Pluralistic: 21 Jul 2020

Today's links

Judge won't release Black learning-disabled kid jailed for missing homework (permalink)

Grace is a Black 15 year old child with ADHD who has been in jail since the start of pandemic because she could not do her homework, which meant she violated her parole (she was on parole for briefly stealing a fellow student's homework).

The Michigan judge who sentenced her to spend months in prison for not doing her homework is Mary Ellen Brennan, who is up for re-election this year. After massive public outcry, Brennan agreed to review Grace's case.

Heartbreakingly – but unsurprisingly – Brennan has decided that Grace deserves to stay in jail, because, according to the judge, the child is "blooming" due to her incarceration: "you are exactly where you are supposed to be."

The judge's decision is not merely outrageous and cruel, it's also unsupported by the evidence. Grace's attorneys showed that the educational and counseling resources in child prison were not sufficient to meet her needs.

Both Grace's prosecutor and her caseworkers asked for her to be released.

The judge opened the proceedings with cruel taunts for the child: "it is going to get worse before it gets better. Because I am about to go over all the crap, all the negative, all the prior attempts at helping. I am going through it all."

Describing reports on Grace's tenure in jail, the judge expressed delight: "this is as good as it gets." Grace gets 30-60 minutes of therapy twice a month and has had three joint therapy sessions with her mother over videoconference.

Describing her education – filling in xeroxed worksheets – Grace said, "I am getting behind in my actual schooling while here. The schooling here is beneath my level of education…in my heart, I feel the aching and the loss as if it were a punishment."

Brennan is running for re-election in 2020. Grace's case is before the state Supreme Court.

"As Grace and her mother hugged before saying goodbye, Charisse told her to 'stay strong.'

"With her head on her mother’s shoulder, Grace replied: 'I can’t.'"

Podcast: Part 10 of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (permalink)

I've just posted the latest installment of my podcast: part 10 of my serialized reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

You can catch up on previous installments here:

Here's the MP3 (free hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive, who will also host your content free!):

And here's my podcast feed:

Christopher Brown's Failed State (permalink)

One of the most exciting new writers in science fiction is Christopher Brown, an environmental lawyer whose novels are taut legal thrillers set amid environmental collapse, rising authoritarianism, and rebellion.

Brown made his debut in 2017 with the outstanding Tropic of Kansas:

That was followed in 2019 by the sequel Rule of Capture:

Next month, Brown and Harpercollins will publish his third novel, a standalone book set after the Tropic of Kansas/Rule of Capture duology called Failed State. It is an incredible – and incredibly timely – novel.

Brown is launching the novel with Austin's Book People on August 12 in a livestream that I'm hosting, interviewing Brown about the novel. I hope you can make it – he's an engaging speaker, a brilliant writer and a committed activist.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (permalink)

By any objective measure, Adrian Tomine is a success: from his groundbreaking and definitive Optic Nerve comic to his work in the New Yorker, Tomine is a great and influential artist; add to that his happy family life with his delightful kids for a double success.

But if there's one lesson in Tomine's new memoir, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist," it's that when he reflects on his career, he doesn't feel like a success – the moments that stand out are the humiliations great and small.

All of us have experienced our brains' perverse tendency to use idle moments to endlessly replay those instants in which we were embarrassed, hurt, or made to look foolish, and "Loneliness" is a pitiless tour through Tomine's own torments.

When I reviewed John Hodgman's excellent 2019 memoir Medallion Status, I wrote about how his work reminds me of the aphorism that "comparison is the thief of joy." Like Tomine, much of Hodgman's torment comes from comparing his career with others'.

It's a pathology that we're all prey to, but Tomine's own merciless dissection of his anxieties hints at why people in the arts may have it worse – it's a career with little external validation for the first formative years (decades).

During those years of form rejections, obscurity and failure, your only gauge of your success are the tiny crumbs of validation – a scrawled personal note on the rejection slip, a sale to a "little magazine," a clerk at your local store who says a kind word.

And even as you are training yourself to hunt endlessly for these things, you're also motivating yourself by imagining what a "breakthrough" might bring, fantasizing about how great the people who've done well already must have it.

These two habits – comparison and the quest for external validation – are a recipe for neurotic self-loathing and doubt. Because nothing lives up to the fantasy of what "success" feels like, and no amount of validation can bridge that gap.

Tomine shows just how bad this gets, making himself literally sick, so much so that he lands in the hospital and thinks he may be dying. This provokes a reckoning at the book's climax that makes it more than an R Crumbish journey through neurosis.

Instead, it casts the whole book in a new light, one in which success is redefined as something much more personal, much more humane, and much more attainable.

The world is full of "successful" people who are both miserable and miserable to be around. With "Loneliness," Tomine sheds light on how those people came to be that way – and why it needn't be so.

Luxury homes to be washed away (permalink)

Australia – like many English-speaking countries – is full of lovely people who somehow manage to keep electing far-right, genocidal, climate-denying governments of surpassing administrative incompetence.

The most likely explanation: there are people who – while they care in the abstract about discrimination, the environment, human rights, etc – would vote for a dead gopher^H^H^H^H^H^H^H wallaby ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Adolf Hitler if he would promise to lower their taxes by $0.25.

Which is how Australia, a country that is frequently literally on fire, manages to mine coal, engage in Great Barrier Reef-destroying harbor dredging, and maintain an official policy of climate denial.

Doubtless there're countless poor and working-class Australians who voted for those policies, but the bulk of the blame rests on the country's vile plute class, the oligarchs whose lavish spending elects one performatively cruel far-right sociopath after another.

The kind of people who are presently furious with their local governments for failing to build seawalls in time to prevent the coastal erosion that has undermined the cliff houses their mansions were built upon.

Mansions that are now about to chunder into the sea below, triggering mass evacuations of some of New South Wales's most expensive mega-homes.

While there's some talk of relaxing planning rules to enable the rapid deployment of seawalls, this is – as the local residents say – "too little, too late."

But when they say "too little, too late," they mean, "We should have built a seawall long ago."

When I say it, I mean, "You should have lived up to your Kyoto obligations, not denied climate change, and pulled out of the Five Eyes spying alliance, whose priorities include neutralizing climate activists."

The mansions falling into the sea are notable because it's a rare instance in which the first casualties of the climate emergency are the ultra-rich.

When it comes to faster-moving, more dramatic crises, poor and working people bear the brunt: fires, pandemics, etc all climb the privilege gradient from the bottom up.

And to be clear, Australia is neither the worst offender nor the only country whose plutes are about to lose their cliff houses.

Here in my adopted hometown of LA, our coasts are lined with plute-dwelling mansions whose owners have spent decades illegally walling off access to the public beaches. Their homes will also flood and wash away and tumble off of cliffsides.

And they, too, have supported idiotic, terracidal politicians who slow-walked climate action or denied the crisis altogether. I will have schadenflooding when their homes wash away, too.

It's too late for those homes. It's too late for our coasts and most of our coastal cities. But it's not too late for us. We can – we MUST – turn this around, by pivoting our entire species' productive capacity to climate remediation.

I mean, fuck the panic over automation-driven unemployment. Relocating every coastal city inland, dealing with hundreds of millions of traumatized refugees, fighting continent-spanning fires and dealing with wave after wave of zoonitic and insect-borne pandemics will give us full employment for centuries to come.

As We May Think (permalink)

It's always a good day (year?) when Danny O'Brien updates his maddeningly irregular blog Oblomovka. Certainly, yesterday's update — the first since Feb 2019 – is cause for celebration.

In the post, O'Brien reflects on the work he did at The Guardian's New Media Lab in the 1990s, and how many of the changes to news they anticipated a quarter-century ago have come to pass, and how many have not.

After dunking on the press for abandoning things that gave them "real value" (archives, research departments) in favor of what others told them was valuable (pundits, "stature among elites"), O'Brien moves on to what he thought/thinks the press should be Doing About Digital.

Some of these really resonated with me. Take #1, "THE FUNDAMENTAL UNIT OF NEWS IS THE STORY, NOT THE ARTICLE"…"Imagine one page —- one permanent home on the Web, or within the searchable app space—for each news story."

This is pretty similar to what Twitter does for trending news already – but it's something that my own tools are not very good at.

When I am following a story – like the tragic/maddening tale of Grace, the Black 15 year old with ADHD sentenced to jail for not doing homework – the best I can do to interlink earlier parts of the story is to manually add hyperlinks, or try to come up wit distinctive tags.

On to #2: "A STORY HAS A PAST, A PRESENT AND A FUTURE"…" journalism has emphasised two aspects of the story: its present state, and future possibilities; reporting provides the now, editorial speculates on the next."

For about 5 years now, I have revisited my own archives and republished the headlines and links to stories from #1yrago, #5yrsago, #10yrsago and #15yrsago (#20yrsago will start next year). I get a fair whack of puzzled feedback about this.

For me, the only puzzling thing is how anyone could fail to see how valuable it is to revisit the material you've found significant and the views you expressed about it in years gone by. How can you know yourself unless you periodically review your work?

More importantly, how can you track the progress of the issues you're passionate about unless you forcefully remind yourself of how they have played out over time?

As O'Brien says, "Yesterday’s news is an invaluable resource to be integrated and exploited, not discarded."

#3: "THE ROLE OF NEWS IS TO DESCRIBE THE PAST IN ORDER TO ANTICIPATE WHAT IS TO COME"…"News services’ value exists entirely in assisting their users to anticipate (or influence) the future."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Now to wait another 18 months for the next O'Brien update!

Trump's spent a billion on re-election (permalink)

The polls heading into the Nov elections look pretty grim for Trump, giving Biden a healthy lead, but it's hard not to worry.

America has a hardcore of plutes who'd vote for Hitler if he'd lower their taxes, and a hardcore of white nationalists who'd vote for Hitler because he was Hitler (this Venn diagram has a lot of overlap).

Add to that Biden's monumental failings: his poor mental acuity, his "gaffes," his decades of terrible public statements and even worse public votes, the credible rape accusation and the hairsniffing.

And then there's the incumbency advantage: Trump would have to fuck up really bad to lose to Biden.

Hey, guess what?

Here's how grim things are looking for Trump. His campaign and its supporting PACs have spent $983m to date. Biden's total is $165m. And despite the massive spend AND the incumbency advantage AND Biden's many defects, Trump's lagging by double digits.

The Trump campaign is spending that money to payroll 1500 field-workers across the country. Biden's got a comparable field team – made up of volunteers from grassroots orgs.

100-ish days are a long time in politics, but this is the most telling predictor I've encountered so far.

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago RIP, EL Doctorow

#5yrsago Hackers can pwn a Jeep Cherokee from the brakes and steering to the AC and radio

#1yrago A 3D papercraft Haunted Mansion board game to print and assemble

#1yrago Massive trove of Russian spy-agency docs hacked from private sector contractor and passed onto media

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Boing Boing (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

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