Links of the Month: March 2021

And when everyone’s racing and you join in
If you can, try running with a smile
Because there is a danger in going too fast
Getting too far ahead can set you back
— Ellis Delaney, Right on Time


image from pixabay/pexels CC0

No shame in that: I’ve had the good fortune to have met some of the extraordinary scientists, historians, and students of our culture who have, together, convinced me beyond doubt that our civilization is in its last century. I could fill these monthly links with reports that make the case convincingly, at least for those inclined to believe the truth no matter how dark. But, as I’ve come to accept that we believe only what we want to believe, and the truth be damned, I’m not really inclined to keep making the case any further.

What I am concerned about is the overwhelming sense of despair, grief, anger, and even shame that so many of these remarkable and prescient people have withdrawn into in their later years. Some have become angry, bitter and dismissive, and others have just stopped writing and speaking and just become silent.

Unlike them, my angry, grief-filled years were in my youth, and, as I age, I have become more and more a believer that “we are all doing our best”, and that there is no point in getting distraught just because that has not turned out to be enough to prevent our civilization’s looming global collapse, and with it, climate and ecological collapse on a scale not seen in millions of years.

I am a bit of a newcomer to discovering the essence of shame. The more renowned one becomes for one’s expertise, it seems, the greater the sense of anguish, fury, and shame at one’s inability to use that knowledge and power to make things better. There seems to be a sense that one has failed the flock, let everyone down. It’s as if, metaphorically, after raising the alarm about the fire and getting everyone roused from sleep, it turns out everyone is trapped, the stairwells are impassible, and it is likely all will perish in the fire anyway. (This isn’t true just of environmentalists, by the way; I have seen this same sense of outsized shame from highly-esteemed people in many walks of life who have identified, but been unable to solve, their disciplines’ greatest challenges).

I am only amazed that I didn’t understand this before now. I suppose, as a generalist modestly knowledgeable about many things but renowned for none, I haven’t had to deal with that kind of ‘professional’ shame. But I think it’s tragic. It took me a half-century of writing to understand that, as much as it is expected and hoped for, there is absolutely no obligation for the writer articulating a problem to conclude with practical solutions to it. Sometimes it makes more sense to ask a profound question, and leave it unanswered, than to proffer some half-baked answers to it. In the same way, it may often make more sense to calmly provide evidence and argument that the situation is dire, and leave it at that. There doesn’t have to be an answer.

So this is my short thank you to those who have opened others’ eyes to the terrible knowledge of our current, insoluble predicaments. You are not to blame, not at fault, not responsible for not having solutions to problems that have none. Nor are you responsible for not telling us sooner, or louder, or more convincingly. You’ve done enough, already. Take a bow.

(PS Thanks too, to the NTHELove group. Just ’cause you get all this.)


drawing by James Norbury (thanks to Tom Atlee & Tree Bressen for the link)

Tell me how the story ends: If you read nothing else this month, please treat yourself to Ann Patchett’s staggeringly brilliant story about how to tell a story. It’s incredibly long, and it will take your breath away. And change how you think about the art of writing.

What we don’t need: Another new story by Ann Patchett examines our incapacity to give up stuff we don’t need. The stuff that somehow “represents both the person we wanted to be and the person we are”.

Understanding trauma: The astonishing map in this article explains how chronic terror, oppression and trauma affects us. It’s written to understand how these things affect white Ashkenazy Jews in the US, but with a little word tinkering describes how I think members of nearly all oppressed and traumatized groups compensate to try to protect themselves (the black circles) and the beliefs and actions that are driven by these internalized compensations (the branches). I was especially struck by how so many of the women I know, across the spectrum, manifest these compensations and resultant internalized beliefs and behaviours. Aha! Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Replacing police with social workers: Another example, this time in Colorado, of the remarkable success that can come from deploying social workers equipped with compassion, skills and resources, instead of cops equipped with military equipment. The Colorado program builds on Eugene Oregon’s model CAHOOTS program.

No turning the clocks back, please: A majority in every country, and a majority of elected officials of both US parties, want to end the annoying and useless process of turning clocks back an hour every fall. But still, three years after this became clear, there is still no sign that the people’s wishes will be listened to, even for something so simple to implement. This is what dysfunctional government looks like.


cartoon by Sofia Warren

An unusually high percentage of this month’s political links are from Canada. No idea why. A Canadian flag (🇨🇦) denotes them. There are similar things happening in much of the rest of the world, I’m sure.

Cryptoart and NFT’s are a “crime against humanity”: The latest fad in Ponzi scheme “free market” speculative vehicles is ruinously wasteful of precious energy and produces a scandalous amount of carbon emissions to “establish its value”. These “products” are valued in cryptocurrencies, everyone’s favourite gambling craze, whose value depends on how much energy they waste. The next piece of cryptoart should be a depiction of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. The auction houses are rubbing their hands together with glee.

(🇨🇦) The cost of BC’s unsafe Site C dam doubles to $16B: And the premier doubles down continuing to support it. Madness. And the official opposition supports it too.

(🇨🇦) Canadian farmers spike butter with cheap GMO palm oil: It was chefs complaining about butter that didn’t melt that blew the whistle on the latest Big Ag scam.

(🇨🇦) Kielburgers refuse parliamentary order to testify: The darlings of the US charity circuit (long supported by the Clintons as models of fund-raising skill) have refused to respond to a Canadian demand to appear in front of a parliamentary committee to explain why they’re, at best, playing fast and loose with disclosure about where the money they’ve raised in Canada, some of it in preferential projects where the Canadian PM avoided normal bidding practices to give it to them, actually went. Worst case is much worse. It seems that no one told them that when you “do business” in Canada, you can’t “plead the fifth”, or obtain immunity from prosecution before testifying.

Nevada Democratic Party staff quit when socialists prevail: When a slate of “Democratic Socialists” won positions on the board of the state party, the staff all quit. Ooh, can’t have real socialists in our party! Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

(🇨🇦) Canada’s Competition Bureau allows fraudulent newspaper “swap”: A barefaced deal to allow two huge Canadian newspaper chains to “swap” three dozen “unprofitable” newspapers and then immediately shut them down, was knowingly allowed by the Competition Bureau, on the basis the “onus of proof” of fraud and conspiracy was too high. Given the now-public evidence, this basically shows the Bureau can’t do anything to regulate even the most heinous anti-combines activities.

(🇨🇦) Canadian pioneer of rights for the elderly dies through MAID: Donald Bayne, who was railing against the disgraceful conditions in many of Canada’s senior care facilities, and who fought for the right of those facing dementia to medical assistance in dying right up to his own death, had terminal cancer, and received medical assistance in dying from his doctor, two weeks ago. He was 98.

The abusive narcissist next door: Caitlin Johnstone continues to call the war-mongering Biden administration to account for its atrocities at home and abroad. Where is the progressive press? And how lame to claim the recent bombing of Syria is “self-defence”.

(🇨🇦) The danger of abusers in competitive youth sports: Mentally ill people disposed to abuse young people are easily drawn into high-pressure youth sports, where they can wield power and influence over victims. The news is depressingly full of these situations, notably in skating events, gymnastics and swimming. Now it’s clear hockey is vulnerable to the same types of serial abusers, and there are few safeguards to prevent or catch repeat offenders.

(🇨🇦) A strange scandal in a Canadian mental health organization: Another CBC investigation has revealed that the National Collaboration for Youth Mental Health (NCYMH) is run by a woman who apparently uses multiple pseudonyms to skirt around a history of criminal offences, a designation as a “vexatious litigant”, and a disturbing record of staff resignations, with some alleging being threatened or subject to smear campaigns. It’s tragic when our most vulnerable find they cannot trust the very organizations established to protect them.

(🇨🇦) And the death toll from street drug poisonings in BC keeps soaring as the government sits on its hands: Six months after promising reforms to deal with deadly toxins in street drugs that kill far more people than CoVid-19, it’s still all talk and study and no action. When the provincial public health leader has clearly laid out the simple steps that are needed, this is inexcusable.

(🇨🇦) A special note of gratefulness to Canada’s CBC and BC’s Tyee for better-than-world-class investigative reporting. So proud to have these remarkable media organizations here stirring up shit when it needs to be stirred up. More please!


There is a growing sense that the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of CoVid-19, far from being simply a function of age, might vary by country by as much as a factor of 10, within each age cohort, based on citizens’ diets and the health of their immune systems. Obesity, as a surrogate for immune dysfunction, correlates very strongly with CoVid-19 mortality.

Watch out for P.1: The big news about CoVid-19 this month is the ghastly toll of the Brasilian P.1 variant, which is reinfecting large segments of people who got the original disease in Brasil last year, and may be even infecting those who have been vaccinated. It’s completely out of control in Brasil now, infecting a much younger cohort, and thanks to the country’s incompetent government there is nothing to prevent it spreading to the rest of the world.

How high will the 3rd wave be?: The latest data from Europe and the Americas suggests that (1) variants with higher transmissibility are quickly taking over from the original virus as the source of most new infections, and (2) the rate of infections, having reached a relatively low plateau in February (but still much higher than the July-August plateau), is now moving significantly higher again. Some are suggesting the 3rd wave will be higher than the 2nd, especially in areas with high obesity rates, while IHME is predicting no 3rd wave at all. My guess is the answer will be somewhere in between, depending on how prevalent the P.1 variant becomes and how quickly effective vaccines and boosters against it are implemented. Hold onto your hat. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

When it’s your turn, take any vaccine offered to you, please: Zeynep Tüfekçi explains why the vaccines, at least in their ability to deal with the original virus and the B-type variants, are actually a lot more effective than the 95% and other “efficacy rates” quoted in studies would suggest, since they only measure the success at preventing any measurable degree of infection. They appear to be much more than 95% effective at preventing deaths, hospitalizations, and serious infections.

Do antivirals trigger new dangerous variants?: Zeynep also writes about the connection between very expensive antivirals like ramdesivir and the emergence of new virulent strains of viruses like CoVid-19. It only makes sense that very ill (and very rich) patients treated with such antivirals would be the perfect breeding ground for rapid evolution of viruses, perhaps even triggering whole new pandemics immune to our vaccines and with entirely new qualities putting us right back at square one. Just as overuse of antibiotics encourages resistant and deadly strains of bacteria, so too with antivirals.


from xkcd, of course

Why email is not the right tool for anything: We use email because it’s simple and ubiquitous. But it’s suboptimal for everything we try to do with it. “It creates a tortuous cycle that increases the amount of work on our plate while simultaneously thwarting, through constant distraction, our ability to accomplish it effectively. We’re also, it turns out, really bad at communicating clearly through a purely written medium—all kinds of nuances are lost, especially sarcasm, which leads to frustrating misunderstandings and confused exchanges. But lurking beneath these surface depredations is a more fundamental concern. The sheer volume of communication generated by modern professional e-mail directly conflicts with our ancient social circuits. We’re miserable, in other words, because we’ve accidentally deployed a literally inhumane way to collaborate.”

How goats make up their minds: A study suggests it’s not about following the alphas, but rather democratic and emergent. We might want to try that.

The month’s best Beaverton headlines: The Canadian equivalent to The Onion is on a roll:

    • Headline: Canada approves another vaccine that you won’t get for like six months
    • Headline: Trudeau pledges to vaccinate at least eight more people by end of September
    • Headline: Ontario scrambling after discovering vaccines need to be actually administered to population
    • Headline: Trudeau clarifies that Saudi Arabia isn’t an ally, just an acquaintance we sell a fuckton of weapons to

Birdcams: The best of 2020: A short video captures some amazing moments.

Canada’s national anthem was plagiarized: Good thing Mozart isn’t around to file suit.

It’s all just a performance: A strange and funny rant by Hank Green reveals that we’re all just making it up as we go along.


drawing by James Norbury 

Our minds predict our reality: Cognitive scientist Anil Seth describes how and why we invented our selves. It was with the best of intentions! Also from Anil, an award-winning post reveals that the world we perceive comes from the inside-out.

Best radical non-duality talks of the month:

A reprise from 2016

Somali-Australian-British-American poet Warsan Shire

“Home”, by Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body.
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
mean something more than a journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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3 Responses to Links of the Month: March 2021

  1. Philip says:

    Its a mental challenge not finding real hope and change in the society around you. Action is consolatory. Its a journey in so many individual ways and a emotional roller coaster to not actually identify with the emotions. There is still joy and love within a predicament – lets help each other to find the balance.
    P.269 doubters companion- JR Saul. Solutions. “An absolutist abstraction which may make more sense in math than everyday life. A more modest view might be that problems are are made more bearable if treated as part of a larger phenomenon which has slipped out of balance. Like most absolute abstractions, the conviction that problems can be solved has a religious reverberation. It is as if solution has been mistaken for salvation.”

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Philip. I agree, and I think that is why it is best to focus one’s actions on local issues, where the consolation from action is more obvious and immediate. At least that is where my conditioning seems to be taking me.

  3. Chris Corrigan says:

    Thanks Dave, for curating this glorious reading list, month after month.

Comments are closed.