Some More News: Unions and Strikes are Good, and Bosses are Bad.

The things I’ve been working on today aren’t ready, so instead, here’s Cody’s Showdy to talk about unions and strikes. There’s some useful stuff in here, and if you consider what caused the strikes discussed, it’s a good illustration of the kinds of people our current system empowers.

Left-wing labor organizing is the only reason we’re not all stuck accepting Amazon gift cards instead of wages, and the only thing standing between us and a slide into a worse version of serfdom in service to the whims of people who would be happy to burn the poor for fuel if it made them more money than burning oil.


Tegan Tuesday: Art, Disability, and “Real Jobs”

One of the most common themes of this blog is an unending rage against the way our society devalues humanity. Usually, this is focused on the fairly direct destruction of life for profit. Unfortunately, that’s not where it ends. Both Abe and I have been involved in education for a long time, and we’ve both been frustrated by the way the education system — and by extension, society — treats art as a luxury. As frustrating as that is, it gets worse when you enter the workforce. Art, in all its forms, has always been vitally important to every human society we have ever known about. Those societies we remember best and know the most about, tend to be the ones that invested some of their excess, when they had it, into art and culture. But just as human life must be sacrificed for profit, so to must human enjoyment, because funding art for its own sake will not make anyone rich. Artists must either already have money, or scrabble to find the time and energy to do that work, on top of doing work for the benefit of others to make ends meet.

I am an artist. Therefore, I have had a lot of jobs. I have worked in sit-down restaurants, in commercial food prep, at farmer’s markets, in fast food and ice cream scooping; I have worked in translation and real estate; I have worked in gas stations, and theatres, and schools K-12 through graduate programs; I have answered phones and scrubbed toilets; I have worked in clients’ homes, in my home, in basements, in parks, and in churches. I have been working constantly for the past 18 years, and there are very few areas of employment that I have not had some experience. I work and work and have almost always been poor, because I have never lived in places that were cheap while working a job that paid enough to build savings. Amusingly, I also made too much to merit assistance, as Abe and I found out when we initially became a single-income household — in one of the most expensive cities in the US — and we were eligible for $15 of food stamps per month. In all of these jobs, my problems with it were rarely my coworkers, and even-more-rarely the clients. I’m an extreme extrovert with ADHD — I like how a customer-facing role is wildly different from day to day and even the most bizarre (non-violent) encounter with the general public just makes for a great story, and doesn’t actually impact my life significantly. No, usually my problems lie squarely with my bosses or the company higher ups.

I’ve had a boss who drunktexted my coworkers and installed spyware on our computers. I’ve had multiple bosses who would watch the security feeds and call to ask questions about what they were watching. I’ve had bosses who preferred to hire 16-year-olds because unexperienced workers don’t notice the many, many, labor violations employees are required to perform. I’ve been fired by text and I’ve been replaced by someone I trained without the notice of being demoted or fired. On one memorable occasion, I had an argument with a boss about simple arithmetic. With all of these shining beacons of industry as my leaders, small wonder that some of my favorite employment has been self-employed.

This goes beyond simple preference, as well. If one person is drained enough by their work that they can’t make themselves do extra on the side, another may have problems – like neurological disorders or physical disability, that mean they hit that point where they can’t work more faster, depending on working conditions. For a non-insignificant portion of the population, self-employment has often been the only employment. Writer Siobhan Ball recently headed a twitter thread discussing the intersection of “real jobs” and disabled lives.

The discussion is filled with artists and freelancers of all types: writers, musicians, visual artists, sex workers. Many of the “real jobs” come with requirements that are physically, mentally, or legally not possible for large swathes of the population. I think back to one of my theatre jobs, which was impossible for someone with mobility issues. Even if I was able to get into the theatre next door to make one of their employees run the service lift for me for every shift, I still would not have been able to use the bathroom, as there were two steps from the floor up into the stall. Many jobs also have high mental strain. Anyone who has ever worked retail or even observed the astounding lack of humanity that shoppers unleash upon the staff can picture how those types of service jobs have an emotional (and often physical) toll upon the employees. Call center employees are worse-off still than retail for a mental and emotional load. The legal restrictions on disabled folks is even shittier. I know in the US there are caps on the amount that someone on disability can have in savings (and it’s small, it’s something like $1000) and restrictions on how many hours they are allowed to work or how much money they can make in those hours. This video by Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, a disability activist, does a decent overview of some of those issues. But running an Etsy merch shop, or doing cam work, or writing and editing freelance are all jobs that have less oversight, work around a person’s schedule and needs, and are just flexible in all the ways that life can require.

We need people to do these jobs! There’s no question that they provide great value to all of our lives. As discussed at the beginning, art is an important part of what we are. When we had to cope with isolation during lockdowns, we turned to art. We read more, we watched more movies, we listened to more music, we watched more YouTube, and yes, more people joined OnlyFans too. Art gives us connection with other people, and that was at a premium during the past few years of pandemic. But even is it uses the work of artists, of freelancers, of those casually employed in non-“real” jobs, society as a whole hasn’t bothered to appreciate this work anymore than it has what was recently called “essential” work. If we as a society don’t value artists, and don’t value disabled people, how much worse is the disabled artist?

I’m just as guilty as the next person — I see post after post on social media of people who are disabled, or neurodivergent, or queer, or just poor, and who are raising funds by selling art and I have a gut reaction to wonder why they can’t just “get a real job”. I am not sure if there’s the possibility to change our acceptance of this labor as valid without also decoupling a person’s worth in our society from their ability to work. It seems like a massive undertaking, but it’s a task that needs doing. For now, it’s a good day to remind ourselves: each person has value just by being themselves and deserves to live their life without “earning” that value through an approved from of labor.

Abe here – f you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into this. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Pebbles Preceding an Avalanche: COVID and Climate Change

Since the pandemic began, I’ve heard people discuss it as a microcosm for climate change. It’s global problem that can be addressed in a number of pretty straightforward ways, but greed, paranoia, and bigotry stand in the way of doing that, and so vast numbers of people just have to die. I think it’s a good comparison, and I think it’s one that can be of further use here. When the pandemic first started killing people, a lot of our information about the death toll came from indirect data. Some of that was looking at shipments of urns for cremated remains, which far exceeded the official death numbers from Wuhan, China. Some of it was looking at hospitals running out of beds, or morgues running out of space. Some of it was by looking at the total number of dead people by any cause, and comparing that to what happens under normal conditions.

In any case, these millions of deaths from COVID-19 didn’t happen all at once. Multiple waves, multiple variants, different communities responding in different ways – but as the months passed by, the scale of what was happening, plus all the other factors that affect disease mortality, meant that even the low death rate we’ve heard so much about added up to a lot of death.

The same is true of climate change.

Food prices rise a little, and a few thousand people die, scattered around the world, who wouldn’t have died otherwise. The global temperature has risen by an amount that would be barely noticed beside daily local temperature fluctuations, but over time, heat waves have gotten longer, and stronger. More days of lethal heat means more people dying, again disbursed around the globe. Most climate change deaths are unlikely to make headlines because they’re generally so spread out in both time and space. Take this recent example reported by Radio Havana Cuba:

Ecuador, March 28 (RHC) — An unusually long, intense, and destructive rainy season in Ecuador has left 52 people dead and more than 100 injured, officials have said.

In addition, more than 27,000 people were affected by flooding, landslides, and building collapses over the past six months, according to the National Risk Management Service.

Every one of Ecuador’s 24 provinces was affected — with the exception of the Galapagos archipelago, 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast, the service said.

It said exceptionally strong and prolonged downpours had damaged or destroyed more than 13,000 acres (5,400 hectares) of farmland, as well as 6,240 homes, schools or health clinics.

A January 31 flood and landslide in the capital city Quito, caused by the most torrential rainfall seen in two decades, left 28 people dead and 52 others injured.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain around the world because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

The image shows several rescue workers carrying a stretcher up a steep road covered in mud and debris. You can see bits of cinder blocks and other construction material strewn around, as well as marks and splashes from the flood.

Really, the story’s not much different from one about a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire hitting an area. Each of these events is almost the same as they would have been in a slightly cooler world. Maybe only a couple people die who wouldn’t have, but it’s the same with the slow accumulation of heat from greenhouse gases, or the slow rise in sea levels.

Going back to the pandemic metaphor, we’re in the early stages still – maybe March 2020? We’ve got rising numbers, but they’re still low enough that some people can claim it’s no big deal, and those desperately seeking comfort might believe it. Just as we knew then that it would get worse, because of the science, we also know that climate change is going to get worse, and I very much fear it’s going to have a similar pattern of escalation. We’ve been getting those first few deaths, scattered around the world, but the numbers are increasing, storm by storm and heatwave by heatwave, and they’re increasing all around the world. At some point soon, the changes to the climate are going to exceed our capacity to respond. Just as hospitals were overwhelmed, so too will the various other systems that make up our “civilization” begin to get overwhelmed.

That is not, however, a prophecy of inevitable doom. Just as with COVID-19, the fact that we know that in advance means that we also have the ability to increase the capacity of those systems.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into this. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Video: America’s role in the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh

As the invasion of Ukraine continues, some folks on left have been trying to use the media attention on that war, to draw attention to other atrocities going on, particularly the U.S.-backed genocidal war Saudi Arabia is waging on Yemen. In that spirit, I think it’s worth checking out this video from the Gravel Institute, about the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. This was one of many genocides during the Cold War that happened with American support. So many, that while I’ve learned about many, I knew virtually nothing about this one. This happened under Nixon, but this kind of thing is a major part of both Democratic and Republican foreign policy, right along with things like coups, assassinations, CIA black sites, and so on. If we ever want to see a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world, we’re going to need to find a way to end this kind of imperialist activity, and to do that, we have to understand it.

Content warning: Discussion of violence, sexual assault, and racism

There’s a heat wave at both north and south poles, because of course there is.

In general, when I think of heat waves, I think of the damage to crops and infrastructure, the lives lost, and the misery of that suffocating heat. Most of the time, that’s why we care about heat waves. They’re unpleasant for most of us, and deadly for some, and can cause lasting damage to the food supply.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only kind of heat wave that’s worthy of headlines. As many of you are no doubt aware, there’s a heat wave happening at both poles simultaneously:

Startling heatwaves at both of Earth’s poles are causing alarm among climate scientists, who have warned the “unprecedented” events could signal faster and abrupt climate breakdown.

Temperatures in Antarctica reached record levels at the weekend, an astonishing 40 degrees above normal in places.

At the same time, weather stations near the north pole also showed signs of melting, with some temperatures 30 degrees above normal, hitting levels normally attained far later in the year.

At this time of year, the Antarctic should be rapidly cooling after its summer, and the Arctic only slowly emerging from its winter, as days lengthen. For both poles to show such heating at once is unprecedented.

I’ve talked before about why, in the context of a warming planet, a hot year matters more than a cold one. It adds momentum to what’s already happening. These heat waves mean more ice melt, which in turn will mean more ice melt in the future, that would have happened without them. It’s bad news in that regard, but it’s also bad news because of what it says about the speed at which things are happening:

Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London, said: “I and colleagues were shocked by the number and severity of the extreme weather events in 2021 – which were unexpected at a warming of 1.2C. Now we have record temperatures in the Arctic which, for me, show we have entered a new extreme phase of climate change much earlier than we had expected.”

The Associated Press reported that one weather station in Antarctica beat its all-time record by 15 degrees, while another coastal station used to deep freezes at this time of year was 7 degrees above freezing. In the Arctic, meanwhile, some parts were 50 degrees warmer than average.

“They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the north and the south [poles] both melting at the same time,” said Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s definitely an unusual occurrence,” he told AP. “It’s pretty stunning.”

The climate denial industry spent decades exploiting minor uncertainties by insisting that climate sensitivity was lower than mainstream climate scientists were estimating. The reality is that sensitivity seems to be higher. Edit: As discussed in the comments below, actual sensitivity calculations have been pretty much on target. The rate at which the heat increase is affecting life on earth is what has been underestimated. Things are happening faster than expected, and honestly that’s been true for quite a while now.


Video: How climate change is affecting the habitability of the U.S.

There were a number of reasons why Tegan and I decided to leave the U.S. and seek our fortunes across the ocean. Better quality of life (like having a real healthcare system) was a big factor, but climate change was as well. We settled on Scotland as a place with good politics (if it can get free of England), good healthcare, and a climate that’s likely to remain reasonably comfortable – at least for me – for my lifetime. If nothing else, it’s almost certain that moving bought Raksha a couple more years of life, because I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been able to survive a couple more Boston summers.

That said, we were – and are – lucky. Not everyone has the freedom or resources to make a move like this, and for all the benefits we’ve gotten, there are also downsides. While I think we should have open borders and freedom of movement around the world, we’re not there yet, so what can folks in the U.S. expect the climate to do in the coming decades? Here’s what PBS has to say:

Wherever you are in the US, the summers are going to get worse, so regardless of where you live, definitely make sure you have plans for surviving heat waves!

Even bears have trouble with food packaging!

This is from a few years ago, but it came to my attention and I felt like posting it.

I have mixed feelings about nature documentaries that interfere with their subjects. Back in college, I spent a short time studying how proximity to humans affects various animals, and through things like heart rate monitors hidden in penguin and duck nests, we know that even seeing humans can cause an elevated heart rate. I know that’s how most people react when they see me, but in this case that means that the animals are burning calories they don’t need to burn, which can cause problems with things like incubating eggs.

This polar bear and her two cubs were being followed and filmed by a BBC crew, and on one of the days she decided to see if she could get herself a snack:

She spent about 40 minutes trying to open the packaging on the human, before giving up and moving on. Personally I feel like they should have given her something in exchange for wasting her time and energy, but at the very least, I’m glad nobody on either side was hurt.

Gordon Buchanan, however, got to burn some calories like the birds I mentioned above:

“I was terrified and you could hear my heartbeat on the mic. It really was a sensational moment and a worrying situation.

“It shows how enormous and powerful they are. It is the most difficult thing I have done and the scariest. I’ve not been terrified for 40 minutes before.”

Climate science for all! A new science journal to keep an eye on

I’ve written before about the problem of paywalls in academia. I view them as a needless barrier to people’s ability to learn about pretty much all topics, or to do things like check the veracity of claims made by dishonest actors. It’s especially galling given how much research is publicly funded, and the inherently collaborative nature of science. Not to sound like an anarchist or anything, but when it comes to knowledge especially, I believe that all belongs to all. Science has always been a collaborative effort, even when some scientists treat their colleagues as competitors or enemies. Research is done based on the work of those who came before us, and any contributions we make will be just one stone in the foundation of what our descendants will create, if we can manage to give them that change.

All of this is to say, I’m pleased to tell you all about a new, open-access climate science journal.

Oxford Open Climate Change is a broad reaching interdisciplinary journal that aims to cover all aspects of climate change, including its impacts on nature and society, as well as solutions to the problem and their wider implications.

The journal will publish research from physical and biogeochemical aspects to social impact and response assessments; from economics and integrated assessments to health, politics, and governance; and from natural to technical solutions. The journal will play a key part in disseminating research findings across traditional fields, and removing siloes in readership seen in more traditional discipline specific journals.

Oxford Open Climate Change embraces openness principles which will further contribute to both the dissemination and the reuse of the published materials. The journal will include both invited contributions and regularly submitted contributions, as well as special issues that consider key problems from a wide range of disciplines. Article types will range across multi-disciplinary reviews, research articles, research letters, short communications, and editorials. Rigorous peer review is central to all content.

Hat tip to my dad for making me aware of this.

When I say the journal is new, I do mean new. It’s had a grand total of two issues so far. Their Rationale and Opening Remit makes a good case for the nature of the climate crisis, and while it doesn’t link that to the fact that the journal’s open access, I think it’s a point worth making. Leaving aside my earlier-mentioned beliefs about paywalls, it is outrageous that there is a financial barrier to accessing information about what may be the biggest crisis ever to face our species. We cannot adapt to climate change, or meaningfully slow its advance, if we keep treating everything in life as part of a competition.

Beyond that, I like what I’m seeing so far. The fact that it’s so new means I can actually read through everything they’ve got in a reasonable amount of time, and even give you an overview! The editorial section, in addition to their rationale and remit mentioned above, includes a clear call to go beyond the inadequate emissions targets currently set by most nationsand for wealthy nations to actually use their wealth to deal with this global emergency.

In particular, countries that have disproportionately created the environmental crisis must do more to support low and middle income countries to build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient societies. High income countries must meet and go beyond their outstanding commitment to provide $100 billion a year, making up for any shortfall in 2020 and increasing contributions to and beyond 2025. Funding must be equally split between mitigation and adaptation, including improving the resilience of health systems.

Financing should be through grants rather than loans, building local capabilities and truly empowering communities, and should come alongside forgiving large debts, which constrain the agency of so many low income countries. Additional funding must be marshalled to compensate for inevitable loss and damage caused by the consequences of the environmental crisis.

The fact that our “leaders” continue to obsess over profits and private property is a clear symptom of a mental rot spread throughout our ruling classes. Looking at history, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising to see how little they value human life, but this blind charge towards extinction honestly makes me worry about the possibility of nuclear war in the near future. In the meantime, we continue to do what we can to take power away from these people, so we can save ourselves, and give them the treatment they apparently need.

The “Short Communication” discusses the geopolitical issues surrounding geoengineering technologies like reflecting a significant portion of sunlight away from the Earth. Obviously, that’s something that would affect the entire planet, and thus everyone on the planet, or at least every nation, should have a say in whether or how it’s done. Given our current inability to cooperate at a global scale, I think it’s worth thinking about how we might go about building coalitions like that.

The research articles make for a good introduction to the breadth of topics that Open Oxford Climate Change means to tackle. The first article has everything you might need to know about the diets of a particular Canadian polar bear population,  followed by a discussion of “sustainability” in fast fashion, and the use of a fashion show as a vehicle for climate communication. I doubt there’s much interest in me going through everything they’ve published so far, but it seems that they intend to publish research that covers every aspect of climate change, from the study of past climate shifts and analysis of current climate sensitivity, to politics and culture.

I count this journal as a little bit of good news, both in terms of access to research, and in terms of the ability for the general public to actually see the work that’s being done. It’s not much, but I’ll take it.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into this. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Tegan Tuesday: U.S. Government Fights For Health Industry Profits

By midnight EST today, one phase of COVID support will be ended in the United States. Specifically, the Heath Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund (CAF) will no longer accept claims due to a lack of sufficient funds. Free-to-the-receiver vaccines will only be until midnight on April 5th.  This program was one of the very few attempts by the US to have the medical support normally expected in a developed country, and certainly didn’t last very long! Those with insurance will return to their standard level of care, and those without insurance or with terrible or useless insurance will be covering costs out of pocket, as is their standard level of care.

I’m not quite sure what I had expected the work-around for free healthcare in the US to be, but the details of the CAF was a surprise to me. Depending on the individual’s personal level of health insurance, the health care providers have to go through multiple and specific hoops to ensure that the “free” vaccine or healthcare went through the proper channel. It’s free for Medicare, so make sure you notate it this way for Medicare patients. It’s usually (!) free for Medicaid, but it’s up to the states discretion, and there are exceptions. Bog-standard insurances are required to reimburse the providers. Those without insurance go through a specific claims process, which is also different from those who are underinsured. I had forgotten how much I hate the American health care system, and had foolishly thought that it was just free and easy.

Sadly, it seems that even mediocre things must come to an end, and the budget for this kind of humane support was not approved by Congress. The White House has put out an official statement (blunter than I expected) about the effects of this program ending. Among other things, this cuts off funding for preventative measures, additional vaccine research, and global outreach. The congressional failure is, naturally, laid at the feet of Republicans, but I have yet to find any specific politicians involved in this de-funding. It looks like Representative DeLauro sponsored a funding extension in the House, but she is on the Committee on Appropriations, so it’s not a surprise that she’s the sponsor on an appropriations act (looking at her profile on the House website, it looks like her most recent vote was ‘yes’ for the CROWN Act in support of natural hair, which is also nice to see).

I am frustrated. We are working on Year Three of a global pandemic, a new variant is starting its world tour, and one of the very, very, very few things the US government did right is being overturned. It reminds me to be thankful that Abe’s entire social circle is me and a few animals, and mine is the insular world of a small university department in a small island country. If nothing else, it limits our exposure. I can do very little except try to keep my household together, and rage at the narrowminded selfishness of those with the power to actually make the world better.

Abe here – if you like the contents of this blog, please share it around! If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider funding my budding career as a professional hermit. It’s especially important right now, as my immigration status prohibits me from seeking any kind of normal job. Every little bit helps, even if it’s as little as $1 per month. It’s not cheap to train birds to nest in my beard.