Pluralistic: 08 Apr 2020

Today's links

  1. Solnit on the revelations of crisis: Pandemic speeds up processes that were too slow to notice.
  2. Nurse suspended for distributing crowdfunded PPE: Shame on Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
  3. Cleveland Plain Dealer executed by union-busting owners: Firing health reporters during a pandemic.
  4. Monster-themed covid pinup PSAs: By Alejandra Oviedo.
  5. The Onion on Wisconsin's election: We need strategic Onion reserves for all our calamities.
  6. NSO Group says Facebook tried to buy its malware: NSO is worse than Facebook, but it's a close-run thing.
  7. How to pay for covid: Unearthing Keynes's "How to Pay for the War."
  8. Smart lock hemorrhages user data: And it broadcasts its unlock code over Bluetooth.
  9. TSA wanted to inspect 16 year old trans girl's genitals: Jon Corbett is on the case.
  10. Roger Fuckebythenavele vs Bannatyne Manuscript: Black Plague-era f-bomb eclipsed by 14th century frottage artist.
  11. Rube Goldberg feeding device: Now that's physical comedy.
  12. Public domain Zoom backgrounds: Fantastic backdrops for an absurd moment.
  13. This day in history: 2010, 2019
  14. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

Solnit on the revelations of crisis (permalink)

Historian Rebecca Solnit is the best writer on disasters and societal response, the genius who gave us "A Paradise Built in Hell." Her latest Guardian column,could not be more cogent or timely.

The crisis made the impossible possible: extending workers' rights, freeing prisoners, finding trillions for relief.

Crisis (med): "Crossroads of recovery and death"

Emergency: From "emerge" – from the familiar into a new posture

Catastrophe: Root is "sudden overturning."

The lessons of disaster: everything is connected, weakness is revealed (and so is strength). It's a spring thaw for power, when the ice that seemed utterly solid shatters and we slip through.

Who benefits from the shattering? Often those whose priority is reestablishing order, rather than helping those in crisis. They seize and consolidate power, suspend rights, use insider knowledge to enrich themselves.

They prioritize property over people, which is where "elite panic" springs from: characterizing the things ordinary people need to do merely to survive as "looting" or "squatting" – hence shoot-to-kill orders after Hurricane Katrina.

Billionaires are ordering their workers to stay on the job. Hobby Lobby's religious maniac owners told workers God would protect them. The Uihleins, Trump insiders, gagged workers who had symptoms to avoid "unnecessary panic."

Paychex founder Tom Golisano said "The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people." (He says people "misinterpreted" his statement.)

This is the pandemic-accelerated version of historic practices, like working children to death or operating unsafe mines or sweatshops, burning oil and cooking the world — prizing "the lifeless thing that is profit over living beings."

Doing them fast makes them impossible to ignore, but they're not really any different from Hobby Lobby's owner forcing workers to risk their lives to sell crafting supplies.

Pandemic's revealed interconnectedness is incompatible with capitalist doctrines of individualism. This interconnectedness is a longstanding scientific consensus. That's why the right is so hostile to science: reality has a leftist bias.

The right's rejection of coronavirus science – insisting on keeping businesses and churches open – isn't an aberration, it's just a vivid example of the longstanding denialism over everything from abortion to the climate crisis. The pandemic makes slow things fast.

The pandemic crisis reveals our true natures. Everyday people engage in selfless acts of charity and generosity and mutual aid. Rich people cower in bunkers and insist that we all need to get back behind the wheels of our Ubers.

Solnit holds out hope that when this ends, we'll learn from it: "I wonder if we will rethink how we were linked, how we moved about and how the goods we rely on moved about."

"The wave of privatisation that has characterised our neoliberal age began with the privatisation of the human heart, the withdrawal from a sense of a shared fate and social bonds."

The 1972 quake in Managua brought about a revolution: "Once you realised that your life can be decided by one night of the Earth deciding to shake, [you thought]: ‘So what? I want to live a good life and I want to risk my life, because I can also lose my life in one night.’"

Pandemic upends impossibility: "Ireland nationalised its hospitals. Canada came up with four months of basic income for those who lost their jobs. Germany did more than that. Portugal decided to treat immigrants and asylum seekers as full citizens during the pandemic."

The 2008 crisis gave us Occupy, and that gave us new discourses about inequality, student debt, Medicare for All. We go into this crisis with all that in hand.

Patrisse Cullors's Black Lives Matter mission statement: "Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. Rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams."

There's no going back: "Ordinary life before the pandemic was already a catastrophe of desperation and exclusion for too many human beings, an environmental and climate catastrophe, an obscenity of inequality."

Nurse suspended for distributing crowdfunded PPE (permalink)

Olga Matievskaya is a nurse at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where multiple sources have told Propublica that they are not receiving sufficient PPE and feel their health and lives are in danger.

Matievskaya raised more than $12k on Gofundme and spent it on masks, shoe covers and jumpsuits for her colleagues. Newark Beth Israel Medical Center suspended her for unauthorized distribution of medical supplies, saying she had violated their policies.

Those same policies instruct medical staff never to reuse masks, gowns, etc — something management now requires them to do.

Matievskaya took steps that might save her colleagues' and patients' lives. Beth Israel kicked her out for making them look bad.

Cleveland Plain Dealer executed by union-busting owners (permalink)

The owners of the Cleveland Plain Dealer laid off all but 14 of the newsroom staff, then prohibited the survivors from covering the beats they've mastered over decades, giving those roles over to the non-unionized staff at

The survivors were offered jobs covering outlying counties of northeast Ohio.

It's the final blow from the Newhouses, owners of Advance Publications, who have been systematically destroying the paper's union since they acquired it.

Among those affected: Ginger Christ, the paper's health reporter, who has been stripped of her beat during a pandemic.

Editor Tim Warsinskey, who played executioner in the scheme, is now to run content farms at

Monster-themed covid pinup PSAs (permalink)

These monster-themed coronavirus safety PSA pinups are the work of the Colombian artist Alejandra "Ruttu" Oviedo

Here's where to get her non-covid-related art:

The Onion on Wisconsin's election (permalink)

I've written before about how The Onion is performing the same kind of cathartic laugh-so-we-don't-cry service that it performed after 9/11:

They just keep getting better, too.

But their Wisconsin Republican mass-murder-at-the-ballot election coverage? Chef's kiss. The epitome of "Ha ha, only serious."

"Wisconsin Primary Voters Receive ‘I Voted’ Gravestones"

NSO Group says Facebook tried to buy its malware (permalink)

The NSO Group is a spyware company that is the top supplier for the world's most brutal dictators, a company implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It's owned by the private equity fund Novalpina Capital.

The company has been caught using ex-Mossad agents to target the academics that have documented its crimes against humanity.

The company discovered and weaponized a zero-day vulnerability in Whatsapp and sold it to the world's shittiest dictators, who used it to attack hundreds of dissidents, journalists, opposition figures and human rights workers.

Facebook is Whatsapp's parent company. They are the worst of the Big Tech companies. Apple wants to control everything you do but not spy on you; Google wants to spy on you wherever you go but not control you. FB wants to spy on you all the time and control everything you do.

Facebook is suing NSO Group for spying on its users, because that is Facebook's job.

However, NSO Group has a fascinating defense: it says that Facebook tried to hire it to spy on Facebook users.

According to NSO, Facebook tried to buy surveillance tech from them in 2017. They wanted to incorporate NSO's notorious "Pegasus" malware into Onavo VPN, a fake VPN that Facebook tricked users into installing, which spied on everything they did.

Facebook has countered by saying this wasn't a proposed deal between FB and NSO, it was "a discussion with people who work at Facebook."

How to pay for covid (permalink)

Keynes's 1940 pamphlet "How to Pay For the War" reframed the question of large-scale project financing. Rather than focusing on money (which governments can print at will), it focused on how to minimize public spending's impact on physical resources.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot Keynes's hypothesis (which was borne out by the war itself): money is a completely different proposition for sovereign currency issuers than it is for users of that sovereign currency, like states, cities and households (same for debt).

For governments, the problem with spending isn't "getting into debt" (all money in circulation is government debt: if taxes equalled spending there wouldn't any money in circulation). The problem for governments is crowding: getting into bidding wars with money-users.

A government can procure any resource that is available for sale in its currency without negative effects, provided it isn't trying to procure something the private sector is using. They can employ all unemployed people (people whose labor the private sector doesn't want).

This is why asking "How will you pay for [Medicare for All/free college/etc]" is foolish. If the government sunsets private health insurance, the capacity to provide medical care still exists, but there will not be any private-sector bidders for that capacity.

The government can spend the money for public healthcare into existence without crowding private sector spending. During the war, the USG limited private-sector procurement of needed material (rationing), and enticed money-users to sequester most of what it spent (war bonds).

This was Keynes's point: the problems the government faced in "paying for the war" were not "it costs too much" — it was "How do we spend all this money without creating inflationary bidding wars for war materiel?"

This is how we'll finance the "war on covid" – and the Green New Deal. Not with "payfors" (Congress's idea that all spending must be balanced with cuts), but with what Nathan Tankus calls "non-fiscal payfors."

"The question of resourcing the pandemic one is a matter of supply chain and factory reconversion experts, not economics per-se."

That's an important point. Congress is constrained by how fast the factories it can procure from can make ventilators – not how much they cost.

Smart lock hemorrhages user data (permalink)

Tapplock is only secondarily a manufacturer of "Smart Locks." Primarily, what they manufacture is horrible security gaffes.

Remember when they made a lock that you didn't need to pick because you could just disassemble it by removing a single screw?

Then researchers discovered that the screwdriver was option, since the lock continuously broadcasted its unlock code over Bluetooth:

(the locks are also made of garbage steel that's easy to cut)

Well, it turns out that Tapplock isn't merely really bad at protecting your physical security – they also haemorrhage the data of everyone who uses their locks.

The FTC just settled with Tapplock, and the docs reveal that the company (which makes locks!) had no security program for its products.

This oversight allowed attackers to harvest the data that Tapplock gathered on its users: "usernames, email addresses, profile photos, location history, and the precise location of a user's lock."

TSA wanted to inspect 16 year old trans girl's genitals (permalink)

Back when Jon Corbett was an engineer, he showed how TSA full-body scanners could be trivially defeated and, rather than thanking him, the TSA threatened and bullied him. The response was so terrible that he went out and got a law degree.

Now, Corbett defends survivors of sexual assaults by TSA stafferss committed under the guise of performing "pat downs."

Like the grandmother who was strip searched ON MOTHERS DAY by Tulsa TSA, under the rubric of getting a look at her sanitary napkin.

Or the woman who had her vulva penetrated by Burbank TSA, who falsely told her that she could not refuse the search and abandon her trip and threatened to physically restrain her if she didn't submit.

Now he's representing a 16-year-old trans girl, who was traumatized by RDU TSA, who insisted that she permit them to inspect her genitals.

The scanner operator "she told Jamii she must go to a private room, expose herself, and let her 'feel up in there.' That is, a TSA supervisor demanded to molest a child."

When her mother refused, TSA called in the police and top TSA managers. They were eventually released and drove 600 miles rather than flying.

Roger Fuckebythenavele vs Bannatyne Manuscript (permalink)

The Bannatyne Manuscript, a 400-year-old collection of poetry compiled by George Bannatyne, a young merchant in Edinburgh who couldn't leave his house during the Black Death quarantine. It features one of the earliest known usages of the word "Fuck."

The f-bomb appears in "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie," in the phrase "wan fukkit funling."

Though this was widely reported to be the oldest surviving F-bomb, this was quickly dispelled by medievalists, who have long celebrated Roger Fuckebythenavele.

Fuckebythenavele was a 14th century Englishman who is thought to have earned his nickname due to misconceptions about how intercourse worked, or possibly due to a sexual preference for frottage.

Rube Goldberg feeding device (permalink)

I've only just discovered the work of Joseph's Machines, a virtuoso Rube Goldberg Machine builder whose inventions have been featured on Sesame Street (!) and elsewhere.

This "machine" is particularly impressive. The motif of "whirling improvised device shoves food into my gob" is evergreen.

And that finale!

Public domain Zoom backgrounds (permalink)

The Public Domain Review has assembled a collection of 15 gorgeous Zoom backgrounds for your covid-lockdown delectation.

There's lots of old stuff here (Schinkel, Haeckel, Bosch, etc), but also contemporary works from NASA and Katie Dean.

The PDR also produced a smashing coloring book for those of us stuck at home.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago UK ISP TalkTalk will not obey Digital Economy Bill disconnection orders

#10yrsago Minister for Digital Britain thinks an IP address is an "Intellectual Property address"

#10yrsago NYT ethicist: OK to pirate ebooks once you've bought the hardcover

#1yrago Most browsers — except Firefox and Brave — are eliminating the option to turn off surveilling "hyperlink auditing"

#1yrago Pledge: I will not participate in any event organized by or including institutions that employ Kirstjen Nielsen

#1yrago The two hidden intellectual moves behind the "progressive" argument against free college

#1yrago China's toxic livestreaming culture: the vicarious lives of angry, alienated, uneducated rural gamers

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Bonnie Burton (, Naked Capitalism (Naked Capitalism), Mitch Wagner (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

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

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