Heroic Leader Braves the Gates of Hell to Defend the Environment (not really)

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan, is doing us all a favor and closing the gates to hell!

Well, not really.

For those who are unfamiliar, the “Gates of Hell” (also known as the Darvazagas crater) is a huge sinkhole in Turkmenistan that is thought to be the result of Soviet oil exploration, which collapsed a natural gas cavity, creating a sinkhole. The gases coming out of it were lit on fire to keep them from spreading at ground level and poisoning people.

In a lot of ways, that was probably a good call. While the smoke from the crater isn’t great for either local life or for the climate, it’s almost certainly better for both than the unburnt gas would have been. That said, they expected the fire to last for a couple weeks, not half a century, and the fumes from the fire have been causing problems. So, when I first heard that there are new plans to extinguish the fire and seal it off, I had one brief, happy moment where I forgot what world I live in, and thought that it was because of the harm being done to the environment (a category in which I include humanity). There are actually a number of underground fires (many of them in coal seams) that are emitting CO2 and other dangerous chemicals, and are obviously are dangerous to any structures or infrastructure above them. To be sure, Berdimuhamedow does seem to be trying to gain whatever “green” points he can, but…

Berdimuhamedow said that the burning crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby” and that Turkmenistan is “losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits.”

Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas in its underground, intending to significantly increase its export of gas to many countries such as Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Russia and also Western Europe by 2030.


Turkmenistan isn’t exactly the worst offender when it comes to the climate or other environmental issues, but this is very much part of an ongoing trend – world leaders pay lip service to the climate crisis, while continuing to expand fossil fuel extraction.  The story very much brings to mind the oh-so subtle satire of Doom Eternal, with capitalists reacting to the discovery of Hell by looking for ways to directly profit off of it.

Unfortunately, this goes beyond increasing the already monumental task of ending fossil fuel use, because while the industry has developed ingenious high-tech methods for accessing and extracting fossil fuel deposits, the wealth that has come from that has been used to shield them from ever having to figure out how to clean up after themselves. One part of this is the criminal laziness was probably best highlighted by the pathetic industry response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, and the demonstration that there had been no advances in oil cleanup in the decades since the Exxon-Valdez disaster, and BP’s oil spill response plan for the Gulf of Mexico included species like walruses and sea otters. The other part tends to be less dramatic, but could end up being as destructive as the more attention-grabbing spills and leaks – abandoned extraction sites:

How many of them are there, and where are they located?

A recent investigation by Reuters estimates that the United States could have more than 3.2 million orphaned and abandoned wells. Some states have a few hundred; others have a few thousand. And some have a staggering number of them: Pennsylvania reportedly has more than 330,000 of these wells within its borders.

“Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells are located everywhere,” says NRDC senior advocate Joshua Axelrod. “They can be in the middle of a forest, in backyards, in farm fields, even under sidewalks and houses.” Basically, they are anywhere that oil and gas development has taken place—at sites of large-scale operation spread out over many acres as well as single-well outfits on tiny parcels of land.

Why are they so dangerous?

Simple: Because they leak. Among the chemicals that can seep out and contaminate air, soil, or groundwater are hydrogen sulfide, benzene, and arsenic. Even the smallest leaks can adversely affect the local environment if they go unaddressed or undetected for many years.

Most alarmingly, though, these wells emit a lot of methane, an odorless gas that can seep into nearby buildings (a home, school, or office, for example) and pose major health hazards. When concentrated in enclosed spaces—such as a basement or a bedroom, for instance—methane will take the place of oxygen in the lungs and can cause weakness, nausea, vomiting, and convulsions. Long-term methane poisoning can even be fatal. And methane, of course, doesn’t just make people sick: It’s also highly explosive. In 2017, two men were killed while installing a hot water heater in the basement of a home in Firestone, Colorado, that had been built adjacent to an oil and gas field. When the neighboring petroleum corporation restarted a well that had been dormant for a year, a damaged flowline filled the basement with gas, which ignited into a fireball that destroyed the house in an instant.

I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re aware of this problem, and know where all of these abandoned wells are. It’s also helpful that many of them are on dry land, which reduces the resources required to actually seal them off. There’s another problem that, while probably less severe, is also less well-mapped, and is pretty much all under water – sunken ships.

The image is an infographic titled

I’ve long believed that the climate will continue warming for generations to come. If we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to find a way to exist as a part of global ecosystem that is, at least to some degree, actively managed. It’s not that I think nature needs us to “fix” it, but rather than we desperately need a healthy and diverse ecosystem for us to survive and thrive. That means that we can’t just stop doing the bad things – we also have to clean up after ourselves and our predecessors. This is work that is vital to our future, and it’s work that will take at least as long to do as it took to make the mess.

I also don’t think it will be profitable. The closest we could get to dealing with this problem in a capitalist society would be to provide government incentives. There will be some forms of cleanup that could be directly profitable, like “mining” raw materials from various kinds of trash, but that won’t be the case for everything that needs cleaning up, and the history of that economic model makes clear that the people forced to engage in that dangerous work will be treated horrifically.

We have a very long way to go before we can consider ourselves responsible residents of the planet. The cleanup will take generations. It will take far longer if it’s still limited by obsession with profit and disdain for human life, but no matter how we go about it, it will be the work of multiple lifetimes. In my lifetime, I’ll be content if I see us change to the point where those doing this necessary work are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve – it’ll be a good sign that we’re on the right track.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Possible progress on identifying the causes of “Long Covid”

A scientist in South Africa, Resia Pretorius, believes that she and her colleagues may have found at least one causal factor for “Long Covid.” The term is used to describe those with effects that extend beyond four weeks time, according to the most current information by the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of long Covid may vary from person to person, but the primary symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, muscle or joint pain, shortness of breath, sleep difficulties, and depression or anxiety. It’s been cause for real concern as the pandemic has unfolded, and until now, it’s seemed like we had no leads on what mechanism was actually causing it.

“A recent study in my lab revealed that there is significant microclot formation in the blood of both acute COVID-19 and long COVID patients,” Resia Pretorius, head of the science department at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed.

Pretorius writes that healthy bodies are typically able to efficiently break down blood clots through a process called fibrinolysis. But, when looking at blood from long COVID-19 patients, “persistent microclots are resistant to the body’s own fibrinolytic processes.”

Pretorius’ team in an analysis over the summer found high levels of inflammatory molecules “trapped” in the persistent microclots observed in long COVID-19 patients, which may be preventing the breakdown of clots. Because of that, cells in the body’s tissues may not be getting enough oxygen to sustain regular bodily functions, a condition known as cellular hypoxia.

“Widespread hypoxia may be central to the numerous reported debilitating symptoms” of long COVID-19, Pretorius writes.

Given all the misinformation surrounding the current pandemic, I think it’s worth mentioning that the idea of a disease having lasting effects even after it’s “cured” is nowhere close to new. The example that immediately sprang to my mind was Ebola, and specifically this interview from last year, which covers, among other important topics, how the focus is too often on ending the epidemic to the exclusion of all else. This means that far less attention is paid to the after-effects of the disease.  Going forward, I think it’s worth remembering that sometimes curing the infection is just the first step.

That said, it should be fairly clear that this is extremely hopeful news. The effects of Long Covid have made it the newest disease to be included under the ADA and many disability activists have voiced concerns that this could be a “great disabling” of our generation. If this research proves to be fruitful, it is possible that not only could long Covid be either eliminated or greatly diminished, but that other chronic diseases with similar effects may also be helped by this treatment.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

What kind of world could we build?

One of the reasons why I write science fiction, is that it’s a way for me to think about what the world could look like, and how it could be different from what I’ve always known. It can be hard to imagine how such a society might work, but fortunately a lot of people over the years have put a lot of thought into societal structures and forms of governance that lack the incentives for injustice and inequality that currently exist. I don’t think I or any other person is capable of giving the “right” answer, but as a collective, we can build on each other’s ideas and strengths, and create things that are better than any one of us could achieve.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what society is all about? Anyway, here’s Thought Slime on that very topic:

Scifi Saturday: Cary starts a hunt, part two.

It’s still Saturday somewhere, right?

This is the second half of this story. You can read the first half here.

Cary reached up and grabbed a handful of vegetation as he dug his right foot into a gap between stones. He pulled himself up, already looking for the next handhold, only to have the tendrils in his left hand give way. He slid back, scraping his hands as he flailed to keep himself from falling back onto his canoe. He caught a woody section of vine, and paused, palms burning. He could hear Greg crying, and the other kids shouting..

Pay attention. No time to rush things.

Looking up, he chose his grip, and tried again. One handhold at a time, ignoring the bugs and grime, making sure every grip would hold him to the next one. As he drew parallel with the upside-down child, he could hear an approaching siren. Greg’s brown skin was taking on a darker purple hue as the blood pooled in his head. Cary made sure his right hand and feet were well planted, then carefully slid his left arm under Greg’s shoulders, taking a little weight off the ankle. Greg let out a short scream, but he grabbed Cary’s shoulder, and braced as Cary heaved upward. He brought Greg to a sitting position, his back to the canal below, and braced himself again.

“Greg, do you think you can grab ahold of something, for just a moment?”


“I’ve got you, kid. Give it a second.”

Cary craned his head to look around. He hear the siren getting closer, and see the flashing green light of the emergency response team.

“Help’s almost here, Greg.”

The kid nodded, and took a deep, shuddering breath. Cary checked his footing.

“Greg, Do you think you can reach forward and grab a vine? I’ll help.”

Greg nodded again, and Cary pushed upward, his left arm and shoulder burning with the effort. Greg caught hold of a vine with his left hand, and fumbled with his left foot till he found a solid ledge.

“Great job,” said Cary. “Now we just need to hold here.”

He heard a chorus of whining motors as the fleet of emergency drones arrived. They hovered around the two humans, then three of the drones backed off as one of the two remaining ones spoke.

“Greg, we’ve pulled up your records, and there’s an ambulance right behind us. You’re gonna be OK. Do you think you can lift your ankle out of where it’s caught?”

Greg pressed against Cary’s supporting arm, and pulled his right foot free. The shoe remained behind.

“Great job, Greg.” The drone turned to Cary and a light flickered as it looked him up. “Cary, if you can just support him a little longer?”


“Greg, we’re going to give you a temporary splint and an anti-inflammatory patch.”

Greg nodded. Cary looked down and watched as a drone sprayed the ankle, washing off grime and blood, then inflated a splint around it. That drone moved away, and another one replaced it, reaching out to gently place a patch on Greg’s leg just above the new splint.

“Greg, would you please hold out your right hand?”

Greg did as he was asked, and the drone sprayed it with something that foamed, causing Greg to wince. The foam was rinsed off, and the drone sprayed something else onto his palm that solidified into a transparent bandage.

“That should take care of you till you reach the hospital.


Cary craned his head to look at the boy’s face. “You OK, Greg?”

“Yeah, the pain just went away. In my ankle, too.”

“These people know their stuff.”

“Thank you, Cary. The human crew has arrived, and they’ll have a stretcher up here momentarily.”

Cary looked down. The ambulance below had already extended its outriggers, and the crew was attaching stabilizers to the wall as a stretcher platform rose up from its deck, carrying two medics. When they drew level, they eased Greg onto the stretcher, then one of them looked up.

“Cary, was it?” She tapped her glasses. “We get a live feed of what the first responders find. Are you OK? Do you need a lift back to your boat?”

Cary could see his canoe a little ways down the canal. He reached into the vines and grabbed Greg’s shoe. He offered it to the medic.

“Greg will want this. If I could get a patch on my hands, that’d be great, but I’ll just jump down when you leave – I need to wash all the leaves and stuff off and then get back to work.”

“Sure thing. Brak, could you do his hand?”

Cary held out his hand, and the drone bobbed over to spray the scrapes on his palm. The foam stung, but the rinse made the pain start to fade almost immediately. The bandage solidified, tightening a little and pulling at his skin. He carefully gripped a vine and held out his other hand.

“Don’t do anything too rough with this,” said the drone, “but it should hold for a while. If you want to take it off when you get home, put a little alcohol on it, and it’ll peel right off. It would be good to let the abrasions air when you can do so safely.”

“Thanks, uh, Brak.”

“It’s a pleasure to help. Take care!”

With Greg safely aboard the ambulance, it turned around and sped into Turtle Bay, lights flashing.

“Hey mister, is Greg gonna be OK?”

Cary waved at the kids who’d been waiting under the bridge.

“He’ll be fine. Probably just a sprained ankle and a few scrapes. I bet he’ll be home later today.”

“Should we tell his parents?”

“Nah, the hospital will call them, if they haven’t already. He’s in good hands, just make sure you’re careful climbing around here. I know a kid who lost an eye that way!”

“Oh shit! Really?”

“He’s got a replacement that works pretty well, but it was a bad time – not something I’d want to go through.”

“I dunno, a robot eye sounds pretty cool.”


“What? It does?”

Cary laughed.

“It might sound cool, but last time I saw the kid he said it wouldn’t stop itching. Better to hold on to the eyes you’ve got for now.”

“I guess…”

Cary looked down to make sure the water was clear, and then jumped away from the wall, holding his nose and taking a big breath. He plunged into the canal, and swam back to the surface. When he wiped the water from his eyes, he saw the canoe right in front of him. The Fae drones had dragged it over.

Cary submerged, then lunged out of the water, throwing his weight over the near gunwale, and grabbing the opposite one to keep the canoe from capsizing. He rolled into the canoe, and clambered into his seat, dripping. He looked around at the Fae drones.

“Thanks for bringing the boat over. Sorry for the delay.”

One of the drones flew over and landed next to him.

“Don’t be. Helping the child was the more important thing.”

The voice in his earpiece was deep and resonant. Cary blinked, then looked down at the drone.

“Is that- I take it you’ve decided to talk to me?”

“You helped the child, and even injured yourself doing so.”

“I’d hardly call this an injury. The bandage might as well be a layer of skin, and I can’t feel any pain in my hands.”

“Still. I liked that you did that. You can call me Youngest.”

“I’m Cary. Pleased to meet you.”

“And you. The others still have the scent, so we may resume our hunt when you are ready. ”

“Right.” He turned in his seat and swiveled the outboard motor into the water. “You reminded me of my hands – I probably shouldn’t paddle right now. Could you tell the Houndmaster I’m sorry for the delay?”

He flexed his hands a couple times. They felt a little strange and tingly, but not painful. He powered on the motor, and gently squeezed the throttle as he turned the canoe.

“I’ll relay the sentiment,” said Youngest, “but it’s not needed. Fae would have helped, but none of the pack is equipped for that, so calling the ambulance was the best we could do.”

They glided under the bridge, and Cary waved at the kids above.

“I’m glad you did. I didn’t even think of it.”

“Those of us who aren’t human are rarely disconnected from the network, so it’s as easy as shouting would be for you.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

He sat in silence for a time, watching reflection of the darkening sky in the canal, disturbed by the trail of bubbles from the Houndmaster, and the occasional splash of a fish nabbing one of the flies that danced just above the surface. The sky turned from dark gray to a dull golden as the city lit the clouds. The water’s surface now sparkled with lights from the surrounding buildings, and in the dark patches, fish laid glowing trails, and the Houndmaster’s bubbles shimmered blue as they rose to the surface.


The voice startled him out of his trance-like state.

“What?” He looked down. Youngest was speaking.

“There’s been a change in plans.”

Cary released the throttle, allowing the canoe to slow down and drift.

“What’s going on?”

“The Houndmaster sent sniffers ahead, down into the tunnels. It’s not a leak. It’s an outlet.”

“But that’s not- They can’t do that!”

“Indeed. It seems there is an incursion of some sort.”

“A what?”


The drone nearest the bow popped into the air and swooped over to them.

“Maybe outsiders. We can’t assume that.” Faer voice was higher, and thinner in Cary’s ear.

Cary looked back and forth between the two. Faen were shaped rather like spheres that had been squashed into a thick, rounded disk, about ten centimeters across. Four turbines held faen afloat, with stripes made of what looked patterns of gold wire forming an “X” between them. The quarters had a variety of markings and instruments on them, the latter of which Cary assumed were for sampling the air. The one that had just approached had a great deal more decorative metal patterns on faer outer casing than Youngest.

“Youngest here jumps to conclusions.”

“I’m just giving the most likely conclusion.”

Cary blinked. The more decorated one spoke again, still hovering in front of Cary.

“I am Eldest. Youngest is correct that it is most likely outsiders. It’s unlikely someone from here would have any reason for whatever is going on down there. Moreover, they are within Fae jurisdiction. In fact, we owe you a debt for bringing this to our attention.”

“You do not,” said Cary. “I’m doing my part, same as anyone.”

“I value that sentiment. Are you willing to provide more help, before your part in this hunt is concluded?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Look in the water to your right.”

Cary looked down, and then jerked back, rocking the canoe, as the giant hound’s head that had ridden on the Houndmaster’s shoulder surfaced, eyes still glowing. Looking again, Cary could see two of the under water sniffers holding it up.

“Take it, if you will. It is fairly heavy.”

He braced himself to steady the boat and leaned over, heaving the large hunk of metal into his lap. It was surprisingly warm for something that had been under water for the last hour or so.

“You may put it on the floor of the boat. If you’re willing, we’d like to get back to Otherworld as quickly as we can. Will you take us?”

“Of course.” He set the head on the floor and scooted it forward to put its weight nearer to the front. “Seeing this through is part of my own responsibility to my guild. That, and Jo would be disappointed if I wasn’t thorough.”

“That she would be.”

“You know her, Eldest?”

“Yes, but can we get moving?”

“Oh, right. One moment!”

Cary knelt forward and flipped a switch on the canoe’s yoke. The rim of the gunwales extended out and down on telescoping arms, runners inflating out of them. Cary shifted back to his seat and slowly turned the boat around. By the time he was facing back the way they had come, the inflatable outriggers were in the water. Eldest settled on the hound’s head, and Cary squeezed the throttle. The prow lifted up as the boat gained speed, and two of the other Fae sniffer drones lifted off to fly ahead of him. He blinked in surprise as they began flashing green and gold lights. It hadn’t occurred to him until this moment, but he was officially working as a public servant right now, which meant he had the right to announce a right of way.

Eldest spoke in his ear again.

“To answer your earlier question, yes – I know Jo. She has a lot of friends in Otherworld, and in other parts of the city. I think if you did quit at first opportunity, she would never let you live it down.”

“That sounds like Jo.”

“She has a remarkable memory for that sort of thing, and it all comes out when she gets drunk.”

“Huh. Never seen her drunk.”

“Maybe she doesn’t drink around apprentices?” Cary slowed as they reached the bridge that had had children on it before, but everything was quiet. He picked up speed again, turning to go along the northwest boundary of Turtle Bay on his way back to Central Park.

“Yeah, that sounds about right. I guess that’s something to look forward to. Have you gone drinking with her? I- I’m sorry, is there something that’s like drinking for you?”

“There is not, but we tend to enjoy socializing with our human friends. The effects that drugs have on you are often very entertaining.”

“So I hear. It’s not something I’ve explored much.”

“As I understand it, there’s no hurry, and it’s important to feel safe. Speaking of which, there’s some traffic ahead.”

Cary slowed the boat as they drew closer to the park. More vessels were in the canal, and while there was a clear path thanks to the flashing drones, it was crowded enough to make him nervous. The traffic grew thicker as they reached the entrance, and Cary could hear music and laughter ringing out across the water from the myriad of food and entertainment vessels around them. He felt his stomach growl as they cruised by an aromatic curry boat, followed almost immediately by the smell of grilling meat.

“I’m gonna have to find a good place to eat after this.”

“Celebratory meals are customary for humans when marking important occasions.”

“I- Yes. Well said, Youngest.”

As he navigated through the crowd of brightly-lit boats, Cary could see people pausing their conversations and craning to get a look at him and his Fae companions. He felt his cheeks heating a little, and tried to keep his eyes focused on the water ahead of him.

After passing into Central Park, things opened up a bit, and Cary sped across the last kilometer to the Floating Market. A new wave of smells and sounds hit him as he guided the boat around to the northwest, where he could dock right next to the entrance to Manhattan’s Otherworld. He leaned forward and flipped the switch to pull in the outriggers, then scooped his paddle off the bottom as the Fae all flew over to gather on the dock. The abrasions on his palms were starting to itch, but he dipped the paddle in the water and feathered the canoe up to a mooring. He hoisted the Fae hound’s head out onto the dock, and then climbed out himself, kneeling to tie the painter to the mooring.

“Ok. Let’s get this head back to its body, yes?” Cary looked around at his electronic companions. “I hope you can get me there?”

“Of course”, said Eldest. “Let’s be on our way.”

“Yup. Yup.” Cary stood with a groan, then bent to scoop up the head. “Let’s be on our way.”

The elevator door opened as he approached it, and instead of a glowing point of light, a string of bobbing drones guided him through the dimly lit tunnels. The hall-like room was brightly lit as he entered, and he quickly crossed to place the head back on the shoulders of the great metal hound. It clicked into place, and the eyes turned black. He stepped back and watched as the drones entered its mouth one at a time. There was a moment of silence, then the eyes lit up again, and the hound rose smoothly to its feet.

“Thank you for your help,” Eldest’s voice now came from the hound’s motionless mouth. “Now. We have a hunt to finish, and your part in it is done.”

“Just you?” Cary frowned. “If there is an incursion, shouldn’t you have more help?”

“Faen will,” said a nasal voice behind him.

Cary stifled a yelp of surprise and spun around. Two more Fae were standing behind him, one carrying a large duffle, and the other a black, rectangular case of some sort.

“We’ll guide you back to the surface, and then take our own boat to meet The Houndmaster.”

There was a sound of rushing water, and Cary turned to see the hound vanishing into the lake just as the Houndmaster had before. Youngest’s deep voice rang in his ear.

“We’ll let you know how this turns out, once it’s all dealt with.”

“Thanks!” He shouted it, before realizing there was no way fae could have heard him. “Oh well.” He turned to his new companions.

“I’m Cary.”

“Dornan.” The nasal voice belonged to the one carrying the dufflebag, who nodded a greeting. Fae was a little taller than Cary, with a ruddy face, pale blonde hair, and artificial eyes with glowing purple irises.

“Weaver”.” The other was the same height as Cary, but stockier, with dark brown skin, large dark eyes, and black hair in tight braids against faer scalp. Both of faen were dressed in black diving suits.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, but there’s work to do. Shall we go?”

“Uh. Yeah. Yeah, lead the way.”

Faen turned and left the room, with Cary trotting after. Faen led him back to the surface in silence, bid him a curt farewell, and disappeared into the floating market, presumably going to their boat. Cary stood looking after them, then turned and stared out across the park.

I guess that’s it. I’m a full member now!

He unzipped a pocket in his shorts and pulled out his tablet. He wrote a note to Jo, letting her know that the Fae had told him his part in it was done. He sighed, and walked over to sit on the dock, his feet in his canoe as he looked out over the water. All that excitement, but he didn’t know what the actual cause of the problem was, he’d just been told that his part in it had come to an end. He lay back on the cool, flat surface of the dock, and looked up to see Jo standing over him, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face.

“Your part with the Fae might be done, but the guild isn’t done with you yet, apprentice.”

He scrambled to his feet.

“What do you mean? Did I mess up?”

Jo cackled. “What? No. We’ve gotta welcome you into the guild. We hired a party boat, come on!”

“My canoe-”

“Will be there in the morning. I’ll make sure you get home OK.”

“Wait I can’t just leave it-”

“Well, sure you can. In the unlikely event there’s a thief about, think someone’s gonna steal a boat tied to a Fae mooring? Nope. No excuses.”

She grabbed him by the arm and marched him towards the market.

“You know,” he said. “Eldest said you tell stories when you start drinking.”

“Ha! Well, you’re a full member of the guild now, so I guess you’ll stick around long enough to find out!”

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Capitalism ruins science

One of the most persistent and annoying claims of those who support capitalism, is that without a profit motive, we’d see no innovation or advancement. This is false. The incentives of capitalism do drive some innovation, but only where one can expect profits in the short term. Often, this means companies finding ways to make changes to existing products or technologies that are big enough to count as a “new product”, while still being almost entirely superficial. Another big area of capitalist innovation is finding ways to force people to pay for something they used to get for free. The “innovation” that made Bill Gates so rich was primarily about figuring out how to force people to pay for software – something that had been in many ways an open-source commons. Information technology in general has been subjected to a series of enclosures to increase profits by forcing people to pay for things that they could be getting for free, or for much more reasonable prices.

Science is a collective endeavor, and always have been. There are individuals who make big discoveries, but they’re always building on the work of both their contemporaries, and those who came before. Many of the advances that have come out of the development of science have made life better for countless people around the globe, and that is as it should be. Unfortunately, capitalism cannot abide a commons, and at the publication end, a small number of corporations have managed to create a captive market for themselves, as Rebecca Watson explains:

So at this point, some of you are thinking “Well I guess they’re stealing, which is usually wrong, but it’s not really immoral because those poor students have no legitimate way to access scientific knowledge that they need to advance their career in the sciences.” And others are thinking, “Stealing is wrong no matter what the case, and so Sci-Hub and the people who use it are, in essence, immoral. If you can’t afford the science, you can’t be a scientist. I hear Burger King is hiring.”

But as always on this channel, it’s a bit more complicated than either of those takes. It’s so complicated that we can even question whether or not reading a paper on Sci-Hub is truly “stealing.” Allow me to explain.

Actually, allow me to, um, completely steal a metaphor I read a few years ago in a Vox article written by Brian Resnick and Julia Belluz, because it’s so good I think everyone should hear it (and as always, you can find a full transcript of this video with links to everything on my Patreon, which is linked in the dooblydoo below):

“Imagine your tax dollars have gone to build a new road in your neighborhood.

“Now imagine that the company overseeing the road work charged its workers a fee rather than paying them a salary.

“The overseers in charge of making sure the road was up to standard also weren’t paid. And if you, the taxpayer, want to access the road today, you need to buy a seven-figure annual subscription or pay high fees for one-off trips.”

Ridiculous, right? But it is, in fact, a direct metaphor for scientific publishing.

According to the Congressional Research Service, here in the United States our tax dollars pay for about 43% of basic scientific research, defined as “Experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.” About 26% is covered by universities and nonprofits, and the remaining 31% is handled by corporations.

When it comes to applied research, which is “Original investigation undertaken to acquire new knowledge; directed primarily, however, toward a specific, practical aim or objective,” our tax dollars cover about 35%, with 11% covered by universities and nonprofits and 55% funded by corporations.

So overall, our tax dollars pay for a huge chunk of the papers that are being published, but we, the people who paid for those studies, cannot view the results of those studies without paying again, to the journal that published them.

I strongly feel that the concept of “pirating science” is very similar to that of “jaywalking” – it was deliberately manufactured to force the general public to limit our own freedom, for the sake of enriching a tiny minority. It is an injustice on many levels, but perhaps the worst part is that a democratic society requires the general public to be informed, and this directly interferes in that for the sole purpose of making profit. It’s another example of how capitalism is incompatible with democracy.

We are increasingly forced to live our lives on the terms of large corporations, who limit our access to everything we need to survive and thrive, solely to benefit themselves. This is unacceptable, and as the ongoing climate chaos demonstrates, it’s beyond unsustainable. I strongly recommend you watch the video and/or read the linked transcript. Part of the revolutionary change we pursue must be to ensure that these barriers to knowledge are destroyed.

Some thoughts from Beau on whether it was a coup attempt

It’s been one revolution around the sun since Trump and part of the Republican Party enacted the coup attempt they’d been working on since well before the 2020 election. A lot of folks have a lot to say about it for a lot of reasons. My attention was particularly caught by this take from corrupt scumbag Lindsey Graham:

For those who are unclear, what happened on January 6, 2020 was an explicitly political event, no matter what label you apply to it. You cannot politicize something that is entirely political, anymore than you can make the ocean more wet.

That said, the question of what label we should be using for those events still seems to be a matter of discussion, and I think Beau’s response is better than anything I have to say on the topic:

Confessions of a former snake wrangler: FOIA, privacy, and vaccine misinformation.

In 2009, I was working as a contractor ecologist for the Endangered Resources division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources. Specifically, I was part of a team that was doing a population survey for several kinds of snake, including two species of garter snake that are currently listed as “special concern”. Part of the work we were doing was to just get a feel for the overall snake community in southern Wisconsin. In addition to the five garter snake species in Wisconsin (though we didn’t catch all of them, if memory serves), there were hognoses, brown snakes, ringneck snakes, and so on. We also recorded metadata – when and where each snake was caught, what the weather was doing, etc.

The primary goal of the work was to determine whether the Plains and Butler’s garter snakes should be reclassified as “endangered” in Wisconsin.

The history of endangered species is a grim one, and there’s a long-standing problem of people seeking out the last survivors, to collect them as exotic pets, or as trophies, or to kill them as obstructions to development. There’s also the problem of people wanting their “last chance to see” something that may soon cease to exist, which can hasten that extinction. All that being the case, researchers have to take some precautions. It’s bad for the general public to know exactly where they can find an endangered species, because the odds are very good that will result in the species going extinct, at least in that area.

For that reason, and because there’s rarely a public need to know, that information is generally exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

So, what would have happened if someone had asked for all documents relating to our research on garter snakes?

With such a general request, the first thing to note is that the person asking would be getting a lot of information about things that aren’t garter snakes, because those data were collected as part of the garter snake research. Because FOIA requests are legally binding (which is a good thing!), such a general request would mean that we’d have to turn over information that everyone knows would not be relevant to the Garter Snake Transparency Coalition (who I just made up), because everyone knows they don’t care about ringneck snakes. If they narrowed the request to information specific to garter snakes that would help, because it would mean we could automatically set aside documents on other species.

Even with that narrower request, however, we’d need to go through our documents to make sure that there is no way they could be used to pinpoint the location of an endangered population. We would also need to go through and remove people’s names. A lot of the sites where we caught snakes were on private property (including people’s basements!), which means we’d need to make sure those people’s names aren’t included in the released documents, as they have nothing to do with the GSTC’s request, and they have a right to privacy. Snakes, alas, have no individual right to privacy under U.S. law, so the best we can do is to give them collective privacy, when their numbers are small enough.

And remember – every snake had its location recorded, so we’d have to go through and make sure that the locations people ARE allowed to know were present, but the locations that have to be redacted aren’t.

In other words, complying with a request like that can be pretty labor-intensive, and absent a directive to stop doing our normal work, we’d have had to fit that process in around it all.

So, let’s talk about the Pfizer vaccine:

I’m bringing this up because the prediction in the video was accurate, and I’m starting to see the “75 years” line going around on Twitter. I agree with Beau that it’s a good idea for this information to be released. I agree that it would be good to expedite it. That said, it’s not something that can be done without a big shift in resources and personnel for the duration of the project.

This is not a small snake study, this is a massive amount of stuff on the creation and testing of a vaccine, which means that instead of the few hundred pages I might have had to process about snakes, there are estimated to be over 400,000 pages to go through. For example, the FDA will need to both include as much relevant information as possible about the people on whom the vaccine was tested, without violating their privacy – a consideration not afforded to the snakes.

That’s not just about finding people know what to redact and what to release, it’s about finding people who can do the work and who can also handle confidential information, which is often its own set of training and requirements.

As Beau said, the plaintiffs seeking the release of these documents do have the power to narrow the scope of their request to specific areas of concern, like adverse reactions, side effects, and efficacy. That would cut down on the number of papers the FDA team would have to go through. To me it seems a little suspect that they’ve apparently been unwilling to do so. Holding out for the whole thing seems almost designed to stir up outrage and controversy, and such a broad request does make me wonder if some of the people involved are hoping to comb through everything stuff that can be used out of context to support a talking point. This comment from a Reuters article on the subject does little to quell that worry:

Indeed, several of the plaintiffs – a group that now includes more than 200 doctors, scientists, professors, public health professionals and journalists from around the world – have publicly questioned the efficacy of lockdown policies, mask mandates and the vaccine itself.

While some members may have their own agendas, the group as a whole has pledged to publish all the information it receives from the FDA on its website and says it “takes no position on the data other than that it should be made publicly available to allow independent experts to conduct their own review and analyses.”

It also doesn’t help to have a Republican politician proudly displaying his ignorance of the scale of the request of the work that needs to be done to comply with it.

Earlier this month, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., introduced legislation that could force the FDA to release all documents relating to the vaccine within the next 100 days.

The legislation is a direct response to a request made last month by the federal agency to prolong releasing data on COVID vaccines for up to 55 years.

“How does a vaccine that receives approval in 108 days now require 55 years just to release information?” Norman said to Fox News. “It sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke.”

You’ll forgive me if I find the assessment of a conservative real estate investor to be less than useful in this case. I expect that there are people involved who do have legitimate interest in this, but it also seems that at least some folks are doing it for more political and self-serving reasons.

In case it needs to be said, the vaccine approval process is very different from the process of processing the documents generated BY that process. I also think that the urgency of getting a vaccine out during a raging pandemic is somewhat different from the urgency of getting every scrap of paper associated with vaccine approval out to the public.

I agree with Beau that they should do what they need to – bringing folks in from other departments, putting other projects on hold for a few months, and so on – to get this dealt with as soon as possible. That said, doing all of that isn’t going to happen overnight. It was never going to happen overnight. To me it seems entirely reasonable to say “this is how we normally do things, and this is how long this request will take, without changes at one or both ends of this process.” If there is a law passed or a court ruling mandating a faster turnaround, that will probably make it easier for the agency to get help and reassign resources, so I have no problem with the plaintiffs continuing to push. From what I can tell, this is just the beginning of a process, and the U.S. is set up in a way that requires an adversarial approach to things like this.

My problem is with the insistence that the scale of the request, and the response to it, are evidence of a coverup, rather than the first stages of a big task. I obviously can’t  say for certain that some of the people involved are bad-faith actors, but it wouldn’t be the first time freedom of information laws have been used for nefarious purposes. The time it takes to work out the logistics of this is being used to bolster anti-vax conspiracy talk, and that is a big problem. I think the only way to disarm that particular trap is to actually expedite the process. It’s likely that for some folks, it won’t be enough no matter how much is released. They’ll use any redactions as proof that “they’re hiding something”, and any delays as the same.

The reality is that things take work, and the public’s right to know – which again, I do think exists here – has to be balanced with rights to privacy, and (which I think is less legitimate) trade secrets. I want a very different world from the one we have now. I want things like vaccines to be open-source, and available to all without concern for profit. In case it’s not clear to my readers, “Big Pharma” is part of the capitalist structure I want to dismantle.

But we’re not there yet, and while we’re doing that work, we are also stuck with the work generated by the system we’re trying to replace.

Keep pushing for transparency, just don’t use the lack of instant gratification as an excuse to spread conspiracy theories.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

The bipartisan war on American retirement

Retirement is a tricky subject in the U.S., for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the work ethic is central. Basically, time spent not working is a sin against God, or against The Economy. It’s also taken as proof that your poverty is your own fault, and if you’re working 80 hours and still struggling, well then you should “work smarter, not harder”. It’s hard not to feel that this leads a lot of people to feel that it’s virtuous of them to keep working past retirement age, and that one “shouldn’t” retire until physically unable to keep working.

The first time I thought about this was probably a few years back when a co-worker told me they were looking at other jobs not because the place we were at wasn’t good to work for, but because the retirement-age folks higher up in that person’s branch of the organization simply didn’t seem interested in retiring. For my co-worker, there wasn’t any reasonable prospect of advancement, because jobs weren’t opening up due to retirement.

Beyond the work ethic issue, I think an awful lot of people rely on their workplace for a significant portion of their social interaction, which makes leaving all the more difficult.

All of that, however, is about people who have the ability to retire, but don’t want to for one reason or another. All things being equal, there shouldn’t be any problem with people not retiring for a great many professions (I don’t know that it’s good to have folks in their 70s or 80s writing laws and setting policies, for example). The reality is that for a great many older Americans, retirement is increasingly not an option.

Media reports of older workers have often been framed as feel-good stories, such as a viral news report of an 89-year-old pizza delivery man who received a $12,000 tip raised by a customer out of remorse, as he works 30 hours a week because he can’t afford to retire on social security benefits alone. Or an 84-year-old woman who started a new job as a motel housekeeper in Maine in July 2020. Or an 81-year-old woman in Ohio who volunteered to start working at her favorite restaurant in November 2021 because it shut down temporarily due to an inability to hire and retain enough staff.

But the grim reality is millions of Americans are working into their senior years because they can’t afford not to have a job.

Over the next decade, the number of workers ages 75 and older is expected to increase in the US by 96.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with their labor force participation rate projected to rise from 8.9% in 2020 to 11.7% by 2030, a rate that has steadily increased from 4.7% in 1996.

This is a problem that’s only going to get worse, as millennials are poorer across the board than our elders were at our age. For a lot of us, retirement is a pipe dream. Even if we still have a functional society in 30 years, the leadership of the United States seems committed to the neoliberal obsession with turning everything into a for-profit enterprise, no matter how much misery and death that causes:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think our best path towards a better life for our elderly population is the same kind of organizing I advocate for most other things. Building a society that values life will only happen through collective effort to overcome those who want the current trends to continue, and have the power to make that happen, absent real opposition. The reality is that the Democratic Party, despite their rhetoric, are as dogmatically committed to the cult of the Free Market as the Republicans. They will mix a little praise into their hatred of the left, but only enough to bolster the “lesser evil” argument at campaign time. When they actually take power, they keep increasing war funding, attack the social safety net (as discussed in the video), continue expanding fossil fuel extraction, and keep talking about how we “need a strong Republican party“.

The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them
–Julius Nyerere

The ideology of our political leadership, while moving somewhat left on social issues, has been moving to the right on economic policy and “security” policy for all of my life. Electing more Democrats will not solve anything. Our only hope is to organize, build collective power, and change the world despite their opposition.

All we have is us.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Youth climate activists in Wales have the right response to an attempt at placation.

On top of the pandemic, 2021 continued the escalation of climate chaos, and our leaders continue to fail us at a breathtaking scale.

It’s been clear to me for a while that political institutions in a lot of the world have gotten very good at ignoring the kinds of activism we’re most used to seeing in liberal democracies. I think that dismissal is particularly bad, and particularly galling when it’s directed at children. Kids who’re socially or politically active tend to both be lauded for it, and rewarded with speeches about how we should listen to the clear-sighted wisdom of the youth, and ignored beyond that.

It feels like it’s all about teaching people to be satisfied with the feeling of doing the right thing, rather than demanding the change that’s actually needed. That’s why I’m pretty happy to see this story out of Wales:

Young members of an environmental group have turned down an award from a council, accusing it of not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Pontypridd’s Young Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for changes to address the climate emergency.

It said Rhondda Cynon Taf council has not done enough since the devastating floods in 2020 after Storm Dennis.

Group member Alice, 13, said: “It would be hypocritical for us to take the award.”

“We feel Rhondda Cynon Taf council – and the world – isn’t taking action against climate change,” she added.

“The major changes we could do as a county would be big decisions and not small day-to-day ones.

“Because if you sit in a house which is on fire you wouldn’t just sit there as the flames surrounded you and start making a plan how you’re going to deal with the fire.

“You’re going to act immediately and get water and you’re going to put the fire out. You wouldn’t sit there doing nothing. The world isn’t in the best shape and they’re not doing enough about it.”

Alice added that there was “action immediately” when the pandemic hit, and the same needed to be done for the climate change emergency.

“We need that with climate change because if we don’t get it sorted out we might not be here.”

When Storm Dennis caused widespread flooding across south Wales in February 2020, Pontypridd was one of the worst affected towns.

Homes and businesses were hit, with the middle of the town centre flooded after the River Taff burst its banks.

“When we saw the town flood last year we knew climate change was getting worse and despite what people were saying about it getting better because it’s not,” said Alice.

“I felt terrified when I saw water running down the main street because if water can reach that high because of a storm, imagine what it will be like in 10 years.”

Dan, 12, another member of Young Friends of the Earth, said: “I would have expected Rhondda Cynon Taf council to declare a climate emergency after the Welsh government did.

“They are one of the few councils in Wales not to declare it and after Storm Dennis I’d have thought it would have been the first thing they would have done.

I very much agree with the sentiment that we need actions, not awards. I’m not actually certain of this, but I feel like there is a lot more that even local governments could be doing, not just in terms of prioritizing the move away from fossil fuels and preparing for extreme weather events, but also in terms of pushing regional and national governments to do more, and helping both their constituents and fellow governmental bodies participate in the pressure campaigns. Ideally, we want the kind of action that can build momentum for greater action in the future.

I’m also encouraged to see the level of strategic thinking involved here:

The group, which has a core of about eight members, was also savvy enough to know that it might get more publicity for its cause if it turned down the award.

They viewed a YouTube clip of the moment in the film Brassed Off when band leader Danny turns down a prize to draw attention to the plight of ravaged mining communities and explains: “Us winning this trophy won’t mean bugger all to most people. But us refusing it … then it becomes news.”

Dan Wright, 12, said: “If we had accepted the award, we might have got in the local paper. More people now will know what we’ve done. Perhaps they’ll join us on a march or do their own research on the climate. When I first heard about the award I felt excited but then thought they were trying to greenwash themselves.”

I don’t think I started thinking about that kind of strategy until I was in my 20s, and it’s encouraging to see it in today’s kids. On the one hand, it continues to be infuriating that children need to spend their time on this, but on the other hand, I think that if we’re ever going to have a truly just and democratic society, we will need to spend less time working to generate profit, and more time involved in our own governance in a far more direct manner than we see in representative democracies. I believe that simply electing representatives and trusting them to do well by us has more or less proven itself to be a failure. It concentrates power in the hands of people who are then able to use that power to further empower themselves, rather like we see in capitalism. As far as I can tell, the only solution is a populace that participates in the running of society at least as actively we we currently participate in wage labor and consumerism.

We should not look to children for hope. That’s an unfair burden to place on them, and an abdication of our responsibility. It’s just another form of selling out their future for our own comfort. What we should be doing, in addition to taking real action on climate change, is educating ourselves and our children about what it means to govern ourselves, and to build and live in a society that values life.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.