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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three more reasons for social-emotional treason

From the same Might & Magic game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the wider world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IELTS: Testing our sanity and patience

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

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

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

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

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

So friggin’ official

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scores just came in:

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

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

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

San Diego stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

Creative Commons License

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

On leaving the United States

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.

Outline of the U.S. superimposed on Mars pictured in outer space. Source, a Finnish tabloid in January 2021.

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:

Son of Lonesome Dove novelist Larry McMurtry. “We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the gray herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”

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).

Sinkhole in San Antonio, Texas, 2016. (Source)

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.

Click through to see her thread
31-second clip (source). Azar can be heard screaming “get off me!” as Proud Boys chant “Fuck antifa!” and yell misogynist slurs

Labor Day Weekend’s not over yet; there may well be more craziness from the Proud Boys forthcoming in the Pacific Northwest.

The fairyfly, a type of wasp, is less than 0.2 mm / 0.005 inches long, about the diameter of a fine pen’s tip — yet the fairyfly has cardiac activity, a tubular heart on its back.

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 Times explains, 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.

Halls of justice painted green, money talking… apathy their stepping stone (music; lyrics)

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 LichtmanRuth BlochBernard 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.

Spinal Tap explains

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.

Well, your guide to leaving the U.S., that is.

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 collapsing supply 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).

If this is a consular ship, where is the ambassador?

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.

Satirical 1957 sci-fi novel. I haven’t read it yet, sadly

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

Salvation destinations

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.

Amsterdam. (Source)

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.

My future-o?

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…

Moon seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere

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.

Practical, specific, actual, real-life, not-kidding steps

Music video for “Another World” by French metal band Gojira (lyrics)

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. ;)

It could be that my sense of humor is not always apparent. Source.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, On leaving the United States by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/09/06/on-leaving-the-united-states/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

The battleground of names

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 12 of 52.

The image shows simple computer code that asks the user to input their name and age, then stores this data as a name dollar sign variable and an age dollar sign variable, and finally prints the information back out.
Screenshot of a tutorial for QBasic, a Microsoft programming language from the early nineties

In 2004, I began asking others to call me by my first name, Douglas. Before that, I’d been called a variant of my middle name (which I won’t share here for mundane privacy purposes). I wanted a fresh start, because I was just entering my first semester at a university, and also, I was annoyed by the various paperwork hassles seemingly everywhere when your legal name and the name you go by differ. For example, class rosters not specifying how you’re actually called encourage teachers to address you by what appears on the roster. Since many teachers labor under the unfair requirement that they educate very large class sizes, and thus face far too many students to always memorize the preferences of each successfully, try as they might, you as a student can go through months and months of unpleasantly trying to correct a teacher about your name, something that’s supposed to intimately characterize you. The indignity of being called wrongly is even more profound for those whose name changes signal giant shifts in their personhood, such as those who switch names as part of gender or religious transitions. Me, I just thought a fresh start and an end to the paperwork hassles would be nice.

The image shows Jim Carrey as Truman in the movie. He's standing atop steps and before a door. He has his arms and hands spread wide, and he's looking up, smiling.
Image from The Truman Show

It’s strange how names characterize us, isn’t it? Consider the eponymous name of the protagonist in the 1998 movie The Truman Show: unlike those around him pretending to be his neighbors, Truman is a true man. But names, at least when initially given, actually characterize the parents/caregivers, their aspirations for the infant who’s receiving some particular name in the first place. A sense of this reality is frequently missing from fiction, when authors pick a name to symbolize or allude to something about a character, rather than about that character’s parents or environment (including economic class). In other fiction, such disparities between a character’s true self and their name are portrayed, especially if the story involves a name change. While authors spend lots of time thinking over the given names characters go by among their peers, I think surnames in fiction don’t receive much scrutiny, particularly in terms of migration. If an author is writing a story set in 2030 in Nebraska, and currently in 2021 nearly all people alive with surname X live only in France, should the author provide backstory for why someone with surname X is living in Nebraska just nine years into the future? Or are surnames freebies for authors and readers alike? As long as it sounds good and plausible enough, maybe no bulletproof backstory is required. You could reduce such realism problems to absurdity by requiring an author depicting a coffeepot in a story to know how it got there, tracing it all the way back to the specific particles emerging from the Big Bang. On the other hand, books too often expect readers to assume narrators are white and show WASP-y names as the norm, presenting anything else as exceptions in need of explanations.

Since 2004, there’s been a certain discomfort with my first name, for many of those using it and me alike. I’m regularly asked the same question when meeting people: “Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?” The question stumped me for a very long time. Whenever I looked within, I discovered I legitimately don’t have a preference. Either is cool with me! So I couldn’t advise the question-askers, who as far as I could make out, wanted to be caring and accommodating. Just about every time I replied that I have no preference, the question-asker became frustrated. They said I should have a preference. But I didn’t. Maybe I hurt their feelings, as though they were going out of their way in offering to remember my preference, and my not having one stung like a rebuke, in some transactional world they exist in. Only this past month have I finally figured out something more about the question. I’ve been doing core strengthening in physical therapy to help with one of my legs (two surgeries on it in my life so far), and the physical therapist is extremely knowledgeable and competent. I like him, and I’m really grateful to have his excellent help. He told me he has a thing for trying to remember the best names to call people by. We were both a bit flummoxed by my lack of a preference between Doug or Douglas. I thought it over. I think the fact I get along well with this superb physical therapist enabled me to see something more about the question and my lack of a preference.

Here’s the answer, what’s been the answer all along: Doug and Douglas are the same name — just at different diction levels. Doug is informal; Douglas is formal. Compare “What’s up, Doug?” with “Listen, Douglas, we need to have a talk.” They’re the same name in two different forms. I don’t want to micromanage which level of formality my interlocutor picks for any particular conversation. I trust the appropriate diction level can just emerge naturally, simply from both parties’ interactions and the environment at large. Because I realized all this just a few weeks ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out in real life yet. But the next time someone asks me, Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?, I’m going to tell them one’s for informal, the other’s for formal, and that they can select between the two as they think proper. I wonder what will happen. As long as they don’t call me Doogie.

The image shows a black book cover, with the title More Than Human at top, and at bottom, the author's name plus "The provocative novel of six people who became--together--a new form of humanity" and in reference to the author, "whose work is increasingly being called a classic of its kind"
Original hardback cover of Sturgeon’s best-known novel

A common thread in the above — asking others to use my first name (revealingly, sometimes frenemies from the past still don’t, pointedly refusing to honor my request); trying to justify to readers a surname’s presence in a geographic location and time period; attempting to explain to strangers that the two forms of a single name are for different diction levels — is a sense of individuals having to legitimize their names, and perhaps themselves, to others. Names are usually social, bestowed upon us and by us as we pass life down through generations. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, each character on an anarchist moon has but one name, handed out by a central computer registry to keep things organized. In contrast to this socially-focused system, in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human, there’s a gripping moment when the first character we encounter, a lonely outsider, finally names himself. Initially, “Men turned away from him, women would not look”; however, after roughly five years living and working with the Prodd farming family, he learns to speak, though “always he preferred not to.” Eventually the farmer Mr Prodd asks him for his name (get it? Prodd as in prodding him). Because he has come to trust Mr Prodd, he’s able to fulfill this request. He thinks that a name “is the single thing which is me and what I have done and been and learned.” Despite his growing connection with the Prodds, he picks the name Alone, which he can manage to pronounce merely as a single syllable, Lone. That seems very individualist, but he chooses a name only when someone else asks him for it, so it’s an event both personal and social. (The book later follows Lone gathering what Sturgeon calls a gestalt, kind of a chosen family, from other outlier outsiders.) Does a person living on a desert island like a castaway need a name at all? Might they forget their own name? Finally, look at the concept of true names in Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. Characters and objects in that univese have two names, a common one that’s safely shareable, and a second, secret, true name that empowers them and gives others power over them if it’s discovered. In neither case, however, are the names chosen.

The image shows an Internet Relay Chat window, with the user having typed "Hello to all you good people!" with a smiley emoticon. To the right of the image is a vertical list of various handles for users, such as Jolo and herbie and sat.
Internet Relay Chat, what I was doing in the nineties

Online, as in certain types of radio communication, users choose handles, also known as pseudonyms or simply nyms. These lessen tendencies in conversation/debate toward the logical fallacies of personal attacks and arguments from authority, where interlocuters waste time saying “You only believe that because you are [insert identity attribute here]”, as in, because you’re tall/short/rich/poor/white/of color, etc. With nyms, individuals can choose personally meaningful ways to describe themselves, and the handles can become so meaningful that among those heavily involved in computers (or perhaps simply involved in online chatting), it’s common to go by the handles even in face-to-face conversation, rather than by legal names. Some users, in contrast, choose random characters (for example: ang) to identify themselves, not wanting to give their personal story away to strangers. And some change nyms frequently, rebooting their name over and over, trying to prevent others from assuming things based on what might have been past interactions with the person. When I play around with it, this aspect of computing (akin to writing under a psuedonym) can feel very liberating.

At top, the image has text saying "If I was the teacher, i'd give this kid an A." Below that, the image shows a schoolwork assignment, which reads: Defend your answer. Rather than follow the assignment (for whatever it was, perhaps math or English Language Arts), the student has drawn a fort around the word answer, and drawn a solider with a machine gun saying "Sarge, I don't know how much longer we can hold them!"
Must everything be so stressful?

It seems names should be a touching aspect of life, and fun to ponder, but they’re commonly just another battleground. Picking a name can feel empowering (because how could an unchosen name really represent/express who you are?), while keeping a name bestowed by others can offer connection linking the past, present, and future together. Maybe, like successful accounts of trauma that provide healing, names need to be simultaneously personally meaningful, and effective and connecting in social contexts. Really thinking names through, as opposed to dissociation from life (“it’s all a blur”), as well as good relationships for experimenting with names, seem very helpful for individuals trying to determine what might be their own best path.

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This blog post, The battleground of names, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/26/battleground-names/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Review of the novel Shantaram

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays, but more practically, whichever day I get to it. Here’s entry 7 of 52.

Note: I haven’t forgotten about Biden! I’ll post about him next week.

Note: You should probably skip this review if you want zero spoilers.

The cover of a paperback edition of Shantaram. It shows the book's title and authorship, plus a blurb, a building, and the sea.
The edition I have

On Monday I finally finished reading the 2003 novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The semi-autobiographical bestseller came to my attention because Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose August 2018 sentencing I reported on in person, included it in her art from the FMC Carswell prison in Fort Worth Texas, specifically in the piece reproduced below. The book is 933 large pages in the paperback edition I have (pictured left), so it took me quite a while to finish. Here’s what I gained from it, what I didn’t like, and my thoughts on whether you should consider reading Shantaram, if you haven’t already.

First, a quick summary. The story revolves around the main character Lin, who, after escaping imprisonment in his home country of Australia, where he’d robbed banks to maintain a drug habit, arrives in India with a false passport to live as a fugitive. There he participates in many areas of life unfamiliar to many Westerners or non-travelers, among them a restaurant-and-bar where fairly well-off migrants from Western countries reflect, as Lin sits at their table, on the ups and downs of their shifting fortunes and gossip about Mumbai. Lin meets the goofy and basically nonstop-happy Prabaker, an Indian taxi driver whose characterization is an offensive Sambo caricature, not a careful depiction of a fully realized individual. Prabaker becomes a sidekick for Lin and invites him, when the fugitive’s chips are down, to live in the city’s friendly Colaba slum. The Australian accepts, and then provides improvised medical services to the slum dwellers, an endearing (but also borderline stereotyped) section of the novel that shows the inhabitants of Colaba owning little, yet helping each other tremendously with little to none of the war of all against all common in the so-called civilized world. In other news, Lin somewhat randomly meets an elder statesman of a large gang/mafia, the oddly philosophical Abdel Khader Khan. Lin’s in love, too, with one of the restaurant-and-bar crowd, a Swiss woman named Karla who’s in the habit of offering purplish one-liners about life. The fugitive assists her in liberating her friend Lisa from the vile Madame Zhou’s prostitution/slavery den. Zhou retaliates by getting Lin thrown into a wretched prison once more, this time in India. After the Australian suffers much behind these new bars, Khader bribes the authorities to free him. In gratitude, and to learn skills for revenge, Lin goes to work for Khader in Mumbai’s criminal underworld, swapping out currency and trading passports on the black market, plus physical training and fistfighting members of a rival gang. This dark side of Lin increasingly comes to dominate over the slum doctor side, culminating in the fugitive travelling to Afghanistan as a gun-runner for Khader. Due to battling in that country, he barely makes it back to India, where he soon heads to Zhou’s for revenge. At the novel’s climax, he finds Zhou already a wreck, and, changing his mind, chooses to let her live. Lin muses that the cheerful slum dwellers, not the macho criminals, are the truly heroic ones — which doesn’t stop him a single inch, for another 100-or-so gratuitous pages after the climax, from continuing to fistfight members of rival gangs and promising those men in his particular gang that he’ll go on future missions beyond Mumbai with them, presumably a setup for the sequel I haven’t read, The Mountain Shadow.

As many reviews have noted, the best aspect of the novel is its vivid, lively depictions of various places. These off-the-beaten-path settings include Prabaker’s native village of Sunder, the Colaba slum, Zhou’s slave den, the Australian prison (in flashback), the prison in India, Bollywood sets, Afghanistan mountains and caves, a temporary settlement built atop a skyscraper, and more. The author’s personal experience of the environments enrich his portrayal of them, as when you stumble upon a Reddit post by a stranger who’s not dedicated to writing, but who’s suddenly putting together gorgeous, moving prose because they’re talking about something they’re profoundly invested in personally and know all the fascinating details of. For audiences starved of adventures, Shantaram seems as good a way as any, short of actual travel, to experience unfamiliar locations. But, then again, I unfortunately haven’t read many realist stories set outside Britain, Europe, and the United States. To read about India in English, there are probably many worthy alternatives to Shantaram out there; it’s simply a matter of finding them.

The novel is also enjoyable when it focuses on a bank-robbing druggie gone wrong changing for the better, into a compassionate doctor living and practicing among the friendly dwellers of the largely ignored, but massive, slum village in Mumbai. At these points, the book seems, or did to me, spiritually uplifting, and it really piqued my curiosity about this slum and similar parts of the planet, not that I know how accurately Gregory David Roberts depicts Colaba. In these portions, the novel reads like a modern-day Les Misérables, the 1862 French novel (and mainstay Broadway musical) about the ex-convict Jean Valjean who similarly improves his lot and turns to helping others. (I don’t know, but given reporting about Reality Winner’s numerous altruistic endeavors throughout her life, I imagine this component of the novel might appeal to her especially.)

Sadly, the Les Mis-esque portions of Shantaram don’t win out. As the pages mount up, Lin becomes heavily invested in the drug lord Abdel Khader Khan, treating him as a father figure godsend. Now that he’s in thrall to Khader, Lin’s altruistic side fades away, leaving readers to wade through seemingly endless tough-guy scenes of macho dialogue and beat ’em up. The book gives the impression that each twist and turn of these rival gangs scheming and warring against each other are of utmost importance to Roberts, but readers more interested in thoughtful humanity will probably lose sympathy with the suddenly swaggering Lin, as I did, and hang on only for the descriptions of the unusual Afghanistan setting, where the Australian’s warlike side emerges full blown, without any real apology. Toward the end of Shantaram, I was reminded of author Peter Straub’s Blue Rose crime novels from 1988-1993, in which again, labyrinthine complexities of plot are supposed to be gripping, yet really, reading, trying to keep track of the reversals and revelations, having my patience and memorization capacity taxed, I was just hoping for Straub to go rogue from corporate expectations and write something that simply interests or amuses him, as he did in his 1999 novel Mr. X, namely the fun scene, wholly unnecessary to the plot no one remembers anyway, of a college kid on amphetamine, sleeplessly blazing through tests and causing assorted humorous troubles (as best I can recall from having read that book a decade or so ago, anyway. Also, still waiting for a Peter Straub comedy of manners novel.) It isn’t really required for fiction to be a Rube Goldberg machine of cloaks, daggers, and derring-do to maintain audience interest, but living in a world of easily digestible intellectual abstractions and unnoticed emotional hypervigilance, that’s what audiences today are trained to look for from corporate entertainment: whether it’s the banging jolts and high-pitched shrieking of the ubiquitous cartoons everyone from toddler to adult seems to watch nowadays, or the action-heavy, fatal exploits of weapon-toting superheroes in blockbuster movies, characters in film will switch sides, chase MacGuffins, navigate ridiculous plot twists, and try to kill each other for hours and hours, and since all this is usually folks’ starting point with art, other options aren’t always readily salient. Anyway, to sum up Shantaram along with its reliance on needless hyperstimulating plot machinations, Lin first gains reader sympathy, going from gun-waving druggie to altruistic slum doctor, then loses it, dwindling into a cardboard gangster character working his studly way through the forgettable mazes of noir plot. The fugitive’s climactic forgiveness bestowed upon Madame Zhou, as predictable as a million other Christian-esque forgiveness stories (see for instance the Star Wars movies, where blowing up inhabited planets, committing mass genocide, is no significant obstacle to redemption: no trials, no reparations, no transformations, no nothing), makes little lasting impact on Lin after quick passages of him standing before her musing yet more aphorisms before returning to beat ’em up (where sure, he sometimes muses additionally, but he keeps on in the gang, doesn’t he). Among other things, Lin blames his second imprisonment for his downfall, but as I’ll conclude below, I think there’s more to his dark side coming out on top than the novel openly expresses.

The poor characterizations are another problem with Shantaram. Lin’s sidekick, Prabaker with the never-ending flashbulb smiles, was already mentioned briefly; he’s largely a troubling Sambo caricature, the offensive stereotype that paints people who aren’t white and are classed far below the colonial rulers and their offspring as happy and loyal and stupid untermensch. The women, Karla and Lisa among them, are routinely described in terms of their attractive physical appearances, and their roles are mostly delimited to how they impact the Australian and his sex drive. I suppose both these flaws were regrettably par for the course in 2003, prior to the widespread adoption of social media, but I’m glad white male authors can’t so easily escape with this sort of unaware, compulsive thing anymore.

Shantaram's author standing in front of a waterfall with a jewelry necklace, a vertical line of red paint on his bald forehead, and a giant grin.
Photo of Gregory David Roberts in 2020, by EmpathyArts

Finally, I want to talk about how Lin seems, to me, unreal, depersonalized. I’d imagine someone who robs banks, busts out of prison, and travels the world to be a person of great strength, for good or ill. Maybe I’m wrong, and there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in my philosophy, but I’d expect such a fugitive to have bold opinions, disciplined willpower, and definite preferences. Yet Lin floats, without much volition, as if pushed by undescribed waves, from healing doctor to warlike gun-runner, to someone listening to music on a beach or drinking in a bar, to many other roles, with little explanation of his zigzagging path beyond obvious observations in his first-person narration to the effect that, say, strutting gangsters want attention and aren’t happy in themselves. Duh. Papering over this depersonalized way Lin comes across are corny aphorisms from Karla and the-author-speaking-through-Lin. Many reviews have mocked these purple groaners, but just to give one example, I’ll open to a random page in the middle of my copy. Page 451: “there’s an innocence, essential and unblinking, in the heart of every determination to serve.” Huh? Essential and unblinking? Well, maybe? After reading hundreds of these easy-on-the-ears, yet ultimately cryptic, assertions, one or three every few pages, I lost my hopeful tolerance that I might learn from them something profound, and began to grow exhausted with them and the book overall. The one-liners seem to cover for the lack of a real Lin — Why did he gain that doctoring ability in the first place? Why India, or Karla for that matter? — so Roberts shoehorns the aphorisms into just about every available spot, apparently trying to create the illusion that meaningful things are happening. Lin turns to Khaled as a father figure, hoping the drug lord (who himself spouts paragraphs of undergraduate-sounding metaphysical theories into the eager ears of the fugitive) will provide something of substance, perhaps an understanding of life that Lin lacks. But Khaled is himself just some puffed-up mob boss, impressive only because the author repeatedly insists through Lin that it is so. The understandings never really come — except as more charlatan’s aphorisms. It isn’t just that Lin was pissed off to get imprisoned again, and so became a gangster when he should have remained with the friendly folks at the slum. It’s more crucially that, despite what we’re told of the prison-break and doctoring abilities and other superhuman attributes, there isn’t actually much of a Lin to begin or end with; referring himself to the ignoble Khaled for answers is just one dead end he tries of several. So in the absence of a more real, perhaps more determined individual to follow, the author instead fills too much of the novel with the supposedly cool scenes of rival gang fights. With all his anxious musings and flailing, flip-flopping soul-searches, Lin certainly doesn’t know himself truly, not even by the end of the novel, which to be fair is the first released in a planned quartet — if readers have the patience for whatever the grand total page count and grand total aphorism count end up at.

For all its problems, the novel does cohere quite well, and Roberts’ evocative, vibrant descriptions of the unfamiliar-to-me settings are worth the price of admission. They make me want to visit India even, and might be very enjoyable for you as well. The book includes a sampling of fun curios, from dancing bears to commentary on the challenging and sometimes dangerous peculiarities of Mumbai transportation. However, given all the complaints against the book described above, including the automatic turn-offs of weak/caricature characterization, there are probably better works about India and Afghanistan in English out there, more deserving of 900 pages’ worth of reading time. I definitely decided against reading the sequel (The Mountain Shadow), which racks up nearly another 900 pages. Reviews of the sequel say that with the autobiographical material burnt through and thus unavailable to him after Shantaram, Roberts piles on the aphorisms even worse in The Mountain Shadow, as the crime plots continue their needless complexities that don’t even titillate successfully. Beyond the setting descriptions, expressed sufficiently in Shantaram, I don’t think there’s more to learn from Roberts. So as 2021 gets underway, I’m now turning to read all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. There’s only so much time.

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This blog post, Review of the novel Shantaram, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/19/review-novel-shantaram/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Reads on the private spy industry aka Oops I missed week 9

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…except when I’m not: I missed week 9!

Hey there, apologies, I missed another week of my blog. However, last week’s oops post draws together an excerpt from Saint Augustine, Rachmaninoff, and Pussy Riot, so despite its oopsident status you might enjoy it—and this one commenting on a tepid New York Times article published today.

Generic bad guy, dressed as if for wedding, walks around looking stern

A New York Times article reminds me of me and everyone else

The piece, “Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups,” should be the stimulus of an article by me, though what makes near as much sense is to list related links under bolded subheads, as I’m about to do below. Sure, weaving the threads into a story would most excellently impart knowledge; however, I have lesson planning and grading to do this weekend, since I’m substitute teaching for a stint of a few weeks.

I investigated and reported on private spies for years, namely Stratfor but not just them, Erik Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos heads the Department of Education under which I teach, plus I’m quite informed about coronavirus, including here in Seattle, as I’ll be posting about on my blog asap, and finally I’m very aware of what Seattle Public Schools’ flimsy response to COVID-19 actually looks like on the ground. These topics, which may seem disparate, really do tie together…basically: fuck you, kill the poor first as well as all other humans plants and animals, and don’t hyperlink solutions because then people feel bad since their

  • ‘already living my best life’
  • ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks; I already know everything, and need no one to tell me anything ever since I’m da best’
  • ‘I throw a fit if someone uses an unfamiliar word: I don’t know what that means

bubbles are punctured. But I can say it in more thorough, cited, and academic-except-upside-down language. Probably as an opinion piece so the most difficult thing maybe happens: my hyperlinks to solutions/answers stay in.

There are many other reasons why I’m well-positioned to write about the material in the NYT article. What I don’t have these days is a commissioning editor. I could make a list of freelance pitch recipients for some of my readers to consider pinging, recommending they commission me? Just an idea…

Regardless, sure, I’ll spit out freelance pitches (yet again!) to the usual suspects in the corporate and corporate-imitating media, using the New York Times piece as a news peg (sadly, major events including wars and genocides are not considered news pegs, but corporate articles, as major news events, are)… but if any of you out there in our coronavirus world might be able to expedite things by connecting me with a commissioning editor, I might not backstab you and your antisocial friends, on behalf of the prosocial worldwide, for at least a few weeks! (I’m such a good businessman!)

The private spy industry

Cartoon for MAD Magazine’s Spy vs Spy

The short version of what activists need to know: if you take on some corporation or state, it’s not just them who will come at you in return, nor also the opposing activists who disagree or are simply envious of you since you manage to get out of bed and do something, but also the private mercenaries they hire, private spies who are professionals at defeating activists and laughing as they make I-refuse-to-read-outside-my-comfort-zone activists chase their own tails till extinction. These are ex-spy agency people, ex-special forces people, ex-supercop people, whoever gets off via a contract to hurt more massively than usual those who help themselves and others and refuse to comply. Don’t forget, these enemies will use the Duchin formula (see below) against you or already have, and your plan countering that is…?

Here are some reads on the private spy industry:

DEA Plan to Kill Narcos, by me at WhoWhatWhy, 17 July 2013

El Chapo Arrested—Why Now? by me at WhoWhatWhy, 24 Feb 2014

The Counterinsurgency War On—and Inside—Our Borders by me at WhoWhatWhy, 16 July 2014

Will Mexico’s Oil Give the U.S. Another Excuse for Covert Intervention? by me at WhoWhatWhy, 9 March 2015

Related generally, the book Green Is the New Red by Will Potter, 2011

The intelligence mafia, by Heather Marsh, 27 November 2010

Divide and conquer: unpacking Stratfor’s rise to power by Steve Horn at Mintpress News, 25 July 2013

How to win the media war against grassroots activists by Steve Horn at Mintpress News, 29 July 2013 … Standfirst from that one, on the Duchin formula:

The playbook: isolate the radicals, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. Then co-opt the realists.

Free Jeremy Hammond, the whistleblowing hacker who exfiltrated more than five million emails from Stratfor and is now doing extra time behind bars for resisting the federal grand jury into all that computer-y hacktivism/transparency stuff. Also Twin Trouble, Jeremy’s podcast from confinement (really!) with his twin Jason Hammond, known for his antifascist, antiracist successes.

Transcript of whistleblowing panel censored by Oxford Union, by Heather Marsh, 31 May 2018 (See also my documentation of that censorship at The Public and Boing Boing, both in May/June 2018.)

Pull quote from that transcript:

security for them means immunity from criminal prosecution, not just for their actions against so-called enemies but against anyone. The current CIA head talks about a bureaucracy that slows down the CIA – that bureaucracy is our human rights and that is how they see our lives – as bureaucracy. If they kill too many of us at once they have to fill out a form. And that slows them down. Pompeo wants ‘agile’ assassins. He wants killers who ‘fail fast and break things’, as if they were writing stupid apps instead of murdering children. He wants ‘disruptive’ terrorism. And their security is the freedom to do this with impunity and in secrecy.

And who is this nation they want security for? The US were supposedly enemies with Syria and allies with Canada when they were abducting Canadians to be tortured in Assad’s prisons. Their allegiances change at the drop of a hat and they all have each other’s secrets anyway. That is the whole point of their industry. The entire supranational intelligence community has access to each other’s secrets – they need security from the rest of us finding out. And their nation is anyone with enough money to pay them, corporations or states. You had Erik Prince speaking here a while back, the crown prince of mercenary contractors. He made his fortune at the top ranks of US military and intelligence and then contracted all that information to supposedly US enemy China. I believe David Shedd is also now in international private practice. Their nations are whoever can pay. We didn’t really need the US Patriot Act to tell us our intelligence agencies may be allies but the people in our states are certainly not their allies.

This is not national security. It is certainly not security for my nation. My nation consists of the caregivers of communities and the environment all over the world. They aren’t spying on corporations and telling communities what corporations are up to, they are spying on communities and selling that information to corporations. The victims of Jeffrey Epstein, all the victims whose abusers are protected by official secrets and taxpayer funded NDA’s, none of these victims are part of their nation. Their nation is the international intelligence community and the politicians and corporations who can afford to pay them. This is not national security. It is a mafia protection racket available to the highest bidder.

Erik Prince

A billionaire connected with Trump and also a lot of dead bodies killed especially illegally and unethically in exchange for dolla dolla bill.

https://twitter.com/YourAnonCentral/status/1236437533908590594

Democracy Now topic tag for Erik Prince, though there’s probably a lot better out there, maybe try an “Erik Prince” site:aljazeera.com Google search for starters.

Betsy DeVos

Articles, other involving the head of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince’s sister, linked by Rachel Anne Levy, a writer, teacher, and education activist in Virginia

I would also try searching “Betsy DeVos” site:democracynow.org on Google. Democracy Now doesn’t seem to have a tag for Betsy DeVos the way they do for her brother.

And now back to me…and Jaco

I wonder if people benefit from these shorter oops posts as they might the longer, less improvisatory ones. What’s your reaction? Is it Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry or maybe even real?

Anyway, if anyone who knows a commissioning editor with access to a large audience, I’ll write all this up into a ‘tell a story’ format, an article that looks mostly like hard news but the publisher can put in the opinion section, with more thoroughness and whatnot than this post, but until then, I’m working on my forthcoming COVID-19 blog post, another blog post concluding my USian escapes the bubble series about my Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, and lesson planning + grading.

Meanwhile, gonna listen to the late jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, who died far too early, in 1987, essentially as a result of what got diagnosed as manic depression, or better put, the lack of effective support for him and everyone else on this planet. Below, two videos that transmit, much like classified information, some transmutation into good moods for me and you.

Bassist Jerry Jemmott interviews Jaco Pastorius in the 1985 Jaco Pastorius Bass Guitar Instructional Video, Modern Electric Bass
“Three Views of a Secret” composed by Jaco Pastorius and released in 1981. Not sure when this live performance is from. Story behind the song by The Music Aficionado
“Liberty City” composed by Jaco Pastorius and released in 1981. This version from his 1981 live ‘birthday concert’

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This blog post, Reads on the private spy industry aka oops I missed week 9, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/03/07/oops-i-missed-week-9/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article

Today Salon published my and Amy O’Neal’s new article, “Portrait of a failed president: Inside the art of George W. Bush.” As is usual in this industry, they made some changes. So, some extra text and images here for you.

Below are the images buried in the article’s slideshow. (Except for Felipe Calderón, whose portrait I took a picture of, the images come from TheBushCenter’s Flickr.)

Portrait of Tony Blair

Portrait of the Dalai Lama

Portrait of Felipe Calderón

Exhibit wall

While Vladimir Putin’s false-flag bombings of his own Moscow remained in, George H.W. Bush’s connection to the JFK assassination came out. Here’s that text:

He once said he didn’t remember where he was when John F. Kennedy was assasinated, which is like saying you don’t remember where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon or the twin towers came down. As journalist Russ Baker’s thorough book Family of Secrets reveals, Poppy was actually in Dallas the day before and probably the morning of November 22, 1963, when military intelligence figures led Kennedy’s motorcade to its fate. Poppy was also a friend of George de Mohrenschildt, Lee Harvey Oswald’s handler, and closely tied to Allen Dulles, whom JFK removed from the CIA directorship. Not to mention Poppy’s ties to Texas oil barons whose tax breaks JFK wanted to end. Draw your own conclusions about this “gentle soul.”

Also I want to note that Bush raised more than half a billion dollars for the complex. Presidents raise money for their libraries while in office (as well as after), which means the fundraising is an opportunity for influence to be exerted. Even foreign leaders can give sitting presidents secret donations for their libraries.

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Extra material for Salon George W. Bush painting article by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

The Value of the Stratfor Leak

My speech at Foley Square

On November 15, hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. WikiLeaks published these emails as the Global Intelligence Files. I’ve been researching them intensively for more than a year, and have published two articles on my research at WhoWhatWhy, one on General David Petraeus and one on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to kill Mexican drug lord El Chapo. That second also includes a lot of my research into Stratfor’s informants and clients.

The day of Jeremy’s sentencing hearing, I gave a speech at Foley Square outside the courtroom and some interviews about the value of the Stratfor leak. The leak will continue to benefit researchers for years and years. Journalist Chris Hedges (Wikipedia), journalist Alexa O’Brien (Website, Twitter), and defense attorney Jay Leiderman (Website, Twitter) also spoke at Foley Square.

If you want the short version, check out this interview of me conducted by Jeff Durkin (Twitter) of We Are Change Connecticut (Website, YouTube). It was right after the speech. The interview is about seven minutes long and came out really well.

If you want the long version, here is a video of all four speeches and more by Small Affair (Twitter, Tumblr, Donate, Occupy the Stage). My part is from 36:00 minutes to 49:30. Small Affair also took the picture at the top of this post. Below the video is the prepared text of my speech.

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This morning we saw young but longtime hacker and political activist Jeremy Hammond unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other actions, hacking confidential emails out of the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, the leak of which WikiLeaks is now publishing. The five million-plus emails Jeremy provided to us through WikiLeaks span 2004 to 2011 and consist of internal and external correspondence, files, and records of the firm’s analysts, spies, executives, writers, and other employees.

I want to talk for a few minutes about why what Jeremy did has been and will continue be so beneficial to us—that is, I want to talk about the value of the Stratfor leak, which is Jeremy’s contribution to what we can call the historical record or humankind’s knowledge repository or simply just the Internet. For more than a year, I’ve been intensively researching the complete cache of Stratfor documents in WikiLeaks’ possession. I’ve published two in-depth articles at WhoWhatWhy using my research, have a third coming out soon there, and many more in the works.

When WikiLeaks began publishing the Stratfor leak, which it calls the Global Intelligence Files, much of the reaction from the US mainstream media was dismissive. The Atlantic published an article the same day WikiLeaks announced the leak, titled “Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is WikiLeaks for Taking It Seriously.” The Atlantic writer, of course, did not read the five million-plus emails. Rather, he was probably acquainted with Stratfor’s free email newsletter reports and media appearances and was itching to discredit WikiLeaks and its source, who we now know was Jeremy. But what the Atlantic writer was acquainted with was just the surface of Stratfor.

The firm does so much more. In the 2004 to 2011 time span the leak covers, Stratfor provided training and created custom intelligence products—reports, predictions, assessments—for big corporations such as Hunt Oil, National Oilwell Varco, Parker Drilling, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, and for government arms such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines, and many more. These people weren’t reading the free email newsletter reports. They were buying intelligence products such as Stratfor’s Yemen attack database, in which Stratfor catalogued incidents of violence in Yemen with precise information such as GPS coordinates. They were, in Emerson Electric’s case, paying more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year for phone and email access to Stratfor employees who would brief them on political, economic, and security factors affecting their operations. So much of the information Stratfor was providing these clients is available to us now thanks to Jeremy, and most of it hasn’t been researched yet.

National security journalist Joshua Foust said this week that Stratfor isn’t that much different from a private investigator. P.I.s don’t have the clientele I just listed. They also don’t have Stratfor’s informants, who included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mexican diplomat Fernando de la Mora Salcedo, and DEA supervisor William F. Dionne, whom I interviewed and who provided Stratfor information off JWICS, a top-secret US government computer network. Much of what these informants were telling Stratfor is available in the leak, again thanks to Jeremy, and most of it, again, hasn’t been researched yet. So we still don’t yet know the full extent of Jeremy’s contribution.

Joshua Foust also said this week that the Stratfor emails “weren’t surprising” for people in the know. That’s false. And he said “weren’t surprising” as if the leak is already over. We’ve barely scratched the surface. The mainstream media in the US doesn’t want to research the information I’ve been describing, they’re not familiar with it, they don’t care. They bash Jeremy’s contribution on the one hand, but on the other hand, the New York Times (as documented by the NYT Examiner), NPR, and other news organizations collaborate or share information with Stratfor behind the scenes. That’s the US mainstream media for you, hypocritical. Turn them off.

There are easily decades’ worth of research remaining for the Stratfor documents. Not only are there more than five million emails, but many of them have PDF attachments of up to hundreds of pages each. Examples of these attachments include intelligence bulletins from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center, Texas Department of Public Safety threat assessments and situation reports, and intelligence products created by Department of Homeland Security state fusion centers. There are even intelligence products created by Stratfor competitors whom the firm was studying such as Total Intelligence Solutions, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, and Oxford Analytica. So Jeremy didn’t just provide us with information from Stratfor, but also from other private intelligence firms and government intelligence organizations. Again, most of this material hasn’t been researched yet.

But here are some of the greatest hits of what has been uncovered so far.

The previously unknown Trapwire surveillance system was one of the biggest Stratfor revelations. This company with CIA ties developed software for CCTV cameras that identifies or supposedly identifies suspicious behavior and manages and cross-references suspicious behavior reports from different locations and time periods. It also integrates information from license plate readers and other surveillance inputs. Trapwire has been deployed in DC, Seattle, LA, Las Vegas casinos, Atlanta, the London Stock Exchange, and right here in the NYC subways, 500 cameras’ worth according to Stratfor in 2010. If someone “sees something, says something” about you in a New York subway, your “suspicious activity report” possibly goes to TrapWire. Thanks to Jeremy, we better understand mass surveillance, which is crucial, because giving the people who brought us mass incarceration, more than two million people behind bars in the US, the technology to incriminate anyone, whether rival politicians or ordinary citizens, is obviously an immense threat to freedom.

My work at WhoWhatWhy on the Stratfor documents, thanks to Jeremy, includes an article about General David Petraeus, whom Stratfor shows was probably having an extramarital affair prior to previously known, which besides possibly being a military offense, suggests his mistress Paula Broadwell, who was an intelligence officer, may have had him in her crosshairs for a long time. That makes more sense of Petraeus’s downfall from the CIA and gives a better picture of internal government struggles. Another article of mine is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division seeking White House permission to assassinate Mexican drug lords. That’s a picture of the increasing militarization of law enforcement and the possible broadening of US assassination policy to merge the war on drugs with the war on terror–a push for a so-called “narcoterrorism” policy. Later this month WhoWhatWhy will publish another Stratfor article of mine of Mexican military presence in the US and US military presence in Mexico. Thanks, Jeremy.

Another contribution of his are the revelations in the media outlet Narco News about the US and Mexican governments easing the path for certain cartels to traffic drugs into the country. Instead of improving the Mexican economy so poor people don’t join cartels or legalizing drugs, the US and Mexican governments pick favorites among drug cartels in hopes that a preferred balance of power among them will reduce the drug war violence. Meanwhile they arrest people for smoking pot. This is a picture of what the drug war really is. And I’ve seen in my research that even Congresspeople are listening to Stratfor on so-called narcoterrorism issues.

Thanks to Jeremy, we learned private intelligence was looking for connections between Alexa O’Brien’s campaign finance reform group US Day of Rage and Islamic fundamentalism, which of course carries the threat of Alexa being smeared as a terrorist. That particular Stratfor memo was cited in her and Chris Hedges’ court case against indefinite detention that went to the Supreme Court. We also learned thanks to Jeremy that the Department of Justice has a sealed indictment against Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, indicating the severity of the US government’s efforts against journalists and the Internet. This revelation was cited by Assange in an affidavit to Swedish police.

There are plenty of other revelations in the Stratfor documents. Those are just some of the greatest hits. You can get involved researching the Stratfor documents yourself. Look them up on the WikiLeaks website, where there is a search engine to look through them.

You might say, Okay, so we grabbed a few headlines, and maybe a few legal documents benefitted, but what’s the use, what does it all add up to? We know Jeremy’s legal case was unjust. The FBI knew Stratfor was being hacked for weeks and did not stop it, and entrapped Jeremy through their informant Sabu. Judge Preska denied Jeremy bail wrongfully. And the sentencing is irrational: if Jeremy had broken into the Stratfor building in Austin and walked off with hard drives, he might have a prison sentence of only about a year. There were other actions he did, but since the US government is cracking down on the Internet and journalists and their sources, he’s stuck with a much more severe sentence. So now he’s in prison. Are the news headlines, past and future, worth that? He says so, but are they really?

Yes. For one, these revelations are examples of why more and more people are ceasing to take the US government and traditional politics seriously. The fewer people trust in the Democratic Party, the better. People who grow disgusted with the System as a result of revelations such as these will begin to look to themselves and solidarity for solutions. Solutions such as the commons or mutual aid. Instead of trying to reform or overthrow the government, we can simply practice governance. Internet technology is a tool that makes mass collaboration for mass self-govenance possible, which is something Heather Marsh writes about, if you know her work. If not, read it.

The best way to look at what Jeremy did is to see it as a permanent contribution to humankind’s knowledge base, our knowledge base, the Internet. Think about checking your phone to look something up. We all know what it’s like to look something up online and find an answer, and we all know what it’s like to feel grateful when we find an especially good answer. That’s the sort of gratitude we should feel toward Jeremy. He improved our knowledge; he’s given us better answers, and they are answers about some of the most important things: what the powers who try to control us are doing. With better information, we can make better decisions and govern our own lives.

Fundamentally, Stratfor is a profit-driven business. It influences big business, government, and the media. It’s an organ of the powerful, but despite its power over all our lives, Stratfor’s employees are not vetted by the people and it’s not open to Freedom of Information Act requests. The knowledge it held between 2004 and 2011 was locked up behind closed doors.

But Jeremy freed it. For that, journalists owe him hard work researching the Stratfor documents, and we all owe him our thanks.

That evening, Vivien Weisman (Twitter) interviewed me about Barrett Brown and my Stratfor research to include in her upcoming documentary The Reality Wars, which is about hacktivists.

Also that evening, I was interviewed on Lorax Live (Website, AnonOps Radio, Twitter, Facebook) about the value of the Stratfor leak. The audio is not online yet, but I will update this page when it is.

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The Value of the Stratfor Leak by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

How To Reduce the Need for Affection

What do you want?

Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!

In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.

A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
  • Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
  • Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.

And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”

In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!

You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)

Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.

Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).

A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:

Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.

But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.

Not so fast, the psychiatrists are here. They describe “the self-effacing solution” of wanting too much affection, and the resignation solution of (among others) schizotypals wherein you want too little. Oh, good, the psychiatrists left. Continuing on.

Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.

So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?

INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.

* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!

Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.

They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?

Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.

Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can’t take any more of this either.]

END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.

I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)

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How to Reduce the Need for Affection by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

I Hate Game Theory

I have yet to read this book

A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if […] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”

Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.

Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?

One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.

I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed

“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”

After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”

“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”

“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [… Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”

The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)

Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?

Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.

Read this book

You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (see these to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.

When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.

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I Hate Game Theory by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.