Pluralistic: 31 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. 100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters: Based on the Pathfinder Bestiary, readily adaptable for other systems.
  2. Attack Surface author's note: My latest podcast is the afterword from the third Little Brother book.
  3. Trump admits voter suppression: Proving intent was never easier.
  4. Reality endorses Sanders: Pandemics have an obvious leftist bias.
  5. Amazon fires walkout organizer: Low waged workers, doing the most important work in America, exposed to lethal risk.
  6. Monopolists stole your respirator: Dying a gasping death is pareto-optimal.
  7. Corporate welfare vs food stamps: A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.
  8. How viruses experience social distancing: XKCD mixes atavistic satisfaction with science communications.
  9. Scarfolk pandemics: This isn't the worst timeline after all.
  10. This day in history: 2005, 2019
  11. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters (permalink)

Manuel Solís's "100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters" can be one-shots or whole campaigns: rev up your D100s!

  • The only way to end the Queen of Shadows is beat her at her game, and infiltrate the organization.
  • The war is about to explode. The daughter of the greatest painter asks the PCs escape with 30 priceless paintings.
  • The Princess is a doppelganger and has been discovered. Secretly, she reveals that the entire royal family have always been dopplegangers. We must return her to the throne and fool everyone.
  • 20 magic arrows labeled with 20 names. The quiver of revenge.
  • A local nobleman will inherit a castle if he wins a tournament, but does not know how to fight. and needs our help.
  • The circus is in town. They have a basilisk. The basilisk has disappeared!
  • In the neighboring kingdom a man sells giant turnips that turn into giants those who eats them.
  • An Aristocrats club (The club of the humbles) is a facade of a cult that worships Dark Nagas and Demons.
  • At dawn there will be a coup, and the baby who inherited the throne will be assassinated. The whole guard has resigned.

Attack Surface author's note (permalink)

My latest podcast is a reading of the author's note from "Attack Surface" — the third Little Brother book, which comes out on Oct 12.

I recorded this for the audiobook edition of Attack Suface, which I've been recording all last week with Amber Benson and the Cassandra de Cuir from Skyboat Media.

If you like what you hear, please consider pre-ordering the book — it's a scary time to have a book in the production pipeline!

Here's the MP3:

And here's the podcast feed:

Trump admits voter suppression (permalink)

Trump went on Fox and Friends to talk about switching the 2020 election to mail-in, and said, that if you allowed everyone to vote, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Jon Queally calls it "Saying the quiet part out loud."

It's a pretty consequential slip, though. Trump was discussing the GOPs opposition to providing funding to states to retool for postal voting, which is likely to result in high-stakes litigation. And courtrooms – even ones presided over by GOP appointees – take these frank admissions of intent to heart.

Just look at the weird tale of Thomas Hofeller, creator of REDMAP and architect of the GOP's nationwide gerrymandering campaign.

Hofeller's key insight was the redistricting was "an election in reverse" where, "instead of voters choosing their politicians, politicians choose their voters." He convinced GOP donors that funding state-level gerrymanders was a huge bargain on political influence.

We know what happened next: the US became more antimajoritarian than ever and started to elect antimajoritarian politicians – politicians who embrace the core right-wing tenet that some people are better than others and those people should be in charge.

White nationalists want whites in charge. Dominionists want rule by Christian men. Libertarians want rule by bosses. But they all believe that nature made some to rule and others to be ruled.

This is a hard ideology to make work in a democracy, which is notionally a majoritarian project. To get elected, antimajoritarians have two main tactics.

The first is scapegoating. White supremacy is how the GOP gets turkeys to vote for Christmas:

LBJ's Southern Strategy was remarkably frank about this: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

Right now, the GOP and its state media organ, Fox, have opted to put its main base (old white people) into harm's way by converting high-risk activity into a marker of tribal loyalty. They could kill of a LOT of their base. It's a weird flex.

But then there's the other antimajoritarian way to win: cheating (i.e. gerrymandering), which brings me back to Hoeffler.

Hoeffler was really careful about never saying the quiet part out loud.

Not only did he never admit he was gerrymandering on racial lines, he also exhorted his allies to never write down anything like this, not to send emails or make notes to themselves about it.

But Hoeffler wasn't good at following his own advice. When he died suddenly in 2018, he left behind computers and thumb-drives stuffed with frank admissions that REDMAP was a cheat, designed to steal the votes of nonwhites and other traditional Democratic voters.

Worse (for Hoeffler and the GOP), the person who inherited his data was his estranged, anarchist daughter, Stephanie. She put all that data online:

She dumped it all in raw form, so no one could accuse her of putting Hoeffler's deeds and intentions in a false negative light — it's all there, including materials that reflect badly on Stephanie. She was more interested in truth than her own feelings.

Before Stephanie doxed her father, court cases over REDMAP gerrymandering had been stalled and nosediving. Afterwards courts – presided over by GOP-appointed judges – had no choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs, against GOP redistricting.

Proving intent is key to prevailing in court challenges to redistricting and other election fuckery. It's really hard. The bar is set incredibly high. If the redistricters can make any sort of claim of a legit purpose for the new boundaries, they usually win.

But not when they come right out and say the quiet part out loud. When the President goes on national television and announces that he wants fewer people to vote because otherwise, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," well…

Both figuratively and literally, Trump has a really hard time keeping it in his pants. He always says the quiet part out loud from "rapists and drug traffickers" to his statement that he would withhold aid from states whose governors criticized him.

He's really good at running across the river hopping from the back of one alligator to the next before the jaws snap closed, but that's a strategy much better suited to owning the news cycle than the courtroom.

Because courts don't lose focus when your outlandish deeds are chased by more outlandish ones, obliterating the previous scandal from the public mind. They are deliberative, slow, plodding.


Remember when Trump's Muslim ban got struck down because courts weighed his statement that it wasn't a Muslim ban against his tweets where he said it was? Saying the quiet part out loud is good antimajoritarian electioneering. It's a terrible legal strategy.

Running across a river on the back of alligators works great…until it doesn't. It's hard to keep running once you lose a leg.

Trump no longer has a leg to stand on.

(Image: Michael Fleshman, CC BY-SA)

Reality endorses Sanders (permalink)

Hard to say it better than Keeanga Yamahtta: "Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders."

From Medicare for All to public broadband provision to reining in pharma to the need for worker rights to universal housing, pandemics have an incredibly unfair left-wing bias.

SF and LA can order shelter-in-place, but that doesn't magically end the plague of homelessness that was created by allowing the private sector to decide which housing got built and where.

Quarantine's incompatibility with mass incarceration is indisputable.

A nation without savings cannot survive a pandemic unchanged.

History tells us what those changes can be: the New Deal, the GI Bill, the Great Society.

We're balanced on the knife edge between two futures. In the first one, pandemic leads to fascist exterminism, the belief that poors and spoonies and olds need to be eliminated to ensure that they don't become reservoirs of pathogens.

In the second, the manifest failures of the cruel doctrine of "personal responsibility" is displaced by solidarity and the frank admission that we have a shared destiny, not just economic or social, but microbial.

We get to choose. Soon. As soon as November.

Amazon fires walkout organizer (permalink)

Amazon warehouse workers and other low-waged workers who are literally keeping us and our economy alive during the pandemic say that their employers are cutting corners, depriving them of PPE, handwashing, sick pay, etc.

It's especially bad at Amazon warehouses, where workers have staged walkouts to protest unsafe working conditions.

The walkout at Staten Island's JFK8 warehouse was led by Chris Smalls, who has been fired by Amazon.

Amazon claims that Smalls was fired for failing to observe social distancing. Read between the lines and you'll discover that they sent him home because he was a labor leader and insisted that he stay there, using epidemiology as a pretence for illegal labor practices.

Workers at Whole Foods are ready to walk out too:

And Instacart:

It's funny, you'd think the right would be all over this. After all, the excuse for paying low-waged workers substarvation wages is that the market has set their wage there, because other people are willing to do their jobs if they don't want to.

And now, no one is willing to do those jobs, so they have a seller's market. When you have a seller's market, capitalists tell you that you should demand all the market will bear. In this case, I think that comes out to sick pay, PPE, and a giant fucking raise.

Monopolists stole your respirator (permalink)

A couple days ago, I wrote about how lax antitrust enfforcement caused America's ventilator shortage, because medtech giant Covidien bought out tiny rival Newport to kill a USG contract to produce tons of low-cost ventilators.

I based that post off this excellent NYT piece, which gets deep on history of the plan to produce the ventilators, and the way that Covidien killed it, and then got acquired by an even bigger company, Medtronic (who were already a horrible shithow).

But there's even more to the story, as David Dayen writes in The American Prospect.

The whole story is even more of a parable about late-stage capitalism than it appears at first blush.

First of all, this kind of buy-and-kill maneuver is an epidemic in the health industries. This paper identifies 45 instances per year in which pharma companies acquire small competitors to prevent the release of low-cost competitors to their products:

For example: Roche killed a promising hemophilia cure from small rival Spark Therapeutics, whose one-shot drug would have ended the market for Roche's once-a-month hemophilia drug Hemlibra.

Then there's Covidien's acquisition by Medtronic, which wasn't an acquisition in the traditional sense, rather, it was a "tax inversion" — a piece of financial engineering — that allowed Medtronic to move $1B in offshore money to the US tax free.

Covidien had a long history of financial shenanigans, dating back to its years as a division of Tyco International, whose CEO was imprisoned for fraud. Covidien has variously billed itself as a US, Bermudan and Irish company.

tldr: "Covidien, a longtime corporate tax cheat and serial acquirer of competitors, scooped up a rival and scotched its most promising project, which would have significantly boosted our ability to cope with pandemics. Then it merged with an even bigger rival and lent it the same tax avoidance and corporate consolidation tactics, making the medical supply chain even more fragile."

Corporate welfare vs food stamps (permalink)

Are you an airline exec hoping for up to $32 no-strings billions from the US government? Just fill in this handy, simple form:

Are you a laid off worker who needs food stamps so you and your family don't starve to death? Here's a kafkaeque form betraying a love of bureaucratic fuckery that makes Stalin look like Ayn Rand.

As Matt Stoller says, "The airline application for billions in assistance is 'what's your name and where can I send the check?' The application for food stamps requires ten pages of detailed personal financial records.'

How viruses experience social distancing (permalink)

This week's XKCD is one of the best commentaries I've seen on coronavirus so far.

There are real risks associated with anthropomorphizing the virus – it can feed conspiracism and xenophobia – but Randall's work at describing the public health to the pandemic from the virus's perspective is just incredibly heartening and also compelling.

What a sweet moment for your day, to imagine how your sacrifices are frustrating the virus, and simultaneously to get a rigorous, easy-to-grasp description of how social distancing and other countermeasures work. Randall Munroe is a human treasure.

Scarfolk pandemics (permalink)

You might think that this is a terrible timeline to be having a pandemic in, but it hasn't got a patch on Scarfolk, the small, conservative English town caught in a perpetual loop from 1970-1980.

Scarfolk is consistently brilliant. Creator Richard Littler published a great book in time for last Christmas, the "Scarfolk Annual."

And his animated series Dick & Stewart is a must-watch.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Valenti signs Betamax tape for fan at Grokster hearing

#15yrsago South Park-infringing trench art from Iraq

#1yrago The weird grift of "sovereign citizens": where UFOlogy meets antisemitism by way of Cliven Bundy and cat-breeding

#1yrago Slovakia's first woman president is an anti-corruption, pro-immigrant environmental campaigner

#1yrago The strange tale of Runescape's Communist republic

#1yrago Internal files reveal how US law enforcement classes anti-fascists as fascists, and actual fascists as "anti-anti-fascists"

#1yrago America's best mobile carrier is also the first phone company to back Right to Repair legislation

#1yrago Citing transphobic policies, 172+ googlers call for removal of Heritage Foundation from Google's "Advanced Technology External Advisory Council"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Mitch Wagner (, 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: Author’s Note from Attack Surface

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

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

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