Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 49 of 52.I skipped Week 48 due to day job time commitments.
When I was a teenager, one of my best friends and I would often go driving around in my car, wherein we’d discuss philosophy. We wondered aloud what our goals in life should be. This led to our silly word golzar from “goals are.” In the middle of the night, we’d point at the red lights of faraway radio towers—Golzarian outposts, you see, from the strange species of Golzarians who perhaps knew the answers to life’s mysteries—and try to drive to them in those days before GPS on smartphones. Once, we even saw strange glowing white lights in the distance, and drove, drove, drove till at three in the morning we found ourselves, laughing, on the doorstep of a Midlothian, Texas toxic cement plant.
Nowadays, as an adult in Seattle, my many goals are more clear, and maybe yours are too. On this blog I’ve previously covered both the pro-democracy movement in Belarus and the story of Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner. Those two situations provide two goals for anyone interested: freeing Belarus from the clutches of Europe’s last dictator Alexander Lukashenko and pushing the White House to pardon the Texas veteran and vegan who at a critical point in contemporary history provided hard evidence of Russian military hackers’ cyberattacks against US voting systems just days prior to the 2016 elections. In short, #PardonRealityWinner and #FreeBelarus.
Outcomes for the eastern European country, the young Texan idealist, and the United States as a whole are more intertwined than they might initially seem. Not to make too much of a Manichean, Cold War-esque binary, but today most BRICS states are headed up by autocrat strongmen, Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro; Russia: Vladimir Putin; India: Narenda Modi; China: Xi Jinping. The NATO countries including the United States have a lot to answer for, and if they cleaned house of their own war criminals, spies, and others acting with impunity, their credibility would correctly increase, but at least in many of these countries human rights are something you can openly fight for, usually (certainly not always) without suffering arrest, torture, etc. Reality Winner’s sacrifice as a convicted whistleblower provided key evidence about the autocracy of one of the BRICS countries, Russia’s Putin regime, working to bring Donald Trump and thus overt fascism to the White House.
Just as Putin pushes Trump in the United States, so Putin protects dictator Lukashenko in Belarus. Caught in the middle of the (oversimplified) binary in a possibly fragmenting Europe, Belarus now sees pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya seeking free and open elections for the country, elections in which, among other things, Belarusians would decide democratically on strengthening or weakening the ties between their country and the Russian government. But like the United States confronting Donald Trump and his quite likely return in November 2024, Belarus must throw off dictator Lukashenko first in order to achieve open democracy. Akin to internet packets and immunizable pandemics, superpredators and publics alike are presently all connected globally, and we must collaborate across the imposed borders—or else, worldwide overt fascism.
Supporting political prisoners who fight to achieve goals such as freeing Belarus from Lukashenko or exposing the Putin regime’s sabotage of the United States is crucial. They deserve it as individuals, and it shows others that if they similarly take heroic actions, there will still be support for them afterward if they’re arrested and punished. Belarusian or USian, these are all individuals who are being persecuted unjustly for their prosocial political deeds.
This post demonstrates the progress another person and I have made toward the two goals, partly in the hopes that our completed tasks may serve as a sort of model for anyone who also might like to work toward the same aims. Feel free to share your progress in the comment section or by email (email@example.com), and I’ll include your efforts in my next progress entry on these topics.
#PardonRealityWinner: Rep. Filemon Vela, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Office of the Pardon Attorney, White House
Last Sunday, December 5, 60 Minutes interviewed Reality Winner, bringing a surge of interest to her case. You can find the aired portion and the extra portions here. I highly recommend watching all of the 60 Minutes footage: the part that aired is under 14 minutes, and the bonus clips are around four to eight minutes each. With one awful Trump administration behind us and another possibly on its way, the whistleblower who most proved that emperor has no clothes and who received the worst prison sentence ever for a domestic leak to the news press in return, should get more support.
Rep. Filemon Vela. The first thing I did this past workweek toward the goal of this whistleblower receiving a pardon was phone the DC office of Filemon Vela Jr., a Democratic Congressional representative in the federal House. Despite military and veterans groups contacting his office repeatedly, he’s refused to meet with Billie J. Winner-Davis, the whistleblower’s mother, who’s part of his constituency. So he must need additional calls, more carrots, and more sticks. Links to transparency/reporting about whom he depends upon (his dependencies, to use a Linux-y word) would aid the effort as well.
When I called Representative Vela’s DC office as a freelance journalist mentioning the 60 Minutes interview and requesting a statement explaining why he won’t meet with Reality Winner’s mother Billie J. Winner-Davis, staff assistant Addison Sheppard, who answered, said “I will definitely let him know” about my question. I gave Sheppard my phone and email contact information and the deadline of end of business Friday December 17. “Awesome,” Sheppard said. “Thank you so much. I will definitely let the Congressman know.” While some may feel cynical, I am not easily defeated, so I’m looking forward to hearing Representative Vela’s statement.
Pretty much anyone can call Representative Vela in any capacity and push for him to explain himself and/or meet with Billie J. Winner-Davis. In fact, it only takes about five minutes to call Vela’s DC office! It might help you, as it helps me, to type out what to say in a text editor beforehand, and stare at it on a screen while holding the phone.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal. I also called US House Representative Pramila Jayapal, whose constituency I am in. Although I dialed her Seattle office during workday business hours, a recorded voice answered, saying “You have reached our voicemail. We are currently short staffed so please understand we may not get to all calls.” I’ve written before on my blog about the lights apparently turning off at the US federal government, such as at the State Department; Pramila Jayapal short of staff might be another piece of evidence indicating our politicians and their underlings are abandoning ship, though of course there are other possible explanations. I’ll call Jayapal’s office again this next workweek. Take a break from doomscrolling and maybe try it yourself, too. It’s fun, a politer and prosocial version of the prank calls many of us did as kids.
Office of the Pardon Attorney.
This past workweek I contacted the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the federal Department of, uh, Justice. First, I emailed them at USPardon.Attorney@usdoj.gov. I kept the subject line vague—”Regarding pardon application”—in hopes they’d read it instead of ignore something like “Pardon Reality Winner Now Now Now Now Now!” as an irrelevant comment from an irrelevant commoner. But your mileage may vary, and in fact, I think it’s best if these bureaucrats are hit on all sides with all manner/variety of content styles. Having fun is important! The body of my HTML email said:
Dear Office of the Pardon Attorney,
I’m a Seattle-based freelance journalist who reported in-person from Putingate whistleblower Ms Reality Leigh Winner’s sentencing. 60 Minutes interviewed Ms Winner (Register Number: 22056-021; released 23 Nov 2021) last Sunday, as I hope your Office had a chance to see and discuss internally. I’m writing to recommend you facilitate President Biden’s needfully forthcoming signature on her pardon application! After all, a pardon for Ms Winner would send an enormous domestic and international signal that the United States does not endorse TrumPutin-style autocracy. In the interests of justice and open democracy, the United States Government can and should pardon Ms Winner not just for her, as she so greatly deserves, but also for itself and for the domestic and global publics.
I’m not sure “needfully forthcoming” means what I wanted it to mean, but I suppose we’ll find out! Below my name I added my phone number since that helps demonstrate I’m a real person and not a bot or, in this instance anyway, a ghostwriter.
The Office of the Pardon Attorney’s website says “The President always retains the plenary power granted to him by the Constitution to pardon or commute sentences at his sole discretion, with or without the advice of the Pardon Attorney and Department of Justice.” That means this office does give the US president advice on whom to pardon. I wonder what that advice generally consists of; a good question to ask their public affairs people or submit open records requests about, along with any and all files they have related to Reality Leigh Winner, even if at present they might deny such requests due to ongoing blah blah blah. Filing requests still proves public interest in her case, right?
I called the Office of the Pardon Attorney too, and since no human answered, I left a voicemail to the same effect as my email. If you’re in a hurry, press 4 to get connected to that leave a message at the tone prompt, or explore their phone tree yourself and tell everyone if you find anything interesting. Another option I’ve yet to do myself is snailmailing them: US Department of Justice / Office of the Pardon Attorney / 950 Pennsylvania Avenue – RFK Main Justice Building / Washington, DC 20530.
The White House. Finally, I contacted the White House! I called 202-456-1111, but the recording said they take comments only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday through Thursday. More evidence of increasingly, nobody home at the US federal government? Anyway, I sent snailmail as well. Surely Joe Biden himself will be hurrying down to the mailbag in a week or two to pick up my envelope and have a read. Either that or an intern might learn something new and exciting that prompts action. From my letter, or, say, your letter to the White House!
In the letter, I mention showing related video in my social studies classes (as a substitute teacher currently in a weeks-long assignment at a youth jail):
A pardon for this whistleblower who before the judge took responsibility for her action would send a very strong signal domestically and internationally that the United States does not support Trump/Putin-style autocracy. You of course met with Vladimir Putin last Tuesday, so you understand the gravity of the global situation. I showed my social studies classes the Reuters footage of that meeting. Students said Putin looked fearless and you looked scared. I hope you will pardon Reality Leigh Winner so I can tell them otherwise.
#FreeBelarus: Mailing Maryja Uspenskaya, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada, and Sergei Tikhanovsky
On November 27, I blogged about my plans to write Belarusian political prisoners Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya. I pointed out how for a month and a half, there had been no updates in English that I could find about the whereabouts and well-being of Maryja Uspenskaya, Andrei Zeltser’s widow who was the sole witness to his murder by the Belarusian KGB—the subject of Lukashenko regime propaganda footage that, as I researched, certain corporate media outlets republished in the United States uncritically while raising doubts about Andrei Zeltser’s (apparently US) citizenship, something that should have taken a corporate media reporter five minutes to confirm with a simple phone call. Maryja Uspenskaya (and presumably Andrei Zeltser) had been helping collect signatures for pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s challenge to Lukashenko’s faked 2020 presidential win. That activism seems to have been the cause of the attack on them by the Belarusian KGB, though there could be more to the story for sure. After the death of her husband, whose telegenic/demographic appearance should have ensured a huge news story in the United States especially given his employment with a (pro-opposition) Pennsylvania-based IT company, Maryja Uspenskaya was sent to a psychiatric hospital. The last English update on her had apparently been October 22. The day after I promoted my blog post on social media with the #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus hashtags—I’d also noted Maryja Uspenskaya’s absence from lists of Belarusian political prisoners—the opposition leader herself tweeted that the psychiatric patient is (now) recognized as a political prisoner:
Maryja Uspenskaya. So I wrote her! With another person providing some edits, a random friendly redditor translated my English letter, about 150 words, into Russian on my behalf, free of charge. I took the translated letter to the benevolent Alki Mail shop here in West Seattle. They sent it via the United States Postal Service. Alki Mail’s computer required me to give the return and destination addresses in English (not Russian); hopefully the snailmail still goes through. While US prisons do not allow snailmailers to include free stamps and other letter-writing supplies for their pen pals to write back with, apparently Belarusian prisons (and psychiatric hospitals?) do, but where exactly am I going to obtain Belarusian postage? The internet, of course. But I haven’t yet. Given time constraints, I decided to send my snailmail to Maryja Uspenskaya and Sergei Tikhanovsky anyway, despite the two concerns, since I can do more research in the future as to how to address the envelopes in Russian and how to best include Belarusian letter-writing supplies. Now, some outside Belarus write political prisoners via activist-run online services, but I wanted to send international snailmail physically myself as an interesting and tangible experiment. It was, however, expensive: $71.68 for a single envelope. Well, life is short, and this is fun!
Another person aiming to #FreeBelarus, who prefers to remain anonymous, found Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada to write by searching through Viasna’s database, looking for non-white Belarusian political prisoners. A son of a Belarusian karate coach father (Svyatoslav Gaevsky) and a Japanese mother (Tomoko Hanada) who’s a secretary of culture for Japan’s embassy in the eastern European country, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada is an anarchist of about twenty-one years in age. He was beaten by the KGB and arrested for his participation in the August 2020 protests against Lukashenko’s faked election victory (the dictator has been illegitimately holding onto power in Belarus since 1994). Despite peaceful protest, Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada was charged under Part 2 of Article 293 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for alleged “participation in riots” and later in a separate criminal case under Part 2 of Article 285 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for alleged “participation in a criminal organization in any other form.” He’s also the recipient of a special scholarship fund for gifted students. You can write him by snailmail at: Akihiro Hayeuski-Hanada / Zhodino st. Sovetskaya 22a / 222163 ST-8 / Belarus. Or, as the person who prefers to remain anonymous did, you can type a message to him via vkletochku, whose activists will forward your letter on your behalf, and optionally send back to you any replies. Below, a screenshot the anonymous person took of their vkletochku virtual letter to Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada.
You can find out more about Akihiro Gaevsky-Khanada here, here, or here.
Sergei Tikhanovsky. The husband of pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children, Sergei Tikhanovsky is a popular vlogger in his forties who in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. He was arrested right after announcing his presidential candidacy against Lukashenko in May 2020, at which point his wife Sviatlana stepped in to run for president against Lukashenko herself (she’s now exiled in Lithuania).
My process of snailmailing Sergei Tikhanovsky was very similar to my process of snailmailing Maryja Uspenskaya. The same random friendly redditor translated my English letter of about 150 words into Russian, with another person providing some edits. Then I went down to Alki Mail who put the letter into a USPS priority mail envelope. Same steep price: $71.68 USD. Same two issues: the Alki Mail computer (the software or the keyboard, tho?) required addressing the envelope in English and I had no Belarusian stamps or other supplies to insert into the envelope. Well, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I get a letter back from him and Uspenskaya both!
Success is for those who seek it
Defeatism isn’t the flex the cynical think it is. If all the relevant legislative and executive federal bureaucrats are surrounded at work and at home every single day with crowds demanding a pardon for Reality Winner, things will change. If USians deface Belarusian regime websites, discuss books about Belarus (can anyone recommend good ones in English?), figure out ways to protect Belarusian political prisoners, uncover and object powerfully to connections between the Belarusian dictator and local companies, and openly determine what options will have the most impact in dethroning Lukashenko, maybe we won’t have to deal with TrumPutin in 2024 after all. And our sense of self will expand far beyond the usual walls.
There’s a cornucopia of wild daring tactics anyone can experiment with to pursue the two goals, #PardonRealityWinner and #FreeBelarus. Although it can be helpful and enjoyable to compare notes with others, to ask for and receive suggestions, to join letter-writing parties, or even to read and provide lists of ideas and steps, for huge goals like these, no individual needs to wait around for hierarchical orders, or to beg agreement for consensus votes, to make progress. To oversimplify, the indirect collaboration of stigmergy means picking goals and pursuing them as you youself see fit. That’s it. Just do it!
I’ll give the next-to-last words to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, what she said in a 47-second video she uploaded in a December 11 tweet:
Recently, I heard from one foreign minister I’ve met “We did everything we could and nothing worked.” There was frustration and fatigue in his voice, unfortunately. But Belarusians can’t say We did everything we could and nothing worked. We cannot go home. Our home is taken from us. And until we get it back, we will not stop. Ladies and gentlemen, supporting democracy, supporting Belarusians is a process, not a one-time action. The international community is much more powerful than it pretends to be.
The same goes for #PardonRealityWinner: the international community can support her (including by sending emails and snailmails) from outside the United States, just as those outside Belarus can support the pro-democracy movement there.
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Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 36 of 52.
In last week’s post, I broached the subject of emigrating from the United States. I mentioned two bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining permanent residency in Canada via Express Entry: the Educational Credential Assessment and the General version of the International English Language Testing System. (I’ve been researching other possible destinations as well, such as Costa Rica.)
Since that blog entry, I received my ECA results and flew to and from San Diego — a short trip I arranged just two nights prior to departure — to take the IELTS exam, not offered here in Washington state. Below, after giving three additional reasons for emigration, I discuss how my ECA and IELTS went. In fact, I just got my IELTS scores in while writing this post. The information herein is from my perspective, that of a single guy in middle age; emigration requirements assuredly vary to some extent for families, etc.
But first, a telling experience at the Seattle airport on my way south. My flight was delayed, so I wandered from the gate to a shop. Package of salty cashews in hand, I approached the register. All at once I realized I’d accidentally cut in front of a mother tending to her toddler. With my palm, I acknowledged my error and gestured mildly for the pair to resume their rightful place in line. As I stepped back, the mother, visibly startled at the unusual turn of events, inched forward and purchased her items. Then, leaving the shop, she profusely thanked me, even though it was I who had made the mistake. This latest little example of the systemic injustice of masculinism felt dismaying. As a traveler, just some lone, middle-age guy with a big backpack, I was on easy street, yet here she was, tiredly laboring to create and nurture the next generation of humanity, but compelled to behave a bit as if she’d done something wrong and I’d done something stellar. My dismay quickly turned to optimism, however. After all, I was actually seeing this unfair and ancient imbalance — which I didn’t perceive as a young Texan — and so are increasing millions of others daily, through humanrightsnews, brilliantanalyses, and braveactions. The flood will continue to crash down the barriers.
Now some music to set the tone as the main of this post gets underway.
Three more reasons for social-emotional treason
First, the United States is a gigantic bubble where quality knowledge is difficult to discover. Just look at the emoji menu on your virtual keyboards. In the U.S., it’s rare for even educated people (formally or autodidactically educated) to be able to match more than a very few flags with the correct countries. Elsewhere, it’s a quite common skill for literate people. Besides that example, think of how important it is to have good information. If you want to quit smoking, for instance, excellent advice will lead you to success. Poor advice won’t. If you’re surrounded by misinformation and disinformation, it’s no wonder things are going downhill. Extend that to the quality of knowledge you access on any topic, such as child soldiers. Breaking out of the US prison of anti-info at this point in my life simply feels mandatory.
Second, consider the exceptionality of the United States with regards to worldwide taxation systems, not just for the powerful, but as it applies to everyday individuals. A helpful Wikipedia list shows that, with some tiny exceptions, only four countries tax their citizens residing abroad on their foreign income: Hungary, Eritrea, Myanmar, and the self-proclaimed greatest place on the globe, the United States. The other 190-ish countries don’t; perhaps some think if a citizen isn’t using the domestic roads or hospitals or other public services, they shouldn’t owe tax. Thus, if you’re a Spaniard living in South America selling stories to magazines, you don’t owe taxes back home to Spain. But, if you’re a US citizen and business executive in Ho Chi Minh City, then you do owe money not just to Vietnam, but also to Uncle Sam, on your Vietnamese pay every year, if your income exceeds $108,700 USD (as of this writing). Owing back taxes puts your passport at risk. While the $108,700 threshold is much higher than typical US citizen English teachers or writers ever need to worry about — they can claim the foreign earned income exclusion — simply failing to file a tax return annually will jeopardize half your undeclared assets in civil court. In some circumstances, there may even be criminal penalties. Just as a cop following a car in the United States can find plenty of reasons to pull the driver over after merely a minute or two, aided by the existence of complicated driving laws, so the complicated tax requirements ensure any USian anywhere on the planet is arrestable at any time: it’s likely anyone’s tax returns (or lack thereof) can be read in such a way as to find a (so-called) crime or excuse for inflicting civil pains. (That’s not even bringing up global surveillance and assassinations of US citizens and anyone else by the US.) Meanwhile, taxation for many non-US citizens is much simpler, a half-hour affair once a year rather than days or weeks of trying to decipher snarls like “Go to Part IV of Schedule I to figure line 52 if the estate or trust has qualified dividends or has a gain on lines 18a and 19 of column (2) of Schedule D (Form 1041) (as refigured for the AMT, if necessary).” Switching from US citizenship to another country’s is a way to escape such time-consuming, stressful insanity while getting the hell out of a failed, rogue state. Though there’s a potential irony: What if you switch citizenship to a country that doesn’t tax non-resident citizens on foreign income … until they do, shortly after you become one of their nationals? I suppose countries without a history of doing it would be a safer bet. In short, just like most “developed” countries do not link health insurance to employment, but rather provide it as a right (a better idea especially in a pandemic), most countries do not link taxation to citizenship, but rather to residency. The United States “excels” at yoking health insurance to employment and yoking taxation to citizenship.
Lastly, if you haven’t already, meet the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which became US law in March 2010. In the words of the IRS (accessed today), besides the impositions on individuals (sorta covered by my paragraph above but see also here and elsewhere), FATCA “generally requires that foreign financial institutions and certain other non-financial foreign entities report on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders or be subject to withholding on withholdable payments.” DLA Piper, a global firm of business attorneys, explains in an 11-page PDF FAQ that FATCA’s “direct and profound” impact on foreign financial institutions means that in participating countries, all non-US banks — all of them — with customers born in the United States must search out, identify, and disclose information about those customers’ accounts for reports to Uncle Sam, including details on interest, dividends, and other income. And at the non-US countries’ own expense. In other words, FATCA is a measure to force non-US banks to report to Uncle Sam on their US customers — and foot the bill for it. The individual FATCA agreements between the United States and the many participating countries can be found at the Treasury Department website here. For example, fearing “catastrophic effects” on its financial sector, Canada hands to the US authorities private bank account information of average Canadians, even sometimes for accounts with balances under the $50,000 USD threshold. As another example, the Colombian bank Grupo Bancolombia says it must comply with FATCA by “permanent monitoring” of account holders and by supplying annual FATCA reports to the United States. That again shows how the US-centric law “imposes expansive compliance obligations” (as DLA Piper puts it) on foreign financial institutions. Which is a big reason why, while banks in some countries — Luxembourg and Georgia among them — welcome US citizen customers, some banks in others simply refuse to do business with US persons. Germany’s large Augsburger Aktienbank bank, for instance, announced in January 2021 that, due to FATCA burdens, it would no longer serve US individuals; gauging from social media, it seems to have stopped doing so. They’re not the only ones. News sites catering to US persons living abroad say they’ve received many reports from their readers who have suddenly found their bank accounts closed. Even people with tenuous connections to the United States, such as those who receive citizenship due to birth here but leave as infants never to return, can suddenly find themselves owing a lifetime of tax to Uncle Sam. In sum, FATCA is yet another reason to switch away from US citizenship. A tax consultancy to US citizens abroad says in 2020, a record number of them renounced their citizenship (continuing a multi-year trend that’s easy to find news articles about online); FATCA was often a top reason they cited. People dumping US citizenship over FATCA even include average teachers of English to speakers of other languages. The former US citizens can then provide a Certificate of Loss of Nationality in hopes of keeping their foreign banking service.
The infamous Trump wall we keep hearing about is not only to keep supposed “undesirables” out…it’s also to keep US citizens in.
To renounce US citizenship, a process that takes about a year, US citizens must undergo interviews with consular officials (which must be nerve-wracking!), perhaps have the last several years of their tax returns audited, and pay the world’s heftiest fee for dumping a so-called nation-state: $2,350 USD. Every year, the US Treasury Department publishes a list of people who break up with the United States — here’s 2021’s. But have no fear. According to an article on the subject at The Conversation, by the year 1796, the sailor James L. Cathcart, aiming to improve his fortunes, changed identities/citizenships/allegiances eight times all before age 30!
Outside the practical difficulties, what about the social-emotional ones? As the link above about child soldiers mentions, growing up in the highly polarized United States resembles growing up in a country at civil war. Some kinda weird, slow-mo, nonstop civil war. A perpetual low-intensity conflict, an unacknowledged counterinsurgency homeland. So maybe it’s no surprise that working on leaving rips a person up. Like long threads inside, representing relationships, turning twisted, dry, dead, and finally disintegrating into mere memories, even as other threads, like spider silk, shoot out into the wider world, expanding, seeking purchase. Or, maybe growing up in a civil war-like country is akin to being in an abusive relationship: trauma bonding and all that.
Sometimes it seems never to change, sometimes it seems inevitable that the United States completely collapses. US reactionaries — those laughably believing they conveniently just happened to be born into the most godly country, most godly religion, most godly everything, despite lacking experience beyond heavily curated bubble excursions, where foreign tour guides put on performances for their wealthy customers by flattering the United States — will say, If you don’t like it leave, and then when you do, tell you you’re a traitor. Meanwhile, US liberals and far left are typically unreachable. Liberals seem convinced the Powers That Be have no idea who Rachel Maddow or Bernie Sanders are, so liberals anticipate Maddow and Sanders will any moment now pull off an unsurveilled sneak campaign to successfully remedy all the problems described above in time for board games this weekend. Finally, the US far left too often uses “systemic forces” as code for “nobody can do anything about anything, so inaction is justified.” Sometimes it seems if you’re going to emigrate, you’re on your own, offline I mean, with those who can relate consisting of glowing text that vanishes once you turn off your device. But in truth, offliners have helped from time to time, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some amazing activists in the US who do amazing things!
Despite online encouragement, emigration still feels like a thoughtcrime. I’ve been told I owe it to the United States to stay, since the country “let me” be a teacher, and that I owe it to the US not to throw up my hands at the problems by leaving. It’s strange the grip the US civic religion has on people. As a commenter on last week’s post suggested, compare the US stigma against living elsewhere with the attitude of the British — probably due to their history as a former imperial power (the world is transitioning from British rule to Chinese rule, or maybe already has). Many British haven’t hesitated to live their whole lives in another country (or multiple), and are respected by their fellow British for doing so. That can be seen in Alan Turing’s family, for instance; his father was a member of the Imperial Service for the British Raj.
Let’s emigrate from these unpleasant thoughts with some music, and migrate toward jumping the ECA and IELTS hurdles.
Education: a most powerful weapon you can use to complete paperwork
As I explained last week, Canada uses something fancily called Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) to see if non-Canadian academic degrees are equivalent to those provided by Canadian universities. And for the sake of dolla dolla bill, maybe. Those seeking permanent residency through Express Entry will need to have the transcript from their degree-awarding uni evaluated by one of five designated organizations. In my case, I went to more than one university, but I had to provide the transcript only from the final awarding school. Out of the five options, I picked World Education Services because they apparently have the fastest turnaround time. The other four orgs are Canadian gub’ment entities.
I found the process fairly straightforward. Like you’d expect, I had to carefully work my way through a few bureaucratic websites, but nothing insurmountable. I got TCU (my alma mater), the National Student Clearinghouse, and World Education Services lined up, three ducks in a row, and paid the ridiculous fee of about $240 USD. After a few days, the World Education Services app notified me their review of my academic records was complete and I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ my records were found satisfactory. The WES report is good for five years from date of issue; an important fact, since people can apply for Canadian permanent residency multiple times, and often do. WES (everybody’s an acronym these days, even DAL) forwarded the report on to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I assume at some point in the application process I’ll need to give Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada my WES reference number. Paperwork, paperwork. However, it’s a hurdle jumped!
Instead of all the paperwork and injustices, we could refuse to cooperate and instead cross borders sans permission, erasing them under our feet as we go. It might seem absurd to envision that as a goal, but huge numbers of people follow unusual goals at a moment’s notice very often, whether it’s something safe like in 2016 when thousands installed an app to go outside and hunt invisible Pokémon because they saw advertising, or something dangerous like in 2014 when thousands in Burkina Faso burned their parliament buildings and chased out oligarchs because that public has created a culture where such actions are not mocked as pipe dreams but appreciated, as I understand it.
IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience
My last blog entry explained how Canada, and a few other countries, require aspiring immigrants to take the General version of the IELTS test to prove English proficiency, regardless of, say, being a native English speaker with a summa cum laude humanities degree and lots of news media publications. Since the test isn’t available in Washington state, and because I’m in a hurry, I booked my computer-based exam for Thursday September 9 in San Diego.
The IELTS General has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. You get an overall score, and separate scores for each of the four sections. Higher scores mean more points for meeting immigration thresholds (which assess points for other things, including academic degrees and favorable employment history), so I really wanted to do well. For both the individual sections and the overall grade, scores range from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest), and come in point-five increments: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and so on.
There’s a lot of nitpicks on the IELTS. Audio texts are played just once, so if your attention wanders, you’re toast. Spelling has to be perfect. I was particularly worried about typing dates and other numbers/quasi-numbers in acceptable styles. Some words, such as occasionally, I seem to misspell no matter how many times I look them up. Using The OfficialCambridge Guide to IELTS for Academic & General Training (a paperback or PDF from 2014 but apparently not out of date), I crammed for two days and hoped for the best.
I had to arrive at the testing center at 8:00 a.m. At 7:55 a.m., I yanked the door handle, reminded myself occasionally has one s, and went in. I ascended the mini-labyrinth of staircases and discovered it was just me and one other test-taker, a bright young woman from Ghana aiming to move to Canada to become a behavioral health technician, that is, a psych ward orderly. Strange coincidence, right?
After our pockets were emptied, and our passports examined, and our faces photographed, and our COVID-19 waivers scrutinized, she and I were shepharded into the computer-packed testing room. The staff read us a long list of rules, including a stricture about leaving our passports out on our desks. Then the ordeal began. Even though the testing center was nearly empty, staffmembers, several times throughout the test, approached and picked up our passports for close inspection.
The listening section was easy, except my version of the test — test-takers receive different questions — had the dreaded map. While some test-takers don’t get a map at all, getting it means the computer shows you a crummy drawing of a location, such as a zoo, with nondescript boxes representing sublocations marked with letters. You have to match those letters to the correct place on a table of places. For instance, a box might be the zoo’s aquarium, where whales named George and Gracie are swimming around, or the zoo’s theatre, where tickets to educational movies are on sale, or the zoo’s testing center, where it’s determined to which cages the mistreated animals may migrate. The map stuff made a somewhat complicated setup visually, and much to my chagrin, I hadn’t practiced map questions, so by the time I got the hang of the visual arrangement, the audio text (complete with “distractors”) had already begun: “… after that, turn right, no excuse me, turn left, and find at the end of the path the exhibit of enormous venomous snakes.” So I think I blew one of the map questions.
The reading section was extremely easy. I don’t think the average English-speaking humanities graduate should sweat it.
The writing section, well, I mentioned a week ago how I bombed the writing section every time I took the GRE. Standardized writing tests and I don’t get along, so no high hopes for my performance on the two IELTS General writing tasks. But, I got them done.
The speaking section came last. This took place across a table from an interviewer, who recorded the three-part conversation with a little digital device. I was pretty nervous. A test-taker’s speech is marked, among other things, for successful use of a variety of sentence types (compound, compound complex, etc). I worried I’d bungle that, plus fail to make enough eye contact. At one point the interviewer asked me a prompt about why employees are or aren’t important to a business. I replied something akin to Although we mightthink of businesses as abstract entities configured on Secretary of State documents, in truth they exist concretely as human beings, the staff, whose well-being most certainly translates into good customer service and thus increased capital accumulation for the firm, speaking generally of course. The bemused interviewer gave me a look like You gotta be kidding me and ended the interview early. (Or so it seemed to me.)
Outside the Oxford International center, I discovered the other test-taker was a really cool person and gave her my card after writing a bunch of critical psychiatry resources on the back. Then I waited for my results.
Test-takers can pay to have their IELTS re-marked, even just a single section of it, in a procedure called Enquiry on Results, but you have to make the request within six weeks of the date shown on the test report form. Numerous posts online suggest it’s quite common to get a small score increase this way. Internet commenters also suggest an enquiry on results will only keep your score the same or raise it; there’s no way for it to lower your score, they say, so it just costs money/time/effort. If I can confirm that with official IELTS documentation or a phone call — so far I haven’t been able to — I may ask for my writing section to be re-marked.
Anyway, another hurdle out of the way, or mostly.
San Diego stuff
A funny thing happened on my flight to California: the passenger to my left was an Air Force veteran, and one of his sons was a mathematician creating those bizarre financial instruments at Goldman Sachs. Another reason to leave the US: seems everywhere you go, if you really ask and look, someone’s a private spy, or unrepentant soldier, or confidential informant, or bankster, or other unsavory character.
I didn’t have much free time in San Diego. Before the IELTS I had to cram, and after the test — it takes several hours, especially once you add in the waiting and formalities — I was exhausted, and crashed. Friday was free.
I considered going on foot to Mexico and back, via the San Ysidro border station (roughly sixteen miles south of San Diego but accessible by the Blue Line light rail). Non-essential pedestrian travel to/from Mexico/US, such as for tourism, is banned binationally at the federal level, at least until September 21, but according to San Diego locals I spoke with, the border station basically doesn’t enforce the ban, at least not for US citizens. Numerous online posts at various sites focusing on such topics agree. There are even USians blithely uploading footage of their touristy visits to Tijuana, pandemic or no pandemic. This guy’s 25-minute youtube video from last May shows a back-and-forth from San Diego/Tijuana, so I was able to at least visit virtually. His video includes ad placement, so I wonder if he declared business as the purpose of his trip, or if the San Ysidro station (with the pedestrian bridges frequently shown in news footage) even requires US citizens, or any people, to justify their cross-border walks. I concluded that because Mexico’s entry stamp includes a date, a trip during the ban would be a bad thing to have on my passport, especially while trying to emigrate. So I stayed domestic and read this reddit post from two weeks ago instead. It describes adventurous travel from San Diego to Tijuana and suits me a bit better than the 25-minute video. If you want to vicariously go to Baja California, it’s worth a down-time read or skim.
Aside from my meeting an amazing young vegan who quit caffeine to help with her sleep — an unusual and admirable display of responsibility and effort, restoring faith in humanity and maybe, dare I say, even in the United States to some small degree — that pretty much covers my past week in San Diego.
Until next time…
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Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 35 of 52. It’s Labor Day Weekend, so a Monday entry still counts!I skipped weeks 33 and 34 due to finishing up an intensive six-week course to (successfully!) become CELTA certified in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Note: I have a post in progress about Afghanistan and radical mental health in the United States, connecting the two by discussing cognitive dissonance. As a result of my recent and current workload and that entry’s length, I haven’t been able to complete it, and now need to put together something simpler (this post) instead. I’ll get the Afghanistan and mental health writing up eventually, but in the meantime, I urge you to read the timely story of Cindi Fisher and her struggle to free her son Siddharta from Washington state’s notorious Western State Hospital. See here, here, here, and here.
I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and moved to Seattle in 2016. That relocation was one of the best things for my life. Over the years, others from afar have encouraged me to migrate. Without their stimuli and the Internet, I’d have stayed in the Lone Star State, never participating in the Hearing Voices Network, never overcoming myriad challenges and increasing my autonomy, such as upping my cooking skill, substitute teaching for multi-month assignments in a huge city with a stressful crack-of-dawn commute, and dealing with painful social/emotional obstacles while interacting/transacting with people of wildly different demographics in a major urban environment. I’d have simply stayed a native Texan, brought up by prep school to belong to academia, isolated and not knowing it, locked in tunnel vision and praising the tunnel.
As I near six full years in Seattle, the time has come to move again — moreover, the time has come to leave the United States, even to get citizenship elsewhere someday. It’s a strange thing to do as a USian. In this country, no matter how much catastrophic medical debt piles up, no matter how many schools get shot up, no matter how often unemployment benefits cruelly expire, making a very specific plan for emigrating — as opposed to Just move to Canada! fantasies — is something you simply don’t hear about. Who does that? USians feel they’re already the most important country: not only the pro-Trump or neocon reactionaries, but also the faux rebels, who insist that if there’s a problem on the world stage, the US must always be the country most at fault. In other words, whether USians love the country or hate it, both agree that, regardless of topic, no other country can possibly be as important. Ever. In their eyes, history has come to an end. But most of the planet’s people live elsewhere, along with their changing cultures, changing languages, and the rest. It’s time to experience that; time for my own history to start a new chapter, while it’s still legal to leave.
But why, and how? On computer-y activist-y twitter, there are occasionally declamations by USians of how persecuted they are, and how special they are, and how they’ll soon leave the country for the better pastures they so richly deserve as rugged swashbuckling heroes and so forth. You’ll find that while I see terrifying political problems here too, my perspective is quite different! I see that for USians, who as a whole including me are to some extent quite tranquilized and emotionally + intellectually stunted (see arguments below), the idea of emigrating generally feels anxiety-producing, even downright scary — just try to talk someone here into renewing their passport, for instance. So I’ve decided to document my strange journey on my blog, full of specifics so maybe someone else will be able to figure out their own path to achieving the same thing someday.
This post is structured into why and how: First two little reasons why to emigrate, next two big reasons why, and finally two hows: a discussion of destinations I’m looking at, and then a discussion of practical steps I’m currently taking. Pertinent music before getting underway:
Little reason for leaving 1 of 2: across-the-board life improvement
In summer 2019, shortly before COVID-19 showed up, I visited Victoria BC (and a little of Vancouver) alone, and later wrote blog posts about it. One thing I discussed is how moving to a place that’s better or worse in whichever ways can dramatically improve or worsen your life across the board, as opposed to the individualization of social problems, also known as the fundamental attribution error. Or more plainly, as @debihope put it in 2010: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” Or, I’ll add, smog, sprawl, and so on. Imagine a bunch of variables:
a: safety of air (lack of air pollution) b: savings on cost of living (lower prices and so on) c: rarity of mass shootings d: education level of the population e: prosocial or antisocial behavior of the population And whichever additional variables.
Then imagine each location as a combination of those variables. Fort Worth is the sum of its ratings for air safety, cost of living, frequency of mass shootings, education level, social or antisocial behavior patterns, etc. Seattle is the sum of its ratings for the same variables. Victoria, Vancouver, and more, identical. This is all very straightforward and logical; it might seem strange to USians only because every day the corporate propaganda is screaming that we’re the best, that evidence is what nerdy losers consider, and that problems are almost always congenital rather than almost always environmental (even one’s bodily host, full of microorganisms, can be considered part of your mind or soul’s environment, as this thought-provoking book discusses).
So that’s why moving to a better place can improve your life across the board, but even moving to a place with a lower sum rating can be an improvement in that it can strengthen a person if they’re up to the challenge — and the lower-sum place might have hidden gem aspects to it as well.
Little reason for leaving 2 of 2: recent news revealing the United States as a sinkhole
“It’s really heartbreaking to see children intubated by COVID,” a Texas pediatrician working in hospitals said last week, and the country has just surpassed 2/3 million novel coronavirus deaths with over 160,000 new cases daily largely due to the Delta mutation, but all the same, in southwest Washington state on Friday September 3, the fascist Proud Boys, all-male enforcers for Trump reminscent of Hitler’s Youth, were riled up by false social media posts by another far right group, Patriot Prayer, that wrongly claimed a student faced arrest for not masking. Skyview High School, Alki Middle School, and Chinook Elementary all locked down as Proud Boys tried to gain entry to school grounds. Teachers and faculty guarded doors to keep the Proud Boys out as school security addressed them (I don’t know the details of what exactly school security did). Among the work I do is teaching, including in secondary schools, and fighting off Proud Boys is not really how I want to spend my time as a teacher, a factor in my emigration goal. The eight-second video below (source) is from outside Skyview High School on Friday.
Saturday, September 4, 50+ armed Proud Boys were on the hunt in Olympia, the Washington state capital. Gunshots were fired (I’m not sure of the specifics), and a female independent journalist, Alissa Azar, was assaulted by the Proud Boys. Details are still emerging.
Labor Day Weekend’s not over yet; there may well be more craziness from the Proud Boys forthcoming in the Pacific Northwest.
Turning to Texas, a pro-snitching, anti-reproductive rights law — the most restrictive in the country — went into effect there on Wednesday September 1 after the Supreme Court upheld it in a 5-4 “shadow docket” ruling. The law bans abortions once cardiac activity can be detected in the fetus, usually six weeks into pregnancy, typically counting from the first day of the last menstrual period (which might not be tracked or trackable, adding confusion and difficulty into the time equation). The Texas law makes no exceptions for rape or incest and relies on private individuals to enforce it; as the New York Timesexplains, it “deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or ‘aids and abets’ a procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win.” Snitches and bounty hunters. I wasn’t the inseminator, but as a quasi-supporter quasi-bodyguard against protestors decades ago, I accompanied a pregnant friend to a clinic for her abortion arrangements; such activity would now be “aiding and abetting.” As this five-minute Pussy Riot song “Hangerz” explains, “fundamentalist abortion-bans are about hijacking control and ownership of women’s bodies,” though some of the reactionary foot soldiers fighting for such bans may not perceive that frightening truth themselves.
What’s the “shadow docket” component of the Supreme Court ruling? The shadow docket is contrasted with the Supreme Court’s “merits docket.” But wait, what’s a docket?
The docket is the official schedule of proceedings before a court. When I covered multiple federal sentencings of hacktivist/transparency movement defendants (such as whistleblower Reality Winner’s), I’d sign into PACER, the electronic system for accessing federal court documents, and take a look at the docket to see what time the hearing began and in which courtroom. The docket listed not only that info about the sentencing hearing, but also information about and links to each pleading (a written statement a party puts before a court) and much more, which I would read and write about journalistically. “Docket” more generally refers to the workload before a court, as in “the court has fifty zillion cases pending on its docket.”
So that’s docket — how about the merits docket? The Supreme Court’s merits docket is the 60 to 70 or so cases the robed, priestly, and surely heavily surveilled justices will consider each term, hearing oral arguments from lawyers and pondering the pleadings, to make rulings supposedly on the merits. The merits docket cases are usually scrutinized by scholars, sometimes broadcast by media, and so forth, hopefully aiming for an ideal of transparency, because thankfully some refuse to lose their curiosity about what the ruling class is up to.
The shadow docket, on the other hand, is a catch-all term for Supreme Court rulings that, with some variation, are typically accompanied by no oral arguments from lawyers, no reasoning from judges, no identification of which justices voted what, and are released with unpredictable timing. That unpredictable timing makes informing the public about them difficult. For example, not of the Supreme Court shadow docket but of something similar, in Reality Winner’s case, her exceptionally restrictive plea agreement — remember, her leak was a huge component in the story of how the United States was smashed (partly) by Russia, sometimes called the battering ram of China in this global transition from the British Empire to the Chinese one, and thus, her leak helped decloak Putin’s ally Trump, so her punishment has been unusually severe — wasn’t filed until the day of her sentencing, which made reporting on her exceptionally restrictive conditions impossible for the many members of the media attending the hearing: we were given no time to read the plea agreement closely before the news cycle moved on. The Supreme Court’s shadow docket is likewise difficult for scholars and journalists to review. There’s no time for amicus briefs or activists to arrange protests (or sabotage!).
Though the term shadow docket was coined in 2015, something of a shadow docket has existed ever since the Supreme Court has. For a long time, shadow docket rulings were primarily minor, anodyne matters, like granting a side an additional two weeks to file a motion because the top lawyer came down with pneumonia. Over the past four years — during both the obviously awful Trump and wrongly beloved Biden administrations — there’s been a dramatic uptick in shadow docket rulings from the Supreme Court, another sign of the law vanishing. Shadow docket rulings are used now even for controversial cases, such as the new Texas abortion law. (Read more about the recent use of the shadow docket, a major loss for accountability and transparency, in this February 2021 testimony to Congress.)
A two-minute Anonymous video uploaded Friday September 3 points out that the Texas tactic of circumventing the federal protection of reproductive rights by shifting anti-abortion enforcement from the state government to private individuals could be expanded to circumvent any federal protection, such that private individuals are allowed to enforce any new state law regardless of what federal law might say on the matter. Do you realize what an end-times move that is? No more constitutional protections from federal law; your neighbors enforce the local law, to collect bounties. The Anonymous video also announces Operation Jane, named after the Chicago underground abortion service started in 1969, to either take down online systems for snitching/bounty-hunting on Texas women getting abortions, or to poison the data collection by flooding the online systems with garbage information. Indeed, a website seeking snitch reports of people violating the new Texas law has already been spammed thanks to a viral digital protest, including one programmer creating a shortcut for iPhone users to easily submit worthless data repeatedly.
I could offer examples of the sinkhole United States forever, but let’s look at just a few things more, quickly.
Remember the coup attempt on January 6? “A failed coup is practice for a successful coup,” Yale historian of fascism Timothy Snyder said this summer, referring to history and the very possible, perhaps even likely, scenario of Trump returning in 2022 or 2024, maybe by force. I recently came across a two-part interview with Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who’s given harrowing firsthand accounts of the coup attempt. The interview from July — part one and part two — is really worth listening to, because though our feelings on cops may be closer to this, Dunn seems a very straight-up dude, easy to empathize with, and his retelling of the insurrection is very expressive and evocative. (The Dworkin Report also interviewed lawyer Alison Grinter last month regarding Reality Winner’s commutation and pardon efforts.)
Remember, in this connection, the words of multiple Holocaust survivors in 2019 (Rene Lichtman, Ruth Bloch, Bernard Marks): ICE is equivalent to the Gestapo, and their current ‘detention centers’ really are concentration camps where genocidaires crush minorities. Replace “the United States” in your head with “Nazi Germany” and ask yourself if living in such a place makes sense. Even if privileged USians think themselves exempt from such matters, recall that in May 2020, during Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, the National Guard in Minneapolis swept affluent streets, yelled Light ’em up! and shot paint canisters at non-minorities for the “crime” of standing on their porches, as in this 20-second video (source) that the mainstream media later followed up on:
Big reason for leaving 1 of 2: Unreachable USians and their counterarguments
The above establishes there’s no way for USians to opt-out of having the increasing fascism arrive on their own doorsteps. But plenty of people have legit reasons for staying in the country. Maybe they’re the sole caregiver for a dear dying relative. Maybe they’re dedicated to a project such as cleaning up the Duwamish River by Seattle. I even read a curious story about a monk in his fifties, a psychiatric survivor, who, protesting the rush of technology, took a “vow of stability” never to ride in a vehicle or leave his city (save rarely and on foot), though the story of his (nonsexual) relationship with a 23-year-old woman is a bit odd; in the U.S., twenty-three is typically not the age to take such a vow, and the story treats her as his mere sidekick. Anyway, there are all sorts of understandable reasons a person might decide not to leave the United States. And other countries aren’t automatically perfect — for good or ill, there are coup attempts and actual coups all over the place presently: see yesterday in Guinea on September 5, or the likely Steve Bannon-facilitated one in Brazil tomorrow on September 7 for fascist Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro. Whatever the case, each person’s life is their own to find their own path.
Still, there are common fallacious arguments against emigrating that I’ve heard repeatedly from USians and would like to address. These arguments arise in USian conversation when I bring up my goal of emigrating. The arguments make me feel like the majority of USians are unreachable on this topic, though judging from the programmer video above, the kids are all right; maybe I’m just getting old.
The most frequent anti-emigrating argument I hear in the United States is that it’s only a possibility for those with financial privilege. To be fair, this is not my best subject; nevertheless, there are certain awkward truths to be said. Since there are many who have willfully changed countries — including leaving the U.S. — while in poverty, the argument that emigration is only for the privileged is untrue, and speaks more to typical USian myopia. I don’t have the link handy, but I remember reading on r/IWantOut, a subreddit for emigration advice, of a USian in their late teens who sold everything and took a huge risk to just drop themselves into an Eastern European country, I think, and figure it out on the go. Lots of r/IWantOut posts share such stories. There are also many easy-to-find youtube videos of USians telling their stories of how they emigrated while similarly in poverty. Counterexamples, boom! With only $1000-$2000 USD in savings, which she calls a “pretty significant” amount, the woman in the video below moved from Chicago to cheaper Madrid to work as a teacher assistant, receiving a meager income (about $1200 USD per month). “It was one of the most amazing years of my life,” she says. “I’d recommend the experience to everyone.”
Volunteering and hanging out with US activists has taught me that many of them are simply pretending to be poor (even to themselves); maybe they don’t have a lot of cash daily, but they come from highly professional families who deliver money to them regularly, or would in emergencies or if asked. “Emigrating is a privilege” often means rather “I don’t want to have a confrontational conversation with my family/friends on this topic” or “I must follow a bizarre Kantian imperative to never lie, so when my family asks, I can’t tell them I sold my guitar to get $300 for something they approve of, when I actually sold it to pay an Education Credential Assessment fee they don’t approve of; not lying to my family is more important than my life and dreams going permanently down the drain.” People, especially women, are constantly shamed for being bold and taking risks, and socially ‘rewarded’ — She is just so sweet!— for staying in servitude and remaining meek. So the “money privilege” arguments about emigrating are actually about those paralyzing emotions under the surface, I think, not about actual budget questions.
Further, as I experienced myself, those from upper class families in the U.S. are very often lacking in skills (paid caregivers did the domestic tasks when they grew up; parents or paid accountants did their taxes and paperwork; and so on). This sort of thing hits Reddit regularly, such as these stories of nightmare roommates not doing their dishes ever. It’s pretty inhibiting to grow up in a U.S. golden cage, especially since such families tend to endorse conventional psychiatry. Pedosadist Jeffrey Epstein arranged for psychiatrists to give his victims Lithium and Xanax for their tranquilizing/sedating effect; psychopharmaceuticals are a weapon of control that dull the moxie required to emigrate.
To counter these various discouragements, including the shaming, ressentiment-style crab mentality around emigration — if you can emigrate, it must be because you are bad since you have money, whereas I can’t do it, because I am good since I don’t have money — I’ve lately been thinking of inspirational friends and reading inspirational books. One friend I know simply refuses to pay her student debt (my heroine!). I also just finished reading the autobiography of guitarist, philosopher, and Paganini/Liszt-style showoff Yngwie Malmsteen (who could really use some intervallic additions to his playing such as fourths, sixths, sevenths, ninths, elevenths). In Relentless, Malmsteen writes about riding his motorcycle up and down the stairs of his Swedish high school as a teen. I was a bit like that as a teen, too. In Texas, such energy often means (at least for white kids in prep schools) getting psychiatrized, but for him in Sweden, he got away with it, then later, upon receiving an offer to play in a Los Angeles band, flew across the planet for the first time to this city he’d never heard of (pre-Internet days), bringing with him nothing but his guitar case with an extra pair of jeans crammed inside. He ended up living in a run-down warehouse for a while in a violent neighborhood, playing for cheesy Steeler and getting his bearings; it got him to where he needed to go next. And only yesterday, a world-traveller friend recommended to me Mark Ehrman’s book Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, which I haven’t read yet, but it looks great.
Even disability may not be an insurmountable obstacle to leaving. People who have been intensely psychiatrized may legitimately worry about family/friends calling the police and having them hospitalized if their plan to leave the country seems grandiose or otherwise insane. Breaking things down into plausible step-by-steps may help persuade policers, or another option is simply outwitting one’s opponents. It can be done. Witness the amazing book Bipolar 1 Disorder: How to Survive and Thrive by Molly McHugh, originally from the United States. Despite a history of manic psychosis, she slowly, after much trial and error, managed to get off her psychopharmaceuticals and travel the world with her son.
I had a creative writing teacher once who told the class he kept hearing explanations from us for why ideas put forth wouldn’t work; he then said, why not give explanations why they will work?
The other counterargument I hear frequently is that, in the face of collapsingsupply chains and rising fascism, a USian should stay here and fight. I hear it so often that I wonder where the phrase originates; USians never say they want to remain here and fight or stay here and battle. It’s always stay here and fight. The collocation appears in translations of the Iliad and the stage play Death of a Salesman. Vivid, monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words like “stay” and “fight” are usually preferred by English speakers over Latinate clunkers like “remain” and “battle.” But I still wonder if there’s something more to the phrase’s frequency.
Anyway, let’s say I agree to remain here and bat — I mean, stay here and fight. What’s step one? The very first page of Sun Tzu’s millennia-old book The Art of War, studied by US generals, the KGB, and the Vietcong alike, says warriors must “determine the conditions obtaining in the field.” He asks fighters to consider, among other questions, “Which army is stronger?” and “On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?” I’ve never heard a USian, who insists we must stay here and fight, address such questions of Sun Tzu’s. At a glance, the Pentagon is stronger than antifa, since antifa lacks aircraft carriers, fighter jets, tanks, and so on. USians generally lack discipline, too, since every day almost all down corporate soda and other junk food along with countless hours of corporate entertainment (eating healthy is disciplining and strengthening).
In short, if this is a US activist battle, where are our battle plans? Were I to spit the above paragraph at a stay-here-and-fight advocate, they might say, as if dismissing the entire subject, “antifa is morally stronger,” but Sun Tzu lists moral force as just one factor among others. Verily verily, a serious fight requires serious observation, planning, and effort. My observation is, in terms of a US football metaphor, the idealists and radicals in the United States are way behind in the fourth quarter, too far behind to rack up enough points on the scoreboard to win against supply chain collapse and fascism. Enough evidence of that for me is that Seattle activists I know refuse to factually assess the battlefield in the first place and rely on subtly insulting each other into agreeing that everything will be fine and those who disagree are simply being negative or uncool.
Lots of antifa and other activists in the United States are working hard, as social media sometimes shows, and I don’t mean to denigrate that effort. Maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth from particular experiences. But there’s definitely an unacknowledged deer-in-the-headlights thing going on with many of us here. And that naive attitude is part and parcel of how USians typically view life. In this amazing article for the New York Times, novelist Brian Morton writes:
Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price. But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.
Try explaining to the Proud Boys or the National Guard that antifa will win simply because your fabulous bumper sticker slogan says so — you may find their disagreeing force overpowering.
One last thing. We know reactionaries, whether of the neocon or Trumper flavor, believe all must be made equal: equally subject to their rule that Only he with enough moneytokens deserves to eat; all others must starve or hope for shameful charity. The US left also tends to believe all must be equal. When I tried to explain to a Seattle leftist in person that whereas in the World War II era, the country incentivized very cerebral people (physicists, etc.) to immigrate here, now it’s the opposite, it’s what’s called a “brain drain” where some of the country’s brightest, seeing the sinkhole, are fleeing to other countries where their abilities will be welcomed and rewarded. That has long-term negative consequences for the United States, y’know? But the USian I was explaining this to got mad at me: they said it was offensive to suggest that some people are smarter in some areas than others: the phrase “brain drain” alone was offensive. So it’d be hard to convince such a person to divide up an antifa army to put some on intelligence work (researching opponents’ street addresses and supply chains), others on street brawls, and some on both, because on the US left, everyone has to be as equal as the rightwingers insist everyone must be under the dollar sign. With that differences-denying kind of mentality widespread in the country, nobody can honestly evaluate the conditions on the field and win.
Big reason for leaving 2 of 2: growth through adventure
All the news, arguments, counterarguments, and counter-counterarguments can stack up like a gloomy list of gloomy factoids, some of them debatable or personal, but they ultimately matter little in comparison with my biggest reason for aiming to leave the United States and get citizenship elsewhere. That’s simply the drive to embark on a challenging adventure, to get out of my comfort zone, to stop metaphorically hiding under the bed, and grow/develop as a person. I’ve written about that in many places on my blog, and will in the future, so I won’t talk about it here much.
I will say, however, three things.
First, notice how many USians will downplay the importance of this cross-border adventure thing, yet play video games where they’re flying airships to new lands to have virtual adventures (or perhaps they’re reading or watching fiction with the same journeying tropes). So, it seems adventure, etc., is necessary in life, and hiding under the bed, perhaps as a good psychiatric patient, is a downward spiral that will be met with more pills and pats on the head from the authorities.
Second, psychologists have an interesting concept called flexibility of thought, or cognitive flexibility. Regardless of his brave youthful journey across the globe to Los Angeles, Yngwie Malmsteen nowadays continues to play the same tricks on guitar (c’mon, man, that trademark descending ostinato lick of yours? why not play it ascending at least once in your plentiful recordings? or try inspiration from a different classical musical genre such as impressionism?). Similarly, people everywhere keep hiding under the bed. This is a huge topic, but the idea is to have enough adaptibility to meet unfamiliar challenges. I’ve heard cutting away the safety net, having no Plan B, can really help, so that you devote all your time to your goal, but on the other hand, poor risk-assessment and foolhardiness don’t work, either. Just something I think about regarding emigration; I’m no expert. But I’ve long seen chest-pounding USians call themselves adults because they remuneratively serve corporations or their ancillaries on salary, yet be literally too terrifed to walk off a sidewalk or climb an enticing tree and sit in it. Hello, we’re losing our childhood birthright of curiosity and courage because of how we came to be ruled by Death Eaters.
Third, as USian leftists debate who is or isn’t privileged in this country, and typically prefer to hear the perspective of a union organizer down the street rather than indigenous people on the other side of the planet, the real tragedy is that USian comforts are provided by multinational corporations benefitting from destruction that turns people into refugees who must cross countries without any choice in the matter over whether they’re privileged or ready enough to leave their homes or not. USians seeing refugees on boats somehow still remain convinced they themselves are of a special, exceptional sort when it comes to emigration. Perhaps USians are different, at least in terms of our unadmitted social and emotional crippling…
Enough of the why. Now for how.
Initially USians tend to approach the topic of foreign destinations as a fantasy and actually enjoy talking about it — for pretend. The stressful details of renewing a passport or taking an IELTS test go out the window and everybody daydreams aloud about which country they’d go to and why.
I’m thinking about going to a country where I can gain citizenship, but that might not be a linear process. Some countries are very difficult to earn citizenship in, for instance many European countries. So I might have to go to Country B first, perhaps to improve at a required language or improve employment history, before going to Country C and getting citizenship there.
Let’s indulge the make-believe a little, yet spiced with facts. Here are my current preferences/thoughts. Bear in mind that different places within a country are, you know, different. In the service of brevity, the below kind of commits the Star Trek fallacy of one p̶l̶a̶n̶e̶t̶ country, one culture.
Canada: This would be ideal for me in many ways. In British Columbia at least, I could visit Seattle easily and easily research northeast Oregon in person for my fiction project, too. The electrical outlets are the same, the bioregion, at least in British Columbia, is the same — same trees, same weather. Hearing Voices Network chapters exist in Vancouver and Quebec City. Sort of an easy, beginner way to leave the United States. I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming lottery draw of permanent residency Express Entry applicants, maybe as soon as late September, requiring far fewer points than the usual threshold. You get points by, for instance, having post-secondary education credentials, higher IELTS scores, or good full-time employment history. Frequently in the United States nowadays, paid-jobs that actually take more or far more than 40 hours a week are classified on paperwork as part-time, but the USian emigrant can (try to) provide a letter from the employer that the work was tantamount to a full-time job; I’ve heard from a recently successful permanent residency applicant that such letters can often pass muster. Full-time job offers from Canadian employers especially boost points. However, Canada, or parts of Canada, can be expensive, so I’d probably have to pour a lot of time into teaching, which might be a good idea for a few years as I continue to improve my health via a compounding pharmacy. It’s also a decent place to be vegan, I’ve heard.
The Netherlands. Rising sea levels aside, the advantages of this country and its Amsterdam capital city are fairly well known, belonging to the European Union being just one of them. It’s also where the Hearing Voices Network began, so — pending further research — I assume it’s a great place to continue escaping conventional psychiatry’s grip. However, I’ve heard the Netherlands is expensive, or parts of it are, and to become a citizen, you have to learn Dutch, which to me looks like long strange strings of letters, but who knows, maybe I’d change my Dutch-ignorant mind someday. Most importantly, there’s a Dutch-American[USian] Friendship Treaty that eases the path for self-employed US entreprenuers to live in the Netherlands long term. I’ll look into that, see what the possibilities might be for various types of online writing and/or tutoring businesses. It’s another decent place to be vegan, I understand.
Spain. Another European Union member, and currently tied with Germany for the strongest passport in the world (measured in terms of mobility), at least on this index. A big draw for me would be improving my Spanish from slow and clunky to fast and fluent. I assume (haven’t checked yet) that Spanish skill is a requirement for citizenship. There’s of course a history of radical politics in Spain (and dictatorship). I’ve heard it’s an okay enough place to be vegan, at least in certain cities. And it just seems really cool to me. I like making big decisions based mostly on intuition — like James McMurtry’s we mostly go where we have to go — not laundry lists of pros and cons, and somehow Spain just feels really exciting. It’s a challenge to get EU citizenship, though…but things happen? Spain may be expensive, and there are no Hearing Voices Network chapters there on this international list, but perhaps by savvy emailing I could find a chapter that does exist and just isn’t on the radar yet.
México. The US news claims there are many problems in México, maybe to scare USians off (I mean really, who the hell wrote this? I didn’t write the “scary” subhead tho…that was an editor). But even if there are some bigly problems — like, say, Proud Boys trying to bust into schools? — well, like I suggested above, regardless of the across-the-board life improvement idea, there may be hidden gems where not expected, and life isn’t about greedily grabbing comfort anyway. Plus, despite a narco-state, amazing social movements (see also the Mexican Supreme Court ruling unanimously to decriminalize abortion on Tuesday September 7). I could improve my Spanish and live cheaply, perhaps teaching English language leaners for a while at an established school (there are some interesting job listings presently that I think I qualify for). My Spanish would skyrocket, and so would my employment history, as a teacher I mean (what about writing?). It’s a little hilarious that despite USian chest-thumping about the strength of its almighty trade economy, and the supposed evilness of so-called Mexican illegals heading north, it’s perhaps more practical for some college-educated USians to get certain good jobs by heading south. With such an improved employment history, I could maybe go to Europe later. Sadly, there’s no Mexican Hearing Voices Network chapter on the international list, but the same emailing savvy might turn something up. I don’t know what veganism is like in Mexico, but hey, with all the corn-based chips and tortillas, at least it would be easy to avoid gluten! I think…
Some country in South America, esp. Argentina or maybe Uruguay. The ideas here would be to improve my Spanish, see different stars and a vertically inverted moon, and live cheaply thanks to the US dollar. I have a friend who moved from the US to Argentina and supports herself fully with online content marketing writing and some tutoring side jobs, in the US a pretty hopeless way to try to support oneself longterm except maybe in rural areas, perhaps with nontraditional housing (e.g., an RV), though maybe I’m unaware. I briefly met a Seattleite, big into queer community stuff, who moved to progressive Uruguay and seems to be doing well there. I’ve heard it’s hard to be vegan in South America, and that I might find it hard to make friends there, though of course there’s a lot of variety on a whole continent! Unfortunately, the international list of Hearing Voices Network chapters lists not a single one there. However, the aforementioned Molly McHugh, author of Bipolar 1 Disorder: How to Survive and Thrive, also wrote a book about living in South America, so I’ll have to read it asap!
Those are the places I’m chiefly considering. Two more quick resources. Nomad List provides dossiers on various worldwide destinations, detailing things like cost of living or Internet connectivity quality, and I’ve heard it’s a pretty accurate site. Then, Totalism lists unusual places to live, especially for Europe. Hackerspaces, intentional communities, punk houses, artist spaces, zones like that. I might be wrong, but I imagine doing well in such money-saving environments, as opposed to one’s own apartment, would require cut-throat social skills.
Like I said at the start, it’s time for me to get going, to emigrate. Hell, in the hours and hours it took to write this post, I could have already become a European citizen! That’s a joke, but…
I decided to just throw myself into the process, to complete some practical, specific, actual, real-life, not-kidding steps even if I don’t have a full picture. Besides what you might expect — looking at job postings, sites like Nomad List, and playing with Canada’s Express Entry points estimator tool — there are three things I’m doing.
First, I’m digitizing, discarding, donating, or selling belongings. The fewer objects I have, the easier it is to move. It’s taking surprisingly long, maybe because the items are laden with emotional meaning. I’m having to grab records from Texas, too. I have about half of the records I want from Texas so far.
Second, I’m having my Bachelor of Arts degree evaluated for Canada. It’s called Educational Credential Assessment. Canada wants to ensure non-Canadian academic records are truly equivalent to Canadian degrees, so applicants have to pay a fee to one of five designated organizations to have them assess the transcripts. I went with World Education Services, because they’re apparently the fastest, and I’m hoping to get an Express Entry application in before the next draw for permanent residency, which as noted above, may come later this month.
Third, I’m taking the IELTS general exam on Thursday. That acronym stands for the International English Language Testing System, and it’s pronounced EYE-ults. Even if an applicant is a native English speaker who’s putting together the next installment of the Oxford English Dictionary, Canada (and some other countries) want the person tested for English proficiency. IELTS is the predominant way to go about it. The higher the IELTS score, the more immigration points when your application is considered. I just booked the exam two nights ago. Since the IELTS isn’t offered in Washington state, and not nearby any time extremely soon, I’m suddenly going to the border town of San Diego to take it. So, now I have to cram. Maybe very little study time was a bad idea; when I took the GRE test trying to get into grad school, I flunked the writing section, multiple times! (Probably a blessing in disguise, because I don’t want academia to steal from me the joy of working on my fiction, nonfiction, etc.)
Anyway, it’s time; and on Wednesday, it’s off to San Diego, the border town!
… Maybe while there, I’ll just head south, never to return. ;)
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Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 29 of 52.All photos were taken by me on 23 July 2021, except the small one identified in the caption as from my 2009 post. I took that photo then.
Note: See last week’s post for a reply by me to a reader’s question in the comments.
More than a decade ago, in June 2009, I wrote a blog entry titled “Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW” (Dallas/Fort Worth). From my recent IP addresses in North Texas and Seattle at least, if you google “What’s the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW?” my writing comes up as a “featured snippet” search result. As strange as it is to be honored by Skynet, I’m glad the Google algorithms prioritize the post.
Anyway, Friday afternoon I visited — just before flying back to Seattle on Saturday — the hometown tree, which I hadn’t seen in years and years. I discovered some things have changed, not only the TexasTreeTrails.org webpage I cite in my long-ago entry for facts on the champion plant. (That webpage has moved here.)
You’re probably familiar with the structural device of dividing a topic into the good, the bad, and the ugly; let’s do that in reverse order, to end on an upbeat note before plunging into news blasts for Cuba and the Lone Star State.
On Friday I stopped by Fort Worth’s Cityview Car Wash too, because in the past few years, from a distance, I’ve often thought about this odd antebellum-esque store — in some ways, an opposite of the grand Southern Magnolia — where I took family automobiles as a prep school teen, not knowing any better. While the globe continues to warm (see my recent post on the Pacific Northwest heat-dome), it’s possible such expensive car washes in the South will keep going till the last possible moment, so rich white men can take their antique Mercedes and Jaguars there, and sit inside, having their shoes shined by elderly black men, or sit outside, watching their vehicles be towel-dried, by not-so-rich, not-so-white young men.
Along with the global weirding of weather we in the U.S. are already witnessing, my understanding is that water crises will be among the earliest and most salient enduser-facing problems of the coming climate change disasters. Of course, the outlandish car wash shops rely heavily on large amounts of water. I called Cityview Car Wash on Sunday to ask if they use recycled or reclaimed water. The low-level employee who answered the phone frankly said No, they use fresh water.
Picture it like a movie. Even as, by 2040, pollen counts double, and even as, by whenever, Fahrenheit temperatures in the 120s and higher become the norm, sweaty, sneezy Texans will still be sitting at Cityview Car Wash. The TVs will be blasting Fox Weather; security for the business will be provided by militarized police-tanks. The old white men will keep on watching teens haul huge long hoses to the parked Porsches. Close-up on a hose-sprayer held in a dark-skinned hand: the water is only dribbling out… only barely dribbling out… Close-up on a spigot valve being turned hard by a brown hand again and again. Another close-up on the hose-sprayer: it’s waterless now. It’s futile. With itchy eyes, the old Texan men look at each other. The South will not rise again.
But can the City of Fort Worth control such non-essential water usage during droughts? After all, they sell water to businesses in their jurisdiction, sourcing much it from the Trinity, the river discussed in my post last week.
Such local government regulation has had an effect on DFW car washes before. Due to dry spells in recent years, car washes in Witchita Falls, a corner of North Texas, have been required to change procedures when water conservation regulators threatened to shut them down. A City of Fort Worth drought contingency and emergency water management plan, effective May 2019, says (to oversimplify) that when a dry spell gets bad enough (“Stage 3” in the document),
“Vehicle washing … [at a] commercial car wash […] can only be done as necessary for health, sanitation, or safety reasons […] All other vehicle washing is prohibited.”
Note: According to City of Fort Worth water conservation manager Micah Reed in an email reply to me on Monday July 26, the emergency plan is updated every five years. The 2019 one I link and excerpt is the one that would come into effect in a qualifying emergency. I bet Micah Reed would make an interesting interviewee on this topic.
In short, the forthcoming water crises might bring power struggles between the Texan-beloved auto industry, and governments, not so beloved by Texans except when their business gets a gub’ment handout. Everyone underfoot getting stomped on by the two hierarchs going at each other, if they do, hopefully will intensify their growing interest in self-governance, taking care of themselves, each other, and the land as the giants continue their slow implosion.
Let’s turn to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to see an example showing how power struggles between local government and industry typically go down. This weekend was the first time I’ve visited the Garden in something like seven years.
Not far from adrenal-fatigued Texans and their thunderous, wastefully washed SUVs on one of the city’s busiest streets, University Drive, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, 109-something acres nowadays and the oldest major public garden in the state, grows peacefully. Depending on how you slice it, construction began on the Garden, then smaller and known as Rock Springs Park, in 1921, followed by, in various phases, early construction continuing on the area, renamed the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in 1934; some of that labor was part of FDR’s New Deal. The park debuted in 1935. However, none of the 750-or-so poor laborers from the earliest construction days were allowed to attend the opening ceremony, because the authorities wanted present only those who could afford fancy clothes. With limited exceptions, the Garden was also segregated, banning humans with dark skin, until roughly 1961 (more sources would help; anyone?). In 2009, the National Park Service (well, a bureau of the NPS) listed the core portion of the Garden on the National Register of Historic Places. The 111-page registration form can be found here; that certifying document and the 2010 Fort Worth Botanic Garden Master Plan (put together by various stakeholders including the city and a high-priced consulting agency) supply a great number of details on the Garden that this paragraph skips over for the sake of quick summary.
The City of Fort Worth has owned at least some of the underlying land since 1912 and still owns all the Botanic Garden land today, but while I was happily living in Seattle, a bigly change transpired. In October 2020, the City of Fort Worth transferred its management of the Garden to the Botanic Research Institute of Texas, the BRIT nonprofit among whose board of directors — according to a 2019 tax filing — sits Ed Bass, of the billionaire oil-rich and locally powerful Bass family.
BRIT’s nonprofit structure notwithstanding, the management of the Botanic Garden has been privatized; the immediate ire the public has felt regarding the new biz centers on the Garden replacing the free admissions policy, more or less upheld continuously since 1935, with an in-real-life paywall. BRIT, on Saturday, charged me the $12 per adult fee to get in. (I was able to pay at the entrance; maybe tickets sell out sometimes, I don’t know.) Judging by a search of the #fwbg twitter hashtag, I’m by no means the only person frustrated about very rich, very faraway people putting a fence around local native trees, hoarding an imaginary right to visit them, then charging everyone to do so.
The local alt-weekly, the aptly named Fort Worth Weekly, tracked the City’s giveaway to BRIT with multiplestories, rightlytroubled about the public getting dispossessed of the nearly century-old treasure. Lon Burnam, a longtime Democrat in the lower half of the Texas state legislature (not currently), a former executive director of the Dallas Peace Center, a Quaker, and a member of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, co-authored a May 2020 piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that warned the City of Fort Worth was giving BRIT a “sweetheart deal” (a yearly $3.35 million management fee the City pays to BRIT, separate from a one-time $17 million from the City to BRIT for repairs), unless specific steps are taken to protect the commons. A month later, Burnam told the North Texas NPR/PBS member station: “Basically, the city has abdicated a lot of control and a lot of their responsibility for managing the gardens.” Vaguely citing to the station some unspecificed “plans in progress,” BRIT didn’t even deign to be interviewed.
What I dislike about BRIT’s very-Texan management of the Garden isn’t just the admission costs, but also the practice of blocking patrons from the trees, further dissociating humans from Nature. I do remember, especially as the years went on (say, circa 2000-2015), that disrespectful people would trash the park and hurt plants (for instance by walking over them), but improving norms around respect for Nature would be the best solution, and could be implemented immediately by hiring knowledgeable employees who, in a manner similar to the best Park Rangers, would politely patrol the Garden and teach guests not to dishonor or disrupt the plants.
Instead of gentle monitoring and education done by live humans, BRIT opts for the economic efficiency of brute force: chain the trees away, stop humans from touching them. For decades no chains locked up the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW. If you look at my 2009 post’s comments, you’ll see youth climbing Southern Magnolias, including the grandest one itself, is quite ordinary. Tree-climbing (and tree-hugging!) should be encouraged along with respect for Nature. BRIT’s attitude reminds me of the Fort Worth Zoo, also a place dirtied by the oily hands of the Bass family. In December 2007, the Fort Worth Weeklydiscussed how Lee Bass and Ramona Bass led the creation of the Fort Worth Zoo’s Texas Wild! exhibit, falsely “showing how wildlife — mostly dead, stuffed wildlife — could exist in harmony with oil and gas drillers.” Reading any decently curated list of news articles from any day of the week should disprove that. I wonder if the new BRIT boardwalk at the Garden, pictured at the top of this post, so resembles the boardwalk I remember at the Fort Worth Zoo because of some Bass family contractor connection.
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden giveaway suggests the regional government hierarchs, supposedly protectors of the public, will work hand in glove with the auto industry hierarchs when the forthcoming water crises fully arrive. Maybe any battling on our behalf will be, already is, and always has been, very minimal. Instead of abdicating oneself and begging intoxicated rulers to do something, we could try something else. What’s to be done?
I did enjoy some aspects of the new BRIT-era Botanic Garden. The Texas Native Forest boardwalk is nicely done; I’m referring to the actual physical boardwalk, which is well-built and fun to walk on. It’s clearly good to protect against some of the trash and decay that had built up over the Garden’s long years (the myriad disrepair was cited as a main reason to give the management to BRIT); of course, rather than the helpfully educating employees I proposed above, it seems the same strategy has been used as with public schools: governments underfund schools/parks, then victim-blame schools/parks for the resulting problems (e.g., trash build-up), and finally give them away in sweetheart deals to industry as the supposed saviors. Anyhow, this is supposed to be the good section!
Regarding governance, whether of car washes and parks or anything larger or smaller, it’s sad that large-scale democracy — clearly better than outright fascism — similarly turns, eventually, into oligarchy (rule by the few): remember that 2014 study by Princeton University and Northwestern University professors who found the United States to be an oligarchy? The Italian sociologist Robert Michels’s infamous iron law of oligarchy from 1911 states: “He who says organization, says oligarchy.” In other words, Michels argues that oligarchy can’t be avoided. Refuting such dark fatalism is the goal of philosopher Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books, so I recommend those thought-provoking texts to readers.
As for reconnecting with Nature, consider this menu of options:
Learn orienteering (using a map and compass well). It helps individuals perceive and identify landforms and direct travel safely. In contrast, I’ve found relying on GPS blinds me to my environment. I have the third edition of champion orienteer Björn Kjellström’s book Be Expert With Map & Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook, but have sadly yet to read it. Looks really good though. Surprises me that most locals in Washington state and Oregon cannot name the various mountain peaks visible in the distance. Compare that with the worldbuilding/setting in better fantasy novels, as in Le Guin’s and Tolkein’s, in which you have a sense as you read that certain differing, named mountain peaks are northward while such-and-such plateaus are in this other compass direction, etc.
Use field-guiding books to identify plants and animals. Field-guiding improves visual ability overall and helps you learn names of plants and animals, in whole but also their various parts, as well as their ecosystems and the dependencies within those ecosystems. There are also ways to learn about the medicinal benefits of various plants, such as books or communities around such topics. Wandering around peering at birds or plants, a field guide in hand, also makes a good cover story for sneaking around to spy on what resource corporations are up to.
Read Ursula K. Le Guin’s middle and later fiction, which stresses the importance of leaving hyped-up “heroic” (adrenalized?) states, or just using them temporarily, and appreciating, and usually residing in, a calmer, seemingly slower approach to life. For instance, her 2000 Hainish science fiction novel The Telling describes the protagonist’s preference for conversation topics: “She heard about them, their cousins, their families, their jobs, their opinions, their houses, their hernias […] These dull and fragmentary relations of ordinary lives could not bore her. Everything she had missed in Dovza City, everything the official literature, the heroic propaganda left out, they told. If she had to choose between heroes and hernias, it was no contest.” The protagonist prefers to hear not about puffed-up heroes, but about everyday struggles with hernias. (Perhaps an exaggeration to make the high-contrast point, as the protagonist is heroic herself, as are her comrades, in a good way, unlike the official heroes of the state propaganda.)
For me, outdoor camping is intimidating for a variety of reasons, several of them irrational. But baby steps such as visiting parks, or going on day hikes (or running mountain trails!), can lead down the road to more challenging adventures. There are tons of websites and online communities around camping, but also around the simpler excursion styles. Even walking or jogging city trails can be adventurous. For instance, Seattle has a Seattle Trails Alliance; maybe an urban location near you has similar. I usually prefer going alone, but some enjoy having a travel buddy.
Somebody could make it a goal to liberate the Fort Worth Botanic Garden plants and figure out the steps to achieve it.
Any or all of the above have more “political” implications than might seem evident at first glance. Because a healthy society is made up of heathly individuals.
Compare liberation — such as reconnecting with Nature — with the practice of taking cold showers. I have two friends in Seattle who take cold showers every morning. At first, they told me, it was miserable. But soon after, they acclimated, got stronger, and the cold showers became enjoyable. Feeling their vitality in the morning became enjoyable. Strengthening yourself should feel good. If it doesn’t, or if it seems an abstract duty to be fulfilled like an awful chore, maybe you’re still heavily weakened by the wider world, and need to piece together the baby steps for escaping the damage and the comfort zones. Given the way things are going, the sooner each person improves how harmoniously they interact with Nature, the better. Nature isn’t going anywhere, and as time goes on, She’ll have more and more blunt things to say to us all.
News blasts: Cuba and Texas
Cuba) More than six decades ago on the Carribean island of Cuba, the U.S.-backed right-wing Fulgencio Batista military dictatorship, which accommodated U.S. organized crime and human trafficking, was overthrown, resulting in the rise of leader Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. Prior to that leftist revolution in the fifties, the United States murdered thousands of Cubans. Since Fidel Castro took power and continuing today, the United States has harassed Cuba, including via an ongoing economic embargo/blockade (called by Cubans “el bloqueo“) enforced not by navy, but by law and sanctions. The embargo is an effort to collapse the Cuban trade economy. It causes much poverty there. Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted in favor of resolutions calling for an end to el bloqueo, the most prolonged embargo in modern history. Even recently, the United States made it difficult for expatriate Cubans to send money (“remittances”) home to the island, where some 11 million people live today. However, Reuters reported this month that the Biden administration might ease those remittance restrictions soon, and might also lift the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation that Trump hurled at Cuba like a curse days before he left the White House. These hints by the Biden administration are likely trial balloons, a way for the Biden admistration to test the waters by observing others’ reactions, and were publicly made probably due to the protests in Cuba earlier this month — I’ll get to those in a second. Another way the U.S. has harassed the country has been via a travel ban that has at times prevented ordinary US citizens from going to Cuba as tourists. There are many nuances of this ban, which has thickened or loosened with time and different White House administrations, which I won’t get into the weeds of here. The ban has served to keep USians ignorant of Cuba, as they are of most countries and most of humanity currently alive. The ban has also served to sabotage Cuba’s tourism industry. Cuba initially closed its borders for the pandemic, which also hurt its tourism industry severely. An additional item that should be mentioned as background before getting to the protests: the very high-quality Cuban healthcare system. At a former web directory for criminology professor Dr. James Unnever, there’s a short paper on that system, I believe written by Dr. Unnever, though I’m not exactly sure who wrote the paper, nor when. The paper more or less fits with what I know from others who have told me about their experiences in Cuba. Further, a YAC.news article from 12 July 2021, “Why are Cubans protesting and how can you help?” (the source for much of this Cuba news blast) states:
The small island nation of Cuba has one of the world’s best healthcare systems even after an ongoing embargo and sabotage campaign by the United States […]
In Cuba, there is a health center per 25,000 [people], neighbourhood clinic per 5,000 people, and a personal family doctor per 500 people. In [the capital city of] Havana alone, there is a clinic in virtually every street corner, each with a family doctor and nurse. Health workers nationwide have been out in full capacity visiting patients at every home. They have been educating residents about the new Cuban-made coronavirus vaccine [called “Abdala”] and informing them it has arrived while setting up appointments for vaccination.
Throughout 2020 Cuba largely kept the [novel corona]virus beyond its shores, [but] the number of infected patients is […] now rising fast, with a record-breaking 2,698 new daily cases on Saturday [July 10], and a seven-day average now above 2,000 [as of July 12]. Cuba is facing the biggest known surge in the Caribbean. Critics of the Cuban government’s failure to contain the virus point out the government’s approval of foreign tourists, according to sources on the ground, specifically Russian tourists. They claim that the virus was allowed in despite warnings from the healthcare community. [Meanwhile] the island is undergoing an economic crisis and healthcare emergency as inflation and COVID continue to rise.
In Cuba, all citizens receive health care free of charge. According to the YAC.news article, “In the past several years, [Cuban] health workers have eradicated polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. The amount of malnutrition among 1-15 year olds is 0.7%, compared with 5% in the United States. Initially based in hospitals, the Cuban health system evolved into a primary care system that is based in communities”. The Cuban medical system prioritizes preventive care, public participation, community interventions, and a very high ratio of primary-care doctors to citizens. With those priorities inexpensively driving their health care system, the Cuban population scores very high on health measures. Yet I’m curious to know 1) Aside from human health, what was the strategy around the Castro government making medicine a sort of “unique sales point” in the international trade economy, and 2) how does the Cuban healthcare system approach severe mental health problems?
That finishes up the background on Cuba. Now, to the protests, which made news in mid-July.
Earlier this month in Cuba, thousands of protesters hit the streets countrywide, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down; Sunday 11 July was one of the biggest protests the country has seen in more than two and a half decades. Diaz-Canel angered the protesters because of Cuba’s growing inflation and other trade economy woes, plus his government’s failure to contain COVID-19 since it let infected travellers in. These are legitimate local grievances. Reuters reported some violence by security forces against protesters, and notes that mobile internet (and thus widespread social media) was introduced to the country only two-and-a-half years ago, a huge factor in prompting civil unrest of whatever sorts.
While the protestors correctly have a point, the U.S. media megaphone, along with U.S. thinktanks and others, have used the local anger as a way to boost unhelpful voices calling for serious destabilization of the Cuban government in such a way as to benefit foreign interests, including United States interests. This has made following the protests online, via the #SOScuba hashtag for example, a bit confusing.
The YAC.news article also says:
Due to the lack of resources on the island an international campaign has been launched to supply the island with the materials needed for syringes. The campaign is being led by Cuba’s diaspora and international solidarity movements. Global Health Partners (GHP), a New York-based non-profit, has launched a campaign to address a shortage of 20 million syringes. Bob Schwartz, GHP’s vice president, told international media, “To date, we’ve purchased four million syringes. We hope to purchase an additional two million”
Those who might wish to help with the GHP syringe collection campaign for Cuba’s vaccine rollout are directed here. I’ll note that a shortage of syringes in the United States federal stockpile was a problem noted early on in the U.S. response to novel coronavirus by Health and Human Services Dept. whistleblower Dr. Rick A. Bright. It’s mentioned in his whistleblower complaint from May 2020, in which Dr Bright explains how he was retaliated against by the Trump administration for insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19″ (among other related reasons).
Back to Cuba, the twitterati also verbally sparred over blaming the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which is only one member of the U.S. “intelligence community” (a pro-spy rebranding of the more exact descriptor “spy agencies”). No smoking gun has surfaced proving meddling by specifically the CIA in these July Cuban protests. Surely the CIA is interested in Cuba, and history gives many examples of CIA-sponsored assassinations and coups in the Central and South Americas, see for instance Operation Condor and Operation Northwoods. But the twitterati spoke as if CIA meddling had already been definitively proven. It costs nothing and takes little effort to tweet opinions; investigation to find proof takes serious time, money, and effort.
Last time I checked, the U.S. has 16 or 17 (depending on how you count) spy agencies on the federal level. For instance, the FBI, the Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, and many other federal agencies all have spy bureaus that are part of the so-called intelligence community. There’s also the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and still others. Maybe the newly minted Space Force, the fifth Pentagon branch, has a spy agency component; if so, that would bring the total up to 17 or 18. And that’s just one country, the United States. There are nearly 200 other countries. I’d wager almost all of them have at least one spy agency; most probably have many more.
The tunnel-vision focus of twitterati on the CIA would be like — let’s assume the demons of Abrahmic religions are real for a moment — Christians, hooked on televangelists, seeing Satan behind every misfortune, and refusing to consider what roles in the misfortune might have been played by the Ifrit of Islam, or Samyaza from the Book of Enoch, or hundreds of other demons. With hundreds of spy agency opponents to choose from, it’d be best to find evidence, set goals, and execute, rather than compete to see who can yell “CIA” the loudest, which ultimately just ends up advertising the spy agency that the activists say they hope to obliterate. (Something JFK also hoped to do!)
The Cuban authorities admitted in tweets that a government website had been taken down by denial-of-service attacks. Anons participating in #OpCuba claimed responsibility. More on that in a 14 July 2021 YAC.news article.
Texas) Some concluding thoughts about my approximately two weeks in North Texas. My trip improved as time went on, though the humongous Nissan Armada the rental car company stuck me with (see last week’s post) did start to sink: the check engine light came on some 48 hours prior to my flight home departing. But I turned the gargantuan vehicle back in at the airport no problem. No harm, no foul, I suppose. As my trip continued, I discovered more research data (for family and personal history) than I expected, including some fascinating and healing revelations that are too private to share on a main channel like this. Catching up with friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a long time was beneficial as well, and sometimes revealing about both sides in the interactions, in expected ways, yet also in unexpected ways. Bottom line: people are always changing, even if slowly; there’s no stasis outside abstraction; the only question is, will the changes be for the worse, or for the better? The changes are more evident when you haven’t seen someone offline in eight or so years. Three additional observations about North Texas in July 2021 might be of general interest. First, as at some Seattle places, multiple restaurants in Fort Worth are doing away with paper or laminated menus altogether, forcing customers to scan QR codes. Are laminated menus environmentally friendly, or are they plastic? Either way, you can’t even obtain a regular menu by asking, since they’re all gone. What about customers who don’t have phones, or who use their devices atypically? Avoiding needless paper is great, but everyone carrying around EMF-generating phones to scan QR graphics isn’t my preference: here are thousands of categorized studies showing EMF harms. I solved the problem by looking at the menus the stores had pasted on the windows. Or just using the blasted QR codes, if I had a phone handy. (In Colombia, where protests against president Iván Duque’s narco-state are ongoing, the cops are considering replacing their badge ID numbers with QR codes, which are small and difficult to scan for those with phones and impossible for those without; making matters worse, the public still has to know the cop’s badge ID number to get from the QR code to the actual identity, meaning, I think, the cop’s legal name.) Second point: I heard more Spanish spoken in North Texas than I used to hear, this trip. Maybe it’s a change in me and what I notice, but it could be (or could also be) Spanish speakers feeling safer or more comfortable asserting their primary language. That’s a change for the better. Finally, I got a chance to try out Belently’s Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant on Blue Bonnet Circle. Their all-vegan menu offers many gluten-free items, and their walls, painted wonderful colors, include delightful murals. That’s opposed to the default no-color beige walls that white people in the United States typically have in their homes and stores. Vegans, including those who also avoid gluten as I do, now have three strong vegan-specific options in Fort Worth that I can highly recommend: the long-standing Spiral Diner (largely comfort food and thus not the healthiest), the new Boulevard of Greens with organic juices (including beet juice!) and bowls (including broccoli and quinoa!), and Belently’s Love. See, even Texas changes.
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Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 28 of 52; omg, the year’s more than halfway done.
I was travelling through central Washington state and northeast Oregon for a few weeks earlier this summer — now, in mid-July, I’m visiting my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas for not quite half a month. Besides seeing family and friends, I’m here to do research of a personal sort. Yet after six years as a Seattle resident, I can’t help noticing several things about the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, some bad, some good. I’ll share those observations. I was going to then provide news blasts about the current situations in Cuba, Haiti, and Germany, but this entry simply grew too long, and I gotta do some other stuff. Hopefully next week I’ll take on news blasts for those three countries. I’m an untimely fellow.
Bad stuffabout North Texas
Gridlock) Aside from traffic jams and the Lone Star State’s uniquely deregulated, isolated power grid — meaning during disastrous outages (including this year), Texas, its leaders boasting with pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps lies, cannot, unlike all other 47 contiguous states, receive energy sent as assistance from beyond its borders; the privatized electric system has yet to be fixed or replaced, even though lawmakers knew of its vulnerabilities: they chose to serve the power companies instead — I want to talk about another type of Texan gridlock. In Seattle, multitudinous fairy-tale roads wind up hills, passing idiosyncratic houses with quirky paint jobs, and in the distance are bridges, sailboats, mountains. Many of my Seattleite friends have never lived anywhere else, nor have they ever been to the South. Comparing my place of birth with the Emerald City’s highly commercial Northgate neighborhood (an exception to the usual Seattle beauty), I tell them North Texas is primarily composed of tract houses, billboards, strip malls, fast food joints, and car dealerships. That truth was really evident from the sky as my flight descended toward DFW Airport. During landing, I was reading the first chapter in a thought-provoking collection of essays from 2006, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.: Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes. It’s research for my fiction project set at least partially in northeast Oregon and 2036, because all time connects, and the colonial histories of NE Oregon often begin by trumpeting the settlers Lewis and Clark, whose expedition, commissioned by slaveowner Thomas Jefferson, journeyed, between 1803 and 1806, from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Northwest coast and back to St. Louis, thanks to aid from the enslaved, pregnant, and raped Sacagawea, of the Shoshoni and aged merely fourteen to sixteen years or so at the time of Lewis and Clark’s wrongly idolized quest. That’s not the version you heard in school, right? In the United States we aren’t taught the truth that Jefferson’s top goal for the expedition was establishing evermore commerce, nor that the explorers called the indigenous peoples Jefferson’s “children,” an insult that should call to mind Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Rivers also have hidden truths… In his essay Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars, in the Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes collection, Vine Deloria Jr. discusses how “Rivers do not, as a rule, create long straight embankments.” Indeed, rivers move over time, something a character mentions early in Cynthia Shearer’s excellent 2004 novel The Celestial Jukebox: “What you looking at there used to be the Mississippi River. Long time ago the river moved itself over […] River just change its mind and move sometime.” As the virtual flight attendants on the seatback televisions were politely ordering me to stow my tray table in the upright position, Deloria Jr. was telling me how Lewis and Clark misinterpreted Missouri River sandbar deposits, insisting with Enlightenment rationality that measurable straight lines must exist to explain the deposits as human-made, when actually they were natural phenomena. Lewis and Clark didn’t understand how chaotic rivers and Nature are. I glanced out the airplane window, and below, behold, North Texas, designed and coerced into “rationality” by long straight lines everywhere. Tract houses separated by long straight congested roads. Like some Cartesian grid Texans are all locked into. The pain caused by living apart from Nature should not be underestimated, even if Texan natives aren’t aware of it, as I wasn’t for a long time, though toward the end of my residency in Texas (I left at the end of 2015), I was frequently going to parks for just that reason. It makes me think of the ideology implicit in the 1991 Super Nintendo game SimCity, which I spent countless hours playing as a kid.
A well-known strategy among SimCity gamers is to create “donut” neighborhoods: squares imposed on the land, usually in nine-by-nine arrangements, with train tracks or roads boxing them in, and a park in the middle to appease the unhappy residents. In SimCity, players are rewarded for engineering such supposedly rational cities. In real urban life, rivers are forced to flow “logically” in straight lines, like trees in some parks, lined up in discrete pots. As a video game-playing kid, I didn’t quite understand that these efficiency setups clash with harmonious ways of living with land, though I did play in undeveloped lots regularly, needing that. To be honest, not until very recently did I put two and two together, comparing rivers in rural areas with rivers in urban places, although a 2019 Seattle Public Library exhibit did briefly puncture my conventional consciousness on the subject. In Fort Worth, I grew up walking and jogging on the sidewalks by the Trinity River, and just assumed the embankments were naturally steep and unchanging, shaped conveniently for urban planners to impose at a moment’s notice, above either edge, unchanging sidewalks…
Despite Seattle’s beauty, the same story plays out there, too. Unfortunately I haven’t read it yet, but BJ Cummings’ 2020 bookThe River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish looks amazing from this interview and this review. The book talks about how without displacing Salish indigenous peoples and trashing and forcibly diverting the Duwamish River, the city of Seattle as we know it wouldn’t exist. There would be no city forums for identitarians to debate which sect should get paid more wages for helping corporations drive us extinct. And in contrast to the dolla dolla bill, let’s-go-extinct-ASAP civilization of biz, which argues each individual is an autonomous sole proprietor capable of not caring what anyone else thinks, and worthy of paralyzing shame for any mistake actually caused by corporate destruction, I hope my discussion of rivers and gridlock — not to mention what volcano Mount Rainier and the Cascadia Subduction Zone might have to say — helps to show how people are in fact creatures of their environments, which of course doesn’t remove each individual’s responsibility to fight for something better. It’s interesting, too, how fiction-writing instructors typically badger writers into obsessing over their supposedly autonomous characters’ ex nihilo motivations, rather than learning about the settings they’re in: for instance, how does the local power grid, or train track, or river characterize a protagonist, or for that matter, a protagonist’s grandparents or neighbors? The so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 1950s presented familyless protagonists singlehandedly subduing the universe; but in the ’90s, science fiction writer Octavia Butler presented characters with extended families walking fiery highways as refugees, an entirely different take on life.
Coronavirus confusions) From observation, I guesstimate that ten percent, or fewer, of North Texans are masking. As of 16 July ’21, for Texans ages 18 and up, only 53.9% are fully vaccinated and only about 62.6% are partly vaccinated (one jab of a two-jab series). By way of comparison, in King County, home of Seattle, as of the same date and for ages 16 and up, 75% of residents are fully vaccinated, and 80.7% of residents are partly vaccinated. That’s all according to public health data managed by regional government entities. As for masking, given my observations a few weeks ago, in the Seattle areas that might be described as very progressive or Green Party-ish politically, for instance, inside co-ops selling organic foods, I’d guesstimate that indoors, 90+% of people are masking. How this came to be so politicized, I’ll address in a moment.
A disproportionately high number of those masking in North Texas are individuals categorized on bureaucratic paperwork as minorities (and then identitarian activists tell us we must all heed our opponents’ paperwork). Sometimes those groups tend to have less resources to pay for healthcare yet simultaneously tend to sometimes have more empathy and altruism, gifts of being slotted into negative image roles (differing from the idealized images, you know, white businessmen in suits and the like, who tend to live in grandiose, puffed-up headspaces). Because some of the people I’m visiting indoors are elderly, I wore a high-quality mask the whole time, and received mockery for it. In crowded North Texas restaurants, diners aren’t masking whatsoever. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that’s fine if you’re vaccinated; the UN-based World Health Organization (WHO) disagrees, telling even vaccinated people to mask, since they might be asymptomatic carriers — however, growing evidence suggests those vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are far less likely to be asymptomatic carriers; studies are underway in this regard for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and in rare instances, vaccinated people can still become diseased with COVID-19 (a “breakthrough” case), including as a sufferer of Long COVID. Adding to everyone’s confusion, the CDC stopped actively tracking all breakthrough cases, and now tracks only breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death. Meanwhile, the Delta variant of the virus, a more contagious mutation that grows faster inside people’s respiratory tracts than the original, currently accounts for at least a fifth of all United States cases, and COVID-19 is now on the rise in every US state; Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, just resumed mandating masks. Getting two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as I did in March, is effective in protecting against the Delta mutation (though less effective than against the original novel coronavirus), so that’s the basis on which I’m travelling (while masking, handwashing, physically distancing, and meeting only outside insofar as possible), plus the greatly decreased likelihood of a person with an mRNA vaccination being an asymptomatic carrier, something a Harvard-trained doctor I know puts his trust in. Apparently the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines similarly protect decently, though not perfectly, against Delta. Perhaps surprisingly, nobody on my flight to Texas (I’ve yet to fly back to Seattle) caused any trouble; each passenger masked as required without incident. Based on this 2018 study suggesting window seat airline passengers are least likely to catch respiratory illnesses, I got window seats. But SNAFUs (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) prevented me from getting tested knowledgeably, namely not receiving a timely response back from my primary care physician regarding how vaccination affects COVID-19 tests, likely because her underling completely didn’t answer my question. I asked something like: “How does being vaccinated, versus unvaccinated, affect COVID-19 serology and PCR test results?” And they replied something like, “Are you wondering what type of test you should get?” And it’s like, answer my question or link me to an answer! I’ve taken to replying to such responses, or front-loading my questions with, “If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to just say that,” and I find interlocuters usually react better. Instead of them trying to extract my motivations. Really, I should have figured out about the testing myself. But testing-while-vaccinated is another example of coronavirus confusions people are enduring. I’ve shown zero symptoms, not even mild ones, since the pandemic began; in fact, I haven’t had any sort of respiratory illness in years and years, probably owing in part to a vegan/glutenfree and low-sugar diet as well as frequent cardiovascular exercise and better sleep than in my past. That’s not to brag; it’s to link you to experience and info that might help. Best I can figure from the CDC in July ’21, for vaccinated people, serology tests to detect past infections no longer work (due to confounding with the vaccine-produced antibodies), but swab tests to detect current presence of the virus do still work. I’d like to get that done prior to spending extensive time with (vaccinated) elderly people indoors, just to be on the safe side; will see how that goes in North Texas. Finally, as for all this being politicized, let’s not forget in February 2020, the Jeffrey Epstein associate and likely Putin asset, former and probably forthcoming US president Donald Trump called coronavirus a “hoax” (as he calls global warming a “hoax”), and his administration punished US Health and Human Services Department whistleblower Dr Rick A. Bright for Bright’s insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” At least two-thirds of a million people dead of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic started, a decrease in population handy for the oligarchs who, thanks to advanced technology, no longer need as many toiling masses. Locking down hard everywhere for just 100 days would end coronavirus; that’s feasible (see New Zealand’s zero-COVID approach), yet the authorities in the US and elsewhere apparently do what they can to ensure COVID-19 continues, a new permanent paradigm of endless variants, a bit like 9/11 introduced a new permanent paradigm, terrorists as military targets instead of law enforcement suspects and everyone a potential terrorist. Well, maybe the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine will help. Or maybe people will read about coronaviruses prior to 2020 so that they understand masking against respiratory illnesses is a sensible precaution commonly done elsewhere for decades — not tyranny. Next thing you know, libertarians will whine about having their freedumb right to litter taken. I do think those badgering vaccine-hesitant people generally need to have better appreciation for why so many are correctly suspicious of conventional science and conventional medicine, though quacks exist in the alternative science/medicine realm as well, see “the disinformation dozen” spreading fear, uncertainty, doubt, and denial around the coronavirus vaccines. As the last few years have especially shown, propping up subject matter celebs like Neil deGrasse Tyson or whomever, conventional or alternative, and then trying to cheerlead them into winning an advertising blitz on behalf of vaccines or whatever else, is insufficient; having a propagandized public is harmful, whereas having a public capable of self-education is helpful. That requires overhauling our information system.
The Decline of North Texas Civilization) I’ve been in Fort Worth a full week, and I get a general sense of exhaustion and torpor from Texans. I’m also witnessing little things falling apart. It’s just an anecdotal observation, but the motel I’m staying in — the same as when I last visited two years ago — is even more run-down this time around. When I arrived, the bed lacked pillows, the bathroom lacked towels, and various objects were broken. I’m not the kind of picky person who makes a fuss over such minutiae; the point is merely that North Texas appears to be slowly breaking down. The world has moved on, as those Stephen King Gunslinger books say. I feel tired and lazy, too, which I think is probably a partial result of the overall lower quality of life here, decreases in things like water quality, relative to Seattle. Although that could be my imagination, or more about the odd feelings I’m experiencing around being back here. Except for family member funerals possibly, I don’t think I’ll return to Texas any after this, which is a big change to accept internally. I’m finding the research information I was looking for, and long-ago acquaintances don’t want to meet face to face, probably because deep down, we both know we’re no longer actually friends with a fun energetic connection, or even shared values and interests, beyond fairly superficial things like Star Trek … so that makes sense. I was just curious how their lives have played out, and if they have anything new and exciting to say. Despite half the region now differing — a change I’ll get to below — at least half this region will still likely celebrate the probable return of a Donald Trump presidency, howling once again their bloodthirsty approval for his ideas like bombing accused terrorists’ innocent civilian family members. I hope someday even more people emphatically and consistently insist loudly that adopting If they aren’t paying your bills, then fuck ’em as a civilization-wide strategy has negative consequences for all.
Good stuffabout North Texas
Refuge) Prior to my leaving for the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2015, Fort Worth had only one dedicated vegan restaurant, the noteworthy Spiral Diner on Magnolia Avenue in the Near Southside neighborhood. That neighborhood has continued to develop admirably since I lived here, although I don’t know what the unhappy underbelly might be. Of course, besides Spiral Diner, restaurants for pho and thai and other non-USian (“ethnic”) vegan-friendly food have existed in North Texas for a long time, I think particularly in Arlington (where, an elderly Republican in Fort Worth, panicking from a diet of FOX News, once told me, non-white terrorists are assuredly lurking and soon coming to get us). But now, in 2021, there are more, specifically vegan restaurants even here in Cowtown. There’s Belently’s Love on Bluebonnet Circle, which I haven’t tried yet, serving TexMex. There’s also the amazing Boulevard of Greens, where everything is vegan and gluten-free. They offer a number of smoothies, juices, bowls (including with quinoa and broccoli!), and other invigorating items. Boulevard of Greens really has shifted my visit from miserable to manageable.
It also deserves mentioning that North Texas, especially Fort Worth, has a lot of art museums and other cultural institutions. There’s the Modern Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Kimball Art Museum. I’ll probably go see this exhibition at the Amon Carter of work by a photographer born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The perfectionism of the classical music world can be misery- and stress-inducing, but the performances associated with the Fort Worth-based Van Cliburn Foundation can still be beautiful. And besides art, North Texas has plenty of parks. There’s a once frequent, but now rare due to that “rationally imposed” urban development, ecosystem in Arlington, a bog with unusual plants and animals, that I went to years ago. And of course, the excellent Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where I’ve gone many times. More than a decade ago, I wrote a blog post about a specific tree there, the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW!
Before the pandemic at least, there were also multiple enjoyable bars/nightclubs with live rock music, that I used to frequent. I can’t find it in me to look up if there are any outdoor shows by musicians I once knew. Guess I just don’t relate to Texas anymore. Reminds me of the song “I’m Not From Here” by the great James McMurtry, himself born in Fort Worth: “Hit my home town a couple years back / Hard to say just how it felt / But it looked like so many towns I might’ve been through on my way to somewhere else […] We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”
Wait, what?) Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, has long been one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states, Texas. But in the 2020 presidential election, Tarrant County went blue for Biden. Unfortunately, discussions of elections are dependent — a point still not often acknowledged — on secret, corporate, closed-source computerized vote-tallying. Who counted your vote, name the person! Where was your vote counted, go to the place! Can’t answer those, can you? Yet in the past in the United States, and in the present in Australia and elsewhere, people use(d) handmarked paper ballots, and the ballots were/are counted publicly, observably. Here’s a book and another book on the topic, worth reading. Not to mention the problems with democracy altogether (including direct, representative, and liquid): propagandizing hundreds of millions of people to come to an oversimplified consensus on things that don’t affect them and that they don’t know about, among other troubles. Anyway, I digressed. It’s just interesting to see my hometown turning blue for the first time in my life, if turning blue it indeed has. How can a person begin to appreciate perspectives considered very far-out, like anarchism, if they’re terrified of, or get screamed at or worse for, something as mild as voting for a Democrat? It takes a lot of strength to be a dissident. Maybe the reportedly Biden-blue Tarrant County heralds a change for the better for North Texas.
The Big Wheels, and Dignity) Since there’s little to no public transit in North Texas, I had to book a rental car for my trip. I reserved a polite, Seattle-sized compact vehicle (i.e., very small) and a GPS unit, one of those add-on devices that suction-cups to the front of the automobile. (Yes, I know most people just use their smartphones.) When I arrived, of course the rental car company had overbooked to protect itself against cancellations, so with few cancellations, there were no GPS units available. (And the capitalist Texans explain to each under how “rational” and “Enlightened” this system is, versus the depositories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, where nobody owns non-personal items, so if you want an object, just go grab one from the nearby depository, maintained by people who like to do that sort of thing and receive social approval for it.) With no add-on GPS units, the Alamo rental car company (Forget the Alamo, lol) asked me if I was okay with a car that had built-in GPS. I said yes. Except the only vehicle they had with built-in GPS was a Nissan Armada! It’s a full-size, Texas-sized SUV so huge it makes Suburbans and Hummers look tiny. I actually had trouble in a parking garage because the Armada almost hit the ceiling, and almost couldn’t squeeze through the entry lanes, you know with the lowered gate where you take your ticket. In US schools, you hear the word “armada” in connection with the Spanish Armada, a fleet which in battle with the British was completely destroyed! Maybe the Nissan marketers figured no one would remember such a trivial detail as the armada sinking. Once I figured out how to adapt my driving for the Armada — it brakes more slowly than a smaller car, for instance — I started having a hilarious time driving this ridiculous battleship, as a lone guy without a family to pack the air-conditioned seats. All other passenger cars, tiny next to my vehicle, fearfully defer to the surprisingly fast Armada, so I can easily change lanes at whim, king of the road in my big wheels. Guilty pleasure. More seriously, the Armada has Sirius XM satellite radio, enabling me to listen to — wait for it — Ozzy’s Boneyard. A few days ago, the channel/station/whatever was playing an interview with Ross Halfin. The rock photographer told a story about how, in short, a Led Zeppelin member (I forget which) disrespected him in person. Halfin said that after that, he decided never to let anyone else diss him similarly again; the radio hosts murmured their approval. What strikes me about this otherwise mundane conversation is that Halfin didn’t specify the means-whereby, how, he’d ensure others wouldn’t disrespect him — and the hosts didn’t ask. What actions does Halfin take when someone tries to disrespect him in person? What words does he say, and how does he say them? I mean, he (or most anyone) could say something like, Hey fuck you, I don’t take this kind of shit, a string of words that doesn’t exactly require a Ph.D. in Rhetoric to formulate (in fact, most intelligentsia I meet are completely clueless how to handle confrontational situations, stuck abstracting in their ivory towers). While bullies usually back down, what do you do if the bully doesn’t back down? What if it comes to fisticuffs, and what if you’re concerned about getting indicted for assault afterward? I’ve never seen a flowchart for this sort of thing, how to protect one’s dignity, the details. I think it’s extremely important and very overlooked. Insults have a way of piling up over the years, breaking down a person who’s never learned how to respond to them skillfully and quickly, making the person fall prey to internalized oppression and making the person suffer all sorts of health and psychological/sociological problems. Didn’t the civil rights movement in the ’60s address this? What if you don’t want to do a strictly nonviolence-only approach, perhaps because you’re itching to say, Hey shithead, cut it out, or I’m gonna run you over with my Nissan Armada! (Unless it sinks.) If you want to waste eight minutes of your life, here’s Out of Spec Reviews’ youtube take from DFW Airport on the 2021 Nissan Armada, so you can actually see this big-ass Behemoth. Or read about problems of car culture instead.
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Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This entry is number 27 of 52.I took the two Rosario Beach photographs on 3 July 2021.
Note: I added a note to my post two weeks ago that mentioned the media noise around “critical race theory.” In short, the note provides this link to readers:https://pastebin.com/Ex3AmsEz. It’s a collection of a hundred or so thought-provoking questions on the topic of race, for instance: “How many races do you think there are? What are they?” For my post three weeks ago regarding compounding pharmacies, I added a quick note making my argument in the last paragraph more explicit.
The recent Pacific Northwest heat dome broke regional records for hottest recorded temperatures ever — Seattle hit 108° F / 42.2° C; Washington state capital Olympia 110° F / 42.2° C; Portland Oregon 116° F / 46.6 °C; Chelan county in eastern Washington 119° F / 48.3° C; Lytton in southern British Columbia 121.3° F / 49.6° C before getting largely destroyed by wildfire — reminding Cascadia residents, who typically don’t have home air conditioning, that climate change has their area, too, in its crosshairs. Hundreds of people died, and along Canada’s coast, more than a billion marine animals were cooked to death due to the mass casualty event (as Multnomah county declared it). Depending on which experts you trust, the catastrophic heat wave was either worsened by, or outright couldn’t have happened without, human-caused global warming. Humans as in me, you, and the world’s most powerful predators, their names named and biographies analyzed by Spooky Connections in an effort to end impunity.
More disaster is on the way. The nonprofit news organization Climate Central, which as of summer 2019 listed rather mainstream funding — Goldman Sachs Charitable, several universities, the National Science Foundation, and so on — runs a Surging Seas project online. That undertaking includes an interactive map where you can pick a decade (2030, 2040, 2050, and so on), configure various other settings, and view sea level rise projections for any place you pick. The sea level rises will happen for chiefly two reasons: first, soaring temperatures heat water up, enlarging it, and second, ice that’s land-based (i.e., not currently part of the ocean), will melt, thus entering the ocean for the first time and swelling it. Given moderate scenarios, the neighborhood where I currently live, part of the West Seattle peninsula, is expected to be underwater within just 29 years.
Information about global warming dangers streams in constantly from all sectors of life. The Pentagon has longconsidered climate change a threat to its abilities to threaten others. The Union of Concerned Scientists, in June 2018, produced a short report on the real estate implications of global warming-driven sea level rise in the contiguous United States; their analysis places hundreds of thousands of residential and commercial properties at risk of inundation across the next 30 years. The Seattle-based nonprofit news organization Grist offers regular reporting about climate change, including a Solutions Lab with articles amplifying positive ideas and efforts. Just the other day I watched someone draw #GreenNewDeal on the chalkboard of a pizza joint.
“Don’t hate the media, become the media.” — Jello Biafra
Like the temperature, the propaganda war (“the debate”) looks set to intensify. This past week, the New York Times published an article about Fox Weather, Rupert Murdoch’s 24/7 channel to debut later this year as a competitor to The Weather Channel. Fox Weather will be both cable television and digitally offered, “part of a digital push by the Murdoch family,” as the NYT piece puts it. Fox Weather will be “overseen by Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, and Sharri Berg, a longtime Fox executive who helped launch Fox News at its inception in 1996.” As my personal experience with television types showed me, and as the excellent 1976 dark comedy film Network shows viewers, or heck, as even Alfred Bester’s schlocky 1950s novel The Rat Race shows readers, the employees in that industry are amoral careerists, interested in ratings and dollars, not prosocial behavior and truth.
Back to the New York Times article:
“All the networks are ramping up for this,” said Jay Sures, a co-president of United Talent Agency who oversees its TV division. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that climate change and the environment will be the story of the next decade.”
It’s well-documented that FOX News has been teaching climate change denialism, and converting conservatives from their initial pro-GreenNewDeal positions to their current anti-GreenNewDeal positions, but I think there’s something more to the picture. A pharmacologically sedated population entrained by glowing screens, their minds filled with red political messiahs versus blue political messiahs, is easy to divide and rule. If that sounds kooky, consider that a few years time was all it took to turn red Romneycare into blue Obamacare, and Joe “I’m a proud capitalist” Biden’s infrastructure plan might end up merely a GOP plan, despite Dems controlling both Congressional houses and the White House. In other words, the duopoly is one party if you have enough functioning memory to not be fooled by the passage of a few years and the costume changes from red to blue or back again. Besides that point — which is a bit remedial and applies more to Boomer television-watchers; younger generations in the United States seem more politically astute, though not always — when global warming becomes undeniable, and displacing oreliminating populations becomes an even more overtly acknowledged strategy, FOX Weather will be there to explain why it’s necessary and good, like we saw in the pandemic context when in March 2020, Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick on FOX News bluntly said that grandparents should be sacrificed to coronavirus in order to protect trade.
Indie media is far superior to either the FOX insanity or the blue weaksauce of polite sites such as CBS News affiliates or, despite its useful sea level rise interactive map, Climate Central. Or, going further than weaksauce, consider Carl Bernstein’s reporting for Rolling Stone in 1977, showing the US media, with its globally powerful megaphone, working hand-in-glove with the Central Intelligence Agency; that’s something that’s no longer anything an investigator like Bernstein has to labor to uncover, since CIA agents openly run for federal office as Democrats nowadays (part one, part two), and despite reading my WhoWhatWhy article about him, people I know are still really into former CIA chief John Brennan, Obama’s assassination and torture czar, like an idol.
Compared with the above folks, DIY individuals or small squads, perhaps with barely used paypal buttons (ahem), constantly put out better material — tracking corporate destruction of the environment, including climate change, @OpCanary on Twitter supplies and amplifies the best knowledge nowadays — though investigative budgets would be really nice to have: lawsuits over stalled open records requests, travel funds to interview people, etc., are all expensive. Rather than fund journos like me to take a train somewhere and ask private spies trick questions (which of course you can do if you want!), it’d be far more reasonable to overhaul the decentralized data movement so everyone can participate.
How to remove the pacifier and address problemsoptimistically
A few months ago, someone asked me several times how I manage to read/skim so much unpleasant news daily and think about it daily. It’s a legitimate question that deserves a solid answer — it’s definitely true that in some ways, so much unhappy information can make a person feel down in the dumps and disempowered. I’ve yet to produce a concise reply to the question, so I’ve been working on an analogy to explain it, based on (an oversimplification of) the social roles analyzed in this book released in 2020. It’s an off-the-top-of-my-head cheesy fiction story. Here goes, more in summary format than scene.
Imagine a walled town, the grassy outskirts of which are filled with dangerous robotic monsters. (I think I just mixed up fantasy and science fiction tropes, like Ursula K. Le Guin’s fun 1966 novel Rocannon’s World or the beloved early Might and Magic computer games from the eighties, creating what’s sometimes called science fantasy.) In the comfy but anhedonic town are forgettable citizens. These reflectors, reflecting the ideal of the town itself, constantly tell each other slogans such as you shouldn’t care too much, and don’t think too hard, and if it’s not paying your bills, don’t worry about it. The temperature is rising, due to the robotic monsters, but the townspeople agree not to talk about it. They all remember what happened to Neftali, after all. Neftali wouldn’t shut up about the rising heat and the robots’ weird sonar-like instruments generated the heatwaves, and the townspeople made fun of Neftali so bad for it that she stopped going to their boardgame nights and even exited the town walls altogether.
Outside the walls, on the grassy fields, Neftali came across a huddled, quivering group of other outcasts: several individuals who’d also left, or who’d been ejected, from the walled town. They were pretty strange outcasts. Because they kept saying things like, Why don’t the boardgame people like me? or I was fucked up from the start, nothing will go right for me. Sometimes they even ran back into the town, trying to befriend the townspeople, but the townspeople simply made fun of them yet again, and then the outcasts had to slink back to their huddle on the grassy fields, commiserating and mumbling despair. They ate shitty food to make themselves feel better temporarily, they told each other they were too mental to exercise — one of the town’s psychiatrists, sans evidence, had diagnosed them with innate unabilityism — and they stayed up all night drinking caffeine and watching gory horror movies. Regularly, townspeople would go to the edges of the walls and angrily hurl insults down at the outcasts, who’d then, quivering, repeat the insults to themselves.
“Look,” Neftali said to these negative images, “enough with this internalized oppression; it’s no fun. I just read this strange thing called an investigative journalism report” — (I’d have to improve my cheesy analogy somehow; this is where genre fiction would usually throw in something like magic to give Neftali the ability to figure out plot-point data) — “that says several of the robotic monsters behind the heatwaves have broken down and are strewn across some rocks by that tide pool. If we could go over there …” She wanted to conclude, we could study their heatwave-generating instruments for helpful clues, but she was pretty lonely herself, and was pushing the tolerance of the huddled outcasts. Even that sugary shitty food was starting to look pretty tasty to her.
“No!” a huddled outcast screeched. “If you mention the robots and the heatwaves, you’re putting really bad energy out there; you’re hyping things that are bad. Stop forcing unpleasant things on other people. It makes everyone upset.” The outcast turned up the volume on a gory movie. “Someday a wonderful politician will arrive and save the day for us, but until then, the realistic thing to do is realize nobody can do anything about anything.”
Grr, Neftali thought, these outcasts are just as bad as the townspeople. She did notice, when the townspeople went to the walls to expectorate angry insults, and the huddled outcasts responded by quivering and flinching, the two sets of people had a creepy anger-fear symbiosis thing going on. The townspeople didn’t want to think or feel, trying to dodge the fate of the huddled outcasts, and not seeing any alternatives to this either-or; the huddled outcasts were just wrecks, often receiving guilt and shame the townspeople transfered to them, and the huddled outcasts similary didn’t see any alternatives to this whole symbiosis. Neftali didn’t want to get trapped in those roles, so she decided to go to the rocky tide pool herself. Except, with all the mysterious robots around, it was pretty dangerous to do that singlehandedly.
Now we skip 200 pages in this hypothetical bestseller of rising action in which Neftali intelligently solves her problems, winning over two allies from the flinching outcast group (since no one can save the day alone), and learning about the hidden lair of the monstrous robots, plus their sonar-y, computer-y, very highly technological mainframe, with, I don’t know, an evil extraterrestrial origin, or rather, maybe they’re actaully controlled by certain secretive townspeople oligarchs. Anyway, Neftali’s sensible efforts have simultaneously irritated the monstrous robots, who’re not just gunning for her, but also cranking up the temperature to heat-dome proportions, meaning now the ordinary townspeople and the rest of the outcasts are after Neftali and her pair of comrades as well, blaming them. It’s really just the final image in the next paragraph that I want to leave people with, that ties into why I don’t find reading investigative journalism reports merely upsetting, but rather, strengthening, too.
As the unfeeling townspeople mute their buried rage or occasionally scream it, and the flinching outcasts quiver and whimper in the corner, Neftali and her allies face staggering odds, it’s true. But though Neftali did eat some of the crappy food and commiserate with the huddled outcasts from time to time, for the most part, she and her comrades feel healthy, strong, alive. They delight in their capability to smash monstrous robots; they know how to skillfully use their weapons and their bodies. They enjoy assessing the journalism reports of where the robots’ weaknesses might be. Even when one of the monstrous robots badly injured Neftali, in fact briefly imprisoning and torturing her before her comrades came to her rescue, that was much worse than, but also a little like, being physically sick: no one enjoys having, say, food poisoning: you want the vomiting and diarreah to stop asap, but once it’s over, you’re a little proud of your ability to get through it, trauma aside, and that you stuck it out successfully. You recover as best you can and it’s back to battle another day, the water in a jug tasting good and your mind clear from not eating the sugary food, from not acceptingunabilityism.
Very incomplete list of steps to take against global warming
Consider divesting your energy from conventional politics, which already has millions of people and trillions of dollars — that sector doesn’t need new recruits — and investing it instead in radical politics, which, lacking enough genuine and hardworking individuals, does need new recruits
Public libraries sometimes have really amazing free classes – I took a series of classes about how to file civil lawsuits in Washington state. People do things like this, they figure out ways to sue resources corporations over climate change.
People quit their jobs every single to day to defend the environment against resource corporations, for instance as water-protectors. Because it’s real that people are doing this, doing so is in fact realistic, just underreported and underdiscussed.
Learn about efforts in other countries, network with activists there, get to know them and share knowledge across borders.
Talk about injustices, and improve skill at such conversations so you’re not cowed when interlocuters try to enforce the norm of don’t-talk-about-it by various means (such as making fun of you or saying there are too many words or whatever). You can see how effective talking about controversial subjects actually is when you look at stories of people coming out of the closet or open dialogue methods.
News blasts: Myanmar and Brazil
Myanmar. I previously wrote news blasts about Myanmar (in chronological order from earliest to most recent) here, here, and here. The very short version of the overall situation is that in February 2021, the military in Myanmar, also known as the Tatmadaw, seized power in a coup d’état, and the public has been joining ethnic armed militias or a civil disobedience movement to resist. In the months before the coup (note: authoritarians plan, prepare, and execute their programs across months, years, or even decades or centuries, given institutional memory), as Reuters reported in mid-May, officials tied to the Tatmadaw ordered telecomm and internet companies in the country to install intercept spyware to monitor the public. This includes tracing SIM cards, intercepting calls, blocking websites, and more. (Note: circa 2010-2015, I don’t remember the time frame more specifically, when I called defense lawyers regarding political hacktivism cases, the connections would at times suffer from odd clicks and disconnects; separately, a defense lawyer working ‘national security’ cases, including for clients accused of terrorism, once told me many similar things that happened at their office that they assumed were tell-tale signs of surveillance.) Last week, Reuters further reported, that the junta has told domestic and foreign telecomm and internet company executives that they’re banned from leaving Myanmar without permission and that they must finish fully installing spyware systems to allow the authorities to spy on the public’s calls, messages, and web traffic. The same day as last week’s Reuters article, Frontier Myanmar published a report explaining how the country’s police, shortly before the coup, set up a special cybersecurity team to track the public’s web usage, particularly (but not limited to) Facebook, and to surveil phone calls, using artificial intelligence to mine calls by the public and notify cops to review those in which words like “protest” or “revolution” were used.
Below, a 3.5-minute video by YAC.news is embedded. It covers the junta banning telecomm executives from leaving the country.
Also embedded below, a video by YAC.news a little longer than four minutes, titled “Between The Fascist Junta And COVID19 Myanmar Faces A Catastrophic Healthcare Collapse.” Here’s the transcript. To excerpt key points of that information about the Myanmar healthcare collapse:
At least 1.5 million people have been vaccinated according to regime media but the actual number is difficult to verify. Medical experts on ground say the number could be far less than announced. […] Since the coup d’etat, the junta has mismanaged the country’s health care system, nearly collapsing it by saturating it with injured protestors. The former head of Myanmar’s COVID-19 immunisation programme, Htar Htar Lin, was arrested and faces charges of high treason for promoting democracy. She and 11 other doctors were arrested for supporting democracy and allegedly organizing with the ousted and legitimate government of Myanmar, they may face long term imprisonment or death. […] The number of people being tested for COVID19 has also dropped due to fears of being arrested by the junta at testing spots. Oxygen is also running low across several townships and people have been reported to be dying due to a lack of it. The elderly are especially being affected by the virus and are reportedly the majority of the dead so far. […] All and all the junta has been an unmitigated disaster to the healthcare system and the handling of the pandemic. […] According to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), as of last month mutated strains of the virus, including the Delta variant, have been tearing through the country. At least 165,405 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Myanmar since the virus was first detected at the end of March 2020. At least 3,419 deaths have been attributed to the virus nationwide although medical experts on the ground have show skepticism and believe the some of the deaths attributed COVID-19 deaths may have been people murdered by the junta. As of Saturday, Bago, Sagaing and Yangon regions have reported the most coronavirus cases. […] While the regime has continued to administer some vaccines, it is now desperate to restart the economy it collapsed through its illegal take over. It is currently attempting to force people to return to school and work despite the specter of COVID19 creeping faster and faster across the nation.
This app can help people in Myanmar find oxygen needed due to coronavirus.
In the past week, a history writer in the Pacific Northwest, Edith Mirante, wrote a 20-tweet thread about the history of the relationship between Myanmar and Russia, which currently consists mainly of Russian arms deals and diplomatic enabling for the Myanmar junta.
Finally, a video from today or today-ish, and a little longer than a minute, is embedded below, showing courageous protestors defying the junta to rally for democracy, chanting in Burmese “Annihilate the Fascist Army!”
Brazil. A member of the BRICS trading group — Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa — and one of the strongest trade economies in South America (Argentina is another), Brazil is one of the places in the world hardest hit by COVID-19. More than half a million have been killed there by the disease, but Brazil’s fascist president Jair Bolsonaro downplayed coronavirus, comparing it to the flu. Bolsonaro is hated for this. He’s a big fan of Donald Trump and his administration is accused of corruption in international vaccine negotiations. An Al Jazeera article from this week reported that the majority of Brazilians surveyed support impeaching Bolsonaro. Last month, when the Brazilian leader attempted to board a commercial plane, he was run out by the passengers, who heckled him and called him a genocidaire; a video of this, some 40 seconds in duration, is embedded below.
Brazilian Universal Basic Income activist Fabiana Cecin tweeted the following context for Brazil on July 3: “Brazil is under a thinly-veiled QAnon-grade far-right military dictatorship. The bulk of high-level federal employees have been fired and replaced with military brass. Even some of the absolute top-level political cabinets were stuffed with generals.” That tweet was in response to an article by Brasil Wire, an independent news organization hosted and published in Europe, about CIA director William J. Burns arriving in late June to meet with Bolsonaro. Brasil Wire says all polls show Bolsonaro would lose in the upcoming 2022 election against popular former president Lula da Silva, so now, a week after meeting with Burns, Bolsonaro is making threats that the 2022 presidential elections in Brazil may not happen at all. The CIA of course has a long history of sponsoring coups in South America to ensure authoritarian regimes are in power. See also Operation Condor.
Reporting on another incident, this YAC.news article from July 9 explains that in late June, the Brazilian authorities, in a pre-dawn raid, evicted hundreds of people from the “May 1st Refugee Camp” on behalf of state-owned oil giant Petrobras. About 64,500 Brazilian families are internally displaced and living in “unauthorized” settlements.
Below are embedded two videos from YAC.news, followed by the airplane video. The first from YAC is this one from July 4, just under three minutes, about the Bolsonaro administration’s corrupt vaccine deals and thousands of Brazilian protestors gathering in 40-something cities in response. Here’s the transcript. The second from YAC is this one from May 30, about 2.5 minutes, that looks at why Brazilians are demanding Bolsonaro step down. Here’s that transcript.
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Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 14 of 52.
Okay, there are many ways to make a beet root smoothie. But here’s how to make mine. For the past two and a half months, I’ve blended one of these just about every single day. And why, you ask?
I like beet root smoothies because of the multiple health benefits not typically provided by other foods. Beet root is a favorite ingredient of vegan athletes, including but not limited to vegan bodybuilders. It contains nitrate, which dilates blood vessels, improving athletic performance. It also contains boron, which increases testosterone. It helps with estrogen regulation as well. Then, the vegetable enhances reaction time, balance, and cognitive performance, apparently by improving blood flow to brain areas related to executive function. Beets even help with neuroplasticity for changing brains in adults. A 16-video series by nutritionist Michael Greger (who unfortunately endorses gluten) looks at conventional science studies showing various benefits of regular beet root consumption. I’ll embed immediately below two of his short beet root videos that I find most interesting:
You might ask, what’s the difference between beets, beet roots, and beet root powder. A beet plant has an aboveground leafy portion that’s edible and can be prepared like kale. But the beet root is the plant’s underground taproot. Beet root powder is made from grinding up, dehydrating, and/or otherwise preparing this taproot.
Below, the recipe for my beet root smoothie; after that, walking through the process step by step. The ingredients can get expensive. One trick is to call or email companies and ask about sales, discounts, etc. Sometimes you can get really lucky!
For one person and a 2 cup / 500 mL smoothie, put these into a blender:
1 cup almond milk
About 8 ice cubes
About 8 raspberries
4 scoops of beet root powder (about 20g or the equivalent of two beets)
1/2 teaspoon of yacon syrup (about 2.5 mL)
1 tablespoon of maqui powder (about 15 mL)
1 tablespoon of almond butter
A little less than 1 scoop (i.e., about 20g) of your fave vegan protein powder
Blend it all up and drink
Now let’s go step by step, commenting on the different ingredients. It’s important to get strong and healthy to live an empowered life… if you eat like Donald Trump, you’re going to act more like Donald Trump: you are what you eat. In an academia/intelligentsia world that tunnel-visions on abstract concepts created by unhappy philosophers, it can be a shock to realize that eating different foods actually yields different beliefs. Imagine using nutrition to alter your hormones, and you can see how eating differently might powerfully change what you’re telling yourself is or isn’t the case. Syllogisms, sadly, don’t generally include recipes. (That’s somewhat a joke.)
Step one, start with a blender. Pictured left is my muscular Vitamix. It’s a Professional 750 model. I got this particular model because unlike other Vitamix models, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles crap (like Bluetooth) seemingly affixed to every commodity nowadays to make it a “smart” EMF-generating member of the Internet of Things/Shit. As I recall, the 750 comes with a 20-ounce container, but you can also optionally add the 32-ounce one pictured here. The bigger size works much better since it gives the container a lot more breathing room for ingredients, even if you’re just a single person making a meal by himself. But, you don’t have to go with the spear-famed Vitamix company necessarily. Cheaper blenders may get the job done also.
Step two. Get thee some almond milk. I really like the Califia brand. It doesn’t have carrageenan (a kind of binding element that isn’t helpful nutritionally), but isn’t as odd-tasting as the Malk brand (which has just three ingredients: water, almonds, and salt). Make sure to get the unsweetened variety of almond milk, since as the book The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes explains, there’s no good reason to add sugar to everything, not just in terms of long-term adverse consequences, but even in terms of your day-to-day life, such as your sleep and your mood.
Step three. Fill up the blender container (most have measurement amounts marked on the sides) with one cup of almond milk. Then throw in approximately eight ice cubes from the freezer, if you have one. If you don’t, go get some ice from Wim Hof.
Step four. Now it’s time to add the beet root powder. First, let me say, some people find food powders irritating to their GI systems. Others, including me, get along fine, or seemingly fine, with food powders. I asked my awesome general practitioner for her thoughts. She said that exceptions aside (such as people really affected negatively by powders), powders are definitely good enough for the busy person, though technically using raw whole foods is always better. Her take accorded with my thoughts. As for choice of beet root powder, the more common ones sourced from China are generally a less vivid color and do not taste as intense. I really like the Koyah brand from the U.S., which you can see in the photos is a deeper and more vivid purple. The Koyah taste is much more intense than the China flavors, so it might take a few smoothies to grow on you (don’t give up quickly if at first you don’t like something!). Beet root powder can be a little challenging to find, so try health food stores, grocery co-ops, etc., or order off the Internet. The “tubs” (as the small cylindrical containers of beet root powder are typically called) come with a scoop inside. Occasionally the scoop will get buried in the powder, meaning you have to dig around for it. Four scoops is what my recipe calls for. Usually, the scoops are about the same size, regardless of brand. Below, an image of an open beet root powder tub that’s sourced from China, so not Koyah.
Step five. Add eight raspberries. Nothing particularly complicated here. I don’t know much about raspberries’ nutritional status. They just go well with the taste and color of the rest of the smoothie. I will say that as a fruit, raspberries add (natural) sugar, so it’s usually best to have the smoothie earlier in the day, far away from time to go to bed. That’s because sugar winds up adults just like it does kids. Adults just so often think they’re too special to be affected by mere food, what with all the important paperwork they’re filling out each day or whatever, checking those endless Microsoft Teams notifications from co-workers and whatnot.
Step six. Add 1/2 teaspoon (about 2.5 mL) of yacon syrup. Yacon syrup is a sweetener — you can use it where you might have used honey or maple syrup — that’s low on the glycemic index (a ranking of how various foods affect blood sugar, which impacts mood and affects falling asleep, sleep quality, and energy levels in general). For me, yacon syrup was really hard to find. In fact, I couldn’t find it anywhere in Seattle, and that’s after trying a handful of grocery and health food stores. Nobody had even heard of it. I had to order it online.
Step seven. Add one tablespoon (about 15 mL) of maqui powder to the smoothie. Yes, that’s maqui powder, not maca powder nor maca root powder. Like yacon syrup, nobody I asked had ever heard of maqui powder, and I couldn’t find it in any health or grocery stores in Seattle. Not even the (excellent) World’s Healthiest Foods website discusses maqui. I had to order it online. Maqui powder is from the maqui berry, a purple-black medicinal fruit that grows in Chile and Argentina. It’s sometimes called a wineberry. I don’t know as much about maqui as I should. Apparently, among other benefits, the wineberry is very high in antioxidants.
If you have only one tablespoon measurer like I have, then after using it to portion out your maqui powder, be sure to wash it before employing it to scoop out a tablespoon of almond butter in the next step.
Step eight. The next item to add is a tablespoon of almond butter. Most USians are very familiar with peanut butter. Sometimes peanut butter is sold in plastic jars with various crap ingredients added. It’s much healthier to purchase nut butters raw from the bulk section of a good grocery store. You pull the lever of the machine that grinds up the nuts, turning them into the butter. And you catch the descending butter in a plastic tub (provided by the store) and take that tub home, sometimes taping it shut (or the cashiers will tape it) to prevent the tub from spilling during the trip. All else being equal, almond butter is a pretty healthy snack, in the raw form, not the plastic jars. You can store the raw nut butter in your refrigerator for quite some time. I really like almond butter, shown in the photo below.
Dump the tablespoon of almond butter (perhaps using your finger to unglamorously extract it from the tablespoon) into the blender. We’re almost finished!
Step nine. The last item to add to the blender is vegan protein powder — whichever kind is your favorite. I like pea protein. (As the T-shirt says, Keep calm: plants have protein.) The Orgain brand suits me fine. Make sure to get whatever the vanilla or “plain” flavor is; it’s easy to overlook the tiny flavor marking and accidentally grab the chocolate variety off the shelf. Most big ol’ tubs of protein powder have a scoop included, and as with the (smaller) beet root powder tubs, sometimes the scoop sinks to the bottom and you have to dig it out. Scoops for different brands of protein powder are roughly the same size, usually. I find a little less than one full scoop works well for this smoothie. Measure the protein powder out and dump it in, perhaps while thinking funny thoughts about Arnold Schwarzenegger or Popeye.
Step ten. Be sure to fasten the lid solidly into the container’s top, then blend. For the Vitamix Professional 750, power it up (the switch is to the side of the machine) and next, set the dial to the snowflake-lookin’ icon. That’s the best pre-programmed setting for making an icy smoothie. After finishing, don’t forget to power off the Vitamix.
Mission complete. That’s basically everything. When pouring the smoothie out of the container into your glass, be sure not to make a mess, because this stuff (like turmeric) can create some difficult-to-remove stains. It’s best to ASAP throw the blender, lid, tablespoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and anything else into the dishwasher (if you have one), drink the smoothie up, and then add the smoothie glass to the dishwasher and start that thing so you can easily make another smoothie the following day. Like I said, I’ve been drinking these for 2.5 months now, and I’m still really enjoying them and looking forward to my beet root smoothie each morning (and even while lying in bed the night before). Soon I’ll get my testosterone levels checked, because I’m curious if regular beet root consumption has upped my testosterone. Of course, I won’t much be able to disentangle the effect of beet root consumption from the effect of my increased regular exercise (which now also includes core strengthening and other physical therapy), but the testosterone levels will be extremely interesting to look at nonetheless.
Don’t wait too long after pouring the smoothie out of the blender to drink it. If you wait a long time, the smoothie will sort of clot and taste not as good. And again, the taste is pretty strong (especially if you use the Koyah brand I recommend), so keep trying it daily for about a week until the taste grows on you. I hope someone out there enjoys this smoothie!
Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s this week’s post, the one for Week 7…a few days late—try asking for a refund?
Note: This post obviously belongs, as Part 3, to a series of posts about my trip from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia in Summer 2019.Here’s the completedseries, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.
Uh, USians…are missing almost all the world
When I was preparing for my adventure, my acquaintances, much like the border g̶o̶d̶ guard, asked me what I was planning to do. Would I visit the Butchart Gardens? “It is so lovely, and it looks much better during the day than at night, and [on and on].” Years ago, planning for a different adventure, a road trip across half the United States, I was asked my take on whether the route should have us see Nature or cities. “Neither,” I said. “We should see people.”
So, this post covers those three — successful! — missions, each of which took place on a different day of my adventure. I didn’t take any photos of the missions, however, so throughout this Part 3, I’ll rely on others’ photos or funny images.
Find the real people? I’m not afraid to die! (Source)
Mission one: Camas, anarchist bookstore in Victoria (Wikipedia). They recently sent out this communiqué regarding supporting Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps’ resistance against proposed pipelines in the area, (Amnesty; blockades shut railways across Canada), which I unfortunately know little about. I walked to Camas from my hostel, something of a 1̶.̶2̶5̶-̶m̶i̶l̶e̶ 2̶.̶1̶-̶k̶i̶l̶o̶m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶ 2.1-kilometre hike one way. I arrived, looked around inside at several of the same books that already existed on my bookshelves back home, and got into a great conversation with a staffperson there. I told him about the drop in ambient anxiety in Victoria relative to the United States, and how I assumed that was due in part to the universal health insurance and the lack of mass shootings. He said he understood how I would perceive Victoria that way, but from his vantage point, everything seemed too calm. “Unrest,” he said, “is best.”
Camas is really cool. Relative to other anarchist bookstores I’ve been to in the United States, Camas much more strongly emphasized First Nations or indigenous related material. Were I living in Victoria, or staying for a longer duration, I’d go back to get some different books, meet people, find out about projects, etc. Camas is open daily. Fantastic. Just typing this, I miss it, and wish I were there chilling out in those chairs, reading a book, waiting for an intriguing passerby to inevitably come in and strike up conversation far more interesting than what I usually hear offline.
(In middle school, I drew anarchy signs into my handwritten name and drew them into the steam on the shower door at home. Maybe I saw them first on nineties electric guitars, or maybe on the ANSI art of bulletin board systems. That kid and this adult would get along well.)
Mission two: Food Not Bombs Victoria. Part of the global conspiracy to feed people. Gathering surplus food leftover from restaurants, distributors, and other sources, then cooking it and bringing it to a downtown park, on a shoestring budget, and sharing it with everyone, particularly people who might really need it. All the world has chapters, so if you’re looking to help someone yourself, instead of voting for someone to instruct someone to instruct someone to consider another vote or two or thousand about paying someone to instruct someone to pay someone to instruct someone to pay someone to pay someone to pay someone to maybe help someone someday — or not — and plus you can make friends and participate in your community…why then, go find a Food Not Bombs in your area or start one.
Having FNB-ed quite a while in Seattle, I got in touch with the amazingly welcoming Food Not Bombs Victoria folks, because I was curious how FNB would compare/contrast up there. And I was hungry!
At an apartment, I joined a handful of cooks. Really cool, right, here I am in another country a few days, and already I’m in an apartment with a bunch of friendly local strangers, working on a common cause. And yes, as you might remember from Part 2, everything in this apartment was likewise smaller than the objects would be in the counterpart US apartment. As I recall, even the sink water handles were smaller! The donated food was gathered, I think, primarily from a co-op grocery. With what was then my usual klutzy difficulty, I helped make a salad with sliced cucumber, carrots, a little kale, some sprouts, etc., and another person made a dressing for it with vinegar and various oils. The rest of the food made was similarly standard FNB-style cuisine. We then transported the food from the apartment to the downtown square/park, Centennial Square on the Douglas(!) street side, where the sharing is held every Sunday — also where, years ago, Occupy Victoria encamped.
At the park, the meal was held under a large tree, upon whose branches an FNBer hung an impressively large Food Not Bombs Victoria sign. The black sign had a lot of colorful graphics and words on it (sorry, no photo!). If I recall correctly, Food Not Bombs Victoria also supplied some local literature, zines, etc. About 20 individuals dined on this most scrumptious meal. That included random businesspeople passing by, various park denizens (such as skateboarders), multiple homeless or traveler or otherwise off the radar humans, plus some FNBers who hadn’t cooked with us but wanted to hang out.
FNB Victoria implemented two good ideas others might want to pick up. First, not only did FNB Victoria bring to the park a box of clean, re-usable mugs, cups, bowls, and cutlery, but also, many, perhaps most, of those sharing generally already knew to use those implements and then place them back in the box after eating. These bowls, pieces of cutlery, etc. would later be washed by FNB Victoria and used the next week. Second, the sharers mostly arranged themselves in a lazy circle around the tree. As opposed to FNBers on one side of a table and non-FNBers on the table’s opposing side, FNB Victoria’s organically emerged quasi-circle seating/standing arrangement felt very not us vs. them to me.
Mission three: Alternative mental health. Before ferrying to Victoria, I pinged my contacts involved in that movement, seeking suggestions for my trip. To my knowledge, Victoria has no Hearing Voices Network chapter, then or now, but someone did point me to Movie Monday. It’s a weekly series of eclectic and thoughtful films, often with presentations and discussions. Free admission, donations encouraged. The 100-seat theater is in the same building as a (now closed down, I believe) psychiatric ward. In 1993, Movie Monday coordinator Bruce Saunders was held at that ward, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Stuck there, he got the idea to show movies at the unused theater, because quality education and entertainment and conversation are as needed as food in life. He continues to coordinate Movie Monday, and it has been going for more than 25 years (listen to this seven-minute MP3 interview with him). The movies aren’t always about mental health topics and aren’t just for audiences interested in that subject. Movie Monday started that way, but has since expanded to other subject matters. When I went, we watched Six Primrose, about a food security project in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
After the movie, a short discussion took place among the audience. I learned about some resources, people, etc. for alternative mental health interests in Vancouver BC. Those I can pursue on my next adventure to British Columbia!
Waiting at the bus stop to return from Movie Monday to the hostel, I got into a conversation with a random Canadian woman also waiting for the transit ride. I tried to ask her questions about Canada, but she easily and repeatedly diverted the conversation back to the United States.
“Why,” she wanted to know, “won’t they fix their country? Or, why don’t they just leave?” (Apparently I myself had temporarily become a nomad, resident of nowhere.)
Although I don’t know all the answers to her questions, perhaps you reading know some of them for yourself. The best I can do for motivation at the moment is to compare my whole adventure to the excitement expressed in the amazing 2015 song “Go!” by the band Public Service Broadcasting, about the spaceflight that put the first humans on the Moon. Listen, and I’ll keep trying to talk USians into traveling with Part 4 of this series next week!
Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s today’s post, the one for Week 6.
Today, US senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted:
Reading Jonathan Simon’s Code Red or Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting or the Brennan Center for Justice’s “The Machinery of Democracy” impresses upon you the full knowledge that votes in the United States are typically captured (by touchscreen, optical device scanning ballots, or other) and counted (by Dominion, Command Central, or other) in pitch dark: by corporations and contractors running without transparency, with closed source. Often, not even election administrators can audit details.
Unlike Australians, Germans, the Dutch, and others around the world who vote on hand-marked paper ballots hand-counted in public, and who have successfully fought off the recent far-right electoral wave, basically nobody in the United States these days receives any hard evidence at all that their ballot scribbles/tappings mattered. If on Election Day your goal is to change electoral outcomes, rather than to merely perform a civic religion ritual, then of course informed action is required to safeguard election systems, though continuing to replace the whole current governance system itself would be wiser and here’s how that’s already underway.
Exceptions aside, securing elections means securing both vote capture (i.e., how your vote is recorded) and vote counting (i.e., how your vote is added to the totals, nowadays in secretive faraway computer systems) — so that there is hard evidence of both how your vote was captured and how it was counted. Interestingly, and unfortunately, in her tweet today Harris mentions only the vote capture part, and not the vote counting part.
With the topic of safeguarding elections likely to keep bubbling up throughout this year, it helps to keep in mind writer Jennifer Cohn’s advice that election integrity advocates diligently put the adjective “hand-marked” in front of the noun phrase “paper ballots” because:
Kamala Harris’ tweet reminded me of Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner now behind bars, because in the past few years, public interest in the topic of elections integrity and hand-marked paper ballots (public interest partially required for a major politician to take on any subject) has certainly increased, partly a result of Winner leaking to the media intelligence revealing Russian military hackers executed cyberattacks against US election systems just days before November 2016’s voting. You can learn more about Winner’s case and supporting her clemency petition here or watch this CSPAN video to see how her deed kept Russiagate and elections integrity in the public discourse.
What most of all strikes me about today’s tweet from Kamala Harris is that the Bureau of Prisons, who currently confines Reality Winner, has denied journalists, such as CNN and me, access to interview her in person behind bars — so, who oversees the Bureau of Prisons (part of the Department of Justice) — the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the latter of which Kamala Harris sits on!
So with Kamala Harris’ tweet juxtaposed against Reality Winner’s story, we have:
1. US senator Kamala Harris calls for incomplete elections integrity reform
2. While the Bureau of Prisons is silencing the whistleblower who helped make that conversation possible in the first place
3. The senator in question, by virtue of sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is tasked with overseeing the Bureau of Prisons, and hasn’t done anything for Reality Winner (not that I’m aware of)
4. Even though I told the senator face to face about the Bureau of Prisons silencing Reality Winner at Harris’ September 27, 2019 event in Seattle
Underneath the glitzy world where a top senator grabs thousands of retweets by offering an incomplete solution to a problem, without assisting the whistleblower confined in silence for pointing the issue out … a public who knows better daydreaming that the thoughts and prayers of evidence-free voting will somehow victoriously sneak-attack presidential administrations tearing apart everything else, so why would they refuse to further corrupt the vote captures and vote countings …
Even though voting landslides might win elections (by overpowering whatever rigging is done), it’s still completely mandatory that we achieve public, observable vote counting, as WeCountNow offers, insofar as the failed concept of millions trying to come to consensus on topics that often don’t affect them much or at all and that they often don’t know much or anything about, is to continue. Help WeCountNow and/or join others in continuing to implement newconcepts?
As for Reality Winner: open, participatory governance means none shall be silenced and all must have the right to communicate. Otherwise, not everyone is included, not everyone’s input is available. Since the Bureau of Prisons has blocked journalists from interviewing Reality Winner, preventing the public from hearing her at scale, the current within-the-system remedies remaining are: apply again for interview access (the Bureau of Prisons told me they consider each interview request separately), try the judicial branch (lawsuits etc), or pressure the federal legislature (members of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee seem the right place to start).
I’ll post more about my efforts toward interviewing Reality Winner in a few weeks. If anyone else makes related efforts, please let me know in the comments!
Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, to be self-published every Monday. Here’s today’s, the second of 52.
Note: This post was updated Tuesday 4 February 2020, mostly to incorporate an updated version of my support letter. I changed “unusually severe” to “unduly severe” to better match the clemency consideration standards, I changed the reference to US citizens to US residents, and I added a line about our right to communicate, in order to connect Winner’s case with everyone else’s who’s being silenced anywhere in the world.
Reality Winner climbing a tree in Texas, Christmas 2015. Photo by Brittany Winner, her sister (Source)
Especially in light of current news, you should remember Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner, the Air Force veteran who in 2017 as an employee for a National Security Agency contractor leaked classified intelligence to The Intercept regarding Russian military hackers, in 2016, executing cyberattacks against more than 100 local election officials in the United States and against at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a June 9, 2017 post on his website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Reality “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.” These cyberattacks also constitute evidence in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s “12 Russians” indictment from 2018 and in his Mueller report from 2019.
For The Public, an online and print news outlet in Buffalo, New York, I reported in person from Reality’s final, August 2018 hearing in Augusta, Georgia where she was sentenced to 63 months in prison, the longest term ever imposed on a federal defendant for a disclosure of national security information to the media. That article of mine tells a great deal of her story and explains the importance of her deed. It quotes human rights activist and author Heather Marsh explaining that evidence in the leak helped generate the public support necessary for the investigation into not just Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election but more broadly into the nature of the world’s democracies today, an investigation that “could have quietly disappeared and the public would never have been any wiser.”
Reality Winner sketch art, from prison, of the Augusta federal courthouse. (Source)
Now, about halfway through her prison term, 28-year-old Reality Winner will very soon be filing a petition for clemency. If granted, clemency would result in her early release from prison, similar to whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s successful clemency petition. Reality is a vegan and is amazingly maintaining that while locked up, in the face of oppression; her release would mean, among other things, that she could once again access healthy food in line with her beliefs. Because there’s a long line of clemency petitions to be considered, and because Reality’s release date is at this point 23 November 2021, it is unclear which president(‘s staff) will consider her petition and when.
I wrote a letter in support of Reality’s clemency petition. Below, I’ve embedded my one-page, signed letter as a PDF. Further below, I’ve put the body of my letter with links added. The embedded PDF of my letter doesn’t include links, and it isn’t possible to clipboard-copy text from it, so if you want either, please refer to the further below section of this post where the body of my letter is repeated. Reading my letter will give you more information about her case and why I think clemency is justified. Also I describe briefly how Federal Medical Center Carswell, the prison in Fort Worth, Texas where she is housed, has blocked my efforts (and CNN’s) to interview Reality in person behind bars.
Best of all, you can write a letter in support of Reality’s clemency petition. On 11 January 2020, her team had 4,206 letters of support, a little more than 84% of the way to their goal of getting 5,000 letters. Reality was the subject of Chris Hayes’ weekly podcast on 7 January 2020, which hopefully should assist with getting her more letters.
You can either quickly sign online a pre-provided letter at the StandWithReality.org website by giving your name and email address, plus your county and state, or you can write your own letter and email it in to Liz Miner. Instructions and more information about both options are available here: StandWithReality.org: Letter of Support for Clemency. To share that webpage quickly, you can use this shortened URL, which leads there: Bit.ly/RWSupportLetter.
In her 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin describes a utopia built on the suffering of a single imprisoned person, and utopia residents who must confront that suffering only once and then decide whether to keep living in the wonderful city or leave. To a large extent, the Russiagate investigation is likewise built on a single individual now imprisoned. There remains an ethical imperative that this person, upon whose shoulders so much has rested, not continue to be ignored by so many and silenced and caged by the Bureau of Prisons.
I write in support of the clemency petition of Reality Leigh Winner, a Bureau of Prisons inmate, register number 22056-021. For The Public, a news outlet in Buffalo, New York, I reported in person from Ms. Winner’s August 23, 2018 hearing in Augusta, Georgia where Chief District Judge J. Randal Hall imposed a 63-month prison term on Ms. Winner. Department of Justice attorney Bobby L. Christine described the punishment as the longest sentence ever imposed on a federal defendant for a disclosure of national defense information to the media. This unduly severe punishment resulted from Ms. Winner, an Air Force veteran and intelligence contractor with no prior criminal record, sending to the media classified intelligence describing cyberattacks by Russian military hackers against over 100 local election officials in the United States and at least one U.S. supplier of software used to manage voter rolls in multiple counties. The cyberattacks took place just days before the 2016 U.S. elections. With great idealism, Ms. Winner gave everyone information required for self-governance, gave everyone necessary knowledge otherwise unavailable. That includes any voting vendor staff who, without clearances, would not have been able to access such protective classified information unless it appeared in the public discourse. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a June 9, 2017 post on his personal website that the cyberattacks disclosed by Ms. Winner “illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.”
Ms. Winner’s unduly severe sentence and unfair treatment behind bars is unjust to her and indeed, to all. She has a long, admirable history of public service: donating to poor families, volunteering for Athletes Serving Athletes, and more. Her ongoing confinement blocks her from continuing this service to the wider world. She is unjustly denied broad communication with the public by Carswell Federal Medical Center staff, including Warden Michael Carr. The staff has forbidden journalists, such as CNN and me, from interviewing her in person. They have provided no meaningful explanation for her isolation from the mass media. For months, my requests for meaningful details, and my requests for negotiations to meet any Carswell Federal Medical Center concerns, were ignored or subjected to run-around. In her allocution, Ms. Winner demonstrated her intelligence and perceptiveness. Caging her incommunicado harms her and deprives the public of her gifts. Everyone globally, in prisons or whatever other cages, must have the right to communicate, including to appeal for help from the world, as directly as possible.
Ms. Winner took responsibility for her action’s criminality at her final hearing. While sentencing her, Judge Hall indicated he saw no evidence she will become a repeat offender: “the Court has no sense […] that there is a need to protect the public from any further crimes of the defendant.” As an inmate, Ms. Winner has pursued studies toward her college degree and has worked several jobs within the Carswell Federal Medical Center system. She has served roughly half of her 63-month sentence already, and she has not had a single infraction.
I firmly believe a commutation of Ms. Winner’s sentence is in the best interest of the United States, U.S. residents, and justice. She and her loved ones suffer each day she is kept locked up. I ask you to grant Reality Leigh Winner’s clemency petition and her immediate release from prison.