Pluralistic: 23 Apr 2020

shared microbial destiny,las vegas,carolyn goodman,crowdfunding,arnold drake world,origami,botany,art,games,text adventures,metafiction,games,virtual worlds,manyland,crowdfunding,science fiction,reviews,Tochi Onyebuchi,science fiction

Mayor of Las Vegas says the "free market" will decide what's safe; Powell's botanically correct flower guy is in trouble; Library of Last Resort; Manyland; Riot Baby

Pluralistic: 23 Apr 2020 riot-baby


Today's links

Mayor of Las Vegas says the "free market" will decide what's safe (permalink)

Reality – especially epidemiology – has a distinct leftist bias, which almost makes you feel sorry for right-wing ideologues like Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who says that every business in town will get to make up its own rules after she unilaterally lifts quarantine.

She told CNN, "I am not a private owner. That's the competition in this country. The free enterprise and to be able to make sure that what you offer the public meets the needs of the public."

You can see where she's coming from. Her entire worldview is shaped by the Thatcherite dogma that "there is no such thing as society." The Reaganite cant that "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

This only makes sense if you don't believe that humans have shared destiny – that your neighbor's problems are not your problems. Even in the best of times, this is obviously untrue (your neighbor's decision to play loud music at 2AM or to store plutonium in his backyard).

Humans obviously have a shared destiny, including/especially a shared microbial destiny. There's a great Lenny Bruce sketch about this, positing that the basis of society is agreement about where we crap and where we eat.

“So we’ll have to have some rules, that’s how the law starts, out of the facts, let’s see. I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll have a vote: we’ll sleep in Area A, is that cool? OK good. We’ll eat in Area B, good? Good. We’ll throw our crap in Area C.” So everything went along pretty cool, everyone is very happy. One night everybody is sleeping, a guy woke up pow got a face full of crap, and said, “Hey what’s the deal here, I thought we had a rule? Eat. Sleep. And crap. And uh, I was sleeping and I got a face full of crap.” So they said, well, ah, the rule is substantive. That’s, see, that’s what the 14th Amendment is, it regulates the rights, but it doesn’t do anything about it, it just says that’s where it’s at. We’ll have to do something to enforce the provisions, to give it some teeth. Here’s the deal, if anybody throws any crap on us, while we’re sleeping, they get thrown in the craphouse. Agreed? Guy goes, “Well, everybody?” Yeah. “But what about if it’s my mother?” You don’t understand, your mother will be the fact, it has nothing to do with it, it’s just a rule. eat, sleep, and crap, anybody throws any crap on us they get thrown right in the crap house. Your mother doesn’t enter into it, everybody’s mother gets thrown in the craphouse. Priest, Rabbi’s, they all go. Agreed? OK, agreed.

Mayor Goodman's position comes down to this: "We're all in the same swimming pool. This end is the no-pissing-in-the-pool end. That end is the pissing-in-the-pool end. This will all be fine."

The small business that reopens with inadequate measures will not harm only itself and its customer. It will harm everyone who comes into contact with those people.

There's lots more wrong with Goodman's idea: like the fact that, workers rely on governments for protection from employers. There's a buyer's market for labor, so employers can treat workers as disposable, murdering them through inadequate protection and then replacing them.

Or the fact that neither business owners nor customers are qualified to assess the sufficiency of a given plan to re-open. That's like saying, "OK, everyone who wants to fly in an airplane should just inspect it themselves and decide whether it's safe."

The complex technical questions of the modern world cannot be navigated through individual research: you can't individually assess the safety of planes, or building codes, or food prep. You can't know if a slot-machine is fair or gimmicked.

We need impartial expert agencies that conduct truth-seeking exercises to determine the best practices, and then conduct inspections and enforcement on our behalf. Not the "personal responsibility" of becoming an expert in every technical subject we live and die by.

These agencies need to show their work, recuse themselves over conflicts of interest, and hear and act on new information as it becomes available.

They need to use a universally legible process that comes to technically legible conclusions.

That is, they need to govern, as part of a legitimate, responsive state.

The problem of electing people who believe in dismantling government is that they dismantle government.

That works great, but fails badly – I neither want to have to determine whether a barber is safe to visit, nor trust the barber to make that determination. I want a public health expert to make it, and I want that person to be overseen by a democratic institution.

What's more, if YOU are willing to trust the barber (or yourself) and you get it wrong, you could infect me. This is not a matter of personal choice and personal responsibility. It is a matter of stubbornly irreducible shared destiny.

I get that this is inconvenient for people who believe that shared destiny is a Communist plot. But, as our friends on the right are fond of reminding us, "reality doesn't care about your feelings."

(Image: Las Vegas Guy, CC BY-SA)

Powell's botanically correct flower guy is in trouble (permalink)

Arnold Drake World is a treasure of a human being. For years, he's spent his days holding down a table in the cafe at Portland's Powell's Books, folding intricate, gorgeous "botanically correct" flowers out of paper napkins.

Now he's in serious trouble. He's broke and his landlord is about to kick him out of the RV he rents-to-own. The stores he normally sells his art through are closed and many aren't expected to reopen.

He's trying to raise $10K to he won't lose his home. He's currently at $3k. I kicked in $25.

Neoliberalism's signature move is squeezing the slack out of the system. Is there a storehouse of ventilators no one is using right now? Sell 'em off! A cash reserve? Stock buyback!

Is there a neighborhood where people live cheap? Bulldoze it and replace it with luxury flats that no one ever intends to live in,only to use as safe-deposit boxes in the sky.

Ripping slack out of the system doesn't just make the world brittle, it murders the quirky and idiosyncratic things that give the world texture and delight. It's the reason every shopping street in London and NYC (pre-crisis) looked like a looping Flintstones background.

The same 6 shops, over and over again: CVS, Citibank, realtor, 7-11, Chase, Citibank, Walgreens.

Arnold Drake World is one of those treasures that you only get when there's slack in the system, like a bolt of insight that only comes when you down tools and laze in the grass.

He represents one of the many likely casualties of covid, as we bear down on whatever slack remains in the system, making our world more brittle as we do.

Library of Last Resort (permalink)

Library of Last Resort is a game from Matt Finch. It starts out as a text adventure but quickly gets delightfully weird, transmogrifying into a game where you help the protagonist escape from the author's control and set them free in the real world.

It's a game that turns you into a creator, and then, in turn, becomes a online collaboration. How sweet!

(Image: Rich Grundy, CC BY)

Manyland (permalink)

Manyland is a collaborative online environment that's like a sidescroller married to Second Life, by way of Minecraft. You move around and make stuff – objects, environments, etc – and then other users get to use (or repurpose, or dismantle) them.

It's currently maintained by one person, its creator, Philipp Lenssen, and its users have created 700,000 areas with 5,000,000 items. It's got text chat and a suite of anti-harrassment tools.

It all runs in your browser

It has no "business model" – it's sustained by voluntary contributions from its users (or, if you prefer, the "Mayzens" who are residents of "Manyland").

It's a glorious hodgepodge of environments, objects, themes, stories and communities.

Riot Baby (permalink)

Tochi Onyebuchi's Riot Baby is an incandescent Afrofuturist science fiction novella that is so fleet-of-foot as it sprints from one character and time and setting to another that it's dizzying, whirling the reader through fierce bravery in the face of dystopia that uplifts and enrages simultaneously.

Ella was raised in LA, in a neighborhood where gangbangers do drive-bys and the cops inflict terror with impunity. Ella has a power, one she barely understands, a power that shows her the future, and the future she sees is so often violent and terrifying.

Ella's little brother is Kev, born on the evening of the Rodney King uprising, a "riot baby" who barely remembers being little in California, who thinks of New York City's projects as home.

Ella and Kev live a life of sudden violence and grinding poverty, of overt racism and structural, deep-rooted racism that is, if anything, even worse. As Ella comes into more of her powers — telekenesis, telepathy, dream-walking, mind-reading — their lives are marked by the increasing tempo of racism and the rise of white supremcy and the carceral state, broken windows policing and mass incarceration.

Their lives diverge when Kev lands in Riker's Island, with a sentence that stretches to years thanks to the penalties he accrues for his failure to be a model prisoner. Meanwhile, Ella is in the world, traversing its empty spaces, learning to use her powers, visiting Kev in Riker's — sometimes in the visitor's room, and sometimes in his dreams.

Onyebuchi's deft handling of the characters and the transitions between them — and the times and places that mark them — are the kind of thing that makes science fiction such a powerful medium, hearkening back to the action-packed, pulp roots of the genre. Add to that Onyebuchi's vivid characterizations and superb ear for dialog and you've got a book that blazes with rage and glory.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago London Review of Books's personals are really dirty and funny

#15yrsago Free Culture Movement turns one

#10yrsago Microsoft wins its $100M tax-break and amnesty from broke-ass Washington State

#10yrsago British Airways leaves stranded passengers all over world, jacks up prices on tickets home

#5yrsago Privilege: you're probably not the one percent

#1yrago EU to create 350m person biometric database for borders, migration and law enforcement

#1yrago Greta Thunberg attributes her ability to focus on climate change to her Asperger's

#1yrago Fool me twice: New York State commutes Charter's death sentence after Charter promises to stop breaking its promises

#1yrago Political candidate's kids use his election flyers to fool his laptop's facial recognition lock

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (6892 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:

"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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