Murdered for defending a forest: Official autopsy undermines cop justification

This past January, I wrote briefly about the police killing of a forest defender named Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán . When I posted that, we didn’t know much, including who the victim was, but I pointed out that the story given by the cops – that Tortuguita had fired on them first – was probably a lie. The primary reason for that assumption was the simple fact that cops lie all the time, about pretty much everything. The secondary reason is that while there probably are activists out there who would feel justified in attacking police, I cannot believe that they’d go about it by facing an advancing wall of armed cops head-on, without any cover. My assumption seems to be well-founded, and I think I should provide a content warning for descriptions of gunshot wounds going forward.

The people who knew Tortuguita said that they were a pacifist, and as far as anyone knew, they were unarmed. Then came the body cam footage from cops who were nearby, saying that the gunfire they heard sounded suppressed (some of the cops’ weapons had silencers) and responding to someone on the radio implying that the cop who did get shot was the victim of “friendly fire”. Then came the autopsy commissioned by Tortuguita’s family, which indicated that they’d been hit by dozens of bullets – so many that their paths through their body frequently intersected.

And now, we have the official autopsy, revealing, in addition to the horrifying damage to their body, zero gunpowder residue on Tortuguita’s hands, meaning zero evidence that they had fired a gun.

DeKalb county’s autopsy, released to the media through open records requests on Wednesday, offers no support for the notion that Paez Terán fired a weapon, stating that “gunpowder residue is not seen on the hands” or clothes of Paez Terán. Residue on the hands might indicate that a person fired a gun, but neither this analysis nor a test known as the GSR kit is foolproof, according to experts.

Patrick Bailey, director of the DeKalb county medical examiner’s office, told the Guardian that the county forwarded evidence to the GBI for them to perform the GSR kit, or gunshot residue test.

Nonetheless, the autopsy report does little to clarify what actually happened that day, except for noting in 19 pages of clinical detail the 57 gunshot wounds that Paez Terán received, employing every letter of the alphabet more than once to label the injuries.

“I tried to read the whole thing – in the end it was a little too much,” said Daniel Paez, Manuel’s older brother, reached at his home in Texas. “The very fact that they’re talking about Manny, and how they died – I didn’t even want to share it with our mother, since the pain of losing Manny continues to haunt us; it doesn’t seem to get better.”

“It’s just brutal,” said Wingo Smith, one of the team of attorneys representing the Paez Terán family. “It’s just gruesome, the effect of the shots on their body, the actual devastation.” Smith and his colleagues received the autopsy results and met with staff at the DeKalb medical examiner’s office last week, and shared the report with the Paez Terán family.

I want to note, here, that we don’t seem to have any body cam footage from the officers that killed Tortuguita. It’s almost like there’s either something to hide so they won’t release it, or the cops went in with an intent to kill, and so turned of the cameras. I have no evidence for this, of course, other than the fact that they apparently lied about what happened, and the fact that, once again, body cam footage of the event is either being held back, or doesn’t exist. According to the Intercept article I linked earlier, the cops initially lied by saying there wasn’t any footage at all, then walked that back partially, saying there was footage of the aftermath (which they’re not releasing).

I’ve felt this way for a while, but I think there’s ample reason to view this killing as an extrajudicial execution for the crime of opposing them. They went in ready to kill, and that’s exactly what they did. That would explain the inconsistencies in the story, it would fit what everyone around Tortuguita had to say about who they were, and it would explain why there’s no footage of the shooting – because the cops didn’t want there to be.

This is exactly the shit that the movement to defend the Atlanta forest is trying to stop. A huge facility for cops to train in urban warfare is just another level of militarization, on top of the harm done to the community by destroying the forest. Tortuguita was killed for trying to stop that. Crimethinc goes into more detail in their post Atlanta Police and Georgia State Patrol are Guilty of Murder: The Evidence and the Motive:

Gunshot residue tests are held to be reliable indicators of whether a person has fired a gun, scientifically and legally speaking. Gunshot residue can wear off over a period of four to six hours, but as mentioned in the autopsy, Tortuguita’s hands were bagged shortly after the murder, in order that if there was any gunshot residue on their hands, it would be preserved. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the autopsy, the official who prepared that narrative reported to the scene of the murder within two and a half hours and “covered the hands with white handbags to preserve any trace evidence.”

We can be sure that Atlanta authorities missed no opportunity to secure and publicize any evidence that could corroborate their narrative that Tortuguita shot first. Instead, because the autopsy showed that Tortuguita did not fire a gun at all, the results of the Dekalb County autopsy were suppressed for months.

Is it possible that Tortuguita somehow fired a gun while wearing gloves, or fired a gun and then cleaned their hands? According to the Dekalb County autopsy, Tortuguita experienced at least 57 gunshot wounds; this video shows that all of the gunfire occurred in less than eleven seconds.1 That means that Tortuguita died within a few seconds of the first shot, whoever fired it. In the instants between the first couple shots and their death, there was no time for Tortuguita to remove and conceal gloves, nor to clean gunshot residue off their hands.

To all that evidence, we must add the findings of the second autopsy, the one that Tortuguita’s family commissioned, which found that Tortuguita was “likely sitting cross-legged with their hands up” when they were killed.

This is consistent with the gunshot wounds described in the autopsy conducted by the Dekalb County Medical Examiner:

• Right Forearm and Hand—fractures of the index finger and thumb metacarpal. […]

• Left Forearm and Hand—fracture of the middle finger proximal phalange.

The image is a diagram of the locations of gunshot wounds on Tortuguita’s body. A majority of them seem to be on their legs, with several on their hands and arms, two in their gut, two in the collarbone region, and one through the eye.

As can be seen in the diagram included in the Dekalb County autopsy, bullets struck Tortuguita in both their left hand and their right hand. If they had been holding a gun in either of those hands, the gun would have been struck by a bullet, leaving evidence that Tortuguita had been holding the gun when police opened fire. Atlanta authorities would have eagerly released that evidence in order to corroborate their narrative.

They have done no such thing. They did release a photograph of the gun that they allege was in Tortuguita’s possession—but in the photograph, the gun does not show any sign of having been struck by a bullet.

It follows that Tortuguita did not fire a gun on the morning of January 18, 2023.2

In that case, how did it occur that an officer was shot that day, and with a bullet allegedly matching a handgun registered to Tortuguita that was found on the scene?

According to an early Georgia Bureau of Investigation press release,

The handgun is described as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. Forensic ballistic analysis has confirmed that the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Teran’s handgun.

In fact, Georgia State Patrol—the officers who murdered Tortuguita—are all standard-issued firearms that use 9mm ammunition. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the Dekalb County autopsy, during the killing of Tortuguita,

“The uniformed officers reportedly discharged their service weapons, to include a .223 caliber rifle and 9mm handguns.”

So the fact that the gun apparently registered to Tortuguita used 9mm ammunition proves nothing, considering that Georgia State Patrol officers were shooting 9mm ammunition that day.

If exculpatory “forensic ballistic analysis” existed confirming that the bullet that struck the officer was fired from the specific handgun registered to Tortuguita, the authorities would surely have released that by now. The fact that they have not done so suggests that the GBI statement that “the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Teran’s handgun” means simply that it was 9mm ammunition, like all the bullets that the Georgia State Patrol officers were firing.

Tortuguita experienced at least 57 gunshot woulds within a period of eleven seconds. That offers a hint of how many bullets were in the air during the murder. We don’t know how many rounds Georgia State Patrol officers fired off, but it may have been considerably more than that.

I would say it’s almost guaranteed that there were more bullets than that. It’s been shown that cops tend to miss more often than they hit their targets, so there were probably at least 100 9mm bullets in the air during those 11 seconds. The article goes on to discuss the body cam footage I mentioned earlier, with an officer apparently believing the police shot one of their own. More than that, the police “evidence” doesn’t fit with the video footage we do have:

One more detail remains to be accounted for. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the Dekalb County autopsy, “Two empty 9mm shell casings were located under the decedent’s body” by the investigator who arrived on the scene after the shooting. Did Tortuguita fire those shells?

Video footage distinctly shows that the first three shots were fired in a steady, practiced rhythm, followed an instant later by a fourth shot, after which all the other shots began. It seems most likely that an edgy officer—not Tortuguita—fired those four shots, after which all the other officers began firing. If Tortuguita had fired those first shots, there would presumably have been three or four shell casings around Tortuguita’s body—and more to the point, there would have been gunshot residue on Tortuguita’s hands.

  Have I mentioned that cops lie, yet? I feel like I might have forgotten to mention that. Cops lie a lot, which makes it hard to believe anything they say, especially since they also have a habit of planting evidence. The Crimethinc article goes on to discuss motive, and some other factors – it’s worth a read.

Environmental activists are murdered with shocking regularity around the world, where activists – often Indigenous people – are pushing back against environmental destruction that is almost universally driven by greed. According to The Guardian, Tortuguita was the first such killing in the US. The biggest driving factor in Atlanta, while greed is certainly involved in the Cop City project, seems to be the degree to which USian cops hate being told “no”. They want their new playground, they want unchallenged authority, and they are clearly willing to kill to get their way.

I believe I’ve said before that I have a great deal of respect for the people on the front lines of this fight, and I hope it’s clear to all of you that using that “military” terminology is important. These activists are not trying to wage war, but a a war is being waged against them, and their lives are very much in danger.

If you want to help, Defend the Atlanta Forest has a few suggestions, most of which don’t involve putting your body on the line:

There are many ways to get involved. You can support online, help organize your community, show up for actions, or any other number of activities depending on your availability and comfort level. The movement appreciates the need for diverse tactics, meaning many forms of struggle that move towards a common goal. Here’s some more ideas:

  • You can sign up for sporadic text alerts here: 470.606.1212
  • You can Visit the forest at 3251 W Side Place, Atlanta GA 30316.
  • You can organize protests, send phone calls or emails, or help with direct actions of different kinds to encourage contractors of the various projects to stop the destruction. You can find some of the contractors here:
  • Call Brasfield & Gorrie (678.581.6400), the Atlanta Police Foundation (770.354.3392), and the City of Atlanta (404.330.6100) and ask them to cancel the project and to remain peaceful with tree-sitters and other on-the-ground protesters.
  •  You can form an Action Group in your community, neighborhood, town, city, college, or scene. Together, you can host information nights, movie screenings, potluck dinners, and protests at the offices of contractors, at the homes of the board members, on campus, or elsewhere. You can post and pass out fliers at public places and shows, knock on doors to talk to neighbors and sign them up for text alerts, fundraisers, or actions, or you can innovate new activities altogether.
  • You can conduct independent research about the destruction of the forest, construction projects, their funders, their contractors, or lesser-known details about the project using public records searches or other open source investigation techniques and send your findings to us at defendtheatlantaforest[at]protonmail[dot]com.
  • You can organize to join or create a camp in the South River/Weelaunee Forest. Respect people’s space and try to be friendly.
  • Finally, you and friends or your group could organize to caravan down to the forest from near or far during weeks of action.

Obviously, this fight is ongoing. The twitter account associated with this list has announced a week of action from June 24th to July 1st of this year (2023, for people reading this in the future). As they said, how you go about helping is up to you. Any help is better than none, and it takes a village to raze and empire. Tortuguita’s cause was just, and it’s one that we should carry on, be it in their name, or just because it is necessary. Climate change, bigotry, capitalism, authoritarianism – they’re all different fronts on the same war, and sitting out the fight simply isn’t an option.

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Georgia National Guard plans to track teenagers’ locations to flood them with recruitment ads

A few months back, I wrote about how (poor, mostly black) children were being coerced into joining JROTC. Armies in general have a long history of preying on the young and the poor, and the United States is no exception. The government-enforced poverty, the obscene costs of education and healthcare – so much about how the country is set up can make enlistment seem like the best shot at a decent life, even without the predatory tactics of recruiters. Unfortunately, recruiters are predatory, and are naturally updating their tools and tactics to be as effective as possible at feeding young people to the US war machine:

The federal contract materials outline plans by the Georgia Army National Guard to geofence 67 different public high schools throughout the state, targeting phones found within a one-mile boundary of their campuses with recruiting advertisements “with the intent of generating qualified leads of potential applicants for enlistment while also raising awareness of the Georgia Army National Guard.” Geofencing refers generally to the practice of drawing a virtual border around a real-world area and is often used in the context of surveillance-based advertising as well as more traditional law enforcement and intelligence surveillance. The Department of Defense expects interested vendors to deliver a minimum of 3.5 million ad views and 250,000 clicks, according to the contract paperwork.

While the deadline for vendors attempting to win the contract was the end of this past February, no public winner has been announced.

The ad campaign will make use of a variety of surveillance advertising techniques, including capturing the unique device IDs of student phones, tracking pixels, and IP address tracking. It will also plaster recruiting solicitations across Instagram, Snapchat, streaming television, and music apps. The documents note that “TikTok is banned for official DOD use (to include advertising),” owing to allegations that the app is a manipulative, dangerous conduit for hypothetical Chinese government propaganda.

The Georgia Army National Guard did not respond to a request for comment.

I bet they didn’t. Why would they bother? It’s not like there’s much chance of a Lever article stopping this.

I also love the irony of hand-wringing over “hypothetical Chinese government propaganda”, in a document outlining the use of a host of apps as conduits for US government propaganda. This is a good time to remind you, once again, that the US government does not care about human rights, privacy, or tyranny. It only pretends otherwise when it needs a cover for starting another war.

And while I do think military recruitment is absolutely a form of propaganda, they’re not just aiming this at the kids they’re trying to enlist, but also planning to send ads to parents, teachers, and other “centers of influence”, all aimed at pushing kids to sign up. It’s chilling to see it all laid out like this:

While the planned campaign appears primarily aimed at persuading high school students to sign up, the Guard is also asking potential vendors to also target “parents or centers of influence (i.e. coaches, school counselors, etc.)” with recruiting ads. The campaign plans not only call for broadcasting recruitment ads to kids at school, but also for pro-Guard ads to follow these students around as they continue using the internet and other apps, a practice known as retargeting. And while the digital campaign may begin within the confines of the classroom, it won’t remain there: One procurement document states the Guard is interested in “retargeting to high school students after school hours when they are at home,” as well as “after school hours. … This will allow us to capture potential leads while at after-school events.”

Although it’s possible that children caught in the geofence might have encountered a recruiter anyway — the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act mandated providing military recruiters with students’ contact information — critics of the plan say the use of geolocational data is an inherently invasive act. “Location based tracking is not legitimate,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s largely based on the collecting of people’s location data that they’re not aware of and haven’t given meaningful permission for.” The complex technology underpinning a practice like geofencing can obscure what it’s really accomplishing, argues Benjamin Lynde, an attorney with the ACLU of Georgia. “I think we have to start putting electronic surveillance in the context of what we would accept if it weren’t electronic,” Lynde told The Intercept. “If there were military recruiters taking pictures of students and trying to identify them that way, parents wouldn’t think that conduct is acceptable.” Lynde added that the ACLU of Georgia did not believe there were any state laws constraining geofence surveillance.

As the article goes on to say, a lot of this is allowed because of the way the US government ensures that basically anything rich people want to do is allowed by default. Corporations make money off of our data, and so their right to do so is protected. Children, on the other hand, should absolutely not expect protection:

It’s doubtful that potential vendors for the Georgia Guard have data accurate enough to avoid targeting kids under 17, according to Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher who closely tracks the surveillance advertising sector. “It would also sweep up plenty of families with young kids who gave them phones before they turned 16 and who were using networks that had location-targetable ads,” he explained in a message to The Intercept. “Very, very few advertising networks track the age of kids under 18. It’s one giant bucket.”

In-school recruiting been hotly debated for decades, both defended as a necessary means of maintaining an all-volunteer military and condemned as a coercive practice that exploits the immaturity of young students. While the state’s plan specifies targeting only high school juniors and seniors ages 17 and above, demographic ad targeting is known to be error prone, and experts told The Intercept it’s possible the recruiting messages could reach the phones of younger children. “Generally, commercial databases aren’t known for their high levels of accuracy,” explained the ACLU’s Stanley. “If you have some incorrect ages in there, it’s really not a big deal [to the broker].” The accuracy of demographic targeting aside, there’s also a problem of geographic reality: “There are middle schools within a mile of those high schools,” according to Lynde of the ACLU of Georgia. “There’s no way there can be a specific delineation of who they’re targeting in that geofence.”

Indeed, dozens of the schools pegged for geotargeting have middle schools, elementary schools, parks, churches, and other sites where children may congregate within a mile radius, according to Google Maps. A geofence containing Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, would also snare phone-toting students at Still Elementary School and Lovinggood Middle School, the latter a mere thousand feet away. A mile-radius around Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Georgia, would also include the Walnut Grove Elementary School, along with the nearby Oak Meadow Montessori School, a community swim club, a public park, and an aquatic center. Lynde, who himself enlisted with the Georgia National Guard in 2005, added that he’s concerned beaming recruiting ads directly to kids’ phones “could be a means to bypass parental involvement in the recruiting process,” allowing the state to circumvent the scrutiny adults might bring to traditional military recruiting methods like brochures and phone calls to a child’s house. “Parents should be involved from the onset

They only want parental involvement if it’ll increase recruitment, I guess. The US makes extensive use of its armed forces to impose its will around the world, and members of the National Guard are a part of that, with the added bonus that they can be deployed within the US to “keep order”, and for political stunts. Given my overall views, it probably won’t surprise you that I don’t think this new program is in any way acceptable. More than that, I think that the people pushing it should be barred from holding power or influence, because they are pushing it.

It feels as though it becomes clearer every day that the US government does not serve the USian people. Just as we and our data are the products of big tech companies, our government cares for us only to the extend that we are needed to work for the rich and powerful. Not only are they cyber-stalking teenagers to recruit them into an institution that serves private interests, they’re going to do it by paying a for-profit corporation, because what really matters is that more money goes to those who’re already rolling in it.

The image shows Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, with a glowing hat brim and collar, and some kind of augmented reality visor over his eyes, with a modern city in the background. The text reads,

The image shows Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, with a glowing hat brim and collar, and some kind of augmented reality visor over his eyes, with a modern city in the background. The text reads, “You best start believing in cyberpunk dystopias – you’re in one

Bird feeders aren’t problem-free, but they make a difference when winter comes

Our immune systems are fascinating and complex, I assume, but as with everything else in our bodies, their effectiveness depends on having adequate resources. If we don’t get enough to eat, we’re less able to fight off infection. Obviously, the same holds true for all other animals, including everyone’s favorite feathered bipeds. That means that if we want to help the local bird population thrive, we should put out bird feeders, right?

Well, not to spoil the ending, but yes, probably. There are, however, some legitimate concerns about widespread use of bird feeders. The first one is that by creating a regular, common feeding place for multiple species, you increase the spread of disease. There’s legitimate concern, especially with the current avian flu pandemic (in birds – it’s not a serious problem for humans yet), and it’s recommended that you periodically clean your bird feeders, for the sake of the birds. Nobody likes eating off dirty dishes, especially when everybody in town has been eating off those same dishes.

There’s also another problem, that I hadn’t really considered – by creating a common feeding spot, you’re also forcing inter-species social dynamics into existence, which could in turn alter the ecosystem:

According to Alex Lees, who, with his colleague Jack Shutt, published the paper in the journal Biological Conservation, the issue is that there are a few species that are now habitual feeder users – familiar garden visitors including great tits and blue tits. And they appear to be receiving a boost from feeding.

“We know from historical research that these species are increasing in number,” says Dr Lees. This could, he says, be at the expense of other “subordinate” birds.

“A blue tit is a dominant species – it tends to win in interactions and fighting for food or quarrelling for nest sites,” explains Dr Lees. “Whereas species like willow and marsh tits are subordinate. They tend to lose those in interactions.

“For willow tits, we know that one of the reasons for the decline is that 40% of their nesting attempts fail because blue tits essentially steal their nesting cavities.”

A constant supply of peanuts and seeds that boosts the number of blue tits and great tits could be helping to drive the continuing decline in the willow tit population. It could also throw off a natural, seasonal ebb and flow in species numbers, Dr Lees says.

“Migrant pied flycatchers are in direct competition with great tits for nesting sites,” he explains. “So, again, by boosting the population of great tits in the UK, we may be tipping the balance in favour of these resident species over those summer migrants.”

As Dr. Lees goes on to say, this won’t necessarily be the case in every ecosystem, because not all birds are going to clash like that. It seems like it’s primarily going to be a problem when bird feeder dynamics work to amplify an existing set of behaviors, so you’re not always going to end up with a tit-à-tit conflict like that. Still, between that and the disease risk, are bird feeders doing more harm than good?

Well, I can’t make broad statements, but based on some research from Sweden, if you live somewhere with harsh winters, then the regular food provided by feeders reduces the severity of birds’ immune response.

A small change in body temperature can be fatal for humans. Small birds, meanwhile, lower their body temperature at night by several degrees during the winter. Just like us, the birds attempt to save energy when it is cold. If they are exposed to infection, the body’s first reaction is to raise its temperature, which clashes with the bird’s simultaneous need to save energy by lowering body temperature.

“We investigated how access to food during winter affected the balancing act between maintaining a low body temperature in order to save energy, and the possibility of raising body temperature in order to fight infection,” says Hannah Watson, biologist Lund University.

The study shows that birds who were fed during the winter did not need to lower their body temperature as much at night as birds who did not have access to feeding tables. They had gathered enough energy to survive a winter night in spite of a having higher body temperature.

When the birds were exposed to a simulated infection, all the birds had essentially the same temperature during a fever. Instead of conserving energy to survive the winter, the birds without access to extra food were forced to use more energy in order to raise their body temperature high enough to battle infection.

“We had expected to find that the birds that had access to birdfeeders would have more energy to fight an infection, and that as a result they would exhibit a stronger fever response. Our results, however, show the opposite – birds that did not have access to a reliable source of food had the strongest reaction to infection. This enabled them to reach the same fever temperature as the birds with extra food,” says Hannah Watson.

Basically, a well-fed body has options, when it comes to fighting infection, that a malnourished body does not.

But if you’re like me, you may be wondering what it means to expose a bird to a “simulated infection”. While it did make me wonder about how one would convince a bird it had been exposed to a disease, and must therefor be sick, I figured I’d just go to the actual paper, since it’s freely available, and see what they actually did. Basically, they injected a substance from the cell wall of an E. coli bacteria, which caused the birds’ immune systems to react to the presence of a “disease”, without any actual risk of an infection. I doubt the birds appreciated any of their involvement in this study, but I think it’s a neat trick, and a cool way to study how immune systems work without any actual infection.

I think most people who feed birds do it because they like seeing the birds at the feeder. Growing up, my grandparents had several bird feeders right outside their dining room window, and I have fond memories of watching the birds while I ate breakfast during holiday visits. My parents also have bird feeders, and in the years they’ve been up, the diversity of birds coming by seems to have increased.

I’m not going to make recommendations about how you interact with your local bird community, but for me, at least, the knock-on effects of it are not something I’ve thought about much. All in all, I think the problems caused by bird feeders pale in comparison to what we’re doing to the planet as a whole, and how that is affecting the birds. The lesson I’m gonna close with is that if you ever see birds at your feeder during the harsh weather, and feel good knowing they’ve got something to eat, you can rest assured that your feelings are supported by science, and you really are helping them.

Video: The USA Treats Farm Workers Like Shit

I think I knew a lot of this, but it’s always infuriating to hear it all spelled out. When the US decided to end free migration back and forth across the US/Mexico border, it created a criminal class of people overnight. Migrant workers who formed the backbone of US food production suddenly found themselves completely without legal protections, and their bosses have been happy to take advantage of that ever since. Between body-breaking work at fast paces, conditions so hot that a spray of pesticide brings relief, and employers who make it pretty clear they’d use a whip if they could get away with it, it’s hard to understand why anyone would put up with all of that.

And then you remember how the US has basically been waging an irregular war against every country south of the border, purposefully destabilizing them, and creating conditions that are often even worse than the horrible conditions on USian farms.

Oh, and let’s not forget the child labor. Child labor’s having a bit of a comeback in the US. I would argue that it never really left, both because of legal loopholes allowing children to work in agriculture, and because while we moved some child jobs to other countries, there has never been a point at which children didn’t make up a significant portion of the workforce that supplies the US with its material goods. Farming is just one part of that.

As usual, John Oliver does a good job breaking down the situation, and highlighting the racism and brutality of a situation created and maintained by the US government.

Lazy Sunday: Frostpunk game review

Frostpunk is a very dramatic city-building survival game. You lead the last survivors of humanity as they build a city based around a gigantic, coal-powered steam generator. Civilization was wiped out by a sudden ice age, and for some reason the only survivors are the ones who decided to live in a crater in the ice, somewhere north of London. I bought it for myself as a birthday present, and I lost track of time, which is why I’m writing this at 4am to make sure I get a post up “today”. The music is melancholy, and often has a relentless feel to it, which pairs well with weather that starts at -20°, and fairly quickly reaches the point where -40 feels like a summer day. It’s chilly in my home today, so I really felt the winter winds, and just seeing the glow from the generator felt a little warming.

I definitely recommend the game, and its expansions. All of them together cost me about $10-15 on Steam, which feels like a pretty good deal.

Edit: Adding in the Stupendium song, since Cubist was nice enough to make me aware of it.


Luna Moth Tails: Alluring Display, or Sophisticated Stealth Tech?

The picture shows a Luna moth on some sort of pebbled black plastic object. It's hard to tell how big the moth is, but the picture shows off its lime green wings, with orange, yellow, and white accents. The lower pair of wings have a little more brown mixed into the green, and they both end in long, twisting tails. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Simoneburton

The picture shows a Luna moth on some sort of pebbled black plastic object. It’s hard to tell how big the moth is, but the picture shows off its lime green wings, with orange, yellow, and white accents. The lower pair of wings have a little more brown mixed into the green, and they both end in long, twisting tails. The photo was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Simoneburton

I think it would be too much to say that I had a “moth phase” as a child, but I do have a few memories of being very impressed by some of the big moths I encountered in Maine, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia, Canada. I mention the latter because my family took a vacation there when I was a kid. We stayed in camping sites that were often packed with silver Airstream trailers. It was there that I first beheld the majestic Luna moth. These things can have a wingspan of up to seven inches, and while I don’t know how big the one I saw was, I was pretty small at the time, so it certainly seemed huge. For those who don’t know, Luna moths are big, bright green, and have a sort of swallowtail thing going on.

They’re quite pretty, and they barely seem like functional creatures. I haven’t really considered them much in the last couple decades, so if you asked me why they had tails like that, I’d probably guess that it had to do with mate preference and sexual selection. It turns out that they’re actually to misdirect bat echolocation, and scientists have known that for around a decade. More than that, recent research gives us some reason to believe that the tails are only for bat-scrambling, and probably provide no addition benefit or cost when it comes to reproduction or avoiding other predators.

“They have projections off the back of the hindwing that end in twisted, cupped paddles,” said Juliette Rubin, a doctoral student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and lead author of both studies. “From experimental work with bats and moths in a flight room, we’ve found that these structures seem to reflect bat sonar in such a way that bats often aim their attacks at the tails instead of the main body.”

Traits that evolve for one specific function can often be co-opted by natural selection for another, and Rubin wondered whether the twisted tails of Luna moths might come with any additional benefits or hidden costs.

Silkmoths have independently evolved tails on multiple occasions across three separate continents, and they can vary significantly in length. Hindwings in some species can extend to more than twice the size of the moth’s wingspan, and the longer the tail, the more likely a moth will successfully thwart a prowling bat.

But far from being drab, utilitarian decoys meant only for sonar-sensing bats, silkmoth tails are often visually stunning, like decorative streamers trailing behind a kite. Across the animal and plant kingdoms, many of the most colorful and alluring structures are used to attract mates or pollinators, and scientists suspected the same might be true of silkmoth tails.

This type of dual function for a single trait isn’t without precedent. The vivid colors of strawberry poison dart frogs (Oophaga pumilio) both deter predators and help males attract mates; male deer and other ungulates use their antlers to fight off rivals and signal their vigor to females; and moths that use clicks or chirruping sounds to disrupt bat echolocation can compose duets using the same sounds during courtship.

Luna moths have neither mouths to produce sound or ears to hear it, but they do have sensitive eyes and powerful scent-detecting antennae. When female Luna moths are ready to mate, they perch in one place and emit a pheromone, a single molecule of which is enough to trigger a male antenna. The males of closely related Indian moon moths (Actias selene) can find females from more than six miles away by following the pheromone plume to its source.

“We don’t know how many males are traveling to a female each night,” Rubin said. “It’s entirely possible she’s able to call in multiple suitors and potentially have her pick.”

Rubin put this idea to the test, setting up mating experiments in which a single, female Luna moth was enclosed in a flight box with two males: One with normal hind wings, and one with its tails removed.

Initially, the data seemed to suggest that females had a preference for males whose wings remained intact, but additional controlled experiments demonstrated this was more likely an artifact of the tail removal. In trials where both males had their wings clipped, and one had the tails glued back on, there was no difference in their mating success.

Personally, I think that if they did have mouths with which to scream, we might not be so cavalier about lopping bits off them, and taping them back on. I realize that moth wing tails aren’t really analogous to my own extremities, but still.

It seems as though this study had a pretty small sample size, so some salt is required, but it is interesting. They also tested whether the tails help with avoiding birds during the daytime. Many moths rely on camouflage to survive during the day, and are only really active at night, so the researchers tested whether the tails affect their ability to hide. They did this by making fake Luna moth bodies by wrapping mealworms in pastry dough, and attaching clipped and unclipped wings to them. These bait moths were then hidden in an aviary by being partially covered with leaves, and the researchers then put Carolina wrens into the enclosure to see whether the presence of moth tails affected how well the wrens found the “moths”.

The image shows a Carolina Wren standing on some sort of black grate against a white wall. The wren itself is a rich brown, with a white stripe running over its eye and back down its head, and a gray chin. it's looking to the right of the image. On either side of it, bait moths are visible, but they're partially covered by what leaves.

The image shows a Carolina Wren standing on some sort of black grate against a white wall. The wren itself is a rich brown, with a white stripe running over its eye and back down its head, and a gray chin. it’s looking to the right of the image. On either side of it, bait moths are visible, but they’re partially covered by what leaves.

I think it’s likely that the wrens can’t smell the pastry dough, so odds are decent that the makeup of the bait moth’s “body” wasn’t a huge problem (you may not know this, but moths are not, in fact, two mealworms in a pastry dough trench coat). I do wonder what exposure these particular wrens have even had to moths in their lifetimes, though, given that they live in an aviary. I also wonder whether other birds might snack on them more regularly?

This isn’t the most compelling research report I’ve ever read, but as I said at the beginning, I think it does give us at least some reason to believe that the tails really are entirely bat-focused. For most of my life, I’ve lumped them in with the elaborate plumage of various tropical birds, both in terms of function, and in terms of increased risk of predation. Apparently I’ve had it all backwards. They provide a clear benefit to survival, during the short window in which that matters, and apparently have nothing at all to do with mating.

For me, I think this is a good reminder that even when I can get a clear look at something, I’m not always seeing what I think I’m seeing. We make conclusions based on what we already know of the world, and that can, very often, lead us astray.

Also, is pastry dough OK for wrens to eat? It seems like it might not be.


Furious Friday: NYPD Stole Money from New Yorkers, Spent It on Robots.

At what point does a country become a police state?

I think a case can be made that the US has always been one for people with darker skin, especially with programs like Stop and Frisk in NYC, but there’s a long history of government power being used to suppress left-wing political power, sometimes pretty explicitly. It’s a policy that pairs well with the foreign policy of violently crushing attempts at left-wing governance in the so-called “Global South”, and it makes me worry about what would happen if a left-wing political movement actually got real power in the United States. Conservative wingnuts have poisoned the concept, but the “Deep State” originally referred to official and unofficial policies within the State Department, the CIA, the FBI, and other parts of the US government working to suppress the left. This is not just conjecture, either. Leaving aside the obvious stuff like the McCarthy Era, the FBI ran counterintelligence operations to keep progressives out of power, and they spied on Quaker activists (among others) during the time when I was both a Quaker and an anti-war activist.

There’s also ICE, who in addition to terrorizing all sorts of people across the US, also decided to intimidate a comedian for making an edgy joke about the organization. ICE needs to be abolished.

And then, of course, there’s civil asset forfeiture. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a policy that allows police in the United States to just take stuff from people. If you have something that they decide is “suspicious”, they can just take it. Your money, your car, your house – anything. All they have to do is say that the something in question was somehow involved in a crime (usually drug-related), and then it’s on you to prove that it’s not. They also get to keep that money. It doesn’t go to the general city budget, or the justice department or anything like that, it goes to the department where the cop who sto- sorry, “seized” your stuff works. They use it for all sorts of things, like margarita machines. If you need a refresher, to get yourself good and revved up for what this post is actually about, watch John Oliver’s video on the subject:

At what point does a country become a police state?

If it’s not when the police are literally allowed to just steal from people, how about when they use that stolen money, directly, to buy the latest technology with which to harass and surveil the victims of their theft? Cops legally take billions from people in the US every year, and the NYPD just spent $750,000 of the money they stole from New Yorkers on some fucking robots, to help them oppress and steal from New Yorkers:

Great. No way this could go wro- oh wait, it was already wrong, because they stole the money to buy this shit!

I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how fucked up this is, and you’d better believe that if anything happens to the robots, they’ll try to charge anyone even tangentially involved with assaulting a police officer. A large portion of USian policing seems to involve around looking for excuses to harass, assault, or rob people, and there is zero question in my mind that every new toy they get will be used for those ends. It won’t be long before some poor New Yorker has their life turned upside down by a robot bought with money stolen from them.

I also don’t think it’ll be long before the cops are putting guns on their robots, given that the concept has already been pioneered. Cops are out of control in the United States, and I think it’s fair to say that in some ways, the NYPD is the most out of control, when you consider that its budget is bigger than those of the armies of many nations. And now they’re using fucking robots.

I honestly have no idea how useful these things will end up being for the cops, but this is very much just the beginning. These robots will keep getting better, because the military-industrial complex loves death robots, and wants more of them. Make no mistake – these are weapons intended to be used against the people, and they will be used in the effort to crush any movement for systemic change. One of the themes of this blog is that climate change is progressing at a frightening speed, and that our governments aren’t doing nearly enough to deal with that. There’s one flaw in that premise, though, and it’s a big one. It assumes some degree of good intent from the ruling class. It’s quite possible – even likely – that they are taking action on climate change.

They’re pouring more money into police and the military, both of which serve them and their interests. A cynical man might conclude that they’re not planning on doing anything to slow climate change or to help society adapt, but rather that they are planning to use force to keep us in line as the world falls apart, trusting climate change to kill enough of us that we won’t be able to get into their luxury bunkers. They’ll keep using human enforcers if they have to, but there’s always a risk that they’ll side with the peasantry. Robots, on the other hand, just do as they’re programmed, and don’t have any of those pesky thoughts and opinions that makes humans so unreliable. As I said, I’m not sure how dangerous the NYPD’s new toys actually are, but at minimum, they represent another step in a very dangerous direction.

It’d be a real shame if the robots somehow ended up in a body of water somewhere, you know, by accident.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

The Party of Child Marriage

Which political party came to mind when you saw the title for this post?

If you’re in the United States, and you’re honest, it’s the Republican Party. They’ve got a long history of opposing efforts to make various forms of child marriage illegal, because evangelical Christians tend to view children as the property of their parents, and they tend to have an archaic view of marriage. Personally, I can’t think of a circumstance in which it would be OK for children to get married, and I’m deeply suspicious of any parents who are on board with such a thing. It reminds me strongly of “purity culture“, in which girls are pushed to pledge their virginity to their fathers, to be handed over, with the daughter, on her day of marriage. It’s just another part of the disturbing obsession that conservative Christians have with sex and children. The grim reality is that child marriage is legal in the vast majority of U.S. states, and it’s Republicans who’re working to keep it that way, as demonstrated by state senator Mike Moon of Missouri, the “destination wedding spot for 15 year old child brides“:


Moon later clarified that the person he knew who got married at 12 was actually a couple of twelve-year-olds, one of whom got the other one pregnant. Apparently the correct response to that, according to him and whatever weird subculture created him, is to force the children to marry, and presumably to force the girl – a literal child – to go through pregnancy and childbirth.

These are the same people who’re attempting to eradicate trans people “to protect the children”. This is who they are. This guy, Roy Moore and his defenders, Matt Walsh talking about teenage fertility – the list is far longer than I have the stomach to research. People in general are to be controlled, but children in particular seem to be both property of their parents (if those parents are conservative Christians), and disposable pawns in the culture war. The actual wellbeing of children never enters into the equation, beyond what they believe their tradition and religion say is for the best.

Far too many people are being governed by these gross weirdos, and while I’m aware of all the ways in which the U.S. is not a democracy, it still disturbs me that there’s a real voter base for this. Hopefully, it’s on its way out, but the GOP seems to be making an effort to use the government to impose their bizarre ideology on the country by force.

Reactionary Tantrums and Free Advertising

So, as you may have heard, Bud Light’s new brand representative is a trans woman named Dylan Mulvaney. She’s apparently a big deal on TikTok, but I had honestly never heard of her until the conservative temper tantrum over this brand deal. If you’ve heard about this at all, it’s either because you drink Bud Light, or because you heard about people doing stuff like pouring out their beer, or shooting their beer with guns, or running over their beer with pickup trucks. It’s the most I’ve heard about Bud Light in years, which is the whole point.

You can tell conservatives really love capitalism, because every time a corporation makes a bid for free advertising, the wingnuts fall all over themselves in their rush to oblige. That being the case, I think it’s worth posting this old video from Hbomberguy that explains what’s happening, and why. Bud Light doesn’t give a shit about trans people, they just know that most USians aren’t extremist bigots, which means that this will bring in a lot of profit for relatively little advertising investment.

Wage theft and surplus value: Capitalist greed is unaffordable

I’ve never really watched TV news, but I’ve been given to understand that a great deal of attention is paid to crime. Combine this with the ubiquity of “copaganda” in media, and I can understand how people might be misled into thinking that violent crime is out of control. The reality is that all that focus on criminals, and the paranoia about home invaders and muggers – it all seems to be a distraction from the biggest form of theft in the United States: Wage theft.

For those who are unclear on the concept, this is not another way to refer to the portion of wealth created by a worker that is kept by the boss as “profit”. We’ll get to that later. “Wage theft” is when an employer fails to pay workers what they are owed by law. This happens in a variety of ways. My last landlord in the U.S. would delay payment to his workers, and then underpay them when he did pay, forcing them to fight to get even the pittance that he was legally required to give for the work they were doing. This man, to remind you, owns dozens of homes in Somerville. Zooming out, the bulk of wage theft seems to be from paying less than minimum wage, followed by overtime violations, but all together, it adds up to a truly staggering amount of money, mostly stolen from poor people, by rich people.

Wage theft is a nationwide epidemic that costs American workers as much as $50 billion a year, a new Economic Policy Institute report finds. In An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey and EPI intern Brady Meixell examine incidences of wage theft—employers’ failure to pay workers money they are legally entitled to—across the country. The total amount of money recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million in 2012, almost three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies that year. However, since most victims never report wage theft and never sue, the real cost of wage theft to workers is much greater, and could be closer to $50 billion a year.

“Wage theft affects far more people than more well-known crimes such as bank robberies, convenience store robberies, street and highway robberies, and gas station robberies combined, and can be absolutely devastating for workers living from paycheck to paycheck,” said Eisenbrey. “For low-wage workers, the wages lost from wage theft can total nearly 10 percent of their annual earnings.”

The authors also conducted a study of workers in low-wage industries in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and found that in any given week, two-thirds experienced at least one pay-related violation.  They estimate that the average loss per worker over the course of a year was $2,634, out of total earnings of $17,616. The total annual wage theft from front-line workers in low-wage industries in the three cities approached $3 billion. If these findings are generalizable to the rest of the U.S. low-wage workforce of 30 million, wage theft is costing workers more than $50 billion a year.

The image is a block chart breaking down the scale of wage theft vs. other forms of theft. The large blue block on the left represents wage theft, broken up into minimum wage violations ($23.2 billion), overtime violations ($8.8 b), rest break violations ($4b), and off the clock violations ($3.2b). The smaller block of "other types of theft" is broken up between larceny at $5.3b, burglary ($4.3b), auto theft ($3.8b), and robbery ($0.34b). The image is from

The image is a block chart breaking down the scale of wage theft vs. other forms of theft. The large blue block on the left represents wage theft, broken up into minimum wage violations ($23.2 billion), overtime violations ($8.8 b), rest break violations ($4b), and off the clock violations ($3.2b). The smaller block of “other types of theft” is broken up between larceny at $5.3b, burglary ($4.3b), auto theft ($3.8b), and robbery ($0.34b). The image is from

This is one part of why the gap between rich and poor keeps growing, and why life is such a struggle for those at the bottom. Even minimum wage is too much for these people. I often talk about the endless greed of the capitalist class, and this is exactly what I mean – they earnestly seem to believe that everything belongs to them by right, and therefor they are justified in doing whatever they can get away with to hoard more. It doesn’t matter that they signed a contract, they don’t even want to pay enough to keep their workers alive.

The problem is that even this is just a part of the whole picture. To start with, it’s not really treated like a crime. There may be fines or prison if theft can be proven to be intentional and the legal team isn’t good, but if the employer maintains that it was just incompetence, or a mistake, or an error in a new system, generally the worst-case scenario for the boss is that they have to hand over what they stole. Minor theft by poor people will result in years in the violent hellscape of the U.S. prison system, but when rich people steal billions, they can be confident that they’re safe.

And let’s not forget that with so many USians living paycheck to paycheck, even if they get back the money, they might have had to take out a payday loan, or been unable to afford medicine, or food. They might have gotten evicted because they couldn’t afford rent, even though they’d held up their end of the contract.

But it seems that all this barely-illegal theft, and all the harm caused by it, is itself dwarfed by the amount of money that has been, quite legally, taken from the USian working class, even as those workers have been increasing their productivity year after year. See, it turns out that we can, in some ways, measure wage stagnation in terms of Wall Street bonuses:

The federal minimum wage in the United States would be more than $42 an hour today if it rose at the same rate as the average Wall Street bonus over the past four decades, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Citing newly released data from the New York State Comptroller, IPS noted that the average Wall Street bonus has increased by 1,165% since 1985, not adjusted for inflation.

Last year, the average cash bonus paid to Wall Street employees was $176,700—75% higher than in 2008 but slightly lower than the 2021 level of $240,400.

The federal minimum wage, meanwhile, has been completely stagnant since 2009, when it was bumped up to $7.25 from $5.15. While many states and localities have approved substantial pay increases in recent years, 20 states have kept their hourly wage floors at the federal minimum.

Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at IPS and the author of the new analysis, wrote Thursday that “average weekly earnings for all U.S. private sector workers increased by only 54.4%” between 2008 and 2022—a significantly slower pace than inequality-fueling Wall Street bonuses.

“The total bonus pool for 190,800 New York City-based Wall Street employees in 2022 was $33.7 billion—enough to pay for 771,520 jobs that pay $15 per hour with benefits for a year,” Anderson observed. “Wall Street bonuses come on top of base salaries, which averaged $516,560 for New York securities industry employees in 2021.”

There’s a popular misconception that rich people don’t do any work to actually earn their wealth. In reality, they buy influence, create labyrinths of bureaucracy, and put a great deal of effort into taking as much as they possibly can from everyone who is poorer than them. This is the system working as designed. This is the world capitalism provides – one in which those at the bottom are ground down relentlessly, to the point where they’re selling parts of themselves to survive, while those at the top invest obscene amounts of money in military and police to crush the uprisings that such a system will inevitably provoke.

And, lest you forgot about climate change for a blissful moment, those same tools of control are used to put down any other efforts at radical change. They won’t pay you, but they’ll happily chip in to train and pay thugs to beat you down for complaining too loudly. Stories like this are why this “climate change blog” is so often about social and political stuff that’s not directly related. Some of it’s that I feel a duty to talk about things, like the ongoing genocidal attack on trans people, but a lot of it is that all of these things are connected. Money isn’t all they’re stealing. They’re stealing our health, by pouring poison into the world. They’re stealing our time, by ensuring that we have to work most of our lives away. They’re stealing our future, by working to prevent climate action. They’re doing all of that, and they make sure that no matter how many billions of lives they may destroy, it’s all legal.

No system of law that allows this can be considered legitimate.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!