries globally have condemned Ahmed’s invasion of Tigray, the United States has declared sanctions on Ethiopia and its leadership, and human rights defenders and investigators are demanding access to the region. World governments are urged to stop doing business in the area, particularly the telecomms industry, but I’m not sure what the current status of that is, anyone know? It would be amazing to see activists in the United States transform from ignoring the brutal conflict to pressuring the unfortunately mighty telecomms toward ceasing collaboration with Ahmed. Many interesting things come from Ethiopia, such as injera bread (made of gluten-free tef, the world’s smallest grain, and very healthy too) and the music of the krar instrument, both found here in Seattle. Below is embedded the following recommended videos (the ones from YAC are largely the sources for this Ethiopia news blast): The first video, from YAC on 3 June 2021, is “Ethiopia’s Descent Into Darkness In Tigray,” at just under six minutes long, with the transcript available here. The second video, from YAC on 24 April 2021, is “The Ongoing Nightmare Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Genocide” at two minutes long. The third video, from YAC on 13 March 2021, is “World Governments Urged to Stop Doing Business With Ethiopia” at about a minute long. The fourth video, uploaded to youtube on 2 November 2017, is some Eritrean folk music, singing accompanied by the krar.

Does anyone have more information on this performer and song?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/19/how-why-compounding-pharmacies/ 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.