Pluralistic: 25 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Internet Archive lifts lending restrictions on ebooks: They're calling it the "National Emergency Library."
  2. Kaiser threatens to fire Oakland nurses who wear their own masks: They're treating positive patients from a cruise ship with insufficient PPE.
  3. No more O'Reilly events: We've been here before, kinda.
  4. Trump's Bible study teacher thinks coronavirus is God's wrath: For homosexuality, China, environmentalism, Catholics, and women in the workforce.
  5. A chatbot that petitions companies for financial relief during the crisis: Donotpay's robot lawyer is here for you.
  6. East London showman Mat Ricardo's Youtube playlists: Lockdown TV for "comedy, variety, circus, magic, dance, music."
  7. Xi's enemies sense weakness: Autocracies are only as good as their last crisis-response.
  8. Locked down in a lockup: Coronavirus meets immigration detention.
  9. Doctors hoard choloroquine: MDs to lupus sufferers, "Drop dead."
  10. Toilet paper separator: Covid crafting for household essentials.
  11. Conzealand goes virtual: The first time a Worldcon isn't in person since WWII.
  12. Posties are key to America's emergency response: The only agency that could deliver covid meds to every US household in a single day.
  13. Volante's masks for covid responders: Streetwear for Superheroes.
  14. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2019
  15. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, current reading

Internet Archive lifts lending restrictions on ebooks (permalink)

The amazing people at the Internet Archive maintain a digital lending library: they buy and scan one copy of every book (pretty much every book, ever) and lend it out to one person at a time.

They've just announced that during the crisis, they are lifting the one-borrower-at-a-time restriction and allowing unlimited borrowing, "to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners". They call it the "National Emergency Library."

It's got more than a million titles.

They're calling on all who can afford it to buy books to support authors and booksellers during the crisis, Authors can also request to have their titles removed:

It's a bold move, but it's got widespread support. Here's a list of endorsers. I signed on too.

Kaiser threatens to fire Oakland nurses who wear their own masks (permalink)

Nurses at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland are treating patients from the Grand Princess cruise ship, at least 21 of whom have tested positive for covid-19. The nurses are working without adequate PPE, thanks to a national shortage (and asshole hoarders).

Nurses who report for work wearing their own N95 masks have been threatened with immediate dismissal for "insubordination."

Akela Lacy from The Intercept asked Kaiser's Marc Brown about it, but he ducked the question.

The nurses say that their supply cupboards are locked down, and they're being asked to treat potentially infected patients whether or not they can find someone to unlock the supply cupboard.

No more O'Reilly events (permalink)

I attended my first O'Reilly conference in, I think, 1997? And I sponsored my first O'Reilly con, the first P2P con, in 2001 (?). I spent years on the committee for the Emerging Tech conference, and I've keynoted more O'Reilly cons than I can recall.

These events have been some of the most important gatherings I've ever attended: places where I made lifelong friends and collaborators (I first met my wife at an Etech con), and learned so much.

This is (obviously) not a good time to be in the event business. For perfectly good – and nevertheless so, so sad – reasons, O'Reilly has just exited the in-person conference business.


"Without understanding when this global health emergency may come to an end, we can’t plan for or execute on a business that will be forever changed as a result of this crisis. With large technology vendors moving their events completely on-line, we believe the stage is set for a new normal moving forward when it comes to in-person events."

The covid collapse feels a lot like the post-911/dotcom crash moment. That was when we lost the Etech conference, whose focus had always been "what are the most speculative things the weirdest nerds are doing?" No one had a budget for that kind of thing after the crash.

The dotcom crash and the loss of Etech were hugely traumatic, but there WERE silver linings. Etech's crash begat FOO Camp, consistently the best events I've ever attended – small gatherings of smart weirdos who programmed their own conference in realtime.

It also created a brief moment of breathing space in tech, which had its origins in driven tech enthusiasts but had been steadily colonized by buck-chasers who upped sticks and quit when the money disappeared from the sector. For a brief moment, mid-decade, people who wanted to build meaningful technologies for users – not investors – could hire engineering talent and find office space. That was ended by the finance bubble that shattered in 2008, but for a while there, it was good.

It's brutal to think that I'll never go to another O'Reilly con, but my hopeful inner voice tells me that there might be something as wonderful on the horizon as FOO Camp. I'm so sorry for all the O'Reilly conference staff, who are amazing and have done so much good work.

As O'Reilly CEO Laura Baldwin writes, "No offense to 'Netflix and chill' but how about we move toward 'Code and conquer' as our new mantra during these trying times?"

Trump's Bible study teacher thinks coronavirus is God's wrath (permalink)

Wanna hear about an extreme religious far-right bigot who thinks that coronavirus is God's punishment for Chinese excess, American tolerance for homosexuality, and environmentalism?

Ralph Drollinger is an evangelical pastor. He says Catholicism is "the world’s largest false religion." He says women working outside the workplace is against scripture. He runs Capitol Ministries, whose goal is to have 200 ministries in 200 world capitals.

Drollinger may sound like a garden variety Christian Taliban, but he's awfully distinguished.

For one thing, he runs regular Bible study classes…at the White House.

His scriptural lessons: God would approve of kids in cages. God also wants lower taxes on rich people.

His twice-weekly Capital Hill Bible classes are regularly attended by 52 GOP lawmakers, sponsored by Kevin McCarthy [R-CA] and John Thune [R-SD].

His Wednesday White House Bible study classes are attended by Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Alex Azar, and Mike Pompeo. Pence, too!

His organization has received official endorsements from Joni Ernst, James Lankford and other GOP senators.

This anti-Catholic, homophobic, sinophobic, anti-enviromentalist, lunatic is squarely in the mainstream of Republican thought.

A chatbot that petitions companies for financial relief during the crisis (permalink)

The $3/month DoNotPay service has added a new covid-19 service: automatically petitioning the companies that bill you for mercy based on the coronavirus econopocalypse.

Using a chatbot, you determine which of your bills are eligible for relief. Then it generates a "compassionate and polite request" seeking help. If the company does not comply, it follows up with a firmer letter citing relevant state/federal laws.

East London showman Mat Ricardo's Youtube playlists (permalink)

Under normal circumstances, showman MatRicardo is either traveling around doing his juggling and conjuring act, or hosting amazing variety show nights in east London. Neither of those are an option, now, obvious.

Instead, Ricardo is curating playlists of "comedy, variety, circus, magic, dance, music and other kinds of culture and entertainment to distract and amuse."


Kids in the Hall: "I speak no English"

Gene Kelly: "Summer Stock"

"The Knife-Throwing Mother & her Children (1950s)"

Mat Ricardo: "How to charm a German audience"

Xi's enemies sense weakness (permalink)

Autocracies are intrinsically unstable because their have-nots (who tend to be numerous) believe that they have no path to becoming haves, and see no legitimate purpose to preserve the social order.

China has stabilized its autocracy by simultaneously lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and by using internet surveillance to both neutralize dissidents and spot its most corrupt and dangerous politicians.

But under Xi, internet surveillance has primarily become a weapon for spotting and neutralizing dissidents, and less so a way of spotting self-dealing technocrats and shutting them down. This created "authoritarian blindness," which meant Xi didn't spot or respond to Wuhan in good time.

This failure ruptured Chinese public confidence in Xi, and emboldened his critics. Ren Zhiqiang (a party "princeling" whose father was a top Mao official, who made a fortune in real-estate and has been an outspoke Xi critic) issued a "viral" jeremiad against Xi this month.

Ren's post, "An official call to arms against Xi: The clown who insists on wearing the emperor’s new clothes," spread on Twitter and other foreign services (he has been banned from Wechat for years).

Ren disappeared shortly thereafter and is said to have been sentenced to 15 years in a secret prison near Beijing where his interrogators have been ordered to mete out "harsh treatment" to the 70-year-old.

Ren is a bellwether for other Chinese power-brokers, many of whom resent Xi and his power-consolidation techniques, such as his 2018 corruption purge that preferentially targeted corrupt officials who supported Xi's rivals.

These grandees have been sharpening their knives for Xi for years, and coronavirus has made him vulnerable. Ren was the first to turn on him publicly, but I'm sure he won't be the last.

Locked down in a lockup (permalink)

You know what's more terrifying and frustrating than being locked down at home during a coronavirus pandemic? Being imprisoned during a coronavirus pandemic, crammed in with others, deprived of soap and supplies.

It's very bad in regular jails and prisons, but if anything, it's even worse in ICE's gulags, where thousands of law-abiding long-term US residents – and asylum seekers – have been detained by the Trump administration in order to please his sadistic base.

For example, Ian has lived in the US for 20 years. His wife and children are US citizens. He was detained while awaiting a decision on his spousal visa. His wife is a nurse treating covid patients. His children miss their father.

Ian has a heart condition that puts him at severe risk if he contracts coronavirus. He's in a 40-person dormitory with a recent arrival from China who is exhibiting symptoms.

He's in NJ's Essex detention facility, which is serviced by Corecivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, a notorious human rights abuser with a long history of beltway banditry while running private prisons. Some detainees there are on hunger strike.

One of the medical staffers there was confirmed by ICE to have contracted coronavirus. The next day, ICE denied that he was medical staff. ICE would not comment on the contradiction.

(Image: Fibonacci Blue, CC BY)

Doctors hoard choloroquine (permalink)

After Trump made misleading statements about the safety and efficacy of treating covid-19 with chloroquine, members of his cult began dropping dead of overdoses on the antimalarial drug.

But it wasn't just low-information Trumpers who took the advice to heart. Pharmacists are seeing surges in massive orders of chloroquine from doctors and even dentists who are self-prescribing in order to hoard, and then lying about it when the pharmacists ask for explanations.

This hoarding behavior deprives people who rely on chloroquine for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus of their medication during a pandemic emergency.

“People are losing their minds about this product. We’re selling so much of this stuff and people are just stockpiling it prophylactically if anybody in their family gets sick — they’re just holding on to it.” -Brian Brito, Miami pharmacy owner.

"Currently, both nationally and in West Virginia, some prescribers have begun writing prescriptions for these drugs for family, friends, and coworkers in anticipation of Covid-19 related illness." -West Virginia Board of Pharmacy

Toilet paper separator (permalink)

The Toilet Paper Splitter: a DIY project to separate a single two-ply roll into two single-ply rolls. Requires two paint rollers, a couple bolts, a rubber band, and some stiff metal for a handle.

Conzealand goes virtual (permalink)

The World Science Fiction Convention began in 1939, when 200 sf fans who'd come to New York for the World's Fair gathered together (while explicitly excluding the leftist "Futurian" writers, who held their own counter-convention).

Since then, there have been 77 Worldcons in total, one per year, excluding 1942/3/4/5, during which WWII intervened.

This year's Worldcon is Conzealand, the first Worldcon in New Zealand. Except it won't be. The organizers have wisely decided to move to a virtual event.

The hotels are allowing for cancellations, though there's some work to be done to allow the organizers to do mass cancellations for their group block. Different airlines have different rules regarding cancellations.

They're expecting to offer limited refunds to participants who don't want to a virtual con experience. They'll be offering a new online rate by April 15, and kids memberships are refundable now (but they ask you to forebear as their own personal funds are on the line).

Potential panelists are requested to put some thought into how they might help a virtual con with its programming.

This is incredibly disappointing, of course.I know the organizers and visited Wellington and the venue, both of which are incredible.

I've been looking forward to attending for years. But it was the right call to make. it won't be the last such disappointment, either.

Please consider supporting the organizers by buying an online membership once they're offered and attending the con from wherever you are.

Posties are key to America's emergency response (permalink)

The USPS is amazing. A fully self-supporting federal agency that provides universal service as well as good, well-paid jobs with benefits and pensions. It's also a vital lifeline during crises.

Since the Cold War, posties have been integral to America's crisis plans. They were once deputized to catalog the dead and the living after a nuclear holocaust, distributing Safety Notification Cards (POD Form 810). Mail trucks would have been repurposed as ambulances.

Both Obama and GWB integrated posties into their plans for biological attacks, planning to have masked and gowned letter carriers deliver Cipro door to door (the "Postal Plan").

As the DHS noted in its prep documents, the USPS is the only federal agency that could knock on every door in America in a single day.

When (if?) effective covid meds are available, it's likely a postal worker will deliver them to you.

Now is a good time to remember that the GOP have been trying to dismantle the universal, self-funding, vital USPS for decades, so that private carriers like UPS and Fedex can cream off the most profitable parts of its business and leave rural Americans in the cold.

Volante's masks for covid responders (permalink)

I've long admired (and worn) clothing from Volante Design, whose "streetwear for superheroes" is made by well-paid, onshore workers and is cosplay-adjascent — the kind of thing you can wear out and about, but also to a con.

Now, they're making masks for covid responders.

The masks are made from cloth and can protect N95 masks from contamination as they are reused (they have a pocket for this purpose). They can also prevent you from touching your face, and partially contain coughs when medical masks are not available

They're seeking donations to cover the cost of making these and shipping them to orgs that have requested cloth masks:

A $105.50 donation lets them make 50 masks. They're also selling them on a sliding scale to those in need.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Matrix online game hires real actors to play in-game characters

#15yrsago Fox is advertising on Grokster, also suing to put Grokster out of business

#15yrsago US sabotaging efforts to create humanitarian copyright and patent policies

#15yrsago Ex-coder's account of life as a bike courier

#10yrsago Profit-sharing arrangements among Somali pirates

#1yrago Peak Indifference: are we reaching climate's denial/nihilism tipping point?

#1yrago London developer makes last-minute changes to lock poor kids out of "communal" playground

#1yrago Chinese censors incinerate entire run of a kickstarted Call of Cthulhu RPG sourcebook

#1yrago The Vessel: a perfect symbol for the grifter capitalism of New York City's privatized Hudson Yards "neighborhood"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Wendy Hanamura (, Geekologie (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: I'm getting geared up to start work my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

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: Data – the new oil, or potential for a toxic oil spill?

Upcoming appearances:

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:

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