Welcome to Friday, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe (again), tensions flare in U.S. and China talks and snow on the Alps offers a cold measure of climate change. Italian weekly L'Espresso also explores the grueling and psychologically damaging work of social media content moderators.
Damage done: AstraZeneca overcaution will kill many
The official announcement came yesterday that, as virtually all competent doctors and scientists had been saying, the AstraZeneca vaccine is indeed safe. And most European countries will recommence distributing the jab, as the vaccination campaigns continue to be far slower than promised. For Guy Vallancien, a member of the French Academy of Medicine, even the temporary suspension, is akin to a death sentence for thousands — and an example of public policy at its weakest. Here's his piece for Les Echos:
Hans Jonas, the inventor of the concept of the "precautionary principle," has left us with the worst of bad ideas, and politicians have eaten it up to protect themselves against lawsuits. Even if it has since been lifted, how can we not protest the French state's decision to temporarily suspend the vaccine developed and tested by scientists at Oxford and AstraZeneca?
Understandably, certain medical scandals in the past could make our leaders wary. When applied to vaccines, however, this principle of extreme precaution cannot stand. As a preventive approach, the ratio between risks and benefits has still resulted in hundreds of millions of lives saved.
This is indeed very different from the sale of medication produced by private companies that give severe side-effects and offer only mediocre benefits — reimbursed, of course, by our healthcare system.
If all innovations come with risks, then vaccinations come with extraordinarily few, usually benign and temporary. A fire chief stopped vaccinating his team because one of his firefighters had one heart arrhythmia two days after the injection. What right did he have to deprive everyone else of protection, all the more useful since the main variant in France is now characterized as the more transmissible and dangerous strain? If we continue with this little game of "who won't take the risk," we will end up vaccinating only the dead. It works 100% and it is safe!
We have the data: The frequency of thrombosis (blood clots) following the injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 0.0004, i.e. about 30 cases out of 9.7 million people vaccinated, and for the Pfizer vaccine it's 0.0002 for every 10 million individuals. To date, there has been no proof that this is a cause-and-effect relationship, merely a coincidence that does not seem to be greater than that of keeping the population unvaccinated.
The quality of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been verified by independent experts, so what else can we do? Continue to vaccinate relentlessly.
This absurd decision to suspend their usage, which has spread like wildfire around the world, and particularly around Europe, shows how politicians are seriously lacking basic science and statistics in decision-making.
This matter will leave permanent scars. First of all, who will want to be vaccinated now with AstraZeneca's product? Excessive media coverage on its side-effects had already tainted the confidence of candidates who were waiting impatiently for the vaccine.
Politics in Europe is locked in a paralyzing state of acute precaution. Nobody needed this absurd decision. The governments in European Union countries give us a terrible example of how to conduct business. While I have supported the action of the team in power, I am aware of the extreme difficulty of managing this war against an invisible and insidious enemy and can share the hesitations inherent in such a complicated battle. Yet I cannot remain silent regarding this incomprehensible and harmful decision to withdraw a vaccine. Yes, precaution will kill an additional 3,000 Europeans per day, while the vaccine has already protected more than 25 million without any significant risk. Do the math!
— Guy Vallancien / Les Echos
• AstraZeneca safe, UK PM to get jab: Germany, France, Spain and Italy will resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the EU drug regulatory agency announced that the jab is "safe and effective" and does not raise the risk of blood clots. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, (who has already recovered from COVID-19) will take the vaccine in an attempt to reassure the public.
• Mexico massacre: Thirteen law enforcement officers were killed in an ambush near Mexico City while carrying out a regular patrol of an area plagued with gangs in one of the most violent attacks in Mexico in recent years.
• U.S.-China talks get heated: Tensions flared during the first high-level, in-person talks between the two global superpowers, with both nations accusing each other of political attacks.
• Tanzania first woman president: Following the death of president John Magufuli, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn in as the first woman to be president of Tanzania.
• Myanmar junta kills nine people: In another day of increasing violence, Myanmar military forces open-fired to clear protestors, killing nine.
• Goldman Sachs sweatshop: First-year analysts have revealed an abusive workplace with 95 hour work weeks on average in a new bombshell survey.
• Princess Diana letters on auction: 36 handwritten letters between the late Princess of Wales and her friend Roger Bramble are up for auction in Cornwall — each one costing an estimated $41,000.
"Every day a new record," titles Greek daily Nea Kriti as the country breaks daily records in both new daily cases and intubations, reaching levels equivalent to what Greece experienced in November.
For Facebook moderators, the soul-crushing job must go on
Underpaid and overexposed to what in some cases can be truly disturbing content, moderators are the invisible, human grease that keeps the social media machine running. It's grueling but essential work that happens behind the scenes, reports Maurizio Di Fazio in Italian weekly news magazine L'Espresso.
Because technology fails to grasp the way we mean some of our words — and who knows if it will ever understand them — platforms still need someone to hide the dirt under the carpet in the eyes of the billions of subscribers and advertisers. Social media content moderators, in other words, need to take that stuff down before it infects too many monitors and smartphones. Such content includes child pornography, hate messages, fake accounts, hoaxes, revenge porn, cyberbullying, torture, rape, murder, suicide, local wars and live massacres.
It's essential and misunderstood work. It's also, in many ways, barbaric. "I was paid 10 cents per piece of content," writes Tarleton Gillespie in his Custodians of the Internet. "For this amount I had to catalog the video, published by ISIS, of a boy who had been set on fire." The custodians work at a frenzied pace, deleting up to 1,500 pieces of content per shift. This happens one at a time, following the guidelines provided by the companies, the changing Community Standards (which the moderators refer to as the Bible).
In 2020, Facebook paid $52 million to thousands of moderators who had developed psychological problems due to their work. Few last more than a few months on the job before being fired for disappointing performances or leaving by their own volition because they are no longer able to observe the evil of the world without being able to do anything other than hide it. The aftermath can be heavy. The accumulation of bloody visions traces a deep furrow. Who else has ever plunged so deeply into the abysses of human nature?
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Bogotá burglars form circus-style human ladders
Thieves in Bogotá have been displaying impressive gymnastic prowess by forming human ladders to break into homes. Security footage from one incident shows a seamless, efficient thieving chain as a television is passed out the window to an accomplice below.
This circus-style robbery took place in the district of Usaquén. The understandably stunned homeowner, Daniela Piracón, told Colombian broadcaster RCN that in four minutes, one of the thieves snatched the television and had time to look around "to see what else he could take."
Robbers seem to favor the capital's typical detached or semi-detached homes, as shown in footage of a similar incident in Aug. 2020, broadcast by the news channel Caracol.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
The snow season in the Alps is between 22 and 34 days shorter compared to 50 years ago, according to a new study coordinated by Eurac Research, tabulating the effects of higher temperatures caused by climate change. Researchers collected and evaluated data from 2,000 measuring stations in Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland and France — the first study of such scale in Europe.
— That's how megastar American singer Billie Eilish captioned the Instagram post of her stunning new blond look. The selfie has quickly become the 4th most liked publication on the platform … still many millions behind that world-record egg.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.