Pluralistic: 17 Apr 2020

Wenceslaus Hollar,knaves,etchings,old school,plague years,charlie stross,re-opening,ellen degeneres,scabs,class war,be kind,ellen,tv,united health,wendell potter,radicalized,late-stage capitalism,guillotine watch,medicare for all,fraud,impunity,doj,science fiction,prescience,fiction,naomi kritzer,so much cooking,themepunks,coop,art,masks,gift guide,randotti,skulls,illustration

Wenceslaus Hollar's Pack of Knaves; Charlie Stross on how we'll screw up the "re-opening"; Ellen DeGeneres's union crew takes paycuts while Ellen records from home with non-union contractors; Health insurance industry in rosy good health; DoJ to convicted fraudsters: keep your money!; Reflections on fictional pandemics during a real one; Coop pandemic masks

Pluralistic: 17 Apr 2020

Today's links

Wenceslaus Hollar's Pack of Knaves (permalink)

The Pack of Knaves was engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77):

The Czech etcher moved to London in 1637 to join the household of the Earl of Arundel (a celebrated art collector). His etchings are all the more remarkable for the fact that he was nearly blind in one eye.

He was a prodigious chronicler of the plague years.

These scans are ganked from the University of Toronto's Wenceslaus Hollar collection:

I found them on Spitalfields Life, whose Gentle Author adds, "Count yourself lucky that you are not cooped up with this lot."

Charlie Stross on how we'll screw up the "re-opening" (permalink)

I don't read Charlie Stross's nonfic for rosy optimism: I come to him for clear-eyed extrapolations that are as pitiless as they are rigorous. His latest — on the lifting of the lockdown — does not disappoint.

Charlie predicts that social pressures will result in a lifting of lockdown at the start of the summer, followed 4 weeks later by a massive surge in cases. The first lockdown came to an unprepared world. The second wave will come to an exhausted world.

Medical staff will still be ill – in great numbers – and burned out. The recent grads pressed into service will not be joined by another cohort of soon-to-graduate, because their educations have halted.

Steve Mnuchin's $120/week "bridge liquidity" will not stabilize society.

Restaurateurs who re-open and then re-close will give up the ship in droves, shuttering forever.

There will be sustained cycle of weeks of civil unrest, punctuated by 4-6 week lockdowns, for months.

When Trump's great re-opening implodes he will LOSE HIS SHIT. Maybe so badly that McConnell gins up a second impeachment, hoping to salvage the 2020 election.

Stross: "By September there's going to be social unrest just about everywhere that hasn't nailed down a massive social spending/social security project on a scale that makes the New Deal look restrained and conservative."

Charlie also points out that though Boris Johnson is out of the hospital, he's nowhere to be seen and is presumably hors de combat, but still (seemingly) committed to hard Brexit on Jan 31, which will shrink the UK economy another 8% overnight.

Unless Trump stages a peoples' stimulus (not a banker's bailout), Stross holds out little hope: "we might find a simple/effective treatment. Or vaccine development is ridiculously easy. Or the 50% of asymptomatic carriers mean pandemic is more advanced than we realize."

In case any of those sound likely to you, here's Charlie again: "these are all straw-clutching exercises. In all probability, they're not going to eventuate."


My take: this is the "if we screw it all up" scenario, and yeah, Trump's good at screwing it up. But there are new political forces awake and moving today, thanks to the pandemic's acelleration of processes that were only bearable because they were so slow.

Every system sustains itself — until it doesn't. The inability of neoliberalism, extraction, austerity and plutocracy to prevent the coronacrisis has done so much to discredit it, and open the space for alternatives. More than ever, the future is ours to seize.

Ellen DeGeneres's union crew takes paycuts while Ellen records from home with non-union contractors (permalink)

TV talk show hosts have largely risen to the occasion. Some of them are recording from home, some are taking a break, but Jon Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, and Desus and Mero are keeping their staff on the payroll at full pay, some out of their own pockets.

But not Ellen DeGeneres, who is worth a reported $330m, and whose union crew were left in the dark for weeks while she continued to praise them on the new episodes she was shooting from home with a non-union crew.

"30 employees received no written communication about the status of their working hours, pay, or inquiries about their mental and physical health from producers for over a month."

They've now been warned of a 60% paycut. Warners blames the poor communication on the chaos of coronavirus, which would be credible…except that all of DeGeneres's competitors seem to have managed it.

"DeGeneres is one of the highest-paid stars on television, earning more than $50 million per year from her Telepictures deal. Her total net worth is a reported $330 million."

Her motto is "Be kind."

(Image: Toglenn, CC BY-SA, modified)

Health insurance industry in rosy good health (permalink)

The US health insurance industry is…healthy. "The S&P; 500 managed healthcare sector gained 2.9% on Wednesday and another 6.4% on Thursday." That's more growth than online retailers like Amazon experienced during the pandemic.

One of the reasons the industry is doing so well? With Sanders and Warren out of the race, insurance execs are emboldened to gouge patients on co-pays and premiums while denying coverage, unconcerned that this will fuel a Medicare for All election issue.

If you want to understand how we can all be watching our life's savings vanish while the health insurance industry blows billions on stock-buybacks, during a pandemic, hark to Wendell Potter, the health insurance spin-doctor turned M4A campaigner.

Companies like United Health beat Wall Street's estimates by increasing their fed/state revenues by 250%, even as the number of people it served at federal and state expense.

Even as United Health customers were all but eliminating their medical expenses (canceling routine visits and elective procedures), United kept their premiums constant, using the savings to buy back $1.7B worth of its own stock.

This while United was insisting that doctors take a 60% paycut or be thrown out of its network.

Potter: "Bottom line: Americans are getting sick & dying, and doctors risking their lives to save them. Meanwhile, health insurance companies are denying coverage & squeezing doctors to generate record profits. That’s the story of healthcare in America today."

DoJ to convicted fraudsters: keep your money! (permalink)

Companies that have admitted fraud and must pay fines to the DoJ have been granted a reprieve by the Trump administration, so that they may avert a liquidity crisis:

At the same time, the Trump administration is billing the $1200 granted working Americans $1200 as a "liquidity bridge" that is supposed to tide them over for ten weeks.

The DoJ will not force admitted corporate crooks to pay their fines until at least Jun 1. This comes even as the DoJ is setting records for entering into settlements with companies that defraud consumers and the government, rather than prosecuting them.

These range from a Tampa company that entered into a $41m settlement after defrauding Medicare, and Ohio and Michigan companies that charged the government "for unnecessary therapy."

Also: Wells Fargo, who owe the feds $3B for a string of endless, ghastly frauds, including opening (literally) millions of fraudulent accounts, stealing veterans' cars, stealing customers' homes, stealing from small businesses, stealing from high-net-worth investors…

Companies do not have to show that paying their fines constitutes a hardship, Generally, these companies reaped much more from their bad deeds than they have to pay in fines, making these "penalties" just part of the cost of doing business.

Now it's not even that.

Reflections on fictional pandemics during a real one (permalink)

Back in 2015, Naomi Kritzer wrote a story in the form of a series of public posts by a perky food-blogger enduring lockdown during an incredibly lethal pandemic. It's called "So Much Cooking" and it's brilliant and sad and brave.

In a new essay for, Kritzer reflects on having a piece of fiction become so suddenly salient – from the things she's learned about real pandemic lockdowns to how fiction about crises prepares us for real crises when they come.

Kritzer's new novel, Catfishing on Catnet, is prescient in its own way – a tale of online community and the role it plays for isolated people. I strongly recommend it.

It's definitely a weird time for people who've made art about end-times. I just finished Lauren Beukes's brilliant, forthcoming Afterland, a post-pandemic road-trip novel set in a world where 99.5% of men and boys have died of viral prostate cancer.

And Marc Maron's End Times Fun comedy special dropped on Netflix just in time for lockdown.

Pinsker's essay definitely captures a lot of what I'm feeling about my own modest contributions to the genre, including "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth":

And Masque of the Red Death:

Also, writing this reminded me to donate to my local food bank, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Please donate to your own food bank if you have the means.

Coop pandemic masks (permalink)

Coop is selling nonmedical face-masks emblazoned with his (often radioactively NSFW!) art at cost, $15/each.

Designs include his amazing drawings of the classic Randotti skulls, the from the Heroic Era of Haunted Mansion souvenirs.

"Mickey Finn" – his Disney/barbituates mashup.


And, of course, "Smut Devil."

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Sony pirated ebooks on hacking

#1yrago We lost the fight for balance in the EU's Copyright Directive, but here's what we won

#1yrago 1% of England owns half of England

#1yrago Effective July 15, British porn consumers will be required entrust their sexual tastes to private companies' badly secured databases

#1yrago Dentistry's evidentiary vacuum allows profiteering butchers to raid our mouths for millions

#1yrago The sovereign nation of Iceland has finally invalidated the European trademark on "Iceland," formerly held by a British discount grocery chain

#1yrago The Antitrust Case Against Facebook: a turning point in the debate over Big Tech and monopoly

#1yrago John Oliver tackles the Sacklers: the litigious, secretive billionaires whose family business engineered the opioid crisis

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Sean O'Brien (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 531 words (4760 total).

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: Podcast swap: Wil Wheaton on Little Brother

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

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