Pluralistic: 12 Jan 2021

Today's links

Mini retro computers (permalink)

Some people work while they're stressed and locked indoors. I wrote most of a book during the covid crisis:;=typed_query&f;=live

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself on that score, but then I found out what Oriol Ferrer Mesià did with his time.

His "Modern Retro Computer Terminals" project are a series of tiny computers built around low-cost processors like the Raspberry Pi and Nvidia Jetson Nano, run off a 3D printer and assembled.

The project includes an "UltraWide 8.8″ LCD Terminal" built around a skinny 4:1 LCD and powered by an OpenGL-capable Nvidia Jetson Nano. It is so wide it didn't fit in Mesià's 3D printer bed, so it had to be assembled from multiple pieces.

I'm also very fond of the "16:9 5″ LCD Terminal v2" – mostly because safety orange is my favorite color. I get serious Chumby vibes off this one.

They're extraordinary pieces, and Mesià shows off some smart parametric designs. I hope he considers releasing some of those design files.

Bunkered, infectious, maskless Republicans infected Congress (permalink)

Many wonder how epidemiology could have become so politicized. But epidemiology – like climate science (the other "mysteriously politicized" subject) has intrinsic politics: to take epidemiology seriously, you have to acknowledge that our species has a shared destiny.

Much of the debate over "liberty" can be summed up as "you do you" – I'll swing my arm over here, you keep your nose over there, and so long as we both respect each others' "freedom," I won't punch you in the nose and your nose will remain unpunched.

This breaks down when applied to epidemiology: "You wear your mask, I'll leave mine at home, and we'll both exercise our freedoms" is like "You swim in the no-pissing end of the pool, I'll swim down here in the pissing end, and we'll both get our way."

We're in the same epidemiological pool, and the science is clear: masking's benefit is primarily in protecting others from you – your presymptomatic, asymptomatic (or symptomatic) spread of particles. Your decision not to wear a mask puts me in danger.

If your worldview ascribes political outcomes to individual choices (implying that poverty or misfortune are the result of a combination of laziness and inferiority), then anything that demands a systemic view challenges its very foundations.

Empathy is hard work. From the trivial (considering how your actions affect your family) to the thoughtful (expanding that to your community) to the profound (thinking of the effects for 7 generation to come), empathy constrains your happiness in service to a wider worldview.

No one wants to think of themselves as selfish. Even the most Ayn-Rand-addled private equity ghoul can be found at the playground shouting at his toddler, "TIMMY! YOU BE NICE AND SHARE!"

The advantage of neoliberal ideology is that it allows you to act selfishly while thinking of yourself as unselfish. There are two ideological tools used to construct this otherwise contradictory edifice:

I. Efficient markets hypothesis: the belief that markets "clear" (allocate efficently) when everyone acts according to their own self-interest. If this is true, then being kind to other people actually makes us all worse off, while selfishness makes things better all around.

II. Moral hazard: the belief that acts of kindness create "learned helplessness" in others – that socializing health, housing, education, nutrition or other human rights actually makes people dependent and incapable of fending for themselves.

It's akin to the idea that feeding wild animals undoes their independent, wild nature, causing it to become habituated to human company.

As it turns out, this is true of wild animals, and not true of humans, which presents a serious real-world ideological challenge.

Because the haphazard domestication of wild animals turns out to be another one of those things where individual choices affect others around you. This is very wittily elucidated in Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling's 2020 book, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear.

Hongoltz-Hetling chronicles the rise and fall of a libertopian "freetown" takeover of the New Hampshire village of Grafton. From the start, Freetown is riven by the contradictions of individual actions with systemic consequences, most vividly in human-bear relations.

Bears roam the world without regard for human property boundaries, but by nature, they tend to avoid contact with humans – a good thing, since bears are fast and strong and can easily kill people if they choose to.

So when some Graftonites decide to semi-domesticate bears by feeding them, and others decide to cope with the problem by poaching them, the town – and neighboring towns – are beset by previously unheard-of deadly bear attacks.

It's easy to say, "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose," but what if your activities turn bears into stochastic terrorists that end up maiming me? What if your campfires burn down not just your back 40, but my homestead?

What if your CO2 emissions trigger floods that wipe out my city? What if your exhalations don't just endanger you, but also me?

The freetowners lump all laws – bans on pot smoking, bans on bear feeding – into one bucket, and so does Hongoltz-Hetling.

They're both wrong. Smoking pot is your business. Emitting CO2 (or viral particles, or untamed campfire combustion, or semi-domesticated 600lb bears) is everyone's business.

The stuff that's "everyone's business" is systemic: that means that it doesn't have reliable cause-and-effect relations. Your bear-feeding and your neighbor's bear-mauling don't have a bright line connecting them. Same for your mask-refusal and your neighbor's covid death.

This unfortunate distance between cause and effect opens up space for legitimate and manufactured doubt. It allows people to do selfish and dangerous things while telling themselves efficient market/moral hazard fairy tales so they can look themselves in the mirror.

That's why covid is politicized. To accept covid is to accept that a class of existential, urgent challenges that are systemic, not individual. That there's a freedom (the freedom not to drown in your own mucus) that requires curbs on other kinds of freedom (to go unmasked).

Covid science denies neoliberalism. It's yet another example of reality's pernicious left-wing bias. that's why masking (and not masking) are political acts.

Not just small-p political. As Congress hid in undisclosed bunkers from trumpist mobs, GOP members refused to mask.

It was an enclosed, poorly ventilated space. GOP Congressjerks jeered at Democratic colleagues who begged them to mask up.

Now, three Dem Members of Congress have covid: Brad Schneider [IL], Pramila Jayapal [WA] and Bonnie Watson Coleman [NJ]

A video from the siege shows GOP members mocking Lisa Blunt Rochester [DE] as she offers them masks.

Jayapal has called for the Sergeant at Arms to begin fining and removing Congressjerks who refuse to mask up.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Printcrime (Nature)

#10yrsago HOWTO teach your small children to swordfight

#5yrsago Keep your scythe, the real green future is high-tech, democratic, and radical

#5yrsago Will the W3C strike a bargain to save the Web from DRM?

#5yrsago Rich Americans are embarrassed by Donald Trump

#5yrsago Book says Daddy Koch built Nazi oil refinery & hired a Nazi nanny for his boys, who blackmailed their gay brother

#1yrago Glossary: Chinese futurist military jargon

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: JWZ (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 561 words (97903 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 26)

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