Pluralistic: 20 Jan 2021

Today's links

My letter to the FBI (permalink)

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of my first blog post; some anonymous axe-grinder gave me a hell of a bloggiversary present: they complained about one of my posts to the FBI, triggering an investigation.

Even though my EFF colleague Mark Rumold called the (very professional) special agent, got him to agree that the post (a link to a Popular Mechanics article on the science of toppling monuments) was within my First Amendment rights, I wasn't done.

Today, thanks to the help of the self-described FOIA fiend Aaron Mackey, I sent the FBI a FOIA request for:

  • Any and all records that reflect or otherwise describe any investigations, assessments, or other actions taken by the FBI concerning my July blog post,

  • Any and all records, such as reports, memoranda, or notes relating to, or describing me that reflect or otherwise describe the January 12 communications between the FBI agent, me, and my legal counsel, and

  • Any and all records created, collected, or maintained by the FBI that otherwise describe or relate to any FBI investigations, assessments, or other actions concerning me regarding any other protected First Amendment activities.

But that's just for openers!

  • Pursuant to the Privacy Act, I further request that I be allowed to inspect and correct any records maintained about me. 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(d)(1)-(2).
  • I further request that the FBI—after allowing me to inspect and correct any and all records maintained about me—expunge or otherwise destroy records it collects and maintains that document, reflect, or otherwise describe my exercise of First Amendment rights.

So: let me see what you've got, then delete everything about my protected speech activities. This is a right that every person who is investigated for protected speech is entitled to under the Privacy Act.

Here's the letter I sent; I'm not a lawyer, and you probably aren't either, but it might help you draft your own letter if you get into the same absurd predicament:

You will need to include a U.S. Department of Justice Certification of Identity Form DOJ-361 (don't worry, it's an easy one):

And you'll need to send it to your local FBI field office, mine is the LA one:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Los Angeles Field Office
11000 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 1700
Los Angeles, CA 90024

No one should be on the No-Fly List (permalink)

It's been a minute, and the past four years really raised the bar on presidential evil, but here's a thing you should remeber: George W Bush was a fucking terrible president and everything he did was terrible.

The War on Terror – the latest addition to America's pantheon of Forever Wars – leveraged a national trauma to strip away human rights and incinerate official accountability.

Though this was described as a tool for punishing "terrorists," the toolkit it handed to every law enforcement officer, from G-Men to school cops, was given a real workout.

The war on terror turned everyone with a badge into a puny martinet, able to violate the rights of marginalized and disfavored people without fear of any consequences, reversing decades of hard-won progress on civil and human rights.

The punishment the war on terror has meted out to women, LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC people, political progressives, racialized people, Black people, Muslim people, and anyone who looked crosseyed at a mall cop is limitless and endless.

GWB did some really awful shit, like creating offshore torture sites (not just Gitmo, a web of them, around the world), and starting a bogus war that has raged so long that there are adults fighting it today who weren't born when it began.

In the grand scheme of things, the No-Fly List isn't even in the top ten of garbage things for which we should forever curse GWB but it is still an utter piece of shit, an idiotic policy enforced by idiots to no good purpose at the cost of enormous human suffering.

The Identity Project, and its Papers, Please! website, have been documenting the No-Fly List's incoherent cruelty since its inception. Today, they posted an extensive article explaining how the list (really many lists) works.

There's this thing that happens when you study corruption: you start with this complex, difficult system, and someone who understands it begins to explain it, and as they hold up each piece and say what it does and what it's called, you have a revelation:

Ohhhh, it's just bullshit.

I mean, go read up on how mortgage-backed securities work, or pharmacy benefits managers, or special purpose acquisition compaies, or cash bail. Really lean into it, pay attention. You'll get there.

The reason it doesn't make sense to lay people isn't that it's complicated. It doesn't make sense because it's fucking nonsense. The complexity is there to delay this realization.

That's the no-fly list. It's bullshit.

The Qanon-addled white-nationalist cult members who stormed the capitol last week shouldn't be on the no-fly list because there shouldn't be a no-fly list.

And if that's not good enough for you, try this one on: they shouldn't be on the no-fly list because if we lower the already rock-bottom standards for inclusion on that list, they're coming for the people you love next.

G-men and campus cops and TSA gropeaholics and thrice bailed out aviation monopolists and small town cops flush with civil forfeiture cash won't hesitate for an instant before putting the Wall of Moms and your whole middle school gay-straight alliance on the list.


If there's one thing we should all have learned from the four year nightmare we've just barely survived, it's that being stampeded into taking away rights from people you don't like is an utter monkey's paw, and when the fingers curl, they're coming for you.

We need to do something about the violent, deranged cult that spent the summer showing up in battle-rattle to terrorize state lawmakers, culminating in the Jan 6 riot. We need a COUP Act to investigate the links between cops and Nazis.

But what we positively do not need is to expand the power of the institutions that we have good reason to suspect are shot through with unhinged white nationalists so they have even more control over who can exercise the basic human right of going from one place to another.

Always remember: the No-Fly List is composed of people we're sure are too dangerous to be allowed on a plane – but who, inexplicably, we don't have enough evidence against to convict of any crime. In other words, it's an evidence-free witch-ducking stool in the cloud(s).

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Seed Magazine launches science blog-network

#15yrsago David Byrne: boycott DRM

#15yrsago PRO-USER ZEALOT bumper-stickers

#15yrsago Nonprofit alternative to CDDB gets its first deal

#10yrsago Best mafiosi nicknames from today’s historic bust

#10yrsago Safe-cracking robot autodials combinations to brute-force a high-security safe

#5yrsago Very sad news about science fiction titan David G Hartwell

#5yrsago Her Universe will start publishing science fiction novels

#1yrago Company that pampers rich people at Burning Man won’t give up

#1yrago Frontier, a terrible company, is going bankrupt

#1yrago Bestiality was not socially acceptable in medieval Europe

#1yrago Facial recognition isn’t just bad because it invades privacy: it’s because privacy invasions fuel discrimination

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Interesting People (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 510 words (101044 total).
  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 260 words (260 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 27)

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