Pluralistic: 27 Apr 2020

Indie booksellers during the pandemic; Podcasting Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; Billionaires thriving on our pandemic losses; Pandemic proves ISP data-caps were always a pretense; Hospital cuts healthcare workers' pay, pays six-figure exec bonuses

Pluralistic: 27 Apr 2020 in-this-together


Today's links

Indie booksellers during the pandemic (permalink)

Some hopeful news from the pandemic: some indie booksellers are managing to thrive under the lockdown.

Books – and entertainment more broadly – are counter-cyclical, seeing upticks in times of economic distress as people seek to distract themselves from the world's turmoil. But this is entertainment-sector-wide, and books are competing with streamers and games, etc.

What's more, Amazon's "essential business" designation has given it even more of an unfair advantage over indie booksellers (beyond the tax evasion, cross-subsidy, and anticompetitive data-mining):

Despite all this, indie booksellers are hanging in there. Stores like San Francisco's Borderlands Books are shipping their available stock (including their excellent selection of rare books) to buyers now:

And for the newly launched Bookshop platform – which pays a commission to your local bookseller when you buy from them – the pandemic couldn't have been better timed, driving their sales vastly beyond their pre-launch predictions:

Meanwhile Barnes and Nobel – under new PE (ugh) ownership and new management by James Daunt (yay!) – is using the shutdown to renovate its stores to fit Daunt's vision of a network of beautiful indies rather than a chain of sagging scented-candle stores.

All of this is hopeful news for writers like me; I have three books out in 2020 and don't expect my tours to happen (though who knows?). I rely heavily on hand-selling by booksellers, and those three books are critical to both my career and my family's finances.

The indie bookselling industry has been nurtured into a slow and fragile recovery by dedicated booksellers and their dedicated customers. I've been very fearful for them since the shutdown. The glimmers of good news from the field are a fine way to start the week.

Podcasting Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (permalink)

Today on my podcast: part one of my new reading of my 2009 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a contemporary fantasy novel about wifi, which Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you've ever read."

It's the tale of Alan, whose mother is a washing machine and whose father is a mountain; who relocates from rural northern Ontario to Toronto's bohemian Kensington Market, where he falls in with crustypunk dumpster-divers.

Alan becomes gripped by a holy mission to establish an open, community-based wireless network that blankets all of Toronto, but also must contend with one of his brothers, a murderous, revenge-driven monster who has come back from the dead.

And his neighbors in a communal student house that includes an amazing bartender/guitar player who is also in cahoots with Alan's brother; and Mimi, a mysterious young woman with wings sprouting between her shoulder-blades.

It's easily the weirdest thing I've ever written! The official audiobook, read by Bronson Pinchot, is amazing, and you can get it anywhere audiobooks are sold EXCEPT Audible, who refuse to carry me. I also sell it direct:

Here's a direct MP3 link to today's installment:

And here's the RSS feed for my podcast:

Billionaires thriving on our pandemic losses (permalink)

Writing in The Guardian, Mona Chalabi perfectly captures the most long-term destabilizing fact of the crisis: that even as pandemic has ruined the fortunes of most people and businesses, it has been a bonanza of profit-taking for billionaires.

America's billionaires are $308,000,000,000 richer than they were at the start of the crisis, while 26,000,000 Americans are out of a job. A new report from The Institute for Policy Studies reveals that between Mar 18 and Apr 22, US billionaires grew their fortunes by 10.5%.

Eight US billionaires have added $1B or more to their personal fortunes since the start of the crisis, including Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Bezos; Eric Yuan; Steve Ballmer; and Elon Musk.

Plutocracy is a co-morbidity of pandemic.

Much of the wealth transfer was through public subsidies to the country's wealthiest, least-impacted people, including the $349B "Paycheck Protection Program" for small businesses, 94.5% of which went to large businesses, who drained the program dry.

"Heads we win, tails you lose," is the modern plute's motto, the shorter, sharper version of 2008's "Privatized gains, socialized losses."

Or, as Chuck Collins has it, "The rules of the economy have been tipped in favor of asset owners against everyone else."

It's an accelerated version of the post-2008 "recovery" that was entirely driven by the stock market, whose stakeholders have dwindled to an ever-richer, ever-whiter few.

"Billionaire wealth soared 1,130% in 2020 dollars between 1990 and 2020. That increase is more than 200 times greater than the 5.37% growth of median wealth in the US over this same period."

Pandemic proves ISP data-caps were always a pretense (permalink)

The central claim behind Comcast's long holy war against Net Neutrality is that without "network management" (slowing down your connection to the sites you like unless they pay bribes to Comcast), their network would face "congestion."

This was obviously bullshit all along, but all doubt was erased in 2015, when a set of leaked memos from Comcast management affirmed that "network congestion" is a pretence for charging customers to use the service they are already paying for.

Nevertheless, Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited this "congestion" as justification for his slaughter of Net Neutrality, an accomplishment he was only able to pull off by pretending that millions of comments from fake/stolen identities were "evidence" for his case:

The shills who cheered on Pai's cheating have spun the pandemic as evidence for the value of network discrimination, claiming that the killing of Net Neutrality incentivized investment in ISPs' networks (despite a sharp decrease in investment).

As Karl Bode writes, the pandemic is the best evidence yet that the claims of network congestion are absolute self-serving bullshit. After all, when Comcast lifted their bandwidth caps they did not experience the network collapse they warned us of.

The telcoms sector knew they'd be pilloried if they surprise-billed locked-down Americans for exceeding their caps, so they eliminated them, and…everything was fine. Almost as though the only reason for the caps was to gouge Americans.

Big Telco shills have a way to spin this: they say that the caps exist to allow for "price differentiation" that allows light internet users to buy cheaper packages – but if that was so, you'd expect your relatives who only check email once/day to get a $3/month plan.

No such plan is in evidence. Instead: "Everybody pays a high price for broadband in America. Again, with with a few regional exceptions, because it's a broken, monopolized market."

Hospital cuts healthcare workers' pay, pays six-figure exec bonuses (permalink)

This month, Denver Health Medical Center CEO Robin Wittenstein notified front-line health workers that they should expect paycuts.

Also this month: Denver Health's exec team got bonus checks ranging from $50k-$230K.

These were "performance bonuses" for 2019, and it's entirely possible that the execs involved performed well in 2019.

But to pay them bonuses while cutting health-workers' salaries speaks volumes about the hospital's priorities. Presumably, the workers also performed well.

And the downturn is no more the workers' fault than it is the execs' fault. What's more, the majority of execs can work from home, while the pay-cut workers are putting their lives in jeopardy to care for the sick and injured during a pandemic.

Wittenstein is finessing the paycuts by asking the workers to use mandatory leave, paid leave, and personal leave to reduce payroll expenses.

The workers are low-waged. The execs are not. CMO Robert Borland's base pay is $270K, and he got a $53K bonus on top of that.

GC Scott Hoye brings home $402k. His bonus was $78k on top of that. CMO Connie Price ($507K) got a bonus of $96K. CHRO Michelle Fournier-Johnson ($348K) got a bonus of $65K.

Wittenstein's base pay is $967K. Her additional bonus is $230K.

"We want to try to pay people fairly." -R. Wittenstein.

After the local CBS affiliate started asking for these figures, Wittenstein wrote to execs, "urging them to voluntarily give something back, suggesting they might waive accrual of PTO for 3 months, take unpaid time off or make a cash donation to the Denver Health Foundation."

She says every exec took at least one of these suggestions, "So every single member of our leadership team, 100%, is making a contribution."

The hospital operates at a loss.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago US govt admits RFID passports are danger to Americans

#10yrsago The "fair use economy" is enormous, growing, and endangered by the relatively tiny entertainment industry

#10yrsago On Peter Watts's sentencing hearing;=blog&id;=59215

#10yrsago UK election: ask your candidates if they'll repeal the Digital Economy Act;=6449

#5yrsago Town will cut off power to families of kids who commit vandalism

#5yrsago Portraits of e-waste pickers in Ghana

#5yrsago Getting rid of EU territorial restrictions is good for minority languages and creators

#5yrsago In the 21st century, only corporations get to own property and we're their tenants

#1yrago Lawyer for kid whose parents paid $1.2m bribe to get into Yale says the high price shows grifters' anti-Chinese bias

#1yrago The DCCC is sabotaging Marie Newman's primary challenge to Dan Lipiniski, a hereditary, anti-choice, anti-minimum-wage, homophobic "Democrat"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Late Stage Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 756 words (8161 total).

Currently reading: I'm finally finishing Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and I wrapped up reading Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will" this weekend.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 01)
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

One thought on “Pluralistic: 27 Apr 2020”

  1. Hilarious that you are growing your hair and beard out. I've gone modest prepper, bought myself a cheap electric clipper and have been shaving my head for the pandemic versus growing the hair beast. I'm on week four of shaving it fresh every seven days on Saturdays. That way I know what day is Saturday. If it's shave my head day then it must be Saturday.

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