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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the wider world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

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

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

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

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

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

So friggin’ official

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scores just came in:

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

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

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

San Diego stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Creative Commons License

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

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:

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


Creative Commons License

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:

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.

Extra material for WhoWhatWhy “Barrett Brown Sentenced to 5 Years, After Facing More Than a Century” article

(5 years and 3 months, to be precise.) Okay: Material the media outlet cut from my piece, plus bits of context:

Brown spoke with WhoWhatWhy earlier this week from jail to emphasize the dishonesty with which the authorities have prosecuted him. He referred to his sealed detention hearing, saying the FBI’s agent Allyn Lynd testified under oath that laptop evidence proved the writer admitted to SWATing (placing false 911 calls to get locked-and-loaded police commandos out to a mark’s home). Brown said that not only did Lynd get away with that false allegation—which was at least explicable in that it served as a chief reason the judge denied bail—but the agent also got away with the weird claim that the defendant had lived in the Middle East.

“These people, these prosecutors, these FBI agents have blatantly lied so much,” Brown told us. “They aren’t rookies; these are people who have been around for a long time. So what that tells me—what that should tell everyone—is that they don’t lie for fun; they do it because it works. And the question is, Why does it work? And how bizarre is it that these things work? There doesn’t seem to be any negative feedback to prevent an FBI agent from lying on the stand.”

[…]

The prosecution throughout has twisted words to manufacture a case against his work and, in so doing, a case against what 21st-century journalism stands to become.

Brown, some of whose first writing sales were to America Online during its days as an Internet service provider, has long championed the decentralized, archival Internet as a better means of knowledge-production than the hierarchical media ecosystem where authors and pundits can lie persistently without consequences not unlike his prosecutors. After all, the use of hyperlinks—the primary controversy in his case—allows scrupulous authors and readers to cross-check data and call out errors in great detail.

Once Brown heard of Anonymous and WikiLeaks in 2010, he quickly realized how his crusade could be amped up with access to top-notch secrets and new ways to collaborate digitally. Soon he was giving more and more interviews to the traditional media—some of which the Department of Justice trotted out in court last December—explaining his political ideas and findings about the authorities’ information warfare projects and techniques. Meanwhile, in chat rooms and on social media, he was showing others how to mine state-held business registrations, trademark filings, and press releases so they, too, could turn Anonymous’s hack-leaks into actionable news and analysis. His audience grew and grew.

The government didn’t like that at all. Prosecutors let their motive slip during a 2013 hearing, as first reported by WhoWhatWhy. That was when the Department of Justice made a failed attempt to prevent Brown, while his case was ongoing, from criticizing anyone in the government whatsoever. (They did succeed in gagging him and his lawyers, for several months, from speaking out about his legal battles.)

[…]

Despite the Department of Justice’s hammering of him, Brown has remained steadfastly defiant. Reading his allocution, he told his judge, predictably, “I hope to convince Your Honor that I sincerely regret some of the things that I have done” but added with trademark dry humor: “Like nearly all federal defendants.”

Creative Commons License

Extra material for WhoWhatWhy “Barrett Brown Sentenced to 5 Years, After Facing More Than a Century” article by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.