Dracula in Modern English: Chapter VIII

I just published another chapter of my modern English adaptation of Dracula. See Why Adapt Dracula? for the reason I decided to do this. Hope you all enjoy it.

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Dracula in Modern English: Chapter VII

Just added chapter VII of Dracula in Modern English. Enjoy.

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Dracula in Modern English: Chapter VI

I just added chapter VI to Dracula in Modern English. This chapter introduced Dr. Seward and his psychotic patient Renfield. Enjoy.

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Dracula in Modern English: Chapter V

I just published another chapter of my modern English adaptation of Dracula. See Why Adapt Dracula? for the reason I decided to do this. Hope you all enjoy it.

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Covid-19 Corporate Welfare

corporate-welfareI find myself agreeing with much in the Guardian’s article “Airlines and oil giants are on the brink. No government should offer them a lifeline“, but for completely different reasons from its author.

Do Not Resuscitate. This tag should be attached to the oil, airline and car industries. Governments should provide financial support to company workers while refashioning the economy to provide new jobs in different sectors. They should prop up only those sectors that will help secure the survival of humanity and the rest of the living world.

The idea that “governments” have any idea of how to optimize the economy makes me laugh. That said, I agree the government shouldn’t prop up industries that are non-essential. This will, however, hurt a lot of people and lead to chaos in the economy.

They should either buy up the dirty industries and turn them towards clean technologies, or do what they often call for but never really want: let the market decide. In other words, allow these companies to fail.

“Governments” can’t find their asses with both hands, far less turn industries toward anything, but I agree that they should let the market decide. The idea that oil, airline, or auto industries will simply fail is laughable, but individual companies may fold up and consolidate in the near term. Again, this will hurt a lot of people.

This is our second great chance to do things differently. It could be our last. The first, in 2008, was spectacularly squandered. Vast amounts of public money were spent reassembling the filthy old economy, while ensuring that wealth remained in the hands of the rich. Today, many governments appear determined to repeat that catastrophic mistake.

I agree that selling our children’s futures to bail out the banks with the lame excuse that they were “too big to fail” was a very bad thing. We already see the US doing the same this time around. Crony capitalism is the opposite of a true free market.

The “free market” has always been a product of government policy.

Bullshit. Government policy can help to protect it, but the free market is simply a manifestation of the instinct to preserve one’s genetic line.

If antitrust laws are weak, a few behemoths survive while everyone else goes down.

It is natural (due to our herd mentality) for any industry that is not commoditized to be dominated by one big player–what Geoffrey Moore calls a ‘gorilla’ in his excellent book “Inside the Tornado“. For example, Microsoft came to dominate operating systems and desktop applications, even though there were solid competitors like Apple. Weak antitrust laws had little to do with this, though Microsoft did engage in some shady business practices.

If dirty industries are tightly regulated, clean ones flourish.

This is only true if the clean ones can deliver what is needed more effectively. For example, prohibition attempted to prevent the sale of alcohol in the US. This led to the rise of the mafia who were able to take the market from the “dirty” capitalists who had previously run it.

If not, the corner-cutters win.

Cost cutters always win. The government has taxed the hell out of gasoline for ages. People still use gasoline powered cars because even though the government has massively inflated the price of gas, there is no better alternative yet.

But the dependency of enterprises on public policy has seldom been greater in capitalist nations than it is today. Many major industries are now entirely beholden to the state for their survival.

I agree. We should end corporate welfare.

Governments have the oil industry over a barrel – hundreds of millions of unsaleable barrels, to be more precise – just as they had the banks over a barrel in 2008. Then, they failed to use their power to eradicate the sector’s socially destructive practices and rebuild it around human needs. They are making the same mistake today.

It’s not a mistake. Governments are owned by the oil industry, the banks, and other large donors. Even if they weren’t, I doubt they would be able to rebuild anything. Venezuela’s communist government has eradicated its oil industry, and has only succeeded into sinking the county into poverty.

The Bank of England has decided to buy debt from oil companies such as BP, Shell and Total. The government has given easyJet a £600m loan even though, just a few weeks ago, the company frittered away £171m in dividends: profit is privatised, risk is socialised. In the US, the first bailout includes $25bn (£20.1bn) for airlines. Overall, the bailout involves sucking as much oil as possible into strategic petroleum reserves and sweeping away pollution laws, while freezing out renewable energy. Several European countries are seeking to rescue their airlines and car manufacturers.

Storing oil makes sense. Removing useless regulation makes sense. Corporate welfare does not.

Don’t believe them when they tell you they do this on our behalf.

I don’t. That’s why I’m a libertarian.

recent survey by Ipsos of 14 countries suggests that, on average, 65% of people want climate change to be prioritised in the economic recovery.

The two are unrelated. At least 65% of the people are morons.

Everywhere, electorates must struggle to persuade governments to act in the interests of the people, rather than the corporations and billionaires who fund and lobby them. The perennial democratic challenge is to break the bonds between politicians and the economic sectors they should be regulating, or, in this case, closing down.

You will never do this as long as you support the establishment.

Even when legislators seek to represent these concerns, their efforts are often feeble and naive.

Exactly.

The recent letter to the government from a cross-party group of MPs calling for airlines to receive a bailout only if they “do more to tackle the climate crisis” could have been written in 1990. Air travel is inherently polluting. There are no realistic measures that could, even in the medium term, make a significant difference.

Instead of bailing out the airlines, why not invest in rapid transit to cut vehicle emissions?

We now know that the carbon offsetting schemes the MPs call for is useless.

Yep, we do.

Every economic sector needs to maximise cuts in greenhouse gases, so shifting the responsibility from one sector to another solves nothing. The only meaningful reform is fewer flights. Anything that impedes the contraction of the aviation industry impedes the reduction of its impacts.

No “sector” is responsible for cutting greenhouse gases. If you want people to fly less, you need to give them an alternative. What are you proposing? Teleconferencing and telecommuting have certainly been given a huge boost by the corona virus. Maybe, now that laggards have seen that teleconferencing can work, there will be less air travel.

The current crisis gives us a glimpse of how much we need to do to pull out of our disastrous trajectory. Despite the vast changes we have made in our lives, global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to reduce by only about 5.5% this year. A UN report shows that to stand a reasonable chance of avoiding 1.5C or more of global heating, we need to cut emissions by 7.6% per year for the next decade. In other words, the lockdown exposes the limits of individual action. Travelling less helps, but not enough.

If we need to hold global warming to 1.5C, we are in trouble. Fortunately, we don’t, although there will be consequences for not doing so.

To make the necessary cuts we need structural change. This means an entirely new industrial policy, created and guided by government.

Government isn’t competent to do this. If you want people to change their behavior, you need to give them an alternative.

Governments like the UK’s should drop their road-building plans.

This guarantees they won’t get reelected, so they’re highly unlikely to do it.

Instead of expanding airports, they should publish plans for reducing landing slots.

Cities rely on availability of air travel to attract businesses. Businesses pay taxes. If cities restrict air travel, businesses will move elsewhere, and they will lose revenue. Are they going to be willing to do this?

They should commit to an explicit policy of leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

And what alternative will they have? Electric vehicles aren’t ready for prime time. They are still too expensive, and there isn’t enough charging infrastructure for them to replace gas powered automobiles. How about, instead of hurting people by forcing them to pay for new, expensive vehicles (whose manufacture produces large carbon emissions), public funds are used to build public transit?

During the pandemic, many of us have begun to discover how much of our travel is unnecessary. Governments can build on this to create plans for reducing the need to move, while investing in walking, cycling and – when physical distancing is less necessary – public transport. This means wider pavements, better cycle lanes, buses run for service not profit.

I largely agree.

They should invest heavily in green energy, and even more heavily in reducing energy demand – through, for example, home insulation and better heating and lighting.

Again, I agree. In BC, the site C hydro project is a great example of a green energy project. Conservation to reduce demand is also an area where regulation is reasonable.

The pandemic exposes the need for better neighbourhood design, with less public space given to cars and more to people. It also shows how badly we need the kind of security that a lightly taxed, deregulated economy cannot deliver.

What the hell does this mean? More policing? More authoritarian control? No thanks.

In other words, let’s have what many people were calling for long before this disaster hit: a green new deal.

The so called “green new deal” called for universal basic income. It should have been called the “red new deal”.

But please let’s stop describing it as a stimulus package. We have stimulated consumption too much over the past century, which is why we face environmental disaster. Let us call it a survival package, whose purpose is to provide incomes, distribute wealth and avoid catastrophe, without stoking perpetual economic growth. Bail out the people, not the corporations. Bail out the living world, not its destroyers. Let’s not waste our second chance.

Don’t bail out the corporations. Don’t increase the welfare state either. Stop mortgaging our children’s future. At most, we should pay for exceptional medical expenses incurred due to Covid-19. Protect the old and the unhealthy, but expect the rest of us to take care of ourselves. The government shouldn’t be forcing businesses to close. Some businesses will have a hard time while people naturally socially distance. Don’t bail them out. Give people who lose their jobs unemployment benefits for a reasonable period. It will be hard, and people will die no matter what we do, but saddling our children with debt is not the answer.

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Socialist Warns Curing Covid-19 is Evil

medical-researchI’m going to comment on the Guardian article We’re desperate for a coronavirus cure, but at what cost to the human guinea pigs?, which attacks capitalism for its uncaring approach to medical research.

Last week, in Oxford, the first volunteers in the first European human trial were injected with a potential coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, Pakistan’s National Institute of Health received an offer from the Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm International Corp to take part in a trial of another potential coronavirus vaccine.

These both seem like good things to me.

The two events reveal twin aspects of the global process of drug trials and development. On the one hand, there is the ingenuity and drive that allow a potential vaccine to emerge in a fraction of the time it would normally take, as well as the courage and selflessness shown by the volunteers risking their health to test it. On the other, the increasing use of poorer nations as testing grounds for new medicines, in trials in which the subjects often have, because of poverty and lack of access to health provision, little choice about whether to take part.

Are the poor subjects being forced to take part? If they are doing so voluntarily because they are receiving benefit for doing so, what is the problem?

The details of the proposed Chinese trial are still unclear, but it is part of what many call the “globalisation of clinical trials”. Until the end of the last century, virtually all clinical trials by western pharmaceutical companies were conducted in Europe or America. The majority still are. But over the past 20 years, US, European and, increasingly, Chinese companies have taken to offshoring trials to low- and middle-income countries. In 2017, 90% of new drugs approved by the US Food and Drugs Agency were tested at least in part outside the US and Canada. At a time when so much attention -and hope – is focused on the possibilities of a Covid-19 vaccine, it’s worth reminding ourselves of what the development of medicines means for most of the world.

Given the over-regulation in the EU and Canada, it’s a wonder that any research is conducted here at all. The burden placed by the FDA famously led to an entire industry, document control systems, emerging because of the need of drug companies to deal with the masses of paperwork required. Is it surprising that companies go where it is easiest to do their work?

The reasons for conducting tests offshore are not hard to discern. In lower income countries, regulation is looser, staff cheaper and subjects easier to find, cutting costs by 30-40%.

Exactly. And the lower the costs, the more new drugs will be created, which is good.

Take India. It has a huge population, enormous levels of poverty, almost 20% of the global disease burden and a pitiable health infrastructure. It also has highly trained scientists and medics, skilled technicians and good laboratories. As a result, in the first decade of this century, India became the poor country of choice for many pharmaceutical companies. The proportion of global clinical trials conducted in India rose from less than 1% in 2008 to 5% six years later – just about on par with the UK.

And this benefited India.

The globalisation of clinical research has many potential benefits. It could help tackle diseases long ignored, develop medical and scientific innovation in non-western countries, improve their health infrastructure and increase the diversity of trial subjects and thereby the quality of the final product. In reality, too little of this has happened because offshore clinical trials have at their heart not a concern for the welfare of subjects or the health of local populations but the need to cut costs and generate profits.

Of course companies who are targeting specific profitable drugs are not going to expend money on local health issues. Why would they? The benefits of having locally trained experts be able to get practical experience in developing drugs will trickle down, just as when IT jobs were off-shored to India, it eventually led to a thriving local high technology industry.

Ethical guidelines for clinical research normally require participating patients to have access to the best available treatments for their condition. But in poor countries, the fact that people are poor has often been an excuse for researchers brushing aside such considerations.

This is a legitimate issue. Measuring a new treatment against the best available treatment leads to advancement, whereas testing against an untreated control population may show a drug is effective, but it may be less effective than an existing treatment.

A particularly egregious case was in the treatment of HIV in the 1990s. The standard care at that time to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV was a course of the drug AZT. The drug was expensive, so researchers wanted to see if other treatments might work.

Makes sense. If there are two equally efficacious treatments and one is cheaper, it is a better treatment, because it can be given to more people.

In the west, the control group in such trials would have received the normal course of AZT. In a series of trials in Africa and Asia, however, the control group received not AZT but a placebo, on the grounds that poor people would normally not have received treatment anyway. Hundreds of babies were born infected with Aids when they might have been free of the virus. As Sonia Shah wrote in her book The Body Hunters: “Rather than working to overcome the inevitable barriers of poverty and inequity, many Aids researchers felt compelled to accommodate them.” Too often, that remains the case.

If the alternative was not doing the research because it would have been too expensive, isn’t it better that the research was done?

In India, many poor people were recruited to trials without knowing that they were taking part in experiments. Thousands diedthough as no proper records were kept the true figure is unknown. Government data indicate 2,868 deaths between 2005 and 2012 and a further 2,209 between 2013 and 2015; others suggest the total might be much higher. The scandals, court rulings and parliamentary scrutiny led to a tightening of regulations. This in turn led to pharmaceutical companies pulling out of India, forcing the government to loosen regulations once more.

If fraud was occurring, government regulation was the correct response. Companies pulling their trials because they weren’t allowed to commit fraud does not “force” a government to loosen regulations. India is a democracy. The people are free to vote in a regime that won’t cow-tow to companies that demand to be allow to defraud them.

Equally troubling is that clinical trials in poor countries rarely address local health problems. Every year, infectious diseases take a devastating toll in India: 440,000 people die annually from TB. To put that in perspective, more than 190,000 people have died globally so far from Covid-19. Yet just 0.7% of clinical trials in India target TB. Among children, the biggest killers are diarrhoeal diseases; fewer than 1% of trials concern gastrointestinal infections.

For profit companies are not responsible for curing any particular disease. India is free to publicly fund as much tuberculosis research as its people demand.

More than 12% of Indian clinical trials are, on the other hand, designed to find cures for cancer. That’s half as many again as the total number of trials targeting all infectious diseases. Indeed, there are more trials in India investigating skin problems, including for the development of cosmetics, than for infectious diseases. Cancers and skin problems are important to tackle, but these are conditions that more afflict rich nations – and the rich in India. The issues that primarily affect the poor still remain largely ignored. Globally, diseases of relevance to high-income countries are investigated in clinical trials seven to eight times more often than diseases whose burden lies mainly in low- and middle-income countries.

For profit companies are going to look to create products that will make money, so that they can recoup the cost of research and make a profit.

There is little profit in tackling TB or diarrhoea. There are large bounties in cures for cancers or improvements in cosmetics. And so the bodies of the wretchedly poor become exploited to alleviate the ailments of the comfortably rich.

If they are voluntarily participating and benefiting from doing so, it is not exploitation of the poor. Paying a poor person to dig a ditch because no rich person would do so for a reasonable cost is not exploitation.

This year or next, we will, it’s hoped, find a vaccine for Covid-19. Once the pandemic is brought to an end, there will still be millions in the global south dying for want of basic medicines and research. Will we take their lives as seriously as we are taking the lives of those devastated by coronavirus? Will we rethink the way that clinical research is conducted and what its priorities should be? Or will we continue to ignore the poor and persist in allowing profit to take precedence over people?

Who is “we”?

For-profit companies want to be the first to develop a Covid-19 vaccine because doing so will make them a lot of money. Many of these same companies also take philanthropy very seriously. For example, when Merck found an unprofitable cure for river blindness, the company paid to distribute the cure to those who needed it at their own expense. They wouldn’t be able to do this if they couldn’t make money on other products.

If by we, you mean “we the people”, hopefully, when the economy has recovered, people will be more generous in donating to public medicine. For example, I have long donated monthly to BC Children’s Hospital, which once saved the life of one of my children.

If you mean government, government does no do. Governments can take money from corporations and people and reallocate it to other corporations and people to conduct research for “the poor”, but they can’t create a lasting profit motive for doing so, and, in the aftermath of Covid-19, there will be little sympathy for governments raising taxes during the ensuing economic depression, not to mention the fact that they have taken on massive new debts during the crisis.

 

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Paradise Lost: The War in Heaven

Satan-DefeatedI just updated the kindle edition of my modern English adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It now includes the first six chapters of the book. Once the changes are approved, those who have already purchased the book should be able to refresh it and get the new chapter for free. Please leave a comment if you are unable to do so.

Chapter VI is the story of the war in heaven between the forces of Yahweh and Satan’s rebel angels, as told to Adam by the angel Raphael. Meanwhile, chapter V (the first half of Milton’s book V) is now available for free here: Paradise Lost in Modern English

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