Pluralistic: 01 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Trump's rhetoric fits eerily well into the Tolkien canon: AR Moxon makes Mordor great again.
  2. The wealthy are chartering jets to avoid coronavirus: The Masque of the Red Death takes to the skies.
  3. The US already has Medicare for All: The day that Trump declares a national health emergency.
  4. America's uninsured will turn a covid crisis into a covid disaster: Our shared microbial destiny cannot be denied.
  5. Jury refuses to convict Extinction Rebellion activists: Long live the "necessity defense" and the human race it protects.
  6. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  7. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Trump's rhetoric fits eerily well into the Tolkien canon (permalink)

AR Moxon's satirical riff on how Trump would play as a Tolkien villain is not only hilarious, it's also exactly the kind of thing the Tolkien estate used to threaten to sue people over.

(which is why Pat Murphy's astoundingly great genderswapped retelling of The Hobbit, "There and Back Again," is no longer in print.)

Especially good is how Moxon digs into the way that Tolkien's concept of "races" was uncomfortably close to "racism" (especially orcs, who, honestly, have no conceivable basis for subsisting as a species, let alone a society).

"While I was here, this orc came up —a big guy, very tough, like out of central casting, handsome, could’ve been a fighting Uruk-hai—and he’s crying, weeping, he says ‘sir, thank you for the meat.’ Incredible. He hadn’t had nothing but maggoty bread for three stinking days."

Other Trumpland rhetoric fits in eerily well. Just like Murphy, Moxon claims Hobbits: "We have Hobbits coming in folks, and they’re smoking the pipe-weed, and eating second breakfasts, third breakfasts, your breakfasts, your children’s breakfasts."

And just as with Murphy, Moxon's satire is full of deep, Silmarillion cuts that demonstrate that his work is coming from a place of deep, if conflicted, affection.

"Fëanor, son of Finwë, King of the Noldor, is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more. We all appreciate his contributions, and we're looking into him, and we're looking very strongly. Nobody was talking about him before me."

(Image: Cornel Zueger, CC BY-SA)

The wealthy are chartering jets to avoid coronavirus (permalink)

Plutes are chartering private jets in the hopes of avoiding #coronavirus, assuming that if they only fly in fart-tubes that other wealthy people have farted in, they won't get sick.

To make this pay, you really need to fill that Gulfstream. NYC-London is $140k for a 12-seater — flying those 12 buttery soft asses from JFK to Heathrow in BA First will run you $120K.

So you're basically assuming that if you use the plute-only terminal at LAX (whose management company once threatened to sue me for criticizing it in print!), and LHR (originally royals-only, now open to any oligarch), you'll avoid covid. Presumably because the Better People have Better Masks and the Luxury Decontam Wipes and that will keep the bad stuff at bay. Nevermind that we're finding covid in people who've been in psych ward lockdown for TEN YEARS.

Elite Panic is definitely a killer. I mean, people have been pointing this out since Poe wrote "Masque of the Red Death" in 1842. You can't shoot germs.

Humanity has a shared microbial destiny. Crises get resolved by people running TOWARD the problem, not cowering in luxury bunkers while better people do the work. This is the point of my own take on "Masque."

Public health crises show that reality has a well-known collectivist bias, and this challenges right wing orthodoxy, which is why the right has only two responses to epidemiology: "It's a hoax" and (later) "Exterminate the dirty poors!"

"The Reactionary Mind," Corey Robin's magnificent 2011 book (updated 2017), traces the history of right-wing thought to find the factor that unites Dominionists, imperialists, white nationalists, libertarians and other strains of right-wing thought.

Robin's conclusion: the thing that unites these different strains is a belief that humanity is naturally arrayed in hierarchies, with some people simply born better than the rest of us, and the world is best when the best people are in charge. It's an idea as old as Plato's Republic. Dominionists want Christian men in charge of women and children. Racists want white people in charge of racialized people. Libertarians want bosses in charge of workers. Imperialists want America in charge of the world.

It explains why right-wing movements hang together (because they all agree that the "wrong people" are running things) and why they splinter (once they take power, they can't agree who the "right people" are).

This "divine right of kings/bosses/America/whites/men/Christians" philosophy is coterminal with the idea of the natural leaders having special stuff that makes them better: just as the touch of a king will heal leprosy, so too can you expect that a plute won't have covid. It's wrong, of course — lethally so.

The US already has Medicare for All (permalink)

Did you know the US already has "Medicare for All"? But only under very specific circumstances: under the National Disaster Medical System, if the President declares a public health emergency, the federal government steps in to pay all out-of-pockets.

Any medically necessary service which is authorized for reimbursement as long as the patient sustained:

  • Injuries or illnesses resulting directly from a specified public health emergency;"

("If you have covid symptoms, you're covered")

  • Injuries, illnesses and conditions requiring medical services necessary to maintain a reasonable level of health temporarily not available as a result of the health emergency

("if you have any other problem and can't get treatment due to covid chaos, you're covered")

As Carlos Mucha points out, Trump declaring a national health emergency would create "Medicare for All with Covid-19," which could easily become just plain Medicare for All, "as surely as the UK's Emergency Hospital Service morphed into the NHS."

America's uninsured will turn a covid crisis into a covid disaster (permalink)

The last time Carl Gibson saw a doctor was 2013, when an arm-sling and an Rx for painkillers ran him $4000, creating a permanent blot on his credit report. He hasn't been since.

He's not alone. 44% of Americans do not see doctors despite medical necessity, because of cost. About a third of Americans do not fill their prescriptions because they can't afford them.

27.5m Americans don't have health insurance, thanks to a mix of Republican state-houses blocking Medicare expansion and Obamacare's intrinsic shortcomings, which invite price-gouging and under-coverage from America's sociopathic health-insurance industry.

This is terrible under the best of circumstances, but it's the thing that turns a coronavirus emergency into a coronavirus catastrophe. Because Carl Gibson is sneezing into the same air you're breathing.

("All the common people breathing filthy air" -The Pointer Sisters)

Trump's Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, is a former pharma lobbyist who has ruled out price controls for a Covid-19 vaccine.

And Nancy Pelosi has said that treatment must be "affordable" – not free. What's "affordable" when 61% of Americans don't even have $1,000 saved to cover a medical emergency?

It's hardly a novel observation to say that we have a shared microbial destiny: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

Jury refuses to convict Extinction Rebellion activists (permalink)

An Oregon jury has refused to convict a group of climate activists who blocked a rail line that Zenith Energy used to transport tar sands crude. The Extinction Rebellion activists presented a "necessity defense" for their actions.

The activists were charged with trespassing for planting a "victory garden" that blocked the track. There was video. 5 of 6 jurors decided that maintaining the habitability of the only planet in the known universe capable of sustaining human life justified the action.

"We need to take note of the lessons learned by the labor movement—mass civil disobedience works. The climate crisis is a workers' issue, we need to unite to shut down business as usual. Right now." -Margaret Butler

The result was a mistrial, and now the local prosecutors have to decide whether to haul the activists back into court again.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Deluded Sony music exec can't read his own study

#15yrsago Euro software patents reanimated through corrupt officials 0wned by Microsoft

#15yrsago Comp sci profs smackdown the movie studios

#10yrsago Architectural fan-drawings of classic sitcom houses

#10yrsago Petition to make "Hella" the prefix for 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

#10yrsago Cyberwar hype was cooked up to sell Internet-breaking garbage to the military

#5yrsago North Korean defectors undermine totalitarianism with smuggled pirate sitcoms

#1yrago Oakland teachers' union declares total victory after seven-day strike

#1yrago German Data Privacy Commissioner warns at new Copyright Directive will increase the tech oligopoly, make EU companies dependent on US filter vendors, and subject Europeans to surveillance by US companies

#1yrago University of California system libraries break off negotiations with Elsevier, will no longer order their journals

#1yrago Satanic Panic 2.0: The Momo Challenge hoax

#1yrago Striking West Virginia teachers won swift and decisive victory; Oakland next?

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I've been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world's prehistory.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: Gopher: When Adversarial Interoperability Burrowed Under the Gatekeepers’ Fortresses:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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