Entries Tagged 'Politics' ↓

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the news…

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

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

CIASE webpage for the final report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cover art for JFK and the Unspeakable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This blog post, Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/24/talk-batmanskitchen-france-belarus-jfk/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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?
https://twitter.com/TheBoobla/status/1425379218171457541
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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the wider world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

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

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

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

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

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

So friggin’ official

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scores just came in:

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

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

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

San Diego stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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

On leaving the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38BcPsjLdJ0

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

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

Spinal Tap explains

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

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

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

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

https://twitter.com/SpartaZC/status/1427163651576897539

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big reason for leaving 2 of 2: growth through adventure

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

I will say, however, three things.

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

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

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

https://twitter.com/AliMayyu/status/1423946781646200842

Salvation destinations

Enough of the why. Now for how.

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

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

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

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

Amsterdam. (Source)

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

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

My future-o?

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

Moon seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be that my sense of humor is not always apparent. Source.
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This blog post, On leaving the United States by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/06/on-leaving-the-united-states/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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 the previous week’s post for a reply by me to a reader’s question in the comments.

Note: On July 20, 2023, I removed Reuters Pictures photography from the Cuba news blast section of this post due to a demand letter from PicRights, a copyright troll acting on behalf of, and with the knowledge of, Reuters. The removed imagery may still be found in the five-image slideshow included in the original July 2021 Reuters article. I’d be curious to learn (and publish) what the photographer Alexandre Meneghini makes of the PicRights operation and, most of all, what the unpaid Cuban protesters think of the clamp-down on circulation of their photographed protests — which were met with violence and imprisonment — calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down following his failures with the trade economy and COVID there. Two years later in Cuba, smaller, sporadic protests continue, and while dissidents say awareness has increased, the problems remain, with one Cuban activist adding that change requires, among other things, “international visibility.” Yeah, that’s something PicRights should consider, international visibility, as it was the whole intent of my news blasts to bring little-known news from beyond the U.S. borders to a U.S. audience. (You also have to wonder how much co-option has taken place of the Cuban protests, since the two-years-later article is so doth-protest-too-much deadset on saying there hasn’t been any. But to my knowledge, no one has actually proven any to date.) See also this May 2023 letter from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others asking Europe to help with Cuba’s current human rights crisis.

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.

https://twitter.com/apocolypticjazz/status/1266508289183006720
https://twitter.com/apocolypticjazz/status/1062719461852151808

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
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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.

https://twitter.com/TheBoobla/status/1416492538408493056
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.

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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.

PNW heat dome, climate change media, and optimistic fiction, plus Myanmar and Brazil news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This entry is number 27 of 52. I took the two Rosario Beach photographs on 3 July 2021.

Note: I added a note to my post two weeks ago that mentioned the media noise around “critical race theory.” In short, the note provides this link to readers: 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?For my post three weeks ago regarding compounding pharmacies, I added a quick note making my argument in the last paragraph more explicit.

Idyllic color photo shows beach and ocean washing in below a clear blue sky. In the distance are hills, trees, etc.
Rosario Beach predicted to disappear underwater within nine years

The recent Pacific Northwest heat dome broke regional records for hottest recorded temperatures ever — Seattle hit 108° F / 42.2° C; Washington state capital Olympia 110° F / 42.2° C; Portland Oregon 116° F / 46.6 °C; Chelan county in eastern Washington 119° F / 48.3° C; Lytton in southern British Columbia 121.3° F / 49.6° C before getting largely destroyed by wildfire — reminding Cascadia residents, who typically don’t have home air conditioning, that climate change has their area, too, in its crosshairs. Hundreds of people died, and along Canada’s coast, more than a billion marine animals were cooked to death due to the mass casualty event (as Multnomah county declared it). Depending on which experts you trust, the catastrophic heat wave was either worsened by, or outright couldn’t have happened without, human-caused global warming. Humans as in me, you, and the world’s most powerful predators, their names named and biographies analyzed by Spooky Connections in an effort to end impunity.

More disaster is on the way. The nonprofit news organization Climate Central, which as of summer 2019 listed rather mainstream funding — Goldman Sachs Charitable, several universities, the National Science Foundation, and so on — runs a Surging Seas project online. That undertaking includes an interactive map where you can pick a decade (2030, 2040, 2050, and so on), configure various other settings, and view sea level rise projections for any place you pick. The sea level rises will happen for chiefly two reasons: first, soaring temperatures heat water up, enlarging it, and second, ice that’s land-based (i.e., not currently part of the ocean), will melt, thus entering the ocean for the first time and swelling it. Given moderate scenarios, the neighborhood where I currently live, part of the West Seattle peninsula, is expected to be underwater within just 29 years.

Map of West Seattle (left), with red showing sea level rise, for 2050, given settings for medium luck, medium effort against pollution, etc.
85-second video showing predicted Vancouver BC sea level rise a hundred-plus years from now given different temperature endpoints

Information about global warming dangers streams in constantly from all sectors of life. The Pentagon has long considered climate change a threat to its abilities to threaten others. The Union of Concerned Scientists, in June 2018, produced a short report on the real estate implications of global warming-driven sea level rise in the contiguous United States; their analysis places hundreds of thousands of residential and commercial properties at risk of inundation across the next 30 years. The Seattle-based nonprofit news organization Grist offers regular reporting about climate change, including a Solutions Lab with articles amplifying positive ideas and efforts. Just the other day I watched someone draw #GreenNewDeal on the chalkboard of a pizza joint.

Don’t hate the media, become the media.” — Jello Biafra

Like the temperature, the propaganda war (“the debate”) looks set to intensify. This past week, the New York Times published an article about Fox Weather, Rupert Murdoch’s 24/7 channel to debut later this year as a competitor to The Weather Channel. Fox Weather will be both cable television and digitally offered, “part of a digital push by the Murdoch family,” as the NYT piece puts it. Fox Weather will be “overseen by Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, and Sharri Berg, a longtime Fox executive who helped launch Fox News at its inception in 1996.” As my personal experience with television types showed me, and as the excellent 1976 dark comedy film Network shows viewers, or heck, as even Alfred Bester’s schlocky 1950s novel The Rat Race shows readers, the employees in that industry are amoral careerists, interested in ratings and dollars, not prosocial behavior and truth.

Screenshot of a Facebook post. Bryant Pitcher wrote: "So, so ready for all these Occupy Wall Street people to be turned to mulch!" Others replied with predictable reactionary sentiments, such as "get a job" and "Time to squirt some dawn on the street and start those firehoses"
Facebook post by Bryant Pitcher, in 2011 a TV producer for the North Texas affiliate of CBS News. Wow, corporate newsfolk really do drink the wage-cage kool-aid, don’t they!

Back to the New York Times article:

“All the networks are ramping up for this,” said Jay Sures, a co-president of United Talent Agency who oversees its TV division. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that climate change and the environment will be the story of the next decade.”

It’s well-documented that FOX News has been teaching climate change denialism, and converting conservatives from their initial pro-GreenNewDeal positions to their current anti-GreenNewDeal positions, but I think there’s something more to the picture. A pharmacologically sedated population entrained by glowing screens, their minds filled with red political messiahs versus blue political messiahs, is easy to divide and rule. If that sounds kooky, consider that a few years time was all it took to turn red Romneycare into blue Obamacare, and Joe “I’m a proud capitalist” Biden’s infrastructure plan might end up merely a GOP plan, despite Dems controlling both Congressional houses and the White House. In other words, the duopoly is one party if you have enough functioning memory to not be fooled by the passage of a few years and the costume changes from red to blue or back again. Besides that point — which is a bit remedial and applies more to Boomer television-watchers; younger generations in the United States seem more politically astute, though not always — when global warming becomes undeniable, and displacing or eliminating populations becomes an even more overtly acknowledged strategy, FOX Weather will be there to explain why it’s necessary and good, like we saw in the pandemic context when in March 2020, Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick on FOX News bluntly said that grandparents should be sacrificed to coronavirus in order to protect trade.

Indie media is far superior to either the FOX insanity or the blue weaksauce of polite sites such as CBS News affiliates or, despite its useful sea level rise interactive map, Climate Central. Or, going further than weaksauce, consider Carl Bernstein’s reporting for Rolling Stone in 1977, showing the US media, with its globally powerful megaphone, working hand-in-glove with the Central Intelligence Agency; that’s something that’s no longer anything an investigator like Bernstein has to labor to uncover, since CIA agents openly run for federal office as Democrats nowadays (part one, part two), and despite reading my WhoWhatWhy article about him, people I know are still really into former CIA chief John Brennan, Obama’s assassination and torture czar, like an idol.

Compared with the above folks, DIY individuals or small squads, perhaps with barely used paypal buttons (ahem), constantly put out better material — tracking corporate destruction of the environment, including climate change, @OpCanary on Twitter supplies and amplifies the best knowledge nowadays — though investigative budgets would be really nice to have: lawsuits over stalled open records requests, travel funds to interview people, etc., are all expensive. Rather than fund journos like me to take a train somewhere and ask private spies trick questions (which of course you can do if you want!), it’d be far more reasonable to overhaul the decentralized data movement so everyone can participate.

How to remove the pacifier and address problems optimistically

The idyllic color photo shows mostly ocean water below cloudless blue sky, but there are several rocks jutting up from the water. In the distance are hills. Part of the water is sparkling from sun; it looks magical. There are also a few standing kayakers paddling their way through the water.
From the sun-sparkly Rosario Beach area; I think it’s a tide pool

A few months ago, someone asked me several times how I manage to read/skim so much unpleasant news daily and think about it daily. It’s a legitimate question that deserves a solid answer — it’s definitely true that in some ways, so much unhappy information can make a person feel down in the dumps and disempowered. I’ve yet to produce a concise reply to the question, so I’ve been working on an analogy to explain it, based on (an oversimplification of) the social roles analyzed in this book released in 2020. It’s an off-the-top-of-my-head cheesy fiction story. Here goes, more in summary format than scene.

Imagine a walled town, the grassy outskirts of which are filled with dangerous robotic monsters. (I think I just mixed up fantasy and science fiction tropes, like Ursula K. Le Guin’s fun 1966 novel Rocannon’s World or the beloved early Might and Magic computer games from the eighties, creating what’s sometimes called science fantasy.) In the comfy but anhedonic town are forgettable citizens. These reflectors, reflecting the ideal of the town itself, constantly tell each other slogans such as you shouldn’t care too much, and don’t think too hard, and if it’s not paying your bills, don’t worry about it. The temperature is rising, due to the robotic monsters, but the townspeople agree not to talk about it. They all remember what happened to Neftali, after all. Neftali wouldn’t shut up about the rising heat and the robots’ weird sonar-like instruments generated the heatwaves, and the townspeople made fun of Neftali so bad for it that she stopped going to their boardgame nights and even exited the town walls altogether.

Outside the walls, on the grassy fields, Neftali came across a huddled, quivering group of other outcasts: several individuals who’d also left, or who’d been ejected, from the walled town. They were pretty strange outcasts. Because they kept saying things like, Why don’t the boardgame people like me? or I was fucked up from the start, nothing will go right for me. Sometimes they even ran back into the town, trying to befriend the townspeople, but the townspeople simply made fun of them yet again, and then the outcasts had to slink back to their huddle on the grassy fields, commiserating and mumbling despair. They ate shitty food to make themselves feel better temporarily, they told each other they were too mental to exercise — one of the town’s psychiatrists, sans evidence, had diagnosed them with innate unabilityism — and they stayed up all night drinking caffeine and watching gory horror movies. Regularly, townspeople would go to the edges of the walls and angrily hurl insults down at the outcasts, who’d then, quivering, repeat the insults to themselves.

“Look,” Neftali said to these negative images, “enough with this internalized oppression; it’s no fun. I just read this strange thing called an investigative journalism report” — (I’d have to improve my cheesy analogy somehow; this is where genre fiction would usually throw in something like magic to give Neftali the ability to figure out plot-point data) — “that says several of the robotic monsters behind the heatwaves have broken down and are strewn across some rocks by that tide pool. If we could go over there …” She wanted to conclude, we could study their heatwave-generating instruments for helpful clues, but she was pretty lonely herself, and was pushing the tolerance of the huddled outcasts. Even that sugary shitty food was starting to look pretty tasty to her.

“No!” a huddled outcast screeched. “If you mention the robots and the heatwaves, you’re putting really bad energy out there; you’re hyping things that are bad. Stop forcing unpleasant things on other people. It makes everyone upset.” The outcast turned up the volume on a gory movie. “Someday a wonderful politician will arrive and save the day for us, but until then, the realistic thing to do is realize nobody can do anything about anything.”

Grr, Neftali thought, these outcasts are just as bad as the townspeople. She did notice, when the townspeople went to the walls to expectorate angry insults, and the huddled outcasts responded by quivering and flinching, the two sets of people had a creepy anger-fear symbiosis thing going on. The townspeople didn’t want to think or feel, trying to dodge the fate of the huddled outcasts, and not seeing any alternatives to this either-or; the huddled outcasts were just wrecks, often receiving guilt and shame the townspeople transfered to them, and the huddled outcasts similary didn’t see any alternatives to this whole symbiosis. Neftali didn’t want to get trapped in those roles, so she decided to go to the rocky tide pool herself. Except, with all the mysterious robots around, it was pretty dangerous to do that singlehandedly.

The image shows the conventional Freytag inverted checkmark plot formula. The rising action complications are circled with words added: You are here.
Let’s speed this part up.

Now we skip 200 pages in this hypothetical bestseller of rising action in which Neftali intelligently solves her problems, winning over two allies from the flinching outcast group (since no one can save the day alone), and learning about the hidden lair of the monstrous robots, plus their sonar-y, computer-y, very highly technological mainframe, with, I don’t know, an evil extraterrestrial origin, or rather, maybe they’re actaully controlled by certain secretive townspeople oligarchs. Anyway, Neftali’s sensible efforts have simultaneously irritated the monstrous robots, who’re not just gunning for her, but also cranking up the temperature to heat-dome proportions, meaning now the ordinary townspeople and the rest of the outcasts are after Neftali and her pair of comrades as well, blaming them. It’s really just the final image in the next paragraph that I want to leave people with, that ties into why I don’t find reading investigative journalism reports merely upsetting, but rather, strengthening, too.

As the unfeeling townspeople mute their buried rage or occasionally scream it, and the flinching outcasts quiver and whimper in the corner, Neftali and her allies face staggering odds, it’s true. But though Neftali did eat some of the crappy food and commiserate with the huddled outcasts from time to time, for the most part, she and her comrades feel healthy, strong, alive. They delight in their capability to smash monstrous robots; they know how to skillfully use their weapons and their bodies. They enjoy assessing the journalism reports of where the robots’ weaknesses might be. Even when one of the monstrous robots badly injured Neftali, in fact briefly imprisoning and torturing her before her comrades came to her rescue, that was much worse than, but also a little like, being physically sick: no one enjoys having, say, food poisoning: you want the vomiting and diarreah to stop asap, but once it’s over, you’re a little proud of your ability to get through it, trauma aside, and that you stuck it out successfully. You recover as best you can and it’s back to battle another day, the water in a jug tasting good and your mind clear from not eating the sugary food, from not accepting unabilityism.

Very incomplete list of steps to take against global warming

  • Consider divesting your energy from conventional politics, which already has millions of people and trillions of dollars — that sector doesn’t need new recruits — and investing it instead in radical politics, which, lacking enough genuine and hardworking individuals, does need new recruits
  • Read better (political) philosophy texts: Ursula K. Le Guin, Heather Marsh, to change everything, etc. This article “Installing new governance” might be of particular interest as something quick yet profound to read.
  • Better news sources: YAC.news, sub.media, @OpCanary, @OpDeathEaters, etc.
  • Resources for direct action, etc., like Beautiful Trouble, or sabotage.
  • Learn to travel slowly, and especially avoid cruise ships.
  • Go vegan or close to it.
  • Public libraries sometimes have really amazing free classes – I took a series of classes about how to file civil lawsuits in Washington state. People do things like this, they figure out ways to sue resources corporations over climate change.
  • People quit their jobs every single to day to defend the environment against resource corporations, for instance as water-protectors. Because it’s real that people are doing this, doing so is in fact realistic, just underreported and underdiscussed.
  • Learn about efforts in other countries, network with activists there, get to know them and share knowledge across borders.
  • Talk about injustices, and improve skill at such conversations so you’re not cowed when interlocuters try to enforce the norm of don’t-talk-about-it by various means (such as making fun of you or saying there are too many words or whatever). You can see how effective talking about controversial subjects actually is when you look at stories of people coming out of the closet or open dialogue methods.

News blasts: Myanmar and Brazil

Myanmar. I previously wrote news blasts about Myanmar (in chronological order from earliest to most recent) here, here, and here. The very short version of the overall situation is that in February 2021, the military in Myanmar, also known as the Tatmadaw, seized power in a coup d’état, and the public has been joining ethnic armed militias or a civil disobedience movement to resist. In the months before the coup (note: authoritarians plan, prepare, and execute their programs across months, years, or even decades or centuries, given institutional memory), as Reuters reported in mid-May, officials tied to the Tatmadaw ordered telecomm and internet companies in the country to install intercept spyware to monitor the public. This includes tracing SIM cards, intercepting calls, blocking websites, and more. (Note: circa 2010-2015, I don’t remember the time frame more specifically, when I called defense lawyers regarding political hacktivism cases, the connections would at times suffer from odd clicks and disconnects; separately, a defense lawyer working ‘national security’ cases, including for clients accused of terrorism, once told me many similar things that happened at their office that they assumed were tell-tale signs of surveillance.) Last week, Reuters further reported, that the junta has told domestic and foreign telecomm and internet company executives that they’re banned from leaving Myanmar without permission and that they must finish fully installing spyware systems to allow the authorities to spy on the public’s calls, messages, and web traffic. The same day as last week’s Reuters article, Frontier Myanmar published a report explaining how the country’s police, shortly before the coup, set up a special cybersecurity team to track the public’s web usage, particularly (but not limited to) Facebook, and to surveil phone calls, using artificial intelligence to mine calls by the public and notify cops to review those in which words like “protest” or “revolution” were used.

https://twitter.com/JusticeMyanmar/status/1413772297295392773

Below, a 3.5-minute video by YAC.news is embedded. It covers the junta banning telecomm executives from leaving the country.

Also embedded below, a video by YAC.news a little longer than four minutes, titled “Between The Fascist Junta And COVID19 Myanmar Faces A Catastrophic Healthcare Collapse.” Here’s the transcript. To excerpt key points of that information about the Myanmar healthcare collapse:

At least 1.5 million people have been vaccinated according to regime media but the actual number is difficult to verify. Medical experts on ground say the number could be far less than announced. […] Since the coup d’etat, the junta has mismanaged the country’s health care system, nearly collapsing it by saturating it with injured protestors. The former head of Myanmar’s COVID-19 immunisation programme, Htar Htar Lin, was arrested and faces charges of high treason for promoting democracy. She and 11 other doctors were arrested for supporting democracy and allegedly organizing with the ousted and legitimate government of Myanmar, they may face long term imprisonment or death. […] The number of people being tested for COVID19 has also dropped due to fears of being arrested by the junta at testing spots. Oxygen is also running low across several townships and people have been reported to be dying due to a lack of it. The elderly are especially being affected by the virus and are reportedly the majority of the dead so far. […] All and all the junta has been an unmitigated disaster to the healthcare system and the handling of the pandemic. […] According to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), as of last month mutated strains of the virus, including the Delta variant, have been tearing through the country. At least 165,405 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Myanmar since the virus was first detected at the end of March 2020. At least 3,419 deaths have been attributed to the virus nationwide although medical experts on the ground have show skepticism and believe the some of the deaths attributed COVID-19 deaths may have been people murdered by the junta. As of Saturday, Bago, Sagaing and Yangon regions have reported the most coronavirus cases. […] While the regime has continued to administer some vaccines, it is now desperate to restart the economy it collapsed through its illegal take over. It is currently attempting to force people to return to school and work despite the specter of COVID19 creeping faster and faster across the nation.

This app can help people in Myanmar find oxygen needed due to coronavirus.

In the past week, a history writer in the Pacific Northwest, Edith Mirante, wrote a 20-tweet thread about the history of the relationship between Myanmar and Russia, which currently consists mainly of Russian arms deals and diplomatic enabling for the Myanmar junta.

Finally, a video from today or today-ish, and a little longer than a minute, is embedded below, showing courageous protestors defying the junta to rally for democracy, chanting in Burmese “Annihilate the Fascist Army!”

Brazil. A member of the BRICS trading group — Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa — and one of the strongest trade economies in South America (Argentina is another), Brazil is one of the places in the world hardest hit by COVID-19. More than half a million have been killed there by the disease, but Brazil’s fascist president Jair Bolsonaro downplayed coronavirus, comparing it to the flu. Bolsonaro is hated for this. He’s a big fan of Donald Trump and his administration is accused of corruption in international vaccine negotiations. An Al Jazeera article from this week reported that the majority of Brazilians surveyed support impeaching Bolsonaro. Last month, when the Brazilian leader attempted to board a commercial plane, he was run out by the passengers, who heckled him and called him a genocidaire; a video of this, some 40 seconds in duration, is embedded below.

Brazilian Universal Basic Income activist Fabiana Cecin tweeted the following context for Brazil on July 3: “Brazil is under a thinly-veiled QAnon-grade far-right military dictatorship. The bulk of high-level federal employees have been fired and replaced with military brass. Even some of the absolute top-level political cabinets were stuffed with generals.” That tweet was in response to an article by Brasil Wire, an independent news organization hosted and published in Europe, about CIA director William J. Burns arriving in late June to meet with Bolsonaro. Brasil Wire says all polls show Bolsonaro would lose in the upcoming 2022 election against popular former president Lula da Silva, so now, a week after meeting with Burns, Bolsonaro is making threats that the 2022 presidential elections in Brazil may not happen at all. The CIA of course has a long history of sponsoring coups in South America to ensure authoritarian regimes are in power. See also Operation Condor.

Reporting on another incident, this YAC.news article from July 9 explains that in late June, the Brazilian authorities, in a pre-dawn raid, evicted hundreds of people from the “May 1st Refugee Camp” on behalf of state-owned oil giant Petrobras. About 64,500 Brazilian families are internally displaced and living in “unauthorized” settlements.

Below are embedded two videos from YAC.news, followed by the airplane video. The first from YAC is this one from July 4, just under three minutes, about the Bolsonaro administration’s corrupt vaccine deals and thousands of Brazilian protestors gathering in 40-something cities in response. Here’s the transcript. The second from YAC is this one from May 30, about 2.5 minutes, that looks at why Brazilians are demanding Bolsonaro step down. Here’s that transcript.

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Creative Commons License

This blog post, PNW heat dome, climate change media, and optimistic fiction, plus Myanmar and Brazil 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 the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/10/heatdome-climatechange-media-optimistic-fiction-myanmar-brazil/ 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.
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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.

Review of education books, part one of two

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 15 of 52.

The image shows a tank pointing its gun barrel at a child sitting in a school desk. A soldier's head is poking out the top of the tank's hatch, and the soldier is yelling: "Learn!" The tank has a U.S. flag.
Compulsory education, imposed by nearly all governments

Currently my day job is substitute teaching in public education, something I did previously in Texas, too. Mostly known for popping into rowdy classrooms for a single day at a time, substitutes sometimes work long-term assignments also, effectively replacing the regular teacher across multiple weeks or months, as I’m doing now. There’s a lot I could say about schooling, especially this spring as students in the United States are encouraged to return to poorly outfitted classrooms against the advice of epidemiologists. I worry some of the innovations (to use bizspeak) hit upon during the struggles of remote learning might be forgotten in the rush back to so-called normalcy — for instance, teaching to the test and one-size-fits-all attitudes were thankfully dropped in the last year, but they’ll presumably return soon unless there’s a fight to stop them. Recently I sent many freelance pitches on the subject out to corporate media, nonprofit news, and literary magazines; we’ll see if I get a commission. In the meantime, I thought something quick and focused on the topic might be nice to self-publish here.

There are four books on education that have had an impact on me. What follows is a short review of two of them. In the near future, I’ll blog about the other two. (I’m just cutting in half what would otherwise be a review of four books, in the interest of saving time.)

By Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, 1995. I read this roughly a decade ago, around the time I was first going into teaching in Texas. I no longer have a copy of the award-winning bestseller on hand, but I remember the book was very much a tearjerker. It describes public education in the poorest U.S. congressional district then and now, in the Bronx. Kozol exposes in great detail the poverty, racism, and other injustice of public education there, telling the stories of individual students and families. I strongly remember how he very effectively depicts, as the New York Times review puts it, “the hypersegregation of our cities [that] allows whites to maintain physical as well as spiritual distance from complex and daunting urban problems.” Kozol describes the heroic effort put in by many school employees, and the ways employees, students, and families supported one another. In the wealthy private schools I experienced, something like a diagnosis of severe mental illness (whatever that means) would serve as pseudo-justification for ostracizing and making fun of a troubled kid. But I’ve seen firsthand in public schools, otherwise beaten down by a lack of resources and care from the surrounding world, how some students will of their own initiative provide unpaid support to diagnosed kids, just to aid them — something the upper, upper middle, or intelligenstia classes will completely forget exists, erased in their addiction to comfort. I also remember a friendly coach who collected donated clothes and stored them in a portable for poor students to have. I could tell those stories and many more in great detail, some other time. It’s just to say that the contrasts between fancy-pants private schools and worn-down public schools are very striking. The latter aren’t utopias to be romanticized — many bullies and awful, fatalistic teachers, along with other problems, fill public schools, but with 50+ million people in the public education system across the United States, they deserve more attention than the intelligentsia usually deign to give them. You can find out more about Amazing Grace on Kozol’s website. As the book’s subtitle suggests, that the well-off let most public schools rot, shows the low approval given to children, compared with, say, the high approval given to video games (gauged by discrepancy in amount of time individuals devote to each). Thankfully in many areas that’s been changing dramatically in the past few years. I should conclude with the caveat that since I haven’t read this book in a very long time, I don’t know what all I would make of it now were I to re-read it.

The image shows the jacket cover of the Homeroom Security book. In addition to the author's name and book title, the jacket shows five helmeted cops with pointed guns sweeping a school hallway

By Aaron Kupchik, Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, 2010. This book, published by NYU Press, I also read roughly a decade ago — due to a very good review of it at Salon. Homeroom Security combines two topics I follow, education and authoritarianism (surveillance, cops everywhere, crushing of dissent, etc.). Like the Salon review says, the sociology/criminology professor wrote it in such a fair way that doubters who read the book can really be won over to his “radical” thesis: social support and participatory environments make schools safe, not the battle-zone mentality. I remember also (I haven’t read it in a decade, so again the same caveat as with Amazing Grace) that the academic Kupchik very effectively integrates both quantitative methods (statistics regarding money, measurable outcomes, and more) with qualitative ones (interviews, visiting the campuses for long durations like an an anthropologist, and so on). Most importantly, the book discusses how the armed cops, surveillance systems, and other military-like features lately ubiquitous in schools condition kids to believe those elements are just normal in life, to be expected always, rather than only sensible as rare emergency measures (i.e., humans have unfortunately set up the endo-realities of our our social/governance systems as if we’re experiencing permanent nonstop emergency, with all the health-destroying stress that entails). I’ll let the excellent Salon review — which is mostly an interview with Kupchik — finish up my work for me: below, Kupchik talking with the Salon interviewer:

We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years. […] As part of my research, I interviewed students, and one of the questions that seemed like a good idea at the start was asking them whether they liked having the SROs [school resource officers] in their schools. For me, having gone to public schools without cops, this really seemed odd to me, to put police officers in peaceful schools. And the students were puzzled by this question, and I quickly realized that it makes no sense to them because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s completely normal. It makes about as much sense as if you asked them, “Should your school have a principal?”

The two books above, I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about public education. The other two I’ll post about in the near future.

In conclusion

For now, let me conclude by saying that what I’ve found most important as a substitute teacher in a long-term assignment is just showing up, being truly present, for the kids. So they know they have someone consistent, there each school-day to greet them, who won’t be a mean-spirited dictator. A simple example: if students are marked repeatedly tardy or absent, there can be a variety of unfortunate repercussions for them. If they’re a few minutes late, it’s safer to just mark them present than it is to force them into a show-down with the quasi-legal system embedded in the schools, when the real problem might be a late bus or a domestic crisis or lack of nutrition/sleep or any number of other things that may be no one’s fault. Having a teacher they can count on not to be a threat, is important, in this otherwise stressful, endosocial world of permanent nonstop emergency that we’ve built for ourselves. And then, I can teach students about geometry and whatever else. Student challenges with, say, math, are often simply troubles with English language learning for migrant/refugee kids, or students understandably feeling miserable with, and resistant to, compulsory education in the first place. It’s helpful when school settings permit teachers to pick just one little piece of the math puzzle that students are struggling with, and break it down, teach it slowly, to make sure everyone understands, while meanwhile giving the advanced students enrichment books to pursue on their own. With the likely return of teaching-to-the-test pressure (or the school loses funding when students don’t pass) and one-size-fits-all in the name of efficiency, not to mention grief and stress in connection with the pandemic — and the poverty, racism, and authoritarianism Kozol and Kupchik document — I fear there are dark days ahead for U.S. public schools. But with the Internet encouraging people to become more outspoken about everything, to stick up for themselves and others, there’s also a lot of room for hope.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Review of education books, part one of two, 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/2021/04/17/education-books-review-1of2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.