UCSF Chemical Industry Documents

A couple weeks ago, UCSF launched our newest collection of industry documents. The UCSF Industry Documents archive is a repository of almost one hundred million pages of previously secret industry documents now searchable for the public due to discovery and legal mandate.

These documents give unparalleled insight into how the world’s largest and arguably most harmful corporations operate. By reading how these industries regard their own practices, the public, academics, and policy-makers can be more realistic in assessing the rhetoric and claims of toxic industries.

These documents also point to how industries have worked closely with government organizations to cover up bad science and mislead the public. These documents show the important steps that must be taken to restore the credibility of scientific research in the public eye.

 

Whither the Relevance of Print Media?

The great American newspapers have shot themselves in the foot. In the race against online media and decentralized user-based content, when they haven’t been bought up by conglomerates with the intention to destroy them or use them as organs of ideology, newspapers have repeatedly cranked up the sensationalism, obscured good reporting with blaring ads, and made themselves irrelevant.

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The San Francisco Chronicle, our stalwart liberal rag of the Bay Area, regularly obscures its first page with these cover-up inserts that blot out half of the cover with some strident mock-serious ad. While of course they are doing this (1) to obscure the content so people have to buy the paper to read the front page, and moreover, (2) for much-needed revenue, this is a losing proposition. In an era where content is given away for free in order to produce a sale—the shrewd notion of free tasters to lure in the curious, obscuring your headlines deaden curiosity by the miserly action of deliberately obscuring the little free content newspapers show on the upper half of the first page.

 

Revenue can be had through special offers and tie-ins with exclusive companies. Exclusivity should go hand-in-hand with exquisite reporting. Truly unique newspapers, which provide novel rather than recycled content, have thick social capital that they can draw on for higher ad prices, for special offers with honored establishments, affiliate programs, and other arbiters of power. This, rather than sales, is really the primary income stream. But the moment that quality goes down, that uniqueness becomes a liability rather than a treasure, and conformity to the sterile standards of NewsCorp reigns, newspapers become desperate enterprises. They scramble in shambles to keep up the facade of sophistication while serving up only fluff—and still are bemused at dwindling readerships and relevance. Relevance is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Investigative journalism, thoughtful, unorthodox yet principled reporting, and the courage to take stands on controversial issues for the sake of the polity define and build the reputation of news businesses.

 

Diversity in news reporting is needed now more than ever. The dilution of debate to shrill assertions of opinion, often attached with ad hominum uncivil behavior has overwhelmed the 4th estate as fake news. Like the replacement of fact with self-interested, self-promoting fiction (oleaginously patinated as “alternative facts”) has become a major force in monopoly-controlled news companies. The notion of the “free press” even sounds quaint in 2018. While some online groups like Civil aim to harness the trust-embedded authentication of blockchain to develop a new form of press, at best, one has to choose and pick from the grey literature amongst the deluge of SEO (search engine optimized) websites that pay and play to have higher Google rankings. Thus, whatever real journalism that exists, in our quixotic market economy, gets buried at the bottom; while the froth and disinformation rises to the top (in part, because it is financially interested to a magnitude that real journalism never has been and never could be).

 

So, to remake themselves, brick-and-mortar news agencies producing physical (and electronic) products, must lean in to Cory Doctorow’s adage that “Information doesn’t want to be free. People do.” This means giving people the best news agencies have to offer, for free, if possible, with longer, more detailed versions available for purchase (or for favors, such as re-posting, affiliate programs, etc.). Countless creative win-win concepts exist for the flagging newspaper business—if only they take the moral, political, and economic high-ground and learn to adapt rather resist our strange new information environment.

The Elon Musk of E-waste

My new article, “Is This Man the Elon Musk of E-Waste?” in my favorite popular science online magazine Nautilus, describes the Right to Repair movement, and the necessity to move from a linear manufacturing process built on planned and perceived obsolescence to a circular economy.

If we are to combat the 99 billion pounds of e-waste produced per year, ending up incinerated, in lakes and rivers, and trashing our communities and the lives of future generations, we’re going to need to mandate manufactures of electronics such as Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, IBM, Dell, and all the other major players, to engineer products that can DIY be taken apart, repaired, and built to last.

My interview with Eric Lundgren, his last before he was sent to prison for creating 28,000 Microsoft Windows restore CDs meant for refurbishing computers that otherwise would end up as e-waste, describes the necessity for financial mechanisms to incentivize companies and consumers to place e-waste back into an (dis)assembly line of reuse, reduce, recycle.

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Lundgren has championed the right for electronics to be repaired rather than tossed by staging high-profile recycling demonstrations including his Guinness Book of World Records farthest driving on a single charge electric car (999 miles with 90% recycled materials including recycled hybrid batteries) and his flagship solar-powered e-waste recycling factory.

I appreciate the comment on the article made by Ryan Shaw, who wrote:

Mr. Lundgren has done more with far less than what Musk started with so I don’t think the comparison does Lundgren justice (although I am a huge Musk fan). Maybe someday if Tesla starts a car rebuild program to re-use scrapped cars the title would be, “Elon Musk is the Eric Lundgren of car manufacturing.”

New Article: Environmental Justice as a Potentially Hegemonic Concept

As part of my project on land rights in Latin America, a recent paper titled “Environmental justice as a (potentially) hegemonic concept: a historical look at competing interests between the MST and indigenous people in Brazil” appears in Local Environment.

Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability is associated with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the international environmental agency for local governments which evaluates and present the methods and tools necessary to achieve local sustainable development worldwide.

My article suggests that by understanding the origins of the Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) as a government-driven clash between the state-sanctioned land claims of indigenous peoples (the Kaingang, in this case) and landless peasants,  groups mounting environmental justice campaigns can fruitfully work together in solidarity with other groups. Through analyzing this case study, the weakness of environmental justice movements, I claim, arises when marginalized groups are willing to accept land or other concessions not at the cost of those best off, but off the backs of groups even more marginalized than themselves.

The tendency for government concessions responding to successful protests by borrowing from the resources of the poor to redistribute them to those most fervently clamoring for change, rather than disrupting the status quo and redistributing concentrated land and wealth holdings among the rich, is precisely the problem many environmental justice movements historically and today face.

Hegemony serves as a useful analytic through which to process of distal transfer of resources (from periphery to center) indicative of colonialism. Many environmental justice crises arise from the same properties that arose during historical colonialism and its aftermath, but are not confined to it. Resolving unequal distributions of labor according to gender is another aspect which environmental justice movements such as the MST have aggressively sought to ameliorate, even if such entrenched hierarchies still are actively being deconstructed.

Hacia la paz y la justicia ambiental

 

 

 

New PLOS Medicine Article on Addiction

PLOS Medicine just published an article I wrote with Jesse Elias and Pam Ling at UCSF on “Public versus internal conceptions of addiction: An analysis of internal Philip Morris documents.” This article discusses previously secret industry documents pointing at the disconnect between the Philip Morris’s public statements of addiction as reduced to nicotine, and their secret unpublished research showing that nicotine is a minor overall component of smoking addiction.

Public health researchers interested in helping smokers would do well to critically appraise the public statements, policies, and actions of tobacco and nicotine dealers, especially as these are strictly for-profit companies beholden to their lexical priority of fiduciary responsibility increasing shareholder value at all costs.

Rather than bandwagoning on nicotine determinism, addiction is a biopsychosocial disease with lobbying and advertising as disease vectors.

 

News media on the paper appears in The Outline and other interviews.

The Outline writes:

Publicly, Philip Morris has been willing to admit that cigarettes are addictive since 1998—but would only cop to the role of nicotine in forming an addiction. Yet privately, the company knew that social, psychological, and environmental factors are also central to addiction and how difficult it is to quit smoking. In other words, addiction was never just about nicotine, and Philip Morris knew it.

Gizmodo writes:

the researchers hope to remind public health officials that tobacco addiction is about more than just nicotine, and that there isn’t enough long-term data to show whether “reduced harm products” actually benefit public health. Even Philip Morris recognized this.

OnMedica writes:

In other words, they said, PM’s ‘opportunistic’ shift from denying to affirming nicotine’s addictiveness was driven not by a substantive change in scientific understanding but by public, regulatory, and legal pressures.

Inverse writes:

While Philip Morris publicly acknowledged nicotine’s addictiveness in 2000, the study’s authors suggest that the company scapegoated the chemical as the solitary driver of addiction. By placing the blame on nicotine, company scientists drew attention away from a potential public health focus on biological, social, psychological, and environmental factors that could help people quit smoking….

For addiction researchers, public health researchers, and smokers, it’s clear that smoking is about so much more than the nicotine. But this analysis suggests that a major tobacco company attempted to steer the focus toward only nicotine, decreasing the effectiveness of interventions that could help people quit.

Susan Mayor writes in the British Journal of Medicine writes that while PM’s “Addiction Consensus Group”:

Sounds very virtuous

More like a cover up. An analysis funded by the US National Cancer Institute compared the company’s public position on addiction with what was being discussed within company walls. It found that throughout the 2000s Philip Morris reinforced the idea that nicotine’s pharmacology was the main driver of smoking addiction. But internally, company scientists were saying there was bit more to it than that. Addiction was the result of “interconnected biological, social, psychological, and environmental determinants,” with nicotine just one component.

Euphemisms and Dysphemisms

Here I will attempt to gather and decode euphemisms (saccharine words covering up the dismal reality, e.g., climate change for global warming) and dysphemisms (derogatory terms for neutral ones, e.g., warmist for people who acknowledge the facts of global warming) of corporate-speak.

 

“Crop Protection Agents” = pesticides

Example: Philip Morris attempting to use the natural anti-pest properties of tobacco to make the claim that tobacco is better for the environment than food crops (remember the neonicotinoid pesticides that are decimating bee and butterfly populations? They come from tobacco)

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Fungi Ethics

My new lexicon entry in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics on “Fungi Ethics” is online. It can be accessed here. Fungi ethics, which is closely allied to plant ethics, describes how fungi–both for better and worse–are forever imbricated in our food systems. Fungi both destroy and enable crops. Virtually every terrestrial plant is threaded-through with endophytic fungi. A further majority trees and many plants require mycelial mycorrhizae to flourish, and will flag without these crucial extensions and transmitters of their root structure.

 

Electronics reuse or recycle?

I am inspired by recycled electronics. IT Asset Partners (ITAP) recently posted a video about it’s ragtag recycled electronic car surpassing in range the major three manufacturers’ (Tesla, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf) top vehicles. ITAP director Eric Lundgren stresses that we should be reusing electronics rather than reducing them to their elemental components, as this process wastes all the work that went into making these parts, and it takes energy, water, and waste products in order to take apart and reuse the materials in a stripped down form. Lundgren writes,

re-use is the purest form of recycling. it creates zero carbon footprint. re-using parts/components within broken/obsolete electronics is called “hybrid recycling”. this is a much-needed and often missing part of the recycling ecosystem.’

Lundgren, who has come under attack by Microsoft for his efforts in refurbishing and distributing junked computers in a misplaced lawsuit, has made a recycled electric car for $13,000 that outpaces Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan by at least 50 miles.

 

The question of what is to happen with the millions of electric car batteries after their cars are junked needs to be addressed now, rather than waving the hand in a mañana fashion.

 

 

Party Foul: The semiotics of advertising and subliminal messaging

In the Bay Area, and probably all around California, I have been seen at bus stops and on buses a very disturbing ad. What is disturbing about this advertisement, is that whoever made it failed to understand adolescent psychology. The ad says:

Underage drinking and driving: the ultimate party foul

So what’s wrong with this statement? The key word is “underage.” What this implies, is that drinking and driving if you are 21 or older, is not “the ultimate party foul, but it’s something else.” And that something else, can only be less than a big deal compared to under-aged drinking and driving. So, it’s simultaneously telling people over 21 that drinking and driving is much much worse if you are under 21, and it’s also telling people who are under 21 that it’s not as bad if you’re over 21 and drink and drive. Whichever end of the threshold you’re on, the ad challenges you to not think of drinking and driving as such as that bad of a thing.

As we know from research on children and advertising, all you have to do to make something cool, is to say “only adults can do it.” This institutes the no-kids-allowed forbidden fruit policy that precisely draws kids to do whatever they’re not supposed to do. The tobacco industry and the alcohol industry have made use of this knowledge to sell their products to underage youth for decades. So it’s baffling that the American Ad Council, which posts these public service announcements, would create a PSA like this, which completely undermines the very position one would think they’re trying to take (i.e., that nobody, especially young people, should drink and drive). What this amounts to, is simply that they need child psychologists and cultural semioticians to vet all of their Ad work. I volunteer for that position. Because as it stands, they’re messaging is creating the very opposite effect which they intend.

As Freudenberg writes, “Some industry-sponsored ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaigns, for example, use ‘strategic ambiguity’ to create messages that mean one thing to young people (e.g., ‘don’t drink too much’) and another to their parents (‘don’t drink if you’re under 21’). By telling each group what they want to hear, these advertisements offer alcohol companies positive publicity without jeopardizing market share or the recruitment of new customers” (p. 33). What is uncanny, is that Freudenberg is writing about the alcohol industry’s own fake corporate social responsibility campaigns, rather than the the American Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

 

Freudenberg N. Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health. New York: Oxford University Press; 2014.

 

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(Screenshot from the webpage full of tepid underage memes that have a lot to do with minimizing the actual potential costs of driving drunk, let alone the long-term and short-term health effects and vulnerability from excessive alcohol use)

 

Just as bad, the rape-prone advice “crash at their place” could cause these agencies a lawsuit if they’re not careful. It turns out that the website is no better than their ill-conceived tips. Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 23.07.28.png

When I lived in Germany, there were lots of ads on the streets against teen rape and date rape, especially alcohol fueled. Where are the ads broaching this important subject in the US? Do we just pretend it doesn’t happen? How irresponsible is that?

The Party Foul ad is the ultimate PSA fail.

The Berkeley Shellmound

Out of the almost 500 shellmounds that existed in the greater bay area, over the last few centuries, these have been systematically destroyed. The Berkeley Shellmound is the earliest of those shellmounds established in the greater Bay Area region by the people indigenous to this region, who first inhabited this area since about 3,700 B.C.E. Although destroyed on their surface, some of these shellmounds in Berkeley and Emeryville still extend 20 feet down in some parts and indigenous peoples of this area still perform ceremonies at these sites.

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Now a strip mall developer is threatening the City of Berkeley to avoid due diligence in an Environmental Impact Assessment for plans to develop the Berkeley Shellmound. The Chochenyo Ohlone sacred site is in dispute currently, as the 4th Street location could either be a public common, a tribute to the indigenous people who live here and inhabited this area for thousands of years; or, it could be a strip mall with luxury loft apartments. Indigenous People Organizing for Change, a Bay Area-based organization led by Corrina Gould, has organized the submission of over 1500 letters to the City of Berkeley Planning Department supporting this space on the 1900 4th Street to support an eco-indigenous vision of a common park and indigenous monument and event area. Five letters supported a developer’s project. At the same time, a developer has proposed a 5-story condominium retail complex on the 2.2 acre site (at 1900 4th St.) that is Spenger’s parking lot.

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The City of Berkeley has an easy win here. There is not a need for more retail, or luxury housing. While it’s true that the Bay Area has a housing crisis, further luxury housing isn’t going to ameliorate that. Density in places close to public transportation (i.e. close to BART), and close to UC Berkeley campus, at student and low-income-friendly prices, is the type of housing Berkeley needs. We don’t need another million dollar loft apartment to further gentrify our up and coming neighborhoods.

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Transitioning this parking lot into a public resource, restoring the sacred site to the extent possible, and daylighting Strawberry Creek on this land, are all no brainers for the City of Berkeley to live up to hits reputation of open-mindedness and justice. It would be a shame for the City to rest on its now aging laurels and allow this rare sacred site to be converted into profits for some developer and awkward unneeded development.

Protecting the West Berkeley Shellmound should be a priority of the Berkeley City government and Zoning Board. To do otherwise will signal a strong rejection of its legacy of environmentalism, social justice, and sensitivity and commitments to diversity and indigenous peoples.

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Totalitarian Hyperbole

One of the great things about empire is it doesn’t attempt to hide its monstrosity. The latest “Military Parade” stunt, normally reserved in Western cultural imaginations for Stalinist USSR, Maoist China, and North Korea, has now come home to roost. The spiritual decedents of Prussian government, the command and control act of the US government, long warned by its own commander and chief as a Military Industrial Complex, is reaching new vulgar displays of power (to quote the title of the metal band Pantera’s best-selling album). We’ve got the quintessential fast-talking recovering coke addict playing the part of the president, and a cabinet to back up this vaudeville act. The only problem, of course, is that if we don’t put our foot down to the endless tomfoolery, that more and more people will suffer and die, far into the future, as a result of our negligence as citizens in charge of maintaining sanity in our land.

Native Americans, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ communities are the hardest hit, and the most woke to the ratcheting up of the reign of terror they have already been experiencing since before the dawn of US statehood. The savagery and exclusionism, the dehumanization, and arbitrary violence against these groups has caused them to be much more aware of the injustices systematically imposed by generations of American leaders, and written into the Constitution. It’s been slow going too for middle-class and poor white Americans to realize that they are next in line on the chopping block. Part of the problem of the cognitive isolationism of American culture is that we are wholly unaware of the crimes perpetrated world wide in order to keep us from noticing.

As Rob Nixon writes in Slow Violence, “It is a pervasive condition of empires that they affect great swaths of the planet without the empire’s populace being aware of that impact–indeed, without being aware that many of the affected places even exist” (p. 35). Our ignorance is their currency of continued plunder. We are underwriting “making the world safe for democracy,” by not actually keeping tabs on the rest of the world or democracy. This is because, Nixon argues, capitalism has an “innate tendency to abstract in order to extract,” allowing the “body count of slow violence” to be “diffused–and defused–by time” (p. 41).

When The Hill reports that “Opponents of the parade, both Democratic and Republican, have argued that a military demonstration of this level could send the wrong message and make the U.S. appear ‘totalitarian,'” that should give us cause to stop and think. Instead of barreling ahead with more disastrous displays of our collective buffoonery, such a blatantly superficial and bellicose act could, in a world not overworked by the exigencies of capitalism, serve as yet another rallying point for diplomacy, reason, and de-escalation–in a similar way that the uproar and direct action in response to Florida’s recent school shooting is f i n a l l y causing even the most retrograde politicians and unrelenting corporations to distance themselves from the NRA and propose concrete solutions to the exceptional deadly gun violence.

We need more #metoo moments, but not manufactured ones in order to take down the opposition. We need to expose those who warrant exposing. The games of politics have always been rife with blackmail, espionage, and intrigue. But rape and pedophilia, still appallingly frequent in the most hallowed halls of government, deserves punishment to the fullest extent of the law, and restitution to all victims. When these various movements, and their courageous leaders see the intersectionality of the violence they successfully have been fighting against, then real transformation will happen, and then, perhaps, we don’t have to worry about our elected officials calling US plans and actions totalitarian.

Try this in your next meeting

I just came upon a great little app/website Are Men Talking Too Much? that is a simple and humorous counter that allows tracking the gender of the person speaking in a meeting. I like this because I am prone to talk too much, and over the years, through great effort, have done some work to pay more and more attention regarding proper etiquette in dealing with others. I’ve enjoyed this transformation, and have learned much by deepening my listening skills and hearing important information that might not have been shared had I unconsciously dominated the conversation. Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 21.58.11.png

At the same time, in this international conversation on enhancing freedom of speech for all, it is important not to essentialize certain qualities like domination to a specific sex. A person belonging to any group can display laudable or abhorrent behavior. People of a given gender or sex, or culture, etc., are not a monolith. This is diversity 101.

Of course, men tend to have higher acculturated propensities for not picking up on social cues and dominating (because they have been able to get away with it, and even sometimes valorized for doing so). So, it’s important to correct these imbalances.

The simple act of timing who speaks, and for how long, can lay bare some otherwise tangled emotional justifications around a problem that, at its root, in some ways can be fixed through less complicated means than some might admit. It’s this elegance, of sharing time, giving and taking, and keeping an eye out for fairness and justice which is ever-so-relevant and sorely needed in this welcome #metoo era.

Designed to Fail–Industrial Design and Cuteness

The Washington Post’s alarming story about teenagers intentionally imbibing Tide detergent “pods” (or “pacs”) due to dares by other teenagers, is not a story about teenagers being dumb, but really one about faulty design.

The increasing one-use bite-sized packetization of goods, like food, housecleaning supplies, and other “conveniences” is the problem. No teen, unless they are trying to commit suicide, are going to drink a bunch of Tide detergent from a 64 oz. container. But place it in a cute packet, like peanut butter or sports energy gel, then the fun starts.

Tide’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs.”

“Laundry pacs are made to clean clothes,” Proctor & Gamble spokeswoman Petra Renck said in the statement. “They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke. Like all household cleaning products, they must be used properly and stored safely.”

https---blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com-uploads-card-image-698639-87e64691-6c8d-49e9-bb7b-df70283a95b7.jpgIf Proctor and Gamble is so concerned, why don’t they just take the product off the market? They can admit–“we made a mistake. We got greedy, and gimmicky, thinking that this would give us a leg up on the (scant) competition. Instead of making our product better, we just thought giving you less laundry detergent for a higher price BUT in  nifty little “pacs” would do the trick. But, we didn’t realize that over 10,000 children under 5 would try to eat them in 2017 alone. Or that 225 teens would be exposed to them. Perhaps bite-sized packets for laundry detergent is inappropriate. Let’s pull those Tide Pods off the market, for the sake of the public good and public health.”

Nope, instead, P&G play the usual corporate routine–they’re not designed wrong, they are just being used incorrectly. As if it were possible for 10,000 baby poisonings in a year to occur, and that to be an incorrect use. That’s like saying that people who drove Pintos and got into accidents (and they blew up) were using their cars incorrectly.

You’ve got to love their corporate defense, doing their best to stave off regulation (because, like little kids eating Tide PODS, they can’t regulate themselves):

“even the most stringent standards and protocols, labels and warnings can’t prevent intentional abuse fueled by poor judgment and the desire for popularity.”

Whatever you do–don’t make us have a label or warning! It would be too onerous. And it would certainly be too onerous to pull this (quite unnecessary!) product from the market. Methinks this reeks of cigarette industry rhetoric… but I digress.

A design flaw is a design flaw, whether it is intentional or not. Admit it, make it right, and move on. For those of us that are adults here, we ought to design products that cannot be prone to abuse on such a large scale. And if we learn that our creations happen to look like candy (deliberately?) and are hurting people in mass numbers, we have a responsibility to take them off the market.

Airplanes and Death: A Study in Sound Pollution

 

I recently published an article in Berkeley’s newspaper, Berkeleyside, about the incessant overhead air traffic, and how this likely is causing significant public health effects.

Here’s the evidence  base:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25332277
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22491084
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26356375 “These significant associations were not attenuated after the adjustment for air pollution. The present ecological study supports the hypothesis of an association between aircraft noise exposure and mortality from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and myocardial infarction. However, the potential for ecological bias and the possibility that this association could be due to residual confounding cannot be excluded.”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20881600 “Aircraft noise was associated with mortality from myocardial infarction, with a dose-response relationship for level and duration of exposure. The association does not appear to be explained by exposure to particulate matter air pollution, education, or socioeconomic status of the municipality.”

Eighteenth Annual Biosemiotics Gathering at UC Berkeley

I am very pleased to announce that the Eighteenth Annual Biosemiotics Gathering will take place at the University of California Berkeley’s elegant International House grand auditorium June 17-20, 2018.  On behalf of the Organizing Committee, Terry Deacon and myself are excited to bring a host of new researchers to the Gathering, the flagship conference of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies.

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Normally held in Europe, the Biosemiotics Gatherings offer an intimate yet intense venue for leading and emerging scholars in the field to exchange ideas. All talks are heard by all members as plenaries; we do not have break-out sessions. This ensures that the quality of discussion remains cohesive over the course of the Gathering, and that we all enjoy exposure to the various branches of the discipline, from literary, to linguistic, to philosophical, to microbiological, ethological, and beyond.

This event also serves as the annual meeting for the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies, and the journal Biosemiotics. Anyone curious about biosemiotics, cybernetics, and meaning-making in alloanimals and other organisms is invited to submit an abstract  or attend.

The Organizing Committee aims to make available a limited number of stipends and registration wavers for overseas graduate students with accepted abstracts, so please encourage graduate student participation in this Gathering as well.

To download the CFP, please do so here: Biosemiotics 2018 Call for Papers Jan22.

More information can be found at biosemiotics.life

We hope to see you in Berkeley in June!

A new review for our edited volume, The Greening of Everyday Life

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The 2016 Oxford University Press book The Greening of Everyday Life: Challenging Practices, Imagining Possibilities I contributed a chapter to on “Bicycling and the Politics of Recognition,” has received a kind review from environmental philosopher Robert Paehlke.

Paehlke writes,

Two chapters on mobility, Chapter 13 on automobility (John Meyer) and Chapter 14 on cycling (Yogi Hendlin) were particularly interesting to me…

Hendlin brilliantly conveys cycling’s ethos and challenges. Cars rule the roads ‘granting cycling little latitude to freely compete as a viable form of mobility’ (p. 232). Redesigning roads is a complex undertaking. I hold Copenhagen and Amsterdam in awe and my nephew’s wife is an environmental engineer doing cycle route design in Maryland. Hendlin shows the ways most cyclists in North America are still second class citizens – and why this may not be entirely a bad thing in terms of motivating needed change of many kinds…

Overall this volume is academically important because it grounds greening in theoretically-grounded case-based research. Simultaneously, it is also helpful to those considering the personal and political implications of greening their own everyday existence.

 

It’s gratifying to see this volume, which emerged from an invite-only conference at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, be recognized by our environmental political theory peers as a book bridging the theoretical and practical through applying theoretical analysis to environmental case studies.

If you haven’t read the book yet, do ask your library to acquire it!

Database of Industry Documents Databases

In an ongoing effort to compile the corruption of science and politics by short-sighted, manipulative industries, I am beginning to list the sites that document industrial epidemics. Enjoy!

CLIMATE

http://climateinvestigations.org

http://www.climatefiles.com

MONSANTO

https://usrtk.org

(Glyphosate) https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/monsanto-secret-documents/

TOBACCO

https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu

CHEMICAL

https://www.toxicdocs.org

https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu

https://www.poisonpapers.org

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/12/04/16319/exposed-decades-denial-poisons

FOOD

http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu

GENERAL CORPORATE CRIME

https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/

SOLUTIONS

http://productbio.com

 

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Zero-Waste

Because we currently live in a throw-away economy, with devastating impacts on our psychology, social relationships, health, and environment, evolving away from this paradigm is paramount for our survival.

The invention of cheap plastics in the 1950s seemed like a boon for housewives, and because of the entangled sexism, chauvinism, and classism/sexism that excepted white men from engaging in household chores, the new plastics economy were seen as great timesavers.

A LIFE magazine cover from the 1950s celebrated the profusion of plastics as a godsend, giving us the freedom to live a carefree life without having to deal with the consequences of our actions. The plastic would go in the trash. Our local municipal trash system would simply take it Away. Never mind where “Away” is, as long as it is out of sight and out of mind.

 

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But against the harsh light of science, the stupor of thowaway culture is slowly shifting towards the uncomfortable interconnectivity of our biosphere, and that there is no Away.  What happens to a plastic deferred? It doesn’t just fade away, as a chemical-maven Langston Hughes might want us to believe. No, instead, as Hughes intimates, it explodes.

The category called trash lives on in a Frankenstein-like way, coming back to haunt us and our children and our children’s children, through endocrine disruptors and bioaccumulation, chemical sensitivities, and brain-damage. It has become clear that better living through chemistry, as Dow Chemical’s jingle promised, is the cynical pipe dream of sinister opium dens, reliant on the inputs of others to keep living.

Recycle.com has a new logo, akin to the organic and fair-trade logos, that is the “zero-waste” logo. This logo, printed in biodegradable vegetable inks, would signify that a product, including its packaging, bioplastics, biotape, etc., is zero-waste. Not recyclable, or mostly recyclable, but put into a commercial composter, or even negligently blown by the wind, will biodegrade in short order.

Zero-Waste-GIF-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

This is one option, in the short term, to get past Away. By virtue signaling products that have invested the extra effort to engineer their products with minimal pollutants and zero waste, as long as anarchocapitalism is still around, it can suck vitality from the polluting hydra of the corporatocracy.

Ultimately, zero waste living is the only sustainable course of action. Everything else is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

ExxonMobile Responds to Hurricane Harvey

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Cognitive dissonance is a phenomena common amongst human beings who want to have their cake and eat it too. It comes from a willing ignorance to repress and suppress the world’s inconvenient truths and hold onto the frame (or fairytale) one inhabits (or chooses) with tenacious vigor.

In their weekly missives, ExxonMobile’s “Energy Perspectives” newsletter this week features a typically tone-deaf and gumption-filled story on how destroying the world through oil and gas exploitation is actually saving the world. It’s a classic psy-ops strategy (formerly known as propaganda), only with a slicker sheen, more convoluted rhetoric, and patriotic pictures.  According to the Department of Defense, psy-ops are:

Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to… audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of… governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives.

So Jerry Wascom, president of ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company writes in the ExxonMobile Perspectives blog

I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.  The impact of this hurricane has been unprecedented.

There’s no reconciliatory tone. No regret. No mention of climate change. No, instead we are invited to see nature’s disrupted patterns and 500-year weather events (happening within years of each other) as mere temporary roadblocks to the further entrenchment of global capitalism. Wascom writes:

At ExxonMobil, we’ve had to temporarily shut down some operations, but we haven’t stopped working.  Just the opposite.   My team is working around the clock to bring everything back on line as quickly as we can and get fuel to drivers that need it.

But, in light of the horrors of anthropogenically destabilized climates, wouldn’t the only moral thing to do seem to be stopping working? Wouldn’t conceding at the card game before you go broke actually seem like a better strategy than doubling down with your last chips?

No, instead this is reframed as merely a logistics problem. Indeed, “the current challenge we face is mainly a logistical one,” Wascom writes.

Not all the fuel is where it needs to be.  We have to quickly reroute trucks and tankers to get supplies from more distant locations to places that previously relied on the Gulf Coast refineries.

Instead of acknowledging that in catastrophes we might have to use less, ExxonMobil is pulling a GW Bush: Buy, baby, buy. The paraphrase Ingolfür Bluhdorn, ExxonMobil is looking for creating sustainability and resiliency just in those same unsustainable practices that got us in this climate disruption in the first place. Don’t pause to reflect. Don’t use less fuel. Don’t travel less. Because such actions might cause a reevaluation of the insane oil subsidies, and our fossil-fueled toxic culture.

Of course, such psy-ops are bolstered by the other Breitbarts of news, such as Business Insider, Money, and other unidimensional news outlets who care only how any event will impact their stock prices. Thus the intentional ignorance of ExxonMobile is perpetuated throughout our culture system by the help of greed, instantiated in a news media and financially-myopic media willing to poison the world for a few more points on their stock.

ExxonMobile reassures us that they will go to the ends of the earth to ensure that our illusion of cheap fossil fuels isn’t broken.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We’re going the extra mile to reconnect the dots and move fuel quickly and safely.

Amidst dire environmental justice murmurings of the toxic exposures due to hazardous waste seeping out of its quarantine in Houston, harming entire communities (especially poor and migrant communities), we are supposed to trust the self-serving interests of the world’s largest oil machine, and one of the largest funders of climate change denial.

The last stake in the heart of Corporate Social Irresponsibility is ExxonMobile’s responsibilizing consumers for the problem. They urge

drivers can help by not “panic-buying.”  Topping off your tank is one thing; stockpiling fuel is another, and puts unnecessary stress on the system.  We can all help each other if we don’t go overboard.

Who’s this “we” you’re talking about, paleface? ExxonMobile has proven time and again that they don’t care for anything but profit, yet they are doing the British gag of “let’s all play together” for their own benefit–not ours. This rallying cry to keep normalcy in the face of an insane, corrupt, oligopolistic system, is itself sick. In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 07.54.50

 

US Misinformation Translation Guide

To cut through the very successful and rhetorically effective branding by fascists, I’ve developed a handy guide (to be expanded):

(Alt-Fact) vs. (Brutal Reality)

“Alt-Right” = NeoNazi

“Snowflake” = Not interested in dehumanizing people; not completely numbed yet

“Climate Alarmist” =Scientist

“Climate Change” = Global Warming. It’s not changing, and it’s not just climate. Anthropogenic Biospheric Devastation would be a more true translation, except for the fact that it’s not all humans responsible, its those with the levers of power and money. Plutocratic-Induced Ecocide would be the most accurate descriptor.

“Big Government” = The type of sprawling government that actually helps people who don’t look exactly like you. The alternative is pretending that you don’t have extensive government, because instead of taxes, corporate spending bypasses the state and goes directly into the pockets of the politicians putatively regulating them.

“Small Government” = Robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

“Immanentize the eschaton” = Basic Human Equality; trying to make the world a better, not a worse, place. The alternative being, the extreme idea of creating hell on earth, and harming the majority of humanity and the earth so that Jesus will come back to earth and the apocalypse will happen (which is what the NeoNazis want and are using government and industry to attempt).

 

New paper published in Annals of Internal Medicine picked up by Reuters

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Today, with co-authors Pamela M. Ling and Jesse Elias, our paper “The Pharmaceuticalization of the Tobacco Industry” appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Our interview with Reuters is available here.

This work contributes to the study of industrial epidemics, and how corporations, instead of dying a quiet death as the world wakes up to the inutility of their products for life, metastasize into other structures to clean up the messes they continue to create–and to charge taxpayers for it (in this case, by getting government health care like the NHS in the UK, to pay for their so-called reduced-harm nicotine products).

The Philosophical Salon

A recent article I wrote for The Philosophical Salon can be found here. Titled “Not an Era for Apologetics,” it looks at the systematic bullying of university students by alt-right pseudo-intellectuals, and the reinforcement of hegemonic discourse in the university setting.

taken at the sf women's march

As the recent hooligan rallies by fascist groups in Portland after the attack of a white supremacist on Muslim women was thwarted by three white men, two of which died defending them and the other severely injured, the pattern of bolstering up assaults with violent gatherings either in words or deeds seems by now to be a routine intimidation tactic against people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

The article focuses on the so-called, and much overwrought “Middlebury Affair” where the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray was rejected from speaking on pseudoscientific racism at the campus. While liberals around the nation have rallied in favor of free speech, oddly enough, they deny free speech to those that wish not to have hate in their houses. Against the party line, I argue that the spread of hate via speech should not be conflated with freedom to speak, as free speech must be defined according to the commonweal. As long as ontological essentialism coupled with systematic discrimination reigns, such speech cannot be termed “free,” as it constricts others’ common good. I take a classic republican view on free speech to empower local communities to decide if interlopers aim to unite or divide their union.

Of course, in a humorous performative of my point, The Philosophical Salon post received its share of trolls, performing the very act I described.

Future thoughts: What is the difference between deserved critique versus trolling? My article takes an attempt at this question.