Pluralistic: 29 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Announcing Story Club: A short story reading group, kicking off with me and Masque of the Red Death.
  2. Alex Jones's one-two punch: Conspiracy is a credulity-detection system.
  3. Andrew Cuomo is not your woke bae: Teen Vogue has a timely reminder.
  4. Cozy Catastrophes: Time to revisit Jo Walton's 2009 essay.
  5. California's missing medical stockpile: Balanced budgets vs 50m N95 respirators, 2400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds
  6. A better way to visualize exponential growth: What matters is the rate of new infections.
  7. Don't worry about groceries: They're safe, mostly.
  8. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  9. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

Announcing Story Club (permalink)

Short Story Club is a new online reading group where you read a story together then talk live with the author over Zoom.

Its inaugural meeting is April 7 at 5:30PM, and I'm the first guest, with The Masque of the Red Death, from my book Radicalized.

It's pay what you can ($0-5) and when you RSVP you get an ebook of the story.

Proceeds donated to Match Mask to send N95 masks to healthcare workers at the frontlines of COVID-19.

You can also listen to the story as a free audiobook, read by the amazing Stefan Rudnicki, courtesy of Macmillan Audio:

I hope you'll come!

Alex Jones's one-two punch (permalink)

Yeah, I saw that Alex Jones's app had been yanked from the Google Play store for covid disinfo, but I hadn't paid attention. Grifters gonna grift, after all. But this Wired/Ars story about the specific claims that got Jones banned…woah.

"Everybody dies under the new world order except maybe one 0.01% that believe they're going to merge with machines and have made deals with this inter-dimensional thing that gave them all the technology…You can't make a deal with these aliens, OK, that the Bible tells you about and ever get off the planet."

The thing is, Jones isn't merely a deluded babbler. He's a huxter. "Earlier this month, NY AG Letitia James sent him a cease and desist notice for saying that his DNA Force+ supplements, Superblue toothpaste, & SilverSol gargle could protect against or treat coronavirus."

I normally maintain such distance from Jones that I forget just how unhinged his claims are and start to think that they're merely over-the-top right-wing nonsense, but when I reestablish contact with his work, I remember anew that he's filtering for mental vulnerability.

"Nigerian 419 letters" are deliberately obvious scam to anyone with active critical faculties. They're multistage scams that are time-consuming for their perps, so filtering out those who will bail partway through the dance is good business practice.

Jones is also a multistage scammer who controls his cost-centers by pre-filtering anyone who has a smidgen of critical thought. That way he doesn't have to process return requests for his snake-oil, or fend off AG and FDA investigations.

You really see the one-two punch in this skirmish: first he weeds out anyone who recoils at the idea that covid is a transdimensional plague sent to hasten the Singularity and murder Bible-readers, then he sells the remainder silver-doped toothpaste ($20/5.5oz)

Andrew Cuomo is not your woke bae (permalink)

An important consequence of being trapped in an abusive relationship is that it makes less-terrible (but still awful) suitors look wonderful by comparison.

That's why Monica Klein's Teen Vogue op-ed on Andrew Cuomo is so timely.

Yes, Cuomo is a billion times better than Trump, but that doesn't make him worthy of being your coronavirus crush, or as Molly Jong Fast put it in Adult Vogue, "the closest thing we have to an FDR."

Cuomo is not FDR.

He represents "a wing of the Democratic Party that abandoned its New Deal roots to please big donors," and not because he's in a perilous, marginal office where he has to compromise to attain re-election. He sells out because he wants to.

Cuomo is the governor who blocked single payer healthcare, opposed protections for low-wage workers, and starved public housing and public schools of funding, and gutted homelessness programs.

New York's terrible coronavirus problems are largely Trump's fault, but the lack of protection for workers, combined with inadequate housing and public health are not helping. Those were Cuomo's doing, his mistakes to make and own.

Wisdom: "The Democratic Party was once the party of government for the people. The party used to embrace a well-funded, powerful federal government that protected working people and provided robust support for Americans in need during national crises like, say, a pandemic. Corporate centrist Democrats like Cuomo have spent years actively blocking funding and legislation that could materially improve the lives of working Americans."

And coronavirus hasn't made Cuomo stop cuomoing: "Rather than ask millionaires and billionaires in NY to pay their fair share as our state economy collapses, the governor is pushing for unilateral power to slash government services throughout the year."

And yeah, he's issued a moratorium on mortgages for homeowners, but there's no sign of a rent freeze.

"Long before Trump was elected, Democrats spent decades destroying the idea that we are the party that protects working people rather than corporate interests."
(Image: Pat Arnow, CC BY-SA, modified)

Cozy Catastrophes (permalink)

There's never been a better time to read Jo Walton's 2009 essay on "cozy catastrophes" where "a bizarre calamity occurs that wipes out a large percentage of the population, but the protagonists survive and thrive in the new world that follows. "

Walton traces the root of the cozy catastrophe to a British middle-class readership whose postwar fortunes were reduced, and whose sensibilities were offended by the intrusion of working class people on their traditional enclaves.

Cozies exterminated these inconvenient proles by a variety of means, comets, bees, even giant walking plants: "the people who survive are always middle class, and have rarely lost anyone significant to them. The working classes are wiped out in a way that removes guilt." The survivors wander the empty streets of London, missing good restaurants and string quartets, but not football matches or carnivals.

These were mainstream bestsellers in the UK in the 50s: explicitly sold as "not-SF" (Penguin Day of the Triffids: "Wyndham decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily called 'science fiction'”).

Teens like cozies because teen cozies usually do away with all the adults, which is basically what teens spend a lot of time wishing for. But 50s middle-class Britons liked cozies because they did away with the welfare state.

"Nevil Shute complains in Slide Rule that his mother couldn’t go to the South of France in the winters…but she and the people who waited on her in shops had access to free health care and education to university and beyond, and enough to live on if they lost their jobs."

"Britain was becoming a fairer society, with equal opportunities for everyone, and some people did suffer for it. They couldn’t have their foreign holidays and servants and way of life, because their way of life exploited other people."

Cozies weren't British sf's only reaction to postwar reforms, as Walton points out, and her subsequent columns have good examples of this:

California's missing medical stockpile (permalink)

The coronavirus crisis isn't separate from the 2008 financial crisis: it's the continuation of that crisis. The 2008 crisis and its finance-friendly, people-destroying bailout led to the election of idiotic strongmen who are totally incapable of containing it.

And it also triggered waves of austerity that starved public coffers of the resources that produce resilience to subsequent crises, as we've seen in 10+ years of inadequate response to climate crises like floods, hurricanes and fires.

Austerity also stole our pandemic preparedness. California dismantled all three of its 200-bed mobile hospitals and its emergency medical stockpiles in 2011, flushing the $200m investment for want of $5.8m/year for upkeep

Gone: 50m N95 respirators, 2400 portable ventilators, and "kits to set up 21,000 additional patient beds wherever they were needed."

They were jettisoned to help Jerry Brown balance the $26b deficit he inherited after the 2008 crisis, largely given away, then sold overseas."These supplies were exactly for this scenario" -Dr. Howard Backer, former head of California's Emergency Medical Services Authority (Backer created the program in 2006).

A better way to visualize exponential growth (permalink)

Exponential curves can be misleading: it's a rare exponential phenomenon that doesn't reach a hard limit and slow, taper, flatten or even drop. When you're in the "knee of the curve" it's hard to tell if it's going to keep going up, or turn S-shaped.

This video from Minute Physics makes a compelling case that a log scale that plots new cases relative to cases is better at informing our intuition when it comes to coronavirus infections.

His chart does not represent time with the Y-axis: instead, it uses animation to show infections over time.

You can explore this technique here:

Don't worry about groceries (permalink)

Harvard assistant professor of exposure and assessment science Joseph Allen does excellent work explaining why the deliveries and groceries you bring home are pretty safe, despite the ability of covid to persist on surfaces for days.

It's true that there are "detectable" levels of covid-19 on surfaces for days after exposure, but "detectable" isn't the same as "contagious": the halflife of covid on plastic is 5.6h (metal: 6.8h). So if your delivery driver is sick, and sneezes on their hands, and then carries the box to your door, it still won't necessarily satisfy the "Sufficient-Component Cause model" for transmission.

That would require "sick driver, sneezing/coughing, viral particles transferred to the package, a very short time lapse before delivery, you touching the exact same spot on the package as the sneeze, you then touching your face or mouth before hand-washing."

You can break the chain with simple steps. Maintain distance while shopping. Don't touch your face. Wash your hands after. Wash them again after you eat your groceries. If you're really worried, wait a couple hours before eating them.

It's similar to the advice from food microbiologist Don Schaffner:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Photos of Grokster demonstrators: DON'T TOUCH MY TIVO!

#15yrsago gets funded, Schachter goes full-time

#10yrsago gets an API

#10yrago Tim O'Reilly defines "the Internet operating system"

#10yrsago ACLU prevails: US Fed Judge invalidates gene patent

#10yrsago Leaked doc: EU wants to destroy and rewrite Canada's IP laws

#10yrsago UK record lobby has vehement feelings on Digital Economy Bill debate, won't say what they are

#5yrsago Stephen King versus Maine's lying governor

#1yrago After the Parkland shooting, NRA official reached out to Sandy Hook denier to discuss possibility that it was an anti-gun conspiracy

#1yrago New York State goes after the Sackler family's opioid fortune, claims they funneled their Oxy millions through offshore laundries

#1yrago The Chinese Communist Party's newspaper has spun out an incredibly lucrative censorship business

#1yrago War criminal and snowflake Erik Prince cancels Beloit College talk after student protests, threatens lawsuit

#1yrago Oklahoma Republicans introduce bill forcing doctors to warn abortion patients about the existence of an imaginary "reversible abortion"

#1yrago Jones's deposition over his role in the harassment of Sandy Hook parents is a total shitshow

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Wired (, JWZ (

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

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