Pluralistic: 23 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Tacocat, a free print-and-play game from the Exploding Kittens team: Super smart endgame!
  2. Adafruit offers open source PPE manufacturing: They're retooling and available to help.
  3. It's time for a coronavirus jubilee: Debts that can't be paid won't be.
  4. Medicare for All is an economic stabilizer: Private health insurance turns recessions into depressions.
  5. Private Kit, a free/open app to give you control over your location history: Doing contact tracing without invading privacy.
  6. Italy's mayors berate quarantine-breaking citizens: "Does your dog have an inflamed prostate?"
  7. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  8. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Tacocat, a free print-and-play game from the Exploding Kittens team (permalink)

Need a game to play while stuck at home? Elan Lee and Matthew Inman, creators of Exploding Kittens, have just released a free, print-and-play game called Tacocat, which we just played at home, and it's fun!

It's a card game that's a bit like War, but with tons of little strategic gracenotes, including a totally brilliant endgame that makes the win up for grabs all the way to the very end. It took a couple of hands to figure out this complexity, but once we did, — wow!

Adafruit offers open source PPE manufacturing (permalink)

Some of the all-time heroes of the open source hardware revolution are the folks at Adafruit, a woman-owned, 150-person OSHW company in lower Manhattan. They've been deemed an essential industry and are retooling to make PPEs.

They're VC-free, debt-free and profitable, and they're paying their 150+ employees through the crisis. They're manufacturing open source hardware face shields, ventilator components and electronics.

If you need manufacturing, design, logistics, or production support for PPE projects, contact

It's time for a coronavirus jubilee (permalink)

The word "jubilee" comes from Hebrew for "trumpet," because every 50 years, the trumpet would be blown to signal the forgiveness of all personal debts. New kings once routinely announced debt forgiveness upon their ascending to the throne.

Forgiving debts meant that the workforce stayed intact and productive, instead of falling into debt-bondage or mass migrating (think of Greece and its mass exodus after the recent imposition of debt austerity by the EU).

2008 represented a chance to write off bad mortgages. Instead, we evicted. Today, wealth inequality is far worse than during the last crisis. The new crisis has the potential to make inequality go supercritical.

The decision of Germany's creditors to force the country to pay war debts after WWI caused mass immiseration and paved the way for fascism. After WWII, the allies wiped 90% of Germany's debts off the books, triggering the nation's "economic miracle" and soaring prosperity.

As Michael Hudson writes in the Washington Post, if the US can afford a $4.5T quantitative easing package, it can afford jubilee for student debt. And private creditors who wipe out bad loans – ballooned by fees and penalties – will long have been made whole on the principal.

Leaving the "accruals" (fees, etc) in place, "actually subsidizes bad lending."

"Debts that can’t be paid won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out."

(Image: Paul Miller, CC BY)

Medicare for All is an economic stabilizer (permalink)

The pandemic is revealing the extent to which private health insurance makes a bad situation worse. At the exact moment that we need more coverage, people are losing their jobs (and their coverage).

As Nathan Tankus writes, Medicare for All would be a great, countercyclic automatic stabilizer – buffering economic shocks for faster recovery. The current US system is an accelerant, making bad situations worse.

Losing your job (and coverage) due to coronavirus, then losing your savings due to a broken ankle or a kitchen-knife slip? That's a recipe for turning deep recession into a new depression.

In discussion with Matt Taibbi this week, Noam Chomsky makes the point that private health care treats excess capacity as uneconomical and inefficient: "You should have just enough beds for what you need tomorrow. You shouldn’t prepare for the future."

Under the finance sector's theory of shareholder capitalism, maintaining an extra hospital bed is a form of theft from your investors.

Neoliberalism treats all redundancy and resilience as "waste" and neoliberal raiders delight in selling it off.

Whether that's the corporate raiders who bought up newspapers and restaurant chains and sold off their real-estate and rented it back – leaving them grievously vulnerable to rent shocks – or the airlines' hub-and-spoke system that means one airport outage tanks the system.

Our supply chains – offshore, dependent on single points of failure – and the use of DMCA 1201 anticircumvention rules and other dirty tricks to suppress independent repair and third-party parts manufacture turn the devices we rely on brittle, making emergencies into crises.

What's worse than having your only computer go down at the start of a pandemic lockdown? Having your only repair depot shut down for the duration with no way to retrieve it.

As Chomsky says, neoliberalism leaves us totally unprepared for a crisis. "What we’re good at, what our leaders are good at, and have been very good at for 40 years, is pouring money into the pockets of the rich and corporate executives while everything else crashes.”

(Image: Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA)

Private Kit, a free/open app to give you control over your location history (permalink)

Private Kit is a free/open location-tracking app that does not expose your location data to third parties (including the app's authors) until you explicitly authorize it.

It's intemded for use in pandemic mitigation, "allowing you to share information with health officials accurately and quickly," but only when you explicitly opt in, and only for as long as you remain opted in. The authors' paper on this is "Apps Gone Rogue: Maintaining Personal Privacy in an Epidemic," which digs into the reasons that potential (or confirmed) carriers might be reluctant to participate in contact-tracking, and how privacy tools can help.

It also discusses the rise of blackmail scams in South Korea in which criminals demanded payments not to falsely accuse businesses of being sources of new coronavirus infections (!!).

Private Kit allows for user location-history sharing directly with health authorities, without requiring third-party (carrier, app maker) intervention, aggregation or other high-risk activities.

This is an excellent example of the principle that "privacy" isn't the same as "secrecy." Privacy isn't "Nobody knows your business but you." It's "You decide who gets to know your business."

Italy's mayors berate quarantine-breaking citizens (permalink)

Our household can't stop marveling at this highlight reel of Italian mayors berating their stubborn residents for denying the quarantine orders. It's magnificent.

"We will send the police over. With flamethrowers."

"I can't formally ban you from leaving your house, Fine. I will ban you from setting foot on public land."

"Where the fuck are you all GOING? You and your dogs!* They must have inflamed prostates!"

"You can't play ping-pong. Go home. Play videogames."

"How can I spell it out? You can't stay in the streets. We need their girlfriends here. With clubs."

"Getting in your mobile hairdressers?! What the fuck is that for? Don't you understand that the casket will be CLOSED?"

"I saw a fellow citizen jog up and down the street, accompanied by a dog* who was visibly worn out. I told him, 'Look, this isn't a movie. You are not Will Smith in 'I am Legend.' You have to go home."

*Dog walking is a popular pretense for breaking quarantine.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Reflex: brilliant, page-turning sequel to Jumper

#10yrsago: Secret ACTA fights over iPod border-searches

#10yrsago: Demonstration against Digital Economy Bill tomorrow at Parliament, London <a href=">

#5yrsago: Backchannel: computers can talk to each other with heat

#1yrago DCCC introduces No-More-AOCs rule

#1yrago British schoolchildren receive chemical burns from "toxic ash" on Ash Wednesday

#1yrago Procedurally generated infinite CVS receipt

#1yrago Video from the Radicalized launch with Julia Angwin at The Strand

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (, Alice Taylor (, Four Short Links (

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.