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Dark Days in Alabama

“… l’obligation est voide, eo que le condition est encountre common ley…” —Judge Hull, 1414.

9 August 2023.

Montgomery, Alabama.

Overnight, the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, were filled with beams from flashlights. They were not for a vigil, but to see by. The small electronic devices were passed out by a special mission from the United Nations as Alabama entered its second week with minimal electricity—in the words of the state supreme court’s judgment, only what’s “necessary for the protection of human life” if it’s generated by polluting methods.

While Alabama continues begging to its grid partners for as much clean energy as can be had—a tough ask as most of it is already dedicated to reducing other states’ carbon emissions—most of the state’s generation capacity remains mothballed. And to the extent the state can buy more clean juice, unless and until it can get enough to power essentials it simply displaces the fossil fuels. Dirty power is allowed only to power some traffic lights, the state’s water works, and fire stations. Hospitals get juice, but only to care for those on life support or needing stabilization.

The legislature is among the exceptions. Immediately following the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, Governor Ivey had called a special session to draft and propose a repeal or replacement for Alabama Amendment 930, the heart of the confusion and the chaos in this state of five million people. Given the dysfunction the state is experiencing, it took until this morning to gather a quorum in both chambers, following the arrival of several lawmakers who had been away on extended vacations. They landed at Dannelly Field on a special flight arranged and piloted by the Alabama Air National Guard.

The UN’s humanitarian mission has included setting up special solar-powered cooling tents, which have become a literal lifesaver in this southern state known for its hot summers. The lack of air conditioning has made many indoor structures unsafe during the hottest hours of the day, with some cities declaring don’t-stay-home orders requiring everyone to find their way to one of more than 2000 cooling sites throughout the state. Outside of the major enclosed stadiums and arenas, which have capacities from several thousand to ten thousands, the UN tents have a maximum capacity of 500 persons. Regular shade tents are erected in the vicinity so that citizens can rotate in and out of the cooled tents. School gymnasiums and megachurches are also part of the mix of cooled spaces available.

With refrigeration limited, food preparation sites have been put up in parking lots of many major grocers, allowing people to cook hot meals away from home. Despite this, there are massive food shortages and the relief efforts includes distributing no-cook or pre-cooked foods to accommodate the state’s residents. The one saving grace is that water service continues uninterrupted, meaning taps still work, though hot water is unavailable as most buildings use methane heaters.

Those with illnesses requiring medication to be refrigerated, including insulin for diabetics, have been forced to make trips to nearby pharmacies or hospitals to receive their doses, which is a major hardship given the lack of transportation options. As a result, as many infirm as possible have been evacuated to nearby states.

The ruling by District Judge Nima Shelley in Mobile had come two months ago in the next-friend class-action suit by expecting persons in the state, for the protection of their health and welfare. Judge Shelley had stayed her ruling pending appeals, but the state attorney general has repeatedly mocked the decision, and the state solicitor general gave only a perfunctory rebuttal at argument once the case reached the high court three weeks ago. Following a week of deliberations, the seven-member majority laid down the law: the district court ruling stands, and all contracts that threaten the unborn in Alabama are, “avoided, inoperable, and illegal.”

Contract is the basic means of commerce throughout the world, including ordinary exchanges of goods for money. It requires two or more persons to agree on an exchange that offers some cost and benefit to each party, and has been the cornerstone of society for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Under normal circumstances, they could rely on the state to enforce contracts. While commerce could continue on a voluntary basis, most corporations, including suppliers, are unwilling to proceed on that basis, that they might deliver either payment or goods and rely on good will to see the other party keep up their end.

The result has meant curtailing all nonessential activities and commerce within the state that cause pollution capable of causing harm, defect, or death of unborn life. The scientific term, toxic abortion, refers to the ability of pollutants to cross the placental barrier and damage fetal tissue, disrupting the delicate balance involved in growing the womb’s fruit, in addition weakening a pregnant person already under the strain of supporting an incipient life (or lives, in cases of multiple pregnancy). Responsible for both spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and stillbirths, estimates put the figures nationally between 40 000 and 200 000 per year, though the exact figures would be impossible to calculate. Now, the courts have said, the state constitution demands protection.

That’s because of the specific language used in the amendment, which passed by plebiscite in 2018, made it the explicit public policy of the State of Alabama to prioritize unborn life. “Although the Alabama Constitution has a provision barring the impairment of contracts, the language of Amendment 930 was clear, and its later adoption gives it priority,” the seven-member majority wrote. Had it been a mere statute, it would have been unable to reach to avoid contracts. But, “[U]nless amended, nobody in this state may enter into any contract for goods or services that threaten the unborn. Due to the widespread disruption this conclusion requires, we further hold that there are limited exceptions. Services and commerce that is essential for protection of life is excluded. And thankfully, beyond our law’s reach are all federal facilities and federal operations.”

That last exception refers to the long-standing conceit of law that federal activity is protected from violation of state laws under cases arising from the Neagle rule, established in 1890. Though not insulating federal employees from lawsuit, the state amendment establishes rights not affirmed by the US Supreme Court, and so while at work federal employees are blameless and, for now, federal activity is protected.

The state legislature expects its main duties to be finished by the end of the day, though some of the state’s pundits have speculated they will find good reason to remain in session all the same. Spouses, family members, and major donors have all been seen entering the legislative offices carrying changes of clothes and bottles of soap as they seek the creature comfort of a shower. The sounds of hair dryers and electric razors echo through the halls.

The legislature must also pass a law allowing the governor to issue a writ of election to call for the statewide special election specifically to ratify an amendment. The bill is expected to make allowances for the election to be conducted without much, if any, electricity. The exact date of that election remains up in the air, due to the unusual circumstances. Turnaround time would normally be a few weeks, minimum, and time would be allotted for campaigning, but there’s both no time to lose and the problems of pulling together the materials without normal transportation or electricity needs.

The case, Alabama v. the Unborn Child of Moggs, was only the latest trouble caused by Amendment 930. There have been more than one hundred cases of convicted persons freed on deferred sentences after lawyers sued for the false imprisonment of their unborn children. They will be required to serve their time only after giving birth.

That loophole had led to a criminal gang of pregnant persons, known as the “Mother’s Mafia,” forming. They robbed convenience stores and other small businesses, causing mayhem. They duct-taped pregnancy tests to their chests to warn off any law enforcement officer who might attempt to arrest them.

At their peak, they numbered in the dozens (more if one counts their fetuses as accomplices, something the district attorneys avoided and the attorney general advised against). They were eventually brought to something approaching justice by the “Preggers Posse,” a vigilante group of pregnant women. Following the high-profile apprehension, they imprisoned the Mother’s Mafia in a vacant strip mall in Hysteria, Alabama, where the Pregnant Posse acts as jailers, providing prenatal care until each has their delivery day, at which point the group says they will be handed over to law enforcement.

Asked what he thought about Amendment 930, Posse leader and transgender rights activist Marki Malone said, “It’s deranged. I’m glad to be having this child, but you can’t put unborn life ahead of those who are already here. I’m as against pollution as anyone, but we have to build clean energy. Shutting down the dirty stuff doesn’t make that happen any faster.”

Outside of the state, energy economists have questioned that logic. They say that if the ruling stands and Alabama can’t change the law, they estimate a nine-month effort could bring the state to 80 percent generation capacity, provided the federal funds come through. It would prove a remarkable turnaround for a state that as recently as 2022 was generating about 56% of its electricity using methane and coal.

Ground transportation would take longer to replace, and even electric vehicles cause some PM2.5 emissions through road wear and other mechanical emissions like brake dust. At what point is the air and other toxic risks to fetuses deemed safe enough to satisfy Amendment 930? It seems unlikely Alabama will find out, as the legislature and voters seek to replace it with something less burdensome and return to modern life.

At the latest press conference this morning, the Alabama House majority leader said he expected as many as six proposed amendments to pass. “We don’t want to leave this thing to chance. We need to make sure the voters pass at least one of these, so that our state is not held hostage by the courts.” The amendment language was being carefully considered, both to guard against further lawsuits and to work constructively if more than one were to pass.

The main option discussed was outright repeal, followed by a softened version of 930 that would make it non-policy. Another option would declare there to be no right in Alabama to avoid environmental toxins, even for the unborn. A few would require special steps by pregnant persons. Those included requiring them to wear HEPA filters, or even requiring them to spend their maternity outside the borders of the state. But legal critics say these lesser options, which would leave 930 in operation, would be like resetting the clock on a timebomb rather than disarming it. And environmental scientists point out that HEPA filters do not remove certain pollutants—mainly gasses.

Fetal health is impacted by air pollution in two ways. Air pollution may be directly passed to the fetus by the pregnant person, causing harm. But air pollution can also harm the pregnant person’s health, which makes them a weaker host for the fetus to grow inside of. Air pollutants include particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and Sulfur oxides (SOx). Fetal harms include low birth weight, birth defect, spontaneous (toxic) abortion (miscarriage), and stillbirth. Survivors may suffer persistent and chronic health problems throughout their lives.

Sources of manmade air pollution include carbon electricity generation, other industrial combustion, vehicles’ combustion engines (including trains, watercraft, and aircraft), and forest fires.


This article was originally written on ink and paper, without the use of artificial energy sources, and it was transmitted for publication via a solar-powered satellite phone, avoiding any use of polluting energy.

What Good Comes From This

Obviously I favor Democrats, but honestly they got plenty of problems that vex me too.

The political mystery it seems to me
Is why I ever thought it could be solved
When all the ones who run believe
In writing such repulsive laws

The right-wingers reject the facts that bear
Be it climate, labor, COVID, or on healthcare
On the left they still give shrugs
When asked to lower the cost of drugs

Right side thinks that war is grand
They would have stayed in Afghanistan
The libs are such a bunch of hacks
They would make vapers pay a twenty-times tax

And neither side it must be mentioned
Will legislate experiments
Will plant the gardens let it grow
To wait and learn what next to sow

That neither side affords a challenge
In primaries they want incumbents
Prefer the teammate to opponent
Even if that jerk’s unhinged

In states both red and blue
Districts shaped like lizard or shoe
And the Supreme Court won’t add two to two
That question is political, so fuck you

In the Senate the talking rule
Keeps the law old, mean, and cruel
All the good ideas we have
Are drowned in the saucer’s bath

In the House the seats so few
One hundred years boy how they flew
As decades’ population growth accrue
There ain’t room left in that zoo

Republicans are too far gone
That I would ever consider them
But as long as Dems are wrong
I vote for them, but look to heaven

Deliver us some better souls
Who will advance the worldly goals
That would relieve our nation from
These pains created by humans


Sorry for the bad poetry. If it’s a consolation, it’s better than the worse one I wrote before.

The closing lines should be read, by theists to mean aliens should bring forth their government experts to help us, and by atheists to mean that God should send His choirs to help us.

Have a nice day.

—A

Trapped in a Hot Shed

The padlock was looking worse for wear, but showing no signs of doing anything but deforming.

Back in the day, it was “yo momma.” Online it became “ur mom.” “yo” + “ur” = “your.” Weird that the whole second-person possessive can’t get it together. I was thinking about that as I hammered away at the padlock. In speech “yo” in typing “ur.” Why? On a regular keyboard the pairs are the same distance, but “yo” is a right-hand operation, where “ur” is both hands.

The padlock wouldn’t open, and my shoulders were getting tired and my nerves were getting rattled from all the sudden impacts. The padlock was looking worse for wear, but showing no signs of doing anything but deforming. I set the hammer down and looked around the old shed for something to get between the lock and the shackle, to put the stress where it belonged.

It was hot in the shed, the sun overhead sending all those fragments of energy into the rusty metal roof, which caused tiny vibrations in the metal, caused heat, and the air next to it would feel that vibe and bounce into neighbor after neighbor, turning the whole space into a big oven. The padlock was hot, too, from all those whacks with the hammer. No photons required.

I found a few bits of wood, but they wouldn’t be strong enough to bust the lock. The shelves were all thin metal: even if I could tear one down, it wouldn’t be enough leverage. And even the vertical members wouldn’t fit, too big. Fuck the lock. Attack the door before I cook. But before the door, find a weak spot. Attack the wall. Attack a corner. Get some fresh air. Attack the ceiling, vent the heat to space.

I was getting overheated. I wasn’t thinking so hot. I picked up the hammer and started banging at the walls. Fucking metal has no soul. It doesn’t care. It’s so hard and not cold right now so hot right now if I touch a wall, don’t even have to touch a wall to feel the heat like off a fire.

I looked for a seam where the metal meets its neighbor. A weak spot. All these shelves get in the way. Has to be somewhere. Some way to break something here.

Floor’s concrete, no hope there. Did I mention it’s dark? No electricity in this little shit shed just cover from the rain. It’s light enough to feel like you’re squinting at dusk, but you can kinda see. If it rained I could wait, it would cool off, but the heat out there, can’t be a cloud above. If it was almost night, I could wait until dawn. Too dark at night.

I can’t wait. Another hour of this and I’ll be memory. I picked up the hammer and tried to put the handle in the shackle. Won’t fit. The hammer was here on a shelf. To let me wear myself out faster, which I almost did with the fit of anger. People always pissed me off with “yo momma” and “ur mom.” Talking like they knew the woman. Intimately. Assholes.

A corner of a shelf maybe could shim between the seam and pry but it wouldn’t be more than an inch or so. Not flat. Can’t get it very far. Not that strong for prying. Made to hold a perpendicular force not to become a lever to save my life.

When I get out I might kill them. I want to, but I know deep down I’ll be so glad to be out that I won’t even remember their names. I won’t waste a second looking over my shoulder. They baited me in, shut the door before I realized. Padlock’s on the inside, with this pair of bars from the wall that were made to close the lock when the door comes closed. How do they get it open again? It was made for this.

If I could apply a twisting force, this shed would fall so fast I’d bust my head. Have to think about it in ways the builder didn’t. Dump all the crap off a shelf. Pull the shelf down with a noise that pushes hot air into my ears. The building has pressure from the heat. The walls are pushing out, even a little. Nothing to do with it.

I push and grind the shelf into a corner, at an angle. I climb on it, get my weight going into one of the walls with it. The metal keeps slipping. Don’t feel it budge. Have to get down: the shelf’s drawing heat from the walls, burns when I touch it too long. How God-damned hot is it out there?

Five shelves. Put one in the corner, leaning. Put another—how? Weigh them on top of each other, somehow. Tear it down. Not on a corner. Flat side. More stress. Door would be better, but the shelves are too wide and sideways would hit the ceiling.

Heavy, lift a second shelf and get the legs stuck into the one against the wall. Doesn’t help. Wants to be a hinge toward the ground, not much against the wall. Better to have a point into the wall. Concentrate force at an arrowhead. Shed is rectangle. Narrower on the door and back wall. Lean two shelves on the side walls, a third to slide between. No point though. Broadside, distributes force too much.

Kick around the crap I dumped off the shelves. Half-bags of concrete, some nails, length of hose, nothing to use. Feeling another wave of the heat. Each one worse. Body dumping so much sweat but no air to evaporate.

Corner of shelf on the door, on the hinges. Bad angle. Barely stable. Are they outside? Watching? Waiting? Second shelf at the foot of the first, barnraise it up and shove it until it’s hitting the ceiling. Almost vertical. Keep shoving it, wedging it down on the first, on the top hinge. Idiot: door opens in. Try to pull it off, but it’s wedged and the bottom shelf has bent. Door is now a loss.

Another wave from all that exertion. Stupid thing to do. Lay on the ground, coolest part of the shed. Concrete. Still feels warm, but not hot at least.

Concrete. Only the structure is attached, not the sheetmetal walls. They attach to the frame. Three centimeter square tubing. Welded. No nuts and bolts. Welded pins through the walls through the frames. Place built for this.

Cutting the walls. That’s the only real way. Find the nails, take the hammer, pointillism. Find one of the scraps of wood, drive seven nails through, haphazard asterisk. Points to metal wall, hammer away. Too hard, distributes too much force. One nail, hammer, wants to deflect, nearly hit my thumb. Another board, one nail. Punches through, a little star, a beam through the dark and heat and dust.

Move it over, second star. Third, fourth, a minor system, a small galaxy. Enough holes now I can feel the air warm but cooler. Start using the hammer against the perforated area. Fist-sized hole now. Feeling some real relief when I stick my mouth to it and draw some clear breaths. Don’t want to leave it to make it bigger, but after a minute I force myself to get back to puncturing farther down the wall.

Work is slower farther down. Hard to get the angle right, even on my knees. Start filling in between there and the hole. Stopped to look out through it. Empty field, no shadows of my captors visible. No sounds. I spent a few minutes hammering down on the slice of metal at the top of the hole, hoping to tear down faster, but it didn’t really work. Went back to poking holes, hammering the nail in the board. I’m hurting, but no longer gonna die from heat stroke. Dehydration’s a different story. All that sweat, my head feels like it wants to turn inside out.

I finally got a nice long hole, from my chest down to mid-thigh. It’s half as wide as it needs to be, so if I try to squeeze through, I won’t and I’ll cut myself to hell. All the patience I can muster, I widen the hole both ways at the top, poking hole after hole as much as I can. I get started on the middle, too, but I’m so tired and feel so awful. I hammer the holes out as much as I can and then hammer the flaps they make, which is almost wide enough, but has the benefit of being a smooth fold that won’t slice me up.

I


At this point in the drafting, the United States Supreme Court’s foolhardy majority declined to do their jobs, so I’ve declined to finish this.