Video: Amsterdam Just Closed their Busiest Road

All cities have their charms and their flaws, but every time I watch a video from Not Just Bikes, I find myself wanting to live in Amsterdam. While it seems like there’s even more never-ending construction there than in most other cities, the governing philosophy seems very appealing, at a glance. Amsterdam puts a lot of effort not just into economic and building activity, but into finding and enacting new ways to make the city more pleasant for the people living in it. The construction is probably at odds with this goal, but it means that there’s always something new going on. Amsterdam had a period, in the 1960s, when they built some pretty big roads in an effort to join the trend of redesigning cities around cars. Now, they’ve closed their busiest road to car traffic for a period of six weeks, from 6am to 11pm, so that they can study how that affects traffic for the rest of the city. At the same time, there are community events and temporary decorations to help give an idea of what life would be like without that road. I imagine this will make life less pleasant for a number of people who drive, but Amsterdam is a good city for getting around without cars, and is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. The video below breaks down what’s happening, and the context in which it’s happening, and it makes me wish more cities were willing to experiment with design like this.

Video: The Minneapolis Police Department Is a Criminal Organization

Big Joel is one of my “comfort” Youtubers. Most of his stuff is what I would call cultural criticism and/or commentary. If you want a deep dive into Shrek or The Lorax, he’s your guy, and while he does do a fair amount of political commentary, he tends to approach the people or media he’s looking at from that same cultural perspective. Probably my favorite example of this is his video deconstructing another Youtuber’s attempt at a “takedown” as a cultural work. Today, however, he put out a different sort of video, and I think it’s worth sharing. It’s a simple premise – he goes through the DOJ report on the federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, that was conducted following the murder of George Floyd, and discusses the clear evidence of systemic abuse and criminality. It’s a bit rough to listen to, but I think this video is worth your time, for a couple reasons. The first is that it’s important to understand just how widespread and systemic this kind of abusive behavior is. It’s not just the “bad apples” who harass, rob, assault, injure, maim, and kill people, it’s also their fellow cops who cover for them, and supervisors who lie on reports for them. As the video lays out pretty clearly, these are people who revel in abusing their power and using violence against powerless people for no apparent reason other than their own sadistic pleasure.

The second reason, as I’ll discuss after the video, is that I do not think this is a widespread systemic problem within the Minneapolis Police Department, but rather within US policing as a whole. You should view this report as a representative sample of the profession.

So, why do I feel comfortable saying that Minneapolis is representative of a nationwide problem?

Well, regular readers will know that I’ve touched on this issue in the past. Cops in Atlanta make a regular appearance here, for their murderous campaign to force through a massive training facility. Austin PD decided to openly defy a law requiring more civilian oversight. A black kid in Mississippi called the cops for help, and they shot him. The DOJ investigation in to the Ferguson PD after the killing of Michael Brown found a similar pattern of widespread abuse of power, targeting of minorities, and cops lying to cover for each other. Across the US, cops steal more from people than burglars do, and the list goes on.

People defending the police might respond by saying that yes, they brutalize people, and guarantee that most of our rights only exist on paper, but we need them anyway, because the main thing they do is solve crime. Well, no. Not really.

(Reuters) – A new report adds to a growing line of research showing that police departments don’t solve serious or violent crimes with any regularity, and in fact, spend very little time on crime control, in contrast to popular narratives.

The report was published Oct. 25 by advocacy group Catalyst California and the ACLU of Southern California. It relies on county budgets’ numbers and new policing data provided under the state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which took effect in 2019.

The law requires police to report demographic and other basic information about their work, including the duration of a stop and what actions were taken, like ordering someone out of a car.

Records provided by the sheriff’s departments in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Riverside showed the same longstanding pattern of racial disparities in police stops throughout the country for decades. Black people in San Diego were more than twice as likely than white residents to be stopped by sheriff’s deputies, for example.

More notably, researchers analyzed the data to show how officers spend their time, and the patterns that emerge tell a striking story about how policing actually works. Those results, too, comport with existing research showing that U.S. police spend much of their time conducting racially biased stops and searches of minority drivers, often without reasonable suspicion, rather than “fighting crime.”

Overall, sheriff patrol officers spend significantly more time on officer-initiated stops – “proactive policing” in law enforcement parlance – than they do responding to community members’ calls for help, according to the report. Research has shown that the practice is a fundamentally ineffective public safety strategy, the report pointed out.

In 2019, 88% of the time L.A. County sheriff’s officers spent on stops was for officer-initiated stops rather than in response to calls. The overwhelming majority of that time – 79% – was spent on traffic violations. By contrast, just 11% of those hours was spent on stops based on reasonable suspicion of a crime.

In Riverside, about 83% of deputies’ time spent on officer-initiated stops went toward traffic violations, and just 7% on stops based on reasonable suspicion.

Moreover, most of the stops are pointless, other than inconveniencing citizens, or worse – “a routine practice of pretextual stops,” researchers wrote. Roughly three out of every four hours that Sacramento sheriff’s officers spent investigating traffic violations were for stops that ended in warnings, or no action, for example.

Researchers calculated that more of the departments’ budgets go toward fruitless traffic stops than responses to service calls — essentially wasting millions of public dollars.

Chauncee Smith, a senior manager at Catalyst California, told me they wanted to test the dominant media and political narrative that police agencies use public funds to keep communities safe.

“We found there is a significant inconsistency between their practices” and what the public might think police do, Smith said. “It begs the question of why we keep doubling down on public safety strategies that have been proven time and time again to fail.”

The departments were mostly non-responsive to my questions.

Yeah, I bet.

The reality is that police do far more harm than good, and the vast majority of things they do either need to stop happening altogether, or need to be done by healthcare professionals and social workers. Traffic enforcement, to the degree that it’s needed can be done by automated camera, or at the very least by people who aren’t armed, and are under no obligation to chase down a fleeing “suspect”.

Police in the United States do not serve the communities in which they work. The good they happen to do is largely incidental, due to the fact that they’re the default first responder to everything. They’d have to be really dedicated to never do any good. No, their primary purpose is maintaining social order. That’s why rich people are happy to fund a place like Atlanta’s Cop City, where police will train in urban warfare, the better to control rowdy peasants. That’s why nothing is being done about the staggering amount of theft they commit, too – the victims are poor people, and in the eyes of the ruling class, poor people deserve their poverty, and have no real right to property or anything else.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that society needs first responders, including some trained in the use of arms. What we do not need, is anything resembling what policing has been throughout its history in the United States. The Minneapolis Police Department is a criminal organization, and it is not alone.

Scams of the Future: Surviving OceanGate Co-Founder Promises His Venus Colony Will Be Safe

Hey, y’all remember that submarine full of foolish rich people that imploded near the Titanic? I know it didn’t get much coverage, but since I was in the tiny minority of people who actually knew about it, I thought it made a great illustration of the hubris and incompetence of the aristocracy chosen by capitalism. Well, it turns out that the surviving co-founder of Oceangate, owners and operators of that submersible deathtrap, wants to send people to Venus. Venus.

But OceanGate is not Söhnlein’s only venture. The businessman’s latest — and possibly grandest — endeavor is to send 1,000 humans to live in Venus’ atmosphere by 2050.

Söhnlein hasn’t let the recent events dampen his ambition and claims humanity needs to continue pushing the limits of innovation.

He maintains his plan is not as crazy as it seems. “I think it is less aspirational than putting a million people on the Martian surface by 2050,” he told Insider.

Though it’s often called “Earth’s twin,” Venus doesn’t seem like the ideal place for humans to thrive.

Even Söhnlein agrees. “You’re absolutely right that when you talk about going to Venus, it would raise eyebrows outside the space industry. And it even raises eyebrows inside the space industry,” he said.

Venus is the warmest planet in the solar system. Its atmosphere is chock-full of carbon dioxide, its surface temperature could melt lead, and sulfuric acid rains down from its clouds. Its atmospheric pressure is crushing — more than 90 times that of Earth, according to NASA.

In spite of this, Söhnlein doesn’t see why humanity shouldn’t attempt to live on the planet. He points to research that suggests there is a sliver of the Venusian atmosphere about 30 miles from the surface where humans could theoretically survive because temperatures are lower and pressure is less intense.

If a space station could be designed to withstand the sulfuric acid in the clouds, Söhnlein says, hundreds to thousands of people could someday live in the Venusian atmosphere.

He says a floating colony could hold 1,000 people in the Venusian atmosphere by 2050, although exactly how this will happen is less clear.

Well, I’ll give him one thing – I think his plan has about as much chance of success as Elon Musk’s plan, given that, as far as I can tell, Musk has been largely pretending that the radiation problem doesn’t exist. For those who are unaware, our atmosphere and magnetosphere shield us from being constantly bathed in radiation. Out in space, and on a planet like Mars that has a thin atmosphere and no magnetosphere, there’s a real risk of radiation sickness, cancer, and more fun problems:

NASA’s current risk models assert that radiation-based cancer mainly comes from cosmic rays messing with our DNA, but the team’s new model suggests the reality could be far worse. After studying tumors in mice, the researchers believe that cells damaged by cosmic rays could actually impact other healthy cells around them, like a deadly domino effect.

“Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell’s nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers,” Cucinotta explained in a statement. “We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues’ microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumors or cancers.”

Worst of all, spacesuits probably won’t help much.

“Exploring Mars will require missions of 900 days or longer and includes more than one year in deep space where exposures to all energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions are unavoidable,” Cucinotta said in a statement. “Current levels of radiation shielding would, at best, modestly decrease the exposure risks.”

Clearly, more research will have to be conducted in order to confirm just how at-risk Martian explorers will be, and what can be done to protect them from cosmic rays (mice aren’t humans, after all). But to add one last bummer layer of news, Mars has a super thin atmosphere—less than one percent of Earth’s—so it will expose people to even more radiation once they land. Hopefully, this all gets sorted out soon before the Martian colonies begin, because goddamn would that be disastrous.

Does anyone seriously think that one of the geniuses behind the Titan submersible is going to do space travel safely? It’s not just the radiation, though, because as mentioned above, Söhnlein says he wants a colony on Venus, either by somehow making it entirely acid-proof, or relying on the extremely long-shot hypothesis that readings of ammonia might mean that a portion of the upper atmosphere might not be entirely made up of clouds of sulfuric acid.

I don’t really think that this guy is going to try to send people to Venus by 2050. Honestly, I think by then, climate change will have caused enough problems that if we’re still capable of space flight, nobody’s going to want to indulge billionaire escapism. Is that optimistic? Maybe, but I think what this guy is actually doing, is conning his fellow rich assholes out of their money.

That said, Söhnlein is now famous for being part of a group that needlessly ignored serious and credible warnings, and got five people killed in one of the most horrific (if mercifully quick) ways it’s possible to die. The man’s record indicates that he might very well try to send people to Venus, and in that case, I think that space may become the latest and most horrific frontier in libertarians conning each other.

When I say “libertarians”, I’m talking about the US version of libertarians, as inspired by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism – people who want free-market capitalism without any government interference, because they haven’t figured out that capitalism is utterly dependent on government interference to keep capitalists intact and in power. Self-styled “anarcho-capitalists (ancaps for short) are another version of the same, who mistakenly believe that because they want to be governed by capitalists, without any “real” government involved, that that makes them anarchists. For many of these people, there’s a sort of frontiersman fantasy that they keep coming back to that takes a couple forms. The basic fantasy of both of them, is to go somewhere out of reach of the interference of governments, where they will naturally thrive, uplifted by the raw power of human innovation, unshackled from the limitations of small-minded cowards who don’t want to die because a rich person thinks workplace safety is a waste of money.

The first, and most theoretical, is seasteading – the idea of building a city-state on something like an old oil rig. The one I think is more applicable is the Flying Dutchman of Objectivism, Gault’s Gulch. For the uninitiated, this is a reference to Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, in which a rail tycoon storms off to some secluded capitalist utopia, along with his fellow rich people, thus leaving all of us poors to, in the words of the author, starve in our hopeless ineptitude. My favorite example of an attempt to do this took place in Chile, back in 2013 before the people put the left back in charge. I say it was an attempt, but true to the spirit of Ayn Rand and US libertarianism, not everyone was in it for the dream:

Galt’s Gulch, Chile was a libertarian paradise and completely obvious catastrophe conceived by John Cobin, Germán Eyzaguirre, Jeff Berwick,Wikipedia and Ken Johnson.[2] GGC claimed to feature 11,000 acres of land located in picturesque valleys full of fresh air in a low-tax country, where Randians who believed in capitalism, limited government, and self-reliance would be able to form a sustainable community that expressed their ideals. (Spoiler: It went to shit.)

Soon after the first parcel of land was placed under agreement, conman Ken Johnson was able to defraud his partners of their share of the project and take complete control.[3] He did not work to develop the properties for a community, but instead worked an affinity scam. Johnson used Berwick and other libertarian “celebrities” to dupe his victims. He even offered discounts for those who paid in Bitcoin or precious metals as part of the confidence scheme.

Johnson started selling properties in late 2013 and early 2014 until a marketing event in April 2014, where it was found that the properties had never been zoned for sale (i.e., no approved master plan, water rights not transferred to GGC). Also, there were a number of outstanding bills to contractors that had not been paid (and who refused to perform further work). After seeing Johnson’s presentation, a number of the original investors who attended the event lost faith in the project and requested their money back.[4] According to his investors and his erstwhile partners, Johnson never did his due diligence before buying the properties. His defense of the dismal situation was to rant about unknown enemies of the project all around.

Just prior to the April 2014 marketing event, the GGC bank account had been blocked to receiving international wires due to Johnson’s violations of the know-your-customer regulation in Chile. He was approached by Chilean swindler Mario Del Real who convinced Johnson that the GGC corporations were not legally structured and that Johnson should partner with Del Real to rectify the situation. Del Real also offered his daughter’s bank account for GGC’s use. Inexplicably, Johnson agreed to this obvious scam and ultimately transferred half ownership of GGC to Del Real. This began a finger-pointing soap opera between the swindling partners which has stuck the project in limbo and the Chilean courts.[5][6]

Apparently John Cobin took his love of capitalism so seriously that he ended up being locked up for shooting anti-government protesters in 2020, ahead of the 2021 general election.

I think this is the kind “space colonization” we can expect over the next couple decades – people investing money in a pipe dream, and never seeing a return on that. There may well be some real attempts, and I think they’ll be expensive and end in tears, but mostly, it’s a con. Unfortunately, it looks like we can expect taxpayers to be some of the most profitable marks in that con, which brings us back to the sad reality of our warming world.

In principle, I have no problem with billionaires killing themselves through their own hubris. It’s not like they haven’t been warned, and it’s not like the world would be worse off for their absence. The problem is, we can’t afford the resources that are already being poured into their vanity projects. We’ve got problems aplenty here on Earth, and the “solutions” that the billionaires want us to fund start with the assumption that the lives of everyone on this planet, except the billionaires themselves, are meaningless. To them, saving humanity means making this planet uninhabitable, in pursuit of helping people like Musk and Söhnlein escape to somewhere they can play space king. It’s no different from the billionaires building mansion bunkers and planning to use shock collars to control their security guards, except that we’re all funding the “space bunkers” not just through exploitation and wage theft, but also through our taxes and the pollution caused by their rockets.

There’s one way I’ll reconsider, though. I will entertain suggestions to send all the ultra-rich to Mars and Venus in whatever spacecraft we have lying around, say, next year? Then maybe the rest of us can get on with saving humanity.

Video: Let’s talk about heat, pavement, and Arizona mostly…

I talk a lot about parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, as the temperature rises, but I generally focus on stuff like the increase in wet bulb conditions. Beau of the Fifth Column has rightly pointed out that there’s another way in which heat makes the outdoors dangerous – the temperature of pavement. As you’re probably aware, when temperatures climb past the 90s, asphalt in the sun can get literally hot enough to fry eggs. Those conditions are increasing as well, meaning that for longer periods of the year, simply falling over can give you severe, even life-threatening burns. This is a good reason to be careful during heatwaves (be careful of your dogs as well – their paws cook just as easily as our skin), but it’s also a good reason not to keep expanding roads and car-dependence. Paving the world is increasingly going to turn places like parking lots into death traps. Content warning for descriptions of burns:

“Summers are our busy season, so we anticipate that this sort of thing is going to happen. But this is really unusual — the number of patients that we’re seeing and the severity of injuries — the acuity of injuries is much higher,” said Dr. Kevin Foster, director of burn services at the Arizona Burn Center at Valleywise Health. “The numbers are higher and the seriousness of injuries are higher, and we don’t have a good explanation for it.”

Every single one of the 45 beds in the burn center is full, he said, and one-third of patients are people who fell and burned themselves on the ground. There are also burn patients in the ICU, and about half of those patients are people burned after falls.

“It has definitely taken its toll,” Foster said.

The area has been hotter than usual, even for Arizona, and that, experts said, means that the ground can be dangerous for anyone whose bare skin comes into contact with it.

Asphalt is dark and dense. While concrete is lighter and reflects some sunlight, when the sun shines on asphalt, its dark color causes it to absorb light and it heats up.

Since it is a dense material, it also holds the heat even after the sun has been shining on it.

On a hot day, asphalt can easily be 40 to 60 degrees hotter than the air, some studies show. Last Thursday, the air temperature reached 119 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix had six consecutive days at or above 115 degrees by Saturday; the streak ended Sunday, with high temperatures reaching only 114 degrees.

“The temperature of asphalt and pavement and concrete and sidewalks in Arizona on a warm sunny day or summer afternoon is 180 degrees sometimes. I mean, it’s just a little below boiling, so it’s really something,” Foster said.

It can take only a “fraction of a second” to get a “pretty deep burn,” he said. For people who have been on the pavement for 10 to 20 minutes, “the skin is completely destroyed” and the damage often goes down deep, meaning it is a third-degree burn.

Foster sees burns like that after people survive a house fire. “These are really serious injuries,” he said.

Patients with third-degree burns will require multiple surgeries and have to spend weeks or even months in the hospital and have years of reconstructive surgery and therapy. “It is a really substantial injury,” Foster said.

Be careful out there!


AMOC Time: Entering a New Era in Ocean Currents

Confession time: I’ve been conflating the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and the Gulf Stream in my head. The two aren’t unrelated, but they’re not the same thing. As I currently understand it, the Gulf Stream is a surface current driven by trade winds, which in turn are driven by Earth’s rotation. The AMOC is a set of currents deeper in the ocean, driven by changes in temperature and salinity at the poles, and it’s just the Atlantic “loop” of a global set of currents. While the AMOC does follow a similar path to the Gulf Stream, and may contribute to its speed from below, they’re different phenomena driven by different things.

This distinction is good to make, because as Rebecca Watson noted, a number of news outlets have been wrongly claiming that recent AMOC research is about the Gulf Stream. The good news is that the Gulf Stream is not expected to collapse any time soon, because the factors driving it – Earth’s rotation and the shape of the continents – aren’t affected by global warming very much.

The bad news is that the research does indicate that the AMOC is in danger of collapse. Worse, while that collapse had initially been forecast for some time in the 22nd century or even later, it now seems that we can expect it this century, with a low but non-zero chance of it happening as early as two years from now.

Now. What does this mean?

Well, it doesn’t mean that the current will collapse in 2025. While it is technically possible, that’s the scary end of this study’s margin of error, not The Prediction. That’s important to state, because as with Al Gore’s predictions of an ice-free Arctic, deniers will absolutely pretend that the prediction was for a collapse no later than 2025. That is not what’s going on here. It seems increasingly likely that, on our current trajectory, the AMOC will collapse this century, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell. Climatologist and oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf gave his thoughts on this over at, and you should really read the whole thing if you want to understand what’s going on. In particular, though, I wanted to draw attention to his reasoning for why the standard climate models used by the IPPC are likely underestimating the risk of an AMOC collapse:

Standard climate models probably underestimate the risk. There are two reasons for that. They largely ignore Greenland ice loss and the resulting freshwater input to the northern Atlantic which contributes to weakening the AMOC. And their AMOC is likely too stable. There is a diagnostic for AMOC stability, namely the overturning freshwater transport, which I introduced in a paper in 1996 based on Stommel’s 1961 model. Basically, if the AMOC exports freshwater out of the Atlantic, then an AMOC weakening would lead to a fresher (less salty) Atlantic, which would weaken the AMOC further. Data suggest that the real AMOC exports freshwater, in most models it imports freshwater. This is still the case and was also discussed at the IUGG conference.

The post overall provides a great breakdown of the available data, why scientists say the AMOC has been weakening, and how the “blob” of cold water off Greenland is a part of that process. It also, nearer the beginning, gives a great overview of the importance of this subject:

The AMOC is a big deal for climate. The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is a large-scale overturning motion of the entire Atlantic, from the Southern Ocean to the high north. It moves around 15 million cubic meters of water per second (i.e. 15 Sverdrup). The AMOC water passes through the Gulf Stream along a part of its much longer journey, but contributes only the smaller part of its total flow of around 90 Sverdrup. The AMOC is driven by density differences and is a deep reaching vertical overturning of the Atlantic; the Gulf Stream is a near-surface current near the US Atlantic coast and mostly driven by winds. The AMOC however moves the bulk of the heat into the northern Atlantic so is highly relevant for climate, because the southward return flow is very cold and deep (heat transport is the flow multiplied by the temperature difference between northward and southward flow). The wind-driven part of the Gulf Stream contributes much less to the net northward heat transport, because that water returns to the south at the surface in the eastern Atlantic at a temperature not much colder than the northward flow, so it leaves little heat behind in the north. So for climate impact, the AMOC is the big deal, not the Gulf Stream.

If the AMOC collapses, western Europe gets colder. It wouldn’t happen overnight (since people have been referencing The Day After Tomorrow), but it would happen pretty quickly. As always, the damage of this isn’t just about the absolute temperature – plenty of people live with winters of the kind we’re likely to see from this – but about what we’re used to, and what our infrastructure can withstand. The flat in which I currently live is a for example, doesn’t appear to have much if any insulation. If it does, it’s undercut by the drafts coming in around the loosely-set windows, and the fact that every single room has an un-closeable vent to the outside, probably to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. If we were hit by a Newfoundland winter, I think there is approximately zero chance that our ancient gas boiler could keep the apartment at a livable temperature.

It goes well beyond that, however. It’s not clear to what degree an AMOC shutdown would affect the overturning circulation in the Pacific, but even if we’re lucky and the collapse was limited to the Atlantic, there would be global weather implications. I would freeze, but the heat that I’d be missing would be released elsewhere, possibly causing a big spike in temperature further south. It would also, without question, affect rain patterns all over the planet, which would increase the odds of those multiple simultaneous crop failures we were talking about earlier this month.

This research is more of a warning than a forecast. It’s not that we have a collapse coming and there’s X amount of time to prepare, but rather that we’re entering a period during which that collapse could happen with very little warning.

That means that we don’t know how much time we have to prepare, but the sooner we get to work on that, the better, because I expect it would take a decade of unprecedented effort and investment to make us “ready” for any effects of an AMOC shutdown. I’ve discussed some this before, but “preparation”, in this case, means a few different things. The biggest one, in my opinion, is changing food production. We should move as much of it indoors as possible, and work on things like factory-produced bacterial and algal foodstock. We should also have stored food, of course, but it’s not clear that weather patterns would ever recover, at least within our lifetimes, from this. It also means investment in infrastructure, both to handle the extreme weather that would be sure to follow the shutdown, and to handle any sudden changes in regional sea level due to the current’s disruption.

As always, this news adds to the urgency, but it doesn’t really change what you or I need to be doing. Join unions and left-wing political organizations, organize those unions and organizations if they don’t exist, build a store of food for you and your neighbors if you’re able, encourage organizing and direct action in those around you, and do what you can to elevate and empower those around you. We’re in a bad place, and on our current path, it’s only going to get worse. The way out is to reject the individualistic and anti-community dogmas of capitalism, practice solidarity, and work together.

If you want me to be able to store food for myself and my neighbors, or if you just want to support this blog, head over to Patreon and give me a couple bucks. If you found this post useful, please share it around! Thanks for reading, and take care of yourselves out there.


A Desert Full of Bones: Razor Wire, Asylum, and Fascism

There’s a scene in the 1981 film Time Bandits (spoiler warning), in which Kevin the landscaping angels who kidnapped him find themselves in a flat, barren landscape, with mist in the air, and the bones of strange creatures strewn about. They’re following a divine map, but it’s leading them so far into the desert that they might never find their way out. It’s a fair concern, given that time God “guided” the Israelites on a 40-year version of an 11-day trek, but just when the group is close to giving up, they hit a wall. An invisible barrier.

Randall shatters it with a skull, and they continue on their quest into the lair of Evil, but what if the barrier hadn’t broken? What if they’d come all that way, braving ogres and giants, shipwrecks and cannonfire, only to die in that desert, and become just a few more bones littering the ground outside the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness?

When I hear Republicans (and some Democrats) demand that we build a wall along the southern border, this desert full of bones always comes to mind. At first, it felt too “extreme” to say, but there has never been a question that every barrier erected along that border means more people dead. It has also become increasingly clear that Border Patrol and the people howling for a closed border absolutely do want to fill that desert with bones. They want to kill anyone trying to cross that border from the south who doesn’t go through a checkpoint. They don’t care that US law states that all humans have a right to enter the United States, by any means, to request asylum. Those who do so have a right to have their request considered, before any action is taken to deport them. When they talk about “The Law”, what they mean is “what we think ought to be the law”, and they feel fully justified in “enforcing” that, regardless of the actual legality, or the harm done. They look at some of the most desperate and powerless people in the world, and they want them to die.

They are sadistic, murderous extremists, and I no longer feel any hesitation in labeling them as such.

Honestly, I haven’t felt much hesitation about that for a while now. Desantis committed human trafficking for political gain, and conservatives across the US cheered him on, but now Gregg Abbot has taken things to another level, by actively trying to kill and maim anyone trying to cross using razor wire barriers and traps in and around the Rio Grande. Content warning for descriptions of horrifying violence, and discussion of hate speech going forward.

“Stuck in razor wire”

If that phrase doesn’t give you a reflexive chill, take a moment to really think about what it means.

And think about what it means that someone would see razor wire, and try to cross it anyway. We hear a lot about how dangerous the journey north can be, and when you see people willing to risk shredding their bodies like that, it’s hard not to conclude that they must be fleeing something genuinely awful; so awful that no amount of deterrence will dissuade them. It’s very clear that the people who want a closed border don’t actually care whether someone has a legitimate asylum request. They neither know nor care about the history or conditions of the countries from which people are fleeing, and if we’re honest, they don’t even see these people as human.

In addition to the buoy barrier, it appears that there are barrels wrapped in razor wire, presumably to tempt anyone crossing the river to use the barrels as floats, only to be cut up or – in the case of the child mentioned above, stuck on the blades of the wire. It also seems that there’s razor wire just in the water, where nobody crossing would be able to see it. This is, as said in this interview, torture. It’s also attempted murder, because in case anyone needed to hear this, slashing someone with a blade while they’re trying to cross a river dramatically increases their chances of drowning, not to mention the danger from the injury itself.

The Biden administration has not been great on the border issue. They didn’t stop separating children from their families, and they’re continuing to push for unreasonable – and unconstitutional – restrictions at the border. That said, this stuff with the razor wire was too much for them, and the DOJ has sued Texas for failing to remove the barriers as directed:

The DOJ suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, seeks an injunction to block the state from placing more of the wrecking ball-sized, razor wire-topped buoys, which have already reportedly injured several people. The complaint accuses Texas and Abbott of violating the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act by erecting the barrier in a U.S. waterway without permission.

“This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns,” Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy.”

The lawsuit came on the same day that Abbott defiantly refused a DOJ request to dismantle the 1,000-foot barrier, which was installed along with netting and razor wire in and along the river that Mexicans call the Río Bravo near Eagle Pass in Maverick County.

“Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused,” Abbott wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in response to the DOJ’s request. “Texas will see you in court, Mr. President.”

In a weekend CNN appearance, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called Abbott’s anti-migrant efforts “barbaric” and “extreme cruelty.”

“For him, this isn’t about border security—it’s about using taxpayer money to feed red meat to right-wing extremists,” Castro said of Abbott on Twitter.

It is also, I think, not just about immigration. This is how they want to respond to global warming. They know that global warming is already causing migration, just like they’ve always known that their efforts to close the border were killing people. Their solution to climate change is to maintain US power, and to use that power to force poor countries to keep supporting the rich ones, and to murder anyone who steps out of line. For that plan, climate change is actually a benefit, because it will make it that much harder for poorer nations to stand on their own, and to try to improve their conditions. At the same time, it will make it harder for people to survive the journey to the US and the crossing. They absolutely want that desert full of bones – they’d string bodies up along the wall as a warning, if they could – but deaths that happen before reaching the border make them happy too.

There were a few articles that went around, during Trump’s first (and hopefully only) term as President, about how folks close to him were big fans of a book called The Camp of the Saints. This book, beloved of Stephens Bannon and Miller is a revolting work of  propaganda from a French white supremacist who died in 2020 (good riddance), and it tells the story of a fleet of refugee boats sailing from India to France. The basic overview is that the Indian refugees are described throughout the book in disgusting and dehumanizing terms, as a liberal French society welcomes their approach, and the conservative “heroes” recommend that the boats be sunk at sea (sound familiar?) to save France from the zombie-like horde.

I do not recommend you read the book, but I do recommend you check out this overview of it by Youtuber José. I’m putting emphasis on this book right now, because I think it is extremely relevant to the current international fascist movement. Fascists seem to be driven by an obsession with humiliation and disgust. They constantly think and talk about cuckoldry, and the defeat of the “West”, and when they talk about groups of people they hate, they always find ways to invoke disgust. My first encounter with it was a website I found, back in highschool dedicated to hating Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was tortured to death in 1998. It was filled with graphic descriptions of what the website’s creator apparently thought gay people did, and all of them, including body fluids and excrement, could have come straight from the pages of The Camp of the Saints. Likewise, fascists love describing their targets as diseased – another thing immigrants apparently share with LGBTQIA people.

There are many groups under attack right now, but all of them are facing the same threat, and it is a very real threat. Fascists are actively coming for trans people and asylum seekers, just as the Nazis did in the early days. Defending those groups should be enough motivation for any decent person, but even if it’s not, they never stop there, because they always need people to blame and punish for their society’s problems.

I think it’s likely that the courts will rule against Abbot and his death traps, but they will keep hurting and killing people in the meantime. More than that, this will not be the last such attempt. If you take anything away from this let it be that, as long as fascists have any power, they will use that power for these ends. What’s happening at the border is shocking, but it’s not actually very far from what’s considered acceptable in US political discourse. Plenty of Democrats support closing the border. Plenty of Democrats support US meddling in South and Central America, and want to continue doing it. Part of the reason fascists have power in the US, is because the Democrats are a center-right party within a government that has spent decades supporting and aiding fascist groups all over the world, in the name of opposing left-wing movements. This is why I don’t have much faith in the Democratic Party’s ability to fend off rising fascism, and why I think it’s so important for us to build organized, collective power that’s not centered around elections or beholden to political parties. There is ample evidence that even if the Democrats are in power, they won’t do what’s needed without relentless pressure from the left. We are fighting fascism, with all of the horror and death that brings, and that means being clear about both the danger, and what tools and allies we do or do not have in that fight.

If you found this post valuable, please share it around. If you like the work I do, and want me to do more of it, consider giving me a couple dollars over on Patreon, to help me make ends meet. This stuff is unpleasant to read and to write about, so also make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Cretaceous Mudslide Captured Mammal Attacking Dinosaur

My understanding of the mammals that lived when the (non-avian) dinosaurs were still around, was that they were generally little rat-like critters that lived generally little rat-like lives, as omnivorous scavengers and opportunists, that also served as prey. Apparently, my education on dinosaur-mammal relations has been lacking, because apparently there were mammals that ate dinosaurs. This seems to be something that paleontologists have known for a while, but they recently found a fossil in China’s “Dinosaur Pompeii” of a Cretaceous Psittacosaurus in the process of being killed and eaten by a Repenomamus:

“The two animals are locked in mortal combat, intimately intertwined, and it’s among the first evidence to show actual predatory behaviour by a mammal on a dinosaur,” explains Dr. Jordan Mallon, palaeobiologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature and co-author on the study published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

The fossil’s presence challenges the view that dinosaurs had few threats from their mammal contemporaries during the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs were the dominant animals. The rare fossil is now in the collections of the Weihai Ziguang Shi Yan School Museum in China’s Shandong Province.

The dinosaur in the well-preserved fossil is identified as a species of Psittacosaurus, which is about the size of a large dog. Plant-eating psittacosaurs are among the earliest known horned dinosaurs and lived in Asia during the Early Cretaceous, from around 125 to 105 million years ago.

The mammal in the fossil pair is a badger-like animal, called Repenomamus robustus. Although not large by dinosaur standards, it was among the largest mammals during the Cretaceous, at a time when mammals had not yet come to dominate the Earth.

Prior to this discovery, palaeontologists knew that Repenomamus preyed on dinosaurs including Psittacosaurus because of fossilized baby bones of the herbivore found in the mammal’s stomach.

“The co-existence of these two animals is not new, but what’s new to science through this amazing fossil is the predatory behaviour it shows,” says Mallon.

The image is an artist's rendition of the moments before the two animals were killed by the volcanic mudslide. The Psittacosaurus is a stocky, beaked dinosaur, with longer hind legs than fore, and a thick tail. It's braced on three legs, with one front limb raised to ward off the attacking mammal. The Repenomamus, a badger-like mammal appears to be leaping onto the unfortunate dinosaur, climbing up onto it like a weasel attacking a hare. The two animals are fighting against a stump, with trees in the background, and smoking volcanoes in the distance.

The image is an artist’s rendition of the moments before the two animals were killed by the volcanic mudslide. The Psittacosaurus is a stocky, beaked dinosaur, with longer hind legs than fore, and a thick tail. It’s braced on three legs, with one front limb raised to ward off the attacking mammal. The Repenomamus, a badger-like mammal appears to be leaping onto the unfortunate dinosaur, climbing up onto it like a weasel attacking a hare. The two animals are fighting against a stump, with trees in the background, and smoking volcanoes in the distance.

It’s nice to know that eating dinosaurs is about the oldest tradition we have, as mammals.

Video: Let’s talk about a trillion trees and the GOP

“That’s nice, but it’s nowhere near enough” is something of a mantra around here. We are still far, far behind where we need to be if we want global warming to be anything other than totally catastrophic, and I find it infuriating to see politicians who’ve been avoiding or opposing action longer than I’ve been alive, patting themselves on the back for ill-conceived quarter-measures. That’s why this message from Beau of the Fifth Column is not one I’m especially excited to hear. That said, I think he has a point.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was asked for the GOP solution to global warming, and he responded that they’d plant a trillion trees. Whether or not you think that’s an adequate plan, Beau makes the case that those who want climate action should vocally celebrate this, and avoid criticism. If they get positive feedback for this idea, and it catches on, then the conversation shifts from whether we should do anything at all, to which approach is best, with the need to act now being taken as a given.

That’s progress worth making. It should have been made decades ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is progress worth making.

I think it’s also worth noting that while the Democrats have started doing things about climate change, those things are still a kind of low-urgency economic “nudging” that might have been enough if it had started in the 90s. Nobody in the US government is taking the problem seriously, but if the GOP does start spending money on planting trees, the Dems will lose their coveted status of being not quite as bad as the Republicans, and that would increase pressure on them to do more.

And more than that, the GOP adopting their trillion tree plan would normalize the need for climate action in their base. McCarthy and his ilk have earned our scorn a hundred times over on this subject, but their power is real, and their obstruction is damaging. I think Beau makes a good tactical case for celebrating this.


Scientists are Raving about this Hot New Basking Shark Fact!

I’m procrastinating on a couple of rather grim posts, and I was looking for something chill to write about on this cool and rainy day, when I came across something rather astonishing. I want to say that while I do think sharks are really cool, they’ve never really been a special interest of mine. That’s why it strikes me as odd that I am now writing a third post about sharks and temperature, none of which have had anything to do with global warming. It started with the recent eruption of the Sharkcano, and we learned about sharks that make their living in and around the natural hot tub of an active volcanic crater. Then, there was the discovery that hammerhead sharks hold their breath to dive, to avoid being chilled by the cold of deeper waters.

And now, we have the novel discovery that basking sharks are warm-blooded, after a fashion. Basking sharks are filter feeders, like whale sharks, megamouths, and baleen whales. They’re big – second only to the whale shark – fairly slow-moving, and they just cruise around, inhaling copepods. They are also, we now know, one of the vanishingly small minority of fish that internally regulate their own body temperature, and it was discovered right in my back yard!

The image shows a basking shark, and frankly it looks like something from a cartoon. The shark is swimming from right to left, and its head is closer to the camera than its tail. This slightly exaggerates the size of its head, but not by much. It looks as though someone took a relatively ordinary shark, and gave it a giant muppet-like shark hat to wear. It has a large, bulbous nose, with two small eyes behind it. Below is a massive, gaping cavern of a mouth, that acts as a trawling net as the rest of the shark pushes the mouth around. This is less of a shark, and more of a mouth with a shark attached to it. It's near the surface, so the sunlight is forming a pretty dappled pattern on its gray-brown skin.

The image is a color-adjusted photo of a basking shark, and frankly it looks like something from a cartoon. The shark is swimming from right to left, and its head is closer to the camera than its tail. This slightly exaggerates the size of its head, but not by much. It looks as though someone took a relatively ordinary shark, and gave it a giant muppet-like shark hat to wear. It has a large, bulbous nose, with two small eyes behind it. Below is a massive, gaping cavern of a mouth, that acts as a trawling net as the rest of the shark pushes the mouth around. This is less of a shark, and more of a mouth with a shark attached to it. It’s near the surface, so the sunlight is forming a pretty dappled pattern on its gray-brown skin. This image was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Greenfire Productions.

Approximately 99.9% of fish and shark species are “cold-blooded”, meaning their body tissues generally match the temperature of the water they swim in – but researchers have just discovered the mighty basking shark is a one-in-a-thousand exception.

Instead, these sharks keep the core regions of their bodies warmer than the water like the most athletic swimmers in the sea such as great white sharks, mako sharks and tuna.

The latter examples are so-called “regional endotherms” and are all fast swimming, apex predators at the top of the food chain. Scientists have long reasoned that their ability to keep warm helped with this athletic predatory lifestyle, and that evolution had shaped their physiology to match their requirements.

However, an international team of researchers led by those from Trinity College Dublin, has now shown that gentle, plankton-feeding basking sharks are also regional endotherms despite having very different lifestyles to white sharks and tunas.

This surprising discovery has implications for conservation, as well as raising a plethora of ecological and evolutionary questions.

Haley Dolton, PhD Candidate in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, was lead author of the study that has just been published in international journal, Endangered Species Research. She said:

The basking shark is a shining example of how little we know about shark species in general. That we still have lots to uncover about the second biggest fish in the world – such a huge, charismatic animal that most people would recognise it – just highlights the challenge facing researchers to gather what they can about species to aid in effective conservation strategies.”

Basking sharks gained legal protection in Irish waters just last year, with the species having undergone significant population declines throughout the NE Atlantic in the last century. But they still face many challenges in the future.

Haley Dolton added: “Regional endotherms are thought to use more energy, and possibly respond differently to ocean warming than other fish species. So lots more work will need to be done to work out how these new findings regarding an endangered species might change previous assumptions about their metabolism or potential distribution shifts during our climate crisis, which is something marine biologists are focusing on as our planet and its seas continue to warm. 

“Hopefully this kind of research will continue the momentum needed to effectively protect these incredible animals in Irish waters and further afield.”

Well, ok, it is a little about global warming, because everything is during a catastrophic warming event, but the sharks were doing this before we started mucking up the atmosphere. It seems as though a lot of the heat is generated by their primary “drive shaft” – the cruising muscles that keep them constantly moving forward, but I hadn’t realized that the ability to heat your own body is reflected in how your heart’s put together:

To make the discovery, the research team (including scientists from University of Pretoria, Marine Biological Association, Queen’s University Belfast, Zoological Society of London, University of Southampton, and Manx Basking Shark Watch) first undertook dissections of dead basking sharks that washed up in Ireland and the UK.

They found that the sharks have cruise-swimming muscles located deep inside their bodies as seen in white sharks and tunas; in most fish this “red” muscle is instead found toward the outside of the animals.

They also discovered basking sharks have strong muscular hearts that probably help generate high blood pressures and flows. Most fish species have relatively “spongy” hearts, whereas basking shark hearts are more typical of the regional endotherm species.

Next, the team designed a new low-impact tagging method to record body temperature of free-swimming basking sharks off the coast of Co Cork, Ireland. Researchers were able get close enough to 8 m basking sharks to safely deploy the tags, which recorded muscle temperature just under the skin for up to 12 hours before they automatically detached from the animals and were collected by the researchers.

These tags revealed that basking shark muscles are consistently elevated above water temperatures, and to almost exactly the same extent as their regionally-endothermic predatory cousins.

Nicholas Payne, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, was senior author of the study. He said:

“These results cast an interesting new light on our perception of form versus function in fishes because until now we thought regional endothermy was only found in apex predatory species living at high positions in the marine food web. 

“Now we have found a species that grazes on tiny plankton but also shares those rather uncommon regional endotherm features, so we might have to adjust our assumptions about the advantages of such physiological innovations for these animals.

“It’s a bit like suddenly finding that cows have wings.”

As Dolton said, it’s a good reminder of how little we know; not just about sharks, but about oceanic life in general. For all the problems in the world, I’m glad to live in a time when I get to learn new things like this.