Pluralistic: 28 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Charter techs get $25 gift cards instead of hazard pay: No hand-san or PPE, either.
  2. The Pandemic Playbook: Trump won't rtfm.
  3. Boardgame Remix Kit: Make 26 new games out of Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble sets.
  4. McMansion Hell visits 1972: "Architecture store? I'd like one of everything."
  5. Free Cheapass Games print-and-plays: KILL DOCTOR LUCKY, GIVE ME THE BRAIN, LORD OF THE FRIES, UNEXPLODED COW and so many more!
  6. Trump officials killed Walmart opioid prosecutions: With help from Jones Day.
  7. United gets $25B stimulus and announces layoffs: The biggest corporate giveaway in history.
  8. FLICC vs denialism: A taxonomy of scientific denial, just in time.
  9. This Waifu Does Not Exist: Autogenned anime characters, with backstories.
  10. Fever cameras are garbage: It's the pivot-to-covid for grifty police enablers.
  11. Employers scramble to buy remote-worker spyware: Even if you're paying for the product, you're the product.
  12. Canada Reads Q&A on Apr 23: Unfortunately, it's on Facebook.
  13. Cowboy Economist on covid stimulus: Congress doesn't spend taxes, it spends and then taxes.
  14. 88 Names podcast: Talking VR, AR and gold farming with Matt Ruff.
  15. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  16. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

Charter techs get $25 gift cards instead of hazard pay (permalink)

My local, unremittingly terrible ISP is Charter. You might remember them as the company whose CEO insisted that all workers, even those who could work from home, show up for work and give each other coronavirus.

But of course, many of Charter's employees can't work from home: they're coming to our homes, risking potentially lethal infections, to keep our internet running while we're all stuck indoors.

Now, Charter gets incalculable government subsidies (free/low-cost access to rights of way that could not be purchased on the open market) and got billions in tax breaks from Trump (pissed away on stock buybacks).

You'd think they'd have some dough to give to the workers risking their lives to keep the packets flowing.

Think again.

Those workers are getting $25 gift cards in lieu of hazard pay. They're not getting masks or gloves or hand sanitizer.

Charter spokesapologist Cameron Blanchard insisted that field techs were really happy about this: "The response from the technicians to all our recent changes, along with the gift card gesture has been very positive."

He says they hope to have gloves, masks and hand-sanitizer in the next few weeks.

AT&T is paying techs 20% hazard pay. Charter is sending techs out even for "nonessential" house-calls.

The Pandemic Playbook (permalink)

In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis describes how the core US civil service is made up of extremely passionate nerds, people who are very smart about their domain of expertise, and work quietly and tirelessly to see policy that comports with evidence.

This is what makes them "the reality based community," the term Karl Rove is said to have used to disparage those who claimed (correctly) that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be a perpetual, destablizing quagmire.

The thing is, grifting is incompatible with objective truth. The job of a grifter is to tell you his building is ten stories taller than it actually is, that his inauguration crowd was larger than it actually was, that his infomercial service is actually a "university."

The grifter president is surrounded by a grifter upper echelon, sociopaths whose power and wealth derive from lying like crazy and stealing from people. To put it mildly, these people do not value expertise.

That explains a lot about the pandemic. Specifically, why therecommendations in the "Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents" (AKA "the pandemic playbook") were not followed.

This is a 69-page report created by the NSC in 2016. The Obama NSC chief briefed the incoming Trump official on the playbook in 2017, and that official seems to have wiped his ass with it and flushed it.

It literally explains, step by step, how to administer a crisis like this, from the earliest glimmerings that it might occur, right through a full-blown pandemic. It mobilizes resources, identifies shortages, and coordinates comms and strategy. It is, in other words, a meaningful set of steps that the US government could have taken to head off the virus. We taxpayers paid handsomely to develop it. Now we're paying again because Trump ignored it.

Boardgame Remix Kit (permalink)

It's been a decade since Hide & Seek released its absolutely brilliant "Boardgame Remix Kit": rules for new games using tokens and boards from Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble sets.

Now, the 26-part ruleset has been released as a free download for a world of locked-down families looking for ways to entertain themselves. These games are MUCH better than the originals!

McMansion Hell visits 1972 (permalink)

It's always a great day when McMansion Hell does a new post – and it's a very good day when it's one of her long-ass posts, and it's a very very good day when it's a long post dunking on a shitty 70s McMansion.

Wagner is working her way through McMansions of the 1970s — proto-McMs, if you will. Last time, it was this rough beast shambling forth from 1971:

Now, she's moved one year forward, to a 4900sqft, $1.13m 4-bedroom in Denton County, TX. Though it's had some 2000s-era renos, there's a lot of 1970s McEnergy shining through in this monstrosity.

This house has got it all: oversized furniture that looks tiny in giant rooms, giant furniture that looks comical in tiny rooms, but best of all is the view from the rear. As Wagner writes, "Hello, Architecture Store? I'll take one of everything, please!"

Free Cheapass Games print-and-plays (permalink)

Back in 1995, James Ernest, a Wizards of the Coast games designer, quit to found his own company, Cheapass Games, whose philosophy was that gamers had plenty of dice and pawns lying around and all they needed to play new games was ingenious rules.

A quarter century later, Cheapass celebrated with "Cheapass Games in Black and White," a stunning retrospective hardcover with all of its many, many games:

In celebration of the book, the company released its original games as free, print-and-play downloads: KILL DOCTOR LUCKY, GIVE ME THE BRAIN, LORD OF THE FRIES, UNEXPLODED COW and so many more!

This is a serious bounty!

Trump officials killed Walmart opioid prosecutions (permalink)

From 2006-2014, Walmart was America's number one opioid distributor, dispensing millions of lethal doses in response to prescriptions from doctors so obviously crooked that every other pharmacy in America had blacklisted them.

Walmart's own pharmacists begged HQ for permission to blacklist these docs, but these pleas were refused by top execs who told them they should focus on "driving sales."

The DEA was all set to criminally and civilly charge Walmart, a one-two combo that took account of the fact that the company has gigantic cash reserves that would be barely scratched even by a very large fine.

Walmart, in turn, hired the notorious enablers of Jones Day, a giant corporate lawfirm whose partners were hired in great numbers to serve in Trump's DoJ. Walmart's internal and external legal teams are well-stocked with ex-DoJ top officials.

Trump appointees, working with these revolving-door types, killed the criminal charges against Walmart, despite the massive trove of evidence showing that the company deliberately – and for years – knowingly peddled opioids to people whose lives were at risk from them.

Top Trump DoJ brass refused to help prosecutors force Walmart to comply with subpoenas, then ordered prosecutors to drop the criminal charges, and kept setting up long delays for civil court cases, allowing the statute of limitations to run out for many of Walmart's murders.

Now the civil suit is in "negotiations" for a wrist-slap. The DoJ lost prosecutors whose stinging resignation letters reveal that they were disgusted with impunity for well-connected corporate murderers.

The coverage in Propublica is amazing: they have the receipts – internal Walmart, DoJ and Trump administration memos – even Ivanka's work laundering Walmart's reputation even as prosecutors were trying to wring settlements out of the company.

United gets $25B stimulus and announces layoffs (permalink)

The covid stimulus is gonna put cash in the hands of people reeling from economic collapse, which is important, but it's also putting trillions into corporate coffers, which is why AOC called it "shameful."

AOC: "One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful! The greed of that fight is wrong for crumbs for our families.”

Congress is politely asking the bailed out companies to forebear on layoffs, but if the companies renege on that, their public-money gift turns into a super-low-interest loan, and their workers are out on their asses.

In fact, many of those companies (the ones that sell bonds to the USG instead of getting loans) can use public money to pay dividends to shareholders, cash out top execs, and STILL lay off workers

Would companies do that? Seems likely: "Over the past 2 years, corporate America has engaged in an unprecedented orgy of capital payouts to shareholders – S&P 500 companies paid out $2.6 trillion, or almost 7% of GDP, to shareholders over those two years" -Marcus Stanley

United didn't wait until the ink was dry. As soon as they were guaranteed $25B in government handouts, they announced layoffs effective after the Sept 30 penalty period is over.

"Congress is full of a bunch of fucking morons." -Matt Stoller

FLICC vs denialism (permalink)

Since 2013, John Cook has been researching and speaking on countering scientific denial, using the FLICC model: "Fake experts, Logical fallacies, Impossible expectations, Cherry picking, and Conspiracy theories."

Since then, the model has grown in sophistication, through collaboration with Cook's colleagues on a mobile game called "Cranky Uncle" where "cartoons and gameplay interactively explain denial techniques used to cast doubt on climate science."

The new, more granular version of FLICC comes together in a three-part, must-watch video series:

As right-wing strongmen have leaned into virus denial as a way of buoying up the stock market, risking lives at genocidal scale, we are locked in a new life-or-death battle over evidence, reality and expertise. This is very timely indeed.

This Waifu Does Not Exist (permalink)

A recent addition to the genre of semi-lucid media created by Generative Adversarial Networks is "This Waifu Does Not Exist," which creates very plausible anime faces accompanied by much less plausible storylines for those characters.

The creator used the Danbooru2017/​Danbooru2018 corpus, "~2.5tb of 3.33m images with 92.7m tag instances (of 365k defined tags, ~27.8/image) covering Danbooru 2005-2018"

The images and text generated by the system are CC0.

I can't stop hitting reload:

Fever cameras are garbage (permalink)

Grifters gonna grift, part MMMCCCLII: those "fever detection" cameras don't detect fevers, and also rely on super-dodgy facial recognition and other techniques to accuse people of having fevers.

Even if they did work, they'd only catch symptomatic people, and of course, the thing that makes covid so dangerous is that most people who have it are asymptomatic. Looking for fevers is the epidemiological equivalent of searching for your car keys under a lamppost because it's too dark to search where you dropped 'em.

The cameras are a covid-pivot for the scummiest CCTV/predictive policing/bootlicker/arms dealer companies serving American police forces, who generally get to buy this stuff without public notice or oversight.

And while covid makes the usual police procurement procedures (like lavish meals and free massages at trade shows) unavailable, I'll bet a testicle* that there are some high-dollar "incentives" changing hands with the cops writing the checks here.

*Not one of mine

(Image: Moses, CC BY, modified)

Employers scramble to buy remote-worker spyware (permalink)

Apparently we're all in this together, which is why your employer expects you to turn your home into a satellite office for free.

But that solidarity is firmly unidirectional: your boss doesn't trust you to work from his rent-free satellite office (your spare room/kitchen/garage) without slacking, which is why employers are binge-spending on remote spyware:

These are tools that watch your every keystroke and peer endlessly at you from your webcam to monitor your activity, even as your browser traffic (on that internet connection you're paying for) is surveilled, analyzed and logged.

Naturally, the CEOs and top managers who require you to install this stuff don't have to run it on their computers for their Boards of Directors to monitor.

It's a neat example of two dystopian technological principles: first, it epitomizes the shitty tech adoption curve – the idea that our worst tech is perfected and normalized by imposing it on powerless people, and then new generations are visited upon ever-more-powerful people.

This kind of remote monitoring software started off as a way for parents to spy on their kids, then became a tool for educational institutions to use for remote-proctoring of exams, then a way for prospective employers to conduct job interview tests.

From little kids to university students to jobseekers — now it's white-collar workers. That's a pretty steep shitty tech adoption curve right there.

But it also illustrates the fallacy that "if you're not paying for the product, you're the product." The reality is, "If a corporation can turn you into the product, you're the product, even if you're paying."

The John Deere tractors that farmers have to pay huge fees to have authorized service for, even for repairs they could make themselves? They're not ad-supported freemiums: they're six-figure industrial equipment.

Likewise, Apple doesn't mine your Iphone data, but it sure as fuck extracts monopoly rents from you by selling access to you through its mandatory App Store to software developers, and forcing you to use authorized Apple service and parts.

The idea that "surveillance capitalism" is an epiphenomenon of "surveillance" and not of "capitalism" is a fallacy. Shareholder neoliberal capitalism is just sociopathy with spreadsheets. Companies spy on you because they can, not because you're not paying them.

Your employer expects rent-free facilities and free capex that comes out of your pocket and it expects to spy on you.

The reason they expect that is that you're not in a union and labor protection is weak and the job market is cratering, so they know you have no choice.

Anything we do to poor people and powerless people in this pandemic will be done to rich people within a decade. Remember that the next time you think, "Well, at least it's not happening to me."

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)

Canada Reads Q&A on Apr 23 (permalink)

I'm a zuckervegan: No Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp. But you gotta meet people where they are, not where you wish they were.

That's why I signed up to do CBC's Canada Reads Facebook live event, with some support from the CBC:

On Apr 23 at 2PM Eastern, you can read into a pre-written Q&A with me about my Canada Reads finalist Radicalized on the Canada Reads FB group, and I'll be online from 2PM-3PM, on a phone-link with a CBCer who will relay your questions to me and post my answers to the forum.

I hope those of you who aren't yet zuckervegans will tune in, and then immediately resign from all Facebook products (or at least think about why you're using them). And don't worry if you ARE a zuckervegan: we'll post the Q&A on the actual internet afterwards.

Cowboy Economist on covid stimulus (permalink)

I love The Cowboy Economist, economist JT Harvey's drawling alter-ego who explains Modern Monetary Theory using hilarious old west metaphors:

He's just released a covid stimulus episode called "Paying COVID-19 to go away," explaining how Congress could find trillions in the sofa cushions without insisting that the money first be paid into its coffers through taxation.

It's 3.5 minutes well spent. Tldr: Congress spends money first, then taxes it back. It doesn't need to tax us to pay for services any more than Starbucks needs to wait until you've cashed in your gift card before it can issue one to me.

88 Names podcast (permalink)

The brilliant writer Matt Ruff just published a new heist novel about gold-farming and MMORPGs called 88 NAMES that's like Snow Crash meets The King and I:

Matt's doing a podcast about the book with Blake Collier, and I appeared in the latest episode:

We cover a lot of ground: "the state of tech and how it influences everything from economics to the environment, how fiction shapes VR and AR tech and closed tech systems like Apple…We dive deep on some philosophical and technical ideas."

I hope you'll listen, but even more, I hope you'll read Matt's book. It's outstanding.

Direct MP3 link:–_Cory_Doctorow_mixdown.mp3

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago McD's will pay rappers for name-checking Big Macs

#15yrsago Mark Cuban will fund Grokster's legal battle*/

#10yrsago UK government wants to secretly read your postal mail

#10yrsago UK government's smoke-filled room legislative process

#10yrsago Douglas Adams lecture

#10yrsago Battlefield Earth screenwriter apologises

#5yrsago Prisoner escapes by faking an email ordering his release

#5yrsago What it's like to teach evolution at the University of Kentucky

#1yrago How hedge funds, Goldman Sachs, and corrupt executives used Gymboree's chaotic bankruptcy to cash out while destroying the careers of loyal employees

#1yrago AOC is going to Appalachia to talk to coal miners

#1yrago Millennials are killing McMansions

#1yrago Sting operation: the NRA explains to white nationalist Australian political party how to deflect gun control calls after a massacre

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Vinay Gupta (, Kottke (, Stefan Jones (, Slashdot (Slashdot), Naked Capitalism (, Beyond the Beyond (

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:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastadon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

When live gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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.