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

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

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

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

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

What I learned from a year of blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My writing plans for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of all 42 posts from 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, My 2021 year of blogging in review … and 2022 website plans!, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/12/31/2021-blogging-review-2022-website-plans/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even more #PardonRealityWinner progress

Again an Ursula K. Le Guin stamp!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RealityWinnerLetter_OfficePardonAtty_DouglasLucas_18December2021

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

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Intellectual history for hacktivists: Video of my 27 Oct ’21 talk at University of Washington hacker club Batman’s Kitchen, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/12/19/intellectualhistory-talk-uw-hacker-27oct2021/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning of the document Winner leaked

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinners in the hands of an angry audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from stageplay Is This a Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequently asked vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#PardonRealityWinner

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

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

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

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

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

Here are several ways to make #PardonRealityWinner happen:

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You won’t believe what happened next

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

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

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

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

En garde!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons License

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

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

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

Redwood trees and other forest items in northwest California

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

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

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

Beach and sea on a cloudy day in southwest Oregon

Why the most radical transformation the world has ever seen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach, crags, hills, road, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach on cloudy day with small island in distance

All of the above in one encounter

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

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

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

Timelessness and chaos

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

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

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

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

I’ll give PKD the last word:

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

Photo of fallen leaves, standing redwoods, etc.

Creative Commons License

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the wider world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

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

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

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

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

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

So friggin’ official

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scores just came in:

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

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

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

San Diego stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 3

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s this week’s post, the one for Week 7…a few days late—try asking for a refund?

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

Uh, USians…are missing almost all the world

When I was preparing for my adventure, my acquaintances, much like the border g̶o̶d̶ guard, asked me what I was planning to do. Would I visit the Butchart Gardens? “It is so lovely, and it looks much better during the day than at night, and [on and on].” Years ago, planning for a different adventure, a road trip across half the United States, I was asked my take on whether the route should have us see Nature or cities. “Neither,” I said. “We should see people.”

To learn what likely simpatico people in Victoria were thinking and feeling and doing, and to bring that psychic samizdat back to Seattle, I primarily had in mind, even from the early planning phases, three missions: 1) check out the anarchist bookstore Camas Books & Infoshop; 2) check out and participate with Food Not Bombs Victoria; and 3) check out and participate with whatever alternative mental health stuff might be springing up in the city. Much of my offline activism my first few years in Seattle involved Seattle Food Not Bombs (especially as a driver!) and working with folks in or around, uh, the Seattle chapter of the, uh, Hearing Voices Network, which as you know is the oldest academic honor society in the United States complete with secret handshake, engraved golden key, and notable members including US presidents and Supreme Court justices, Ursula K. Le Guin, Henry Kissinger, and me. Aiming to improve my irl understanding of subject matters like (radical) education, food security, and replacing dumbass psychiatry, I hoped to gain a bit bigger view of the world, to escape the typically reactionary USian default me me me dolla dolla bill lol unrealistic fake news lol me me me dolla dolla bill — and also, to just interact with everyday Victoria people hanging out, the ordinary Victoria public transit system, and so on. That seemed far more valuable to me than tourist traps. In Seattle my hands have been nicely dirty with real life, so why would I not want that elsewhere?

So, this post covers those three — successful! — missions, each of which took place on a different day of my adventure. I didn’t take any photos of the missions, however, so throughout this Part 3, I’ll rely on others’ photos or funny images.

OMG no :\ (Source)

Find the real people? I’m not afraid to die! (Source)

Mission one: Camas, anarchist bookstore in Victoria (Wikipedia). They recently sent out this communiqué regarding supporting Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps’ resistance against proposed pipelines in the area, (Amnesty; blockades shut railways across Canada), which I unfortunately know little about. I walked to Camas from my hostel, something of a 1̶.̶2̶5̶-̶m̶i̶l̶e̶ 2̶.̶1̶-̶k̶i̶l̶o̶m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶ 2.1-kilometre hike one way. I arrived, looked around inside at several of the same books that already existed on my bookshelves back home, and got into a great conversation with a staffperson there. I told him about the drop in ambient anxiety in Victoria relative to the United States, and how I assumed that was due in part to the universal health insurance and the lack of mass shootings. He said he understood how I would perceive Victoria that way, but from his vantage point, everything seemed too calm. “Unrest,” he said, “is best.”

From the Camas Books & Infoshop website
Also from the Camas Books & Infoshop website

Camas is really cool. Relative to other anarchist bookstores I’ve been to in the United States, Camas much more strongly emphasized First Nations or indigenous related material. Were I living in Victoria, or staying for a longer duration, I’d go back to get some different books, meet people, find out about projects, etc. Camas is open daily. Fantastic. Just typing this, I miss it, and wish I were there chilling out in those chairs, reading a book, waiting for an intriguing passerby to inevitably come in and strike up conversation far more interesting than what I usually hear offline.

(In middle school, I drew anarchy signs into my handwritten name and drew them into the steam on the shower door at home. Maybe I saw them first on nineties electric guitars, or maybe on the ANSI art of bulletin board systems. That kid and this adult would get along well.)

Mission two: Food Not Bombs Victoria. Part of the global conspiracy to feed people. Gathering surplus food leftover from restaurants, distributors, and other sources, then cooking it and bringing it to a downtown park, on a shoestring budget, and sharing it with everyone, particularly people who might really need it. All the world has chapters, so if you’re looking to help someone yourself, instead of voting for someone to instruct someone to instruct someone to consider another vote or two or thousand about paying someone to instruct someone to pay someone to instruct someone to pay someone to pay someone to pay someone to maybe help someone someday — or not — and plus you can make friends and participate in your community…why then, go find a Food Not Bombs in your area or start one.

ALERT THE SEATTLE POPULATION IS SHARING FOOD ALERT
Food Not Bombs Victoria, from their facebook page

Having FNB-ed quite a while in Seattle, I got in touch with the amazingly welcoming Food Not Bombs Victoria folks, because I was curious how FNB would compare/contrast up there. And I was hungry!

At an apartment, I joined a handful of cooks. Really cool, right, here I am in another country a few days, and already I’m in an apartment with a bunch of friendly local strangers, working on a common cause. And yes, as you might remember from Part 2, everything in this apartment was likewise smaller than the objects would be in the counterpart US apartment. As I recall, even the sink water handles were smaller! The donated food was gathered, I think, primarily from a co-op grocery. With what was then my usual klutzy difficulty, I helped make a salad with sliced cucumber, carrots, a little kale, some sprouts, etc., and another person made a dressing for it with vinegar and various oils. The rest of the food made was similarly standard FNB-style cuisine. We then transported the food from the apartment to the downtown square/park, Centennial Square on the Douglas(!) street side, where the sharing is held every Sunday ⁠— also where, years ago, Occupy Victoria encamped.

At the park, the meal was held under a large tree, upon whose branches an FNBer hung an impressively large Food Not Bombs Victoria sign. The black sign had a lot of colorful graphics and words on it (sorry, no photo!). If I recall correctly, Food Not Bombs Victoria also supplied some local literature, zines, etc. About 20 individuals dined on this most scrumptious meal. That included random businesspeople passing by, various park denizens (such as skateboarders), multiple homeless or traveler or otherwise off the radar humans, plus some FNBers who hadn’t cooked with us but wanted to hang out.

FNB Victoria implemented two good ideas others might want to pick up. First, not only did FNB Victoria bring to the park a box of clean, re-usable mugs, cups, bowls, and cutlery, but also, many, perhaps most, of those sharing generally already knew to use those implements and then place them back in the box after eating. These bowls, pieces of cutlery, etc. would later be washed by FNB Victoria and used the next week. Second, the sharers mostly arranged themselves in a lazy circle around the tree. As opposed to FNBers on one side of a table and non-FNBers on the table’s opposing side, FNB Victoria’s organically emerged quasi-circle seating/standing arrangement felt very not us vs. them to me.

Movie Monday in Victoria BC, 25+ years running. Website.

Mission three: Alternative mental health. Before ferrying to Victoria, I pinged my contacts involved in that movement, seeking suggestions for my trip. To my knowledge, Victoria has no Hearing Voices Network chapter, then or now, but someone did point me to Movie Monday. It’s a weekly series of eclectic and thoughtful films, often with presentations and discussions. Free admission, donations encouraged. The 100-seat theater is in the same building as a (now closed down, I believe) psychiatric ward. In 1993, Movie Monday coordinator Bruce Saunders was held at that ward, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Stuck there, he got the idea to show movies at the unused theater, because quality education and entertainment and conversation are as needed as food in life. He continues to coordinate Movie Monday, and it has been going for more than 25 years (listen to this seven-minute MP3 interview with him). The movies aren’t always about mental health topics and aren’t just for audiences interested in that subject. Movie Monday started that way, but has since expanded to other subject matters. When I went, we watched Six Primrose, about a food security project in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

After the movie, a short discussion took place among the audience. I learned about some resources, people, etc. for alternative mental health interests in Vancouver BC. Those I can pursue on my next adventure to British Columbia!

Waiting at the bus stop to return from Movie Monday to the hostel, I got into a conversation with a random Canadian woman also waiting for the transit ride. I tried to ask her questions about Canada, but she easily and repeatedly diverted the conversation back to the United States.

“Why,” she wanted to know, “won’t they fix their country? Or, why don’t they just leave?” (Apparently I myself had temporarily become a nomad, resident of nowhere.)

Although I don’t know all the answers to her questions, perhaps you reading know some of them for yourself. The best I can do for motivation at the moment is to compare my whole adventure to the excitement expressed in the amazing 2015 song “Go!” by the band Public Service Broadcasting, about the spaceflight that put the first humans on the Moon. Listen, and I’ll keep trying to talk USians into traveling with Part 4 of this series next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 3, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/02/20/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-3. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice place ya got there / we got here

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

My bed for a week

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

Vegan food from Green Cuisine

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

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

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

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

Similarly, geographic locations, starting with Fort Worth Texas:

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

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

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

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

a: safety of air (lack of air pollution)
b: savings on cost of living (lower prices and so on)
c: rarity of mass shootings
d: education level of the public, of professionals, etc.
And whichever additional variables.

Which of course gives us:

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

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

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

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

https://twitter.com/debihope/status/8154179378?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bCyy7q_ylc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching Victoria BC, via the Clipper, July ’19

Crew tied Clipper off so it stays put

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

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

I walk forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another gub’ment! With Anglophilic buildings

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

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

Creative Commons License

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

My letter (and yours!) supporting Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner’s clemency petition

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, to be self-published every Monday. Here’s today’s, the second of 52.

Note: This post was updated Tuesday 4 February 2020, mostly to incorporate an updated version of my support letter. I changed “unusually severe” to “unduly severe” to better match the clemency consideration standards, I changed the reference to US citizens to US residents, and I added a line about our right to communicate, in order to connect Winner’s case with everyone else’s who’s being silenced anywhere in the world.

Reality Winner climbing a tree in Texas, Christmas 2015. Photo by Brittany Winner, her sister (Source)

Especially in light of current news, you should remember Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner, the Air Force veteran who in 2017 as an employee for a National Security Agency contractor leaked classified intelligence to The Intercept regarding Russian military hackers, in 2016, executing cyberattacks against more than 100 local election officials in the United States and against at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. 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 website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Reality “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.” These cyberattacks also constitute evidence in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s “12 Russians” indictment from 2018 and in his Mueller report from 2019.

For The Public, an online and print news outlet in Buffalo, New York, I reported in person from Reality’s final, August 2018 hearing in Augusta, Georgia where she was sentenced to 63 months in prison, the longest term ever imposed on a federal defendant for a disclosure of national security information to the media. That article of mine tells a great deal of her story and explains the importance of her deed. It quotes human rights activist and author Heather Marsh explaining that evidence in the leak helped generate the public support necessary for the investigation into not just Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election but more broadly into the nature of the world’s democracies today, an investigation that “could have quietly disappeared and the public would never have been any wiser.”

Reality Winner's sketch art, from prison, of the Augusta federal courthouse

Reality Winner sketch art, from prison, of the Augusta federal courthouse. (Source)

Now, about halfway through her prison term, 28-year-old Reality Winner will very soon be filing a petition for clemency. If granted, clemency would result in her early release from prison, similar to whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s successful clemency petition. Reality is a vegan and is amazingly maintaining that while locked up, in the face of oppression; her release would mean, among other things, that she could once again access healthy food in line with her beliefs. Because there’s a long line of clemency petitions to be considered, and because Reality’s release date is at this point 23 November 2021, it is unclear which president(‘s staff) will consider her petition and when.

I wrote a letter in support of Reality’s clemency petition. Below, I’ve embedded my one-page, signed letter as a PDF. Further below, I’ve put the body of my letter with links added. The embedded PDF of my letter doesn’t include links, and it isn’t possible to clipboard-copy text from it, so if you want either, please refer to the further below section of this post where the body of my letter is repeated. Reading my letter will give you more information about her case and why I think clemency is justified. Also I describe briefly how Federal Medical Center Carswell, the prison in Fort Worth, Texas where she is housed, has blocked my efforts (and CNN’s) to interview Reality in person behind bars.

Best of all, you can write a letter in support of Reality’s clemency petition. On 11 January 2020, her team had 4,206 letters of support, a little more than 84% of the way to their goal of getting 5,000 letters. Reality was the subject of Chris Hayes’ weekly podcast on 7 January 2020, which hopefully should assist with getting her more letters.

You can either quickly sign online a pre-provided letter at the StandWithReality.org website by giving your name and email address, plus your county and state, or you can write your own letter and email it in to Liz Miner. Instructions and more information about both options are available here: StandWithReality.org: Letter of Support for Clemency. To share that webpage quickly, you can use this shortened URL, which leads there: Bit.ly/RWSupportLetter.

In her 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin describes a utopia built on the suffering of a single imprisoned person, and utopia residents who must confront that suffering only once and then decide whether to keep living in the wonderful city or leave. To a large extent, the Russiagate investigation is likewise built on a single individual now imprisoned. There remains an ethical imperative that this person, upon whose shoulders so much has rested, not continue to be ignored by so many and silenced and caged by the Bureau of Prisons.

LetterSupportingRWClemencyPetition_DouglasLucas_Updated2

Re: Reality Winner Clemency Petition

Dear Mr. President,

I write in support of the clemency petition of Reality Leigh Winner, a Bureau of Prisons inmate, register number 22056-021. For The Public, a news outlet in Buffalo, New York, I reported in person from Ms. Winner’s August 23, 2018 hearing in Augusta, Georgia where Chief District Judge J. Randal Hall imposed a 63-month prison term on Ms. Winner. Department of Justice attorney Bobby L. Christine described the punishment as the longest sentence ever imposed on a federal defendant for a disclosure of national defense information to the media. This unduly severe punishment resulted from Ms. Winner, an Air Force veteran and intelligence contractor with no prior criminal record, sending to the media classified intelligence describing cyberattacks by Russian military hackers against over 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. The cyberattacks took place just days before the 2016 U.S. elections. With great idealism, Ms. Winner gave everyone information required for self-governance, gave everyone necessary knowledge otherwise unavailable. That includes any voting vendor staff who, without clearances, would not have been able to access such protective classified information unless it appeared in the public 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 Ms. Winner “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.”

Ms. Winner’s unduly severe sentence and unfair treatment behind bars is unjust to her and indeed, to all. She has a long, admirable history of public service: donating to poor families, volunteering for Athletes Serving Athletes, and more. Her ongoing confinement blocks her from continuing this service to the wider world. She is unjustly denied broad communication with the public by Carswell Federal Medical Center staff, including Warden Michael Carr. The staff has forbidden journalists, such as CNN and me, from interviewing her in person. They have provided no meaningful explanation for her isolation from the mass media. For months, my requests for meaningful details, and my requests for negotiations to meet any Carswell Federal Medical Center concerns, were ignored or subjected to run-around. In her allocution, Ms. Winner demonstrated her intelligence and perceptiveness. Caging her incommunicado harms her and deprives the public of her gifts. Everyone globally, in prisons or whatever other cages, must have the right to communicate, including to appeal for help from the world, as directly as possible.

Ms. Winner took responsibility for her action’s criminality at her final hearing. While sentencing her, Judge Hall indicated he saw no evidence she will become a repeat offender: “the Court has no sense […] that there is a need to protect the public from any further crimes of the defendant.” As an inmate, Ms. Winner has pursued studies toward her college degree and has worked several jobs within the Carswell Federal Medical Center system. She has served roughly half of her 63-month sentence already, and she has not had a single infraction.

I firmly believe a commutation of Ms. Winner’s sentence is in the best interest of the United States, U.S. residents, and justice. She and her loved ones suffer each day she is kept locked up. I ask you to grant Reality Leigh Winner’s clemency petition and her immediate release from prison.

Sincerely,

Creative Commons License

This blog post, My letter (and yours!) supporting Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner’s clemency petition, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/01/13/letter-supporting-russiagate-whistleblower-reality-winner-clemency-petition. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.