Can we classify capitalist exploiters as terrorists now?

There has been a terrible fire in London — flames raced up a residence tower, killing 6 and putting about 70 in the hospital. Normally, that would just be local news, but this fire has a horrifying twist: the management company has been receiving warnings from residents about poor fire safety for at least 4 years now. Residents were advised that if there were a fire, they should just sit quietly in their apartments and wait for the fire department to take care of it. Yeah, just sit quietly during this:

It’s the literal personification of the “This is fine” dog.

Really, the management company has been fully aware, and they’ve received incessant complaints, and their response has been to tell everyone to shut up. You can never trust a landlord — this is why we’re supposed to have laws that constrain capitalist excess.

I don’t know whether this is cause for optimism or despair

Doug Erwin argues that we’re not in the middle of a 6th mass extinction. It’s not because we haven’t decimated life on planet Earth; it’s because if we were, the catastrophe would be immense, and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“People who claim we’re in the sixth mass extinction don’t understand enough about mass extinctions to understand the logical flaw in their argument,” he said. “To a certain extent they’re claiming it as a way of frightening people into action, when in fact, if it’s actually true we’re in a sixth mass extinction, then there’s no point in conservation biology.”

This is because by the time a mass extinction starts, the world would already be over.

“So if we really are in the middle of a mass extinction,” I started, “it wouldn’t be a matter of saving tigers and elephants—”

“Right, you probably have to worry about saving coyotes and rats.

“It’s a network collapse problem,” he said. “Just like power grids. Network dynamics research has been getting a ton of money from DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. They’re all physicists studying it, who don’t care about power grids or ecosystems, they care about math. So the secret about power grids is that nobody actually knows how they work. And it’s exactly the same problem you have in ecosystems.

The good news is that we aren’t dead yet! The bad news is that when the end comes, it will be rapid and non-linear and unimaginably devastating. Just to put it in perspective, this is small potatoes compared to a real mass extinction:

For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

The oceans have endured a similar transformation in only the past few decades as the industrial might developed during World War II has been trained on the seas. Each year fishing trawlers plow an area of seafloor twice the size of the continental United States, obliterating the benthos. Gardens of corals and sponges hosting colorful sea life are reduced to furrowed, lifeless plains. What these trawlers have to show for all this destruction is the removal of up to 90 percent of all large ocean predators since 1950, including familiar staples of the dinner plate like cod, halibut, grouper, tuna, swordfish, marlin, and sharks. As just one slice of that devastation, 270,000 sharks are killed every single day, mostly for their tasteless fins, which end up as status symbol garnishes in the bowls of Chinese corporate power lunches. And today, even as fishing pressure is escalating, even as the number of fishing boats increases, even as industrial trawlers abandon their exhausted traditional fishing grounds to chase down ever more remote fish stocks with ever more sophisticated fish-finding technology, global fish catch is flatlining.

Related concept: error catastrophe. One of the properties of organisms and food webs is that they’re surprisingly robust — you can punch holes in them and take out pieces and they just keep going until suddenly, the network can’t compensate and the whole thing just collapses. We’re cheerfully battering whole ecosystems and cheerfully telling ourselves how tough and resilient the world is, and it’s true…until one last damaging blow causes an abrupt disintegration.

Oh, did I say I didn’t know whether to be optimistic or despairing? I lied. I know which one I feel most.

Are we not surprised?

No, we are not. Megyn Kelly left Fox News for good reason — no one of any political stripe deserves sexual harassment — but she was a perfect fit for that network. She became a star at Fox because she embodied the conservative ideals of people like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and everything was copacetic between them all on a political plane. Being a victimized women does not make her an ally or an admirable person. Ann Coulter is subject to some of the most scurrilous, rancid attacks by people on the left; that’s wrong, it makes me sympathize a little bit with her on a personal level, but she still holds hateful and odious views for which she should be spurned.

A lot of us were shocked that MSNBC, the so-called ‘liberal’ news network, offered Kelly a job, but I suppose we should recognize the reality that the news networks are unprincipled profit-making establishments that cannot be trusted to pursue truth over dollars. But now Kelly is following the instincts that served her well on Fox and is interviewing Sandy Hook ‘truther’ (about as contemptible a title as you can bestow on anyone), Alex Jones. And she has so little conscience that she could simultaneously promote Jones and host a benefit for the Sandy Hook families (she’s not now, fortunately).

So why are confirmed liars and phonies like Alex Jones and Megyn Kelly and other ghastly serial liars like Jeffrey Lord given a loudspeaker at every opportunity? Yet at the same time others, like Reza Aslan (whose show I despised for its insipid religious apologetics) get fired? How can people be upset at a performance of a Shakespeare play that has someone who looks like Donald Trump cast as Julius Caesar? That’s a serious promotion given to the president, and yes, Julius Caesar gets assassinated, but the whole point of the play is that the assassins get their due, and that murder is a violation of Republican principles.

I’ve come to the conclusion that free speech is an illusion in a world where power puts on the mask of liberty. It’s not free speech when it’s selectively denied and used solely as an excuse to justify hate and the expression of one set of values. It’s not free speech when Nazis think it means they get to slash people’s throats. It’s not free speech when it’s a club used to rationalize trampling on the rights of the oppressed by the privileged.

So I’m not at all surprised when a regressive toady like Megyn Kelly keeps bubbling up to the top. She’s part of the demographic that knows very well how to manipulate the concept of free speech to make lies a virtue.

An alternative history

Slacktivist buys a book — a somewhat surprising book nowadays. It’s a book on evangelical Christian ethics that has no problem with abortion.

In 1975 — two years after Roe — Zondervan Press published a book for white evangelicals in which Norman Geisler wrote: “Abortion is not murder, because the embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.” And nobody freaked out. Nobody even imagined freaking out. This was simply a restatement of what most white evangelicals believed — a belief that was widely held because it has the advantage of being true.

It’s still true, of course, but white evangelicals are no longer allowed to say so. That’s a huge change.

Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s that surprising. There were also Christian science textbooks from that era that thought evolution was a fine idea, and that the Earth is clearly billions of years old (there still are!). Just imagine an alternate history in which American Christianity hadn’t been derailed by anti-woman, anti-science derangement — it would have short-circuited a lot of the motivation behind the atheist movement, and might have produced a 21st century America in which the conservatives wouldn’t have been driven by a fanatical version of right-wing Christianity.

Unfortunately, nowadays “Christianity” and “rabid religious fanaticism” are in the process of an ongoing merger.

Not for entomophobes

The Star Tribune has an article on 5 nasty Minnesota bugs to watch out for this summer. It’s not particularly useful. Top of the list: ticks and mosquitos, as if you can live here without knowing that. People who visit Minnesota unprepared for ticks and mosquitos are exsanguinated and stripped of their flesh in mere minutes, and don’t have time to open the local newspaper. You should see the charnel pit at the airport, it’s a great tourist attraction.*

Other problems with the article: each of the Bad 5 are accompanied by a full-color closeup photo. Yeah, like the people who are worried about bugs will be able to read the text with mandibles and way too many eyes staring at them.

Also, one of their ‘villains’ is…the house centipede. Why? They even admit that they’re harmless.

Nasty factor: They’re not harmful, but they rank high on the “ick!” scale. “People get weirded out by them because they have the long legs and they move really fast,” Hahn said.

How to protect: You can easily squash them. Or just ignore them.

‘high on the “ick!” scale’ is not a legitimate reason to squash an innocent living creature. Why are they even listed here? I think maybe sensationalist ickiness was the primary criterion.

I could write a shorter version of the article. For pests like mosquitos, ticks, and flies, use DEET and protective clothing and don’t go strolling through tall grass. For wasps, leave them alone. For other insects and spiders, learn to appreciate their contributions to the ecosystem and stop squashing them with that stupid “ick” excuse.


*I’m lying about the charnel pit. Of course it’s not a tourist attraction, it smells terrible.

What about the memes?

This is more like what I’ve been expecting: an alt-right dorkwad tried to join a protest by a far right Christian militia, offering to share his posters with Pepe the Frog and Nazi symbols, and the Oathkeepers turned angry and vicious and chased him off. This is not comiccon, one said.

The alt-right trolls are a noisy presence on the internet, but everyone knows they’re superficial twits looking for lulz, rather than committed ideologues. Many of their precious memes — such as Nazi regalia, or flaunting gayness as a generic taunt to the mainstream, or advocating open fascism or sacrilegious behavior — are anathema to the conservative far right. I don’t support either side, and they can go ahead and put each other in chokeholds all they want, but I was expecting these kinds of conflicts to come up far more frequently.

I’m trying to imagine Milo Yiannopoulos addressing a group of Oathkeepers and the event not ending in bloodshed. It’s hard.