Note: In 2022, I’m once again writing 52 blog entries, posted every Sunday. Today: Post 2 of 52. Flash fiction by me will soon arrive weekly too, by February, with these regular nonfiction blog postscontinuing.
Note: The photos in this entry are from this seven-tweet threadby NPR journalist Libby Denkmann who attended a student-led protest outside Seattle Public Schools headquarters on Thursday.
For one or more days this past workweek, according to data firm Burbio (accessed today), 6,003 public schools in the United States have been actively disrupted, defined as campuses not offering in-person learning. The country has around 130,000 public K-12s, but the Burbio statistic is still shocking. On Thursday, Seattle Public Schools said: “Due to very high absentee and quarantine rates, several Seattle Public Schools have either transitioned to remote learning or have been closed.”
On Friday, the Washington Postreported on the sickout movement: schoolkids countrywide, sparked by the increasing number of illnesses and deaths from the current Omicron mutation wave, are refusing to attend compulsory face-to-face classes unless adequate COVID safeguards are put into place. Many educators are sicking out as well; other industries are seeing their own sickouts, the term there referring to employees not showing up due to the ‘rona (current infection or risk thereof) and perhaps with r/antiwork-style resisistance thrown in too.
The Omicron wave has surrounded my own life. Here in the Emerald City, I’ve watched a friend suffer his own breakthrough illness from the latest variant in the last month; I’ve seen multiple businesses temporarily closing due to staffing shortages. (And during Spring 2021, a brave student in a math class I taught informed us she’d contracted a pre-Omicron version of novel coronavirus, a scary ordeal for her and the rest of us.)
U.S. authorities have provided the public with mere bargain bin quasi-solutions
Many of the public health measures in the United States are only half functional, akin to leftovers from the discount pile. School district spokespeople talk up ventilation and (years back) handwashing, but anyone who has entered campuses in poor neighborhoods knows about unopenable windows and empty soap dispensers. Meanwhile, The Center for Covid Control—accused profiteers running pop-up testing sites from coast to coast—has been reported, by health departments and city governments and consumers and journalists and others, to the Washington state attorney general, the attorney general in Florida, and attorney generals elsewhere for fraud, notably sending people invented test results while they were still waiting in line to produce samples. And the three vaccines offered in the U.S. offer only some protection (I received three doses of Pfizer), decreasingly so as mutations erupt continually, as anyone who has endured, or received a text message about, a breakthrough case realizes.
For USians, better public health measures found around the world feel shrouded in a fog of war. The multiple other vaccines planetwide, let alone the laws/pacts controlling who can ship them internationally, aren’t on the radar of the average stressed person trying to get by. Even the University of Washington nanoparticle vaccine (study in Cell), which should be making headlines regularly and prompting inquisitive auditing from investigative journalists, is largely unknown. That one, presently in stage three trials, aims to inoculate against SARS, MERS, SARS-CoV-2, and every other present or future coronavirus (and variant thereof) in the beta segment. (Orthocoronavirinae, to which the popular term ‘coronavirus’ typically refers, has 45 virii divided into four genera, one of which, and nowadays the most dangerous to humans of which, is the beta segment containing 14 of the 45 species.)
Who has the time and freedom to educate themselves on the COVID trainwreck such that herd mentality may be minimized? Very few have hours and hours available to conduct independent (and thus usually unpaid or underpaid) autodidactic research on an unfamiliar issue to an understanding approaching intermediate level or above. That leaves many to affiliate with a meme-simplified, speculation-heavy side such as right or left, vaxx or antivaxx, probably partly in hopes of cliquing up with others for sheer survival rather than mastering a topic in accordance with impersonal logic. There are professionals who in theory are paid to address crises expertly, but they succumb to untruth too.
Such politicization is evidenced, for example, in the additional information, released Tuesday, about emails involving chief White House medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci. You might recall that Fauci emails from the initial months of the pandemic were published in June 2021 in redacted form by Buzzfeed News (3234 pages of emails) and the Washington Post (866 pages of emails). Republicans on the federal House Committee on Oversight and Reform saw unredacted versions made available in camera by the Department of Health and Human Services and, while they couldn’t make copies, they were allowed to take notes on them, a task I assume done by skilled transcriber underlings.
The additional information newly revealed includes records related to a February 1, 2020 phone conference between Dr Fauci, his then-boss Francis Collins, and several of the world’s leading virologists.
It shows some of the world-renowned scientists believed, at the time, that it was likely the novel coronavirus was human-altered and that it may somehow have escaped a Wuhan lab. Virologist Robert Garry, for instance, wrote that he was unconvinced the pathogen evolved naturally. Evolutionary biologist Andrew Rambau wrote: “The biggest hinderance at the moment (for this and more generally) is the lack of data and information […] I think the only people with sufficient information or access to samples to address it would be the teams working in Wuhan.” There are no certain answers yet; just sufficient smoke to point to a serious fire of some sort.
Definitely the National Institutes of Health officials wanted an ass-pull cover-up for political reasons. Garry told The Intercept that after the call, he was advised not to “mention a lab origin as that will just add fuel to the conspiracists.” Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier wrote in one email: “further debate would do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular” (see also; see especially). Fauci’s boss Francis Collins advised the virologists to shut down talk of unnatural evolution or a lab leak—to protect “international harmony.”
By March 2020, Garry had changed his mind based on scientific evidence, coming to believe instead that SARS-CoV-2 likely developed without human intervention, but the recently exposed NIH officials’ insistences a month prior don’t exactly inspire trust in the intelligentsia, now do they.
Tuesday’s news connects with ongoing reporting from Vanity Fair about NYC-based EcoHealth Alliance and its pre-pandemic interest in working with Wuhan virologists (all institutions in China are mixed up with the Chinese Communist Party). In October 2021, the magazine reported the National Institutes of Health belatedly acknowledged EcoHealth Alliance enhanced the capacity of coronavirus to infect humans to such an extreme that the nonprofit had violated its own grant conditions by not reporting the danger they’d created. The same Vanity Fair piece discusses the grant proposal EcoHealth Alliance sent to the Pentagon’s research arm DARPA in 2018, recommending a partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to construct SARS-related coronaviruses into which they would insert “human-specific cleavage sites” as a way to “evaluate growth potential” of the pathogens.
The connection between those reports and last week’s? Virologists on the February 2020 conference call expressed startlement at an unusual segment of the novel coronavirus’s genetic code: a furin cleavage site that makes the virus more infectious by allowing it to efficiently enter human cells. A month later, in Nature Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal that’s part of the prestigious Nature Publishing Group portfolio, scientists on the conference call, including Garry, published “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” in which they downgrade February 2020 suspicions that novel coronavirus was likely to have been lab-altered to possible but unlikely. I’m told that, in oversimplified terms, such virology research essentially entails comparing protein shapes of various virii strains to one another statistically to assess likelihoods of how precisely the pathogens may have changed or evolved over time.
Pointing to the Proximal Origin study, Garry corresponded with The Intercept about its report on this past workweek’s newest puzzle piece to say the March 2020 study reflects his revised view. In any case, the latest information involving the February 2020 conference call is a story of top virologists told to downplay their then-suspicions not for scientific reasons, but for political ones. That’s obviously bad for scientific integrity. And the March 2020 paper doesn’t rule out that SARS-CoV-2 could have been created through artifical techniques.
Shall we speculate about the origins of COVID-19? One possibility is that scientists pursued making coronavirii far more dangerous for whatever good or bad reasons, a practice controversial among scientists, and then SARS-CoV-2, perhaps enhanced in its danger to humans, slipped out of a Wuhan lab accidentally. Then maybe people associated with the research panicked, because money was being misused, and anything they might try to say to explain themselves would just sound nefarious. There’s no smoking gun; at minimum, it’s yet another example of opaque or mostly opaque systems impairing science and public health.
And we can all imagine less charitable possibilities.
Politicizing science, as NIH brass sought in February 2020, certainly doesn’t help reveal the origins of the pandemic, one of the more recent iterations of the powerful’s longstanding and ongoing genocide of global humanity, particularly those disabled or dispossessed. Authoritarians don’t need to put soldiers on the streets (though they do that as well) to terrify or decrease populations when they can just ignore their public health needs from yachts.
Thankfully, the pandemic’s origins don’t need to be completely understood for clear-eyed students to fight for their right not to inhale this thing, something of extra importance for people blocked from nutritious food, aerobic exercise, or other boons strengthening respiratory and immune systems, as well as blocked from free quality masks, infection testing that actually works, and the legal entitlement (for those with disabilities, which is ultimately everyone if you think about it) to free appropriate public education that should include transparency for all of us to learn exactly what the powerful—both government and corporate actors—are doing to us.
Some but not enough educators have been supportive of the schoolkids, but will more adults support them as is their grown-up responsibility, and if so, how? I’ll write about that next weekend.
After all, why should children have to be the ones to do this?
Note: In 2022, I’m once again writing 52 blog entries, posted every Sunday. Flash fiction by me will soon arrive weekly too, by February, after I finish figuring out the tech details of where precisely on this website I might place itso you can conveniently leave comments.
In that post, I explained techniques to save money, such as cold-calling companies and asking for a discount. That, in my own experience, can yield exasperated annoyance from customer service staff at one extreme, and at the opposite extreme, third-off coupon codes good forever. Another great idea is to join (or start!) your local Food Not Bombs chapter, where long-term volunteers frequently have brilliant ideas for grabbing free grub, among them identifying which restaurants share surplus food, locating which dumpsters offer scavenging divers the best cuisine, and more.
Today I’d like to tell you about this one time I got something for zero bucks from a corporation. Except it ain’t fancy feast.
Time for the trash can
The Internet of Things is the market segment for turning everyday consumer objects into online gizmos. If you fondly sing the praises of CRT televisions—no, not Critical Race Theory TVs, I mean Cathode Ray Tube ones—because they work unfailingly for half a century, and you correctly cast insults down upon giant flat-screen televisions that cost thousands but don’t work since they suddenly require downloading a patch from Samsung or some other corp, then you too know the pitfalls of the Internet of Shit.
Gizmo-ification of everything even extends to trash cans. Of course, finding a trash can for your kitchen at the thrift store is the best! But at embarrassing moments, I’ve dragged myself into awful domestic big box stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond (beyond … where?). Those shameful moments when I’ve been absolutely convinced I immediately need a towel of a certain color or some stupidity like that. Besides punishing shoppers with in-store video advertising so loud you can hear it clear across the building, a nightmare retailer of this type will showcase for you the very latest in consumerist horror.
Yes, I mean today’s trash cans, the Internet-equipped ones you can talk to.
Let’s get something straight. Such technology can be important for people with disabilities and for other situations that may not leap to the minds of the privileged. I’m all for such innovations and would love to hear about them in the comments. Lemme know if I’m wrong, but I somehow doubt the trash cans at Bed Bath and Beyoncé are the ideal options for such scenarios. And yeah, maybe a USian with a disability—like, say, infatuation—is driven to go to Bed Bath and BayBey because the legit need to impress a love interest has somehow got twisted into the anxiety-laden, bonkers idea that it all hinges on having that towel of the exact right color. We’ve all been there, mutatis mutandis, right?
That said, before discussing saving money on a trash can, let’s by all means inspect a newfangled, expensive trash can that talks.
Oh Goddess, please (don’t ever) trash me
Witness, if you will, the 58 liter, dual compartment, voice-activated, motion-capable, stainless steel—excuse me, make that brushed stainless steel—trash can a California-based company lovingly crafted just for o̶u̶r̶ ̶w̶a̶l̶l̶e̶t̶s̶ us.
Our world-class instance of talking trash above has on Amazon 5 stars after more than 10,000 reviews, which, the way things are headed, I may be adding to soon enough myself as a drunk but giggling ghostwriter. For the uninitiated, that’s writing fake reviews for dough, Mac. Gotta fund unpaid/underpaid human rights investigative journalism and random musings somehow, for example, with donations from people who have $200 trash cans and a sense of humor.
A three-star Amazon review by the mononymous, TP-astute Paul sounds, to be conciliatory, fair and balanced:
I love everything but the fact that you can not turn off the voice sensor. I play music in the background all day. The can open when it hears something close to “open can” in the music. And it happens alot. It will wear out real fast. There is no switch to turn off the voice sensor and keep the motion senor on. I can not find a microphone hole to plug it with tissue paper as a hack to fix the issue.
The $200 price tag does not include tax, nor your crucial rush-speed shipping and handling. And don’t forget the recurring expense of the bespoke liners—admittedly featuring swank double-seam construction and an even swankier perfect fit, to be sure—for which you’re gonna need to liquidate your entire cryptocoin portfolio.
By the way, California’s top-tier trash can company is called: simplehuman.
News you can use: today’s token-saving tip
As the renowned economist Snoop Dogg suggested implicitly in his scholarly, NSFW treatise Drop It Like It’s Hot—ticking my tongue like said rapper when that song came out in 2004, I practiced its beat on my shower wall for cumulative hours and hours, not knowing myself to someday become an aspiring if reluctant ace businessman aiming for European citizenship plus frugal trash cans—a scientific study (reportedly) shows handling cash is like snorting coke, and probably only partly because many dolla dolla bills are themselves contaminated with traces of cocaine. Illustrating unSnoopy high diction, the scientists of the latter link write dryly:
The contamination may occur through direct contact during drug trafficking with the same people handling the cocaine powder and the money; or rolling up the banknote for sniffing the powder through the tube formed.
[link added, obviously]
If subject matter experts reading this know the (likely news-savvy) researchers in question are lacking in scientific integrity and are as desperate for clicks as DJ Snoopadelic (and freelance bloggers), then please, correct me in the comments. Hiphop historians, I admit, I’m curious about The Snoopzilla’s personal trash can …
Anyhow, another way to ask corporations for freebies is to amuse them.
For example, this past week, akin to fond memories of Julia Child a century ago corresponding with her faraway penpal via slow snailmail across the Atlantic, I corresponded, via chat with support agent, with some outsource contractor as bored as I was. I needed to know if my auto insurance provided roadside assistance at no or minimal additional charge. I forget how it started, but she typed a lol; I sent a <3. I asked if her roadside assistance coverage included all of North America. “Yes, it covers the United States,” she said, PR-perfect. Hmm, I said, how about Mars? “That would cost millions to get your car up there,” she said, “and it would cost us millions to get our tow truck up there, so no :)” How about Jupiter, I inquired. She and I left it there—sorry, no wedding to invite you to—out of my perhaps overly cautious reticence, not wanting to creep out a random employee accidentally, though in my experience, internet customer service agents appreciate this sort of thing as an escape from raging Karens. And, to the point, they’ll not infrequently become far more helpful and suddenly drop, as though its temperature has been heated, a discount code. (Don’t try this, incels; learn how to take a shower first, then baby-steps from there.)
In terms of trash cans, not too long after the latest pandemic hit Seattle, I tripped over my trash can lid—which was on the floor from, essentially, pandemic stress incl. my unpaid/underpaid researching of the good DHHS whistleblower Dr Rick Bright (where the rest of those exhibits, Doc? Beware testing the patience of this otherwise supportive-of-you indie journalist, not to mention bewaring the possibility of a forthcoming appeal, after which comes a lawsuit in a summons carriage, where my pro bono lawyers at?). The lid broke. I despaired of buying or even finding another such flawless trash can. That beaut was dirt cheap, yet supplied all my funky kitchen needs. It didn’t have WiFi. And best of all, I didn’t need to talk to it, and it didn’t try to talk to me.
Thus, hoping for a free lid, I typed a politely obsequious message into the website of the Something Corporation, clicked submit, and promptly forgot about it. I don’t want to name the corp, lest I be accused of doing product placement—this is my real name byline website, where I aim to give you the truth, not my ghostwriting hack jobs, which hey, if you want those, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, yo! And let’s face it, I don’t think the Something Corporation wants to be on my blog, either, where I recommend dat research shizzle showing which corporate actors are connected to which others, etc. As for simplehuman, fuck them.
Here’s a slightly redacted version of what I sent on an April 2020 Friday:
Dear [Something Corp],
About 2-3 months ago, I bought my black [Something] trash can #xxxx at a small hardware store here in Seattle. I can try to find the receipt if you need it. I’ve been really excited about your product because not only did I not want a flimsy cheap trash can, I also didn’t want some ridiculously expensive voice-activated trash can either. I do not need to talk with my trash can! Yours is Just Right and fits my kitchen perfectly.
However, yesterday, due to covid19 stress my kitchen was a mess with random stuff lying all over the tiled floor, including the black lid to your #xxxx black trash can (don’t ask). Then I, while cooking, tripped and fell, like something out of slapstick, sending olive oil flying everywhere and my foot landing on your trash can lid, breaking it, including cracking pieces and everything. Sad face!
So I’m wondering if you could sell me a black #xxxx trash can lid independently of the lower section of the trash can. I took 3 quick pictures and stuck them on my website to show you what I mean, see links below. 1 of 3 shows the #xxxx black lower trash can body, which is still standing completely fine where it should be, just now sadly bereft of a lid. 2 of 3 shows the broken lid on the floor, complete with olive oil goo all over it. 3 of 3 shows the impressive damage I managed to do while falling, breaking off that black piece of the lid.
1 of 3: [deleted]
2 of 3: [deleted]
3 of 3: [deleted]
Soooooooooo how much would you charge me for just the black lid thingie to go on top of my black #xxxx, to replace my broken lid? How would payment be processed and so on?
Thank you very much,
Imagine my grateful surprise when on the following Monday I received a response. Behind the 1950s corporate mask of a writing style, you can almost see the employee (not a contractor, judging by his email addy) laughing, or at least smiling, as he beneficently elects to exercise mercy on behalf of the nonhuman Something Corporation:
Thank you for contacting [Something Corporation].
Thank you for the images. As a general practice, [Something Corporation] does not provide replacement parts as products are manufactured and are sold as a unit.
However, as a onetime courtesy I have arranged to pull one lid from production. Delivery might take up to 14 days via UPS ground […]
First M. Last Something Corporation E-mail: FLast@Something.com
“pull one lid from production” … I’ve always wondered what happened to the rest of that particular trash can, its lid perhaps raised away on a forklift-plus-pincer by a burly Joycean laborer and, like a commodity out of Das Kapital Volume 2, transported and transported, ultimately to land on the doorstep of my wizardly Seattle high castle. Maybe it’s at, if not Snoop Dogg’s, then First M. Last’s house.
In trash canclusion
Radicals made bitter sometimes assume corporations and their outsource contractor firms to be full of evil enemies. They are! But also, they’re full of bored people who might hate their CEOs more than radicals do. And besides, people aren’t static blocks. They might be an evil enemy in the morning, a bored boss by the afternoon, and a true hero in the night. And so on. Ideological purity doesn’t generate prosocial change—it’s at best just a stopgap measure that makes our social/emotional pain and uncomfortable questions go away … for the short run.
And besides, you really wanna save money on trash cans? Use old grocery bags. Even the smartest of us are sometimes stupid and in need of the genius obvious.
Note: In 2021, I wrote a new blog post every weekend or so. I skipped Week 51 for various reasons. But here’s the final entry for this year, number 52!
In 2021, I blogged for an entire year consistently for the first time in my life. I wrote a new entry each and every weekend, pretty much. The effort totaled 42 posts.
This post describes what I learned from the experience as well as my writing plans for 2022. Then in closing, a list of all 42 posts from 2021 with their titles and hyperlinks; the ones I recommend most are in bold.
What I learned from a year of blogging
Before 2021, I wrote blog posts often, but I was either rusty (years back) or simply hadn’t yet managed to pull off a full year of nonfiction blogging (2020). That’s now changed with my completed year of blogging in 2021.
My blog entries this year have usually been about matters of social significance … except in many ways, I wrote them for me, primarily to improve my blogging skills and consistency. Putting together an entry remains a lot of underpaid/unpaid work—often a single post, when all is said and done, eats up an entire weekend—but it no longer feels particularly overwhelming. Nowadays I’m confident I can bust out such a blog post easily. Might feel sleep deprived and a bit out-of-body after making phone calls and staring at PDF details for ten hours straight, but such mild nuisances are at this point mere matters of routine.
Regarding writing craft. Readers have told me they don’t have much time to read my posts, what with crumbs to clean and kids to feed. They’ve asked for shorter posts. And I have been shifting toward providing shorter entries. Plus, I usually now include reader-friendly subheads and try to stick to a single point or two, or at least mark where my train of thought diverts to a side topic. That wasn’t the case when I began in January, but now it thankfully is.
Another big lesson I learned was how important the under-the-hood elements of a blog are. For example, this year, for the first time in half a decade, I updated the blogroll (list of links on the right side). To oversimplify, online writers shifted from the blogosphere to social media half a decade or more ago, but now we seem to be returning, at least a very little, to individual URLs, so it was time to spiff mine up. I added, across my website (here and here specifically), images of publicity I’ve received over a decade-plus from various venues. I scrutinized my whole website to upgrade hyperlinks from HTTP to HTTPS. I improved the leave-a-comment area to hopefully make it more enticing for readers to use. For instance, it now optionally sends you a notification email after I approve your comment following its initial hold in the moderation queue. All that stuff took not exactly gigantic, but still significant, amounts of time.
Many of my posts include original research, the result of excitedly engaging sheer curiosity. While writing about the Belarusian dictatorship declaring opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya a terrorist, to take one example of dozens, I found the Belarusian KGB’s online Excel spreadsheet (since taken down) where you could see her designation on Sheet 1, Row 730. It’s my hope that readers might share my curiosity and click through to see such a crazy spreadsheet, and thereby become more invested in themselves (their own curiosity, passion, etc.) as well as in the Belarusian pro-democracy resistance that involves the United States too. Hopefully such research—even if some items, like the online KGB spreadsheet, aren’t exactly revelations—makes my posts unique in a field where journalistic competitors often offer nothing more than speculation. I remembered what I already knew from a decade ago, my days of pouring through Stratfor emails, that it takes quite a lot of time to conduct such research and fit it into a post, especially since researchers never know ahead of time for sure what they will or won’t find.
I don’t like the dumbed-down approach, even if it would generate dolla dolla bill. Yet I’m having to slowly drag myself in that direction, kicking and screaming, since this blog made, in 2021, less than $20 USD in donations. Bear with me for a moment; I’m not going to complain, just point out some facts that impact whether this blog will continue, not in 2022, but in 2023. Too often, audiences haven’t deigned to consider any story wherein they themselves might need to change, including when it comes to forking over cash; since in the blog relationship, audiences monopolize the power of the purse, that leaves us with a story about how independent content creators should alone bear the burden of changing. Have you tried Patreon? Are you on Medium? I’ve heard people are having success on Substack, why aren’t you there yet? When I do comply with those requests, audiences typically move the goalposts, mentioning yet another site they expect me to add a profile to instead of opening their wallets. In the final analysis, just as audiences are slow to change from banal complicity with oligarchs to amazing resistance against them, so they’re likewise slow to warm up to the idea that they could deliver donations instead of unsolicited advice about how I might could milk donations out of some other third party. Well, authors have been complaining, er not complaining, about this for only hundreds of years. And besides, blogging, even unpaid, is a much better way to spend time than being forced to work in a mine or not having any freedom of expression. It’s just, when I leave the United States for the Netherlands in mid- to late 2022 if they approve my business plan (under the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty), there’s every reason to think I just might have to quit blogging in 2023 due to lack of income from it.
I’ve ghostwritten oodles of content marketing pieces in the past decade and I’ve recently begun a highly regarded content marketing certification course—but I hope not to revamp my blog in that style. Thankfully, even putting out verbose, meandering posts routinely led to or at least likely facilitated additional opportunities for me this year, including giving a talk at a college hacker club and a quite sizable, important venue commissioning a nonfiction essay from me for 2022. And I’m not much for another option sometimes seen: the telegraphic, truncated style of listing seemingly endless human rights violations. I hope some readers find the variety of subject matters, quotations, history, literature, etc., threaded together in my posts a valuable and somewhat unique sales point rather than an erroneous lack of message discipline.
Speaking of impact, that was the best thing about this year of blogging. In a handful of instances, individuals contacted me, perhaps people I hadn’t heard from in a long time, asking for more information about something in one of my posts. Because of a June entry, for example, pharmaceutical consumers who’d never heard of how and why to use compounding pharmacies until my writings are now getting their pills in custom dosages, whereas they were previously limited to the manufacturers’ increments due to fog of war, lack of knowledge. When I wrote about the Belarusian KGB’s murder of Andrei Zeltser, an employee of a Pennsylvania-based IT firm who like that company opposed the Lukashenko dictatorship, I wrote about how his wife Maryja Uspenskaya, the sole witness to his shoot-out death—about which the regime created propaganda footage that spread around the world—was placed in a psychiatric hospital, with, worryingly, no info available in English about her whereabouts or well-being for more than a month. I mentioned how Uspenskaya had been left off lists of Belarusian political prisoners. The day after my entry, the opposition leader herself tweeted to recognize Maryja Uspenskaya as a political prisoner. (Progress on her case still needs to be made.) The point of these examples is not to humble-brag but to show that, instead of centering a career/life on complying with corporate publishers, DIY bloggers can have impact, so why not try it yourself? And definitely, much thanks to everyone who’s been reading this blog, commenting, contacting me, sharing the entries, critiquing, donating, and more. That’s what separates a blog from a diary.
My writing plans for 2022
There’s more I need to do for my website on the technical side of things. In terms of design, readers understandably want something formatted well on their phones and tablets. I could make improvements there. I need to install and regularly use better analytics so I can observe factually what’s happening with reader traffic, not just imagine things in my needy head. Probably I should provide chatty video with screensharing graphics of open records requests and the like; in 2021, I did start a youtube channel.
In 2022, I’ll aim to post on the same day—maybe even at the same time—every week, as that consistency would probably increase audience loyalty and prevent audience attrition. For the United States, Sunday mornings would likely be best, meaning I could write and line everything up on Saturday, then do a final revision in the morning after a night of sleeping on the prose, then click publish and shoot off the teed-up social media posts.
In 2021, I took off several weekends—ten, to be exact—but some additional weeks I took halfway off, so to speak, putting up short “placeholder” posts instead of leaving the blog blank of new entries. In 2022, I want to hit all 52 Sundays, even if some entries will be very short. That consistency will let you know you can tune in at the same bat time, same bat channel, every single weekend.
I’ll make my final decisions on these matters in the next workweek, but in short, douglaslucas.com/blog will continue more or less as is for 2022, just with the above changes in the pipeline. I’ll even keep the same Note: In 202x… intro, except modified for 2022!
My big news for 2022, however, is that I’ll start writing and self-publishing new flash fiction! That means each item will be 1000 words or less. My web hosting service told me DouglasLucas.com can have more than one WordPress blog installation. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to say hello and leave comments at a new subfolder of this site, probably douglaslucas.com/fiction/2022, which doesn’t exist just yet. At first—in January 2022 and perhaps in February 2022—I’ll simply make available two of my already completed “trunk” stories (old stories) that haven’t ever been published, self- or otherwise. I’ll get the new fiction blog configured and maybe write up some of my research into northeast Oregon and the year 2036, the setting of some of my forthcoming fiction. But the main focus will be new flash fiction pieces. They might or might not connect with my 2036 setting (still thinking that through).
The 2022 fiction blog will mainly be intended to do for my fiction-writing what my 2021 nonfiction blog did for my nonfiction-writing. Get me accustomed to quickly and consistently creating what one of my creative writer friends, Aelius Blythe, calls literary graffiti fiction. To that end, I’ll probably use plot formula, standard tropes, prefab characterizations (e.g., Star Trek characters as in fanfic), and so on. The 2022 fiction blog isn’t supposed to win any prizes; it’s supposed to be fun; it’s supposed to repair the rust on my fiction-writing gears. Though you can still comment, share, donate, etc. if you want! I’ll try to engage a visual artist(s) to sketch. Maybe each entry can have a single, quickly sketched image at the top.
And while the 2022 nonfiction blog (this one) will continue mostly in the same vein as in 2021, I hope to focus more on original investigative journalism work, although that might end up in other-published places since I have some sneaky biz ideas for commissions. Whether the original investigative journalism work is self-published here or other-published, some of my posts here, whatever the content, will remain defiantly noodly, philosophical, random, simply about the moments of our strangely global lives …
List of all 42 posts from 2021
Behold, listed below, all 42 of my 2021 blog posts. The 22 in bold are the entries I most recommend. And what’s this? Ahem, that’s my donation page! So that you and I and anyone else can continue enjoying this site without paywalls, without advertisements, without wrong walls ….
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 50 of 52.
On October 27, I gave an in-person talk to the University of Washington computer security club Batman’s Kitchen. The presentation was simultaneously virtual over Zoom. I obtained the video file back a bit, but was busy substitute-teaching at the local youth jail for three weeks; that assignment completed Friday, I’m today making the video available, right above!
The title of the talk on the first slide, Hacktivism meets journalism (or something like that), is a little misleading. Because of time constraints—I created the presentation in a hurry, within something like a 48-hour period—the majority of the material I provide is actually intellectual history as it applies to people, especially young activists, interested in computer science, including but not limited to those going into the field as a profession.
Some helpful details. The footage is under two hours and fifteen minutes (since hundreds of years of philosophical history can’t particularly be conveyed in a quick monosyllabic bumper sticker slogan). The Questions & Answers section begins at 1:48:12. Download the .MP4 file or the powerpoint if you like. I’ve added this event to both the in the media page and the front page of this website.
In related news, I created a youtube channel finally, where this Zoom footage may be found. If 100 people subscribe to my nascent youtube channel, where I’ll use words like nascent without apology, I can customize my youtube URL. So whatever you do, don’t hit that like button, and definitely don’t smash subscribe, for we here all believe in reverse psychology.
Next talk, I’ll not waste time with cutesy images of cats and Castlevania—older generations in the United States want those things, but thankfully Gen Z doesn’t need them, I observed—and hopefully cut the metacognitive authorial intrusions that permeate my speech. Minor flaws aside, I hope people learn something from the video! Share as thou wilt.
Even more #PardonRealityWinner progress
Yesterday, I put into a USPS dropbox my snailmail letter to the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney, advocating for a pardon of Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose story you can read about here (my article from her sentencing), here (my entries about her on this blog), or by following her mother Billie J. Winner-Davis on twitter.
Reality Winner and her whistleblowing to alert everyone regarding Russian military hackers executing, just days before the 2016 elections, cyberattacks against US voting infrastructure, remain of key importance.
Consider, for example, Friday’s Washington Post opinion piece authored by three retired Army generals expressing grave concern that, in the aftermath of the 2024 election, a politically divided US military will be vulnerable to foreign attacks and will see rogue units supporting a successful coup by Trump (or some other reactionary demagogue). “Not a single leader who inspired” the January 6 coup attempt “has been held to account,” they write correctly. While failing to address the country’s private spies and private militias such as those Blackwater members pardoned by Trump, the three retired generals urge convictions for the January 6 conspirators, mandatory civics reviews for Pentagon members (hey throw in some international law while at it!), and coup-based war games along with defensive intelligence work.
Without Air Force veteran Reality Winner, it’s quite possible—maybe even probable—that such a WaPo piece wouldn’t exist, since we’d be living in a universe where Trump would be perceived as a horrible but legitimate ongoing occupant of the White House, akin to how many viewed George W. Bush while he was in office (prior to that war criminal’s latest rehabilitation as an affable, Michelle Obama-hugging grampa).
(Side note: The opinion piece also states: “Imagine competing commanders in chief […] Biden giving orders, versus Trump […] issuing orders as the head of a shadow government.” Well, imagine as well the public heading yet another shadow government that, instead of issuing orders much, horizontally helps one another in everyday ways as we do during natural disasters, another example of regular government breaking down. Imagine that shadow-government-of-the-public recognizing its own power and expanding it. That would be genuine self-governance.)
Achieving a pardon for Reality Winner would send a strong signal domestically and internationally that the United States refuses Trump/Putin-style autocracy. The Office of the Pardon Attorney does give advice to the president regarding pardons in some cases (I don’t yet know the details of that). Plus, whatever intern opens the envelope might start an interesting water cooler discussion, you know? And such things matter.
I based the letter on the one I sent last week (PDF) to Joe Biden; I improved the text overall, too. If you want to use my letter as a basis for your letter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, clicky-click for a PDF or clicky-click the below embed to read it. You can always share your own beseeching of the Office in the comments below or online elsewhere. Consider using the #PardonRealityWinner hashtag.
Remember, smugly explaining to each other that wisdom means defeatism is out, whereas taking specific, real life, step by step, existent, active-y action yourself to achieve huge prosocial goals is in. If you prefer to be out, well, then just psychology reverse. :)
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 49 of 52.I skipped Week 48 due to day job time commitments.
When I was a teenager, one of my best friends and I would often go driving around in my car, wherein we’d discuss philosophy. We wondered aloud what our goals in life should be. This led to our silly word golzar from “goals are.” In the middle of the night, we’d point at the red lights of faraway radio towers—Golzarian outposts, you see, from the strange species of Golzarians who perhaps knew the answers to life’s mysteries—and try to drive to them in those days before GPS on smartphones. Once, we even saw strange glowing white lights in the distance, and drove, drove, drove till at three in the morning we found ourselves, laughing, on the doorstep of a Midlothian, Texas toxic cement plant.
Nowadays, as an adult in Seattle, my many goals are more clear, and maybe yours are too. On this blog I’ve previously covered both the pro-democracy movement in Belarus and the story of Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner. Those two situations provide two goals for anyone interested: freeing Belarus from the clutches of Europe’s last dictator Alexander Lukashenko and pushing the White House to pardon the Texas veteran and vegan who at a critical point in contemporary history provided hard evidence of Russian military hackers’ cyberattacks against US voting systems just days prior to the 2016 elections. In short, #PardonRealityWinner and #FreeBelarus.
Outcomes for the eastern European country, the young Texan idealist, and the United States as a whole are more intertwined than they might initially seem. Not to make too much of a Manichean, Cold War-esque binary, but today most BRICS states are headed up by autocrat strongmen, Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro; Russia: Vladimir Putin; India: Narenda Modi; China: Xi Jinping. The NATO countries including the United States have a lot to answer for, and if they cleaned house of their own war criminals, spies, and others acting with impunity, their credibility would correctly increase, but at least in many of these countries human rights are something you can openly fight for, usually (certainly not always) without suffering arrest, torture, etc. Reality Winner’s sacrifice as a convicted whistleblower provided key evidence about the autocracy of one of the BRICS countries, Russia’s Putin regime, working to bring Donald Trump and thus overt fascism to the White House.
Just as Putin pushes Trump in the United States, so Putin protects dictator Lukashenko in Belarus. Caught in the middle of the (oversimplified) binary in a possibly fragmenting Europe, Belarus now sees pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya seeking free and open elections for the country, elections in which, among other things, Belarusians would decide democratically on strengthening or weakening the ties between their country and the Russian government. But like the United States confronting Donald Trump and his quite likely return in November 2024, Belarus must throw off dictator Lukashenko first in order to achieve open democracy. Akin to internet packets and immunizable pandemics, superpredators and publics alike are presently all connected globally, and we must collaborate across the imposed borders—or else, worldwide overt fascism.
Supporting political prisoners who fight to achieve goals such as freeing Belarus from Lukashenko or exposing the Putin regime’s sabotage of the United States is crucial. They deserve it as individuals, and it shows others that if they similarly take heroic actions, there will still be support for them afterward if they’re arrested and punished. Belarusian or USian, these are all individuals who are being persecuted unjustly for their prosocial political deeds.
This post demonstrates the progress another person and I have made toward the two goals, partly in the hopes that our completed tasks may serve as a sort of model for anyone who also might like to work toward the same aims. Feel free to share your progress in the comment section or by email (email@example.com), and I’ll include your efforts in my next progress entry on these topics.
#PardonRealityWinner: Rep. Filemon Vela, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Office of the Pardon Attorney, White House
Last Sunday, December 5, 60 Minutes interviewed Reality Winner, bringing a surge of interest to her case. You can find the aired portion and the extra portions here. I highly recommend watching all of the 60 Minutes footage: the part that aired is under 14 minutes, and the bonus clips are around four to eight minutes each. With one awful Trump administration behind us and another possibly on its way, the whistleblower who most proved that emperor has no clothes and who received the worst prison sentence ever for a domestic leak to the news press in return, should get more support.
Rep. Filemon Vela. The first thing I did this past workweek toward the goal of this whistleblower receiving a pardon was phone the DC office of Filemon Vela Jr., a Democratic Congressional representative in the federal House. Despite military and veterans groups contacting his office repeatedly, he’s refused to meet with Billie J. Winner-Davis, the whistleblower’s mother, who’s part of his constituency. So he must need additional calls, more carrots, and more sticks. Links to transparency/reporting about whom he depends upon (his dependencies, to use a Linux-y word) would aid the effort as well.
When I called Representative Vela’s DC office as a freelance journalist mentioning the 60 Minutes interview and requesting a statement explaining why he won’t meet with Reality Winner’s mother Billie J. Winner-Davis, staff assistant Addison Sheppard, who answered, said “I will definitely let him know” about my question. I gave Sheppard my phone and email contact information and the deadline of end of business Friday December 17. “Awesome,” Sheppard said. “Thank you so much. I will definitely let the Congressman know.” While some may feel cynical, I am not easily defeated, so I’m looking forward to hearing Representative Vela’s statement.
Pretty much anyone can call Representative Vela in any capacity and push for him to explain himself and/or meet with Billie J. Winner-Davis. In fact, it only takes about five minutes to call Vela’s DC office! It might help you, as it helps me, to type out what to say in a text editor beforehand, and stare at it on a screen while holding the phone.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal. I also called US House Representative Pramila Jayapal, whose constituency I am in. Although I dialed her Seattle office during workday business hours, a recorded voice answered, saying “You have reached our voicemail. We are currently short staffed so please understand we may not get to all calls.” I’ve written before on my blog about the lights apparently turning off at the US federal government, such as at the State Department; Pramila Jayapal short of staff might be another piece of evidence indicating our politicians and their underlings are abandoning ship, though of course there are other possible explanations. I’ll call Jayapal’s office again this next workweek. Take a break from doomscrolling and maybe try it yourself, too. It’s fun, a politer and prosocial version of the prank calls many of us did as kids.
Office of the Pardon Attorney.
This past workweek I contacted the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the federal Department of, uh, Justice. First, I emailed them at USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov. I kept the subject line vague—”Regarding pardon application”—in hopes they’d read it instead of ignore something like “Pardon Reality Winner Now Now Now Now Now!” as an irrelevant comment from an irrelevant commoner. But your mileage may vary, and in fact, I think it’s best if these bureaucrats are hit on all sides with all manner/variety of content styles. Having fun is important! The body of my HTML email said:
Dear Office of the Pardon Attorney,
I’m a Seattle-based freelance journalist who reported in-person from Putingate whistleblower Ms Reality Leigh Winner’s sentencing. 60 Minutes interviewed Ms Winner (Register Number: 22056-021; released 23 Nov 2021) last Sunday, as I hope your Office had a chance to see and discuss internally. I’m writing to recommend you facilitate President Biden’s needfully forthcoming signature on her pardon application! After all, a pardon for Ms Winner would send an enormous domestic and international signal that the United States does not endorse TrumPutin-style autocracy. In the interests of justice and open democracy, the United States Government can and should pardon Ms Winner not just for her, as she so greatly deserves, but also for itself and for the domestic and global publics.
I’m not sure “needfully forthcoming” means what I wanted it to mean, but I suppose we’ll find out! Below my name I added my phone number since that helps demonstrate I’m a real person and not a bot or, in this instance anyway, a ghostwriter.
The Office of the Pardon Attorney’s website says “The President always retains the plenary power granted to him by the Constitution to pardon or commute sentences at his sole discretion, with or without the advice of the Pardon Attorney and Department of Justice.” That means this office does give the US president advice on whom to pardon. I wonder what that advice generally consists of; a good question to ask their public affairs people or submit open records requests about, along with any and all files they have related to Reality Leigh Winner, even if at present they might deny such requests due to ongoing blah blah blah. Filing requests still proves public interest in her case, right?
I called the Office of the Pardon Attorney too, and since no human answered, I left a voicemail to the same effect as my email. If you’re in a hurry, press 4 to get connected to that leave a message at the tone prompt, or explore their phone tree yourself and tell everyone if you find anything interesting. Another option I’ve yet to do myself is snailmailing them: US Department of Justice / Office of the Pardon Attorney / 950 Pennsylvania Avenue – RFK Main Justice Building / Washington, DC 20530.
The White House. Finally, I contacted the White House! I called 202-456-1111, but the recording said they take comments only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday through Thursday. More evidence of increasingly, nobody home at the US federal government? Anyway, I sent snailmail as well. Surely Joe Biden himself will be hurrying down to the mailbag in a week or two to pick up my envelope and have a read. Either that or an intern might learn something new and exciting that prompts action. From my letter, or, say, your letter to the White House!
In the letter, I mention showing related video in my social studies classes (as a substitute teacher currently in a weeks-long assignment at a youth jail):
A pardon for this whistleblower who before the judge took responsibility for her action would send a very strong signal domestically and internationally that the United States does not support Trump/Putin-style autocracy. You of course met with Vladimir Putin last Tuesday, so you understand the gravity of the global situation. I showed my social studies classes the Reuters footage of that meeting. Students said Putin looked fearless and you looked scared. I hope you will pardon Reality Leigh Winner so I can tell them otherwise.
#FreeBelarus: Mailing Maryja Uspenskaya, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada, and Sergei Tikhanovsky
On November 27, I blogged about my plans to write Belarusian political prisoners Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya. I pointed out how for a month and a half, there had been no updates in English that I could find about the whereabouts and well-being of Maryja Uspenskaya, Andrei Zeltser’s widow who was the sole witness to his murder by the Belarusian KGB—the subject of Lukashenko regime propaganda footage that, as I researched, certain corporate media outlets republished in the United States uncritically while raising doubts about Andrei Zeltser’s (apparently US) citizenship, something that should have taken a corporate media reporter five minutes to confirm with a simple phone call. Maryja Uspenskaya (and presumably Andrei Zeltser) had been helping collect signatures for pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s challenge to Lukashenko’s faked 2020 presidential win. That activism seems to have been the cause of the attack on them by the Belarusian KGB, though there could be more to the story for sure. After the death of her husband, whose telegenic/demographic appearance should have ensured a huge news story in the United States especially given his employment with a (pro-opposition) Pennsylvania-based IT company, Maryja Uspenskaya was sent to a psychiatric hospital. The last English update on her had apparently been October 22. The day after I promoted my blog post on social media with the #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus hashtags—I’d also noted Maryja Uspenskaya’s absence from lists of Belarusian political prisoners—the opposition leader herself tweeted that the psychiatric patient is (now) recognized as a political prisoner:
Maryja Uspenskaya. So I wrote her! With another person providing some edits, a random friendly redditor translated my English letter, about 150 words, into Russian on my behalf, free of charge. I took the translated letter to the benevolent Alki Mail shop here in West Seattle. They sent it via the United States Postal Service. Alki Mail’s computer required me to give the return and destination addresses in English (not Russian); hopefully the snailmail still goes through. While US prisons do not allow snailmailers to include free stamps and other letter-writing supplies for their pen pals to write back with, apparently Belarusian prisons (and psychiatric hospitals?) do, but where exactly am I going to obtain Belarusian postage? The internet, of course. But I haven’t yet. Given time constraints, I decided to send my snailmail to Maryja Uspenskaya and Sergei Tikhanovsky anyway, despite the two concerns, since I can do more research in the future as to how to address the envelopes in Russian and how to best include Belarusian letter-writing supplies. Now, some outside Belarus write political prisoners via activist-run online services, but I wanted to send international snailmail physically myself as an interesting and tangible experiment. It was, however, expensive: $71.68 for a single envelope. Well, life is short, and this is fun!
Another person aiming to #FreeBelarus, who prefers to remain anonymous, found Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada to write by searching through Viasna’s database, looking for non-white Belarusian political prisoners. A son of a Belarusian karate coach father (Svyatoslav Gaevsky) and a Japanese mother (Tomoko Hanada) who’s a secretary of culture for Japan’s embassy in the eastern European country, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada is an anarchist of about twenty-one years in age. He was beaten by the KGB and arrested for his participation in the August 2020 protests against Lukashenko’s faked election victory (the dictator has been illegitimately holding onto power in Belarus since 1994). Despite peaceful protest, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada was charged under Part 2 of Article 293 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for alleged “participation in riots” and later in a separate criminal case under Part 2 of Article 285 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for alleged “participation in a criminal organization in any other form.” He’s also the recipient of a special scholarship fund for gifted students. You can write him by snailmail at: Akihiro Hayeuski-Hanada / Zhodino st. Sovetskaya 22a / 222163 ST-8 / Belarus. Or, as the person who prefers to remain anonymous did, you can type a message to him via vkletochku, whose activists will forward your letter on your behalf, and optionally send back to you any replies. Below, a screenshot the anonymous person took of their vkletochku virtual letter to Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada.
You can find out more about Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada here, here, or here.
Sergei Tikhanovsky. The husband of pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children, Sergei Tikhanovsky is a popular vlogger in his forties who in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. He was arrested right after announcing his presidential candidacy against Lukashenko in May 2020, at which point his wife Sviatlana stepped in to run for president against Lukashenko herself (she’s now exiled in Lithuania).
My process of snailmailing Sergei Tikhanovsky was very similar to my process of snailmailing Maryja Uspenskaya. The same random friendly redditor translated my English letter of about 150 words into Russian, with another person providing some edits. Then I went down to Alki Mail who put the letter into a USPS priority mail envelope. Same steep price: $71.68 USD. Same two issues: the Alki Mail computer (the software or the keyboard, tho?) required addressing the envelope in English and I had no Belarusian stamps or other supplies to insert into the envelope. Well, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I get a letter back from him and Uspenskaya both!
Success is for those who seek it
Defeatism isn’t the flex the cynical think it is. If all the relevant legislative and executive federal bureaucrats are surrounded at work and at home every single day with crowds demanding a pardon for Reality Winner, things will change. If USians deface Belarusian regime websites, discuss books about Belarus (can anyone recommend good ones in English?), figure out ways to protect Belarusian political prisoners, uncover and object powerfully to connections between the Belarusian dictator and local companies, and openly determine what options will have the most impact in dethroning Lukashenko, maybe we won’t have to deal with TrumPutin in 2024 after all. And our sense of self will expand far beyond the usual walls.
There’s a cornucopia of wild daring tactics anyone can experiment with to pursue the two goals, #PardonRealityWinner and #FreeBelarus. Although it can be helpful and enjoyable to compare notes with others, to ask for and receive suggestions, to join letter-writing parties, or even to read and provide lists of ideas and steps, for huge goals like these, no individual needs to wait around for hierarchical orders, or to beg agreement for consensus votes, to make progress. To oversimplify, the indirect collaboration of stigmergy means picking goals and pursuing them as you youself see fit. That’s it. Just do it!
I’ll give the next-to-last words to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, what she said in a 47-second video she uploaded in a December 11 tweet:
Recently, I heard from one foreign minister I’ve met “We did everything we could and nothing worked.” There was frustration and fatigue in his voice, unfortunately. But Belarusians can’t say We did everything we could and nothing worked. We cannot go home. Our home is taken from us. And until we get it back, we will not stop. Ladies and gentlemen, supporting democracy, supporting Belarusians is a process, not a one-time action. The international community is much more powerful than it pretends to be.
The same goes for #PardonRealityWinner: the international community can support her (including by sending emails and snailmails) from outside the United States, just as those outside Belarus can support the pro-democracy movement there.
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 47 of 52.
Note: Thanks to Prison Abolition & Prisoner Support (PAPS) for connecting me with a researcher who prefers to remain anonymous.
Today, Saturday 27 November 2021, is the international day of solidarity with political prisoners of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus. I picked out two to write, Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya, whose biographies are below. I explain how you can write Belarusian prisoners too, whether by snailmail like me or via online only. Plus, I supply a refresher and updates on Belarus overall, explanations why the United States public should support the Belarusian pro-democracy activists, and some additional knowledge-drops.
Quick refresher and updates on Belarus
Regular readers of my blog know I’ve covered Belarus here before; to review that material, just click my Belarus tag.
For those new to the subject and for anyone else wanting a quick refresher on Belarus, here’s the situation. To the surprise of many, Europe still has one last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, predictably called “father” by his supporters. Protected by and allied with Russia’s Putin regime, Lukashenko ascended to the presidency of the landlocked eastern European country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in 1994. Recently, he’s kept power by stealing the country’s 2020 presidential election. Besides his embarrasingly out-of-fashion USSR-style clothes, Lukashenko controls the country’s media and industry; he also maintains the death penalty in the only European country to have it (the executed are shot in the head). Meanwhile, his riot police arrest protesters, snatch-and-grabbing innocent bystanders as well (see two-minute Human Rights Watch video). The dictatorship plots or carries out assassinations (including murdering a journalist), his forces engage in widespread torture, beatings, rape, and he particularly goes after those Belarusians who challenge his fake authority.
The country’s opposition movement is led by former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who rightfully won the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Detained immediately after her victory when she challenged the bogus results giving the presidency to Lukashenko, she was then apparently forced to record hostage-like videos conceding the election and calling herself a “weak woman.” Previously I wrote up my research about the NY Post publishing strangely edited footage of Belarusian opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser’s murder, footage originally created by the regime, without informing their readers the video initially came from the dictatorship. Further, as #OpGabon/#OpDeathEaters first noted nearly three years ago, and the Washington Postdeigned to cover only less than two years ago, video “deepfakes” in politics is becoming a norm. Shortly after the coerced videos, the strong Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made it to Lithuania, where she remains today with her two children. For Belarus, she chiefly seeks release of political prisoners and free and fair elections. She also supports term limits, human rights, and allowing Belarusians to vote on the question of getting away from union / integration with Russia.
As for updates on Belarus, consider two stories from this month. First, the refugees on the border between Poland and Belarus. In retaliation for sanctions placed on Belarus by the European Union, Lukashenko is threatening to cut off gas from Russia to the EU, energy deliveries that pipe through “his” country. To strengthen his position, Lukashenko has weaponized refugees, creating a political crisis for neighboring Poland and endangering human lives. Using the state-owned travel company Tsentrkurort, the dictatorship lured Iraqi citizens to the Belarus-Poland border by helping them obtain fast, easy Belarusian visas. They also turned people from elsewhere into refugees on the same border. They did this by organizing their travel and, according to witnesses, forcibly transporting people by truckload. The refugees are now trapped in grave danger, including risky weather conditions and beatings, since Poland is violating its obligations under international law by refusing to help them. In short, the dictatorship, with tricks and trafficking, is treating these desperate people as pawns for its European geopolitical struggles. Thankfully, some locals and other human rights defenders have been rendering direct aid to the refugees, but more help is very much needed. Second, via a million-dollar deal, an ex-warden in Lithuania—he worked in the carceral system for nearly forty years—apparently helped the Lukashenko regime dodge those same EU sanctions, meant to impair the dictatorship, by arranging for the banned export of heavy-duty trucks manufactured by the sanctioned regime-owned company BelAZ. The furious Lukashenko is trying to stop alleged leaks of sanctions breaches (perhaps including this ex-warden story), saying publicly that “bastards” are “spying” and “seeking to inform the collective West” of his human rights-violating regime evading sanctions.
Meet Sergei Tikhanovsky
The first political prisoner I picked out to write is Sergei Tikhanovsky. He’s the husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children. A popular vlogger in his forties, Sergei Tikhanovsky in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. The channel, still active thanks to his allies, often focuses on the stories of everyday entreprenuers, a topic of great importance in a former Soviet country. In May 2020, Sergei Tikhanovsky announced his candidacy for presidency and was arrested, supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia but primarily for his candidacy, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when his wife stepped in to run for the presidency herself. Sergei Tikhanovsky remains in prison to this day. You can find additional biographical information on him here in Russian; you can translate that webpage into English using Chrome.
Embedded below, a May 2020 episode, 71 minutes long, from “A Country for Life” comparing living in the United States with living in Belarus. It’s Sergei Tikhanovsky, two months before his arrest, interviewing Kate about her impressions returning to Belarus following her 14 years in the United States.
Sergei Tikhanovsky 222163 ST-8 Zhodino Street Sovietskaya 22a Belarus
Meet Maryja Uspenskaya
The second political prisoner I picked out to mail is Maryja Uspenskaya. She’s the wife of Andrei Zeltser, whose murder in the Belarusian capital of Minsk at the hands of Lukashenko’s KGB I wrote about previously on my blog. I also discussed how Zeltser, an employee of the Pennsylvania-based IT firm EPAM Systems whose founder supports the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, is reportedly a US citizen, but the US media outlets which loudly questioned his citizenship immediately after his death never bothered to follow up and answer their own question; I discussed how I’ve been trying to contact the US State Department to get a definitive answer on his nationality, but in addition to the Department of State shutting down the phone number for journalists to call, and their mail server bouncing back emails, other evidence suggests, perhaps due to brain drain, the lights are slowly turning off at the State Department: increasingly, nobody’s home. That’s overstating things a little, yet still, for my US friends, renew your passports now.
For all the valid news concern over Andrei Zeltser’s murder, there’s simultaneously an unwarranted dearth of information surrounding his wife Maryja Uspenskaya (are we seeing a pattern yet?), who to all appearances is in the background of the KGB’s propaganda footage of the murder. In fact, the apartment where Zeltser was shot to death likely belongs to Maryja Uspenskaya or her brother. Her family seems to own the unit; maybe she was subleasing. That would help explain why Zeltser called the local cops as plainclothes strangers busted down his door: likely he didn’t think it was the KBG arriving, just random criminals instead. And maybe the KGB wasn’t even after Andrei Zeltser. Perhaps they were primarily after Maryja Uspenskaya’s brother or Maryja Uspenskaya herself. After all, the couple had been going door to door to collect signatures required for, I believe, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s dispute of Lukashenko’s election theft.
On October 9, the pro-opposition online media outlet Nexta (as in “next generation”) tweeted that Maryja Uspenskaya was tortured in the notorious police detention center Okrestina, known for severe abuse of pro-democracy protesters. (“I admit it,” Lukashenkt told the BBC this month. “People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre.”) Nexta went on to say Maryaj Uspenskaya’s “outerwear was seized and the heating in cell was turned off in -1 degree outside.Maria doesn’t have any basic things with her — change of clothes and toothbrush.”
On October 22, a twitter account created two months ago and using the name Oleg But tweeted that “Andrei Zeltser’s wife was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to Novinki. Maria Uspenskaya will undergo a psychiatric examination.” Novinki means the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health. I assume she’s currently there, but I’ve found no other source corroborating that tweet.
As far as I can discern so far, no current information on Maryja Uspenskaya’s status is available in English, which is highly worrisome.
Based on interviewing her acquaintances, Charter 97 approvingly describes Maryja Uspenskaya as a “very energetic and combative” person. Observers noticed how Andrei Zeltser was handsome and younger than she. Charter 97 also describes Uspenskaya as “positive, very cheerful. She loved her husband very much and treasured her relationship with him. She and Andrei went to psychologists: they had no problems but just wanted to build an even stronger relationship.” That’s really cool!
How to write Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners
The Minsk-based Human Rights Center Viasna, formed in 1996 to aid arrested pro-democracy protesters and their families in Belarus, maintains this database of Belarusian political prisoners (but oddly, it lacks entries for Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya). You can pick prisoners from there and/or write the two I selected.
If you want to send mail via online only, check out the Vkletochku project. According to the English version of their webpage, their volunteers will translate what you type into this form, even, optionally, sending you by email any reply.
If you want to write via snailmail, then Human Rights Center Viasna provides this helpful article with the lovely title “Support has no boundaries: how to write letters to political prisoners if you are outside of Belarus.” It answers many frequently asked questions about snailmailing the prisoners. The prisons are more likely to accept handwritten letters, for instance, and they require letters to be written in Belarusian or Russian. The Viasna article also supplies handy templates translating prefab English letters into Belarusian and Russian.
The following three articles from various sources, all in Russian but available in English via Google Translate in Chrome, provide additional nitty-gritty tips: 1, 2, 3.
For those like me writing by snailmail from the United States, the first step, if like me you don’t speak Belarusian or Russian, is to write your letters in English, then have them translated. You can ask around for translation help; check individuals using the relevant hashtags like #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus to see if any will translate for you or connect you with translators. After handwriting your translated letters into unfamiliar script on white pages, add supplies for the prisoners to snailmail you back. In theory, the United States Postal Service should be able to answer what kind of postage they will need; if not, hopefully someone else can answer this. Take the finished envelope to the USPS station, photograph your work to share online, and talk with a postal worker to have it snailmailed. The postal worker, or quite possibly, the postal worker’s supervisor, might explain various additional requirements. I’ll try this myself next Saturday. In the meantime, USPS Publication 141 has some additional information on PDF page 143, and maybe the @USPSHelp twitter account will reply to a question of mine with extra details.
Whether you send mail via online only, or by old-fashioned postal service, take a screenshot or photograph of your work, then wipe metadata, then share the images online and/or share them with me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll post my work and anyone else’s next weekend.
Why the United States public should support the Belarus opposition
Because it’s fun and even euphoric to interact not with stupid frenemies but courageous individuals who deserve support. Yes, it can also induce irrational shame-attacks as a result of growing up in and being surrounded by a smug population hostile to effortful activism; but, the only way out is through. With time and supportive networks, such an irrational shame-attack can be consciously disagreed with and it can pass like nothing more than a brief spooky breeze.
Also, the United States public tends to imagine that its presidential elections revolve around voting. Besides the flaws in the secretive, corporate, closed-source computerized election equipment that have been well documented for decades, consider that pressuring the authorities to support the Belarusian opposition instead of Alexander Lukashenko could really improve domestic well-being in the US as well as the country’s international standing. The leaders of the red religion in the United States support Trump, who in turn supports Putin, who in turn supports Lukashenko, ironic since Lukashenko loves the USSR while top pro-democracy Belarusian opposition figures like Sergei Tikhanovsky are huge advocates for small-biz entreprenuers. The leaders of the blue religion in the United States — who, as a commenter on last weekend’s post noted, may not mind TrumPutin all that much since hate for TrumPutin takes heat off Democrats as Joe Biden continues to enjoy power — can at least be pressured to change policies if the public puts in massive effort.
Next weekend: Progress of #StandWithBelarus letter-writing and #PardonRealityWinner efforts
Speaking of effort, as stated above, next weekend I’ll post to my blog how my snailmailing the two Belarusian political prisoners went, e.g., any issues at the USPS station.
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 46 of 52.
You probably remember the name Reality Winner and at least some of her story: in May 2017, when Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey for his investigation into the Putin regime’s interference with the presidential election on behalf of a certain cheeto-colored demagogue, a whistleblower in her twenties leaked a classified document detailing how the Russian military hacked US election systems just days before the November 2016 election. I reported in person from her August 2018 sentencing in Augusta Georgia, where, in the Trump administration’s first espionage case against a domestic whistleblower, Reality Winner was given the longest prison term ever for a disclosure to the media.
This week, news in the United States — whether social, corporate, or other — will likely focus on Reality Winner again since the Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday is changing her status from her current home confinement situation (began June 9) to three years of supervised release, phase similar to the more familiar, state-level term parole, which technically no longer exists on the federal level. Her ankle monitor will finally be removed. Recent and ongoing media of various types continue to focus on her case, especially this week.
As a result of the news, the public may have a lot of questions. This post provides an overview of her case, the leaked document and its implications, as well as the surrounding media discourse, plus definitions of relevant Bureau of Prisons jargon and a menu of actions you can pick from to help Reality Winner gain a pardon, the chief goal her family is calling for help with.
Who’s Reality Winner again? What was that document about?
Reality Winner is an idealistic, intelligent, and altruistic Texan. The two best sources of information about her as a person are probably the 2017 New YorkMagazine profile titled “The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread” and the twitter feeds of her family: her mother Billie J. Winner-Davis, her sister Brittany Winner, and her (step)father Gary Davis. If you’re interested, follow those accounts, or at least know how to search their tweets. A good rule of thumb for whistleblower cases: get your information not from the social-climbers and co-opters, but from their families, loved ones, and lawyers like Reality Winner’s attorney Alison Grinter. (The whistleblowers themselves are usually under gag orders.)
Winner is also an Air Force veteran who, at the time she snailmailed the restricted document to The Intercept, was working for Virginia-based spy contractor Pluribus International. You might know the US spy agencies — rebranded intelligence agencies especially following 1970s revelations of scandals such as Operation Mockingbird — are mostly staffed by contractors, whose trade secrets and other private properties are exempt from public oversight due to the laws of biz. In other words, the so-called intelligence community, its structure if not particular individuals within, is motivated not by public safety, but by profit and worse. For Pluribus International, the multilingual Winner translated into English surveilled terrorist communications from languages such as Farsi and Pashto. As Trump was firing Comey, a secret network board system, akin to a classified version of Reddit and accessible by Pluribus International staff, ranked a certain document highly, indicating wide interest in it.
The document, and The Interceptarticle about it, describes cyberattacks, carried out just days before the 2016 elections, by Russian military hackers against more than 100 local election officials in the United States and at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. In short, Winner gave everyone information required for self-governance, gave everyone necessary knowledge otherwise unavailable. That includes any voting vendor staff who, without security clearances, would not have been able to access such protective classified information unless it appeared in open discourse. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a June 9, 2017 post on his personal website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Reality Winner “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.”
Such computer vulnerabilities ultimately show how state, corporate, or other criminal actors (or combinations thereof), anywhere in the world, can manipulate elections, anywhere in the world, to secretly condition the public into believing lies. As philosopher and former Wikileaks Central editor Heather Marsh explains in my article from Winner’s sentencing:
“This document is more than just evidence of Russian interference. In many ways, the US election is a high-profile, long-term investigation into the nature of how democracies work today. Opinions are manipulated by organizations such as Cambridge Analytica in conjunction with intelligence collection by organizations such as Wikistrat. These are problems which have plagued all democracies for years now–Canada’s 2011 voter suppression robocalls and Andrés Sepúlveda’s decade-long manipulation of Latin American elections are two earlier reported examples of modern election interference.”
Marsh’s quotation continues in my article from her sentencing. The public’s understanding of TrumPutin wouldn’t have developed to the extent it did, had Winner not gifted us (and Congress) with the secret document.
In that same article of mine, long-time elections integrity activist Bev Harris explains the cyberattacks described Winner’s in disclosure are part of the same cyberattacks that make up the last count in then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s ’12 Russians’ indictment against the Putin regime’s military hackers. The top prosecutorial agency in the United States issuing an international criminal indictment drawing in part from the deed of this imprisoned whistleblower, an individual in her mid-twenties wrongly called by that same agency’s lawyer Bobby L. Christine “the quintessential example of an insider threat,” suggests, as do many other things, that Winner deserved a medal, not a prison sentence, and at the very least deserves a pardon now.
Sinners in the hands of an angry audience
FOX News ran a paint-by-numbers campaign tarring Winner, the arguments of which are easy to dismantle. The TV hosts, typically on whatever forms of speed — just hit pause and look at their eyes; also, how do you think they manage to broadcast nonstop? — raged about how on social media, Winner called Trump an “orange fascist” and messaged her sister about hating America. Besides considering Trump’s actual fascism and horrible things done by the United States (for instance, by the CIA), just imagine for an analogy that you’re waiting at Discount Tire for the mechanics to finish with your car. In the morning, a caffeine-deprived mechanic in the back employee area, perhaps a decorated veteran like Winner, grouses to another mechanic about hating Discount Tire’s early start times and lack of vegan food in the break room. As afternoon arrives, the same mechanic and a third mechanic talk together about how the company does offer them good things too, including the opportunity to tinker with a steady stream of various automobiles. By evening, the mechanic says they have mixed feelings about Discount Tire and the company should make some improvements. That’s essentially what the comments of Winner and everyone else venting about politics on social media boil down to. It isn’t difficult for those outside tunnel vision to understand.
Meanwhile, on the mainstream US left, comfy members of the public have seemingly decided that nothing is possible except voting for evil on un-auditable computerized election infrastructure while making fun of whistleblowers’ unusual names. If horrific human rights violations happen every day and humanity goes extinct, well, the thinking seems to go, at least they got a few more moments to [insert distractions here]. Expecting lifelong entertainment, these audiences will get angry when instead they’re presented with education.
Bottom line, fight for justice: don’t be a newb whose biggest ‘contribution’ this week is shitposting lazy remarks about Reality Winner’s excellent aptronym; instead, learn more about her case (below) and select a way to help her get a pardon (also below).
Recent or ongoing media offering more about the whistleblower and/or the document she disclosed
Reality Winner is the subject of Is This A Room, a new Broadway stageplay based on the transcript of her FBI interrogation, during which she was not Mirandized: she was not read her rights, not for remaining silent, not for a lawyer’s presence. This (il)legal sleight of hand was pulled off in the courtroom by the prosecutors denying the context and insisting Winner “would have felt free to terminate the encounter.” But the eleven FBI agents, each male and almost all of them armed, pressured her in many ways, tantamount to coercion, including by bullying her into the titular seven-by-nine-foot unfurnished back room she told them was “creepy” and “weird.” With her cramped into the claustrophobic space, they blocked the doors and proceeded with the supposedly voluntary interrogation. According to reviews, the stageplay — I’ve yet to see it — reunites the transcript and the context, helping to alter our crazymaking world into something new that actually drives people sane.
(Such isolation and control as the FBI agents’ is similarly employed elsewhere in our lives to produce bogus psuedo-realities. To take one example out of zillions, consider an antidepressant trial started when the COVID-19 pandemic started. How’s the confound of a terrifying pandemic removed from the analysis of the psychopharmaceutical’s efficacy? Likewise, the context of study participants being paid and promised better lives, is likewise snipped out by contractor scientists who sometimes even hold conflict-of-interest patents on the pills in question, since unlike salaried scientists, contractor scientists, akin to those contractors staffing spy agenices, are exempt from disclosure requirements, that is, transparency and accountability requirements.)
Given the success of the stageplay, the Broadway Podcast Network recently launched a series entitled This Is Reality. With more on the way, they presently offer four full episodes, released between October 18 and November 17. I recommend listening for great, up-to-date information about Reality Winner, her case, and more, including how the 1917 Espionage Act, more than a century old, is used federally not to prosecute individuals for sharing military movements with foreign enemies, but to prosecute domestic whistleblowers for sharing restricted knowledge with the public (usually via the media), i.e. the enemy of authoritarians is the public, you and me.
The DC-based Dworkin Report, hosted by politico Scott Dworkin, cofounder of The Democratic Coalition political action committee, offers a trio of recent interviews. First, from August 4, an interview with Winner’s lawyer, Dallas-based Alison Grinter. Second, from October 5, an interview with the whistleblower’s sister, Brittany Winner. Third, from October 7, an interview with Billie J. Winner-Davis, Reality Winner’s mother who on social media fiercely advocates for her family every single day. Those Dworkin Report links have been going down sometimes, so if they’re temporarily unavailable, try elsewhere: first interview, second interview, third interview. Make sure you listen to Scott Dworkin’s interview of Billie J. Winner-Davis, the whistleblower’s mother. I’ll note two things about it. First, she calls upon Biden to grant her daughter clemency (a pardon is a form of clemency). Second, about Glenn Greenwald. After I spearheaded a successful effort to drag him in 2014 long before it became popular to do so (see here, here, here, here, and elsewhere), I switched to just ignoring Greenbacks, since that’s often the most effective way to turn someone’s volume down. However, Billie J. Winner-Davis says something in the third interview that I think is worth making an exception for, worth amplifying. Reality Winner was burned (arrested) as a source for The Intercept because (as the official story goes, anyhow), journalists there not only talked with government officials trying to confirm the document’s veracity (which is fine), but also sent them the document itself (which isn’t fine), enabling them to track the whistleblower down from various clues associated with the document. Asked about that, Billie J. Winner-Davis told Scott Dworkin:
“Glenn Greenwald is, I mean, he’s hard to figure out; he likes to use Reality to create, you know, a social media storm. But that’s what he’s doing: he’s using her. I wish he would just stop. You know, I have gotten so much support from people from The Intercept and from First Look Media who have reached out to me personally who have expressed the regret about what happened to Reality and who have expressed their support for her and for our family. Glenn Greenwald is not one of those people, and I just wish he would go away.”
I predict that during this new decade, revelations will arrive of popular US-based or US-ish lefty journalists being on the take (receiving illicit money from) the BRICS regimes such as Putin’s. Occasionally I look at job openings at tiny “radical news” outlets and see the high pay and think, yeah, this doesn’t add up. As Spock might say, simple logic. An important byproduct of Winner’s leak has been the reactions of others, exposing who cares about inflating themselves as Great Men while supporting red-brown alliance (red commies cliquing up with brown fascists as oft black-clad anarchists go on as DIY as ever) and BRICS interests (here’s looking at you, clan Assadnge), versus who cares about human rights, including for whistleblowers who are women (and thus too often downplayed or ignored), as well as open democracy over authoritarianism.
Finally, my August 2018 article from her sentencing is the only detailed narrative from the courtroom, and one of the very few written detailed analyses, besides the original Intercept article, of the leaked document. I’ve also written posts about her case here, which you can find via clicking my blog’s Reality Winner tag. I have some additional unpublished investigative material I plan to pull together for release soon.
Frequently asked vocabulary
Like any bureaucracy, the carceral industry and the Bureau of Prisons in particular have their own specialized, intentionally impenetrable jargon. Since these terms will be thrown around this workweek — and in the future regarding other federal whistleblower cases — here’s a quick glossary explaining what the lingo actually means on the federal level and how it pertains to Reality Winner.
Note: To follow the below, it helps to understand the timeline of Winner’s imprisonment: after sentencing, she was moved to incarceration at FCC Carswell in Fort Worth. Then on good time earned, she was moved a little early to incarceration in person at a halfway house. Next, on June 9, she moved to home confinement, still considered incarceration, involving conditions such as a buzzing electronic ankle monitor, and requiring frequent reporting to the halfway house for drug testing and the like. Then Tuesday she’s no longer incarcerated, but on three years of supervised release, basically the federal equivalent of parole.
Now the definitions. On Monday I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about these terms, but any mistakes are mine.
Supervised release) A period of time after incarceration that’s supposed to help prisoners re-integrate back into society. Sort of a midpoint between full Bureau of Prisons custody and living out in the free world. It’s close to the more familiar, state-level concept of parole, which no longer exists on the federal level. If a prisoner on supervised release is held to have violated conditions, the Bureau of Prisons can yank them back behind bars for the remainder of the sentence.
Halfway house) To be exact, halfway house is an umbrella term that encompasses a few different types of facilities. Generally, though, and in Reality Winner’s case, a halfway house means what the Bureau of Prisons calls a Residential Reentry Center (RRC), unsurprisingly run by a private contractor. Typically, federal prisoners go to these halfway houses directly after incarceration and physically stay there. Later, during home confinement, the prisoners frequently report to the halfway houses, which set the conditions of their home confinement period.
Home confinement) Still considered incarceration, home confinements see prisoners living at home with a heavy electronic ankle monitor. They’re expected to obey strict conditions and report to the halfway house periodically.
Clemency) Formally speaking, clemency isn’t a federal concept. Informally, though, it refers to the remedies an executive can give prisoners, among them commutations and pardons. Reality Winner asks for clemency, specifically (and more precisely) a pardon.
Commutation) A commutation is a federal remedy that essentially speeds up a prisoner’s sentence. A commuted sentence is stopped early; prisoners’ sentences are over sooner than they would have been otherwise. But with the behind bars, halfway house, and home confinement phases over on Tuesday, Reality Winner is no longer seeking a commutation; instead, she’s seeking a pardon.
Pardon) A convict receiving a federal pardon is no longer a felon; in the eyes of the law at least, they’re fully and completely forgiven. Yet there’s no federal expungement: the pardoned individual’s case still happened. The point of the pardon is that legally, any and all the felony conviction disabilities, as the adverse consequences are called, are removed. That said, what specific employers or apps choose to do regarding a pardoned former felon, may be up to them.
Expungement) This isn’t available at the federal level. Expungement is a state-level remedy. For example in Texas, an expungement (“expunction” in the Texas statutes) means files about a crime are destroyed and the offense is removed from the person’s criminal record.
Parole) A state-level concept. Parole technically no longer exists at the federal level; it’s been replaced by the concept of supervised release. For general audiences, though, it’s fair enough to imprecisely refer to someone’s supervised release as parole, but for the more exact among us, supervised release is correct.
Probation) This doesn’t relate to Reality Winner’s case. Probation is something imposed in place of incarceration. For example, at a sentencing, a federal judge might impose two months of probation on a defendant as opposed to two years in prison.
Office of Probation and Pretrial Service) Also known as the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, this is the bureau in the judicial branch that not only administers probation, but also administers supervised release.
Probation officer or supervised release officer) Employed by the Office of Probation and Pretrial Service, this person is the one making the day-to-day decisions about a felon’s supervised released conditions. Technically, they’re called a supervised release officer. They might refer to themself as a probation officer, given their employer. That may even be true of Reality Winner’s officer, despite her being on supervised release, not probation.
Those are the vocabulary terms for how the federal carceral system is supposed to work, although as a May 2017 article I wrote for The Cryptosphere shows, things may play out differently in practice, suggesting a strange mix of incompetence and/or decision-makers who aren’t on the up and up, to say the least.
It’s important to recognize that even on supervised release and afterward, Reality Winner, though outside prison walls, isn’t free. Her felony record and plea agreement will continue to prevent her from fully speaking out about her case and the leaked document and its implications. On Monday, I asked Winner’s lawyer Alison Grinter about that adverse consequence of her conviction and the additional adverse consequences I describe in the two paragraphs below, but again, any mistakes are mine.
While Winner’s on supervised release for three years, she must obey strict conditions, which may vary according to her supervised release officer’s interpretations or caprices. To legally dispute the officer requires expensive, time-consuming, and stressful requests to the court in Augusta Georgia. Winner on supervised release has a curfew (can’t leave before 6 a.m. and has to be home by 10 p.m.) and must remain physically within the Southern District of Texas, though it’s the Augusta Georgia court that convicted her that ultimately calls the shots. The officer may choose to continue the surveillance of her smartphone. References in interviews to dating apps blocking her as a user revolve not around the supervised release conditions, but rather those apps querying databases and determining she’s a felon and thus barred from swiping.
Without a pardon, Winner will suffer what lawyers refer to as the disabilities of being a felon. For example, she’s banned from certain federal lands (the specifics are complicated). She’s not eligible for various federal benefits such as housing. She can’t own weapons (not uncommon in rural Texas), nor, in a strange provision, may she own body armor. Certain other countries may forbid entry or permanent residency to a U.S. felon. The list goes on.
A pardon would delete all of the above problems and restore Reality Winner’s freedom. It would allow her to share the full story. Like the full story, a pardon would also send an enormous domestic and international signal that the United States does not endorse TrumPutin-style autocracy. In other words, in the interest of open democracy, the United States Government has the need and ability to pardon Reality Winner not just for her, but also for itself and the public. Obama commuted the sentence of, but did not pardon, whistleblower Chelsea Manning; that suggests a pardon for Reality Winner can indeed happen under the Biden administration, but it will take significant effort.
Here are several ways to make #PardonRealityWinner happen:
Correspond with the US Pardon Attorney by phone +1 202 616 6070, by email USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov, and/or by snailmail: U.S. Department of Justice / Office of the Pardon Attorney / 950 Pennsylvania Avenue – RFK Main Justice Building / Washington, DC 20530. It would be very helpful for them to be deluged with international messages explaining how a pardon for Reality Winner would improve the international standing of the United States after the Trump administration convicted her for keeping the investigation into Russian interference alive.
Share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner, including in places other than your most familiar/comfortable social media sites. For example, during offline conversations, on social media sites you aren’t yet familiar with, via art such as graffiti or music, and so on.
If you know more than one language, translate and share articles and posts about pardoning Reality Winner.
Politely badger elected officials about Reality Winner, always pushing for the goal: pardoning her. Schedule appointments, call, donate a small amount to get them to actually reply (hey if corporate interests can bribe so can constituents). I’ve talked about Reality Winner with Kamala Harris at one of her campaign stops; I’ve talked to federal staffers, etc. If you haven’t done similar already in your life, you should, even just for the interesting experience.
Anything else you can dream up. Don’t listen to the naysayers boasting of their cynicism to promise themselves it was wise to have given up in life. Beautiful Trouble is a handy resource book / toolkit for learning nonviolent tactics.
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 45 of 52.
On September 4, I answered my phone to hear the voice of a man in his thirties or forties: “I’m calling you out of nowhere, and this is a pretty strange call and pretty strange request, so bear with me.” With an opening like that, how could I not keep listening? (I recorded what happened at the time but never got around to blogging about it until tonight.)
Just before the phone rang, I was at home in my high castle, right, reading obscure histories of northeast Oregon towns, digitizing old documents, or whatever it is I do with my eccentric life when I’m not substitute teaching, ghostwriting for dimes scraped off someone else’s dollar, or otherwise answering to the trade economy’s myriad commercial imperatives.
When my phone rang, I thought, Probably another damn spam call. Those in the United States know how they’ve been getting worse in the past few years: another sign of the times, likely. But hey, the area code was 213. Los Angeles! Maybe, just maybe, opportunity was knocking. Hey, even anti-careerists can daydream.
Well, I was wrong. Opportunity wasn’t knocking. Hilarity was.
You won’t believe what happened next
After his fantastic opening line, the mystery caller then explains he’s looking to get an email account with Riseup Networks. For the uninitiated, Riseup is a longstanding Seattle-based provider of email and other tech services for millions of activists worldwide. They’re a savvy collective with decades of meritorious history.
I’ve been using Riseup email—email@example.com—since 2012. Back then, Riseup gave out email accounts to anyone who agreed, or clicked that they agreed, with certain basic human decency principles, free of charge, donations encouraged. Nowadays, Riseup no longer just hands out email accounts. If I recall correctly, they stopped around 2016. Tightening things up; could be. Yet another sign of the times, likely. Currently, to get a Riseup email account, aspiring users need an invite code from someone who already has an account and is willing, in some algorithmic digital trust network sense, to vouch for them.
So, the mystery caller tells me he specifically wants a Riseup email invite code. I say I’m curious how he got my number—not because I’m offended, I explain, but because as a journalist/researcher, I often dig up information on people, and I want to know his tricks.
Like steam exiting the depressurizing coolant expansion tank of an overcompensating pickup truck’s tortured engine system, he barks odd laughter. He can’t help but tell me he ran a search for “riseup.net” and came across my email address and phone number in some online Freedom of Information Act filing of mine. When I used to conduct adversarial interviews more often than I do now, I was amazed at how readily interviewees expectorated the information I sought. Today I understand it’s because they’re tightly wound bio-psycho-socially. If, like Kevin Costner at the climax of his cheesy Robin Hood movie, you aim your interviewing bow and arrow just right, they become spectacularly undone with unintentionally confessional words torrenting out of their big mouths. You might be surprised at how far playing dumb as an interviewer can get you in life, unless you watch the old detective show Columbo.
To his black market credit, the mystery caller recovered his poise quickly. Of course, under no circumstance was I going to give him, a total stranger, a Riseup invite code. But I wanted to see how this call was going to go down, and I think he wanted to see, too. That meant at this point in the conversation, the two duelists had taken stock of each other’s lightsabers. The battle was now to begin in earnest.
He launches into a predictable sob story about how he lost his wife and dog and money and homework, could I please give him a Riseup invite code. Man, that’s all he’s got?
I tell him No, I don’t give Riseup invite codes to people I don’t know personally, ever. But I can tell him a good way of going about getting one.
He doesn’t understand I’m hinting at volunteering. He tells me of some corner of the Internet where people are, he says, selling Riseup invite codes. I tell him if a Riseup account is linked to scammers, it poisons the reputation of the account that invited the scammer in, or more generally poisons the trust network of email accounts associated with the scammer, so don’t bother.
With the embarrassing bravado of a demagogue, he pivots to his next attack.
Then the caller tells me he knows, of all people … the founder of Bitcoin! None other than the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, whose legal identity, despite many theories, remains uncertain. Wow, someone knows the founder of Bitcoin and just so happened to call me on a random Saturday morning. Que suerte! Not.
Rule number one of an adversarial interview is to keep the interviewee talking. The more words they emit, the more likely they’ll mis-step. So I ignore, sorta acting like I, too, know Satoshi Nakamoto. Doesn’t everyone?
But wherever he’s going with his Bitcoin founder thing is lost because I start laughing, unfortunately breaking character. Out of my typical benevolence, I tell the guy he should join the Riseup Internet Relay Chat channel and volunteer his time, building karma that way until he earns an invite code.
The caller’s totally not interested in ye olde effort. By this point in the call, I’m getting bored. Time to wrap this crap up.
He asks me a final time for an invite code. I say No. “Why are you against it?” he pleads. And I say, “For one thing, because I do get these requests [by email] every other month or so, and they take up way too much time while I’m trying to get work done. Bye!”
A half hour later, he text-messages me a giant poop emoji. The poor thing.
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!
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?
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.
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  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).
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.
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.
Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 42 of 52.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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.
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 …)
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.