For decades, she endured brief blackouts. Then a scary one hit her.

The Washington Post

For decades, she endured brief blackouts. Then a scary one hit her.

Sandra G. Boodman, The Washington Post – January 31, 2023

Illustration (Cam Cottrill for The Washington Post)

Lying on her back in Seattle’s Lake Union Park, Maureen E. Ryan drifted in and out of consciousness, oddly comforted by a trio of rabbits nibbling on wet grass as they watched her from 20 feet away. The area where Ryan collapsed during a solo Sunday night run was devoid of people and the bunnies made her feel less alone.

For 30 years Ryan had experienced periodic fainting episodes while exercising, but she had always recovered quickly. “This time I felt like I was going to die,” she recalled, terrified by how vulnerable she must look and by her inability to move or even speak. “I thought, ‘Someone’s going to find my body. How sad for my family.'”

Twenty minutes later after several failed attempts, Ryan managed to stand. She telephoned a friend, declined his offer to pick her up because of the distance involved, then stayed on the phone with him as she walked slowly through a chilly drizzle to her houseboat a mile away.

For the 49-year-old conservation biologist, that January 2022 incident was the catalyst for a contentious months-long process that would upend a diagnosis made more than 20 years earlier, uncovering the potentially deadly reason for blackouts Ryan had long believed were no big deal. Correcting the problem required major surgery from which she continues to recover.

Her memory of that night and the “what ifs” it triggered remain unusually vivid. “It just felt like I was really close to the edge of something,” she said.

A one-off event?

Ryan has always been an avid athlete. During high school in Pittsburgh she ran, rowed crew, and played lacrosse and field hockey. Her first fainting episode occurred in 1991 during her freshman year at Georgetown University in D.C. A few minutes after finishing a treadmill run in the gym that left her feeling oddly nauseated, Ryan passed out and suffered a brief seizure while drinking from a water fountain.

“The last thing I remember was my vision tunnel down around the water coming out of the spout,” she said. She awoke seconds later, surrounded by basketball players who had seen her crumple to the floor. Unhurt but embarrassed, Ryan walked back to her dorm to take a nap. “I saw this as a weird, one-off thing,” she said and didn’t mention it to anyone.

Five years would elapse before she fainted again. But the nausea and dizziness recurred sporadically, usually when the 5-foot-1 Ryan was trying to keep up with her much taller friends during six-mile runs, on long hikes or climbing mountains. The sensations typically began 10 minutes in and passed if she rested.

“I didn’t realize it was unusual,” said Ryan, who thought she was pushing herself too hard or moving too fast.

After college she headed to Wyoming and then to Utah to work as a wilderness and rock-climbing instructor, a job that often involved lugging a 60-pound pack. In October 2000, while running on Cape Cod where she was living temporarily, Ryan had three episodes in a single week; she passed out once and nearly fainted twice. She emailed her aunt, a pathologist with expertise in heart problems, and was alarmed by the response.

“She told me it could be a dangerous arrhythmia,” Ryan recalled. Her aunt advised her to go to an emergency room if it happened again and to stop running until she saw a cardiologist.

Several days later she saw a heart specialist on the Cape who initially dismissed her symptoms as psychological – before an EKG, a noninvasive test that assesses the heart, showed she had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), a disorder that causes an overly fast heartbeat.

Weeks later Ryan underwent a catheter ablation, a minimally invasive treatment for an elevated heart rate. Before the ablation, which was performed in Pittsburgh where her parents live, Ryan was given a tilt table test. She was strapped to an exam table that measures changes in blood pressure and heart rate as it is repositioned. The test is used to help determine the cause of unexplained fainting, also known as syncope.

Twenty-five minutes in, Ryan experienced the telltale nausea and dizziness, then passed out.

Her fainting, she was told, was caused by vasovagal syncope. This common condition can be triggered by intense emotion (in some people it is triggered by the sight of a needle or blood), prolonged exercise or dehydration. It usually does not signal an underlying problem. Because the ablation had been a success – subsequent EKGs did not show the WPW arrhythmia – Ryan said she was told that her dizziness and episodic fainting were essentially harmless.

She was advised to see a cardiologist periodically, but “otherwise it was ‘You’re fixed,'” Ryan recalled.

She did not know – nor did a doctor tell her – that physical exertion should not have been the sole trigger of her episodes. That red flag was missed for the next two decades.

Infrequent dizziness, nausea, fainting

After she moved to the West Coast to attend graduate school and then launch her career, Ryan incorporated the episodes, which remained relatively infrequent, into her passion for skiing, mountain biking, masters swimming and running.

“It was just part of my exercise physiology,” said Ryan, who told her friends “I have this weird thing that if I start too fast I tend to faint.” When she experienced the dizziness or nausea that signaled an episode she would quickly sit or lie down, which often prevented fainting or injury.

Over the years Ryan informed her doctors, who included five cardiologists in various cities, about the cardiac ablation and vasovagal syncope. None suggested anything might be amiss, she said.

By early 2020, Ryan was living in Seattle when she noticed new symptoms. Sometimes she awoke in the morning feeling inexplicably awful. Her chest sometimes felt tight when she ran and she was more easily winded. She had planned to see a cardiologist, but the pandemic, combined with a serious knee injury that prevented her from running for months, derailed that plan. During her hiatus from running Ryan noticed that her queasiness, dizzy spells and fainting disappeared.

By mid-2021, her knee had healed and Ryan resumed running. Her symptoms soon returned, capped by her frightening collapse in the park.

‘It’s not your heart’

Shortly after she got home that night Ryan contacted her health plan’s after-hours line. The doctor she spoke to scheduled an EKG and blood tests for the following day.

Although her EKG was read as normal, Ryan, who had been furiously researching her symptoms, thought one of the heartbeat measurements – the QT interval – seemed prolonged. She sent her records to her aunt, who agreed and expressed concern about possible Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that can cause sudden death.

She also told her niece that vasovagal syncope is usually triggered by a strong emotional reaction and is considered worrisome when linked to physical exertion.

Ryan’s internist was also concerned and arranged an expedited appointment with an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm disorders.

In the interim Ryan contacted Samir Saba, chief of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and co-director of its Heart and Vascular Institute, who is a neighbor of her parents. During a video appointment in late January 2022, the electrophysiologist quizzed Ryan in detail about her history and symptoms. He advised that she wear a heart monitor, stop all vigorous exercise and undergo genetic testing for Long QT syndrome.

Saba also recommended a stress MRI heart scan that can mimic exercise, replicating the conditions that led to her fainting. The scan can reveal blockages and structural abnormalities that might otherwise elude detection.

“Blackouts are very challenging,” Saba observed. The cause “can be very benign or very sinister.”

One possible cause of her symptoms, Saba said, was an anomalous coronary artery, which affects about 1 percent of the population. Such malformations occur early in fetal development and result in a coronary artery being in the wrong place. These defects are typically not dangerous, but in some people they can reduce the flow of blood to the heart, causing fainting, a heart attack or sudden death, particularly during exercise.

Saba said Ryan’s description of her blackouts made him suspect that something more than a vasovagal response was occurring. “At the peak of exercise the vagal response does not kick in,” he noted.

An electrophysiologist she saw a few days later in Seattle had a different view. He did not think she needed a stress MRI for reasons that were unclear. He recommended a stress echocardiogram instead, which was performed in early February. During the test Ryan experienced chest tightness and then passed out while running on a treadmill; her blood pressure and heart rate both plummeted. Nurses called a resuscitation team and moved in to start CPR, but Ryan recovered quickly without intervention.

The cardiologist diagnosed her with post-exercise vasovagal syncope, prescribed 10 grams of salt per day to prevent a drop in blood pressure that can cause fainting and told Ryan she could resume running.

“It’s not your heart,” she said he told her when she pressed him for the MRI and an explanation of her symptoms. During slow runs Ryan’s chest continued to feel tight, while the salt left her bloated, short of breath and anxious.

Ryan decided she needed the MRI and flew to Pittsburgh in early March. She hoped she could ultimately convince her insurer to pay for out-of-network care.

That proved to be a smart decision. The MRI and a subsequent CT angiogram confirmed Saba’s suspicion. Imaging showed that Ryan had been born with an anomalous right coronary artery that originated from the wrong location. There was evidence of “severe compression” between the aorta and pulmonary artery, which limited blood flow at the peak of exertion, as did a misshapen orifice to the artery.

These anatomical factors – not vasovagal syncope – led to blackouts, which could trigger a dangerously irregular heartbeat that could prove fatal. Ryan did not have Long QT syndrome; it was unclear if she had WPW. Her collapse in the park, she was later told, was most likely aborted sudden cardiac death.

The recommended treatment was an “unroofing” operation – open heart surgery that involves repositioning the opening of the artery to improve blood flow and prevent compression. The operation is followed by months of cardiac rehab; recovery can take a year or more.

“I was super bummed out,” Ryan recalled. “I thought, ‘Whoa, how am I even still here?’ I was headed into something very different than I had thought.”

Life after surgery

In August, after months of battles with her health insurer, which ultimately agreed to pay for the MRI scan and out-of-network care, Ryan underwent unroofing surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. The three-hour operation was performed by two cardiothoracic surgeons with expertise in treating congenital heart disease. (Ryan no longer sees the cardiologist who told her the problem “wasn’t her heart.”)

Although her condition has improved – she is able to exercise under controlled conditions, the fainting has not recurred, and the risk of sudden cardiac death appears to have been eliminated – Ryan’s recovery has been marked by episodes of chest tightness and she remains fatigued. She said she has been told that it can take up to three years to establish a “new normal.”

Saba said that it isn’t clear why Ryan’s heart problem wasn’t detected earlier but suspects it may reflect a failure to consider an underlying heart defect. “This is something cardiologists know about,” he said. “The critical thing is the level of suspicion.”

Ryan said she is deeply grateful to Saba for his diagnostic acumen and to her Seattle doctors for their surgical skills and advocacy on her behalf.

Only after her diagnosis did she learn that some of her friends had been skeptical of her assurances that her fainting was normal.

“I wish I’d taken my experience more seriously,” Ryan said. “It just seems insane now.”

Sandra G. Boodman, who was a Washington Post staff writer for more than 30 years, created the Medical Mysteries column.

Wagner chief says he’s turning Russian convict fighters destined for Ukraine into ‘cannibals’

Fox News

Wagner chief says he’s turning Russian convict fighters destined for Ukraine into ‘cannibals’

Caitlin McFall – January 31, 2023

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin championed the training efforts of his newest recruits swept from Russia’s penal system and slotted for deployment on Ukraine’s front lines and said they “will make real cannibals.”

The term is not meant as a literal interpretation, explained Russia expert and former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer for Russian Doctrine & Strategy Rebekah Koffler.

The expression is intended as way for Prigozhin to claim he is turning his convicts into fighting machines as they prepare for the warfront in Ukraine.

Wagner Group
A man places flowers at the coffin during the funeral of Dmitry Menshikov, a mercenary for the private Russian military company Wagner Group, killed during the military conflict in Ukraine, in the Alley of Heroes at a cemetery in Saint Petersburg, Russia December 24, 2022.

In a video shared by the Daily Mail Tuesday, Prigozhin spoke as Wagner forces trained behind him and said, “This is a supplementary training base for our fighters.”

“The primary training is in Molkino and here experienced fighters are given additional training in their specialties,” he said in reference to where Wagner’s main base in Russia is located. “Here they make real cannibals.”

Wagner began offering Russian convicts a chance to fight in Ukraine and in exchange secure their release from prison — no matter the charge.

RUSSIA’S WAGNER CHIEF FREES FIRST ROUND OF CONVICTS WHO TRADED JAIL TIME FOR WAR IN UKRAINE

So long as a convict can survive on the front lines for a six-month stint, they can return home without fulfilling their full prison term.

Though Wagner forces receive ammunitions and equipment from the Russian defense ministry they do not work with or function as a part of the Russian military forces.

Prigozhin, a Putin ally, has concentrated his forces in the most harshly fought over regions in Ukraine like Donetsk and claimed recent victories for Russia were down to his forces, not Russia’s military.

Though the Russian military has sought to distance itself from the brutal mercenary group it claimed earlier this month that Russian military units and Wagner Forces worked as in a “heterogeneous” effort to secure the fiercely contested town of Soledar.

The U.S. estimates that there are some 50,000 hired soldiers in Ukraine, roughly 10,000 are believed to be professional contractors while 40,000 are convicts recruited to backfill flagging numbers on the ground.

CDC warns that a brand of eyedrops may be linked to drug-resistant infections

NBC News

CDC warns that a brand of eye-drops may be linked to drug-resistant infections

Erika Edwards – January 31, 2023

One person has died and at least three others are left with permanent vision loss because of a bacterial infection possibly linked to a brand of over-the-counter eyedrops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A majority of those affected reported using preservative-free EzriCare Artificial Tears before becoming ill, the CDC reported in a statement dated Jan. 20.

While the infections have not been definitively traced to the eyedrops, the CDC recommended that “patients immediately discontinue the use of EzriCare Artificial Tears until the epidemiological investigation and laboratory analyses are complete.”

So far, the CDC team has identified at least 50 people in 11 states with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a type of bacterium resistant to most antibiotics. Cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Most patients said they’d used EzriCare Artificial Tears before becoming ill.

EzriCare Artificial Tears (EzriCare)
EzriCare Artificial Tears (EzriCare)

Eleven developed eye infections, at least three of whom were blinded in one eye. Others had respiratory infections or urinary tract infections. One person died when the bacterium entered the patient’s bloodstream.

It is unclear whether the affected patients had underlying eye conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts, that would have made them more susceptible. Symptoms of an eye infection include pain, swelling, discharge, redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light and the feeling of some kind of foreign object stuck in the eye.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are commonly found in water and soil and even on the hands of otherwise healthy people. Infections usually occur in hospital settings among people with weakened immune systems.

This type of bacterium is often resistant to standard antibiotics.

“That’s what’s so concerning,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Our standard treatments are no longer available” to treat this infection.

The drops under investigation are labeled as preservative-free. That is, the product does not contain anything that might prevent microbiological growth. The product could have been contaminated during the manufacturing process or when a person with the bacteria on his or her skin opened the container.

The CDC found the bacteria in bottles of the eyedrops and is testing to see whether that bacteria matches the strain found in patients.

As of Tuesday, EzriCare Artificial Tears had not been recalled. They have been sold on Amazon and at stores such as Walmart.

Ex-colleague of chief justice’s wife makes ethics claim

ABC News

Ex-colleague of chief justice’s wife makes ethics claim

January 31, 2023

PHOTO: Chief Justice John Roberts sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, April 23, 2021. (Pool/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
Ex-colleague of chief justice’s wife makes ethics claim

A Boston attorney and former colleague of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts‘ wife, Jane, has filed a complaint with Congress and the Justice Department alleging her work as a legal recruiter poses a conflict of interest at the Supreme Court.

The confidential complaint, first obtained and reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, suggests Jane Roberts’ past position as legal recruiter — helping high-profile firms hire top talent, some of whom later have business before the court — may present an ethical concern.

While she quit her job as a law partner when her husband was confirmed as chief justice in 2005, Jane Roberts made millions of dollars in commissions helping recruit for firms regularly involved in court business, according to the former colleague, Kendal Price, as reported by the Times.

“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Price wrote, according to the Times.

MORE: Supreme Court’s John Roberts says judicial system ‘cannot and should not live in fear’

Neither John nor Jane Roberts immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not respond either, though a spokesperson told the Times that the court’s members were “attentive to ethical constraints” and cited the federal judges’ code of conduct and related advisories, which specifically said a judge didn’t have to recuse themselves solely because their spouse had been a recruiter for a firm before the court.

ABC News has reached out to the Department of Justice and didn’t immediately receive a response.

The complaint, which the Times reported was sent in December, has not been independently reviewed by ABC News. But in a statement provided by his attorney, Price explained why he is coming forward years later.

“I made the disclosures at this time for two principal reasons. First, any potential influence on what cases are accepted by the Supreme Court is a serious matter that affects the justice system in the U.S., particularly if that influence is not publicly known,” Price said.

“Second, the national controversy and debate regarding the integrity of the Supreme Court demanded that I no longer keep silent about the information I possessed, regardless of the impact such disclosures might have upon me professionally and personally,” he added.

Jane Roberts is currently the managing partner at a Washington-based legal recruiting firm. She previously worked with Price at a separate firm in Maryland.

Price was fired from the firm in 2013, according to the Times, and later sued Jane Roberts and another executive.

Price is calling on lawmakers and Justice Department attorneys to investigate. However, the Supreme Court is not typically subject to outside ethics oversight and largely polices itself.

His complaint is the latest in a string of ethics allegations against sitting justices and their spouses, which have stoked longstanding calls for greater transparency and enforceable ethics rules at the Supreme Court.

Justice Clarence Thomas has faced calls to recuse himself on a number of issues and cases over the conservative political activism of his wife, Ginni. Justice Samuel Alito was recently accused by a former anti-abortion activist of leaking the outcome of a major case at a dinner with his wife.

Both justices have denied any wrongdoing.

Police Were Called on Black Girl For Spraying Lanternflies, Now Yale Celebrates Her Brilliance

The Root

Police Were Called on Black Girl For Spraying Lanternflies, Now Yale Celebrates Her Brilliance

Candace McDuffie – January 31, 2023

Photo:  Andrew Hurley/Yale
Photo: Andrew Hurley/Yale

Last October, Bobbi Wilson—a curious 9-year-old who wanted to preserve trees in her New Jersey neighborhood by spraying destructive lanternflies with a solution of water, apple cider vinegar and dish soap—had the cops called on her for no other reason than being Black. Now, she’s being honored by Yale.

The cops who questioned Wilson said they were answering a report from a neighbor (who was obviously a Karen) who called a non-emergency line to report a “little Black woman, walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees.” She said that she was “scared” of Wilson, who was allegedly donning a hood at the time.

Now Yale University is recognizing Wilson a few months after the racial profiling incident occurred. Better known as “Bobbi Wonder,” the young scientist was celebrated for eradicating spotted lanternflies in her hometown of Montclair.

Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara said: “Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi. We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is, and we just want to make sure she continues to feel honored and loved by the Yale community.”

In a news release, Wilson’s mother Monique Joseph, thanked the institute for nurturing her daughter’s inquisitive mind. “You know, you hear about racism; you kind of experience it in your peripheral if you’re lucky in your life. It doesn’t come knocking on your door. That morning when it happened, my world stopped.”

Joseph also commented: “I am aware this happened for us, not to us. The reason that Bobbi is here, and we are not grieving, is because someone above wanted us to be a part of changing racism in our town. … It is because we have Bobbi that we are able to stand here and do something about it, to speak up for ourselves.”

The young child was also honored by police and police and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) at an event in New Jersey.

Corruption rife across Latin America; Guatemala, Nicaragua reach all-time lows: report

Reuters

Corruption rife across Latin America; Guatemala, Nicaragua reach all-time lows: report

Steven Grattan – January 31, 2023

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators protest the alleged corruption in the government, in Guatemala City

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cuba reached all-time lows on Transparency International’s corruption index released on Tuesday due to increased organized crime by public institutions, co-optation by political and economic elites and increased human rights abuses.

“Weak governments fail to stop criminal networks, social conflict, and violence, and some exacerbate threats to human rights by concentrating power in the name of tackling insecurity,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, head of Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption group.

Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The average for the Americas stands at 43.

In Latin America, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the lowest ranked as each struggles with public institutions infiltrated by criminal networks, the report notes.

The governments of Guatemala, Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Peru did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the report.

Guatemala has seen state institutions co-opted by political and economic elites and organized crime, the report said.

Over the past year, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has faced a growing chorus of critics claiming he has slammed the brakes on anti-corruption efforts, as well as forced some judges and prosecutors to flee the country, the main reasons for the country’s decline in the index.

Repression of the political opposition, human rights abuses and cracking down on freedom of speech is what lowered Nicaragua’s ranking, while Cuba has a historic low due to the “ongoing repression” and the “absolute lack of any kind of freedom in the country,” one of Transparency International’s researchers told Reuters.

The report adds that the combination of corruption, authoritarianism and an economic downturn proved “especially volatile” in Brazil where ex-President Jair Bolsonaro’s term was marked by dismantling anti-corruption efforts, the use of corrupt schemes to favor allies and amass support in Congress, as well as promoting disinformation.

Neighboring Uruguay scored best in the region with a ranking of 74, the same as Canada.

Transparency International pointed to years of instability in Peru with its cycle of different governments including last December’s ouster of then-President Pedro Castillo, himself a target of corruption investigations.

Weak law enforcement and high-level corruption have also allowed drug cartels to expand in the Caribbean, the report said.

“The only way forward is for leaders to prioritize decisive action against corruption to uproot its hold and enable governments to fulfill their first mandate: protecting the people,” Rubio said.

(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Lisa Shumaker)

Russia plans to receive Iranian ballistic missiles against which Ukraine’s air defense is powerless

Ukrayinska Pravda

Russia plans to receive Iranian ballistic missiles against which Ukraine’s air defense is powerless

Ukrainska Pravda – January 30, 2023

There remains a threat of Russia receiving Iranian ballistic missiles, against which Ukrainian air defence in its current form is powerless.

Source: Colonel Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force, on air of the national joint 24/7 newscast

Details: Ihnat reminded that Ukraine’s air defence forces cannot counter the hostile ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles flying along a ballistic trajectory. He emphasised the importance of providing our country with the Patriot PAC-3 and SAMP-T systems.

Quote: “The main threat that hangs in the air and can still be implemented is, of course, Iranian-made missiles. Russia has not abandoned its intentions to receive kamikaze drones from Iran and, in a certain way, the missiles that were announced earlier: Fateh and Zolfaghar models.

This is ballistics, we have no means against ballistics today. We understand that Russia also has ballistics in the form of the same Kinzhal missiles. This is basically a system, but air-based, which hits on a ballistic trajectory. Similarly, Kh-22 missiles… and S-300, S-400 missiles are anti-aircraft missiles that hit on a ballistic trajectory.

These are the challenges and threats we face today. It is possible to destroy them [the systems – ed.] in positions as well, but our partners also understand that means against ballistic threats are needed. Such as Patriot PAC-3 and SAMP-T.

We see a shift, Italy and France have also declared their readiness to transfer these systems to Ukraine, which is now being actively discussed after the Ramstein. Therefore, the threat is there, it has not disappeared anywhere, and we must respond to it.”

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Burned out by COVID, Chinese professionals take up nomadic life: ‘I wasted so much time’

Los Angeles Times

Burned out by COVID, Chinese professionals take up nomadic life: ‘I wasted so much time’

Stephanie Yang – January 30, 2023

Chu Fei thought she was doing everything right in life.

At 30, she lived in Beijing and worked at one of the world’s largest tech firms. She had attended China’s top school, Peking University, and gotten a master’s degree at Stanford. She felt the same pressure as anyone else to work hard, buy a home and settle down.

But last year, the striving that came so instinctively suddenly lost its meaning. She was exhausted by 12-hour workdays and long commutes, then nightmarish pandemic lockdowns. None of it seemed worth the financial payoff, the promise of which dwindled as the economy worsened.

“It just felt like my plan wouldn’t work anymore,” she said.

Stuck at home, burned out, with murmurs of layoffs at her company growing, Chu began to realize that she didn’t really like her work-driven life. So she started dreaming of a different one. In October, she quit her job, sold most of her possessions and moved to a provincial village some 800 miles from Beijing.

The growing aversion to conventional expectations — build a career, get married, buy a home, have children — is discouraged by the ruling Communist Party, which prizes social stability.

But China’s economic slowdown, jarring after years of supercharged growth and exacerbated by harsh COVID restrictions, has forced many to put their lives on hold. Tech companies, once among the most reliable and coveted employers, have slashed jobs. Millions of college graduates are struggling to find work in the toughest labor market in decades.

Observers have noticed a growing malaise among a middle class weary of toiling in a hypercompetitive environment without much promise for material gain.

“The young generation has become more aware of the precarious situation that they are in,” said Zhan Yang, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “They don’t want to just be stuck in one job forever, so they are experimenting with different ways of living. It’s like a small social experiment is taking place in China.”

Exact figures on how many people are living such lifestyles are elusive. But surveys show a growing interest in jobs that are more accommodating to different schedules and locations.

The number of flexible workers, such as part-timers or freelancers, in China nearly tripled to 200 million over the course of 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. In a 2022 report by Peking University and Chinese recruitment platform Zhaopin, about 73% of respondents wanted to become digital nomads.

Even before the pandemic, backlash was growing over the punishing hours in China’s high-powered industries, a grind known as 996 — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Employees endured because they believed with enough ambition and grit, anyone could make their fortune. But social mobility has stalled in recent years, undermining that premise.

“It’s kind of like an adrenaline rush, a boost that drives people to work 996. But now the boost is gone,” Chu said. “People are saying, Whatever you do, you’re not going to get rich, you’re not going to make a lot of money, you’re not going to be successful. So why not do something you like?”

For Chu, that means leisurely mornings and afternoons spent writing, making videos and selling goods online. With income from those new endeavors, she calculates she has enough savings to support herself for a few years in smaller, cheaper cities as she fleshes out her longer-term plan.

For now, she’s settled in a once-bustling tourist town nestled between mountains and the shore of West Lake, a 40-minute drive from the city of Hangzhou.

She rents space in a villa that had been used as a hotel before the pandemic, living among the owner and his family — who moved in after tourism dried up — and often joining them for home-cooked meals. Around the village, neighbors tend to their vegetable fields and tea farms.

It’s a far cry from her life in Beijing, where she was often overwhelmed by work messages and demands. Worries about COVID tests or securing deliveries during lockdown exacerbated that fatigue, and the days began to blur together.

“There’s kind of a feeling, like what have I done for all these years? I’ve wasted so much time,” she said. “I can say I went to some good universities and worked at some big companies, but it’s not something you want to write on your tombstone, you know?”

Still, Chu doesn’t want to fully embrace the trend of tangping, or lying flat, a rejection of the country’s rat race that gained popularity a few years ago. Disillusioned youth, tired of trying to fulfill societal expectations, relished the idea of giving up and just lying down. Others coined new variations, such as yangwoqizuo, or “sit-ups,” which describes a cycle between struggle and capitulation. Chu said that doesn’t quite fit her current attitude either.

“I’m not giving up on myself and doing nothing, but I’m not standing up or running. I’m just sitting here doing things — but that’s what I think real life should be.”

She’s put off telling her parents that she left her job, because she doesn’t want them to worry. But she thinks they might come to understand. They live in Wuhan and were among the first to witness the devastation wrought by the pandemic; Chu believes they have also started to prioritize quality of life over traditional success.

For some in China that means leaving demanding jobs, trying to monetize hobbies, or hopping from town to town. Remote work hubs have popped up around the country; China’s Instagram-like platform, Xiaohongshu, said searches for digital nomads surged 650% from January to August 2022. Social media users have begun documenting their transitory lifestyles — including stays in steeply discounted hotel rooms or tourist resorts left deserted during the pandemic.

Summer Li, who quit her job at an e-commerce startup early last year, used the proliferation of such posts to plan her own travels. In May, she moved to the southern tech hub of Shenzhen for one month before returning to Beijing. In August she spent another month in Kunming, the capital of the mountainous Yunnan province, followed by a brief sojourn in Jingdezhen, the “Porcelain Capital” of China, where she studied ceramics.

“I got this information because a lot of people are doing the same thing during COVID,” said Li, who has been running an online jewelry business while on the road. “I just realized, I think going to work is not for me.”

Chu had hesitated to give up her hard-earned job security, even as she watched friends quit work and travel. And when she first told her friends her plans to roam around China, many expressed concern, she said. After she started a video blog about her new life last month, friends and strangers reached out asking for tips on how to embark on similar journeys.

“In traditional Chinese society, many would think: People like you are not very good. They would say you are the unstable element of society,” Chu said. But lately, she has felt less pressure to settle down. “The good thing is that a lot of people are feeling the same way, that we don’t need to do the things that others want you to do.”

Last year, China’s population shrank for the first time in six decades, threatening a demographic crisis with insufficient young people to work and support the elderly. To boost birthrates, local governments have begun offering more supportive policies for families raising young children, and they’ve promoted incentives to buy real estate during the housing downturn.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned the country’s youth against “lying flat,” even as employment prospects have dimmed. “Work is most glorious, our happy lives are created through work. Becoming rich or famous overnight is not realistic,” Xi said during a university visit in Sichuan province in June, according to state media.

But neither incentives nor admonishments have mitigated the spreading ambivalence. Some Chinese became so despondent last year that many began researching how to emigrate, spawning a new movement known as runxue, or “run philosophy.”

Other countries, including Japan and South Korea, are experiencing similar struggles with a dejected younger generation, leading to low marriage and birth rates and putting pressure on governments to alleviate their citizens’ financial stress.

“It’s basically an economic problem,” said Terence Chong, associate economics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Young people, they think they have no hope, housing prices are so expensive, so they just limit how hard they work.”

Chinese officials have begun walking back harsh policies in an effort to boost the economy.

Last month, China suddenly relaxed its stringent zero-COVID policy. Since then, the virus has spread rampant throughout the country, overwhelming hospitals and straining medical supplies. However, it has allowed somewhat of a resumption of normal life and work, buoying hopes for an economic recovery.

Officials have also effectively declared an end to a years-long crackdown on private enterprise that battered tech companies and the for-profit education industry.

Even if the economy recovers, Chu can’t imagine going back to Beijing, or her former life.

“I think COVID gave me a chance to really reflect on myself,” she said. “If there was this opportunity to make a lot of money and be rich overnight, would I still be living the lifestyle I’m living right now? I don’t know, probably not.”

These days, Chu feels so removed from the rest of the world that she barely noticed when China lifted all COVID restrictions, until local villagers began to get sick. Even then, the outbreak felt milder than what she was hearing and reading about Beijing.

“If I turn off my phone, this place is like paradise,” she said. “I just hope that this life can last longer.”

At night, she often takes long walks around the tranquil village. She doesn’t remember the air ever smelling quite so sweet.

David Shen of The Times’ Taipei bureau contributed to this report.

Op-Ed: L.A. ports can’t follow business as usual. Our shipping system is unsustainable

Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed: L.A. ports can’t follow business as usual. Our shipping system is unsustainable

Christina Dunbar-Hester – January 30, 2023

San Pedro, CA - August 25: An aerial view of the The Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. The Port of Los Angeles is the nation's gateway for international commerce and is the busiest seaport in the Western Hemisphere. Located in San Pedro Bay, the Port stretches along 43 miles of waterfront. The Vincent Thomas Bridge, a 1,500-foot-long suspension bridge, crosses Los Angeles Harbor in Los Angeles, and links San Pedro with Terminal Island. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Port of Los Angeles, shown last August, is the busiest seaport in the Western Hemisphere. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Ports in the Los Angeles region entered national headlines as a supply chain crisis unfurled during the pandemic. After an initial near-halt to commerce and shipping in early 2020, some of us saw bluer skies and enjoyed cleaner air for a fleeting moment.

But by 2021, consumer purchasing skyrocketed and trade came roaring back. Though that might sound good for business, it’s a status quo in which the L.A.-Long Beach port complex is Southern California’s largest single source of pollution. If California wants to live up to its reputation as an environmental leader, port operations require more scrutiny — and change.

Though the ports were built to transport general goods and commodities, their fate has been particularly tied to fossil fuels. The rise of oil from the 1920s onward spurred their development to handle a large volume of petroleum. The wealth this generated was poured back into the ports themselves, intensifying the scale of trade. Combined, Los Angeles-Long Beach makes up the largest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere, through which goods — especially from Asia— reach warehouses, retail shelves, e-commerce fulfillment centers and ultimately consumers’ homes.

The pandemic dramatically illustrated the scope of this economic engine. A spike in consumer demand coincided with labor interruptions and other snarls to supply chains, exemplified by the logjam off the coast of Southern California where dozens of ships queued waiting to dock. Residents, especially those living near the ports and distribution corridors, breathed in sharply elevated air pollution.

To preempt future disruptions, state and local officials and the Biden administration have moved to streamline and expand goods-handling in the last couple years. Biden announced that hours of port operation would be extended to keep cargo movement humming. The Port of Long Beach unveiled a new bridge built to allow larger ships’ passage (even as seas rise), and it received federal authorization to deepen its shipping channels. Local officials now fret about whether ports on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico will snatch away a significant share of cargo business because of disruptions in Southern California.

Economic concerns are understandable, especially since the ports are associated with thousands of jobs. But building bigger operations to move an ever-increasing volume of goods is short-sighted locally and globally. Massive ships create infrastructure demands at odds with our need to reduce carbon emissions, curb resource extraction and control environmental pollutants. Many shipped consumer goods are bound for landfills after only a very short period of use. Apparel, appliances, electronics and furniture have shorter lifespans than they did a few decades ago. The way we consume goods right now is simply not sustainable.

Meanwhile, officials and regulators have been sharply criticized for delaying measures to safeguard health for communities around the ports. As air quality activists note, cutting port emissions is urgently needed. Electrifying port and warehouse equipment is underway, but long-haul journeys, including ocean shipping itself and truck distribution, also need to transition off fossil fuel — cargo ship fuel is even dirtier than the diesel on which trucks run — and meet much lower emissions targets. San Pedro Bay’s port complex also traffics a large volume of fossil fuels in addition to consumer goods. Petroleum handling in the ports will need to be significantly diminished to meet the challenge of climate change.

The ports play a substantial role in the interlocking crises in our region, which require an expansive vision. After decades of improvement, air pollution is rising again, due to not only transportation and industrial emissions but also to bigger wildfires, which are the result of  rising temperatures. Global shipping at scale also contributes to the erosion of Indigenous sovereignty by encouraging extractive practices that degrade land, which in turn drives global warming and a related biodiversity and extinction crisis.

How California tackles these threats will have effects far beyond our stateGov. Gavin Newsom’s “30×30” plan — which made California the first state to commit to conserving 30% of its land by 2030 — will provide wildlife habitat that can help absorb carbon. Yet conservation cannot absolve California of its lethal industrial areas. We must approach even freight corridors as spaces for people and nature rather than “sacrifice zones” where toxic exposure is accepted as necessary for industrial activity.

As Angelenos, we should be planning for a future where the success of the ports and the region is not measured by year-over-year growth in goods movement. Indeed, a more livable future in this region might see the ports planning for fewer ships and fewer goods, handled more slowly and accompanied by good jobs in cleaner energy, environmental stewardship and remediation of contaminated sites.

A just energy transition will require that we examine every part of business as usual. That means reconsidering how we’ve managed the ports for the past century. We should be reimagining their role in a more democratic, far less fossil-fuel-dependent future.

Christina Dunbar-Hester is a communication professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, a current member of the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of “Oil Beach.”

Florida weighs allowing concealed carry guns without permit

Politico

Florida weighs allowing concealed carry guns without permit

Matt Dixon – January 30, 2023

Phil Sears/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is set to become the 26th state to allow citizens to carry firearms without a permit under legislation outlined Monday by Republican House Speaker Paul Renner.

Conservatives and gun rights groups in Florida have long pushed to give Florida residents to ability to carry firearms with a permit, known by supporters as “constitutional carry,” but past legislation has routinely gotten bogged down. This year’s efforts are bolstered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly said he would sign a permitless carry bill if lawmakers sent it to his desk.

As the 2023 legislative session approaches, though, the Renner-led House appears to be taking point on getting the bill through the Legislature.

“Florida led the nation in allowing for concealed carry, and that extends today as we remove the government permission slip to exercise a constitutional right,” Renner said Monday during a news conference, where he was flanked by a handful of county sheriffs.

Renner spearheaded the press conference, a signal it’s a clear top priority for the speaker, but the bill is being sponsored by state Rep.Chuck Brannan (R-Lake City) and state Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa). Lawmakers did not formally file a bill at the time of the news conference but are expected to by Monday afternoon.

Under the proposal, the state will no longer require individuals to get a permit from Florida to own a gun. The state also won’t mandate other provisions, including a training requirement needed to get a permit. Permits would still be an option for gun owners who want to get them, something needed to be able to legally carry a gun in states that do not have permitless carry.

The proposal does not address whether people will be allowed to openly carry firearms in public. Under current Florida law, gun owners are not allowed to carry guns in the open.

In 2021, Texas approved a similar “open carry” law that allows most gun owners 21 and over to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit. The Texas law allows citizens to carry the gun in the open or concealed.

Democrats blasted the bill that they say will flood the state with gun owners who are not properly trained. Shortly after Renner’s press conference, Democrats pledged to fight to defeat it during the 2023 session — but Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate, giving them near unchecked power.

“We are united in opposition to this policy proposal,” said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland), whose district includes the scene of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting that left 17 people dead.

Democrats also see the proposal as another in a long line of culture war-infused bills DeSantis will champion during the legislative session to further energize his conservative base as he prepares to run for president. In the past few week alone, DeSantis has asked lawmakers for a sweeping criminal justice bill packed with policies generally supported by conservatives, rejected an Advanced Placement course focused on African-American history, a move that has gotten him national criticism from those who think he is whitewashing American history and signaled he will push for legislation cracking down on teacher’s unions, which are the last bastion of reliable political support for Florida Democrats.

“This is another effort to appeal to his conservative base as he runs for president,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando).

DeSantis was not at the Tallahassee press conference, instead holding his own at the same time in Orlando focused on transportation budget requests.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated one of the cosponsors of the bill. State Rep. Chuck Brannan is co-sponsoring the bill.