Greenpeace occupies Shell oil rig

I’ve long been troubled by the unequal power dynamic that allows a wealthy person to poison thousands of poor people, without having to fear those poor people acting in self-defense to end that attack. Instead, the victims must play a game of papers and rhetoric with rules written by and for the wealthy. If they rise up, well, that’s violence you see, unlike the chromium in their water, or mercury in their air. If they rise up, they just have to be crushed for the public good!

It’s not an easy thing, figuring out how to get systemic change in a system designed to prevent just that. At what point does the law, in protecting the rich and powerful, lose its legitimacy? The answer to that is going to be different for everyone, and it’s worth remembering that, because we are all vulnerable to propaganda, there’s an ongoing effort to influence how we think about it.

The problem is, while we are trying to figure out what we can do to change course, the whole system continues barreling onwards, crushing countless lives, and carrying us towards climate catastrophe. Our future – the future of all humanity, is being burned before our eyes, and yet we must keep paying rent, and keep paying the arsonists for the privilege of getting to live in the present, and to read by the light of that fire.

I suppose in a lot of ways I’m one of the people who’s “still deciding”. I certainly haven’t done much beyond my effort to make this blog a viable source of income, which is why I’m glad for people like the Atlanta forest defenders, and Greenpeace. Say what you will about that organization, but it does me good to see them occupying another oil rig:

In an effort to call attention to the company’s planet-wrecking drilling projects, several Greenpeace International campaigners on Tuesday boarded and occupied a Shell-contracted platform in the Atlantic Ocean as it headed toward a major oil and gas field in the U.K. North Sea.

Greenpeace said in a press release that the platform is “a key piece of production equipment that will enable Shell to unlock eight new wells in the Penguins North Sea oil and gas field,” an extraction effort that the climate group has attempted to block in court.

Four Greenpeace activists—Carlos Marcelo Bariggi Amara from Argentina, Yakup Çetinkaya from Turkey Imogen Michel from the U.K., and Usnea Granger from the U.S.—managed to board the Shell vessel using ropes after reaching the platform in three boats deployed from Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Yeb Saño, who tried and failed to board the platform, said in a statement that Shell “must stop drilling and start paying.”

“We’re taking action today because when Shell extracts fossil fuels, it causes a ripple of death, destruction, and displacement around the world, having the worst impact on people who are least to blame for the climate crisis,” said Saño, the former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. The CEO of Shell is the guy who told John Stewart that maybe a goal of 1.5 degrees by 2100 means we pass that by 2050, and then spend the second half of the century cleaning up. I’ve written before about how this attitude is not only reckless, but also a horrifically callous dismissal of those people whose lives are already being destroyed or disrupted by the climate change that is lining that fucker’s pockets.

Excuse my Anglo-Saxon, it’s just infuriating to see a rich scumbag like that just sort of politely writing off countless lives. Personally, I think the temporary occupation of a drilling platform is the gentlest of responses. As far as I know, Greenpeace doesn’t even do any damage to the equipment when they do this stuff. They’re just making a statement, but even that is too much for the sensitive souls at Shell:

A Shell spokesperson claimed in a statement that the Greenpeace campaigners’ demonstration is “causing real safety concerns, with a number of people boarding a moving vessel in rough conditions.”

But the spokesperson signaled that the company has no intention of altering its development plans in the North Sea, despite warnings from the scientific community that continued drilling will usher in catastrophic climate outcomes.

“Shell and the wider fossil fuel industry are bringing the climate crisis into our homes, our families, our landscapes, and oceans,” Saño said Tuesday. “So we will take them on at sea, at shareholder meetings, in the courtroom, online, and at their headquarters. We won’t stop until we get climate justice. We will make polluters pay.”

Greenpeace’s latest direct action came days before Shell’s earnings report, which will follow the banner profit announcements of competing oil and gas giants such as Chevon and ExxonMobil.

On Tuesday, Exxon said it raked in a record $56 billion in profits in 2022.

Yes I’m sure Shell really cares about safety.

The reality is that these corporations have no more right to plunder the world than did the colonial empires that built their foundations. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve never had legitimacy, and I don’t see how one can look at their history and conclude otherwise. I fully support this occupation, and I hope to see many more like it in the future.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post enjoyable or interesting, please share it around! Due to my immigration status, my writing is my only source of income right now, which is why I like to “pass around the hat” now and then for people’s spare change. Supporting me on Patreon can cost as little as three or four cents per day, and when enough people join in, even those $1/month pledges add up. There’s not currently much in the way of patron-only content, but my $5 patrons do have the option to name a character in the fantasy novel I’m currently working on, so if you like my fiction and want to immortalize yourself, or someone you know, then giving me money may just be your best option!

Musk Personally Suspended the Account of Left-Wing Journalist

When confronted with a fascist movement, it’s worth remembering that fascism, for all its populist trappings, serves the elite. That’s really where its power comes from. The people involved are genuine reactionaries, and monstrous people, but the movement is sustained and directed by the limitless wealth of the ruling class. It’s also worth remembering that fascists don’t really value anything other than power and victory, so they will happily claim the protections of “free speech” as part of their campaign to utterly eliminate that freedom. This is why it’s not surprising that Elon Musk, one of those at the very top of the ruling class, bought twitter promising to protect freedom of speech, and then immediately turned around and started banning people, including those he specifically said he would not ban.

Chad Loder is an anti-fascist journalist and activist, who exposed a member of the Proud Boys involved in the coup attempt of January 6, 2021, as well as the machinations of fascists like Andy Ngo. He was from Twitter back in November, as part of a larger pattern of catering to the far right. It always seemed likely that Musk, who has increasingly shown himself to be a reactionary man-child, was directly involved in this purge, but now it seems we actually have proof:

A leaked internal Twitter message appears to show that Elon Musk directly ordered staff to suspend a left-wing activist’s account on the social-media platform.

Bloomberg said it viewed a screenshot of the message in question, involving the account of Chad Loder, which read: “Suspension: direct request from Elon Musk.”

Loder, who uses they/them pronouns, describes themself on their Mastodon profile as a community activist, cybersecurity expert, and citizen journalist. Their investigation into the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 led to the arrest of a masked member of the far-right Proud Boys organisation who’d attacked police officers, The Intercept reported.

Musk has described himself politically as “somewhere in the middle” but encouraged his followers to vote Republican the day before November’s midterm elections.

This story’s publication resulted in an exchange between Musk and the prominent right-wing journalist Andy Ngo, who shared a series of screenshots purporting to show past tweets from Loder advocating violence. Insider couldn’t independently verify the tweets because of Loder’s account suspension.

In response to Ngo, Musk tweeted: “I don’t know this person at all, but explicit threats of violence obviously violate Twitter ToS,” or terms of service.

Loder’s account was one of several prominent left-wing accounts suspended by Twitter in November 2022.

Loder told Insider’s Sawdah Bhaimiya they suspected the suspension resulted from an “organized mass-reporting campaign,” whereby a right-wing group published a Substack blog with instructions on how to falsely report breaches of Twitter’s rules by particular accounts — with Loder’s profile listed near the top.

On Tuesday, Twitter reinstated the account of prominent white nationalist Nick Fuentes, only for it to be banned again inside 24 hours.

In a since-deleted tweet in October, Musk promoted a conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

J.M. Berger, an expert on social-media extremism, previously told Insider: “I think he’s intentionally empowering right-wing extremists.”

Not only that, but I don’t think there’s any reason to expect that he will stop empowering right-wing extremists. Their agenda is both flattering to his ego, and helpful to his greed. I don’t know that messing with twitter will reshape the world the way he or his fans might wish, but at the end of the day, he’s still immensely powerful, and he’s still using that power to limit the reach of people whose opinions he dislikes. There’s not a whole lot we can do about this, directly, it can’t hurt to make sure it’s talked about as we keep working to end that particular kind of power altogether. It’s likely that much the next few decades will be shaped, for the worse, by the whims of billionaires. As that’s happening, it’s important to remember that no matter what they say, what they are doing is supporting the far right, and suppressing the left.

A video and some thoughts on police reform

The last few years have been fascinating for a number of reasons, but one that’s really caught my attention is the way conservatives and their media have completely abandoned even the pretense of honesty, integrity, and a desire to make things better. I think the leaders and news outlets know that their base are so isolated from reality that they can tell them whatever they want, and they’ll just believe it. One of the best examples of this is their response to calls to defund the police. There are, of course, lies about what that phrase means, but I think those pale in comparison to the lie that the police have already been defunded, as though the slogan itself were some form of incantation that made it so. In case you’re not certain of the numbers, the agenda proposed by the Defund movement has been adopted by precisely zero cities. Some toyed with the idea, but overall, funding for police seems to have increased, rather than being reallocated to reduce the pressures that drive crime. .

These days I don’t really like the concept of “insanity”. It’s a dismissive over-simplification that I believe does more harm than good. That said, there’s a popular saying – that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I mention it because it’s brought up in the video below, and because that certainly seems to be the cycle that our leaders are trapped in. It’s as if they lack the ability to conceive of any response to unrest beyond increasing the number of soldie- sorry, police officers, and giving them more money. Never mind the killings, maimings, torture, theft, sexual assault, and harassment that all come from cops, we just have to have more cops, and then they can police the police! That always works, right? We just need the right reforms.

Well, no. Reform doesn’t work. I feel confident in saying that, because it’s been the primary approach for decades, and things have not improved. I also don’t buy that this is a new problem. It may be getting worse, with increase police militarization, and increased police protections, but cops have always been like this in the United States. Still, reform is a popular talking point, and our leaders don’t actually want the police to change in any significant way, so they will keep leaning on it, no matter how rotten it is. That’s why I want to share this video from Skip Intro, using the cop show We Own This City as a lens through which to examine police reform, and why it fails:

I also want to highlight a more blunt point made by writer Robyn Pennachia – police already know it’s bad to beat people to death. They aren’t robots that just don’t have the right programming. They are people with their own thoughts and opinions who routinely choose to beat people to death, or to shoot them, or to maim them, or to steal from them, or to plant evidence, or to rape them. They already know that that stuff isn’t allowed, and they do it anyway. Reform cannot work because police don’t want it to work, and actively fight against it. Giving them new rules won’t help, because they already break the rules that they have.

It’s worth noting that the Memphis police department enacted a series of reform measures back in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It was part of a program called “8 Can’t Wait” that aimed to reduce police violence by requiring certain things of police officers during stops.

  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
  • Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations before using deadly force.
  • Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Establish a Force Continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of each police weapon and tactic.
  • Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians. Comprehensive reporting includes requiring officers to report whenever they point a firearm at someone, in addition to all other types of force.

Like most flavors of police reform, these measures presume that the police officers who kill do so only because they simply don’t know what else to do, because they haven’t been trained to do anything else. It presumes that they won’t use a chokehold if they are told to not use chokeholds. It presumes that if we just tell police officers “Hey, stop murdering people who are no kind of actual threat to you,” they will stop doing that. It assumes a certain amount of good faith that is not necessarily applicable to the kinds of police officers who kill people.

You know what the number one “deterrent” is to people committing crimes? It’s not long sentences, it’s not harsh prison conditions, it is certainty that they will be caught. This also applies to police officers in a systemically racist society who shoot or kill people to death.

If these officers didn’t know that what they are doing is wrong in these situations, they would also do them when dealing with rich white people. They’d act the same way when television cameras are rolling. They don’t. If this were the only way they knew to handle these situations, if all they needed was better training and more funding, they would never bring White mass murderers in alive. They do. Quite often, in fact. When was the last time police beat a mass murderer to death? Or a serial killer?

They know it’s wrong, they do it anyway, because they think they won’t get caught. They do it because power corrupts.

And because power attracts those who would abuse it.

Likewise, I think many of the rich and powerful people who advocate for “reform” already know that it won’t work, at least for the change wanted by the general public. They don’t want that change. I think that they want the police to keep the people in line, regardless of what the people want. There’s a paranoid part of me that worries that this continued ramp-up of police and the military isn’t actually about current conditions, but rather about future conditions, as the planet warms and capitalism continues to grind the masses into the dirt.

That’s why I’ve been convinced that the change we need has to come from us. We need to organize and build collective power, because the systems in place are designed to resist this kind of change no matter the cost. As with climate change, even if we don’t have a perfect solution, we sure as hell know how we could make things better, and yet “we” (the people in power) refuse to do it. All we have is us.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post enjoyable or interesting, please share it around! Due to my immigration status, my writing is my only source of income right now, which is why I like to “pass around the hat” now and then for people’s spare change. Supporting me on Patreon can cost as little as three or four cents per day, and when enough people join in, even those $1/month pledges add up. There’s not currently much in the way of patron-only content, but my $5 patrons do have the option to name a character in the fantasy novel I’m currently working on, so if you like my fiction and want to immortalize yourself, or someone you know, then giving me money may just be your best option!

Common levels of traffic pollution impair human brain function.

I believe that we should replace nearly all car traffic with mass transit (free at the point of service), better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and a smattering of electric personal vehicles as needed for people with disabilities or ailments that make the former options unworkable. There are plenty of reasons for this, not least of which is giving people back the time that’s currently spent on commuting, but the biggest one is probably air pollution. I mention environmental racism fairly often, and traffic pollution is one of the ways in which it manifests. A great many major highways in the United States were deliberately built through the middle of black neighborhoods, not only fragmenting them, but also poisoning their air. New research now adds to our understanding of that poison and its effects on our brains:

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria has shown that common levels of traffic pollution can impair human brain function in only a matter of hours.

The peer-reviewed findings, published in the journal Environmental Health, show that just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust causes a decrease in the brain’s functional connectivity – a measure of how different areas of the brain interact and communicate with each other. The study provides the first evidence in humans, from a controlled experiment, of altered brain network connectivity induced by air pollution.

“For many decades, scientists thought the brain may be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution,” said senior study author Dr. Chris Carlsten, professor and head of respiratory medicine and the Canada Research Chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC. “This study, which is the first of its kind in the world, provides fresh evidence supporting a connection between air pollution and cognition.”

For the study, the researchers briefly exposed 25 healthy adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air at different times in a laboratory setting. Brain activity was measured before and after each exposure using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The researchers analyzed changes in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), a set of inter-connected brain regions that play an important role in memory and internal thought. The fMRI revealed that participants had decreased functional connectivity in widespread regions of the DMN after exposure to diesel exhaust, compared to filtered air.

“We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, so it’s concerning to see traffic pollution interrupting these same networks,” said Dr. Jodie Gawryluk, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria and the study’s first author. “While more research is needed to fully understand the functional impacts of these changes, it’s possible that they may impair people’s thinking or ability to work.”

I think it’s important to note here that what was tested here isn’t “traffic pollution”. In many ways it’s probably less damaging than what’s encountered in the wild, so to speak, because a huge chunk of that pollution comes not from the exhaust, but from the tires of the cars:

Almost 2,000 times more particle pollution is produced by tyre wear than is pumped out of the exhausts of modern cars, tests have shown.

The tyre particles pollute air, water and soil and contain a wide range of toxic organic compounds, including known carcinogens, the analysts say, suggesting tyre pollution could rapidly become a major issue for regulators.

Air pollution causes millions of early deaths a year globally. The requirement for better filters has meant particle emissions from tailpipes in developed countries are now much lower in new cars, with those in Europe far below the legal limit. However, the increasing weight of cars means more particles are being thrown off by tyres as they wear on the road.

The tests also revealed that tyres produce more than 1tn ultrafine particles for each kilometre driven, meaning particles smaller than 23 nanometres. These are also emitted from exhausts and are of special concern to health, as their size means they can enter organs via the bloodstream. Particles below 23nm are hard to measure and are not currently regulated in either the EU or US.

“Tyres are rapidly eclipsing the tailpipe as a major source of emissions from vehicles,” said Nick Molden, at Emissions Analytics, the leading independent emissions testing company that did the research. “Tailpipes are now so clean for pollutants that, if you were starting out afresh, you wouldn’t even bother regulating them.”

Exhaust is getting cleaner, and that’s good, but even if we were to eliminate it altogether, by swapping to all-electric vehicles, I don’t think it would improve health as much as the first study, by itself, might imply. I’m also irked by the authors “steps to protect yourself”, because they seem to assume an array of options that simply are not available to everyone:

Dr. Carlsten speculated that the effects could be long-lasting where exposure is continuous. He said that people should be mindful of the air they’re breathing and take appropriate steps to minimize their exposure to potentially harmful air pollutants like car exhaust.

“People may want to think twice the next time they’re stuck in traffic with the windows rolled down,” said Dr. Carlsten. “It’s important to ensure that your car’s air filter is in good working order, and if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, consider diverting to a less busy route.”

When I was commuting across Boston and Cambridge, by bike, by foot, or by bus, I didn’t really have any “low-exposure” options. I suppose it’s good advice to keep your windows up in traffic, but really none of these solutions seem particularly meaningful to me. What about people who live right by a highway, as I used to? What about people who work in cities? I suppose everyone could start wearing respirators everywhere. I feel like it’d be unpleasant, but I have been wanting our cyberpunk dystopia to better fit the genre’s aesthetic.

No, we need societal solutions, not individual ones. We need to stop making so much air pollution, and fortunately we do know how to do that. It means more mass transit, as I said, but it also means far less pressure to travel in the first place. Changing to more of a steady-state economy, and ending greed-driven overproduction would go a long way toward reducing the amount of shipping and commuting required to keep things running. Beyond that, working from home should be allowed by default, where doing so is possible. This path won’t entirely eliminate air pollution, but it would make a huge difference for many millions of people, while also improving quality of life in other ways.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post enjoyable or interesting, please share it around! Due to my immigration status, my writing is my only source of income right now, which is why I like to “pass around the hat” now and then for people’s spare change. Supporting me on Patreon can cost as little as three or four cents per day, and when enough people join in, even those $1/month pledges add up. There’s not currently much in the way of patron-only content, but my $5 patrons do have the option to name a character in the fantasy novel I’m currently working on, so if you like my fiction and want to immortalize yourself, or someone you know, then giving me money may just be your best option!

Video: The history (and pre-history) of trans people

At the moment we are in the middle of an effort, by conservatives, to erase trans people from existence. Part of that effort, as with the Nazi book-burnings, is to erase any understanding of trans people, and part of that effort is pretending that they are some sort of new phenomenon. The are not. Gender has always been more complex than bigots are comfortable with, just like most other things about the world. Tristan from Step Back History does a good job of covering what we know about the history of the many examples through history of people who don’t conform to the artificial gender “binary”, from all over the world. It’s a fascinating part of who we are as a species that has been deliberately kept from most people, at least in the English-speaking world. The fascists don’t want you to know this stuff, so what are you waiting for?

Filtration Friday: Kelp farms reduce water pollution

I’m not certain, but it’s likely that my favorite climate solution is covering everything in plants. In additional to mental health, they can improve our health in various ways, help guard against the harms of air pollution, and help mitigate that pollution. This isn’t just because I spent a good chunk of my childhood in the woods, either. I honestly love living in cities, I just want that life to be healthier and more pleasant for everyone.

Given all of that, I think it makes perfect sense that similar benefits would apply to plant life in the oceans. Water is, after all, another sort of “atmosphere”, for the organisms that inhabit it, and we’ve been polluting that as well. Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks have been studying kelp, and have found that depending on the species used, kelp farms could make a big difference in coastal pollution:

The paper, published in the January issue of Aquaculture Journal, analyzed carbon and nitrogen levels at two mixed-species kelp farms in southcentral and southeast Alaska during the 2020-21 growing season. Tissue and seawater samples showed that seaweed species may have different capabilities to remove nutrients from their surroundings.

“Some seaweeds are literally like sponges — they suck and suck and never saturate,” said Schery Umanzor, an assistant professor at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the lead author of the study.

“Although carbon and carbon sequestration by kelp received most of the attention, kelp is actually much better at mitigating excessive amounts of nitrogen than carbon,” Umanzor said. “I think that’s a story that’s really underlooked.”

Nitrogen pollution is caused in coastal areas by factors such as urban sewage, domestic water runoff or fisheries waste disposal. It can lead to a variety of potential threats in marine environments, including toxic algae blooms, higher bacterial activity and depleted oxygen levels. Kelp grown in polluted waters shouldn’t be used for food but could still be a promising tool for cleaning such areas.

Kelp farming is an emerging industry in Alaska, touted to improve food security and create new job opportunities. It’s also been considered as a global-scale method for storing carbon, which could be a way to reduce levels of atmospheric carbon that contribute to climate change.

Analysis of kelp tissue samples from the farms determined that ribbon kelp was more effective than sugar kelp at absorbing both nitrogen and carbon, although that difference was somewhat offset by the higher density of farmed sugar kelp forests.

Umanzor cautioned that the study was limited to two sites during a single growing season. She is currently processing a larger collection of samples collected from six Alaska kelp farms for the subsequent season.

“Maybe it’s a function of species, maybe it’s the site, maybe it’s the type of carbon and nitrogen out there,” Umanzor said. “There’s a lot to know in a follow-up study.”

Personally, I’d want to know more about what else the kelp is absorbing, before I commit to it as a food source, but I’m in favor of using kelp farming and things like it to mitigate water pollution, whether or not it helps feed people. I do wonder to what degree it’ll turn out that efforts to reduce water pollution upstream will end up leaving kelp nitrogen-starved the way reductions in air pollution have led farmers to use more sulfur fertilizers. I also wonder how these results would compare to similar studies for species on the Atlantic side of the continent, since we wouldn’t want to just introduce a new species. After all, it wouldn’t do to create a new invasive species problem in the name of fighting pollution.

I look forward to hearing about future research on this subject, but I kinda feel like I’ve heard enough – every offshore turbine should have a seaweed farm built into it, for starters. I think we should largely leave the sea floor alone, pending a better understanding of how to help that ecosystem recover, but floating structures seem to be a different matter, to me. I’ll admit I know far less about oceanic ecosystem dynamics than terrestrial ones, but I’m excited to see where this goes.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post enjoyable or interesting, please share it around! Due to my immigration status, my writing is my only source of income right now, which is why I like to “pass around the hat” now and then for people’s spare change. Supporting me on Patreon can cost as little as three or four cents per day, and when enough people join in, even those $1/month pledges add up. There’s not currently much in the way of patron-only content, but my $5 patrons do have the option to name a character in the fantasy novel I’m currently working on, so if you like my fiction and want to immortalize yourself, or someone you know, then giving me money may just be your best option!

Massachusetts lawmakers propose prison organ-harvesting scheme

What would you give for your life?

What would you give for your freedom?

I periodically talk about the ways in which our society coerces people into accepting circumstances that they wouldn’t otherwise. Bad working conditions, insufficient pay, extortionate rent, little time in which to actually live – that’s the default for a growing number of people. The problem is that it gets so much worse.

The U.S. carceral system is rife with abuse, torture, rape, and murder, from inmates, sometimes, but from guards often. I don’t know what proportion of the U.S. public actively likes that our prisons are such horrific places, but there’s always a pretense that justice is somehow involved. After all, we don’t explicitly sentence anyone to rape or torture, right? We just sentence them to spend months, years, or their entire lives in a place where we know, for certain, that that happens.

And at the same time, prisoners are still expected to enrich the ruling class, through charging extortionate rates for booksfood, necessities, and even contact with family and loved ones. How much would you pay to talk to your spouse after a year apart? How much to talk to your children? How much to see the face of someone who you know – or at least hope – still loves you? What if you had the option to be tortured, for someone else’s benefit, to get your freedom a little bit faster?

Would you let the government take your organs for a shorter sentence?

SECTION 1. Chapter 127 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following text after the word “petition”:-

Section 170. (a) The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections shall establish a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program within the Department of Correction and a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee. The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program shall allow eligible incarcerated individuals to gain not less than 60 and not more than 365 day reduction in the length of their committed sentence in Department of Corrections facilities, or House of Correction facilities if they are serving a Department of Correction sentence in a House of Corrections facility, on the condition that the incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s).

(b) The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee shall consist of five members: The Commissioner of the Department of Correction or their designee who will act as chair of the committee; the Medical Director of the Department of Corrections or their designee; a Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Specialist from a hospital within the Commonwealth or their designee; a representative of an organization advocating for bone marrow donations within the Commonwealth or their designee; and two appointments shall be made by the Governor to serve three-year terms and one of whom shall be a board member of an advocacy group advocating for the rights of incarcerated individuals, and one of whom shall be from the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association. The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee shall be responsible for the effective implementation and ongoing administration of the incarcerated individual Bone Marrow and Organ Donation program. The Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Committee shall also be responsible for promulgating standards of eligibility for incarcerated individuals to participate and the amount of bone marrow and organ(s) donated to earn one’s sentence to be commuted. Annual reports including actual amounts of bone marrow and organ(s) donated, and the estimated life-savings associated with said donations, are to be filed with the Executive and Legislative branches of the Commonwealth. All costs associated with the Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program will be done by the benefiting institutions of the program and their affiliates-not by the Department of Correction. There shall be no commissions or monetary payments to be made to the Department of Correction for bone marrow donated by incarcerated individuals.

This bill has been sponsored by two Democrats from my former home state of Massachusetts – Carlos Gonsález and Judith A. Garcia, and personally I think support for it should immediately disqualify anyone from holding any power. If inmates want to donate organs, marrow, or blood, they should absolutely be able to, but tying it to a reduced sentence means that we’re now viewing organ harvesting as an acceptable punishment within our so-called justice system, same as prison time (no less than two months and no more than one year), or the fines some people are able to pay in lieu of prison time.

This is the kind of shit I’ve seen in dystopian, gritty scifi shows like Killjoys or Lexx. It’s the kind of stuff people say China does, when they want to wave away the fact that the “Land of the Free” locks up a much larger proportion of its population. I’m not sure there’s really much more to say about this. U.S. prisons are traumatic hellholes as a matter of policy, and both major parties have played a huge role not just in locking up so many people, but in ensuring that prison conditions stay horrific. They much prefer spending money on armed goons to punish you for speaking or acting out.

So I ask again? What would you give for your freedom?

The image shows Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, with a neon glowing hat brim, a popped collar with neon light bars on the inside, and a glowing VR-lookin visor thing. The text reads, “You best start believing in cyberpunk dystopias – you’re in one”

Hat tip to @NoCopsNoMasters for putting me onto this.

Let There Be Elephants.

The science is in, and we need more ginormous critters. Well, ok, not exactly, but this research does remind me a bit of the ecosystem benefits of whales that I’ve mentioned before. The idea that elephants are good for the ecosystems in which they live is not at all new. When it comes to the forest elephants, it has long been clear that, as with whales, the ecosystem seems likely to collapse if they go extinct. With that as context, it makes sense that the presence or absence of elephants can have pretty big implications for the global climate:

In findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Saint Louis University researchers and colleagues report that elephants play a key role in creating forests which store more atmospheric carbon and maintaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa. If the already critically endangered elephants become extinct, rainforest of central and west Africa, the second largest rainforest on earth, would gradually lose between six and nine percent of their ability to capture atmospheric carbon, amplifying planetary warming.[…]

An elephant looks into the camera as it moves through the rainforest. Photo by Stephen Blake, Ph.D. The elephant’s face forms a gray, wrinkled wall in the background of the picture. Out-of focus leaves in the foreground give a sense of depth. The elephant’s eye is visible just above the middle of the right half of the picture. It’s facing to the right, and you can see that the eye is turned forward, off-camera. The iris looks to be a light gold or yellow with a dark ring around it, and the eye’s white has a tinge of pink to it. The trunk is off-screen to the right, and you can see its ear extending off screen to the left.

“Elephants have been hunted by humans for millennia,” Blake said. “As a result, African forest elephants are critically endangered. The argument that everybody loves elephants hasn’t raised sufficient support to stop the killing. Shifting the argument for elephant conservation toward the role forest elephants play in maintaining the biodiversity of the forest, that losing elephants would mean losing forest biodiversity, hasn’t worked either, as numbers continue to fall. We can now add the robust conclusion that if we lose forest elephants, we will be doing a global disservice to climate change mitigation. The importance of forest elephants for climate mitigation must be taken seriously by policy makers to generate the support needed for elephant conservation. The role of forest elephants in our global environment is too important to ignore.”

Elephants play multiple roles in protecting the global environment. Within the forest, some trees have light wood (low carbon density trees) while others make heavy wood (high carbon density trees). Low carbon density trees grow quickly, rising above other plants and trees to get to the sunlight. Meanwhile, high carbon density trees grow slowly, needing less sunlight and able to grow in shade. Elephants and other megaherbivores affect the abundance of these trees by feeding more heavily on the low carbon density trees, which are more palatable and nutritious than the high carbon density species. This “thins” the forest, much like a forester would do to promote growth of their preferred species. This thinning reduces competition among trees and provides more light, space and soil nutrients to help the high carbon trees to flourish.

“Elephants eat lots of leaves from lots of trees, and they do a lot of damage when they eat,” Blake said. “They’ll strip leaves from trees, rip off a whole branch or uproot a sapling when eating, and our data shows most of this damage occurs to low carbon density trees. If there are a lot of high carbon density trees around, that’s one less competitor, eliminated by the elephants.”

Elephants are also excellent dispersers of the seeds of high carbon density trees. These trees often produce large nutritious fruits which elephants eat. Those seeds pass through the elephants’ gut undamaged and when released through dung, they are primed to germinate and grow into some of the largest trees in the forest.

“Elephants are the gardeners of the forest,” Blake said. “They plant the forest with high carbon density trees and they get rid of the ‘weeds,’ which are the low carbon density trees. They do a tremendous amount of work maintaining the diversity of the forest.”

This kind of thinking is part of the ecosystem management that I think we should be doing. This doesn’t mean that we should try to introduce elephants (or mastodons, or wooly mammoths) to areas that haven’t had them in recent centuries, but it does mean that our conservation efforts, even those focused on getting plants to absorb carbon, need to include the various big mammals that we’ve pushed to the brink of extinction. Once again, this isn’t particularly new information. In addition to what we already knew about elephants, there’s also plenty of evidence that restoring bison herds also dramatically helps prairie ecosystems, and moose play a big role farther north.

This is also why I like the notion of local organizing with global networking and a global perspective. Different regions will have different needs, from a social perspective, from an engineering perspective, and from an ecological perspective. Folks on the left talk about the intersection between social dynamics like race, sex, gender, class, and so on, and bringing environmental justice into that has brought us to the point where it’s pretty clear that the social, engineering, and ecological perspectives aren’t really different things at all. They’re just different parts of the same big, complex system. The bad news, as always, is that we’re headed in the wrong direction. The good news, as always, is that we’ve got a pretty good map showing us where we need to go.

Some More News: Why Is Housing So Expensive

Everyone should have a guarantee of quality housing. There’s no question that we have the resources to do it, but there’s currently a huge, politically entrenched parasitic class of people who make money off of owning other people’s homes. I’ll put in the obligatory “not all landlords” here – I believe a majority of landlords are “small”, just renting out part of the home they themselves live in, and things like that. The problem is that a majority of renters have to deal with the big landlords – the ones who own dozens or even hundreds of homes. Having a housing market of the kind that we do means that landlords’ right to profit is treated as more important than anyone’s right to shelter. When you include homes that are kept deliberately vacant, the wealth of landlords comes at the cost of the death of poor people. The presence of good landlords who do their best by their tenants doesn’t change that broader dynamic.

This is also an entirely solvable problem. We could make high-quality public housing that doesn’t have a stigma attached to it, but the people in power would rather have people die on the street. That is not an exaggeration, it is the literal truth. Multimillionaires and multibillionaires actively want people dying on the streets. They generally won’t say it directly, but that is the intended outcome of their efforts to use austerity to curb inflation – they want more poverty and desperation, because it makes people easier to control.

And they know that that means more people dying on the street. That’s an intended outcome.

As usual, Cody’s Showdy does a good job digging into this subject, as well as the extremely racist history of housing and home ownership in the United States. He also goes more into solutions, like the public housing I said we could be doing, so here – have Some More News!

Children are collateral damage in Tim Pool’s anti-LGBTQIA hate campaign

Right now, the American conservative movement is trying to erase LGBTQIA people from society. As with past genocidal projects, all of the “justifications” are bullshit, but that doesn’t stop bigoted grifters from spreading that manure around. You see, they want to destroy queer people, and they’re happy to lie to get their way. This is not a new project, but it has gotten new life in recent years, as part of a larger fascist movement and conservative backlash against the progress we’ve made on trans rights in particular, and LGBTQIA rights in general, over the last four decades or so.

This post is inspired and partially informed by a video by Lance, from The Serfs, but I dig into the subject below. I find this video useful because it shows how Pool weaves anti-queer propaganda in and around an unrelated story, to give shallow thinkers the impression that the movements for gay and trans rights, and the push for comprehensive sex education, are leading to child sexual abuse. In trying to give that impression, Pool lies, misleads, and literally cites the opinions of someone with close ties to the NXIVM sex cult, which actually did groom and abuse a great many children and adults. It’s worth keeping in mind, if you’re not already, that all of these lies and implications about Queer people serve to cover up and enable real abuse, by misdirecting people’s attention. For some, that might just be acceptable collateral damage, and for others, that is almost certainly the point. I think that going through how Pool’s video is set up, similar to what Lance does below, is useful in seeing how he furthers this agenda by association and implication.

So, to begin with, let’s look at the news from Chicago. Tim Pool builds his case around a real report of hundreds of cases of grooming, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape by teachers and staff in the Chicago public school system, during the 2021-2022 school year. This is a horrifying report, and I think it does demonstrate a need for real change. I also suspect that this is more widespread than just Chicago. Schools, like churches, give a number of adults a huge amount of power over children, and while most may gravitate to those lines of work for good reasons, others do it for that access. This seems to be the case within pretty much any hierarchical institution, but children are uniquely vulnerable because they have neither the knowledge nor the power to defend themselves, within society as it exists today. There are annual reports on this in CPS, and if the one from 2019 is anything to judge by, this is a long-standing problem, and as I said I doubt it’s limited to Chicago. I don’t recommend it as a news site, but I’m going to use the Daily Caller article Pool is using in the video above. Content warning for child sexual abuse, in case that wasn’t clear:

The Chicago Board of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) annual report found hundreds of Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers were accused of adult-to-student sexual misconduct in the 2021-2022 school year.

The OIG’s Sexual Allegations Unit (SAU) opened 447 cases investigating teachers for allegedly grooming, sexually assaulting, or raping CPS students last school year, following the 325 opened in 2021. Of the open cases, the SAU closed 600 over the past 12 months, according to the OIG annual report, reported ChicagoCityWire.

SAU investigated a Chicago high school substitute teacher for grooming several students for sex and engaging in sexual acts with at least one student on school property, the OIG found.

The CPS teacher allegedly talked to students about their sex lives in person and through social media, cell phones, and “other common grooming techniques,” according to the OIG. The report stated the teacher gave the “student unnecessary passes to exclude her from class, and encouraging students to confide in him about personal problems.”

SAU claims he made “intimate physical contact with students (including kisses, sexual hugs, and back-rubs), openly solicited sexual acts (such as asking a student to recruit another student for a ‘threesome’).”

A separate SAU investigation into a former JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) staff member found he allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old female high school student. SAU found that for 12 months, he threatened to kill the student and her family if she reported the sexual abuse.

SAU reported that the JROTC staff member and the student exchanged hundreds of text messages that “were overtly sexual, including ‘I’m ready to f*** right now … I’m not gonna be gentle either.’”

Chicago Police Department arrested the JROTC staff member and charged him with eight counts of criminal sexual assault and one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, according to the report.

She noted that the district has taken action against those engaged in wrongdoing.

Several of the open cases involved CPS-affiliated adults exposing students to pornographic images, including one high school teacher who accessed porn while he was sharing his screen with minor students.

The report applauded the OIG’s SAU’s ability to “manage its extraordinarily high case volume without compromising the quality of its investigations.”

“Over the past four years, the SAU’s accomplishments have been significant. It has opened 1,735 cases following allegations reported by students, alumni, parents, staff, and others. Of those, it has closed a total of 1,384 cases raising concerns of adult-on-student sexual misconduct, and substantiated policy violations in 302 investigations,” the report stated.

The OIG added that of the over 1,700 cases of alleged sexual misconduct between CPS-affiliated adults and students, sixteen criminal charges have been filed.

So, that’s the situation. Because of the nature of the misinformation surrounding this issue, I think I need to emphasize that the vast majority of perpetrators of this stuff are straight, cis men. That is the over-represented demographic here, not queer people of any stripe. Likewise, none of this has anything to do with drag queen anything. I also want to draw attention to the JROTC staff member, because when I wrote about schools forcing children to participate, I linked but didn’t go into that organization’s history of this exact problem.

JROTC programs are promoted not as a pipeline to active duty but as a valuable source of adult mentoring, exposure to military discipline, and inculcation of civic values. Cadets get to drill in uniform, handle weapons, learn military ranks and history, and stand at attention when visitors come to their classes. Their instructors are military veterans certified by the DOD, but many states don’t require them to have either teaching certificates or a college degree. In addition, the DOD leaves day-to-day monitoring of their performance to school administrators busy with many other responsibilities.

That lax oversight has had calamitous results. As the New York Times recently revealed in a major investigative piece, at least thirty-three JROTC instructors have engaged in sexual misbehavior with young women in the program during the last five years. And that JROTC rap sheet does not even include the “many others who have been accused of misconduct but [were] never charged” or the inappropriate behavior that went unreported because cadets were afraid of jeopardizing their potential military careers.

JROTC accounts for a minority of students (a minority of whom go on to join the armed forces), but note again the dynamic described here – it’s adults who are put in positions of authority over children. Similar power dynamics are often part of the sexual assault of adults in the U.S. military, which is also a huge problem, church abuse, workplace abuse, and familial abuse, which seems to be the most common.

Tim Pool starts his video talking about the the systematic grooming and abuse of children, while his background was a completely unrelated article about a trans activist supposedly getting someone fired from their job at a video game company for following Libs of Tiktok (a well-known stochastic terrorist), and Ian Myles Cheong, a bizarre far-right twitter activist. I looked up the Post Millennial article Pool put up there, and it’s pretty transphobic. It also ignores the fact that the firing wasn’t just about who the employee followed, but also about at least one tweet spreading the bigoted lie that trans rights are a threat to cis women’s safety. The company, Limited Run Games, felt that this public bigotry from a community manager was harmful to their brand an image, and so they fired her.

But whether or not you think that was justified, I have to ask – why announce the headline of the article about Chicago Public Schools, over an image of a headline about a trans activist, and saying, “Now the story that is on the screen is not that story. I want to give you a few moments before we get into the darker element of what’s been going on and what’s being exposed, and I want to just briefly highlight the cultural elements that are allowing such a thing to occur.”

This has nothing to do with Chicago Public Schools. As we’ve covered, most child abuse in general is by cis people. Not trans people. Trans people have nothing to do with this, but Pool brings up the abuse headline, and then immediately switches to talking about trans people. He insist that he is “Quite literally only referring to people who are targeting children in order to groom them”, and not LGBTQ+ people. As Lance points out, Tim is pretty vague about what grooming means, and he’s called things like Drag Queen Story Time, which is literally just people in colorful costumes reading stories to children. This is the same absurd fudging of definitions that has Republicans in Oklahoma trying to outlaw all “flamboyant makeup” around children. I guess they hate clowns, too?

The article describes “grooming behavior” that includes, among other things, personal conversations with children about their sex lives. His interpretation of that is that any discussion of sex or sexuality in the presence of children is “grooming”, which allows him to segue into attacking materials designed for sex ed. He literally says, “I was told that’s just claiming that gay people exist!”, without any acknowledgement of the context in which the conversations are being discussed – sexual text conversations, adults showing pornography to children, in-person sexual activity, and so on. Again, gay people haven’t come up so far, except when Pool has interjected them. The article has, so far, only described abuse by straight cis people.

He then brings out a book called Gender Queer, which is an autobiographical book targeted at older teens and adults.

When I was a teen, I did not want to actually talk about that stuff with my parents, or with anyone. Still, it was important stuff to learn, so my parents got me a book called It’s Perfectly Normal. It’s an illustrated primer on puberty, sex, and sexuality. The version I had didn’t include any mention of trans people that I can recall, but I believe it has been updated since then, following advances in general understanding of the issue, and the social change that the current conservative backlash is angry about. The book goes out of its way to be friendly and positive, including working against the various sorts of body-shaming that exist in our society. It’s illustrated, including drawings of a diversity of nude body types, as well as some depictions of sexual acts, drawings and diagrams of genitals, and so on. That’s the topic of the book. Some of the drawings may be arousing, and some may not be, and which is which will be different for different people. The whole point of the book is to teach about this stuff that’s necessary to learn as part of growing up. Consequently, this is one of those books that is banned pretty often, because conservatives think it’s “pornographic”.

The book Pool complains about is also illustrated – it’s a “graphic memoir”, but it’s a story about a young person discovering their asexuality, and that they don’t fit the gender “binary”. I’m willing to bet that it’s less explicit than my “puberty textbook”, but that hasn’t stopped people from banning it. Why is he bringing out this book? Because the religious right has been freaking out about it, and Tim Pool, despite his pretense to centrism, is a right-wing extremist.

So, he has started out this story about abuse in Chicago Public Schools by pointing to an unrelated story involving a trans activist, and then after reading a bit of the Daily Caller article out loud, he holds up this book called Gender Queer, and says “No, I got no issue with the Queer people involved in that book. I have an issue with the behaviors they’ve engaged in, such as the pushing of this book to children, which includes pornographic images”.

And then he switches to praising Dave Rubin, a gay conservative pundit, apparently to say that Rubin’s “one of the good ones”? He says that he’s fine with Rubin being “gay married”, and having kids, because he’s teaching good values, and it’s up to parents whether their kids are raised around “this stuff”. But the schools? The schools are hiding it from parents, and grooming kids by showing them porn.

You can see what’s going on here, right? So far the only actual harm to children we’ve talked about has been done by straight, cis men, preying on girls. There was one example of a teacher showing children literal pornography, and Pool is equating that to the book Gender Queer, and the LGBTQIA movement in general. This is nothing new. It’s the same bullshit propaganda used to demonize Queer people for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s the same old insistence that anything outside of cis, straight relationships is inherently more sexual, and that any discussion of can only ever be sexual.

This is a weapon that conservatives love to use. It’s not that long ago that they were working to create a moral panic about Muslims, by declaring that they made up a disproportionate majority of “grooming gangs” in the UK. That narrative conveniently left out the definition of “grooming gang” being used by pundits – localized, in-person, grooming activities on the street that targeted white girls. You may note that this definition excludes everyone abused by churches, all online activity, all abuse by families, all abuse of boys, and all abuse of non-white children, all so that they can spin the narrative that Islam somehow uniquely encourages child abuse. You can check out this Lonerbox video for more on that particular thing.

What Pool is doing seems even more dishonest than that, though, given that he’s just choosing random stories and anecdotes relating to LGBTQIA people to associate with the CPS report, so he can say that “putting these books in school and not telling parents” is the line which must not be crossed. Pool has also called a family-friendly drag show “a grooming event”.

And then Pool cites James Lindsay to justify this leap. Lindsay has made something of a career out of accusing people of being pedophiles with no evidence. Lindsay himself, on the other hand, has (or had) a long-standing friendship with Nicki Clyne, who was part of the inner circle of the NXIVM (generally pronounced “nexium”) pyramid scheme/sex cult, which engaged in actual grooming of girls. I know it’s beyond cliché at this point, but Lindsay seems to be the epitome of “every accusation by a conservative is actually a confession”.

This is the person on whose authority Tim wants us to believe that all things rainbow are part of a vast conspiracy to groom children. This person who made accusations like that while being, at best, very close to someone involved in an actual conspiracy to groom children.

And he goes back to ranting about the Limited Run Games story, calls the LGBTQIA movement a cult (having just cited someone who was friendly with an actual cult), throws in the odd concept of “political grooming”, whatever that is, and then proceeds to lie about the concept of child liberation.

So, as I understand it, “child liberation” means giving children more autonomy in their lives, rather than treating them like they aren’t people. This means letting education be more self-directed, and it means helping them figure out how to make decisions for themselves. This is an approach that would give adults less power over children. Less power to do things like grade kids worse if they don’t like them, affecting their future, and less power to abuse them, because part of the point of child liberation is teaching children that their personal autonomy matters. Andrewism has a good video on the subject if you want to dig into it. If you prefer to read articles on the subject, Andrewism links to a number of articles on the Anarchist Free Library, digging into the age-based power dynamics in our society, and the similarities between the current default schooling system, and prison. It’s an interesting subject, and not one you’re likely to encounter much outside of anarchist circles, which makes it perfect for bigoted grifters to lie to the general public about it.

I’m assuming that most of my readers are on board with comprehensive sex ed, and early teaching of consent. In the case of the former, it’s important for children to know about their bodies – including their reproductive systems – for a couple main reasons. The first is health – knowing how their bodies look and feel normally, and knowing what “normal function” is supposed to look like, gives them the tools to know when something’s wrong, and to express that more clearly. On that same note, as they age and go through puberty, their “normal function” is going to change, and it’s generally a good idea to give them warning about this so that they’re not freaked out by it. The second is safety from other people – teaching them how all the basic physiological stuff interacts with society, and what constitutes sexual activity. This is important, among other reasons, because if you don’t do that, you’ll get ignorant twits like Tim Pool who apparently can’t tell the difference between teaching someone about sex, and actually engaging or trying to engage in sexual activity with that someone.

When it comes to teaching consent, there’s little reason for sex to come up at all. At the earliest ages, it’s all stuff like whether or not they want to hug someone, whether they’re OK with a particular game or activity – it’s about teaching that they have a right to autonomy. You may note that we’re back to language from a couple paragraphs ago. Child/youth liberation is an extension of the same principle. It’s a bit contradictory to tell children that they have a right to not participate in activities that make them uncomfortable, while also telling them that they have no right to refuse to go to school when they’re told, for how long they’re told, no matter what they’re suffering while they’re there. The current system, as a default, trains children to just accept what adults tell them – of course abuse will come out of that!

But conservatives don’t actually like autonomy, in children or in adults. They want people who will be good, obedient cogs in the machine, but they know that just saying that doesn’t look great, so they have to lie, and create scapegoats for the very real problems in our society. Teachers are abusing children? Must be the gays. Oh, the vast majority of abusers are heterosexual? It’s gay culture that’s somehow infecting everyone.

This isn’t stuff that should be taken seriously, but the unfortunate fact is that Pool has a vast audience on Youtube and other platforms, and the same narrative is being pushed by the fantatical bigot who is the most watched cable news host in the United States, not to mention the entire GOP. A couple months ago, I wrote about the absurdity that always seems to lie at the core of fascist movements, and this is no exception. These people actually are the monstrous clowns that they accuse drag queens of being. They’re loud, gaudy, ridiculous, and they are committed to destroying countless lives in pursuit of their bizarre notions about how the world should work. Pool’s video ends with him telling his viewers that these horrors are happening because they, the viewers, didn’t speak up, and didn’t act. I feel a need to say something similar, but actually grounded in history – there is a fascist movement in the U.S. right now that is working hard to bring about the extermination of anyone who doesn’t fit the roles society has assigned to them. They are coming for our Queer siblings, and it is our responsibility to speak up, and to stand up in opposition to this hate, wherever we can, and however we can.

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