From: Aoife T <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Fw: Re: Lost Commission Documents
Date: May 21, 2038 02:21 AM EDT
To: Riley Easton <email@example.com>
So were you just looking for a way to fuck with me here or did you not know your friend over at The Paladin is a fucking scumbag? “We can’t in good conscience”, fucking sanctimonious prick. What the fuck is he talking about? Did you know about this? Did this guy tell you this double agent conspiracy bullshit (which is a new one, points to fuckface for creativity I guess) and you still sent me to him?
It’s always like this. Youll comb over every fucking grain of sand to get a story right but won’t think twice about setting me up to be humiliated and insulted by some Yale douchebag who probably uses the word “comrade” without irony.
From: Wilson Wallace-Wallerstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Lost Commission Documents
Date: May 20, 2038 7:45 PM EDT
To: Aoife T <email@example.com>
While it sounds like you’ve come across some interesting materials, we can’t in good conscience work with you on it given your own familial conflict of interest here. Any story about the formation of the TC that doesn’t investigate or address Ciárnan’s rumored role in it (which, based on conversation with Riley, you’re both apparently entirely in denial about) isn’t a story we can support.
Good luck with your investigation.
From: Aoife T <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Look fine I’m sorry probably don’t read that last forwarded email
Date: May 21, 2038 06:33 AM EDT
To: Riley Easton <email@example.com>
Look, I know Wallerstein came with caveats and you said I should slow the fuck down and keep digging through the docs before publishing so no, I’m not mad at you and I’m sorry. (that guy still fucking sucks though.) Please bear in mind while you’re considering never speaking to me again that I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep and what little I did get last night was in a solocup roaming the LFMAVN.
So yeah Avi kicked me out last night. Some extremely wellarmed case workers came over yesterday to ask me questions about Michalchuck. I didn’t give them anything except the finger and they left pretty quickly, but given Avi’s history being on the receiving end of “militarized social work” and the possibility of putting his kid at risk he understandably lost his shit. I mean, I’m also pretty sure he and Mel didn’t really like having their living room redecorated as a ripoff Mark Lombardi installation, given that my sense-making process still involves a sprawling serial killer wall of notes and printouts.
Not that I have been able to make any sense of any of it. It doesn’t add up to an accusation so much as an atmosphere, a bunch of articulations of something wrong that I haven’t heard couched quite like this. Something about why the Training Commission existed in the first place, why the Ashburn Institute pushed so hard for it, why the machine learning tech that arguably caused or at least enabled the Shitstorm was somehow declared the best way to prevent another one from happening again. But there’s no smoking gun, no obvious relationships between the interviewees, no damning proof of a particular crime.
I keep going back to this one interview with Jamie Rowen (dat://cab556087df4c669210568bc129fafb1453d0e06c89be6cae26e41154fd72ef1/)–an academic who studied trtuh commissions and what they’re good for and not good for. She talks about a short-lived (and apparently poorly documented) effort to start a truth commission in 2009 about 9/11 foreverwar stuff. And like, Mansoor Adayfi’s Nobel Prize notwithstanding, that history arguably still hasn’t really really been dealt with.
Here’s Rowen questioning the idea that truth commissions can fully “repair” the hard truths of history:
One of the things that has always intrigued me about this topic is how truth commissions are assumed as a default, like they’ll solve any problem, like racial injustice. We’re going to solve racial injustice by having a truth commission in the South to talk about slavery. I’ve had this conversation with so many people, and it’s frustrating to me, because it’s so limited, this tool. It’s not going to solve these issues. So why do we think it is? Why do we assume? I think one of the reasons is a faith based reason, a kind of confessional reason. The same way we think that confessing to a priest is going to make us feel better and make everything better. And there’s also a social science influence, where somehow we think that knowing our history prevents it from happening again. So, this idea of telling sticks to those two ways of making sense of the world. I’m not sure they’re right.
The combination of technical innovation and rigorous social science, those were Lawson’s talking points. It’s like she built the case for the TC on just coming up with counterpoints for most of these interviews and articles. But me getting a hold of this, Is that really enough for the LCSWs to show up at Avi’s door? Enough for that guy Miachelchuk’s to get dead somehow? Why can’t I see it, whatever it is?
I’m rambling. I probably shouldn’t send this. I probably shouldn’t be sending any emails right now. I don’t know what to do.
From: Aoife T <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: currachs and cautions
Date: May 21, 2038 05:09 PM EDT
Greetings, readers, from the interior of a solocup which has begun to smell like myself. The solocup interior is of those spaces you’re not supposed to think about, post-airspace overdesigned, where Iveian clean white lines get streaked with purposeful pseudo-filth squiggles, and an convex eggshell ceiling’s webbed with cracks like a broken windshield. I’ve been spending a lot of time in here, lately, shuttling aimlessly along the unfreeways of NoVA. This is, yes, the design flaw critics of autonomous vehicles warned us about years ago: given the rental fees, cheap enough energy, and the plummeting availability of public space, it makes more sense to keep the car moving than to just park it somewhere and take a nap.
Hence the strange doubled irony of getting repeatedly caught in one of the metro area’s timeless snaking traffic jams, the vista only cups, sky, brutalist concrete shelving on either side of 66, and scrubgrass thriving under the rails of the old, abandoned metro in the median. There’s something absurdly calming about tucking your knees against the dashboard and working, or lolling back in the too-bright light, feeling the swamp eat away at the reinforced plastic inches from your face, while all the salaried technocrats in their personalized cups fret away, unable to even slam on their horn anymore.
I’m avoiding the subject, which is that I found a story–or I guess it found me–that I really, really don’t want to be working on but can’t seem to get away from and it’s making me really paranoid. Hey Reader: I might be in over my head.
So fair warning this might be the last newsletter before a brief hiatus from me. Whatever this story is, I think I’ve got to go into the weeds for it. But it’s kind of related to the piece below, which, unlike the last two, was published in its entirety a couple of years ago. It hasn’t been available, however, as the resurrected Ramparts went the way of its late 20th C namesake after only a few years, and the VC fuckface who was pretty much its sole patron decided to remove all its IP from public use in a snitfit so epic it led to the Supreme Court (and for that see Molly’s pretty fucking great The Public Record and Its (Dis)Contents, which was just re-released this year with a new forward by Erin Simon).
Fuckface VC has been living on the Luxuria/Kelp seastead in the Aegean (the one subject to that notorious submarine cable sabotage by the EU, ironically) for the last year so I probably could have shared it sooner. But it felt gross–knowing why I was chosen to write it, both by the Ramparts editorial board and by Lawson herself. It’s not a particularly great piece, I was younger and much more whatever I was then, but seeing as Darcy remains notoriously private (and, while I wouldn’t want to spread unconfirmed rumors that everyone has heard, has personally squelched several profile pieces commissioned by various legacy outlets), there’s a certain value to its existence, maybe.
The Gowanus Canal runs no swifter following its claiming of almost half a city block last year. The canal water is cleaner, however. From the other side of the oyster-shell and supercoral buttress, you can see through its not-quite crystal transparency the old tag marks indicating infrastructure repair to be accomplished on the underwater sidewalks below.
Darcy Lawson likes to conduct meetings here, doing walk-and-talks along the borders of Brooklyn’s once fetid and toxic waterway. Dividing her time between DC, northern Virginia, and NYC has made Lawson a connoisseur of the various rising waterways of the eastern seaboard, yet the Gowanus canal remains her favorite. This post-post-industrial canal is, for Darcy, a metaphor conveniently carving its way through the Brooklyn outside the back door of her converted warehouse apartment.
The Gowanus is considered one of the greatest successes among the various state and city rising waterway clean-up programs stitching the seaboard, and the crown jewel of former mayor Carlos Menchaca’s administration. This success is largely attributed to its combination of “organic self-regulating systems” (the earlier mentioned bivalves, which now decorate the brunch menus of South Brooklyn with exhausting regularity) and what the NYC DEP referred to as “biome-styling”, about which far less information has been released but might have something to do with how Newtown Creek has, if anything, gotten worse.
At the same time, the Gowanus has resisted many of the human attempts to tame it, steadily rising with each year’s “surprise” hundred-year flood. Lawson likes to point-counterpoint these two facts, and then let the frisson and irony suggested rest there, giving you a tight-lipped non-smirk, a look she famously deployed at various Senate subcommittee hearings less than a decade ago.
The canal–its toxic history, its triumphant recovery, its existence as a constant negotiation between biological and technical systems–is Lawson’s way of segueing into the Training Commission and its impact on the Public Record, public life, and the snaking threads of federal power that she remains inextricably intertwined with. She tells this story with an air of inevitability, then apologizes. “I’m used to telling journalists about the TC, not my art.”
Darcy Lawson and I are walking to her first-ever art opening. Jacques Defarge, a small boutique gallery which rests on a repurposed barge in Red Hook, is exhibiting Lawson’s series of traditional Irish hand-hewn boats. Lawson, who grew up taking canoeing expeditions to Northwestern Ontario with the very large, sporty Irish-Quebecois side of her family, has always “felt most at peace when in the middle of a still lake, silently paddling under an open sky.” (This is both a direct quote from Lawson and an exact quote from the gallery copy.) During the Shitstorm (which Lawson only indirectly refers to, and never by its colloquial name) when Canada temporarily closed the border, she began to teach herself wood-carving to approximate this serenity.
As the federal government stabilized and the Ashburn Institute’s role in rebuilding the country became largely maintenance and high-level strategy, Lawson has returned to canoeing, while broadening her craft. “Not that I’ve had an excess of free time,” she says with a consciously unconscious laugh. Eventually, the two met in the guise of the present project, which is referred to merely as currachs.
Lawson has hewn closely to traditional techniques, importing wicker from County Clare, Ireland, and ethically sourced ox-hide from “somewhere upstate,” she tells me. Her process is related in a small hand-bound book available to the first 1,000 visitors, but there is no video of her at work. Lawson is understandably still a bit camera shy years after the first attempt on her life, shortly after Congress approved using the TC’s data as the foundation for the National Algorithm. (Contrary to gossip, Lawson does not unconsciously check or stroke the long scar running six inches from the tip of her ear to the back of her skull, scouring away her burnt auburn hair. Nor does she hide it.)
The exhibition isn’t part of a hard pivot in the life of a career political fixer. Lawson isn’t selling the boats, and she evinces little understanding of the Contemporary Arts and Crafts Movement. But history has shown that Darcy Lawson doesn’t do anything on a whim–if it’s not a vanity project and not a retirement announcement, what is it? She responds to this question with a calculatedly warm laugh and apparent deflection. “Let me tell you about the history of the currach,” she says, and eventually it becomes clear that this is yet another metaphor. Lawson’s potted history of Neolithic boat design and extensive detailing of her technique is, in a meandering way, an effort to tell me something about who she is and where she came from.
From her beginnings as a tech prodigy to her time as public prosecutor to her shift to renowned think tank co-founder, Lawson crafted a reputation of being fastidious, deeply insightful, and undeniably charming. Her decision to leave Synecdoche Research, the institution she’d built from the ground up in New York, and start an AI-focused think tank in northern Virginia was taken as a surprise, as was her acceptance of a generous endowment from Jeff Bezos. The Ashburn Institute’s pedigree is therefore complex, created out of a sea change in the way Lawson related to power (corporate, federal, and her own). Her eye for talent, practice of mentoring staff into the ranks of prominent Thought Leadership, and borderline clairvoyant sense for technological threats to national stability gave what otherwise might have been dismissed as a PR mouthpiece enough credibility to be among the few institutions trusted by factions on all sides of the Shitstorm, and an inevitable site for negotiating peace accords.
“Currachs are vessels for more than traversing the nation’s rising waters. They’re a reinforcement of ancient tradition and mythology, a passed-down process as social glue,” she tells me. Darcy Lawson sees herself–or wants me to see her–as a steward of our shared future, the architect of political vessels worthy of uncertain tides. Everything she does and everything she has done has been in service of this work, from her carefully honed public persona to her public-private partnership brokering to the still-under-NDA projects with other countries interested in implementing Training Commissions of their own.
In a way it feels like Darcy Lawson might be trying to apologize, if not to me personally then to every critic of our newly-automated American Experiment. Though it’s one of those self-justifying apologies the powerful like to give–you must understand, I only stepped on your throat to keep you alive. The kind of apology where intentions take precedent over consequences and the pain of misunderstanding those intentions requires more validation than the pain caused by well-intended choices. It almost makes you want to apologize back for having been so ungrateful for the heel on your throat.
That’s not to say Lawson lacks regrets–she, like many in this country, finds it disappointing that effectively an AI took over the responsibilities of the presidency before a woman ever could, and agrees with critics’ observation that the government providing reparations for algorithmic discrimination before slavery is “embarrassing, to say the least.” But, she emphasizes, the Training Commission was always meant to be the first step in a longer-term project of national healing. “Once we have enough data,” she says, “I’m confident that the models will show us the next steps.” When I ask her what “enough” data looks like and when we might expect that “enough” to be reached, she looks just past my shoulder to flag someone down and tells me I must meet her gallerist.
There was more during that evening that didn’t make it into this profile, stuff I don’t really want to dredge back up but seems to be haunting me again. More maybe not soon, but eventually.
From: Sarah Brill <email@example.com>
Subject: Transcript: A.Whelan, M.Whelan, 5/20/38
Date: May 21, 2038 11:32 PM EDT
To: Darcy Lawson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Per your request for transcripts of the ongoing surveillance of Whelan, below is a call that took place yesterday evening between Whelan and her mother, Mariana Tkachenko Whelan. I would strongly encourage you to listen to the audio as certain moments of sarcasm or ambiguity might be absent from the text. It can be hard to follow, as the Whelans’ preferred method of communication leans heavily on crosstalk, but the intent, if not the content, comes through a lot stronger.
Key observation from this call: A has not yet figured out the author of the leaked MM documents. However, it’s probably only a matter of time before she makes the connections, if she is allowed to continue to pursue the matter. Shortly after this call Whelan submitted a media request to Faraday to speak with Veracruz. In short, she’s doing the legwork, which doesn’t fit with the psych-profile. We can block the request, or if you think it’s time to escalate you know I’m more than happy to go full Kissinger on this situation.
Sarah Brill Special Projects and Research, The Ashburn Institute email@example.com
MW: I see you’ve learned how to answer your phone.
AW: [sigh] And how are you, Mom?
MW: Why is it every time you’re upset I have to hear it from your sister? She’s got enough on her plate–
AW: Fuck, Shiv, I told her–
MW: –you told her you don’t think it matters if history remembers your brother?
AW: That’s not what I–
MW: He took such good care of you, despite that fact that he was so young, and he was still so young when they–
MW: Why do you want the world to forget what your brother did?!
AW: I don’t–
MW: Do you think that museum’s for anyone who lived through the last twenty years? Did it occur to you that there are kids just learning this history? They need to see that footage for the first time too. They need to understand that things-
AW: Mom, I–
MW: Your brother changed this country.
AW: Jesus Christ–
MW: Watch your fucking mouth. He did. Without that footage, the Interstate Conflict would’ve only gotten…the country would have collapsed.
AW: Do people really need to be retraumatized with that video to remember that?
MW: Ciárnan is the reason they signed the Peace Accords. Ciárnan is the reason we got a truth commission. Ciárnan is the reason the we have a government which ACTUALLY LISTENS to its people-
AW: Mom, the government listens by tracking everyone all the–
MW: –but It’s the right tracking system,it’s designed to learn from us. The system improves when it has more data. When people participate in building the dataset, they build power. The training data established a foundation for that.
AW: You’re…you’re just saying words you heard on MSNBC, Mom. That’s not how it–
MW: What’s wrong with MSNBC? You’re too young to remember when talking about free press like that was the tactic of literal fascists. And don’t change the subject. You went behind my back–
AW: I haven’t even–Mom, I just was talking to Shiv–
MW: –without even thinking about what your brother would have wanted–
AW: What if Ciárnan didn’t want any of this world to happen? What if it doesn’t fucking matter what he would have wanted because he’s dead?
Why does it have to mean something? Why does it have to mean more than what it means to you, or to me? Sometimes people just die and all it fucking means is it hurts.
AW: I have to go.
MW: Your brother knew something was coming. He told Darcy Lawson as much.
MW: Without him the Training Commission never would have happened.
AW: Did she tell you that?
MW: I’m not just making it up!
AW: Are you friends with Darcy Lawson?
MW: We’re not friends, no. But she keeps in touch. Unlike some people.
AW: Mom. Ciárnan was embedded with the Ludds. He hated Darcy.
MW: He wasn’t on their side, Aoife. He was on our side.
AW: He…I have to go.
MW: Are you vaping right now? I thought you said–
AW: I love you, Mom. [sigh] I’m sorry. We’ll figure this out, OK?
MW: Aoife, you absolutely will not do anything to harm my son’s legacy! Are you lis–