Pluralistic: 11 Jul 2020

Today's links

US passports basically worthless (permalink)

People with passports from poor nations know what it's like to be denied access to most of the world, or subjected to humiliating and expensive visa procedures just to go on holidays or attend a conference.

Americans are now in the same boat.

Right now, only two dozen countries worldwide will accept Americans (mostly small Caribbean islands); if you're willing to endure a 14-day quarantine, that number rises to 28.

All his life, Indi Samarajiva has endured the "post-colonial bullshit and racism [that] have made my Sri Lankan passport worthless." Now, Americans are in the same boat.

As Samarajiva says, "the point of a passport is that a sovereign power vouches for its bearer, but America can’t vouch for the health of their citizens at all."

The US is on track to 200,000 deaths and 50,000,000 infections by election day, and even when Trump loses, he'll still get to (mis)govern for another three months.

Samarajiva reminds us that the epidemiological technical term for this is being "completely fucked."

Americans who are no longer welcome around the world, and that means Trump finally kept a campaign promise: "He built a wall around America and made the world pay for it. He just never told Americans that they’d be stuck inside."

DNA Lounge deletes Postmates (permalink)

The DNA Lounge is a San Francisco institution that I have a lot of history with: I watched it being born through owner Jamie "JWZ" Zawinski's Livejournal in the 1990s.

(Zawinski built it with his Netscape IPO money, having created, among other things, the Unix version of Netscape and name "Mozilla").

In the years since, I've been to so many wonderful events there, particularly EFF events.

(I called the fight when Wil Wheaton used a lightsaber to slay an EFF lawyer in a Barnie the Purple Dinosaur suit!)

(long story)

JWZ kept the club going despite the terrible economics of running an indie venue when evil pigfuckers like Livenation monopolize everything.

Even before the crisis, the DNA was in trouble, but it was being kept alive by the people who loved it (like me). Then came the crisis and the profiteering by the private-equity-backed, predatory, money-losing delivery companies.

This on top of the plute-funded social media platforms that slow-walk copyright takedowns unless you're Livenation, making it nearly impossible to book shows for independent globs:

And as one club and venue after another falls – only to be snapped up by Livenation – the DNA has soldiered on, selling food and booze and serving its community.

So, in other news, Uber – which is a front for Saudi oil money and a way to launder the billions they murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi to preserve – just threw $3.5B of Prince Bone Saw's money into an acquisition of Postmates.

And JWZ has decided to put principle over profits – or even survival – and has pulled his business out of Postmates.

"That 'Cloud Kitchens' enterprise is a dystopian horror show, too. It means that Kalanick and the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund own the first part of restaurant take-out — the menu and online ordering; they own the third part — delivery; and now they also own the second part — actually making the food. The 'restaurant,' at that point, is just a brand logo. Their sweatshops make the same food for everybody and pastes whatever name on it. The restaurant isn't even a franchise at that point. It's a sticker. "

Even before the crisis, finance capital was emulsifying everything you loved and cared about. Now it's got a fucking bone-saw.

"Taking this stand is probably going to cost us a big chunk of our (small, and dwindling) weekly delivery business, but enough is enough." -JWZ

Delete Postmates. Delete Uber. You aren't gonna shop your way out of late-stage capitalism, but you don't have to accellerate it either.

BTW, the DNA is selling great facemasks and I wore one on our family date night and I looked like $10^6.

Mississippi's GOP lawmakers sicken (permalink)

If you want someone to stay loyal to your cult, you could do worse than demanding the impossible of them: "I can do $IMPOSSIBLE_THING and so will you, if your faith is pure."

Wiley Brooks told his breatharian cultists they could get all their nutrients from breathing and this would make them immortal. He charged $100k+ for breath-training. In 1983, he was caught at at 7-11 with a Slurpee, hot dog, and Twinkies.

Which is hilarious, sure, but think about it. Everyone in Brooks's cult must have been doing the same thing, because otherwise they'd have starved to death. Think about how their shameful secret must have made them both loyal and suspicious.

Which brings me to the Mississippi Republican Party.

Republicanism is a death-cult that demands that its adherents shun masks and social distancing, insisting that the whole coronavirus pandemic is a liberal hoax.

Ironically, this is the same movement whose doctrine holds that "facts don't care about your feelings."

For weeks, state GOP lawmakers have made a big deal out of showing up for work without masks and packing together like cattle in a feedlot.

26 of them just tested positive for covid-19.

Included: Lt governor Delbert Hosemann and State House Speaker Philip Gunn.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is now calling on cult members to mask up, saying "Mississippi is in a fight for our lives."

He's not wrong.

Versions of this are playing out across America: like the Florida county commissioner who ended up in the ICU with multiple organ failure and sepsis from coronavirus, and who, one week earlier, had voted against mask orders.

Making suicidal behavior a condition of cult-membership is a tricky business. If the suicide is slow enough, you might outlast the consequences of your lethal loyalty tests – many climate deniers will be long gone before their cities burn or drown.

But when action and consequence are closely linked, your followers are apt to die or renounce faster than you can recruit new, traumatized, desperate people to join you.

The blast radius of ordering your cult members to stop eating is limited to them and their families.

But the fallout from mask-shyness and other forms of epidemiology denialism reaches all of us.

The GOP cult isn't just suicidal – they're radicalizing millions of suicide-bombers whose preferred weapon of terror is their own exuberantly proliferated exhalations.

Wirecard's vanished COO wanted 15,000 Libyan militiamen (permalink)

Unless you're either a) German or b) into fintech, you probably hadn't heard of Wirecard until recently – that's when the German payment processor, a nationally celebrated stock-market darling, was revealed to be a multibillion dollar fraud.

Wirecard's COO was the young, dapper Jan Marsalek, feted in all the right circles among German and multinational plutes.

He's gone underground and no one know where he is.

Also, he's a fucking creepshow.

As Sam Jones, Paul Murphy and Helen Warrell write in the Financial Times, many people had noted that Marsalek was obsessed with mercenary armies and arms deals, sometimes bragging that he got to go into conflict zones with armed fighters.

A lot of people assumed he was just a bullshitter, but maybe not. Maybe he wasn't kidding when he told associates that he had a side-hustle recruiting 15,000 Libyan militiamen.

Maybe his boasts of connections to the GRU assassins who carried out the notorious Skripal attacks weren't just hot air.

After all, his weird, stark, Apple-Store-esque mansion was right across the street from Munich's Russian consulate.

Oh, and he was connected to the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society, and he passed the Society's treasurer leaked classified Austrian government docs that were passed on, in turn, to the neo-Nazi FPO party.

But it seems like his real interest in the Society was to "add a humanitarian gloss" to his project of using 15,000 armed mercenaries to chase off refugees seeking to flee the country to "solve the migration crisis" in the EU.

Marsalek worked on this project with Andrey Chuprygin – whom Marsalek called "The Colonel" because that's not creepy at all – a Russian veteran of Middle Eastern military campaigns whom CIA-linked think-tankies claim is a Russian spook (make of that what you will).

Russia isn't officially involved in Libya, but it's an open secret that they back several of the militia factions in the failed state. Some of these militias were quartered in buildings owned by companies that Marsalek claimed to personally own.

All this murky spook-plute crap has a business model: "It’s not just about plausible deniability [for the Kremlin] but also about the commercialisation of the project . . . the geo-economics of it are as important [as the military influence]" -Sergey Sukhankin, think-tankie

And none of it seems to have worked: "LCC’s operations are still partially furloughed. Libya is still a divided country. Russia’s mercenaries there have suffered significant recent setbacks. And Wirecard has collapsed."

He wasn't just a sociopath and grifter – he was bad at it. He was a desperate, insecure creep who climbed finance's social ladder: "The only thing he seemed to like more than having secrets and being involved in all of these surreptitious things, was letting you know it."

He wasn't a pure bullshitter: in 2018, he showed up at a London business meeting with a dossier leaked from the super-secure Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, detailing the Russian Salisbury assassinations.

Someone gave him those docs, and while it's hard to be definitive, the Dutch government accused Russian GRU hackers of targeting OPCW and made a good case for attribution.

"That the now-vanished executive should have such documents in his possession at all, on the other hand, marks him out as more than just a fantasist."

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

Near Future Labs' Covid Zine (permalink)

"Design fiction" is a tool to "explore, understand and ultimately prepare for the future. In periods of massive change this work becomes increasingly useful but increasingly complex." That definition comes from Near Future Labratories, the studio started by Julian Bleecker and Nick Foster.

Over the years, Near Future Labs have hit so many homeruns with their objects from possible futures, growing out of work on things like "blogjects" that presaged our current IoT world:

Then there was TBD Catalog, their 2014 version of "Skymall from the Future"

Followed up with 2015's Ikea Catalog of the Future:

But what can design fiction say about a future as uncertain as the one we're steamrollering towards now, the waves of crisis (pandemic -> economic collapse -> climate collapse -> mass extinctions) on our horizon?

For now, Near Future's got the free Covid Zine: "Design Fiction treads a fine line between archetypal reality and speculation, but when reality changes daily, where are we to start? Archetypes take time to solidify and embed themselves in culture."

"As practitioners of exploratory futures, we feel we have a responsibility to examine this relationship, and to explore our collective recalibration."

Translation: it's an amazing, downloadable collection of finely observed pivot points on which our world is turning, signs and graphics and objects from the crisis.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago UNCW prof vows to destroy atheist student groups: "I seek power over the godless heathen dissident"

#10yrsago Zombies in car crash confuse onlookers

#10yrsago MP was too drunk to vote on the budget

#1yrago After Microsoft moves its servers back to the USA, German state's privacy commissioner advises schools not to use Office 365

#1yrago Understanding "transfer pricing": how corporations dodge taxes through financial colonialism

#1yrago Interoperability: Fix the internet, not the tech companies

#1yrago A fireplace that burns proprietary logs

#1yrago How a sex researcher and a cosplaying 3D printing specialist created an open source, orgasm-measuring butt-plug

#1yrago China's AI industry is tanking

#1yrago Rebecca Solnit on Jeffrey Epstein: "In patriarchy, no one can hear you scream"

#1yrago A prolific credit-card theft ring is scanning for unsecured "buckets" in Amazon's cloud and has compromised 17,000 domains (so far)

#1yrago After poacher crackdown, Tanzanian endangered rhino and elephant populations are staging inspiring recoveries

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Waxy (, Naked Capitalism (, Bruce Sterling (

Currently writing:

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