Tegan Tuesday: Disabled activists are using South Korea’s lack of accessibility to fight for human rights

My first introduction to disability rights was at a mock trial when I was a teenager. For those unfamiliar with the structure of mock trials, schools all across the US are given the same fake trial, and students must prepare both prosecution and defense against other school districts. It’s an introduction to the law process in the US and an interesting bit of mental competition. I remember one of the years that I was competing, the plaintiff was a disabled newscaster suing a news network for discriminatory hiring practices, stating that the network was not interesting in working with a newscaster in a wheelchair.

Among the many things our team had to learn to work on this case was what counts as discrimination, and what categories of people counted as a “protected class”. In the U.S., race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age are the current protected classes. Partial protection from disability discrimination was from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, with additional protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Our fictional law case had the news station only paying attention to the original Civil Rights Act of 1964, which only protects discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. As an able-bodied person with no disabled people in my immediate family, I hadn’t ever considered the discrimination disabled people face. My mock trial team knew about how much effort went into getting the Civil Rights Act, and we assumed that a similar amount of effort was put in for all subsequent additions. And that’s where we left it; no actual research was done on the disability activists who made the relevant law happen.

The next time I heard much about disability activism was 2017 when activists were arrested outside Mitch McConnell’s office. The activist group ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today) had staged “die-ins” with wheelchair users abandoning their wheelchairs, making it harder to force the protesters to leave, as well as making the visual impact of removing said protesters stronger. In the many discussions and articles I read about the activists in 2017, I learned of how throughout much of the last fifty years disabled activists have been fighting. Not just for their lives, although they certainly have fought for that, but for the right to exist in public, to have jobs, to have families. One of the actions that ADAPT is known for are the protests throughout the 1980s for accessible buses. A quick summary from Wikipedia states:

Throughout the 1980s, the campaign for bus lifts expanded out from Denver to cities nationwide. ADAPTers became well known for their tactic of immobilizing buses to draw attention to the need for lifts. Wheelchair users would stop a bus in front and back, and others would get out of their chairs and crawl up the steps of an inaccessible bus to dramatize the issue. Not only city buses but interstate bus services like Greyhound were targeted. By the end of the decade, after protests and lawsuits, ADAPT finally saw bus lifts required by law as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

As anyone who has ever seen or experienced the process of getting a wheelchair user onto a bus will know, the current system is still not particularly good. It varies from place to place, but it generally requires the bus to laboriously lower a ramp, let the rider wheel on, then equally-laboriously raise the ramp. The process is repeated when the rider needs to exit. It takes time, which delays the schedule, and there is often only space for one or two wheelchair users on a bus. But, technically, officially, wheelchair users are able to ride the bus with the non-wheelchair-using populace. There’s just the implied and hoped-for expectation that most wheelchair users will avoid the bus. In a world where punctuality is often so important, and time is often so short, the setup almost seems designed to focus attention – and impatience – on disabled people just trying to go about their day.

This situation isn’t limited to just the US. In both Scotland and Ireland, my experience has been that anyone requiring a mobility aid has had to make an ordeal of their entering a bus. Cue my lack of surprise to find that South Korea has a similar issue with public transit. Since mid-December, Hyehwa station in Seoul has been the center of a new fight for disability rights.

Disability rights activists, many of them in wheelchairs, have been staging subway protests to demand accommodations on public transit. And on [April 15th] the demonstrators chained themselves to each other and to a portable ladder, reenacting a 2001 protest where activists chained themselves to the subway tracks. Now they shouted, “Pass a budget for disabled citizens! No rights without a budget!” They boarded trains in groups, which requires transit workers to install and uninstall wheelchair ramps, thus causing delays. A few of the activists had recently shaved their heads in public, a monkish ritual of sacrifice.

Lee Hyoung-sook, who leads a local advocacy group, was among those with her head shaved. At Gyeongbokgung station, she tried to board the train en route to Hyehwa station. Subway workers brought out a ramp so her wheels wouldn’t get stuck in the large gap between the platform and the car. Four more wheelchair users waited their turn to board in other sections of the train. While workers moved their one ramp around to get every wheelchair activist on board, the subway doors kept closing in on them. “Fellow citizens, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” Lee told her fellow passengers.

These subway protests are being led by the largest disability-rights activist group, Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD). This is far from the first time that SADD has been in the news. In 2016, the group was protesting the 6-tiered disability system that ranks the amount of support any individual can receive. The activists were visibly pulled from chairs and dragged out of an international social work conference. Current South Korean president, Yoon Seuk-yeol, is the head of the conservative People’s Power Party, and the official response from the government has been as helpful as 2016’s sanctioned violence. The head of the political party – and the president’s right-hand-man – Lee Jun-seok, has claimed that the activism is illegal, an “uncivilized backward strategy” and that the activists are “playing the minority card” to villainize the majority. My, that’s certainly a familiar conservative refrain.

According to 2020 surveys, 32% of disabled Koreans don’t have access to medical care, 85.6% of disabled Koreans have been unable to pursue higher education, and the majority of the people surveyed stated that lack of accessible transportation was the primary reason. The transit activism runs parallel to efforts to improve conditions in residential facilities, as current statistics indicate that fully half of disabled Koreans living in care homes die before age 50, and a third of them don’t even make it to 30. But care home residents are not as visible as subway stoppages, so awareness has to come from without. SADD’s demands are simple: they want the rights of disabled citizens guaranteed, same as any other citizen.

SADD currently has been demanding the government to draw up four major bills relating to the basic rights of disabled. The disabled advocacy group has been also asking the government to secure budgetary funds for disability rights in the 2023 fiscal plan, in addition to an official meeting with the new administration’s finance minister.

Laws protecting the rights, freedoms, and safety of people have always been written in blood; I hope the South Korean government sees the value in the lives of disabled people before more blood is shed.

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 it. 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!

I learned two new things about termites today!

Ok, so the first thing I didn’t know was that termites are a type of cockroach. I had no idea.

The second thing – and this honestly makes a lot of sense, given what we know about termites – is that they apparently cross oceans every now and then.

Termites are a type of cockroach that split from other cockroaches around 150 million years ago and evolved to live socially in colonies. Today, there are many different kinds of termites. Some form large colonies with millions of individuals, which tend to live in connected tunnels in the soil. Others, including most species known as drywood termites, form much smaller colonies of less than 5000 individuals, and live primarily in wood.

Researchers from the Evolutionary Genomics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), alongside a network of collaborators from across the world, have mapped out the natural history of drywood termites—the second largest family of termites—and revealed a number of oceanic voyages that accelerated the evolution of their diversity. The research, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, shines light on where termites originated and how and when they spread across the globe. It also confirms that some species have, in recent centuries, hitched a ride with humans to reach far-flung islands.

“Drywood termites, or Kalotermitidae, are often thought of as primitive because they split from other termites quite early, around 100 million years ago, and because they appear to form smaller colonies,” said Dr. Aleš Buček, OIST Postdoctoral Researcher and lead author of the study. “But very little is actually known about this family.”

Dr. Buček went on to explain how, before this study, there was very little molecular data on the family and the little understanding of the relationships between the different species that was known was based on their appearance. Previous research had focused on one genus within the family that contains common pest species, often found within houses.

To gain overarching knowledge, the researchers collected hundreds of drywood termite samples from around the world over a timespan of three decades. From this collection, they selected about 120 species, some of which were represented by multiple samples collected in different locations. This represented over a quarter of Kalotermitidae diversity. Most of these samples were brought to OIST where the DNA was isolated and sequenced.

Every now and then, I learn about a research project, and am given a new appreciation for the amount of work some scientists will do to expand our knowledge. There’s a degree to which some of this sort of thing can be less work than it necessarily sounds like. If I said I caught and measured hundreds of turtles every year, that could be just a couple weeks of work. That would be followed by a much longer period of analysis and whatnot, but a fairly small team can collect a lot of data in a very short time, if they know what they’re doing.

Doing it over 30 years, however, requires patience and persistence that I find admirable, not to mention reliable access to resources (funding educational and research institutions should be treated as a public investment in the future).

By comparing the genetic sequences from the different species, the researchers constructed an extensive family tree of the drywood termites.

They found that drywood termites have made more oceanic voyages than any other family of termites. They’ve crossed oceans at least 40 times in the past 50 million years, travelling as far as South America to Africa, which, over a timescale of millions of years, resulted in the diversification of new drywood termite species in the newly colonized places.

Furthermore, this study has cast doubt on the common assumption that drywood termites have a primitive lifestyle. Among the oldest lineages in the family, there are termite species that do not have a primitive lifestyle. In fact, they can form large colonies across multiple pieces of wood that are connected by tunnels underground.

“This study only goes to highlight how little we know about termites, the diversity of their lifestyles, and the scale of their social lives,” stated Prof. Tom Bourguignon, Principal Investigator of OIST’s Evolutionary Genomics Unit and senior author of the study. “As more information is gathered about their behavior and ecology, we’ll be able to use this family tree to find out more about the evolution of sociality in insects and how termites have been so successful.”

“They’re very good at getting across oceans,” said Dr. Buček. “Their homes are made of wood so can act as tiny ships.”

The researchers found that most of the genera originated in southern America and dispersed from there. It takes a scale of millions of years for one species to split into several after a move. The research also confirmed that, more recently, dispersals have largely been mediated by humans.

A good portion of my life has been spent learning about the ways in which humans move other species around, and the damage that can do. It’s neat to learn about species moving themselves around, over such vast distances.

Video: Humanity is not a parasite, and why we need social ecology

With fascism and climate change both looming large on the world stage, I think it’s important that we counter the narratives of ecofascism specifically. It’s not currently the dominant form of fascism, but the second fascists see environmentalism as a path to power, they will try to use it. Worse, the rhetoric to support a turn like that is already deeply embedded in society. Talk about overpopulation, humanity being “the real virus”, doom being inevitable, or (and I can’t imagine why this one has been used less in recent years), “we need a new plague”.

This is why a number of people have said that the only thing more dangerous than conservative denial and obstruction will be when conservatives decide to admit that climate change is real, and to impose their solutions to it. St Andrewism is someone I think you should keep an eye on in general, and this video is no exception. We need to get better at adapting our population centers to work with their surrounding ecosystems, not against them.


Video: Let’s talk about armed teachers

After 9/11, amid things like the Patriot Act and the new “War on Terror”, there came a bill that really caught my attention as a teenage Quaker – the Universal Military Service and Training Act of 2001. This was a proposed law that never made it to Bush’s desk (thankfully), that would have required all male citizens of age to enlist for basic training (including Pentagon-approved history lessons) and a term of service. The authors of the bill very kindly provided for contentious objectors to opt out of weapons training and direct combat roles. Needless to say, this freaked me out. I think it freaked out a lot of people, and I feel quite certain that if conditions allow, the idea will come up again.

So that’s something to look forward to…

Another way in which conservatives are trying to create the society in Starship Troopers is proposing that all teachers be armed. As usual, Beau of the Fifth Column has some words worth hearing on the subject, and on what that might actually look like.

This is not a solution. The problem is, that’s not going to stop conservatives from trying it. If you haven’t realized by now that reality is no barrier to the laws they want to make, then I’m afraid you’re very behind on your political education. The fact that they’re happy to legislate based on how they think reality ought to work, makes me think we need to consider that they’ll keep pushing for armed teachers until they get armed teachers. And if it comes to that, the scenario Beau discusses isn’t the only way that could go. There’s another possibility for what this could look like, and it’s a very, very grim one:

They could start requiring that all teachers either be veterans, or have completed basic training, or some other government-sanctioned combat training program.

At the end of the day, conservatives – and that’s not a category limited to Republicans – want to control things. They want hierarchies, and they want those hierarchies to be enforced. The tools they use for this – police, debt, redlining, etc. – are varied and sometimes fairly subtle, but they all seem to aim at creating a populace that will do as they’re told, and won’t rock the boat. It seems to me that this push to arm teachers may be closer than we realize to requiring teachers to undergo formal military training.

Do I need to make the case for why that would be a bad thing? Do I need to explain who would be most hurt by this path?

Friday Film Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

So, uh, this movie is about me.

I mean, it’s not about me. It’s about fictional characters played by people who are nothing like me.

But it could be about me, or you know, it might as well be about me.

I’m gonna start over by going back in time about 45 minutes to when I started this blog post. Bear with me a sec.

When I first started dating Tegan, back in 2013, I had a well-established dislike of horror movies. I’d seen a few, but I didn’t enjoy them, or the visions that they planted in my brain. It just seemed like a way to torture myself for no real gain. Kinda like watching Requiem for a Dream. Tegan convinced me to watch Cabin in the Woods, which is absolutely a horror movie, but it’s also more than that. It’s an interesting story about the “true origin” of humanity’s horror, from ancient monsters to modern-day slashers, with quite a bit of comedy worked in. It changed my mind. It’s not that I don’t enjoy horror movies, it’s that I don’t enjoy the ones that are horror without a meaningful or interesting plot. Cabin in the Woods is currently tied with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil as my favorite examples of the genre, and there are a few others that I like. They’re all ones that have horror as one part of an otherwise compelling story. It’s a central part, but it’s not the only thing going on.

I have similar feelings about movies that deal with intense emotional trauma and/or suffering. The aforementioned Requiem for a Dream might as well be a horror movie like the Jason series. It’s a cautionary tale about drugs, but it feels more like one of the Hell Houses that Christian fundamentalists use to scare each other about Damnation- grotesque and empty.

Tegan has now convinced me to watch Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, and it is a ride. The two paragraphs before this are the introduction because this movie starts out like it’s going to be about the grinding misery of a disappointing life. It shows us a person who’s constantly distracted, constantly in doubt, constantly failing, and seems to be unable to hear her family half the time when they’re talking.

It… It hit close to home. It’s not my life, but it’s what my life has felt like many times. I’m not going to lie – as the beginning progressed, I was very tempted back out. The thing is, it’s not not about that misery, but as with the best horror movies, there’s so much more that you only get a taste of that misery before things go in a literally improbable  and often hilarious direction. You never really have time to consider it again, except when it matters.

Which reminds me – have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? If you haven’t, you should. I’m sure it has it’s bad moments, but it really is a phenomenal work of storytelling, comedy, and imagination. I also suspect that it may have been an inspiration for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Specifically, a ship called The Heart of Gold. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you should at least read the first book in that series. Run along now!

Anyway, I was thinking about those similarities, but as the plot moved along, I suddenly felt like I was watching a version of the movie MirrorMask, but from a parallel universe, or maybe a universe that’s like almost parallel, but a little wobbly, so it bumps into ours from time to time.

MirrorMask, for those of you who don’t know, is a delightfully surreal fantasy movie from the mind of Neil Gaiman, in which a girl who escapes the turmoil of her life through art, finds her self pulled into a dying magical world populated by things she has drawn, and by strange, eccentric versions of the people in her life.

It sort of feels like a mix between Alice in Wonderland (I hope I don’t need to summarize that for you), and The Neverending Story (which would take far too long to summarize here), but it also has a bizarre and at times revolting sense of humor, as a multiverse of limitless possibilities vomits forth strange versions of the main cast that I guarantee you are not expecting. In a way, the sense of humor reminds me of what you’d encounter in a movie like Time Bandits.

Time Bandits is a movie directed by Terry Gilliam, starring the cast of Monty Python as well as a great many other people. It follows the story of a boy who’s caught up in a metaphysical heist, and is dragged through time, space, and different plains of reality. It’s a sort of zany, modern-day theodicy, with an ending that – to me – felt as unfulfilling (and entirely appropriate) as the ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a – ok, this time it was a joke. You may have noticed a theme in this review, jumping from one thing to another? Each one forms a connection to the next, and that to another beyond it in a never-ending chain. Did I mention the Neverending story already? Yes I did. I’m very sorry, but I lured you in with a movie review, and ended up trapping you in a creative writing project about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I’m so very sorry, but this movie (you know, the single movie of which this is a review?) hit me pretty hard. It’s a phenomenal movie. The casting is amazing, and the acting is amazing from everyone involved (It also has a flavor of Kind Hearts and Coronets. If you know, you know.)

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a movie about a mother and a daughter who both have ADHD, and don’t know it. I honestly don’t know whether either of my parents has ADHD, but looking back I can see how it affected my childhood. I don’t have kids, and I don’t expect to, but I can empathize with a parent’s desire to keep their children from making the same old mistakes. How could anyone not? Every time I learn something new, I want to tell the world, because knowing feels so much better than not knowing. I also want a world with less pain. I want a life with less pain. Who wouldn’t? If I knew a way to make that happen, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but in the meantime, I also understand the desire to just… be numb. To be at peace. Have the noise just stop for one damned second. This paragraph is what this movie is about.

As a kid, I lost myself in things. Things that put me into a state of flow. Things that made me forget who I was, and what my life was like. I want to be clear – my life was good, compared to a lot of people, even in the small schools I went to. This isn’t me saying I come from a background of hardship, because I really don’t. Looking back, I know there were times we were tight on money, but never tight enough that I noticed it. That shouldn’t be a privilege, and it doesn’t have to be. It can and should be the norm, and that’s basically the core of this blog. The-

Fuck. I got sidetracked again.

There’s one more movie I want to bring in, and that’s how we’ll wrap this up. I’ve talked about all these other movies that started playing in my head as I watched, but this is the one I really want to compare it to.


I’m not going to summarize the movie. You’re safe from that now. All I will say is that it is one of those rare movies that makes you feel like your mind is being opened to just a hint of how huge and strange our universe is. To harken back to The Hitchiker’s Guide, Arrival is a little bit like the Total Perspective Vortex (on the planet Frogstar B). It gives you a taste of what it would be like to remember your future as you remember your past, existing in your entire life at every moment. Everything, everywhere, all at once.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is another Total Perspective Vortex movie, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that I find this movie so relatable, and I’m not declaring it to be about ADHD just because it feels like this movie about a Chinese-American family is also about me. Like all original works of art (am I gonna get flamed for this?), the movie is about the people who who created it, and they say it’s about ADHD.

So I started doing some research. And then I stayed up until like, four in the morning, just reading everything I could find about it, just crying, just realizing that, “Oh, my God, I think I have ADHD.” So this movie is the reason why I got diagnosed. I got diagnosed, I went to therapy for a year and then went to a psychiatrist. And I’m now on meds, and it’s such a beautiful, cathartic experience to realize why your life has been so hard.

I’m intensely jealous. For those of you who’ve never tried, getting diagnosed with ADHD is still extremely difficult, at least as an adult. In Ireland, where I live, it’s functionally impossible for me, or for Tegan. The public system can’t accommodate, and the private system only gives a shit about rich people.

Watching Arrival for the first time was a revelatory experience. I consider it to be one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, and Everything Everywhere All At Once now stands along side it. I’ve never cared about the Oscars before (and I don’t really now), but I think this ought to win Best Picture.

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 it. 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!

So stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Buddhist monk is walking down the street in New York, and seeing a hotdog stand, decides he will get one. He approaches the stand, looks at the vendor, and says, “Make me one with everything.”

Rebecca Watson on Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and domestic abuse

Like Watson, I’ve been doing my best to not pay attention to this particular bit of ugliness. I feel a bit callous saying this, but it’s none of my business, and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. My instinct has been to believe Heard, and it was surprising to see an increasing number of people saying that actually she is the abuser. It never seemed compelling to me, but I’ve had my doubts, and when something is making this much news, it is going to affect a lot of people’s lives, and while this one relationship is far outside of my sphere of influence, I think that addressing the issue is important, because there are a lot of abuse victims who I believe could be hurt by the coverage and rhetoric around this case. That’s why I’m grateful to Rebecca Watson for digging into the issue. EDIT: Here’s the transcript for those who’re interested.

The Sharkcano has erupted. I repeat: The Sharkcano has erupted. This is not B movie.

So I vaguely remember hearing about the “sharkcano” once before, but I definitely needed a refresher. It’s an underwater volcano in the Solomon Islands, and in 2015 it was discovered that there were a number of sharks and other fish living in the crater of the volcano, where the water is both hot and acidic. We’re talking temperatures of 40°C/104°F or higher, if I’m reading this paper right. Long-time readers will know that one of the concerns with a warming climate is that hotter water can hold less dissolved oxygen, meaning some fish – especially the larger, more active ones – will have to find cooler water, or suffocate. From what I can tell, the fact that the crater is near the surface, and there’s a lot of thermal activity there, means that the water mixes around more than usual, so I’d guess that that raises the oxygen level. I suppose it’s also possible that the fish there somehow need less oxygen? I really don’t know. Regardless, I hope the sharks and everyone else living there knew their home well enough to flee, because it has erupted. I honestly expect that they’ll be OK, because this isn’t the first time.

Named after a sea god of the Indigenous Gatokae and Vangunu people, Kavachi is located about 15 miles south of Vangunu Island, part of the Solomon Islands east of Papua New Guinea. It’s one of the most active underwater volcanoes in this part of the Pacific and has been erupting nearly continuously since at least 1939, when people living on nearby islands first recorded an eruption, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program.

The volcano is also known by the name Rejo te Kvachi, which means “Kavachi’s Oven”—a fitting moniker for the superheated lava, steam, particulates, rock fragments and sulfur that sometimes reach the water’s surface. Scientists believe the volcano’s summit is roughly 65 feet below the water; Kavachi’s base is on the seafloor, about three-fourths of a mile below sea level, per NASA.

Over its recorded history, Kavachi has created a handful of ephemeral islands that have spanned up to a kilometer in length. But the ocean’s waves have always eroded and washed these islands away. It also produces dramatic phreatomagmatic eruptions, in which superheated magma and water interact to create violent, steamy explosions.

“Sharkcano” earned its nickname after a 2015 expedition found two species of sharks, along with active microbial communities, living within the volcano’s crater. Using a baited drop camera, an international team observed scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewiniand silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) living in the hot, acidic water. Kavachi is a “fascinating natural laboratory” that “remains full of mysteries to explore,” according to the researchers, who published the results of their exploration in the journal Oceanography in 2016. NASA has been tracking Kavachi for some time, taking equally spectacular photos of eruptions in 2007 and 2014.

When I played Subnautica, I thought that the “lava lizards” that lived in and around underwater volcanoes were pretty far-fetched  as life forms went, but this is honestly closer to that than I realized could exist. The 2015 paper I linked above points out that higher temperatures and higher acidity are both major concerns for the survival of life in the ocean in the coming years. Last year’s heat wave killed hundreds of millions of sea creatures on the west coast of North America, and I think it’s fair to say we’re going to see more of that. It’s nice to know that life – even life that’s familiar to us – is possible even in an acidic stew like that.

Even so, I think I’ll keep trying to prevent those conditions from becoming commonplace around the world.

The image shows six images from the underwater volcano Kavachi. The top left image is blue, and shows streams of bubbles rising from cracks in the sea floor. The next image over shows a microbial mat, followed by a picture of a bluefin trevally. The bottom three images, left to right, are of red snappers, a scalloped hammerhead shark, and a silky shark. The fish pictures all show yellow, cloudy water.

2. (A) Oblique view of a line of bubbling gas along the outer edge of Kavachi’s crater with orange, cloudy plume fluids in the background. (B) Downward-looking view of a microbial mat on the summit of the Southwest Extension. (C) Bluefin trevally, (D) snapper, (E) hammerhead shark, and (F) a silky shark observed using a baited drop camera deployed inside the crater.

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 it. 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: True Facts about nudibranchs (and a little Oceanoxia lore)

Can washing machines get trichobezoars? Raksha has been gone for a while now, but she’s still managing to clog drains from beyond the grave. Anyway, today involved an unexpected flood followed by turning the apartment into a sauna to dry out the particle board flooring under the linoleum flooring in my oh-so-well-managed flat. I believe we managed to stem the tide in time to prevent any water leaking down to disturb the neighbors, but it was by no means a sure thing. Then, right before I was gonna make supper, I got sidetracked by writing a thousand words or so in my current fantasy novel, and then suddenly it was late and I had to cook. Time is vastly overrated. I want a refund.

All of this is to say, here’s a video I thought was neat

Fun fact – the banner of this blog is from the background of its original home, and I took that photo on the same day as I shot the nudibranchs in the banner that’s still there.

Tegan Tuesday: The Music Video Effect

Part of the fun of graduate level training is the introduction to existing questions in your field. One of the topics presented for debate in my Masters was the phonograph effect. A short description of this debate is: does knowing there are preserved, repeatable versions of a performance change how we write, perform, and listen to music? Of course it does. Technology changes cultures and music is no exception to this. (The debate then becomes what specifically is the phonograph effect versus changing tastes.) But now, 150 years after Edison’s invention, I think we are experiencing a second shift: the music video effect.

While videos of musicians and songs existed in the 1960s and 1970s, these mostly don’t resemble the current understanding of a music video. A modern music video is a separate work of art that uses a piece of music as the predominant soundtrack for storytelling. This isn’t that they can’t be more than that — Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album come to mind — but they usually stick close to the recorded sound. Sia’s “Chandelier” is an example of modern visual storytelling that uses the song as the primary audio.

Early music videos, rather than being a separate art form, were often recordings of live TV performances, or weren’t far off from that format. Here’s The Monkees’s “Daydream Believer” as an example of the fake concert format.

These early videos weren’t much beyond advertising for tickets to live concerts and for album sales. Notable exceptions to this were long-form videos like Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” and The Beatles’s “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Compressing two decades of music video history, it’s enough to say that the biggest change to the value of music videos came in August 1981 when MTV first went on the air. The story I had always been told by my dad was that the first video played was The Buggles’s “Video Killed the Radio Star.” It is a story so pat, I doubted it, but a quick glance at wikipedia — your friend and mine! — suggests that it’s true. Now, because of the impact of MTV on young people, if an artist wanted to reach that market, they needed an arresting video in addition to a catchy radio hit. The forty years since then have only increased the emphasis placed on music videos, and even prioritized them over the development of albums. According to my friend’s own MA research (unpublished thesis entitled How TikTok is Changing the Music Industry), it is more cost efficient in the Spotify and TikTok world to have a handful of well-made and highly-produced singles with music videos than to build the narrative of an album that would have three-quarters of its tracks commercial non-starters. Most pop music consumers today are only looking for individual tracks anyway. The TikTok connection to videos is obvious, as it’s a visual medium, but even Spotify will often show music videos while streaming if the app is up on the phone or computer. That a streaming audio service is attempting to capitalize on the music video phenomenon is indicative of how prevalent this format is in the modern music industry.

Where the music video effect gets really interesting — to me — is the relationship between music videos and non-current popular music. Today, we have access to 150 years of recorded sound and each era has modern fans. One of my favorite digital archives and preservation projects is the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archives, with a close second being the Library of Congress National Jukebox. These platforms allow modern music lovers to hear everything from the latest vaudeville hit of 1899 (“Hello My Baby” anyone?) to home recordings of unidentified children singing folk songs. While I’m sure that there are early sound fans creating videos for some of these recordings, the majority of early sound fans on YouTube prioritize the physical medium. Their videos are often simply a turn table or phonograph playing the music, sharing the early album with you, the viewer. I suspect that these earliest recordings are less susceptible to the music video effect simply because they are niche markets with dedicated fans of the aesthetic. The goal of a digital rendition is not to bring modern aesthetics to the era, but to introduce modern music lovers to the aesthetics of a previous era.

There is, however, a pre-MTV era of music that is still commercially viable and widely popular: the classic rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Not all of the hits from the early music video days had videos made because it was an expensive extra. More than that, hindsight can tell us what tracks have stood the test of time. “Purple Haze”, for example, was considered a flop upon release, and now it’s one of Jimi Hendrix’s most well-known tracks. Why waste the money on a video if you weren’t even sure the song would be popular? Classic rock is thus the only genre that both has a large, active fanbase, and doesn’t currently have in-period music videos to bring into the digital, visual world. They also are still all under copyright. Because of this visual gap, in the past 5-10 years, many record companies have started producing officially licensed music videos to bring these beloved hits to a new market. There are three main categories for how to structure these videos: listening community, artistic community, and retrospective.

The first category is the celebration of the listening community. The first song that I noticed having had a modern music video made fits this category: Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

The music video is simple and doesn’t even include the singer, but it instead highlights the listener. “Tiny Dancer” has been a part of people’s listening experience since it’s release in 1971 and has been loved for all of those fifty years (although it technically wasn’t a commercial success as it never topped the charts). The newly crafted music video shows the viewer snapshots of the lives of the many people who listen to Elton John, and invites us to link our experience with theirs. Rather than highlighting a new work or an artist, this video celebrates the long-lasting cultural power of a hit song. The artist is important, the song is important, but the listening community built around it is where its current value lies.

The second category is also a variant on community. “Artistic community” specifically refers to the community that the artist has built. An example of this I saw recently (it’s what prompted this article!) is George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.”

The music video for this song is a fun romp telling the story of a secret spy organization, and has nothing to do with the song content. For this star-studded video, it is clear that the artist — who is posthumously present in the film — had had all of his friends asked if they wanted to make a film. This video is just a goofy and entertaining introduction for viewers who might be unfamiliar with the song. The non-topical video also in no way impedes the enjoyment of a long-time fan.

The final type of new video for an old tune is the nostalgic retrospective. An example of this is the new video for The Beatles’s “Here Comes the Sun.”

It’s a beautiful video that references the source material, but it primarily highlights old footage from the band’s heyday. A viewer of this type of video is most likely already familiar with the source material and the context for the nostalgia. This style is the hardest video for a newcomer to appreciate, but perhaps the easiest for a long-time fan. This style also feels closest to a fan video with an actual budget, so the only novelty here is the official sponsorship from the record label.

The thing that all three of my examples have in common is that they are mega-hits. It is a low-risk financial investment for a recording company to make a video for one of these tried-and-true songs. The Lovin’ Spoonful or Lulu aren’t likely to be eligible for officially licensed videos any time soon, no matter how popular they may have been in their own time. Personally, I hope that more videos are made in the first two categories, as I find both of them significantly more fun than simply being sad about times gone by. Feel free to share any examples of the music video effect that you’ve seen in your own corner of the internet — I’m always looking for more fun videos to watch!

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Have a tiny bit of good news about climate change; as a treat!

There’s a book I got years ago – I think it might have been a stocking stuffer – called The Miseries of Human Life. The book was originally printed in 1806, and dwells not on true horrors like war and poverty, but specifically on the minor miseries of our lives. Those things that seem to afflict us all, simply for the crime of being human. It’s things like hangnails, or food that slips out from under your knife when you try to cut it. It’s people conversing across you at a bar, or being suddenly overcome with sleepiness while listening to someone talk, even though you’re genuinely interested, and respect the speaker.

One such misery of modern life is the fact that every speck of good news about climate change seems to fall into the category of “well, it’s still bad, but it’s not as bad as we feared”. We never get unambiguously good news. I hope that will change in my lifetime, but as it stands, it’s a minor frustration, like a sock that keeps slipping down your heel as you walk.

So, there’s good news! It seems that methane emissions from melting permafrost aren’t as bad as we feared!

Permafrost runs like a frozen belt of soil and sediment around Earth’s northern arctic and sub-arctic tundra. As permafrost thaws, microorganisms are able to break down thousands of years-old accumulations of organic matter. This process releases a number of greenhouse gases. One of the most critical gasses is methane; the same gas emitted by cattle whenever they burp and fart.

Because of this, scientists and public agencies have long feared methane emissions from permafrost to rise in step with global temperatures. But, in some places, it turns out that methane emissions are lower than once presumed.

In a comprehensive new study by a collaborative from the University of Gothenburg, Ecole Polytechnique in France and the Center for Permafrost (CENPERM) at the University of Copenhagen, researchers measured the release of methane from two localities in Northern Sweden. Permafrost disappeared from one of the locations in the 1980’s, and 10-15 years later in the other.

The difference between the two areas shows what can happen as a landscape gradually adapts to the absence of permafrost. The results show that the first area to lose its permafrost now has methane emissions ten times less than in the other locality. This is due to gradual changes in drainage and the spread of new plant species. The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“The study has shown that there isn’t necessarily a large burst of methane as might have been expected in the wake of a thaw. Indeed, in areas with sporadic permafrost, far less methane might be released than expected,” says Professor Bo Elberling of CENPERM (Center for Permafrost), at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.

This is good news. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it’s much more powerful as an insulator in our atmosphere, and the reason climate change is so dangerous is the speed at which it’s happening. Anything that means it’s moving slower than it could be is good for us. It means that we have just a little bit more time to act.

What’s even better is the reason why the researchers think there’s less methane production:

According to Professor Elberling, water drainage accounts for why far less methane was released than anticipated. As layers of permafrost a few meters deep begin to disappear, water in the soil above begins to drain.

“Permafrost acts somewhat like the bottom of a bathtub. When it melts, it’s as if the plug has been pulled, which allows water to seep through the now-thawed soil. Drainage allows for new plant species to establish themselves, plants that are better adapted for drier soil conditions. This is exactly what we’re seeing at these locations in Sweden,” he explains.

Grasses typical of very wet areas with sporadic permafrost have developed a straw-like system that transports oxygen from their stems down into to their roots. These straws also act as a conduit through which methane in the soil quickly find its way to the surface and thereafter into the atmosphere.

As the water disappears, so do these grasses. Gradually, they are replaced by new plant species, which, due to the dry soil conditions, do not need transport oxygen from the surface via their roots. The combination of more oxygen in the soil and reduced methane transport means that less methane is produced and that the methane that is produced can be better converted to CO2 within the soil.

“As grasses are outcompeted by new plants like dwarf shrubs, willows and birch, the transport mechanism disappears, allowing methane to escape quickly up through soil and into the atmosphere,” explains Bo Elberling.

The combination of dry soil and new plant growth also creates more favorable conditions for soil bacteria that help break methane down.

Like I said – less methane is good even if it’s just being replaced by CO2. Ready for the even better news? There doesn’t seem to be a big increase in CO2 either.

“When methane can no longer escape through the straws, soil bacteria have more time to break it down and convert it into CO2,” Bo Elberling elaborates.

As a result, one can imagine that as microorganisms reduce methane emissions, the process will lead to more CO2 being released. Yet, no significant increase in CO2 emissions was observed by the researchers in their study. This is interpreted as being the result of the CO2 balance, which is more heavily determined by plant roots than the CO2 released from the microorganisms that break down methane. Crucially, even though methane ends up as CO2, it is considered less critical in climate change context as methane is at least 25 more potent greenhouse gas as compared to CO2.

The article goes on to talk about the role precipitation could play in affecting this – more water probably means more methane – but I find this genuinely encouraging. It’s another indication that if we can get our act together, the ecosystems around us will probably help us in our efforts to stabilize the climate. This is also information that we could put to use in trying to mitigate permafrost emissions in other areas, as we look to engaging in stewardship of a rapidly changing planet.

It’s worth remembering, sometimes, that the indifference of our universe means that sometimes things work out in our favor in ways we didn’t expect. Obviously that’s no guarantee of a good outcome, but it does give me more motivation to do what I can now, so that as those bits of good luck come our way, we’re better able to make use of them.

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 it. 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!