Contaminated eyedrops lead to blindness, death in United States

Several over-the-counter eyedrop products from Ezricare Artificial Tears, and possibly some other eyedrop brands have been contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria, causing eye infections across 12 states that have blinded several people, and killed one that we know of. The identification of the brand is from products that patients reported using. Ezricare was the most commonly used, but other brands have been mentioned. The CDC is currently only telling people to stop using Ezricare products. For those who might be effected, here’s what the CDC recommends:

Patients should stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears pending additional information and guidance from CDC and FDA. If patients were advised to use EzriCare Artificial Tears by their healthcare provider, they should follow up with their healthcare provider for recommendations about alternative treatment options.

Patients who have used EzriCare preservative-free artificial tears and who have signs or symptoms of an eye infection should seek medical care immediately. At this time, there is no recommendation for testing of patients who have used this product and who are not experiencing any signs or symptoms of infection.

Eye infection symptoms may include:

  • Yellow, green, or clear discharge from the eye
  • Eye pain or discomfort
  • Redness of the eye or eyelid
  • Feeling of something in your eye (foreign body sensation)
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision

This strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa appears to be new to the United States, and both the CDC and FDA are investigating to figure out what happened. As I’m writing this, all reports point to 55 cases across CA, CO, CT, FL, NJ, NM, NY, NV, TX, UT, WA, and WI, with five people suffering permanent vision loss, and one death. It’s likely that the outbreak is worse than that, given that this is an early report, so again – if you use products like this and you start experiencing symptoms, get help – this is not something you want to just wait and see if it goes away, and the more advanced the infection, the harder to treat or to reverse damage done.

The big scare here, of course, is that this bacterium is, in the words of the CDC, extensively drug-resistant. This is a problem that has been growing for a while now. Experts did try to sound alarms on the over-use of antibiotics, particularly in the United States, but for the most part, they seem to have been ignored. The good news, and this is why you should seek treatment, is that one particular antibiotic called cefiderocol does seem to work on this strain. While there are millions of drug-resistant infections every year, and thousands of deaths, this seems to be the first outbreak linked to a contaminated product. Obviously the corporation is insisting that the link isn’t definitive, but it seems highly likely that more concrete proof will come.

Spread the word, and take care of yourselves and each other.

Video: History of the Great Dismal Swamp

I’m feeling tired for reasons, so today I’m just sharing something I came across while working on my current novel. I think swamps are fascinating as ecosystems (I’m not sure there are any ecosystems that aren’t fascinating), but the Great Dismal Swamp is special for its role in American history. It was initially a stop on the Underground Railroad, where Black people escaping from slavery could use difficult, wet terrain to hide from their pursuers. Over time, some people decided that the difficulties of living in the swamp were preferable to the difficulties of living at the mercy of white society, and so they formed communities out there. There’s a lot that we still don’t know about them, but maybe we’ll learn more some day. As Eric Sheppard says in the video, while there aren’t written records of these communities, their descendants are still out there (Sheppard is one), and some of them may still have an oral history of their families. It’s easy to forget, with the internet at our fingertips, how much we still don’t know about even fairly recent human history.

How the government kills for Capital in the class war

So, there’s currently an “inflation crisis” in the U.S., as well as some other countries. The cost of necessities has been rising, which, of course, hurts those at the bottom far more than anyone else. This inflation was predicted, by conservative economists, as a result of the woefully inadequate COVID-related assistance people got. They’ve basically been saying, for years now, that if people at the bottom get even a little bit of a break, it’ll tank the economy, and look! Prices are rising! We have to do something! Let’s raise interest rates, which will, down the line, increase unemployment, thereby removing the harmful excess that’s causing this inflation! It’s like bleeding someone for a fever, you see.

Of course, conservative economists lie almost as much as cops, and they’re deliberately leaving out some of the context. See, prices have been increasing, but there’s no evidence that it’s because of increased demand, and even where supplies have been hurt, as with eggs, the price increase goes well beyond covering the costs. The reality is that prices have been rising because the capitalists who own everything decided they could get away with increasing prices, by blaming it on inflation.

In recent months, corporate bosses and top Federal Reserve officials have pointed to workers’ wages as a factor in surging prices, which have pushed overall inflation in the United States to a four-decade high.

But the AFL-CIO’s new report attempts to reframe the national inflation discussion, emphasizing that while wage increases won by ordinary workers are drawing outsized attention from policymakers and executives, CEO pay hikes significantly outpaced the wage increases of rank-and-file employees last year.

Titled “Greedflation,” the report shows that “in 2021, CEOs of S&P 500 companies received, on average, $18.3 million in total compensation.”

“CEO pay rose 18.2%, faster than the U.S. inflation rate of 7.1%,” the analysis finds. “In contrast, U.S. workers’ wages fell behind inflation, with worker wages rising only 4.7% in 2021. The average S&P 500 company’s CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 324-to-1.”

The highest-paid executive among S&P 500 companies last year was Expedia’s Peter Kern, who brought in an eye-popping $296 million in total compensation.

Other executives at the top of the 2021 list were Amazon CEO Andy Jassy ($213 million), Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger ($179 million), Apple CEO Tim Cook ($99 million), and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon ($84 million).

“Runaway CEO pay is a symptom of greedflation–when companies increase prices to boost corporate profits and create windfall payouts for corporate CEOs,” the new analysis states.

During a conference call outlining the report’s findings, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond said that “when you look at those numbers and at CEOs trying to blame workers for inflation, it just doesn’t add up.”

In his remarks during an earnings call earlier this year, for instance, Amazon’s chief financial officer attributed inflationary pressures felt within the company during the final quarter of 2021 to “wage increases and incentives in our operations.”

But Redmond pointed out that “last year, Amazon delivered the highest CEO-to-worker pay ratio in the S&P 500 Index with a pay ratio of 6,474 to 1.”

“Amazon’s new CEO Andy Jassy received $212.7 million in total compensation,” he noted. “What did Amazon’s median worker earn last year? Just $32,855… Corporate profits and runaway CEO pay are responsible for causing inflation, not workers’ wages.”

I mentioned earlier that increasing interest rates are designed to increase unemployment, and I wasn’t making that up. As I’ve said before, Larry Summers has been openly calling for higher unemployment to “fight inflation”. This is what people mean when they say that poverty is a policy choice. It couldn’t be more obvious that the scarcity faced by the world’s poor is manufactured by the world’s rich, because that’s how they get so rich – by taking as much from other people as they possibly can, with no regard for the harm done.

Sometimes, you’ll encounter a misguided soul who insists that its in the best interests of the bosses for their workers to be healthy and happy. There’s a grain of truth to that, but the reality is that if workers have a better life, they also have the time and energy to learn new things, and to organize. Money is power, in a capitalist society, and those at the top do not want you to have power. They will give you enough to survive on, but only if you give them far, far more through your labor.

And then, of course, when you go to buy food, or pay rent, or pay for power, or anything else, you’re giving that money right back to the ruling class, because they own everything.

Once upon a time, there was something called a company store. The basic premise was brutally simple – since normal people had to work to survive, the owning class could pretty much set the terms. They’d pay workers in company credit, that could only be spent at the company store. The modern equivalent would be for Amazon workers to be paid with Amazon gift cards, that were only redeemable for Amazon products. You work all day in a warehouse, or driving a delivery vehicle, and then your only way to get food, clothes, medicine, or anything else would be to buy the options that Amazon tells you you can buy, at a price set by Amazon.

The only problem, from the boss’s point of view, is that that was made illegal in 1938, after decades of struggle and death by workers. The solution, as I see it, was to expand their control of everything else in the country. Think of it like the rental market – if you can’t afford to buy (and who can, these days?), then your only real option is to rent. This means that while you don’t have to rent from any particular landlord, you do have to rent from one of them. As a class, they literally own all options, and as a class, they use the money that you pay them every month to increasingly rig the game in their favor.

I think something similar has been happening to the U.S. as a whole. You might get real money as a paycheck, but what options do you really have when it comes to spending it, if all the owners are raising their prices, because they feel like it? To quote Stupendium’s Outer Worlds song, “we earn what we’re allowed, and give it right back at the bar.” I’m not saying their ownership is total. It’s not. There are small community supported agriculture (CSA) setups, like the one that provided a lot of my food when I was growing up, and other efforts to reclaim or defend bits of our lives from the all-consuming greed of the wealthy, but they’re not enough. They’re not changing our direction or momentum, and they’re simply not available to an awful lot of people.

Things like that are most available to the so-called Middle Class – people who make their living by selling labor, but are paid enough to own their own homes, and take advantage of the savings and stability of that to build community and the beginnings of community-owned production. For people who rent, and who are forever moving in search of a more affordable home or better pay, it can be hard to do that. .

CSAs are, however, a seed. If you read The Shock Doctrine, which you should (the audiobook is free), you’ll learn about the neoliberal strategy of working to ensure that certain ideas are kept “lying around”, so that they’re right to hand when there’s some sort of crisis that will allow you to do things that might otherwise meet resistance. They may have weaponized that tactic to create a century of war and injustice, but it’s a tool like any other, and it’s one that we can also use. CSAs are one such idea. They’re not “competitive” in the sense of capitalist economics, but they represent a viable model of agriculture that could be subsidized and expanded, should we get the chance to do that. The same is true of the ideas in permaculture and other managed ecosystem models. The same is true of unions and union governance, and of protest tactics, and of mutual aid, and so much else. By keeping those ideas around, we create the opportunity to expand them down the line.

It’s far more than that, though. I think all of those things are also projects that we (some of us more than others) can be working on specifically because all of them increase our power. If you get all your vegetables from a local farm that’s funded by you and others like you, then you will be insulated – at least a little – from the whims of the aristocracy. The same is true if you and your fellow workers are organized enough to take collective action in defense of your rights.

And that’s why I think that while the extra money is something that capitalists will always take, the real incentive behind the price hike is to hurt workers. This isn’t just sadism, though it would honestly surprise me if there wasn’t an element of that involved, but rather a calculated effort to increase poverty and desperation, so that workers will take whatever jobs they can get. More than that, when workers are living right on the edge of eviction and starvation, they literally don’t have the material resources to survive something like a sustained strike. See, a strong and healthy working class is the thing that they most fear, so they reaches their hand for the watering can, and they waters the workers’ beer.

More specifically, they’re leaning on the Fed to deliberately hurt the working class, so that workers don’t have the power to demand things like enough money to live on, or safe working conditions.

As the Federal Reserve kicked off its first policy meeting of the new year on Tuesday, economists and progressive advocates reiterated their now-familiar call for the central bank to stop raising interest rates amid growing evidence that hiring, wage growth, and inflation are slowing significantly.

“Pushing millions of people out of work is not the answer to tackling inflation,” Rakeen Mabud, chief economist at the Groundwork Collaborative, said in a statement. “Additional rate hikes could jeopardize our strong labor market—and low-wage workers and Black and brown workers would suffer the biggest economic consequences.”

“There’s a clear path forward to avoiding a devastating and completely avoidable recession: Chair Powell and the Fed should stop raising interest rates,” Mabud added.

The latest push for an end to interest rate increases came as fresh data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Tuesday showed that wage growth continued to cool at the tail-end of 2022, an outcome that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has explicitly been aiming for even as experts have rejected the notion that wages are responsible for current inflation levels.

According to the BLS Employment Cost Index (ECI)—a measure watched closely by Fed policymakers—wage growth climbed just 1% in the final three months of 2022 compared to the previous quarter, a slower pace than analysts expected.

“The Fed has lost its excuse for a recession,” Mike Konczal, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, tweeted in response to the new BLS figures. “Over the last three months, inflation has come down exactly as a soft landing would predict, wage growth didn’t persist but moderated with the reopening to solidly high levels within late 1990s ranges, and the economy added 750,000 new jobs.”

Though Powell has insisted that Fed decision-making will be driven by economic data, he made clear last month that the nation’s central bankers don’t think inflation has slowed enough to justify a rate-hike pause or reversal, brushing aside the recessionary risks of more monetary tightening.

On Wednesday, the Fed is widely expected to institute a 25-basis-point rate increase followed by another of the same size at its March meeting, bringing the total number of rate hikes to nine since early 2022.

Even the central bank’s own models predict a sharp increase in the unemployment rate—and potentially millions of lost jobs—if Fed policymakers drive interest rates up to their desired range of between 5% and 5.25%.

Recent layoffs across the tech industry as well as data signaling a hiring deceleration have also intensified fears of a Fed-induced economic crisis.

“The Fed has every reason to halt further job-killing interest rate hikes as key indicators show inflation is slowing while the economic recovery remains fragile,” said Liz Zelnick, director of the Economic Security and Corporate Power program at Accountable.US. “Too many hard-working families have everything to lose if the Fed stays the course with higher rates that only push the economy closer to a recession.”

“Repeated interest rate hikes have done little to curb corporate greed that even Fed economists admit is what’s really driving high costs on everything from groceries to gas,” Zelnick continued. “The Fed faces a choice: back down and let policy and lawmakers continue to take impactful steps to rein in corporate profiteering—or keep needlessly threatening jobs and an economic downturn with further rate hikes.”

Remember – under capitalism, capitalists hold all the cards. This is why there’s no real effort to deal with the student debt crisis. It’s why there’s no real effort to make wages meet the cost of living. It’s why there’s active opposition to universal healthcare, even from self-proclaimed “progressives” in the Democratic Party. The government serves the aristocracy first, and that means doing what they must in order to keep the workers in line. A direct crackdown is bad optics, and tends to bring others to the cause, so instead they do things like forcing a deal to make a particular strike illegal, or ignoring blatant price gouging to instead “fight inflation” by deliberately increasing unemployment. 

Do you understand what that means? The official policy of this government, that supposedly represents the people, is deliberately choosing to kill people, in order to weaken the ability of the working class to make demands of their bosses. I am not exaggerating.

In the largest study of its kind on mortality patterns in Europe and the United States, a Yale researcher has found a direct correlation between unemployment and mortality.

The study showed that high unemployment rates increase mortality and low unemployment decreases mortality and increases the sense of well being in a community. Findings from the three-year study, commissioned by the European Union, will be presented to select members of the European Parliament and senior officials at a European Commission press conference on May 23 in Brussels.

Economic growth is the single most important factor relating to length of life,” said principal investigator M. Harvey Brenner, visiting professor in the Global Health Division of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. Brenner is also professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University and senior professor of epidemiology at Berlin University of Technology.

Employment is the essential element of social status and it establishes a person as a contributing member of society and also has very important implications for self-esteem,” said Brenner. “When that is taken away, people become susceptible to depression, cardiovascular disease, AIDS and many other illnesses that increase mortality.”

Prior studies on the impact of income on survival have focused on very poor countries with high poverty and infant mortality rates. This study shows that the same principles apply to highly industrialized and wealthy societies in which occupational differences based on skill level, wages and working conditions vary considerably. Brenner said this is compounded by ethnicity, and it is this distinction which still makes for the central differences in illness, mortality rates and life expectancy in industrialized countries.

This study raises the issue to a national level-a government policy setting level,” said Brenner. “The main findings illustrate trends in mortality in Europe and North America based on economic growth and employment rates. The lower the employment rate, the more damaging, and full employment equals lower mortality rates.”

And that study doesn’t even touch on the fact that if you raise unemployment, you are going to force more people out of stable housing, and being unhoused is terrible for your health, and, of course, increases mortality.

Instead of gunning down striking workers and their families, they just adjust the economy “to fight inflation”, condemn people for being lazy, and brutalize the “undeserving poor” as a warning to everyone else. Behave and take what you’re given, or you’ll end up on the street, and spend the rest of your life in constant danger, having your belongings stolen, and being told that your plight is your own fault for being a bad person.

Still, as I said earlier, we have ways to build power that, while slow, are very difficult to stop, and are likely to improve our day to day lives in the short term as we continue working on them. That’s the good news in all of this. When I talk about “building collective power”, it’s not just about forcing the change that we need, it’s about literally making that change as we go. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that we’re guaranteed to win, but it’s a way for us to take back another thing that capitalism has stolen from us – unalienated labor. Work that’s done for our benefit and satisfaction, rather than the enrichment of an overlord. It’s a way for us to begin to take back our freedom.

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

Greenpeace occupies Shell oil rig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes I’m sure Shell really cares about safety.

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

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

Musk Personally Suspended the Account of Left-Wing Journalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A video and some thoughts on police reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And because power attracts those who would abuse it.

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

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

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

Common levels of traffic pollution impair human brain function.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filtration Friday: Kelp farms reduce water pollution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massachusetts lawmakers propose prison organ-harvesting scheme

What would you give for your life?

What would you give for your freedom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip to @NoCopsNoMasters for putting me onto this.