My talk at HOPE XV: Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security: July 12-14, NYC

Promo video for my talk (also on youtube)

A decade ago, I was a panelist at HOPE X, the tenth Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York City. Youtube of that panel — on crowdsourcing research into the cyber-intelligence complex — still collects views.

On the way home from the conference, I wrote a humorous article describing my experience: my surprising, then interviewing NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake; the private spies who showed up to surveil the panel and seemed more interested in my articles than most people I actually know are; my rooted smartphone getting hacked … Ah, wonderful times, so long ago.

Now — well, next month, July 12-14 — I’ll give a solo talk at HOPE XV titled Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security.

Wait, what’s this conference again? Sponsored by the magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, HOPE is held every other year in New York City — previously in Manhattan, now in Queens at St. John’s University. Top-billed speakers over the years have included Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, frenemy of the state Edward Snowden, you get the idea. Typical offerings include lockpicking villages, ham radio and vintage computer stuff, vendors, film screenings, socializing, controversy real or ginned up, private spies watching me, people hacking my phone … plus panels/talks.

You can check out the conference website here, speakers’ bios over here, various promo videos HOPE requested way over here, and short descriptions of every panel/talk all the way over here. The description for mine:

Fake news or flawless? Our computerized elections are neither. To truly understand corporate, closed-source election computers requires understanding how they fit into the wider electoral system and its interlocking parts. Douglas’s investigative journalism will provide case studies documenting how it can go haywire: the 2016 Kremlin cyberattacks on U.S. election infrastructure exposed by whistleblower Reality Winner, the MAGA-led Coffee County elections office breach still compromising Georgia’s statewide voting software, and more. Such details will show how you can help secure elections: scrutineers, statistical forensics, free software voting companies … the list goes on. He will address democracy’s evolution, too, scrutinizing statist voting within the bigger picture of human collaboration.

I’ll create an online reading list for attendees interested in learning more, as well as an overview diagram of the election system’s interlocking parts.

As of this writing, I don’t know which exact day and time my talk will be, but the conference website should be updated with that information any moment. If you decide to attend and want to get together, email me: dal@riseup.net. I plan to arrive a day early and stay a day after. Otherwise just watch my talk afterward on Youtube or at the happenin’ headquarters of DouglasLucas.com.

Will I get into any zany HOPE incidents this decade around? Probably. If I encounter anyone from Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) — their three uses of the word security there totally isn’t overcompensation or anything — I have some remarks for them, including regarding my potential lawsuit over their FOIA deni… but that’s another story.

Just remind me not to root my phone.

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This blog post, My talk at HOPE XV: Survey and Scrutiny of Election Security: July 12-14, NYC, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2024/06/02/talk-hope-election-security-july-nyc/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or related topics) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Fading fun at Norwescon 46 on Friday … and the future?

Note (added Apr. 8, 2024): On initial publication this blog post incorrectly stated that Friday night lacked a flesh-and-blood DJ. There was one, in fact, by the pseudonym mcbaud300. When I was briefly in the ballroom, I didn’t see mcbaud300, but I did see a sign that led me to wrongly conclude the DJ was artificial intelligence. Below, in the apropos section of this post, I’ve added a photo, by Michael Citrak, of that sign, which read VIRTUAL DJ. That’s actually the name of a product that replaces physical DJ gear—such as turntables—with software, not something the replaces actual human DJs with software. Thanks Norwescon Discord for the corrections.

On Fri. Mar. 29, I attended Norwescon 46, the annual four-day science fiction convention nowadays based in Seattle (okay, SeaTac) that’s been running continuously since 1978. This was my first Norwescon — which I assume means North West Convention, though I’ve never seen that explicitly stated. Previously I’ve gone to a few other conventions: ConDFW (2009), Wiscon (2009), and Conflation (2014 or so).

Since I live in the Emerald City, I could bypass hotel room fees. And by limiting my participation to Friday only, I wasn’t diverting too much time away from work or toward crowds, which by nature repel introverts such as me. Before departing for the convention, I told myself to have a good attitude, to make the most of it, and — well, I had a good time, but it felt faintly elegiac. Like something that, if you look down to check your wristwatch too long, might not be there when you look back up.

The Frequently Asked Questions explains what Norwescon is all about:

Norwescon is the Pacific Northwest’s premier science fiction and fantasy convention and one of the largest regional science fiction and fantasy conventions in the United States. While maintaining a primarily literary focus, Norwescon is large enough to provide a venue for many of the other aspects of science fiction and fantasy and the interests of its fans such as anime, costuming, art, gaming, and much, much more.

Norwescon features hundreds of hours of panel programming, over 200 panelists specializing in fantasy, science fiction, horror, science, and more, the Philip K. Dick Awards, a 6,000+ square-foot Dealers’ Room, Writers’ Workshops, a full masquerade, an art show, dances, and more!

In the early afternoon, I parked by one of the far walls of the overpriced, crammed DoubleTree guest lot and started hiking on foot to the hotel. Long before I reached the lobby, it seemed the science fiction convention had already begun, outright, straight up in my face. Yes, right there in the parking lot. Where I was confronted with —

The Knightscope autonomous security robot

My surprise halted me. Recovering, I snapped two photos:

At first I was quite confused, thinking this was some Doctor Who Dalek-esque creation of the convention’s. But I soon confirmed it’s the hotel’s, and in fact, the hotel has been using the Knightscope for several years. The convention staffer I spoke with seemed unperturbed by the strange device, or perhaps resigned to it, trailing off his discussion of the subject matter …

In my photos, it looks stupid and harmless, comical even — like a big inflated balloon — but in real life, it’s actually kind of intimidating, as my video below hopefully shows. If I understand Knightscope correctly, the self-driving gizmo records surveillance film for optional review by humans later. Gives you those warm fuzzies that we’re all in this together, trusting one another to do our best and forge the optimal outcomes for our communities, right?

In a slogan asserting that crimefighting is impossible without such high-tech interventions, Knightscope’s website boasts that You need superhuman abilities to fight crime. Let’s be frank, law enforcement and security forces have long been keeping crime at the Goldilocks levels required to maintain whichever heinous balance of power the highest-ups prefer, a la cyberpunk novelist William Gibson’s character Ainsley Lowbeer. Fighting crime is something else entirely, and while outsourcing it to these robots might prevent automobile smash-and-grabs, that likely comes at the expense of us further forgetting how to use social support and shunning/approval to do so, because everyone can just be hyper-surveilled constantly and the unseen, promised Good Guys with superhuman abilities, far away somewhere, can help dispense justice on command for a fee. Turn your brain off; escape into adoration of the superhuman, the supertastic Knightscope!

Would there be actual superheros inside the hotel, with sincere hearts? Say, Phoenix Jones — real life crimefighters dressed up as superheroes? Didn’t the genre’s classic writers want readers to respond with this-worldly heroism, rather than robots replacing what’s left of people?

As I walked side by side with the Knightscope filming the thing, I really felt it was deliberately staring at me through its camera apertures. Maybe because I was blocking its vision. I don’t think the Knightscope carries any weapons, yet I couldn’t help but think of the Star Wars robot R2D2 and its Taser-style electric shock prod. About halfway into the video below, I start laughing, as does a couple nearby in a car, observing l’affaire robot. Then the couple starts their vehicle, ready to leave, kind of pinning me in from behind; the robot seized this moment to start coming at me from the front, shown in the video’s final seconds. I died then, and this is my replacement writing to you now.

High on panel: Managing unsolicited submissions in the era of AI

Waldo

Once I entered the hotel proper, collected my badge, and saw a man hilariously dressed as Waldo from Where’s Waldo as well as a large Doctor Who Dalek prop carried by attendees, I headed for the panel titled Managing Unsolicited Submissions in the Era of AI. Four panelists: Podcastle editor Craig Jackson (moderator); Clarkesworld founder, editor, publisher Neil Clarke; Uncanny Magazine managing editor Monte Lin; The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction publisher Gordon Van Gelder. The panel discussed exactly what its title says, a Turing Test problem that became major news in multiple outlets once Clarke opened up about it last year.

In other words, all these robots from without are assailing our science fiction — what can we do about it from within?

Below, I embed the seven-post thread I made on Bluesky loosely transcribing portions of the thought-provoking panel. Bluesky, you may know, is a Twitter-esque rival to the platform commandeered by Elon Musk; it has a smartphone app and no longer requires an invite code to join, though it still lacks DMs and support for video uploads. To read the seven posts directly on Bluesky, you can click through the below embeds, or follow this link, even if you lack a Bluesky account and don’t sign in, as with Twitter of yore.

As the panel concluded, I felt elated. Following the past few years of reading and writing science fiction, and doing investigative journalism and copywriting and philosophy research assistance — all of it writerly work, freelance jobs making up the majority of my mostly solitary life — suddenly, fresh topics I’ve been curious about were being discussed back and forth live among knowledgeable panelists and inquisitive audience members, all of them friendly, not competing to see who can be the most cruel at ripping off strangers’ heads or minimizing their every word, unlike much of social media and the offline realm. I’m not enough of a joiner to say I felt like I belonged or anything definitive like that — but I was really glad I came and looked forward to additional panels and events.

T-shirt for sale at Norwescon from Arkham Bazaar and Sigh Co. Graphics. Depicts a Lovecraftian Elder God.

I resolved to check out Clarkesworld more often, then headed downstairs to the general area by the lobby, where my newfound excitement encompassed the various booths. There were H.P. Lovecraft-themed T-shirts for sale, a table with riddles written on wood with vendors offering clues, a huge supply of free books for the taking, and more. All at once these science fictional images, usually confined to my bookshelf, had bloomed all around me, left, right, up, everywhere I looked. I even asked some vendors research questions about miniature painting, related to my fiction-writing, and got some good leads. Again, a topic that had almost entirely existed in my lonely head for years was now in the flesh, and everyone cheerfully acted as if that were normal rather than the other way around.

Place of refuge losing luster

I ducked out for lunch, again seeing the Knightscope patrolling the parking lot. To the restaurant through hectic, smelly traffic. Something I ordered didn’t quite agree with me; my mood soured a smidge. Already I’d seen every vendor booth (though I forgot to check the art show, unfortunately). Hurrying back for another panel felt like a chore.

Wasn’t there something backward about all this? The last time H.P. Lovecraft wrote anything new was almost a hundred years ago. Isn’t there something more we can do about AI-spam besides write our Congressfools and beg the FTC chair, tactics that I myself do but that still feel dated next to real cutting-edge resistance? And that cumbersome Dalek prop, that robot-y Doctor Who creature attendees had carried through the hotel, was derived from a TV show that began more than a half century back. I assumed the Dalek lacked onboard electronics to theoretically counter the sleek, unapologetic Knightscope, which would probably vaporize it. Okay, not really. But all the same, though the unsolicited AI manuscripts panelists were certainly informed from their front-line battles with that particular problem, and led a truly interesting discussion, the convention as a whole was now feeling, to my postprandial self, like an enclave for out-of-touch museumgoers. There were very few in their Gen-Z twenties present, and when they were, it was typically because they were assisting their vendor parents.

From the start, I knew Norwescon wouldn’t be some best-in-class, outward-connecting headquarters of artistic resistance (is there such a place anywhere?). I wasn’t expecting earth-shattering revelations from any panelists. Why not just go home? Why couldn’t all — rather than merely some — of the panels be put online, with the audience able to type in questions, as mainstreamed during the years the United States called COVID-19 a federal public health emergency?

Because of the vitality, of course. Physical presence in such an environment, enjoying such conversations, festival like, brings its own energy surplus, or did initially. Now I just felt drained and was urging myself to keep going, a familiar self-flagellation from decades ago at university where I’d scolded myself to hurry, to make it to ̶p̶a̶n̶e̶l̶s̶ classes on time. I’m not sure why my mood had inverted. Maybe it was that, born in urban Texas, I’m unaccustomed to the obligations of participating in an interesting, mostly benign group-self — the convention, that perhaps I’d joined simply by being there — and unfairly demanded nonstop perfection from it. Maybe it was the sense of an unthinking eternal return, passing by the same booths over and over, the same unpurchased H.P. Lovecraft T-shirt over and over, has-been consumerist ants stuffed into an airless maze, the largely unacknowledged winds of change outside — not just Knightscope, but a collapsing trade economy, a birth strike and children insufficiently raised — steadily working on blowing down the insular walls of any type of convention anywhere.

Well, I’d only attended a single panel. Another might clarify things? I drove back to the hotel, seeing upon my return, industriously cruising past, the Knightscope.

Orbiting another panel: The rest of the world in space

The next panel I’d selected from the programming (also available here) was titled The rest of the world in space. A pair of space historians gave basic information about, and showed photos of, recent non-U.S. space missions. Below, I’ll embed my four Bluesky posts from the panel. Click through the embeds, or follow this link, to see the posts directly on Bluesky.

To me it felt a little like two gruff older guys showing you their favorite Wikipedia timeline. A chill way to ooh and aah over non-U.S. spaceships. It was good that one of them mentioned, albeit very briefly, the Belarusian dictator — without mentioning his name, Aleksandr Lukashenko — and his longstanding alliance with Putin as the real reason behind a Belarusian astronaut’s joint publicity photo with the Russians. I wish he’d said more, but he did not step out farther on the limb of the supposedly unspeakable, not during this panel anyhow.

When their presentation ended, I asked the panelists about the legal penalties (or not) for failing to de-orbit artificial satellites, and how the graveyard orbit fits into that framework (or not). Once again it was wonderful to talk with actual human beings highly knowledgeable about subjects I’m interested in, many of them underreported, yet powerfully impacting people, usually without their understanding. I regained some enthusiasm — tempered somewhat this time.

Briefly I met up with one of my fellows from Clarion West Writers Workshop class of 2008, Caren Gussoff, and we commiserated about the introvert struggle of attending a populous convention. We finished talking and she left; now I had a few final Friday hours to wander around, hoping to locate value.

Odds and ends

Exploring the hotel indoors, where windows were firmly shut and people were packed like proverbial sardines — an unofficial early estimate from Norwescon staff says 1,800+ people attended across the four days — I reckoned that one out of every eight or so individuals was masking, as in, against COVID and/or RSV and/or whatever this very recent bird flu in Texas is, something that jumped from birds to cattle to humans like a UFO from the microbial dimension. I was masking, as I do for packed-like-sardines settings such as schools and hospitals. It often appeared that more were using canes to help with walking than were using masks to help with preventing the spread of respiratory diseases.

I find it difficult to draw conclusions from the absence of widespread masking. In May 2023, the federal government declared the public health emergency over, and the CDC hasn’t collected as much COVID-19 data since, though their wastewater monitoring is interesting and as of this writing says COVID-19 viral activity is low countrywide. We might imagine scientists and science fictioneers hacking together their own experiments to audit or replicate data, bridging knowledge and questions from expert to novice levels and back again, testing out various hypotheses motivated by public interest and with complete transparency for public data, so that anyone interested could observe, doublecheck, and understand. Building something for sampling or imaging viral titer from the air, as scientist Justin Lee says, accurately assessing airborne transmission dynamics, ideally in real time. We might also imagine scientists and science fictioneers at the hotel bar, drinking to assuage the guilt and shame of a dissociated society that too often refuses and mocks effort, DIY innovation, and self-governance, even when those endeavor to keep us alive and buying H.P Lovecraft-themed swag as the Knighscope watches from outside a window.

Galaga, fun but dated…

Easier challenges to conquer were the extraterrestrial enemies in Galaga, one of the many arcade games available that didn’t need quarters — I’m not sure if the games were part of the hotel or the convention, but I think the latter. Lighter fare.

As the night wore on, I checked out the ballroom. Looked like a carbon copy of the one I saw at Conflation in St. Louis circa 2014. It had a bar. It had a dance floor. It did not, however, have a human DJ [see correction at top of post—there was a human DJ, one by the pseudonym of mcbaud300—note added Apr. 8, 2024]. The DJ was some unseen robot — a sign touted this fact. The beautiful people danced and danced; for a few minutes, I watched from afar, before turning around to leave.

Photo of mcbaud300 that night by Michael Citrak (added Apr. 8, 2024)

Likely I would have had more fun had I attended more panels, literary-focused ones, or participated in events specifically designed to facilitate socializing. There was a Speed Friending event I should have tried, where attendees converse one-on-one with a line of others for a few moments each, discussing interests, seeing if they might want to hang out more after the event. There were many rounds of charades I failed to attend as well, among them one on a Star Trek theme, which sounded really fun. Maybe some other time, some other life.

Concluding in the lounge

One area I enjoyed, and returned to often, was Norwescon’s lounge: essentially two hotel rooms, connected by a door, emptied out in favor of tables and chairs, free chips and soda, and other comforts. People — most, probably fifty years of age and up — gathered around in conversation, many already knowing each other. One told the heartbreaking story of how she’d lost her son due to a drunk driver. All the bureaucratic transportation department studies, good or bad, would turn to ash in the face of such a recounting. A while later, an older guy in a brown Jedi robe demonstrated the lightsaber he’d built, modeled after Luke Skywalker’s in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. I of course gravely intoned: I see you have constructed a new lightsaber.

The lounge spawned a few random encounters with people my own age-ish, and as I got to know them a tad, I observed a certain pattern I’ve seen before. Namely, when they asked my background in science fiction and fantasy, and I began talking of my writing it during Clarion West Writers Workshop and in the subsequent few years, their attentive eyes focused on me — they seemed not a little impressed: Here we have an author on our hands! Then I explained that, though magazine acquisition editors were quite complimentary of my work, I never managed to sell any stories and partially as a result, transitioned to focusing on investigative journalism for roughly a decade, despite my druthers. That made their gaze drop, their hands fiddle with a phone or piece of candy. Then, once I said how recently, I’ve resumed fiction-writing, still without selling anything but with a better understanding of the world — now their eyes would look at me, again interested, albeit less so than at first. You can really feel an audience — even just one person in a casual conversation — drifting in and out of interest, reducing or increasing the amount of approval they’re expressing in reaction to your words.

Of course, at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, the reverse would happen: I’d talk of journalism publications to the lounge listener’s interest, then switch to discussing fiction-writing and at once get the silent you lost me, what’s that squirrel outside doing? While people naturally and rightfully have different interests, at Norwescon I couldn’t escape the sense of a terrible siloing taking place. Science fiction at this convention. Journalism at that convention. CDC COVID-19 policies over yonder. Belarusian dictator, trail off. Knightscope surveillance, trail off. Tactics beyond begging Congressfools, trail off. If no one faces up to that which determines our lives — governance, spy agencies, propaganda, the sharing or censorship of knowledge — then a shrug, for if all that remains for the triumph of evil is for good people to say they work so they deserve to just be happy, doormatting for injustices is (mostly) your right in the marketplace, even when the consequences harm everyone. The phallic toy weapons notwithstanding, inaction (or the milquetoast minimum) doesn’t really match the morals presented in the beloved science fiction and fantasy novels, but magically holds court nonetheless, all that dissociated guilt and shame and fear.

The fun conversations, the vitality between lonely souls sharing obscure interests, guarded by walls the outside of which includes a recent auto-coup attempt… With such threats largely unchallenged — yes, I know the news says it’s all under control, just as they did before the 2016 general election — conventions like Norwescon may have fewer and fewer attendees, no new blood. Every time I turn around in Seattle, another business closes, so will science fiction conventions suffer the same fading, fading away?

I asked above what science fiction could do from within to combat the robots assailing the genre from without. It’s as if there’s a monstrous, metalmade elephant in the room with no one’s face, and yet everyone’s face, attenuating anyone’s attempts to initiate efforts or escalate them into radical approaches. But the only superheroes within the hotel walls are us. As if the New Wave of Science Fiction never ended, I could have belted out Tell us more! when the space historian alluded to Lukashenko; someone could put together panels about tactics, mutual aid, strikes, boycotts, the provisioning of alternative governance; attendees in lounges could discuss ideas, and goals, and steps to get there for whatever problems — drunk drivers, out-of-control AI, space debris, or even the Justice Department’s endangerment of Sci-Hub and its founder Alexandra Elbakyan. Just going along as done in the past is robotic. Forging a human future requires not obeying the siloes — nor activism-scolding roommates, spouses, co-workers — but building bridges between concerns and perhaps even organizing new kinds of conventions, full of surprises.

Science fiction, involved in the future, a metaphorical realm where Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard does something about injustices other than sit on his hands gloating about don’t think too hard don’t care too much — all the threats the genre and the world face today, the roving surveillance bots, the AIs, the pandemics, the international spy agency subterfuge, even censorship of the genre’s Hugo Awards affecting big names such as Neil Gaiman and confirmed to have global political motives — they all have a science fictional flavor. Recall William Gibson’s remark to the effect that, for understanding the 21st century, reading 20th-century science fiction is a wonderful toolkit. But it doesn’t help much to merely understand, say, the chemical formula of some corporate poison if it completely kills you. To combat injustice, to protect ourselves, we have to cease existing primarily as escapist voyeurs, and actually take risks, actually open up the toolkit, actually use the tools.

I’m glad I went. Maybe someday I’ll go again, see what’s new, in the future.

My Norwescon badge hanging at home in my apartment
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This blog post, Fading fun at Norwescon 46 on Friday … and the future?, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2024/04/02/fading-fun-norwescon46-friday-future/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Please feel free to discuss this post in the comments section below, but if you’re seeking permissions beyond the scope of the license, or want to correspond with me about this post (or related topics) one on one, email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE

Note (added 31 August 2022): Two philosophically minded Greek physicians, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who lived around the second century AD, and Hippocrates of Kos, aka the Father of Medicine, who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE, would have made stronger examples of severe misogyny in ancient thinkersread here to see why but the philosophers I discuss below, Thales and Hippo of Samos, are revealing too.

Protest at US Supreme Court today after ruling

Today the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the green light to criminalize abortion. Half the fifty states are now expected to do so. This is an authoritarian assertion of control over women’s bodies; it is forced childbirth for those pregnant.

Some 2600 years ago, the progenitors of Western philosophy walked around ancient Greece conversing with each other, their followers, and the military leaders who grew up with them as tutors. (Anaxagoras taught Pericles; Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.)

The received view sees these men, and their conversations, as the starting point of Western philosophy. The ivory tower, the think tanks, the intelligentsia all starts with them.

Even Supreme Court decisions, the justices’ clerks pouring through tomes in the library, are built on this intellectual edifice that rests on ancient Greek philosophers.

The ancient thinkers kicked off Western philosophy with masculinist bias. For those not familiar with the word masculinism, consider it the opposite of feminism. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, contemporary philosopher Heather Marsh defines masculinist theory as “based on research that only includes men or is presented from an exclusively male point of view or which sets the experience of men as the normative standard.”

Read W.T. Jones’ five-volume A History of Western Philosophy, covering thousands of years, and you will see not a single woman is included in all those pages. That’s masculinist theory for you. The tomes discuss battle and blood and sweat, but nearly nothing about caregiving and reproduction.

When the foundations of the intelligentsia were being built in ancient Greece, how did masculinist theory arise? After all, women have been heard more and more lately through #TimesUp, #MeToo, and #OpDeathEaters; today’s ruling is a slap in the face, trying to turn the volume down on women and the topics often associated with them.

Thales: All is what?

Drawing of Thales by Ernst Wallis based on a posthumous bust that was itself guesswork; note the heroic appearance given to the ancient philosopher

W.T. Jones and others present Thales as the father of Western philosophy. In the sixth century BCE, he lived on the Mediterranean shores of what is now Turkey.

If you look at standard resources such as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on him (provided by the University of Tennessee at Martin), you will learn the most important idea of Thales was that all is water.

His metaphysical theory — all is water — is classified as material monism. Material meaning he didn’t say all is something nebulous such as energy, but all is something definitively material, water. As for monism, that means all is just one thing. Unlike, say, Empedocles, another philosopher of the era, who reduced existence to four different things he called “roots,” Thales credited water alone with being the universe’s fundamental stuff.

In her highly readable book Thales of Miletus, philosophy professor Patricia F. O’Grady explains what all is water actually means. Thales envisaged water as a cyclical, pervasive medium. Cyclical like the water cycle: puddles evaporate into clouds which rain; the rain solidifies into mud and maybe rock that eventually liquefies. Pervasive as in water existing everywhere as a kind of backdrop from which familiar objects (trees, sand, etc.) emerge and back into which they dissipate as they move and change. Thales is awarded historical importance for his theory partly because it is held to represent the beginnings of looking at the world scientifically: attributing happenings to the natural substance of water rather than supernatural divinities.

That may be the complete story of Thales’ idea.

However, it is a speculative reading, but Thales may have meant his water to have semen-like qualities. This is not something explicit I have come across in readings on Thales, but a passage by the famous ancient philosopher Aristotle suggests it to me. (Thales left no primary source writings, so we depend on other philosophers, particularly Aristotle, to learn his views.)

Conjecturing how Thales arrived at his watery theory, Aristotle suggests Thales may have observed that “the semina of all things have a moist nature, whereas water is the first principle of the nature of moist things” (983 b27).

The “semina of all things have a moist nature” is a pretty evocative phrase: it says all things include semina, or seeds — seeds in a broader sense than just sperm — and that these seeds are moist. He then says water is the first (fundamental) thing, when it comes to moist items, which apparently include everything since all things have moist semina.

It also seems to me Aristotle, or Aristotle’s Thales, is trying to associate the two — the water and the moist semina.

Not so much a “I proved he certainly meant this” and instead a psychological reading, as in: Gee, what do you think these guys are really talking about here with all this stuff about moist generative seeds?

He may have just meant botanical seeds, or Aristotle may be suggesting that an observant Thales saw, ubiquitous, moistness and seeds — even sperm, which is watery. Maybe the metaphysical water of Thales was intended to be understood as sperm or more plausibly sperm-like, with motive and generative powers, as Thales imbued it.

I could be flat-out wrong. Thales’s word for water, ὕδωρ, does not mean semen anywhere in ancient Greek. But I think the Aristotle passage is pliable enough for us to consider that Thales might have connoted, not “all is semen,” but “all is water, which is a lot like semen.”

Aristotle’s hypothetical Thales going on about semina, and seeds (of some sort) somehow being relevant to his foundational water, suggests the founder of Western philosophy may have been arbitrarily prioritizing men, a way of making men’s seminal fluid close to the foundational stuff of reality. After all, why could it not have been vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? If Thales was giving his foundational water qualities of semen, that would mean other, non-semen things fall in approval by comparison. A woman risking childbirth, a dangerous feat, would not be of foundational importance, if what’s close to the most important thing (water) is semen rather than her fluids. And if so, that is the historical origins of today’s Western intelligentsia: masculinist bias.

(I should note there are probably other ancient thinkers with views about sperm that I am simply unaware of. I just happen to have recently studied Thales and Hippo of Samos.)

Hippo of Samos: Listen up, men produce the soul

Ancient Greek vase showing physician bloodletting a patient

Roughly a century after Thales, in the fifth century BCE, the philosopher and physician Hippo of Samos said something similarly prioritizing semen in his explanation of the universe. He is conventionally described as coming from the island of Samos, but in fact he may have come from any number of places in the ancient world.

The theologian Hippolytus from a few centuries later records in his book Refutation of All Heresies the otherwise unavailable words of Hippo of Samos: “semen […] manifests itself to us […] from moisture […] it is from this [i.e. the seed] that, [Hippo] says, the soul is produced.”

In other words, Hippo believed the soul derives from semen. Moist semen, if you want the details. The soul is not the entire universe, but of course the soul is rather important.

If we agree it is semen, and nothing else, from which the soul is derived, then we might look down on other substances. What about vaginal arousal fluid or amniotic fluid? These are not soul-producers, according to Hippo of Samos, but we nevertheless know their importance in reproduction. They are left out of soul-production by Hippo of Samos because of masculinist bias: he’s established an exclusively male point of view, setting the experience of only men as the normative standard. He’s arbitrarily left out vaginal arousal fluid and amniotic fluid (and other things) to focus exclusively on semen.

Again, these ancient thinkers are those held by the ivory tower to be their system’s origins. It’s a commonplace that an undergraduate philosophy degree is good preparation for law school, with philosophy majors besting other majors in LSAT scores. Learning that everything is semen or that nothing but semen has a role in producing the soul sends a clear message as to whose voices are to be heard: men’s. Moving from that in the classroom to law school to clerking for the Supreme Court … well, you get the idea.

There are probably other ancients besides Thales and Hippo of Samos who have outlined masculinist systems. In The Creation of Me, Them and Us, Marsh writes the opinion that women are “subjugated by nature” is “an opinion philosophers and scientists have pontificated about for centuries with long treatises on passive eggs and active sperm.” It seems injustices need justification; we give way too much honor to philosophers justifying the unjustifiable.

The eye of biology

A single man can inseminate many, many women. But if you want humanity to survive, you wouldn’t want your species to consist of a single woman. She might die in childbirth (which is more dangerous an activity than often realized) and at the very least she will have to dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to pregnancy and presumably caring for a completely dependent infant across years. So, multiple women are needed, whereas just one man can get the evolutionary ejaculatory job done. Therefore we have a glut of inseminators: too many men. But humanity has to make sure to have enough women. Ergo, women are of higher survival value to the species than men. This argument appears to me rigorously true.

From unheard to heard

When men do not hear women, they pay a price.

I have spent many hours in coffeeshops sitting with some male friend discussing Western philosophers. What about the ancient philosopher Anaximenes, a material monist who said all is air? Stroking our chins, wondering whether we’re made entirely of water or entirely of air, seems a silly question isolated people on thrones would talk to each other about if they are exempted from salt-of-the-Earth efforts such as domestic cleaning, childbirth, taking care of houseplants, etc.

Old, small pot on the left; new, larger pot on the right. The reverse spider plant is named The Enterplant after Star Trek’s Enterprise spaceships

Of course, intelligentsia paints a lot of prestige onto philosophers — think of elaborate printed editions for the complete works of WhicheverAncientopholes — and I haven’t had too much success convincing my guy friends it’s all a bunch of hype. There’s a kind of machismo of the intellect, I’ve read more Empedocles than you, which to many men is worth more than successfully repotting a houseplant for the first time (as I did today!) or planning a hike with a friend and her dog.

The masculinist intelligentsia has spent millenia downplaying basic activities of life, activities frequently associated with women. Look at billionaire celebrity Elon Musk, promising Mars without ever once discussing who will provide the caregiving on his spaceships. He is speaking of a masculinist space fantasy, like those old Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novels with familyless protagonists who fly around the universe and save it singlehandedly without ever needing to do laundry or cook a meal. Maybe those who say laundry and cooking are irrelevant are often those who have someone else to do it for them.

Too many of my male acquaintances who look up to the right-wing machismos, the Jordan Petersons, the berating ex-military youtube coaches, are the very same guys I know who are simultaneously in financial desperation, abusing opioids, and at risk of (or already committed) suicide.

It may seem dramatic, but it really is a battle between life and death. In her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin explores her lack of interest in the warfare superiority stories told by the conventional sources, and her preference for stories about, say, gathering food with children:

(“What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization,” Lillian Smith observed.) The society, the civilization they were talking about, these theoreticians, was evidently theirs; they owned it, they liked it; they were human, fully human, bashing, sticking, thrusting, killing. Wanting to be human too, I sought for evidence that I was; but if that’s what it took, to make a weapon and kill with it, then evidently I was either extremely defective as a human being, or not human at all.

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

Men can also feel disgust at bombings and delight at gathering food. We men need to stop telling ourselves the stories of masculinism and ask women what they know. Maybe someday men can provide traditional male virtues too, such as strength, in ways that are not harmful but helpful.

Resistance

Mexico’s movement for abortion rights took several years of effort, but it paid off

Even amid the masculinist forces of hierarchy and war, to flourish in life requires growing, increasing one’s autonomy; the Supreme Court pushed women down today, taking autonomy away, but things don’t have to end here. The stakes are higher than many just seeing the headlines might know. For example, the National Right to Life Committee is calling for criminalizing aiding people in finding abortions. (Planned Parenthood and others currently continue to assist pregnant individuals in just that manner.)

In Mexico, the abortion rights movement took several years to build the capacity for marches, occupations, and even strikes, and it paid off: in September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court decriminalized abortion across the country. Those in the United States may be unfamiliar with having a prosocial, genuine nation around oneself, and may be unfamiliar with the kind of work put in by such a people to win political gains. From Sofia Tafich’s excellent article “Abortion Rights Movement Grows in Mexico“:

on March 9, 22 million women participated in a milestone national strike, #UnDíaSinNosotras (A Day Without Us), to visualize a Mexico without women. No women in the streets, no women at work, no women in school, no women shopping, no women on social media. The business group Concanaco Servytur estimated that if every woman took part, their absence could cost the economy up to 1.37 billion dollars. Women who couldn’t participate for personal reasons were invited to wear purple as a sign of solidarity.

Instead of accepting defeat, individuals in the United States can join forces and escalate their efforts, perhaps starting with some of these tactics. Responding to the Supreme Court, Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner tweeted today:

Dethrone and turn the volume down on wrongly hallowed masculinist philosophers and academics — don’t be fooled by their weighty editions in fancy fonts — and turn the volume up on people putting in the work for great justice.

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This blog post, Opposition to Roe v. Wade since the sixth century BCE, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (summary). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/06/24/opposition-to-roe-v-wade-since-the-sixth-century-bce/. You can find the full license (the legalese) here. To learn more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. And gimme all your money!

How attacks on scientific integrity necessitated countrywide school sickouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientific integrity attacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we can all imagine less charitable possibilities.

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving dolla dolla bill: how and why to overcome talking trash cans

Note: In 2022, I’m once again writing 52 blog entries, posted every Sunday. Flash fiction by me will soon arrive weekly too, by February, after I finish figuring out the tech details of where precisely on this website I might place it so you can conveniently leave comments.

Broken trash can lid, covered in olive oil, in front of a bookcase in my kitchen
Trash can lid got wrecked; image sent, as explained below, to the Something Corporation

Last April, I wrote about how and why to make beet root smoothies, with such costly ingredients that even Michael Laufer, the (afaik) badass and classy wine connoisseur anarchist who teaches people to make their own s̶m̶o̶o̶t̶h̶i̶e̶s̶ pharmaceuticals, might deign to have a sip.

In that post, I explained techniques to save money, such as cold-calling companies and asking for a discount. That, in my own experience, can yield exasperated annoyance from customer service staff at one extreme, and at the opposite extreme, third-off coupon codes good forever. Another great idea is to join (or start!) your local Food Not Bombs chapter, where long-term volunteers frequently have brilliant ideas for grabbing free grub, among them identifying which restaurants share surplus food, locating which dumpsters offer scavenging divers the best cuisine, and more.

Today I’d like to tell you about this one time I got something for zero bucks from a corporation. Except it ain’t fancy feast.

Time for the trash can

Contrast meme shows muscular body with a CRT television head posing before a cowering modern televisions. Caption says,

CRT Televisions:

I am literally a radioactive blackbox
strange signal goes in
picture comes out
I will not break for 50 years

Modern TVs:

Your TV needs an update please connect to the internet
Mainlain that meme truth

The Internet of Things is the market segment for turning everyday consumer objects into online gizmos. If you fondly sing the praises of CRT televisions—no, not Critical Race Theory TVs, I mean Cathode Ray Tube ones—because they work unfailingly for half a century, and you correctly cast insults down upon giant flat-screen televisions that cost thousands but don’t work since they suddenly require downloading a patch from Samsung or some other corp, then you too know the pitfalls of the Internet of Shit.

Gizmo-ification of everything even extends to trash cans. Of course, finding a trash can for your kitchen at the thrift store is the best! But at embarrassing moments, I’ve dragged myself into awful domestic big box stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond (beyond … where?). Those shameful moments when I’ve been absolutely convinced I immediately need a towel of a certain color or some stupidity like that. Besides punishing shoppers with in-store video advertising so loud you can hear it clear across the building, a nightmare retailer of this type will showcase for you the very latest in consumerist horror.

Yes, I mean today’s trash cans, the Internet-equipped ones you can talk to.

Let’s get something straight. Such technology can be important for people with disabilities and for other situations that may not leap to the minds of the privileged. I’m all for such innovations and would love to hear about them in the comments. Lemme know if I’m wrong, but I somehow doubt the trash cans at Bed Bath and Beyoncé are the ideal options for such scenarios. And yeah, maybe a USian with a disability—like, say, infatuation—is driven to go to Bed Bath and BayBey because the legit need to impress a love interest has somehow got twisted into the anxiety-laden, bonkers idea that it all hinges on having that towel of the exact right color. We’ve all been there, mutatis mutandis, right?

Photo shows three trash cash: compost, recycling, and garbage. One hand on chin, an amused woman ponders into which to deposit that dragged by her other hand, a man.
Gotta save money betterez now, because reasons, i.e., ladies first

That said, before discussing saving money on a trash can, let’s by all means inspect a newfangled, expensive trash can that talks.

Oh Goddess, please (don’t ever) trash me

Witness, if you will, the 58 liter, dual compartment, voice-activated, motion-capable, stainless steel—excuse me, make that brushed stainless steel—trash can a California-based company lovingly crafted just for o̶u̶r̶ ̶w̶a̶l̶l̶e̶t̶s̶ us.

Marketing image of $200 trash can shows hand operation of motion-capable lid
Yeah buddy, mine’s got radiation
Marketing image of $200 trash can shows its open lid below a dialogue bubble reading: "open can"
Open can, because I really gotta go!
“This is the evolution of 20 years of science and technology, bringing you the best of the best” in trash

Our world-class instance of talking trash above has on Amazon 5 stars after more than 10,000 reviews, which, the way things are headed, I may be adding to soon enough myself as a drunk but giggling ghostwriter. For the uninitiated, that’s writing fake reviews for dough, Mac. Gotta fund unpaid/underpaid human rights investigative journalism and random musings somehow, for example, with donations from people who have $200 trash cans and a sense of humor.

A three-star Amazon review by the mononymous, TP-astute Paul sounds, to be conciliatory, fair and balanced:

I love everything but the fact that you can not turn off the voice sensor. I play music in the background all day. The can open when it hears something close to “open can” in the music. And it happens alot. It will wear out real fast. There is no switch to turn off the voice sensor and keep the motion senor on. I can not find a microphone hole to plug it with tissue paper as a hack to fix the issue.

The $200 price tag does not include tax, nor your crucial rush-speed shipping and handling. And don’t forget the recurring expense of the bespoke liners—admittedly featuring swank double-seam construction and an even swankier perfect fit, to be sure—for which you’re gonna need to liquidate your entire cryptocoin portfolio.

By the way, California’s top-tier trash can company is called: simplehuman.

News you can use: today’s token-saving tip

As the renowned economist Snoop Dogg suggested implicitly in his scholarly, NSFW treatise Drop It Like It’s Hot—ticking my tongue like said rapper when that song came out in 2004, I practiced its beat on my shower wall for cumulative hours and hours, not knowing myself to someday become an aspiring if reluctant ace businessman aiming for European citizenship plus frugal trash cans—a scientific study (reportedly) shows handling cash is like snorting coke, and probably only partly because many dolla dolla bills are themselves contaminated with traces of cocaine. Illustrating unSnoopy high diction, the scientists of the latter link write dryly:

The contamination may occur through direct contact during drug trafficking with the same people handling the cocaine powder and the money; or rolling up the banknote for sniffing the powder through the tube formed.

[link added, obviously]

If subject matter experts reading this know the (likely news-savvy) researchers in question are lacking in scientific integrity and are as desperate for clicks as DJ Snoopadelic (and freelance bloggers), then please, correct me in the comments. Hiphop historians, I admit, I’m curious about The Snoopzilla’s personal trash can …

Anyhow, another way to ask corporations for freebies is to amuse them.

For example, this past week, akin to fond memories of Julia Child a century ago corresponding with her faraway penpal via slow snailmail across the Atlantic, I corresponded, via chat with support agent, with some outsource contractor as bored as I was. I needed to know if my auto insurance provided roadside assistance at no or minimal additional charge. I forget how it started, but she typed a lol; I sent a <3. I asked if her roadside assistance coverage included all of North America. “Yes, it covers the United States,” she said, PR-perfect. Hmm, I said, how about Mars? “That would cost millions to get your car up there,” she said, “and it would cost us millions to get our tow truck up there, so no :)” How about Jupiter, I inquired. She and I left it there—sorry, no wedding to invite you to—out of my perhaps overly cautious reticence, not wanting to creep out a random employee accidentally, though in my experience, internet customer service agents appreciate this sort of thing as an escape from raging Karens. And, to the point, they’ll not infrequently become far more helpful and suddenly drop, as though its temperature has been heated, a discount code. (Don’t try this, incels; learn how to take a shower first, then baby-steps from there.)

Photo of otherwise admirable whistleblower Dr Bright answering questions for rich powerful politicians instead of the public, and don't even start with civic religion comebacks to that, Boomer!
Sup, I gotta question too, ’bout those docs you dropped, Doc

In terms of trash cans, not too long after the latest pandemic hit Seattle, I tripped over my trash can lid—which was on the floor from, essentially, pandemic stress incl. my unpaid/underpaid researching of the good DHHS whistleblower Dr Rick Bright (where the rest of those exhibits, Doc? Beware testing the patience of this otherwise supportive-of-you indie journalist, not to mention bewaring the possibility of a forthcoming appeal, after which comes a lawsuit in a summons carriage, where my pro bono lawyers at?). The lid broke. I despaired of buying or even finding another such flawless trash can. That beaut was dirt cheap, yet supplied all my funky kitchen needs. It didn’t have WiFi. And best of all, I didn’t need to talk to it, and it didn’t try to talk to me.

Thus, hoping for a free lid, I typed a politely obsequious message into the website of the Something Corporation, clicked submit, and promptly forgot about it. I don’t want to name the corp, lest I be accused of doing product placement—this is my real name byline website, where I aim to give you the truth, not my ghostwriting hack jobs, which hey, if you want those, email me at dal@riseup.net, yo! And let’s face it, I don’t think the Something Corporation wants to be on my blog, either, where I recommend dat research shizzle showing which corporate actors are connected to which others, etc. As for simplehuman, fuck them.

Here’s a slightly redacted version of what I sent on an April 2020 Friday:

Photo showing broken trash can lid in front of bookcase in my kitchen
Exact image for the exacting, sent by me to the Something Corporation

Dear [Something Corp],

About 2-3 months ago, I bought my black [Something] trash can #xxxx at a small hardware store here in Seattle. I can try to find the receipt if you need it. I’ve been really excited about your product because not only did I not want a flimsy cheap trash can, I also didn’t want some ridiculously expensive voice-activated trash can either. I do not need to talk with my trash can! Yours is Just Right and fits my kitchen perfectly.

However, yesterday, due to covid19 stress my kitchen was a mess with random stuff lying all over the tiled floor, including the black lid to your #xxxx black trash can (don’t ask). Then I, while cooking, tripped and fell, like something out of slapstick, sending olive oil flying everywhere and my foot landing on your trash can lid, breaking it, including cracking pieces and everything. Sad face!

So I’m wondering if you could sell me a black #xxxx trash can lid independently of the lower section of the trash can. I took 3 quick pictures and stuck them on my website to show you what I mean, see links below. 1 of 3 shows the #xxxx black lower trash can body, which is still standing completely fine where it should be, just now sadly bereft of a lid. 2 of 3 shows the broken lid on the floor, complete with olive oil goo all over it. 3 of 3 shows the impressive damage I managed to do while falling, breaking off that black piece of the lid.

1 of 3: [deleted]

2 of 3: [deleted]

3 of 3: [deleted]

[…]

Soooooooooo how much would you charge me for just the black lid thingie to go on top of my black #xxxx, to replace my broken lid? How would payment be processed and so on?

Thank you very much,

Imagine my grateful surprise when on the following Monday I received a response. Behind the 1950s corporate mask of a writing style, you can almost see the employee (not a contractor, judging by his email addy) laughing, or at least smiling, as he beneficently elects to exercise mercy on behalf of the nonhuman Something Corporation:

Dear Douglas,

Thank you for contacting [Something Corporation].

Thank you for the images. As a general practice, [Something Corporation] does not provide replacement parts as products are manufactured and are sold as a unit.

However, as a onetime courtesy I have arranged to pull one lid from production. Delivery might take up to 14 days via UPS ground […]

Sincerely,

First M. Last
Something Corporation
E-mail: FLast@Something.com

“pull one lid from production” … I’ve always wondered what happened to the rest of that particular trash can, its lid perhaps raised away on a forklift-plus-pincer by a burly Joycean laborer and, like a commodity out of Das Kapital Volume 2, transported and transported, ultimately to land on the doorstep of my wizardly Seattle high castle. Maybe it’s at, if not Snoop Dogg’s, then First M. Last’s house.

In trash canclusion

Radicals made bitter sometimes assume corporations and their outsource contractor firms to be full of evil enemies. They are! But also, they’re full of bored people who might hate their CEOs more than radicals do. And besides, people aren’t static blocks. They might be an evil enemy in the morning, a bored boss by the afternoon, and a true hero in the night. And so on. Ideological purity doesn’t generate prosocial change—it’s at best just a stopgap measure that makes our social/emotional pain and uncomfortable questions go away … for the short run.

And besides, you really wanna save money on trash cans? Use old grocery bags. Even the smartest of us are sometimes stupid and in need of the genius obvious.

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This blog post, Saving dolla dolla bill: how and why to overcome talking trash cans, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2022/01/08/how-and-why-to-overcome-talking-trash-cans/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net. Also, gimme all your money!

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.

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. :)

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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.

#StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 47 of 52.

Note: Thanks to Prison Abolition & Prisoner Support (PAPS) for connecting me with a researcher who prefers to remain anonymous.

Rally in Germany in June 2021 for Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners. At center, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya holding up a picture of her imprisoned husband

Today, Saturday 27 November 2021, is the international day of solidarity with political prisoners of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus. I picked out two to write, Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya, whose biographies are below. I explain how you can write Belarusian prisoners too, whether by snailmail like me or via online only. Plus, I supply a refresher and updates on Belarus overall, explanations why the United States public should support the Belarusian pro-democracy activists, and some additional knowledge-drops.

Quick refresher and updates on Belarus

Regular readers of my blog know I’ve covered Belarus here before; to review that material, just click my Belarus tag.

As his uniform suggests, Lukashenko’s living in the past

For those new to the subject and for anyone else wanting a quick refresher on Belarus, here’s the situation. To the surprise of many, Europe still has one last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, predictably called “father” by his supporters. Protected by and allied with Russia’s Putin regime, Lukashenko ascended to the presidency of the landlocked eastern European country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in 1994. Recently, he’s kept power by stealing the country’s 2020 presidential election. Besides his embarrasingly out-of-fashion USSR-style clothes, Lukashenko controls the country’s media and industry; he also maintains the death penalty in the only European country to have it (the executed are shot in the head). Meanwhile, his riot police arrest protesters, snatch-and-grabbing innocent bystanders as well (see two-minute Human Rights Watch video). The dictatorship plots or carries out assassinations (including murdering a journalist), his forces engage in widespread torture, beatings, rape, and he particularly goes after those Belarusians who challenge his fake authority.

Pro-democracy protest in Minsk, 16 August 2020, photographed by Максим Шикунец

The country’s opposition movement is led by former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who rightfully won the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Detained immediately after her victory when she challenged the bogus results giving the presidency to Lukashenko, she was then apparently forced to record hostage-like videos conceding the election and calling herself a “weak woman.” Previously I wrote up my research about the NY Post publishing strangely edited footage of Belarusian opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser’s murder, footage originally created by the regime, without informing their readers the video initially came from the dictatorship. Further, as #OpGabon/#OpDeathEaters first noted nearly three years ago, and the Washington Post deigned to cover only less than two years ago, video “deepfakes” in politics is becoming a norm. Shortly after the coerced videos, the strong Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made it to Lithuania, where she remains today with her two children. For Belarus, she chiefly seeks release of political prisoners and free and fair elections. She also supports term limits, human rights, and allowing Belarusians to vote on the question of getting away from union / integration with Russia.

As for updates on Belarus, consider two stories from this month. First, the refugees on the border between Poland and Belarus. In retaliation for sanctions placed on Belarus by the European Union, Lukashenko is threatening to cut off gas from Russia to the EU, energy deliveries that pipe through “his” country. To strengthen his position, Lukashenko has weaponized refugees, creating a political crisis for neighboring Poland and endangering human lives. Using the state-owned travel company Tsentrkurort, the dictatorship lured Iraqi citizens to the Belarus-Poland border by helping them obtain fast, easy Belarusian visas. They also turned people from elsewhere into refugees on the same border. They did this by organizing their travel and, according to witnesses, forcibly transporting people by truckload. The refugees are now trapped in grave danger, including risky weather conditions and beatings, since Poland is violating its obligations under international law by refusing to help them. In short, the dictatorship, with tricks and trafficking, is treating these desperate people as pawns for its European geopolitical struggles. Thankfully, some locals and other human rights defenders have been rendering direct aid to the refugees, but more help is very much needed. Second, via a million-dollar deal, an ex-warden in Lithuania—he worked in the carceral system for nearly forty years—apparently helped the Lukashenko regime dodge those same EU sanctions, meant to impair the dictatorship, by arranging for the banned export of heavy-duty trucks manufactured by the sanctioned regime-owned company BelAZ. The furious Lukashenko is trying to stop alleged leaks of sanctions breaches (perhaps including this ex-warden story), saying publicly that “bastards” are “spying” and “seeking to inform the collective West” of his human rights-violating regime evading sanctions.

Meet Sergei Tikhanovsky

The podcaster sitting behind a desk with microphones etc.
Vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, imprisoned husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky

The first political prisoner I picked out to write is Sergei Tikhanovsky. He’s the husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children. A popular vlogger in his forties, Sergei Tikhanovsky in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. The channel, still active thanks to his allies, often focuses on the stories of everyday entreprenuers, a topic of great importance in a former Soviet country. In May 2020, Sergei Tikhanovsky announced his candidacy for presidency and was arrested, supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia but primarily for his candidacy, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when his wife stepped in to run for the presidency herself. Sergei Tikhanovsky remains in prison to this day. You can find additional biographical information on him here in Russian; you can translate that webpage into English using Chrome.

Embedded below, a May 2020 episode, 71 minutes long, from “A Country for Life” comparing living in the United States with living in Belarus. It’s Sergei Tikhanovsky, two months before his arrest, interviewing Kate about her impressions returning to Belarus following her 14 years in the United States.

Write:

Sergei Tikhanovsky
222163 ST-8
Zhodino Street
Sovietskaya 22a
Belarus

Meet Maryja Uspenskaya

Still from the propaganda footage apparently shows Andrei Zeltser from the back. He's in the apartment holding a shotgun. Maryja Uspenskaya apparently standing in the background.
Maryja Uspenskaya, apparently now incarcerated at a mental health center, in the background of propaganda footage purportedly showing the Belarusian KGB’s murder of Andrei Zeltser

The second political prisoner I picked out to mail is Maryja Uspenskaya. She’s the wife of Andrei Zeltser, whose murder in the Belarusian capital of Minsk at the hands of Lukashenko’s KGB I wrote about previously on my blog. I also discussed how Zeltser, an employee of the Pennsylvania-based IT firm EPAM Systems whose founder supports the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, is reportedly a US citizen, but the US media outlets which loudly questioned his citizenship immediately after his death never bothered to follow up and answer their own question; I discussed how I’ve been trying to contact the US State Department to get a definitive answer on his nationality, but in addition to the Department of State shutting down the phone number for journalists to call, and their mail server bouncing back emails, other evidence suggests, perhaps due to brain drain, the lights are slowly turning off at the State Department: increasingly, nobody’s home. That’s overstating things a little, yet still, for my US friends, renew your passports now.

For all the valid news concern over Andrei Zeltser’s murder, there’s simultaneously an unwarranted dearth of information surrounding his wife Maryja Uspenskaya (are we seeing a pattern yet?), who to all appearances is in the background of the KGB’s propaganda footage of the murder. In fact, the apartment where Zeltser was shot to death likely belongs to Maryja Uspenskaya or her brother. Her family seems to own the unit; maybe she was subleasing. That would help explain why Zeltser called the local cops as plainclothes strangers busted down his door: likely he didn’t think it was the KBG arriving, just random criminals instead. And maybe the KGB wasn’t even after Andrei Zeltser. Perhaps they were primarily after Maryja Uspenskaya’s brother or Maryja Uspenskaya herself. After all, the couple had been going door to door to collect signatures required for, I believe, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s dispute of Lukashenko’s election theft.

On October 9, the pro-opposition online media outlet Nexta (as in “next generation”) tweeted that Maryja Uspenskaya was tortured in the notorious police detention center Okrestina, known for severe abuse of pro-democracy protesters. (“I admit it,” Lukashenkt told the BBC this month. “People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre.”) Nexta went on to say Maryaj Uspenskaya’s “outerwear was seized and the heating in cell was turned off in -1 degree outside.Maria doesn’t have any basic things with her — change of clothes and toothbrush.”

On October 22, a twitter account created two months ago and using the name Oleg But tweeted that “Andrei Zeltser’s wife was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to Novinki. Maria Uspenskaya will undergo a psychiatric examination.” Novinki means the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health. I assume she’s currently there, but I’ve found no other source corroborating that tweet.

As far as I can discern so far, no current information on Maryja Uspenskaya’s status is available in English, which is highly worrisome.

Based on interviewing her acquaintances, Charter 97 approvingly describes Maryja Uspenskaya as a “very energetic and combative” person. Observers noticed how Andrei Zeltser was handsome and younger than she. Charter 97 also describes Uspenskaya as “positive, very cheerful. She loved her husband very much and treasured her relationship with him. She and Andrei went to psychologists: they had no problems but just wanted to build an even stronger relationship.” That’s really cool!

Write:

Maryja Uspenskaya
Nauchno-Prakticheskiy Tsentr Psikhicheskogo Zdorov’ya
Dawhinawski Trakt 152
Minsk 220053
Belarus

How to write Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners

Mailman for Hermiston Oregon’s first snailmail route, begun May 1914

The Minsk-based Human Rights Center Viasna, formed in 1996 to aid arrested pro-democracy protesters and their families in Belarus, maintains this database of Belarusian political prisoners (but oddly, it lacks entries for Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya). You can pick prisoners from there and/or write the two I selected.

If you want to send mail via online only, check out the Vkletochku project. According to the English version of their webpage, their volunteers will translate what you type into this form, even, optionally, sending you by email any reply.

If you want to write via snailmail, then Human Rights Center Viasna provides this helpful article with the lovely title “Support has no boundaries: how to write letters to political prisoners if you are outside of Belarus.” It answers many frequently asked questions about snailmailing the prisoners. The prisons are more likely to accept handwritten letters, for instance, and they require letters to be written in Belarusian or Russian. The Viasna article also supplies handy templates translating prefab English letters into Belarusian and Russian.

The following three articles from various sources, all in Russian but available in English via Google Translate in Chrome, provide additional nitty-gritty tips: 1, 2, 3.

For those like me writing by snailmail from the United States, the first step, if like me you don’t speak Belarusian or Russian, is to write your letters in English, then have them translated. You can ask around for translation help; check individuals using the relevant hashtags like #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus to see if any will translate for you or connect you with translators. After handwriting your translated letters into unfamiliar script on white pages, add supplies for the prisoners to snailmail you back. In theory, the United States Postal Service should be able to answer what kind of postage they will need; if not, hopefully someone else can answer this. Take the finished envelope to the USPS station, photograph your work to share online, and talk with a postal worker to have it snailmailed. The postal worker, or quite possibly, the postal worker’s supervisor, might explain various additional requirements. I’ll try this myself next Saturday. In the meantime, USPS Publication 141 has some additional information on PDF page 143, and maybe the @USPSHelp twitter account will reply to a question of mine with extra details.

Whether you send mail via online only, or by old-fashioned postal service, take a screenshot or photograph of your work, then wipe metadata, then share the images online and/or share them with me (dal@riseup.net). I’ll post my work and anyone else’s next weekend.

Why the United States public should support the Belarus opposition

Guitar pick with anarchy sign

Because it’s fun and even euphoric to interact not with stupid frenemies but courageous individuals who deserve support. Yes, it can also induce irrational shame-attacks as a result of growing up in and being surrounded by a smug population hostile to effortful activism; but, the only way out is through. With time and supportive networks, such an irrational shame-attack can be consciously disagreed with and it can pass like nothing more than a brief spooky breeze.

Also, the United States public tends to imagine that its presidential elections revolve around voting. Besides the flaws in the secretive, corporate, closed-source computerized election equipment that have been well documented for decades, consider that pressuring the authorities to support the Belarusian opposition instead of Alexander Lukashenko could really improve domestic well-being in the US as well as the country’s international standing. The leaders of the red religion in the United States support Trump, who in turn supports Putin, who in turn supports Lukashenko, ironic since Lukashenko loves the USSR while top pro-democracy Belarusian opposition figures like Sergei Tikhanovsky are huge advocates for small-biz entreprenuers. The leaders of the blue religion in the United States — who, as a commenter on last weekend’s post noted, may not mind TrumPutin all that much since hate for TrumPutin takes heat off Democrats as Joe Biden continues to enjoy power — can at least be pressured to change policies if the public puts in massive effort.

Next weekend: Progress of #StandWithBelarus letter-writing and #PardonRealityWinner efforts

Speaking of effort, as stated above, next weekend I’ll post to my blog how my snailmailing the two Belarusian political prisoners went, e.g., any issues at the USPS station.

Next time I’ll post, too, about progress related to my entry last weekend on the #PardonRealityWinner campaign. Namely, my contacting the US Pardon Attorney as well as my local elected officials.

If you do the same for either campaign or both, feel free to email me (dal@riseup.net) or comment below to share your progress!

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This blog post, #StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition, 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/2021/11/27/writing-belarus-prisoners-international-solidarity-opposition/. 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
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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.

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

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

Redwood trees and other forest items in northwest California

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

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

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

Beach and sea on a cloudy day in southwest Oregon

Why the most radical transformation the world has ever seen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach, crags, hills, road, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach on cloudy day with small island in distance

All of the above in one encounter

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

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

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

Timelessness and chaos

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

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

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

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

I’ll give PKD the last word:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the news…

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

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

CIASE webpage for the final report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cover art for JFK and the Unspeakable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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