Pluralistic: 19 May 2020

Today's links

Lego's new Haunted House is wheelchair accessible (permalink)

Lego's new, $250 Haunted House kit has all kinds of sweet, fine details. Open the house like a book and you'll find "a working freefall ride," automatic doors, and "spooky haunted front doors."

And there's also a wheelchair ramp and a little Lego wheelchair to go with it!

Marcus Yallow has coronavirus (permalink)

liquidCitrus wrote a smashing piece of Little Brother fanfic: "We Call It The Raven" is a short story inspired by their anxiety "about post-ICU syndrome, and that there's no resources online for how to call an ambulance for an internet friend."

"When a certain m1k3y becomes seriously ill, Neil finds himself in a position to help."

It's told largely through chat transcript, a form I adore.

And the story itself is goosebump-raisingly scary and plausible.

<tAngent> Marcus' mother called me. He's on a ventilator. Not doing great. But alive.

<tAngent> The doctors said they appreciated that emergency wallet card with basic medical stuff written on it

<tAngent> so if you don't already have one of those now would be a good time

Home Computers (permalink)

Home Computers is a new book tracing the industrial design of PCs in the 1970s and 1980s, AKA, the Cambrian explosion era, with some of the 1990s' best designs as well.

It's by games writer Alex Wiltshire, and features beautifully shot photos of the machines. The Guardian has a small gallery of the images:

"Shoe-leather" contact tracing works (permalink)

The "contact tracing" apps don't do "contact tracing" – they do "exposure notification." Contact tracing is a labor-intensive shoe-leather process built on relationships and it is stubbornly resistant to automation.

The highest covid app penetration is in Iceland, which has managed to largely contain its outbreak, but public health officials there say the app did little to help in this process.

Meanwhile, America's top public health officials are lukewarm on apps (the time to try an unproven, untested solution is not in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic). Instead, they're deploying armies of human contact tracers.

What is that "shoe-leather" work like? Turns out it's simple enough to learn, but also surprisingly varied in its day-to-day operation. What's more, it's very effective, even when it's imperfect.

"Isolating symptomatic cases would reduce transmission by 32%… combining isolation with manual contact tracing of all contacts reduced transmission by 61%. If contact tracing only could track down acquaintances, but not all contacts, transmission was still reduced by 57%."

But contact tracing only works in concert with "robust testing capacity," and somewhere for sick people to quarantine. The path to glory is "Test, trace, isolate."

And contact tracing pays another dividend: it generates reliable data about the disease that can improve our models and help evaluate therapeutics, prophylaxis and other techniques for containing and mitigating the disease.

Meanwhile, the idea of using Bluetooth-enabled proximity-sensing apps remains untested. From the unreliability of Bluetooth to the lack of a well-defined "epidemiologically significant contact period," these apps are an evidentiary void.

As Iceland found apps can be "a welcome labor mulitplier" to help stretch contact trackers' shoe-leather. Tech has a boring, vital role to play ("text messages to ask exposed contacts how they’re feeling can reduce the number of daily follow-up calls for a health worker").

The success of a contact tracing effort relies on trust and goodwill from the population being traced, on voluntary compliance and truthfulness. This is totally uncontroversial in public health circles, and, if anything, it's the worst news for our own outlook.

America's institutions – including the for-profit health sector, but also suspicious, accusatory public relief sector – are widely mistrusted for good reason. Trumpism's go-to tactic is exploiting that mistrust for partisan gain. It's a frightening situation indeed.

Softbank's "pegasus" grift (permalink)

Softbank's investments – Uber, Doordash, Wework, etc – are cons. They launder Saudi oil billions with "businesses" that lose titanic amounts of money for many years, while also preying on real businesses and their own workforce.

Then, Softbank exits with an IPO that offloads the money-losing company on suckers who think its longevity means there must be a "path to profitability." Softbank cleans up, but workers' lives and real businesses are destroyed, and the suckers get cleaned out.

A little microcosm of this is yesterday's viral tale of a pizzeria that found itself on the receiving end of a bungled short-con by Doordash and turned the tables on the company. It's a petty revenge, but so satisfying.

After all, when you're up against a bottomless well of Saudi oil-billions, there's precious few ways to score even a petty victory.

Enter coronavirus.

Softbank just posted a $17.7B loss on Wework and Uber.


If there's one thing Trumpism has taught us about sociopathic con-artists, it's that their greatest boasts mask their deepest terrors. And Softbank is no exception.

Yesterday's Softbank earnings call was hilarious.

Softbank presented investors and analysts with a slidedeck that showed their "unicorns" (companies with >$1B valuation, though often that valuation is based entirely on Softbank's bald-faced, con-artist's assertion) tumbling into the "valley of coronavirus."

Oh no, you might think, those poor unicorns are stuck in a ditch!

But fear not! According to Softbank, those unicorns are merely a larval stage, and they will pivot to becoming pegasi, sprouting wings and flying away!




HP Lovecraft warns against pulp contamination (permalink)

HP Lovecraft has a complicated legacy. He was a vicious racist, so revolting in his eugenic views that Robert "Conan" E Howard remonstrated with him and told him to knock it off.

Apart from the ghastly racism, Lovecraft is remembered for the haunting imagery of his mythos – hence Call of Cthulhu and other pop culture descendants – and for his bizarre, overwrought, turgid prose, which defined a subgenre of pulp fiction.

But it turns out that Lovecraft HATED pulp fiction. In a February 1920 letter to the editor of the Omaha Bee, Lovecraft excoriated the pulps and urged writers to avoid them, lest their writing be tainted by the poor writing to be found within.

Lovecraft's fear of being tainted by lesser beings extended beyond eugenics and into writing craft: "All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading."

"It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto followed, must be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed as lightly as possible."

Howard recommends that would-be writers stick to quality literature: the King James Bible and Lord Dunsany.

Highspeed rail for America (permalink)

Rep Seth Mouton [D-MA] has proposed a $205B, 5-year high-speed rail project that would be augmented by another $243B in local, state and private funds; the money would create infrastructure for private rail operators (not just Amtrak) to use.

With a 220mph rail network, we'd get "Dallas to Houston without the 3.5-hour drive. Chicago to Atlanta, with fewer weather delays and stops in Indianapolis and Chattanooga. PDX to Vancouver at 220 mph. LAX to SFO in under three hours."

High, speed, electric rail is green (provided you have renewables to power it) and safe (Japan's Shinkansen system has had zero fatalities in 55 years). Rail is comfortable, with wide seats and dining cars, and relaxing.

The biggest barrier to mustering political will for such a project is the failures of the planned SF-LA high-speed link, which is vastly behind schedule and over-budget.

I live about 5 minutes from the local Amtrak station and riding the Surfliner to San Diego is one of the great delights of this arrangement. It's fantastic when it's a work gig in the middle of the year, but it's even more delightful during Comic-Con, when it turns into a Mos Eisley Cantina on wheels.

$10T to avert another Great Depression (permalink)

Lockdown froze the economy. Then, freezer burn set in. The US economy isn't just shedding jobs – it's shedding small and medium businesses, and those jobs won't come back. The economy needs a massive cash infusion from the US government, much larger than the stimulus to date.

According to Derek Thompson, the target number is $10 trillion, inclusive of the money already spent and on the drafting board.

Here's how to spend it.

$1.T for families: another $1,000 per person, extend the $600 unemployment-insurance benefit, subsidize food and housing with rental/mortgage support. Unemployed people who get a job should get a cash bonus.

$600B for business: Zero-interest loans with long repayment schedules for SMEs.

$1T for state/local governments: Cash transfers to make up for sales/property tax shortfalls.

$200b for public health: Mass testing, contact tracing, quarantine facilities, stockpile production, funding for rural healthcare workers, pharma R&D.;

All these payments should automatically renew until some kind of economic target is met.

Add that to existing and scheduled stimulus and the total comes to $10T.

Thompson throws his hat in with the Modern Monetary Theory on whether this will be inflationary (it won't, and our biggest risk is deflation):

And if we have to do this within the self-imposed (arbitrary and suicidal) debt-ceiling constraint, we can just follow Rashida Tlaib's suggestion and mint a few trillion-dollar coins:

If $10T seems like a big number to you, I'll leave you with Yves Smith's take:

"So, two Iraq wars, but we get to build stuff instead of blowing it up? And we don’t blow a few hundred thousand faraway brown people to pink mist? Where do I sign up?"

Toothsome masks (permalink)

Malicious X is a gothy Japanese fashion company that has released a line of covid horror-masks that capitalize on the hidden folds of pleats to create amazing, monstrous effects.

Available designs include a wide variety of teeth/fangs and several kinds of cryptid/monster eyeballs (about $30 each).

If you're looking to gang up your order with some other purchases to make the shipping worthwhile, may I suggest some horns?

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Verizon makes a hole in woman's lawn, fills it with bags of rocks

#10yrsago Tank covered in bookshelves: Weapon of Mass Instruction

#10yrsago Anti-identity-theft huckster has had identity stolen at least 13 times

#10yrsago Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: a guide to democratic parenting

#5yrsago America's terrible trains are an ideological triumph

#5yrsago Chris Christie denounces "civil liberties extremists"

#5yrsago Bottled water: the ultimate throwback to feudal selfishness

#5yrsago Taxi medallion markets collapse across America

#1yrago Wil Wheaton's "Dead Trees Give No Shelter": terrifying tale, beautifully told <a "barbaric"="" <a="" and="" href="" immoral"="">

#1yrago Bernie Sanders' "Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education" will desegregate schools, defund charters, pay teachers, end the school-to-prison pipeline
Ada 25% cognition

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Super Punch (, Ben Hammersley (, Slashdot (), Fipi Lele, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 532 words (16871 total).

Currently reading: The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

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:

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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