Pluralistic: 22 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. How prepper media is coping with the crisis: Fantasy meets reality while grifters pick up the pieces.
  2. Law firm tells work-from-homers to switch off smart speakers: Bugging your own house is not compatible with attorney-client privilege.
  3. Gorgeous painting of coronavirus from a molecular scientist: Free to use, too.
  4. Slim's is shut, but DNA Lounge needs your help: It's not a business, it's a community.
  5. Florida mayor ducks accountability for threatening power disconnections during the pandemic: Mayor Pam Triolo has permanently disqualified herself for public office, and commissioner Omari Hardy has the receipts.
  6. Rashida Tlaib proposes minting two trillion-dollar coins: A people's covid bailout.
  7. How "concierge doctors" supply the "worried well" with masks, respirators and tests: Pandemic capitalism is guillotine capitalism.
  8. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  9. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

How prepper media is coping with the crisis (permalink)

I just listened to the most interesting coverage of the pandemic I've heard so far: On The Media's deep reporting on how preppers are coping with the Current Situation.

I admit I felt some schadenfreude when I heard prepper media trying to reconcile their hair-trigger belief in the apocalypse with blind loyalty to Trump and his deny/spin tactics. Not to mention some smugness when I heard about all the scammy products grifters are pimping out to preppers. There's even a fucking Kardashian flogging own-brand prepper gear.

But what made the segment amazing – and not just amusing – was the interview with Richard Mitchell, an ethnographer who embedded with preppers for years.

He wrote the canonical book on the prepper movement, Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times.

As Mitchell explains it, prepping is NEVER about actual preparedness. It's about imagining a scenario in which you will uniquely be poised to thrive, irrespective of the likelihood of that scenario. For example, a chemist he profiles in the book is totally prepped for a future in which terrorists poison the water supply and has stockpiled antidotes, water purification chemicals, etc.

The most important thing about this possibility is not that it's likely, but rather than he'd shine if it were to come to pass.

Prepping is a way of playing out a fantasy in which you are elevated to savior status, not an exercise in disaster-mitigation. And the thing is, coronavirus is not a thing anyone can individually prepare for. Individuals in bunkers don't invent novel viral therapies, vaccines, or field-expedient ventilators. That's done by society: labs, research institutes, universities, makerspaces.

The problem with actual prepper-level crises is that they demand social responses, not individual ones. The prepper's quest for individual meaning and supremacy means that he can never be actually prepared, because the way to solve a crisis is run towards it, not away.

Cowering in a luxury bunker trying to unstick the pages of your beloved copy of The Turner Diaries is a hell of a way to while away the end of the world.

Law firm tells work-from-homers to switch off smart speakers (permalink)

Mishcon de Reya is an elite UK law firm whose partners are – like so many others – working from home. The company has issued guidance to staff about shutting down their "smart" speakers while at home, to avoid leakage of sensitive client information

The guidance – to power off these devices – comes from Joe Hancock, the partner in charge of the firm's cybersecurity, and covers all IoT devices with cameras/mics, including baby monitors, smart speakers, Ring doorbells, etc.

Gorgeous painting of coronavirus from a molecular scientist (permalink)

David S. Goodsell is a molecular scientist and artist at the Scripps institute. His latest "Molecular Landscapes" piece is "Coronavirus".

You can tune into some of the process notes here: "he emphasizes that molecular processes in our body don’t stand on their own (despite how they’re usually shown in textbooks), but that all these components are part of a crowded environment."

Goodsell has declared it "free to use." You can get a high-rez here:

Slim's is shut, but DNA Lounge needs your help (permalink)

Two years ago, the billionaires who operated San Francisco's beloved blues club Slim's flogged it off to the predatory venue operator Golden Voice, who have now shuttered it.

As JWZ points out, the fact that Slim's wasn't operated to turn a profit is in no way exceptional. Clubs are labors of love, "We facilitate the creation of culture: You push money in, turn the crank, and what comes out the other side is art, community, music and stories."

He knows. He's run the wonderful DNA Lounge for 30 years: "It isn't some whim of dilettante plutocrats. It's not some hobby I toy with when I'm not private-jetting off to my luxurious doomsday bunker. This is all I do. I didn't expect this to be my life's work, but it is."

He's just about run out of his tech money, and he's had to close during the pandemic, but he's still paying staff and still wants to continue providing a service to his community. He's seeking donations:

"The 'two or three rich dudes' model is not sustainable, because two or three people, billionaires or not, are not a community."

Florida mayor ducks accountability for threatening power disconnections during the pandemic (permalink)

The city of Lake Worth Beach, Florida was brutally slow to recognize the seriousness of the pandemic. Not only did the Mayor Pam Triolo fail to take action to limit the spread of the virus, her administration also continued to send power disconnection notices to the city's poorest residents.

Her administration refused to agendize or properly debate the response for far too long, provoking commissioner Omari Hardy to call her and city manager Michael Bornstein out for their inaction and their cruelty to the city's poorest.

The commissioner's righteous – and technically excellent – intervention during a council meeting is a masterpiece, as he bulls through cack-handed attempts to silence him using mishandled parliamentary procedure, while dogging the mayor as she ducks responsibility.

Forcing people in the worst economic downturn in living memory to choose between spending their last check on power or food, during a once-in-a-century pandemic, is an act of permanently disqualifying depraved indifference and mismanagement.

Rashida Tlaib proposes minting two trillion-dollar coins (permalink)

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has revived an idea from the 2011 debt crisis to finance the stimulus, pulled from the #ModernMonentaryTheory playbook: having the Federal Reserve mint two "one trillion dollar coins" and deposit them in its Fed account.

Doing so would avoid federal debt strictures and immediately give the USG $2T to spend on reviving the economy, which it would do by sending every person in the USA a $2K prepaid credit card that would receive $1K/month until a year after the crisis's end.

Each person – children, adults, documented, undocumented, rich, poor – would get the card and the deposits, and progressive taxation would rake it back from those who don't need it (far more reliable than means-testing, which is a persistent failure).

Trillion-dollar coins are a well-theorized and documented proposal. You can read more here:

(Image: Merrick Mint)

How "concierge doctors" supply the "worried well" with masks, respirators and tests (permalink)

One big difference I observed between my life under Canadian medicare (30 years), and UK NHS (13 years) is that in the former, there is no private option, so rich people have to advocate for everyone's care in order to improve their own. I think the relative fortunes of the NHS and OHIP can be largely explained by this difference. Allowing the rich to opt into a private system reduces the political costs of slashing the public system.

In the US, this process proceeds on steriods. Those in the USA lucky enough to have "insurance" find that their massive premiums buy them little-to-no healthcare, with endless bureaucracy and denials.

Meanwhile, wealthy Americans buy their way out of the system altogether with "concierge doctors." In good times, this is merely an injustice. During the pandemic, it's an invitation to start building guillotines.

Concierge services have finagled all kinds of pandemic unobtanium: respirators, tests, swabs and masks. These are not going to unwell people, they're going to the "worried well": rich people who just want to be on the safe side.

This could make us all much sicker. We need tests for exposed people, masks for health-care workers, respirators for emergency cases. The fact that these are piling up in mansions in the Hamptons and other wealthy enclaves is proof that markets are not efficient allocators.

We're supposed to tolerate inequality because it is an unavoidable consequence of efficient market allocations, making us all better off in the long run. But when inequality allows plutes to hoard pandemic supplies and endanger every human on Earth, the pretence runs thin.

There's a great book about this, The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business, by Nelson Schwartz: "In every realm of daily life–from health care to education, highways to home security–there is an invisible velvet rope that divides how Americans live."

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago EFF appeals Apple versus Online Journalists

#10yrsago Delusional EU ACTA negotiator claims that three strikes has never been proposed at ACTA

#10yrsago Teacher's heartbreak and anger at No Child Left Behind

#5yrsago Taxonomy of theme park narrative gimmicks <a href=">

#1yrago Gollancz has published its first anthology of South Asian Science Fiction

#1yrago After fatal crash, Boeing reverses sales policy that locked out some safety features unless airlines paid for an upgrade

#1yrago Philadelphia city council candidate says his secret AI has discovered disqualifying fraud in the nominations of 30 out of 33 candidates

#1yrago This Could Be It: Key Polish Political Party Comes Out Against Article 13

#1yrago Unnamed stalkerware company has left gigabytes of sensitive personal info unprotected on the web and can't be reached to fix it

#1yrago Wireless vulns in Medtronic's implanted defibrillators allow remote shocks, shutdown, denial-of-service battery attacks and data theft

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot ( Hugh D'Andrade (, Late Stage Capitalism (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on 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've also just completed "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel next.

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: The Masque of the Red Death and Punch Brothers Punch

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 new introduction by Edward Snowden:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.