Update: Good health, and good spirits

I’m grateful to report that Tegan’s symptoms – which remained mild throughout – have disappeared and not returned for several days. It seems that her bout with COVID-19 was about as mild as is possible, while still having symptoms. As I mentioned before, I tested negative, and we maintained a pretty strict regimen of distancing and home ventilation. I’ve yet to show symptoms, so it seems like I somehow managed to avoid catching the virus altogether.

Isolation and ventilation work.

We’ve gotten a very short visa extension, and have pushed our move back by a couple weeks, so we can be sure Tegan’s PCR test will come up negative so we can travel, and so we have a little more time for packing and logistics. When the lockdown started, we had already stored up a little extra food against Brexit causing any shortages, after which point we forgot all about Brexit in the chaos of the pandemic.

Well, now Brexit is making our move to Ireland with pets newly complicated, so more time is needed.

In the meantime, my household is happy to be out of isolation, and I’ll have a more interesting blog post up tomorrow!

COVID update: Why masks and distancing matter, and why we need to change how things are run

It’s surreal. I’ve been isolating with Tegan and the critters since March. It was pretty easy, because nobody was hiring, and neither of us was able to get wage labor until Tegan got a minimum wage gig in August almost by accident. The animals both love having us around all the time, and we humans still enjoy each other’s company. It’s not a big apartment, and given the infectiousness of this virus, and the long period of asymptomatic contagiousness, we figured that if one of us got it, both of us would. Apparently not. I got tested yesterday, and my result was negative.

Even so, the evidence at this point is pretty clear – even if a mask and distancing don’t prevent you from getting the disease, they will make it far more likely that you’ll have a light case. For those who aren’t clear on why, here’s a basic breakdown:

When the virus enters your system and begins to hijack cells for reproduction, it starts a timed contest. The “goal” of the virus is to infect every cell it can, to reproduce as much as it can, and to spread to as many other people as it can before your body either wipes it out, or dies. The “goal” of your immune system is to develop antibodies that can destroy the virus before it infects you badly enough that you die.

Let’s say you got the virus because some science-denying asshole coughed and sneezed directly in your face. You got a huge dose – your starting population of the virus is in the tens of thousands, and its starting position is in your mouth, nose, and eyes. Viruses grow exponentially in the body – one cell produces many particles of the virus, and because those are starting inside your body, the odds are that most of them will infect other cells and repeat the process. You go from a population of 20,000 to 20,000,000 very, very quickly, and from there to the hundreds of millions, and then billions. By the time your immune system has the ability to really respond, huge portions of your body are infected, and with COVID-19 that means not just your respiratory system, but your circulatory system, nervous system, and multiple organs. Billions of your cells each pumping out thousands upon thousands of new virus particles. This isn’t great for your health, because the virus population is using your resources to do all of this, and those resources are then unavailable for normal bodily functions.

The virus is not what kills you, though. The problem is that the immune system doesn’t kill the virus directly, it targets the virus’s means of reproduction – infected cells. So, your body develops the ability to detect and destroy infected cells, some time after your initial exposure, and then it sets about doing that. The question then is – how many of your cells are infected? If the number is too high, then your immune system will basically be doing the equivalent of amputating a limb that has gangrene to prevent the rot from spreading to the rest of your body. It’s probably better than dying, but it comes with its own dangers. Specifically, it’s amputating one cell at a time, and it’s doing it in your lungs, your heart, your blood vessels, your nerves, and so on. The extent of your viral infection determines the extent to which your body destroys itself to purge the infection.

It’s a bit like doing a controlled burn to eradicate an invasive species like honeysuckle (in the US) – if it’s just in a small area, that method might well work, but if – as is the case in much of the United States – there’s honeysuckle throughout the forest understory, then you’re likely to destroy not just the invasive species, but the rest of the forest as well.

Now let’s say you contract the virus from your significant other or room mate, but you’ve had windows open and kitchen and bathroom vents running, you wear masks most of the time, you stay in separate rooms, and you never interact directly (can you tell I’m bitter about my current situation?). Now, instead of 20,000, your starting virus population is 1. Or more likely 100. Now your body has a better chance of developing and carrying out its response before the virus has infected too many of your cells. Now, instead of hundreds of billions of cells that need to be destroyed, there are just billions, or a few hundred million (out of hundreds of trillions in your body). Your body can take that hit pretty easily. It’s not good, and it’s not fun, but neither is it lethal, and depending on what cells are infected, it might not even have lasting effects.

By taking all those precautions, you’ve gone from your body melting down your lungs and veins, and killing you to eradicate your viral population, to doing pretty minor damage that you may not even notice, in an asymptomatic case.

So, back to my situation if I do catch the disease from Tegan, does that mean I get to interact with her again? No. Not while she’s still sick. See – you don’t stop being vulnerable to infection once you’re infected. It’s not an on/off situation. Let’s say I tested positive, but I don’t have any symptoms. Good. All of my caution has paid off, and my viral load is in the hundreds of thousands. I might get a bit of a cough or a fever, and if I’m unlucky I could have lasting damage to some parts of my body, but I’m not going to be in danger for my life.

And then, since I’m “already infected”, I go to take care of my wife, who’s worse off than I am. And every time I go into the bedroom, my viral population gets a boost. It might even get virus particles that have evolved to be better at invading cells (like the new variants now spreading across the globe). Now I’m going from a manageable, or even asymptomatic viral load, to a dangerous one, and at the same time, I’m adding to Tegan’s viral load, and increasing the odds that her immune system will do serious damage. I might even introduce a new variant to her.

And so I sit in a chilly room with wind blowing through the open door, and a vent running in the kitchen. I don’t go to comfort her, even though we could both use a hug. If I need to give her something, I leave it in the hall, and go back into my part of the apartment. If someone delivers a package, I tell them to set it outside the door, and wait till they’re long gone before I open it to get what they left.

Infectious disease is a numbers game, and knowing that, we can adjust our behavior to cut off the viral supply lines.

As I was writing this, I noticed that a great deal of what I was saying also applies to how countries deal with a pandemic. Fortunately, we’re not just killing everyone who tests positive, but the more people test positive, the more there are to infect others, and the greater the total amount of viral particles there are in any given location. A park on a breezy day may seem safe – and it is safer than an enclosed space – but if everyone in that park is infected, they’re giving off a cloud of viral particles, like cigarette smoke, that is more or less likely to reach other people, depending on how many are producing that cloud.

The lack of response in the US and the UK (probably other countries too, but I haven’t paid as close attention to them) has done just that. It has increased the viral loads of those countries, and consequently increased the viral load of infected individuals. Even now, isolation and masking are still saving lives, and helping to control the pandemic and many other infectious diseases. This basic math is the same for every infectious disease. COVID-19 is worse than most because, like with the honeysuckle I mentioned earlier, it’s an invasive species. It has no “natural predators” in our bodies to slow it down, and it has no “natural habitat” in our bodies that it will focus on and stay in. It’s in new territory, in every human it encounters right now, and so it’s going where it can, to the greatest extent that it can, and it turns out that it can go just about everywhere inside us. Eventually, the global population will have some level of resting immunity to this kind of coronavirus. I think it’s unlikely that it will ever go away completely – it’s going to be more like the common cold or influenza – but it will get less lethal, because it will be harder for the new variants to grow out of control as they do now, because we’ll have at least some defenses against things that look similar.

I’ll end by saying – not for the last time – that a pandemic like this is why it’s so important to have societies that understand and accept science, and that value the lives and wellbeing of the general population over, say, profit for the ruling class. Say what you will about Vietnam, but the evidence is clear – quarantining infected villages, and ensuring that those under quarantine had all the food, shelter, and entertainment they needed was effective. The leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam may be wealthier than the general population, but that gap is (a) not as big as it is in capitalist countries, and (b) did not lead them to put their own wealth ahead of the lives of their population. Doing the right thing in a pandemic is not profitable for the ruling class. It’s an investment in the population at large. It costs money to inform people they’re under quarantine, and to provide them with meals, and to ensure that they’re able to quarantine without losing their homes, healthcare, or food.

This is not likely to be the last pandemic in my lifetime (assuming I die of old age). This will come up again, and if most of the world is run by and for capitalists, we’ll go through all of this again, even though we know how to stop it. The same is true for climate change. We know what we need to do to both slow the warming of the climate, and to adapt our societies to survive the warming we cannot avoid, but doing so will not be as profitable for the ruling class as the status quo. As long as the profit motive is the primary guiding principle of our society, we will fail to adequately address climate change, and we will fail in our responses to every pandemic that comes along.

Stay the course. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Listen to the scientific and medical communities, and organize so that we can actually deal with the problems that face us.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my upcoming move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

COVID-19: We almost made it a whole year

Tegan and I entered voluntary lockdown and started masking up in early March of 2020. For most of the last year, we’ve been extremely careful, and our primary risk of infection came from shopping from groceries, and Tegan’s job at a drive-thru. Now, alas, our luck has run out. Tegan tested positive for COVID-19 after we realized she had a slight fever.

We’re now isolating within the apartment, with me camped out on the couch by the open window, and her mostly staying in bed. I’ll go to get tested either Monday or Tuesday, but I can’t imagine that I haven’t caught it during her asymptomatic phase. I’ll probably blog about the experience either way.

I’ve been working on a longer piece about the pandemic and the responses to it, so now I guess I get to do a little field research into it’s personal affects. With any luck, I’ll be writing about a very mild case, for both myself and for Tegan.

So close to making it to vaccination…

Oh well.

This isn’t the last time I’ll say it, but the responses to the pandemic from governments like the U.S. and the U.K have not only led to unnecessary mass death and long-term disability, but also to the rapid evolution of multiple new strains of the disease, all of which are more infectious, and so will kill that many more people.

We knew how to stop this disease in its tracks, and it wasn’t done because it would not have been profitable. Policies influenced by capitalism and ignorance of science (evolution, in particular) have always been lethally destructive, but going into this century, the harm caused will escalate. We need a change, and we need it fast.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my upcoming move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

A Trans Coming Out Story, from Philosophy Tube

The struggle for trans rights has, at the rhetorical and PR level, revolved around finding ways to get the cis, heteronormative majority to allow trans people to simply live their lives. Since it may not go without saying (yet), I want to emphasize that this effort, which is what most cis folks see, rarely actually gets at the depths of science, philosophy, and other forms of analysis that surround the experience of being trans. It’s merely the part that’s brought to the attention of the majority, as part of the effort to survive, and to thrive. In making the case for the need for medical transition, a lot of the focus has been on the suffering addressed by that treatment. This has been successful in increasing public awareness and acceptance of that need, but it has also given an incomplete picture of what being trans is like.

So I think this is an important video to watch. As with everything on Philosophy Tube, the video is interesting and informative, and I think it presents thoughts and perspectives that may be unfamiliar to many of my fellow cis folks.

Proxy measurements can provide warnings of what’s to come

What does “sea level” mean? How do you go about measuring it? Those with any experience in large bodies of water know that “level” is rarely a realistic description. Even without the moon distorting the Earth and driving the tides as it orbits us, swells and waves mean that most ocean surfaces are constantly moving up and down. Beyond that, areas with a large amount of dense matter – like mountains and ice sheets – will pull water towards themselves, causing higher sea levels in their gravity wells, and lower sea levels in other areas.

Measuring sea level requires taking thousands of different sorts of measurements all over the world, and for all that complexity, sea level represents just a tiny fraction of what’s happening in the oceans, let alone global climate change as a whole.

So how can we measure the rate of climate change? What does that even mean? Calculating the rate at which heat is being trapped, based on greenhouse gas levels, is pretty straightforward. We’ve known the basics of that for over a century, and it’s how we have headlines like “Earth is heating at a rate equivalent to five atomic bombs per second“. The problem is that that heat doesn’t necessarily stay as heat. There are a myriad of ways in which thermal energy can be converted to kinetic or chemical energy, on top of things that are hard to measure like deep ocean temperature changes.

Most of the heat the planet has been absorbing has gone into the oceans, but even so, scientists have been detecting biological and physical changes all over the planet that are driven by the rise in temperature.

And that brings up another question – how much does a given change in temperature actually matter? For humanity’s purposes, there are two main lines of inquiry to look at. The one that tends to get the most focus, for obvious reasons, is the effect on day to day and year to year temperatures. Will heat waves get worse? Will rainfall change? These are important questions to answer, but they might be less important than questions about the non-human parts of the biosphere.

How will a given change in temperature affect the wildlife where you live? Some of that will be a matter of precipitation or heat tolerance – same as with humans – but some will be increased pressure from new species moving into areas that used to be too cold, or too wet for them to survive. The temperature change we’ve seen thus far has already been affecting ecosystems all over the planet. Figuring out what those changes are, and what, precisely, has been driving them, can help us understand what is likely to happen as the planet continues to warm.  These “proxy” measurements won’t tell us what temperature the planet is, but they will help us draw a connection between the heat we know has been trapped by rising greenhouse gas levels, and the changes we’re seeing on the ground. That’s how you begin to build a projection of “if CO2 levels rise to Xppm, it will probably have Y result”. We can’t see or feel the change in atmospheric gas levels, but we can see and feel follow-on results of that change.

Every time a research team runs a model to try to calculate how all these lines of data will interact, they tend to run a pretty wide set, allowing for different scenarios. The “worst-case” and “best-case” models bracket the most likely outcome, based on the data currently available, and the current understanding of those data. The problem here is that the current global changes are unlike anything that has ever happened in recorded history. Every year we enter new territory, which means that historical data are always going to be less reliable.

That’s why proxy measurements are so important. “Bio-indicators” like migrating birds and flowering plants give us insight into what climate change is doing right now to those species whose lives are most closely attuned to climate conditions.

Ice melt is another such proxy – it lets us see how fast energy is being absorbed and “spent” on converting solid water into liquid. Even if our historical data continues to point to the planet being on a “middle of the road” trajectory, if the ice is melting in line with a worse trajectory, then we need to check our numbers, and think hard about what’s headed our way.

Melting on the ice sheets has accelerated so much over the past three decades that it’s now in line with the worst-case climate warming scenarios outlined by scientists.

A total of 28 trillion metric tons of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017, according to a research paper published in The Cryosphere on Monday. The research team led by the University of Leeds in the U.K. was the first to carry out a global survey of global ice loss using satellite data.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” lead author Thomas Slater said in a statement. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.”

Ice melt from sheets and glaciers contributes to global warming and indirectly influences sea level rise, which in turn increases the risk of flooding in coastal communities. Earth’s northern and southern poles are warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. In 2020, a year of record heatArctic sea ice extent hovered around the lowest ever for most of the year.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s reasonable to feel badly about news like this. The world on which most of us were born no longer exists, and beyond finding ways to take direct action, I think we also need to be thinking hard about what human life on Earth looks like, and how it will have to change. Food production is one obvious area of focus, but so is basic habitation. Science fiction as a field has spent decades imagining how humanity might survive on a variety of alien planets. Temperature extremes, toxic atmospheres, hostile wildlife – a lot of it involves putting ourselves in a situation where, despite all of our advanced technology, we’re required to once again struggle for survival against a lethal and indifferent world. Keeping homes cool is already shifting from a matter of comfort to one of survival, and that change is likely to accelerate. Higher temperatures are going to mean more dangerous air pollution, even without things like increasing wildfires or even crematorium smoke as new diseases cause mass death.

I’ve believed for about a decade now that the planet is almost certainly going to keep warming for the rest of my life, even if I manage to have a very long life.

That melting ice released CO2 into the atmosphere. The thawing permafrost is doing the same. The tiny amount of warming we’ve already seen has been enough to cause measurable changes across the entire surface of this planet, and many of those changes are going to make the warming speed up, or at least continue even if humanity stops adding to the problem.

So, we need changes, not just to how we interact with our atmosphere, but also to how we conduct our lives day to day. The floating neighborhoods of The Netherlands are a good example of this – they know sea level rise is going to be an escalating problem, especially with so much of their population already living below sea level. They could have just responded by building up their dikes, or moving people to higher ground, and while those options are definitely still on the table, having residential areas designed to simply float up as the water rises is one way to literally stay on top of the problem.

This is one of the reasons I keep leaning on local organizing as a catch-all starting point for dealing with climate change and political problems (insofar as the two can be said to be separate). The lifestyle changes needed for the Netherlands will be useless in most of California. The changes needed for California won’t help people in Alaska. The changes needed in Alaska won’t help people in Vietnam. What changes are coming to where you live? Should you be thinking about how to deal with killer heat waves as a community, or is air pollution a more pressing issue? Has there been an increasing problem with flooding from the ocean? If so, should you be focusing on how to keep your homes dry, or on how to ensure that there’s safe food and water available when the flooding happens?

At best, we can be sure that the worst-case scenarios are still a very real possibility, and that means that regional differences – and regional organizing – are going to matter a whole lot more going forward.


This blog is currently my only source of income. If you’d like to support the work I do, feed my dog, or help offset the costs of our upcoming move, please head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia, and join the Oceanoxia collective. My patrons have kept my household fed and housed during this crazy year, and while I’ll continue looking for wage labor, I really like writing for you all, and would love to be able to continue dedicating most of my time to that endeavor. If you have the means and the desire to do so, please give according to your ability, that I might survive, according to my needs!

Comforting analysis of what Trump can or cannot do

I’m hoping most of you keep an eye on the Youtube channel Beau of the Fifth Column, but if you haven’t seen it, this video is worth a few minutes of your time. Over the next few years, I think we’re likely to get a trickle of revelations about the work the GOP did to dismantle the infrastructure of the US government, and of US democracy (such as it is), but fortunately, he wasn’t able to do enough damage to keep himself in power.

 

That said, It seems very likely to me that the GOP is going to continue its adherence to fascist ideology and tactics, and they will try this again. People sometimes like to play the “who was the worst president” game, and while cases can be made for various people, the reality is that no president exists in a vacuum. The actions of each are made possible by those that came before. Trump’s immigration policies built on what the Obama administration did. Trump and Obama both made use of the security apparatus that was developed under George W Bush, and so on. It’s possible that the institutions of the American government will be patched up enough that the next would-be dictator will have as much difficulty as Trump did – or more – but it is by no means guaranteed.

Regardless of what comes next, I hope it is becoming clear to everyone that the version of representative democracy with which we are familiar is a failure. We cannot delegate self-governance to “leaders” by voting every couple years, and trust them to act for the common good. We must learn how to take a more active role in how our country is governed, not just to get the changes we need with regard to climate change and economic justice, but also to hold on to the dream of democracy, and to work to bring it into reality.

Climate change, despair, and hope

I recently got a comment from a reader who was feeling pretty hopeless about our future under climate change. Whether you’re thinking about the ways that higher temperatures will hurt agriculture, the direct human impact of ever-worsening heat waves, mass migration from rising sea levels, or the oceanic collapse that seems to be the likely outcome of rising temperatures and acidity, it’s easy to feel like the future is just going to be endlessly escalating misery, leading to extinction. As this introduction may have indicated, I am not immune to those fears. I think there’s a degree to which despair is the most logical conclusion when faced with the scale of the problem; even more so when you consider the ways in which the global political and economic landscape seems almost designed to guide us to the worst of all possible futures. It’s the biggest problem ever faced by humanity, at a time when it feels like all the resources we need to respond to it are committed to stroking the egos of the ruling class.

I’ve mentioned before that the original purpose of this blog was to provide a bit of perspective on what the worst-case scenarios of climate change looked like. At the time, activists I interacted with were still mostly caught up in the idea that we could somehow prevent the climate from changing in any major way, and those not active on the issue seemed to think it was a problem that could be put off for a century or two. The problem with researching worst-case scenarios is that it’s easy to feel that it’s all hopeless. It also made it easy to see how, once denial became impossible, those who wanted to prevent a systemic response to the problem would switch from “it’s not happening” to “there’s nothing we can do about it”.

Denial and doubt are powerful demotivators, but I fear they’re downright harmless when compared to despair.

With all the focus on the myriad of ways in which our future was likely to be horrible, there were definitely times when it seemed like there was no way out. In trying to deal with that, I struck on a metaphor that still resonates with me. It’s not hard to spark fear, and cause people to run away from a threat. The problem is that the future is unfamiliar territory. If you start fleeing for your life, and you don’t know where you’re going, the odds of going the wrong way are pretty high. You might run into a dead end, or toward an even greater danger. If you have some prospect of safety, however, you can run with that in mind.

I don’t just want to tell people what they need to avoid, though we should never forget that aspect of the situation. I want people to have some notion that running away can lead to more than just surviving until we can’t run anymore. The future doesn’t have to be terror, misery and death, if we work now to build what we’ll need for safety, community, and joy.

We need to build something that has never been built before, and it’s hard to get people to join in an effort like that if they can’t see what that has to offer. As it stands, the choice is less between good or bad futures, and more between two unknowns. Even as more and more people become convinced that one path leads towards hell on earth, if the other path leads into darkness, it’s not hard to imagine that it could be worse.

And we have people whose full-time job is telling us about all the horrors that might lurk in that darkness. Now that a lot of folks have realized that the planet’s going to keep warming, probably for generations to come, it now seems like the dark path is not just unknown, it’s the unknown plus all the horrors of the path we can see more clearly.

So, if I want to help people take action on climate change, and work with me to build a better future, I can’t just tell them what we’re avoiding. Blind panic won’t do us any good – it’s just as likely to lead to people seeking out the “comfort” of totalitarianism. Maybe more likely. What we need is to convince people that a better future is within our reach – that something different is possible, and good. The future is, without question, going to be terrifying in a lot of ways. But there’s a very real possibility that it could be wonderful, if we’re able, as a species, to stop clinging to the past and commit ourselves to something better.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

  -Antoine de Saint Exupéry

It’s tempting to compare the emotional reaction to climate change with the challenges of coping with depression. When you’re suffering from depression, it’s a bit like being stuck in thick fog. Even if you know it’s not your fault that you’re there, and that there are other people there with you, you still can’t see anything but endless, formless gray. The difference is that because other people have found ways to treat depression, and overcome it, we can hear voices telling us that the fog isn’t endless. There’s a way out, and they can try to help us find it. It gives us something to work towards.

When a country faces a problem like America’s nightmarish healthcare system, we can look to other countries, and see how they’ve tackled similar problems. We can see that there are better ways to do it. We can talk to people who’ve experienced both systems, and hear about the differences. We have something concrete to work towards, and the knowledge that even if the general solution is the same – universal healthcare – we can do it in our own way, if that’s important. We can try to do what others have done, and to improve on it.

Climate change is global, and there’s nobody on the other side of it. We’re all in the fog together, some people have discovered that the water’s rising, and told us which way is likely to lead to higher ground, but nobody can really see it, or claim for certain that it’s there. Nobody’s been there, and some people seem convinced that the water’s not rising, the higher ground doesn’t exist, and if we go looking for it, we’ll fall off a cliff or get eaten by monsters hiding in the fog.

We need to organize all of humanity to do something that’s never been done before. While I think it’s important for me to write about climate science, it may be more important for me to take a more speculative approach. I have a vision – or a hundred visions – of what a better future could look like, and it’s my job to try to share that with other people, and work with them to sort through the myriad of possible futures, and to work towards those that seem best. It’s difficult to do, because I don’t know what the future will look like either, and it’s much easier to conjure an image that strikes the viewer as impossible than it is to conjure one that we can believe is within our reach.

I also want to do that without misleading anyone about the gravity of our situation, or the difficulty of the work ahead.

 “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned … I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

   -Antonio Gramsci

It’s common, in atheist circles, to point out that one cannot choose one’s beliefs. It’s not really possible to simply decide one day that you will begin to believe something. That said, I think it is possible for us to indoctrinate ourselves to some degree. That’s the truth behind the advice of “fake it till you make it” sometimes given to those who don’t believe but feel they should. If you’re surrounded by people who reinforce a certain belief, and you keep reinforcing it to yourself, you may come to actually believe it in time. This trait leaves us vulnerable to propaganda and malicious indoctrination campaigns, but it is also a tool that we should be able to make use of, not to mislead ourselves, but to convince ourselves of things that we may know to be true, without feeling to be true.

I’m not sure, but I think the version of this with which the most people are familiar is fear of the dark. For all the rational reasons behind it, there are times when that fear is, quite simply, not founded in reality. And so when forced to cope with darkness, many of us have resorted to reminding ourselves that there’s nothing to fear, or spinning narratives that cast the goblins of our imagination as incompetent, or having to follow strange, arbitrary rules that will provide us with safety if we step carefully.

Because darkness is something most people have to deal with from time to time, most of us learn to lose our fear of it, or to cope with that fear if it never goes away.

Similarly, I think there’s good evidence that we can not only survive climate change, but that we can build a world that allows us to thrive despite it. I do actually believe that, most of the time. The biggest obstacles are political, hence the frequency with which I write about politics. In this area, I think there’s also cause for both pessimism and optimism. Massive political changes have occurred throughout history, even against obstacles that seemed insurmountable.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

As hopeful as that quote is, it’s also worth remembering that most of the changes that can be compared to what’s needed today were not peaceful changes. Those who make the accumulation of wealth and power their life’s work are rarely willing to just give that up, and would rather destroy everything than lose their power over other people. That is dangerous, particularly in a world with so many tools and weapons available to the powerful. That said, their power still relies on the general population. I think overcoming global capitalism is necessary for humanity’s survival, and while that is a profoundly dangerous project, it is also entirely within our power. The fact that the capitalist class spends so much money convincing people that change is impossible, is an indication that they really do need to have most of the population either opposed to change, or unwilling to commit themselves to it. They’re willing to let go of some of their hoards to keep us passive, because they know that without our consent, they will not be able to keep those hoards.

That means that just as a better future is technologically possible, it is also politically possible. The question is figuring out how to make it happen. There’s a degree to which studying things like the labor movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the socialist and communist movements of the same era can provide us with many useful ideas, but the world has changed radically in the last few decades, and both the obstacles to change, and the available tools were unthinkable during those movements. There is no perfect formula that will solve the problem. While we need global change, we also need to accept that the exact form of that change is going to look different in different parts of the world. Humanity is too contrary and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach. That said, we’re also all the same species, and more similar than we often think.

One size won’t fit all, but a basic pattern can be adapted to suit a wide variety of needs. I don’t think any one person can design that pattern, so my approach has been an attempt to piece together an eternal work in progress from the efforts and expertise of others.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve moved from talking about the emotions surrounding climate change, to the kinds of work we need to be doing. There’s a reason for that. It’s a lot easier to feel like something is possible when you’re actively involved in working to make it happen. The problem is that for really big problems, we often don’t know where to even start, and it’s hard to see how the miniscule accomplishments of a single person, even working for an entire year, can make a difference. That’s the other aim of the direct action piece I just linked – while I believe that it can form at least part of the foundation for a global change, it’s also designed to provide the means for individual and community-level change. It helps me to know that if the grocery store runs out of food, I can feed my household for a while, as we figure out new sources. Even more, it helps me to know that I can help to feed my neighbors, so that we’re all able to work together toward solving that problem.

And I also know that I can convince others to accumulate a store of food for the same reasons, which further extends our ability to survive as a group. Focus on the things you can change personally, not because that’s enough, but because it puts you in a better position to tackle larger changes, and because it can connect you with others who are doing the same work. Do the work where you live, and I will do it where I live. Communicate with those around you. Communicate with those, like me, who live hundreds, or thousands of miles away. In the last few years I’ve helped people I will probably never meet, and been helped in turn. It gives me hope to see people contributing a little to the work I’m trying to do, not just because I like being able to make ends meet, but because it also means that they are doing well enough themselves that they’re able to do so. It gives me hope to know that there are people reading this blog in the US, and in Europe, and in Australia, and in other parts of the world, because that means that even with my tiny audience, there is a network of people who are at least thinking along similar lines, while they read these words. The problem is global in scale, but so is our ability to respond to it.

My direct action plan is not enough. Not nearly. But neither is it the only effort at dealing with the problem. My plan isn’t even “mine” – it is, itself, a collection of the efforts and thoughts of other people, in other parts of the world, who are almost certainly doing more than I am.

My “pessimism of the intellect” comes from a sober analysis of our circumstances. My “optimism of the will” comes from reminding myself, day after day, that there are people all over the world who are working on this problem, and who are helping others to do the same right now.

I would honestly be shocked if the planet didn’t continue warming for the rest of my life, but, self-indoctrination or no, I also believe that we can build lives worth living for an ever-expanding proportion of humanity as part of our effort to survive that warming.


This blog is currently my only source of income. If you’d like to support the work I do, feed my dog, or help offset the costs of our upcoming move, please head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia, and join the Oceanoxia collective. My patrons have kept my household fed and housed during this crazy year, and while I’ll continue looking for wage labor, I really like writing for you all, and would love to be able to continue dedicating most of my time to that endeavor. If you have the means and the desire to do so, please give according to your ability, that I might survive, according to my needs!

Some thoughts on the events of January 6th, 2021

This is a bit unstructured.

First off, I think this should be understood as an attempted coup. As with many other terms in history and politics, there’s not a single, universally accepted definition of what a “coup” is. Traditionally it’s a group of armed people taking power by killing, imprisoning, or exiling everyone who might contest their authority. Historically, things get a bit murkier. Coups tend to be illegitimate by definition, and so those involved in them generally try to find some way to claim that they are the legitimate rulers, and those who were ousted were illegitimate. This can play out a lot of ways. In the case of Bolsonaro’s rise to power in Brazil, it involved a bogus corruption charge against the most popular politician in the country that was used to imprison da Silva so he couldn’t even participate in the election. Over the 20th century, a lot of coups – almost entirely by right-wing groups – have had at least some support from the government of the United States. If you pay attention to global discourse on current events in the U.S., you’re likely to run into people pointing out that the U.S. seems to be in the process of doing to itself what it has done to so many other countries around the world.

I’ve seen some people saying this isn’t a coup attempt, because it wasn’t coordinated enough, or it wasn’t successful enough, or any of a number of other reasons. Obviously I don’t accept these lines of reasoning. Seemingly spontaneous “uprisings” have long been a part of power grabs, as the perception of having the support of the masses is generally a prime justification for any power grab. A recent example from U.S. history would be the “Brooks Brothers Riot” of 2000, that was instrumental in the efforts by the GOP to stop a recount from going ahead in Florida, thus circumventing the official procedures through a Supreme Court order, and putting George W. Bush in power. When it happened, the riot was cast as a spontaneous demonstration of outrage by Florida citizens. Later, it became clear that the participants were paid Republican operatives.

I think there were some things about Wednesday’s coup attempt that make it more difficult to categorize, especially given that the people who breached the capitol building didn’t seem to have any plan for what they should do if they did get inside. Once people got inside, it seemed to be mostly folks wandering aimlessly around the building, and stealing souvenirs.

That said, the whole event was planned ahead of time, and was kicked off by a rally held by Trump, and a speech in which he urged them to march on the capitol. It also took place in the context of a months-long effort to steal the 2020 election, in which Trump and the rest of the GOP seem to have tried everything they could think of, from interfering with the postal service, to calling up state officials and pushing them to “find” votes. Thus far, all those efforts seem to have failed, but the scatter-shot nature of the overall campaign means that Wednesday’s events fit very well indeed.

The other thing to keep in mind is how Trump went about instigating the assault. Throughout his time in office, Trump has shown himself to be an avid practitioner of what’s known as “stochastic terrorism“, sometimes also called “lone wolf” terrorism. For those who are unfamiliar, the basics of it are pretty simple – propaganda is used to encourage hate of the targeted group, and to escalate that hate as much as possible. “Stochastic” is a statistical term that describes the property of randomness. Stochastic terrorism is a tactic that relies on the probability that, within a given population, certain messages will drive one or more people to decide to take it upon themselves to commit violence.  The group in question is portrayed as not just bad, but actively dangerous, and each bit of propaganda comes with an added message: Somebody oughta do something.  Someone might just say that outright, or they might just imply it.

Like any tactic, it’s a tool that can be used by anyone, but it has long been a favorite of fascists and other right-wing extremists. The so-called “Pro-Life” movement has waged a decades-long campaign to either kill or drive into retirement abortion doctors and those that work with them. Calling them “baby-killers”, sharing graphic and shocking images that (generally falsely) claim to portray the results of abortions, and spreading rumors about how evil those involved are. This spurred on bombings and assassinations all across the United States. The white supremacist movement has used these tactics for far longer, relying on very old messaging about the evils and dangers of black people to make it easy to whip people into a frenzy. This results in very predictable violence that is always waved away as being “isolated incidents”.

Trump has leaned heavily on this tactic. It always comes with some level of plausible deniability, and it’s pretty easy for anyone with a platform and a knack for demagoguery to engage in. Bigoted, would-be mobster that he is, it’s an ideal tactic for Trump. His followers – especially the more violent among them – are pretty familiar with how this system works, and have paid close attention whenever he dragged his feet or outright refused to denounce the violence that his words seemed to call for.

It’s no surprise, then, that this tactic would come up in his efforts to hold on to power after losing the 2020 election. While I wasn’t sure what form it would take, I’ve been sure for a long time that there would be violence this January. Honestly, I think it’s likely there will be more to come. As with many things, I very much hope to be proven wrong about that.

All of that said, there may also have been some plans, if only half-formed, for what to do under cover of the chaos, should the opportunity arise. There may have been a hope that the danger to legislators would cause a delay in the Senate’s certification of Biden’s win. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Someone may have hoped for a chance to destroy the official electoral ballots, or to tamper with them in some other way. That didn’t happen either. Those who showed up with a large collection of zipties may have wanted to take hostages. That also didn’t happen:

Stochastic terrorism is a matter of playing the odds. It’s not guaranteed to cause violence, it’s just likely to. The violence that does occur isn’t guaranteed to have the desired effect on politics, but it’s likely to. In this case, the odds of this somehow keeping Trump in power were very, very low, but at this point I think anything above zero makes it worth trying, for Trump. His entire life seems to be made up of trying everything, and continuing what works. The vast wealth he inherited meant that this amoeba-like strategy never really cost him anything he couldn’t afford to lose.

All of that said, I think it’s also important to note that there may have been less obvious motives behind what happened, and there may have been objectives that were met.

I think these are worth considering, not just because of the concern over the activities of foreign agents, but also because of the damage various domestic entities could do with classified or confidential information, either in pursuit of profit, or in furthering any number of political goals.

And if nothing else, this breach is likely to hamper the activities of the Legislative Branch for months to come, just as Trump’s lame duck activities will interfere in the Biden Administration’s ability to get to work. At this point, Trump’s not playing chess or checkers, he’s playing 52-card pickup, and Biden is being left to clean up the mess.

While there’s a huge amount that Biden could and should do on day one (especially with the Democrats in control of the House and the Senate), there are numerous ways in which the events of January 6th could interfere in the affairs of the federal government, and could be used as an excuse for avoiding or delaying changes that the pro-corporate leadership of the Democratic Party simply don’t like. While it’s good that this latest effort to keep Trump in power was an abject failure, it has done real damage to the American government, and may have succeeded in ways we won’t know for a long time, if ever.


This blog is currently my only source of income. If you’d like to support the work I do, feed my dog, or help offset the costs of our upcoming move, please head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia, and join the Oceanoxia collective. My patrons have kept my household fed and housed during this crazy year, and while I’ll continue looking for wage labor, I really like writing for you all, and would love to be able to continue dedicating most of my time to that endeavor. If you have the means and the desire to do so, please give according to your ability, that I might survive, according to my needs!

Raksha gets a taste of winter to finish off 2020

One of the few downsides of moving to Glasgow has been that for all it’s farther north than I’ve ever lived before, there’s not much of a winter to speak of here. Last year I’m not sure we had more than two or three days in a row below freezing, and places that want that “white Christmas” feel generally have to rely on some kind of fake snow. The real stuff falls sometimes, but I’ve yet to see more than a centimeter or two, and it doesn’t stick. This winter has been a bit chillier, and a recent snowfall actually stuck around for a bit, at least where the weak winter sun had trouble reaching.

The thing is, Raksha The Perpetually Concerned is, among other things, part Husky. She suffers in hot weather, and absolutely loves the snow. In Boston, this meant she had a hard time during the summers, and in the winter, she would roll in the snow every chance she got. As spring approached, she’s start trying to roll in the gritty, gray piles left by the snowplows, after all the other snow had melted. It was a rather pathetic spectacle, but I was comforted, with the experience of many dog lifetimes, that the snow would return again in due course.

Scotland has been different. The summers are much cooler, and that has been wonderful, both for Raksha, and for myself. Tegan is… less happy with it, but she also appreciates not having the oppressive heat of a Boston summer. The lack of snow in the winter has been a little sad, for Raksha in particular, so it was nice to have the chance to get her out in a snowy field, even if the snow was a bit thin on the ground.

Image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs, walking away from the camera. She's at the edge of a snow-covered path, about to step onto some slightly snowy grass. It's sunny, but it's clear that the sun is pretty low in the sky, as the dog's shadow is long going off to the side.

Powder snow under her feet! It’s been ages since she’s felt this!

The image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs, and tan on her cheeks and eyebrows approaching the camera. She's walking on snowy grass, carefully placing one paw out in front of her before putting her weight on it. It's very sunny, and a bit cold looking. She seems unsure about things, but focused on walking over the unstable surface.

Tragedy! The grass and soil are frozen in a strange and crusty surface that crumbles underfoot. It LOOKS like snow, and it SMELLS like snow, but it feels strange and wrong. Romping is not an option, only nervous creeping over the unstable ground. It’s still very exciting though…

The image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs and cheeks looking off to the right of the camera. Her tail is wagging low behind her, and her ears are flopped down in an ingratiating manner. She's looking as fuzzy and harmless as she can make herself, in the hopes that the approaching person will pet her.

Excitement! While investigating the shade on the other side of the path, she noticed a PERSON! A person walking TOWARDS her! The months of isolation have been a bit difficult for an old dog accustomed to fairly regular house guests and interacting with strangers out and about. Maybe this is some welcome social contact? Better increase the odds by looking as fuzzy as possible!

The image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs and cheeks now facing to the left of the camera, watching the stranger leave. Her tail is slightly curled up, and not wagging anymore, and her ears are pointed toward the receding human, as if to catch any sound that might indicate an interest in her.

Disappointment! The stranger was not interested in petting the dog! He was on his way somewhere, and focused mostly on his prayer beads. Resigned, she watches him in case he changes his mind, but he does not.

The image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs, cheeks, and eyebrows., lying on the ground, her nose pointed to the left of the camera, and her ears pointed to the right. She's taking in her surroundings all at once.

Resignation. The stranger is gone, taking her hopes with him. She laid down on the ground with a groan, and sat there, sniffing the breeze and pointing her ears at noises happening around her. One of the advantages of having ears that big is that they move mostly independently from the rest of her head, so she can multitask in this manner. At least the snow feels good on her fur.

The image shows Raksha, a mid-sized black dog with tan legs and cheeks, a bit of white on her throat, and a white belly, rolling and flailing on her back, all four paws up in the air, and nose pressed against the snowy grass.

Snow! Snow snow snow, snow? Snow. Snow snow. Snow…. Snow!

The lack of human interaction was sad, but in the end she remembered that she had snow to roll in, and attended to that duty with gusto. It’s been a long year, and I think she’s had a harder time with isolation than I have, but the snow was a treat, even if the ground under it was less solid than she’d like. I don’t know what 2021 will bring. My household is being forced to move, due to visa problems, which is excitement that we could do without. That said, moving from Scotland to Ireland will be easier than the move from the U.S. to Scotland, I hope we can return here. This ugly apartment complex has honestly been a wonderful place to live, and cheaper than anything in Dublin is likely to be. On the other hand, life is all about the experiences one can have while living, and I’ve never been to Ireland, outside of the limbo of an airport between flights. Hopefully 2021 will be better than 2020.

Happy new year!


This blog is currently my only source of income. If you’d like to support the work I do, feed my dog, or help offset the costs of our upcoming move, please head over to patreon.com/oceanoxia, and join the Oceanoxia collective. My patrons have kept my household fed and housed during this crazy year, and while I’ll continue looking for wage labor, I really like writing for you all, and would love to be able to continue dedicating most of my time to that endeavor. If you have the means and the desire to do so, please give according to your ability, that I might survive, according to my needs!

A Martian Odyssey: The thrilling conclusion!

A couple weeks back, I posted my installment of our winter fundraiser‘s story chain. I owe an apology, both to my colleagues here, and to my readers, who have no doubt been eagerly awaiting the rest of the story. William Brinkman brought us the conclusion to our epic tale on December 13th, and I neglected to share it at the time!

If you haven’t seen it yet, then your long, cold wait is over – head over to the Bolingbrook Babbler for the finale, and may it carry you through to the New Year!