Video: Supreme Court Guts Clean Water Act

I may dig into this more later, but the Supreme Court has launched another attack in their war on humanity. They’ve gutted the clean water act, in a move that puts a huge portion of US wetlands at risk, at a time when we need them more than ever. I’ve been expecting this shoe to drop for a while now, but what I did not expect was that Brett Kavanaugh, of all people, would be on the right side of this, and would be the one to correctly warn of the damage this ruling will do. Credit where it’s due, I guess, but that doesn’t do anything to limit the harm. The common saying is, “it’s going to get worse before it gets better” applies here, but I can’t help but feel that we’re running out of time for things to do anything but keep getting worse.

Global warming is driving insurers out of California

For as long as I’ve been paying attention, folks talking about climate change have been pointing to insurance companies as a way to track damage that might not otherwise be easy to see. If the planet’s temperature really was rising, and that was causing an increase in extreme weather, then those companies that insure against climate disasters would have to increase their rates and/or change their policies, to remain profitable. It’s one of those areas where society bumps up against the “natural world” with very little cushion, and sure enough, insurance companies have noticed the change. Take this Smithsonian article from back in 2013:

“Our business depends on us being neutral. We simply try to make the best possible assessment of risk today, with no vested interest,” says Robert Muir-Wood, the chief scientist of Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a company that creates software models to allow insurance companies to calculate risk. “In the past, when making these assessments, we looked to history. But in fact, we’ve now realized that that’s no longer a safe assumption—we can see, with certain phenomena in certain parts of the world, that the activity today is not simply the average of history.”

This pronounced shift can be seen in extreme rainfall events, heat waves and wind storms. The underlying reason, he says, is climate change, driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions. Muir-Wood’s company is responsible for figuring out just how much more risk the world’s insurance companies face as a result of climate change when homeowners buy policies to protect their property.


“Catastrophes are complex, and the kinds of things that happen during them are complex, so we are constantly trying to improve our modeling to capture the full range of extreme events,” Muir-Wood says, noting that RMS employs more than 100 scientists and mathematicians towards this goal. “When Hurricane Sandy happened, for instance, we already had events like Sandy in our models—we had anticipated the complexity of having a really big storm driving an enormous storm surge, even with wind speeds that were relatively modest.”

These models are not unlike those used by scientists to estimate the long-term changes our climate will undergo as it warms over the next century, but there’s one important difference: Insurance companies care mainly about the next year, not the next 100 years, because they mostly sell policies one year at a time.

But even in the short term, Muir-Wood’s team has determined, the risk of a variety of disasters seems to have already shifted. “The first model in which we changed our perspective is on U.S. Atlantic hurricanes. Basically, after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, we determined that it was unsafe to simply assume that historical averages still applied,” he says. “We’ve since seen that today’s activity has changed in other particular areas as well—with extreme rainfall events, such as the recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado, and with heat waves in certain parts of the world.”

Again, that article was published in 2013. Unfortunately, things have progressed since then, and I doubt you need me to tell you that. The most dramatic example, in the United States, is probably the growing California fire season, which has created truly hellish conditions, and given us this surreal and terrifying commute to work:

The image shows a number of cars on a freeway, slightly out of focus. It's dark, and the cars all have their lights on. In the background, the world is on fire. The hillside nearest the camera on the left of the image seems to be smouldering, more smoke and coal than fire. Beyond that, you can see a brighter orange, leading to yellow flames on the righthand side of the picture, illuminating the smoke that fills the sky. The cars are all driving straight towards the inferno. It's as if they're commuting into a fiery underworld.

The image shows a number of cars on a freeway, slightly out of focus. It’s dark, and the cars all have their lights on. In the background, the world is on fire. The hillside nearest the camera on the left of the image seems to be smouldering, more smoke and coal than fire. Beyond that, you can see a brighter orange, leading to yellow flames on the righthand side of the picture, illuminating the smoke that fills the sky. The cars are all driving straight towards the inferno. It’s as if they’re commuting into a fiery underworld

This picture captures something that has been bothering me since the pandemic started – the way we’re all forced to act as though everything’s fine. The pandemic was sort of an appetizer. We had our faces rubbed in the fact that the people running our world would happily see us dead, so long as it didn’t disrupt their lives. After all, they work so hard to ensure that there are always people without jobs, so if some of them, they can be replaced.

The main course, of course, is climate change. The bit of the world you live in can be on fire, but you’re expected to go to keep on working, because profit is what matters. Human extinction is a real possibility here, and every delay in action makes it more likely. We know what’s causing this, and we know that the capitalist obsession with overproduction and endless growth is the primary driver of the problem. And yet, people are expected to continue adding fuel to that fire, because it’s the only way they’re allowed to survive.

This can’t go on forever. Everything is not normal, and a new announcement from State Farm indicates that California, at least, has reached a crisis point:

State Farm has stopped accepting homeowner insurance applications in California, citing the growing risk from catastrophes like wildfires and the rising cost to rebuild.

“State Farm General Insurance Company made this decision due to historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market,” the insurance giant said in a statement on Friday.

“It’s necessary to take these actions now to improve the company’s financial strength,” the company added.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, State Farm was the leading company offering home insurance in California.

The decision to forgo coverage went into effect on Saturday. It applies to both personal and business properties. The company said it will continue to serve existing customers, as well as offer personal auto insurance.

Make no mistake – this policy, if it’s maintained, is a phase-out. They will lose customers, for one reason or another, and they do not intend to replace them. This doesn’t mean that California is uninhabitable, obviously. It doesn’t even guarantee that home and business insurance is no longer profitable in California, but it does mean that a large and successful insurance corporation thinks that it will be unprofitable, in the not-so-distant future. It looks like this year is expected to be more or less normal, as wildfires go, and apparently El Niño years have fewer fires, so hopefully California will get something resembling a break from the fires, but the warming continues, and the insurance industry knows that.

The measure is the latest development in what has been a years-long issue in California: insurance companies dropping homeowners because of the growing risk of wildfires.

In recent years, the state has witnessed some of the most destructive wildfire seasons in its history. In 2018, the Camp Fire destroyed 11,000 homes and at one point, displaced nearly 50,000 people. In its aftermath, insurance companies saw huge losses, causing premiums to go up and toughening eligibility requirements to get covered.

California officials have attempted to minimize such efforts, by temporarily barring insurers from dropping customers in areas hit by wildfires and directing insurance companies to provide discounts.

But as wildfires rage on in the state, so has the issue of insurance affordability and availability. Last year, American International Group notified the state’s insurance regulator that it will exit the homeowners market.

The efforts they mention, by California officials, seem to be a misguided attempt to cling to normalcy. I have no sympathy for the insurance corporations, but our government should be focused on climate change, not the financial tool we’re currently using as a bandaid for it. That means ending fossil fuel use, yes, but thanks to the negligence, corruption, and greed of our “leaders”, we also have to spend money adapting to a warming world. We had a chance to delay or even avoid this, but that chance was squandered, so here we are. Capitalism has no solution to climate change; all it can do is find ways to keep the rich and powerful, rich and powerful. This insurance exodus will discourage people from moving to California, and encourage people living there to leave, but it will do so slowly and painfully, and it will not address the actual problem, or help those people set up in a less flammable location. It’s not a solution, it’s just corporations putting profit first, as they always do. In that regard, one could argue that this is just business as usual; corporations do what they want, and we just have to go along with it.

Our overlords can force us to go through the motions of normalcy. They have the power to do that, and we lack the power to resist.

For now.

But the world is changing, and it’s getting a lot harder to pretend otherwise. It may be that those changes would spur reactionary politics even without the support of capitalists, but that support does exist, and at least part of it comes from their fear of us. The folks at the top have always practiced class solidarity, and have never stopped waging a class war against workers. They’re scared now, to the point that many are actively supporting fascism, because they are seeing solidarity form among workers, and they fear that organized, collective power that follows. That doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to win, of course, but it should serve as a reminder that victory is not out of reach. With solidarity and organization, we can build the power to resist, and to bring about the scale of change that’s needed, if we want to survive.

Because I’ve been focused on a novel for the last month, the quality of posts has been lagging, and there will be a few more days of that before I go back to normal. Part of the reason that I feel this is necessary is that this blog is currently my only source of income, and it’s not enough. I’m hoping that (assuming AI doesn’t flood the market completely), I can come closer to making ends meet via book sales, in a year or two. If you want me to invest more time and energy in this blog, the best way for you to tell me that, is by signing up at There aren’t currently a lot of fancy benefits, but you’d be joining a rarefied group of people, and proving that you also have excellent taste!

Video: The Aristocratic Propaganda of Downton Abbey

I’ve never watched Downton Abbey. I did see Gosford Park, which is a sort of predecessor, but for all I heard a lot about the show, it never caught my interest. What does interest me is how it operates as propaganda. I knew that it cast a wealthy English family as the heroes of the story, but I honestly had no idea that it was literally written by a member of the House of Lords. The video below isn’t really commentary on whether or not it’s a good or fun show, but rather an examination of the show’s political messaging, and of how it supports the interests of its aristocratic author.

Presenting: Mister Elegance

This, Dear Readers, is Mister Elegance. For those who can’t see, he’s a mostly black cat, sitting hunched over with one hind leg (with a white foot) stuck forward a little awkwardly. You don’t notice it much when he’s walking, but when he sits, that leg always sticks out oddly. I call him Mr. Elegance, because he’s always making a leg.

It is exceedingly clever.

This, Dear Readers, is Mister Elegance. For those who can't see, he's a mostly black cat, sitting hunched over with one hind leg (with a white foot) stuck forward a little awkwardly. You don't notice it much when he's walking, but when he sits, that leg always sticks out oddly.

Mr. Elegance is one of a few cats (and foxes) that wander through my little corner of Dublin, and while most of them seem to have homes (keep your cats indoors, if you value your ecosystem), I get the impression that Mr. Elegance is on his own in the world. In this next picture, you can see him trying to get a grip on a misshapen toilet paper tube.

The cat's leg is still stuck out, but now his head is sideways on the moss, as he tries to get a good angle on the cardboard tube

He likes to hang out on the roof of my shed, which is right outside my window. It’s covered in moss and twigs, and gets some sun during the day. I put some catnip in the cardboard tube, and tossed it down onto the roof for him. In this next picture, you can see that he’s gripping the tube in both front paws, and biting it very ferociously.

He first showed up a couple years ago. We already have one cat, who doesn’t play well with others, and it’s a small flat. We also can’t really afford another cat, so we have to settle for being friendly, and supplying drugs. In the next picture, he’s rabbit-kicking the tube, but his face looks a little bored.

There was a period of almost a year when we didn’t see him around, and we worried about him. I suppose it’s not good news for the birds, but I was glad when he showed up again. In the next  picture, he’s dropping the tube, and looking up at me, looking down at him.

After he’d gotten his fill of catnip, he settled down for a nap, still sticking that leg out.

Video: Life at the Foot of a Literal Mountain of Trash

I’ve got a few fiction projects that I’ve put on the back burner over the last year or so. There’s the flooded NYC series, my long-neglected space-station B&B series, and then there’s the Vista series, which has yet to see the light of day. Vista is a town in the American Midwest, a couple hundred years in the future. It’s a company town, that lives entirely off of sorting trash, while struggling to survive in a much hotter world. The trash is brought there from all over the world, including from a nearby city that’s been built to ward off the high temperatures that plague the trash-pickers.

This basic scenario is one that already exists in a number of places around the world, where wealthy nations pay poorer ones to take the trash and “recyclables” that they don’t want to deal with. I talk a lot about how we need to figure out ways to do things, like mining, in less destructive ways. Waste disposal is absolutely one of those things, and figuring it out could go a long way to reducing our need for new resource extraction, because of the large amount of materials just sitting around in landfills and other dumping sites. In the meantime, we have a global capitalist system that depends on creating and maintaining extreme poverty, and this is part of what that looks like – people doing dangerous, disgusting work, because the system in which we live gives them no better option:

Child Calls Police for Help, Gets Shot

Once upon a time, when I was but a child, I called the cops on my brother’s friends due to a misunderstanding.

My family lived for about a decade in South Medford, Massachusetts. That home was actually pretty near the Somerville flat where I lived prior to leaving the US, and while it’s not super close to any subway stops, it’s not super far, either – about half an hour to Davis Square if you’re walking, or a 10 minute drive. My brother is five years older than me, and he had a pretty tight group of friends at the time, who were scheduled to come over on that fateful evening. My parents got a call to drive over to Davis to pick up a couple of said friends, and so they went, along with my brother, knowing that they’d only be gone for 20 minutes, and that I would be fine just reading in my room.

Or so we thought.

I was doing my thing, lying on the floor and reading one of the Redwall books, when I heard a clatter. A moment later there was another, like something had hit my second story window. I poked my head up to look outside, and sure enough, there were a bunch of people throwing pebbles at my window. Naturally, I freaked out, dropped to the floor, crawled to the lamp, and turned it off.

I could now hear someone pounding on the back door, underneath my bedroom, and a man’s accented voice shouting to be let in. I was terrified, so I scampered to the phone, and called the fire department. I didn’t know 911 at the time, and the fire department’s number was written on the phone, so that’s what I went with. I told them what was happening, more or less as I’ve laid it out here, and they assured me that they were sending a police officer.

The cops got there at around the same time as my parents, I think, and it was a little while before it was made clear to me what had happened. The mysterious strangers trying to break into my home, were actually another group of my brother’s friends, being dropped off by a parent, who understandably thought they were expected. The police questioned me separately from my parents, assuming that this was some sort of domestic dispute, but things were eventually cleared up, and life went on. For quite a while, once I understood why they’d questioned me separately, it honestly made me feel good about police, that they would think to do that.

I’m telling you all this because a news story caught my eye, and made me think of it. An 11-year-old boy in Mississippi called the police for help with a domestic dispute, and the police “helped” by shooting him. The kid survived, but he’s recovering from a collapsed lung, liver damage, and broken ribs. He called for help, just like I did, and when “help” arrived, it shot him.

The boy was given a cellphone by his mother and told to call the police during a domestic disturbance involving the father of another one of her children, Moore said. After the child called 911, an Indianola police officer who was identified by the attorney as Greg Capers “had his gun blazing” upon arrival at the home at around 4 a.m., Moore said.

When Nakala Murry, the boy’s mother, told the officer that no one in the house was armed, the officer yelled out that anyone in the home should come out with their hands up, Moore said.

Even though Aderrien adhered to the officer’s commands and had his hands up, Capers shot him in the chest, according to the family and Moore.

“His words were: ‘Why did he shoot me? What did I do?’ and he started crying,” the boy’s mother said at a news conference this week.

The Indianola Board of Aldermen voted this week to place Capers on paid administrative leave while the case is investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. It’s unclear whether he will face additional discipline or possible termination.

It’s easy to think that that could have been me, but honestly? It probably never would have been.

I’m white, you see, and this kid is black. Odds are we’ll never be able to definitively prove that that was a factor, but given history, I see no reason to give the shooter the benefit of the doubt. Aderrien Murry did everything right, every step of the way, and the police officer who was supposedly sent there to help him, shot him instead. The police chief said it was “extremely tragic on both sides”, because of course we have to consider the feelings of that poor cop! I can already hear the defense being built. They’ll say that the cop misheard the mother and thought everyone in the house was armed, or that Aderienn is “large and intimidating for an 11 year old”. There’s always some reason why it was perfectly understandable for a cop to shoot someone; why any reasonable person would have seen a frightened, unarmed child, and feared for their lives.

This isn’t something that reform can fix. An armed goon, trained to kill, should never have been the first responder to a call like this. When people argue against defunding or abolishing the police, they always talk about the harm they believe would follow, but there comes a point at which fear of the unknown can lead us to support far greater harm than could ever come from the changes that scare us so. Across much of the United States, the police are an occupying force, and one that increasingly resembles a military force. They actively oppose efforts at reform or oversight, and if they do manage to do good, it’s largely an accident of them being the go-to first responders for every conceivable crisis. If you throw cops at literally every problem, they’re bound to solve at least some of them. Police must be defunded, and their resources spent on addressing things that cause crime.

I’ll leave you with this thought: incidents like this may be a minority of police interactions, but the damage they do ripples out. Even discounting the trauma suffered by Aderrien, what happens the next time Nakala Murry fears her ex might turn violent? Do you think she’ll call the cops? Would you? What about the neighbors and friends of that family? What about other people who hear the story, and are in similar situations?

Society needs first responders, but police do more harm than good.

Motivational Monday: We Are One

This popped up in my Youtube recommendations, and I’m mostly working on the novel today, so I thought I’d share it. Depending on how the fiction writing goes, I might post something else today. We shall see. For context, this is a clip from Babylon 5, one of my favorite TV shows, which I highly recommend. It contains a few spoilers, but the show is almost 30 years old, and the message is one I like.

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari

It speaks in the language of hope
It speaks in the language of trust
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.

But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one

No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star:
We are one

No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
We are one

Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize the singular truth and this singular rule: That we must be kind to one another
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.
We are one.