Tesla Safety Fail: “Full Self Driving” Can’t Read Even Basic Traffic Signals

I just got off the phone with a technology reporter for a major newspaper, where I was asked about the risks of facial recognition.

That’s a deep topic, since crime using faces (deepfakes, impersonation) can apply to almost anything (fraud/theft, racism, classicism). However, I ended the call by warning about even broader risks in recognition linked with crimes: automobiles as human exoskeletons misidentifying any aspects of the world around them and causing death.

Tesla, to me, seems to present the most dangerous and negligent engineering examples in the world. They exhibit a recurring inability to read path obstacles or even basic traffic signals, ultimately treating unqualified drivers as their unwitting crash test dummies.

Overall Tesla is reported to have fewer screw-ups than Google in terms of sheer quantity, yet every time Tesla fails it may be another avoidable fatality.

Source: Quick visual I put together from a database query of incidents

To set the stage properly now, it was April of 2020 when Tesla announced it was giving its customers an update to detect street lights.

After testing on public roads, Tesla is rolling out a new feature of its partially automated driving system designed to spot stop signs and traffic signals.

The update of the electric car company’s cruise control and auto-steer systems is a step toward CEO Elon Musk’s pledge to convert cars to fully self-driving vehicles later this year.

But it also runs contrary to recommendations from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board that include limiting where Tesla’s Autopilot driving system can operate because it has failed to spot and react to hazards in at least three fatal crashes.

Ok, three very important points to make based on this old press release and what we know today:

  1. Tesla has been testing on public roads by releasing unsafe, unproven engineering and then waiting to see how bad it is. They exhibit willful disregard for safety and complete lack of ethics.
  2. “Later this year” would have been 2020, and the CEO’s pledge was (like all his pledges) proven to be deceptive if not entirely false. It’s been over a year and their software still fails the most basic tests.
  3. The US safety regulator is only making recommendations, whereas it seems like they should be figuring out how to ban Tesla from operating on public roads

Perhaps it was summarized better by two safety experts in that same article, who describe Tesla engineering as a kind of scam.

Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit watchdog group, said Tesla is using the feature to sell cars and get media attention, even though it might not work. “Unfortunately, we’ll find out the hard way,” he said.

Whenever one of its vehicles using Autopilot is involved in a crash, Tesla points to “legalese” warning drivers that they have to pay attention, Levine said. But he said Tesla drivers have a history over-relying on the company’s electronics.

Missy Cummings, a robotics and human factors professor at Duke University, fears that a Tesla will fail to stop for a traffic light and a driver won’t be paying attention. She also said Tesla is using its customers for “free testing” of new software.

Now a new video shows exactly what experts predicted, a new “Full Self Driving” product fails to register a strip of three green stop lights turning yellow.

To be clear about the failure, we can see very distinct green lights to start with.

Then watch what happens when they shift to yellow.

The human in the car observes the following sequence:

  • 0.92 seconds (~100ft): computer recognizes light change
  • 1.88 seconds (~200ft): computer applies brakes
  • 2.00 seconds: computer disables itself at 50 mph

I can confirm 100% that AutoPilot started applying brakes at +1.88s from the light change, the emergency alarm sounded at +2.0s (47mph), and I applied additional brakes myself at +3.75s (35mph) to ensure I didn’t enter the intersection.

Perhaps most notable in terms of criminal behavior, and per my comment above about unqualified drivers, a YouTube account commenting on this incident proudly admits trying to pump his accelerator and run red lights.

Did you catch that account name? The notorious racist slogan: “All Lives Matter”.

“All Lives Matter” wants everyone to know that if a Tesla says it sees a red light he has not been able to force it to drive through anyway.

Keep in mind that “All Lives Matter” is a slogan of violent social media terror campaigns that have been trying to convince American drivers to drive through crowds, run over people to kill them and silence speech.

Here we see not only Tesla safety engineering failing, but that a YouTube discussion of failures is being linked to a domestic terror campaign that violates traffic laws, specifically ignoring orders to stop.

Consider a new story about a man who just used this exact “pump” accelerator method to kill people:

Knajdek was using her car to block the intersection to protect the protesters as they demonstrated. Protester Ty Henderson says Knajdek was becoming a leader in the movement for justice. He says she was leading the game of “Red Light, Green Light” with the crowd when he witnessed the unthinkable. “The only reason I saw it was because I heard the tires screech and the engine rev up. Like, I heard it and I’m like, ‘What is that?’ And I look up and all I see is headlights, and all I could think is, like, it’s going faster,” Henderson said.

“Engine rev up” is an outsider perspective. The attacker was playing a different game called “Red light, Pedal Pump”.

In related news:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denounced an attack involving a driver accused of plowing a pickup truck into an immigrant family of five, killing four of them.

When Tesla can’t see green lights switch to yellow properly, is there any real expectation it would see a human child properly?

And isn’t that exactly what some Tesla buyers are attracted towards, a sense of irresponsibility and privilege? The CEO allegedly is enticing people to give him money so they can cause harm with impunity, a sick form of social entry that seems based in apartheid.

Safety is not a joke yet Tesla’s CEO seems obsessed with spreading negligence — he tells regulators important safety words like flamethrower and driverless can be whatever he wants them to mean regardless of fact.

More than 1,000 [Tesla CEO] flamethrower purchasers abroad have had their devices confiscated by customs officers or local police, with many facing fines and weapons charges. In the U.S., the flamethrowers have been implicated in at least one local and one federal criminal investigation. There have also been at least three occasions in which the Boring Company devices have been featured in weapons hauls seized from suspected drug dealers.

[…]

Tesla, the electric automaker led by Musk, has been criticized for naming its advanced driver assistant system Autopilot and for calling the $10,000 add-on option Full Self-Driving (FSD), even though the driver must remain engaged at all times and is legally liable. A German court has banned the company from using the terms “Autopilot” or “full potential for autonomous driving” on its website or in other marketing materials.

Indeed, should Tesla be banned? German courts today know a thing or two about stopping mass harms before it’s too late.

Why Russia Favors Attacking American Information Systems

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) in an old interview with Wired explained the basic economics of Russian information systems warfare:

If you add up all Russia spent in the Brexit vote, the French presidential elections, and the 2016 American elections, it’s less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane.

Less cost, more damage could be the byline of Facebook.

Today in the latest round of Geneva talks, it might seem that America is attempting a new form of peace with Russia.

It will mark the third time that Geneva has hosted U.S. and Russian leaders’ talks: The first was a multilateral meeting involving U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1955. The second came 30 years later, when President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev — an important icebreaker that some say paved the way toward the end of the Soviet Union.

However, both prior cases had a Russian leader with initiative, actively working on their own to reduce the instability and risk of attacking America. There seem to be no indications anywhere Putin has any objective other than spreading toxic white nationalism to destabilize the world for his self-enrichment. Instability seems to serve him.

Russia in fact lacks any clear identity or mission other than Putin taking all and giving nothing, into which the economics of information warfare unfortunately play a huge part.

Stopping Russia today should be little different than blocking a shameless bully who always looks for inexpensive routes to do wrong. That is quite a different situation than the prior two Geneva talks where incentives seemed more aligned around doing things right.

Bailing Sand

the truck transmission whined in protest, the computer gave up. then, bailing away soft flowing sand from our door sills, shovel burning my hands even under a cool moonless starry night… something was truly exhilarating about digging out.

this machine would never understand. sat quietly and waited for rescue by a tool thousands of years old.

in a way, hacking machines is like driving off-road so far that you’ll maybe never make it out again. and that’s why to do it. humans are driven by curiosity, machines are driven by humans.

Landmines are Banned. Should Drones Aloft be Classified as Airmines?

The United Nations has this introduction to the subject of mines and disarmament:

Landmines come in two varieties: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Both have caused great suffering in the past decades. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (or Mine Ban Convention), adopted in 1997. More than 150 countries have joined this treaty. Its positive impact includes a marked reduction of casualties, an increased number of mine-free States, destroyed stockpiles and improved assistance to victims.

The question becomes if land-mines are prohibited, aren’t drones aloft (loitering munitions of WWII that explode on some trigger mechanism) thus simply air-mines and prohibited already?

Israel’s recent use of drones is being described in Defense Update as an intentional move away from human oversight in anti-personnel explosives.

First, Israel is calling out safety and human oversight as too slow to engage in combat:

In recent years drones have proved essential for all military operations, providing critical intelligence and pursuing time-sensitive targets. As they loiter over the battlespace, drones can spot enemy activities on the ground, but transferring this insight into action may take hours as the call for fire is processed through the echelons until the order to fire is approved.

Empowering the company commanders with the means and authority to order and approve an attack by their organic weapons, supporting artillery, naval, or air support enables the IDF to engage targets having a short lifespan. These targets are often exposed by exploiting the friction created through the movement of manned or unmanned combat units in enemy territory.

That seems like a simple enough problem to solve, like giving orders to authorize a soldier holding a gun to use discretion when firing and not call for approval, unless a call is needed.

A Navy SEAL told me a story about this where he had given his men orders to immediately shoot anyone they saw pointing weapons at the American President — without delay and without need for approval.

Soon after a call came through for approval to fire at someone pointing a gun at the President. Confused by the request, he asked questions. The answer became a foreign soldier was pointing a large sniper rifle towards the President (ostensibly to help guard him by looking through its scope for targets). Obviously the SEAL leader said don’t fire.

Second, although Israel is emphasizing a chain of command and authorized discretion by a company, it is not clear that will continue to hold true.

This video makes the drone look very much more like a mine designed to be remotely staged, almost like planting to explode later on a simple wireless trigger.

Will swarms be converted by “efficiency” pressure (like how artillery shells became IED) into becoming airborne mines?

Here’s the conclusion of the Defense Update:

On May 6, 2021, as the fighting in the south erupted, the new S&D unit moved quickly to become the first military unit to operate drone swarms in combat. Within few hours, they deployed and fielded this brand-new system, seeking and destroying dozens of hidden enemy targets in complex terrain in rural and urban areas.

Within a few days, the new unit brought stunning results. A single company empowered by drone swarms, precision weapons, and comprehensive C4I delivered over 30 missions, destroying dozens of enemy targets several kilometers beyond the border. They were able to locate the enemy in complex urban and densely vegetated rural areas, designate targets, assess those targets at the company CP, strike the targets selected for engagement and perform battle damage assessment (BDA), all that done within minutes by drone swarms. Following the success of these S&D companies, the GFC recommended converting all combat support companies in regular force to S&D companies over the next year.

I read that as the only ethics/oversight gate remaining would be to “assess targets at the company CP and select for engagement”, unless you count BDA, while it’s all done within minutes”.

With that in mind, a problem of mines in the area is a story dating back to at least WWII.

The Arab Republic of Egypt is contaminated with mines and explosive remnants of war in the Western Desert, which date from World War II, and in the Sinai Peninsula and Eastern Desert, which are a legacy of wars with Israel between 1956 and 1973. […] The government has stated that some 17 million landmines were left in the Western Desert and another 5.5 million in Sinai and the Eastern Desert.

Some important lessons there, surely. What if drone swarms are left behind? What if they are commandeered or corrupted? Imagine a swarm being tricked into drifting backwards towards launchers and targeting owners, or just being left behind and then recycled into some future terrorism campaign.

The next question perhaps is blow-back, as old mines left in the desert during long-ago wars have been dug out and repurposed into modern IED by terrorists.

…these munitions have become part of a new and worrisome trend. As the Islamic State and other jihadi groups have grown throughout the region, sometimes roaming unchecked across long, porous borders, a few have realized the potential power of this massive cache of explosives, much of it buried here by the Nazis. Military and civilian officials in Cairo say ISIS and other groups have already MacGyvered these decades-old mines, using their components for bombs, improvised explosive devices (IED) and other instruments of death. “We’ve had at least 10 reports from the military of terrorists using old mines, says Fathy el-Shazly, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who until recently served as Egypt’s land mine clearance czar. “Even now, these things trouble us in different ways.”

A Nazi is either laying or clearing mines. Can you tell from this photo? If you were authorized to shoot, what would you do?

Reduce Your Vulnerability to Fraud by Listening to More Stories

There is measurable vulnerability in people who lack experience outside a single story. We documented this in terms of who falls victim to Advance Fee Fraud (419 scams) but it also applies to the AntiFa and BLM scams spreading lately.

A story-teller on TED may explain it far better than I ever could:

Army Captain Florent Groberg, who received the Medal of Honor for charging a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, calls this opening up to others so you can “have a conversation”.

Surveillance Capitalism Theory is Dangerously Wrong

The premise of “surveillance capitalism” is that it should be stopped for doing harms. However, what if surveillance is in fact the foundation of modern science and capitalism is the foundation of that science being sustainable?

Wouldn’t stopping authorized observations without caution then cast society perilously into ignorance?

The real threat instead of surveillance (e.g. science) seems to be in fact debt capitalism, which puts people into a power dynamic they can’t escape because of indebtedness. Think feudalism or indentured servant, even slavery as opposed to just surveillance.

The problem with slavery in other words is not really about the surveillance. Being surveilled is much easier to defeat in ways that debt makes hard, as any historian studying slavery can surely tell you.

Both the Revolutionary and the Civil War in America were not about surveillance, although it definitely was a symptom, they were about control of assets and debts.

On that note, while in 2019 I wrote about the urgent need to stop saying data is oil, I appreciate that in 2021 someone is writing “Data isn’t oil, whatever tech commentators tell you: it’s people’s lives”.

What that article gets right is talking about lives, digital and kinetic lives. What that article gets dangerously wrong, like most jumping on the new surveillance capitalism bandwagon, is modes of authorization for collecting and detaining something.

The fossil fuels that were laid down by organic processes millions of years ago in the evolution of our planet have been extracted with the permission of property owners who claimed possession of the resources that lay buried beneath their domains (or demesnes).

From that perspective, big tech companies claim possession of the data that lays buried beneath their domains. Seems counter-productive as an argument as it makes data in fact sound like oil.

It also glosses over facts like property disputes in oil were legion. Flow rate of oil extraction depended on exclusive drilling access, yet oil fields didn’t respect boundaries at the surface.

When a field crossed a property line someone drilling oil elsewhere would not only gain access under their property but reduce the access/flow of the other person extracting it everywhere else. Now add in “horizontal” drilling and it should become obvious “buried beneath their domains” was never a simple “permission” model.

And that’s the problem with critics of surveillance too. Are parents authorized in surveillance of their children? Are they authorized to claim ownership of their surveillance data? What about doctors monitoring patients?

We shouldn’t want to reduce surveillance wholesale, as it has so many positive attributes related to knowledge. We want to reduce unjust indebtedness that comes as a result of many power imbalances generated by big data tools like abusive or unauthorized surveillance.

Getting rid of things like Palantir is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It’s an anti-democratic pro-fascist platform that poses great dangers to society. However, we shouldn’t also get rid of knowledge platforms based on authorization to build them properly for monitoring and learning.

In other words, if we would ban someone carrying a machine gun or a bazooka (or an AR-15, yes I said it) into a public place then we would ban someone carrying surveillance automation machines into a public place.

Some surveillance technologies are so dangerous that they inevitably cause far more problems than they solve. The use of facial recognition and remote biometric technologies in publicly accessible spaces enables mass surveillance and discriminatory targeted surveillance. In such cases, the potential for abuse is too great, and the consequences too severe.

That does not mean, however, that we would ban authorized use of surveillance automation machines. We should think of surveillance tools as just that, and not lose sight of the fact that debt capitalism is what drives their use being seen as so immoral.

Why Mass Electric Car Concepts of 1940s May Finally Arrive in 2020s

Electric trucks charging in Goods Depot, St Pancras Station, London 1917

The BBC makes a classic error in their new report by saying GM started electric mass vehicle development in 1990s (shutdown by Bush in 2001).

Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think… The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s. But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

In fact “the kind of prices” started in the 1970s (shutdown by Reagan in 1981) based on affordable electric mass vehicle development in the 1940s (postwar Tokyo), as I’ve written here before.

Never forget in 1980 the executives at GM were promising mass electric cars soon would be on the road.

The EV-1 was at least their second-attempt, definitely NOT the first.

G.M. is planning to put a mass-produced electric car on the road by the mid-1980’s. Alex Mair, vice president in charge of technical staffs, said that by 2020, 10 to 15 percent of G.M.’s total production will be electric vehicles. “We think we’re leading the world this time around,” Mr. Mair said.

Again, it was shut-down for political reasons by President Reagan.

This time around…? Until then, here’s a poster from 1917 with all the reasons why inexpensive electric trucks make more sense than high-cost of gasoline (click to enlarge).

American Filibuster Must Die: Its History is a Bald-Faced Lie

An excellent write-up of the history of the American filibuster makes it absolutely clear how it’s rooted in blocking civil-rights, and its supporters are spreading lies about history to cover-up this fact:

  1. “…filibuster was not ‘created to bring together members of different parties.’ Political parties did not exist when the Constitution was written, and the Founders famously failed to anticipate their central role in the system.”
  2. “…Founders not only did not create the filibuster, they specifically rejected a supermajority voting requirement.”
  3. “…was not created to ‘protect the rights of the minority from the majority.’ It was originally a rules glitch. In the early-20th century, it was whittled down to a two-thirds supermajority requirement that, by practice, was reserved mainly for use in blocking civil-rights bills.”

The above three points are then beautifully wrapped up in this final paragraph:

In sum, the Founders did not create the filibuster. It emerged accidentally, was changed repeatedly, and was not “designed” for any purpose, and most certainly not to give the minority party a veto. It’s no more true than George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. It’s a story people made up to rationalize a system that nobody invented because nobody ever would create a system like this on purpose.

Only thing that seems missing is… whether there’s a clear correlation between Mitch McConnell of Kentucky abusing the filibuster so often/aggressively and an historic pattern of civil rights abuses. Look at this chart, for example:

MLK even warned us about this.

Back in 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked about putting the fate of progressive legislation to the vote of the American people. Dr. King affirmed he would support such an approach, stating, “I think the vast majority of people in the United States would vote favorably for such a bill.” But Dr. King wasn’t done. He additionally admonished most astutely about the filibuster.

“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided Senators who would use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting,” King said. “They won’t let the majority of Senators vote. And certainly they don’t want the majority of people to vote because they know they don’t represent the majority of people.”

Fast forward to 2021 and America is at a filibuster crossroads. We have a choice to make. Do we uphold a racist Senate rule, i.e. the filibuster, or do we uphold American democracy by protecting voting rights?

Naomi Osaka Just Shutdown Russian State Attacks on Athletes

All over the news is the story of Naomi Osaka defending her mental health against attackers:

‘This Will 100% Save Somebody’s Life.’ Athletes See a Turning Point for Mental Health After Naomi Osaka Takes a Stand at the French Open

However, NOT all over the news is the context of these terrible attacks and how they have been linked to Russian state methods to unfairly compete (as well as influence outcomes for gambling).

Take this 2016 story, for example:

The four athletes said their use of approved medications was already widely reported or they welcomed the openness resulting from an alleged Russian-led cyberattack that WADA believes is revenge for investigations into a state-backed doping program in Russia.

“To say that Petra Kvitova suffers from asthma and uses medication for treatment is the same revelation as saying she’s won Wimbledon,” a spokesman for the Czech tennis player, Karel Tejkal, said.

The next two years these Russian attacks on athletes health records (e.g. to manipulate their mental health) intensified such that by 2018 coordinated anti-crime actions were announced.

Microsoft Corp. says a Russia-linked cyberhacking group has made “significant” attacks on at least 16 sports and anti-doping organizations across three continents since September.

And then two years after that in 2020 Russian Intelligence Officers were indicted for targeting healthcare records around the world in a campaign to attack athletes:

A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has indicted six Russian computer hackers for their involvement in a worldwide deployment of malware and other computer hacking efforts that targeted the Heritage Valley Health System… also was an attempted cyber-attack on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics where Russian athletes were banned from participating under the country’s flag due to a government-sponsored doping scandal.

The problem is much, much larger than just these six military intelligence officers in Russia. And Naomi Osaka is a true leader, an inspiration to athletes around the world, to demand adequate competitor safety be provided from these state-run attacks.

In related news, ransomware attacks now will be classified with similar priority to an act of terrorism.

Devil’s Punch Bowl in Natchez: Confederate Disaster and Propaganda Campaign

Source: Internet image search for disgusting relics of Natchez inequality. “Nutt’s Folly” was an absurd display of ill-gotten wealth from state-sanctioned rape of black women. It was abandoned by workers and craftsmen as they joined the Union army at the start of Civil War to fight against their employer. Nutt died from disease (small pox?) in 1864.

One of the more annoying post-Civil War propaganda campaigns started by the Southern Confederacy is to blame their own humanitarian disasters on liberating armies. “Devil’s Punch Bowl” in Natchez, Mississippi is one such example. Many thousands of slaves intentionally malnourished and denied basics like clothing or education were pushed upon Union forces, then fraudulently written into movies and books as entirely a Union disaster.

For some perspective consider when concentration camps of Nazi Germany were liberated, many prisoners died immediately or soon after. Nobody I know ever blames those deaths on Allies, yet in terms of the Civil War it is common to hear the Union blamed for the Confederate slave deaths that came after liberation.

I’ve met personally with survivors and liberators of Nazi concentration camps, who described tragic events to me such as a starved prisoner dying from care — eating a real meal too excitedly/quickly (something known well to anyone familiar with shipwreck history).

The first intake of food proved fatal for many prisoners, too weak from starvation to digest it. …the road to recovery would be long and painful.

And, again, nobody says Allies were killing the liberated German slaves yet that’s the talk track created by Confederates after the Civil War about Black American slaves.

The real story of Natchez is that it was one of very many camps setup to handle a refugee crisis that had been strategically manufactured by the Confederacy. After a long and brutal war started by the Southern Confederacy to perpetuate slavery, their former slaves totally dependent by design were in desperate state — in need of immediate food, shelter, clothes, education etc where none had been before.

I’ll say that again. The Confederates denied slaves freedom or capabilities for self-care, while also denying them care. Refugees from the slave states had been given so little to help themselves they were thus setup to be helpless (any capabilities were deemed a threat to white rule). Then with imminent loss of value to slaveholders these slaves were intentionally swindled and pushed onto Union forces.

Below is a long albeit very insightful and clear-eyed write-up of the situation from 1865, which should settle any debate on these matters:

Source: “The Military and Naval History of the Rebellion in the United States. With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Officers”, by William Jewett Tenney, 1865, page 492

Here are a few highlights:

  • “In the regions which were occupied by Federal troops, the planters [a term referencing a large number of slaves owned] who sympathized with the Southern Confederacy had generally fled, taking with them or sending before them their able-bodied slaves, and leaving to the mercy of the invading army the old and decrepit, and the children who were too young to be of much value.”
  • “…in many instances arrived sick, half-starved, and with only a few rags for clothing. It was obviously the duty of the Government to provide in part at least for these poor creatures, and to furnish employment for such of them as were able to work, that they might sustain themselves and their more helpless kindred.”
  • “…especially below Vicksburg, it was a matter of difficulty to obtain a sufficiency of rations for the soldiers, to say nothing for the 30,000 or 40,000 helpless colored people who looked to the Government for food…”
  • “…with few exceptions [plantation owners] were adventurers and camp followers, who were ready to turn their hands to any opportunity of getting gain by the oppression of the poor, the weak, or the defenseless… no physician was allowed [by plantation owners to see the emancipated slaves]… nor were they furnished with food according to agreement… [such that plantation owners] made large fortunes on the single year’s labor.”
  • “…overcrowding, want of ventilation, malarious localities, prevalence of small-pox, want of medical attendance, poor and insufficient food, and lack of clothing. […] At the camp at Natchez, where there had been 4,000 freedmen, the number was reduced to 2,100 by deaths, from fifty to seventy-five having died per day during July and August.”

In short, the area known for the highest concentration of wealth generated by slavery also somehow had the highest number of Blacks approaching total destitution. 40,000 refugees from Confederate prisons!

Mind you this all was published in 1865 and was no secret. Letters from around December 1863 even speak to raising awareness of the calamity, such that northerners would immediately send aid.

The population of coloured people here, during the past year, has been some 4000. There have been 1100 deaths. This statement tells the story. […] And from exposure they cannot avoid, Pneumonia, Small-pox, and other diseases incident to camp life, are on the increase and more fatal.

In summary, the Confederacy tactically pushed able-bodied slaves away (for continued servitude under men like Jack Daniel even after emancipation) and then cruelly pushed masses of ill and infirm northward towards approaching Union troops to bog them down. Union troops were still concentrated to the East (where fighting was heaviest) and slave owners shifted west, hoping to avoid giving up slavery (Texans not to mention Californians continued slavery feeling protected by “remoteness“). By the time General Granger and his 1,800 men in Texas issued their June 19, 1865 order to free all slaves, it’s estimated 250,000 Americans still were under violent oppression.

Source: The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, which documents where emancipated slaves in Texas settled.

An interesting tangent here is that Granger’s precise wording in Texas had very specific orders to remain in place instead of approaching military posts, heading off further humanitarian disaster being fomented by Confederate forces in this region of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Granger not only was aiming to avoid refugees overwhelming Union forces coming to give them freedom, he also likely recognized the need to keep people where they were to avoid concentration of supplies. Indeed, slaveholders had cruelly started to profit from a disaster of their own making by afterwards cornering and corrupting emergency supply markets, spiking costs to increase suffering as repeated in the 2021 Texas energy outages (while blaming all of this on someone or something else, again like 2021). Asking freemen to continue working in place as opposed to gather around Union forces served dual purposes in preventing further human exploitation by white families of the Southern Confederacy.

We’re talking here about white families who after 1808 had very purposefully created a system of state-sanctioned rape of women for forced births (all white men were encouraged to rape black women to increase birth rates for profit) as well as buying and selling humans — don’t be distracted by other industries (e.g. agriculture, especially cotton) as it was all about mass exploitation of Black women and their children.

…[profit from raping Black women and using or trading their children as property meant] the African-American population in the South also rose from approximately 700,000 in 1790 to nearly 4 million by 1860. By the mid-19th century, the majority of the nation’s [enslaved Black children were] raised in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and nowhere in the antebellum South was [human trafficking] more dominant than Natchez, Mississippi, which was “…the wealthiest town per capita in the United States…” on the eve of the Civil War

Natchez operated as the second largest slave market for all the slave states. The region’s “boom” came directly from human trafficking, make no mistake about it.

In Mississippi alone the state-sanctioned raping and trafficking of Blacks had created a slave population of 437,303 by 1860 (99.8% or 436,631 of Blacks were owned by a white family). That’s a Black population all enslaved nearly 100,000 larger than the entire white population.

To make an even finer point, the term “planter” in Mississippi was the official economic reference to the number of slaves held and NOT any measure of any other output or goods.

Thus obvious economics of human trafficking translated into a huge amount of wealth for the slavers as they systematically raped Black women and then controlled every aspect of Black lives including food, shelter, behavior, health, and even religion.

Remember that absurdly huge brick mansion picture at the top of this post? I set it there to show the kind of largess from funds in Natchez all due to slavery.

Can you estimate how many women had been raped or their children sold to pay for all those bricks in Natchez, or how many slaves were denied food and clothing?

That should be in your head when you read about the Union troops who approached this area of “heavily concentrated wealth” where slaves suffered under total control of rich masters. Imagine finding tens of thousands of starving, barely clothed illiterate and ill refugees… suddenly pressed upon Federal government for desperate care. Then think about politics today in these former slave states where rich white men demand no care be afforded the poor.

In other words, Devil’s Punchbowl of Natchez was completely a manufactured crisis by the defeated Confederacy loyalists, which was designed to maximize suffering of emancipated slaves. It was a heartless scheme for profit from loss on top of the mass suffering in a war they started.

Sadly, that disgusting plan of the Confederates worked all too well. As historians have said about the victims of Nazism, “the road to recovery would be long and painful” for slaves of the Confederacy after liberation. It even explains American “tipping culture” today.

It’s fair to say the Union military was ill-equipped (having supplies heavily stretched even for its own purposes) and unprepared to handle the crisis thrown upon them. And it was even worse off trying to work through the cruelty of defeated Confederates trying to swindle and cheat the refugee/freedmen system to increase suffering and spin a false narrative that any suffering of the most weak and ill should be blamed on their liberators.

Think about the Nazis blaming deaths of their prisoners on liberation by Allies; that’s what Devil’s Punchbowl sounds like when the (obviously biased) voices out of Mississippi try to say it was liberation that caused a humanitarian crisis for slaves.

Let me break down briefly how the Confederate propaganda works, even to this day:

  • “Mostly women and children” — the Confederates relieved themselves of any responsibility for own slaves (given emancipation eliminated human trafficking market), as well as created as much burden on the approaching Federal forces as possible. Thus these populations in dire need of assistance and put into refugee camps hastily, were a direct result of what the Southern Confederacy so cruelly practiced; to abandon their own weak, ill and infirm, including elderly, women and children.
  • “Men were put to hard labor” — the Union records indicate how able-bodied freemen were happier and healthier when assigned work and purpose. Chopping wood is cited, for example, and the Union encouraged this independence and self-sufficiency within the refugee camps. They also could choose the hard work of becoming educated and soldiers, which obviously opened up even more safety to them. The Union Army in several places notes that freemen who took over plantations operated them better because harder working than the white plantation owners who refused to do any work at all (dependent entirely on fraud like slavery and/or theft of wages).
  • “Emancipated slaves were not allowed to leave, had to bury own dead” — the spread of small pox and other communicable diseases easily explains why movement was limited, not to mention lack of food and clothing made movement in harsh weather questionable (temperatures were reported as both extreme hot summer and cold winters, very humid). Quarantine and shelter-in-place are unfortunate refugee tactics but a reality of preventing worse disasters.

Some clues of propaganda also are easy to find. One is the number of dead being wildly overestimated without any source material. Every article on the Internet claiming 20,000 dead is to be seriously doubted. There’s no evidence of that anywhere and none of the articles give a source.

Also a clue is when no dates are mentioned anywhere. When was a camp setup? On what timeline did people die such as per day? Which months had highest death rates? Were people denied leave specifically to prevent spread of small pox?

As you can see in this post I’ve provided answers to all of these, in a way that can easily be verified by anyone else.

Speaking of disease quarantine, if you really get into the regional history, it had a similar camp setup in May 1802 when small pox broke out in New Orleans (still under Spanish rule at that time, about 200 miles away by boat on the Mississippi river).

The new governor of the Mississippi Territory William C. C. Claiborne, appointed by Jefferson, barred sale of goods from Louisiana, used a new health law to force vaccination (newly popularized by England in 1797) and prevent variolation (a risky practice started after 1721)… then he created a “small pox camp” just outside Natchez.

Source: “Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form”, Volume 2, 1907, page 693

In other words, when small pox broke out among the liberated slaves who had been forced by retreating Confederates into being refugees, someone very likely thought back to the Claiborne forced containment model outside Natchez.

If people are going to criticize the Federal government in 1863 for using methods that worked in 1802, they need to explain the difference.

Incidentally, Natchez is in fact the name for the people native to this area for a 1,000 years… who also in the 1700s were greatly affected by small pox.

The high death toll from small pox in the Natchez region even around the time of Civil War is easily reviewed in Union Army records such as this one from 1868.

Statement of the Disposition of Some of the Bodies of Deceased Union Soldiers and Prisoners of War Whose Remains Have Been Removed to National Cemeteries in the Southern and Western States, US Army, Quartermaster’s Department 1868, page 28
Source: Internet search for Natchez National Cemetery (1/2 mile from Devil’s Punchbowl) Unknown Soldier — I’ve left out the Confederate monument erected near these graves that disrespectfully claims in their face that “glory [of those who killed Americans to expand slavery] will never fade”.

In conclusion it’s wrong to allow the Devil’s Punchbowl propaganda to continue, since a Confederate humanitarian disaster strategy shouldn’t be blamed wholesale on the Union being ill-prepared to respond. Abrupt care en masse (collapse of Confederate slavery) was a non-trivial problem for the Union military to solve, hopefully for obvious reasons.

Devil’s Punchbowl narratives thus spread from calculated slaveholder strategy to exploit emancipated slaves and harm the Union for selfish gain, as ever. It mostly continues as a propaganda campaign based on a grain of truth turned into a pernicious lie about America.

To tell it accurately is to say it was a humanitarian crisis manufactured by bitter slaveholders who pushed Blacks towards death and desperation yet wanted it all to be blamed on someone else (approaching Union forces abolishing slavery).

the poetry of information security