Pluralistic: 23 Mar 2021

Today's links

Solar futures and futuristic fellowships (permalink)

Over the years, Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination has been merging science, engineering, the humanities and science fiction, building collaborations between sf storytellers and scholars and technologist (I've been lucky enough to be involved in several of these).

The Center has launched a fellowship: a $10,000 grant for "projects that advance visions of inclusive futures and address our greatest collective failures of imagination, including climate change, systemic inequality, and global conflict."

The fellowships come up with mentorship, support and collaboration from the CSI faculty and students; applications are due on Apr 5.

To get a feel for the Center's work, check out its brand-new anthology of original sf stories and essays, "Cities of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures," with work from Paolo Bacigalupi, S.B. Divya, Andrew Dana Hudson and Deji Bryce Olukotun.

FCC wants broadband complaints (permalink)

When it comes to broadband, America is the original shithole country: a land of copper wires wrapped in newspaper, then dipped in tar and draped over shrubs and sold to suckers with no other choice at some of the highest prices in the western world.

America's broadband barons are farcically dirty, and while president after president has given them a free ride to one degree or another, it was during the Trump years that they really got savage, fucking over the entire nation under the idiotic grin of FCC Chair Ajit Pai.

Now Pai is out of office – and blocking me on Twitter (oh, diddums) – and America has a chance to fix things. Really fix things: not just showering telco monopolists in money for their shareholders in exchange for bored frauds purporting to show broadband investment.

Actual. Fucking. Change.

Fiber to every goddamned curb.

Biden FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel wants to know how you feel about your ISP.

Try to keep it clean, but let her know.

It's all grist for the new FCC Broadband Data Task Force, which is poised to end the official farce that the internet is a glorified video-on-demand service and acknowledge the truth:

Broadband is the single wire that delivers free speech, a free press, free assembly, education, family life, employment, health, opportunity, civic and political engagement, and every other necessity for a decent and dignified life in the 21st century.

Recently, everything we did involved the net. Today, everything we do requires it. You deserve better than a greedy, indifferent monopolist whose only interaction with the national telecoms regulator is to pop in for a periodic massage and complimentary mani-pedi.

Here's Chairwoman Rosenworcel's form. You know what to do.

(Image:, CC BY-SA, modified; Fly, CC BY, modified)

Tories pass Grenfell costs onto tenants (permalink)

In 2017, at 72 people were burned alive when London's Grenfell Tower went up in flames. It had been skinned in highly flammable "decorative cladding" to make it less of an eyesore for rich people in nearby blocks of luxury flats.

That charnel house was the opening act on a yearslong odyssey of cruelty that just reached a new climax in Parliament, as Tory MPs ensured that working people – not landlords, developers or manufacturers – would fit the bill for removing cladding from their homes.

Here's what happened, and what's happening. After Grenfell, there were a series of (ahem) burning questions. For example: where would the people who lost their homes live? This fell to the (Tory) Kensington Council, which had been trying to oust poor people for years.

Kensington Council found a way to realise its twin goals of discouraging poor people from living in the borough and doing the absolute least to satisfy its legal obligations: it had the Grenfell survivors bid against their neighbours for homes:

With that question settled (!), the next question raised by Grenfell was, "Do I live in a building with flammable cladding, and if so, what happens next?" These should have been easy questions to answer, but Tory MPs did everything they could to keep the nation in the dark.

Take the question of who should pay to make homes safe. Tory MPs had repeatedly voted down legislation that would have required landlords to pay to make their buildings fit for human habitation. One bill was voted down just months before Grenfell.

That the Tories voted against a bill that would protect tenants from landlords is no surprise. After all, David Cameron's 2012 "war on safety culture" paved the way for Grenfell, and the committee that killed the bill was composed of MPs who were mostly landlords themselves.

Neither the landlords, nor the parliament in their thrall, would pay to make the country's firetraps safe.

Theresa May (who found £1B to bribe the bigoted loons at the DUP) told local councils they shouldn't expect anything for cladding removal.

The rest of the country was just wising up to something May knew: there are hell of a lot of future Grenfells out there. Conservative councils had been on a highly flammable cladding buying spree, because it was 5.7% cheaper than the safe alternative.

The only reason the cladding was for sale at all was because the companies that made it had committed fraud, falsifying their safety reports (the "war on safety culture" had ended, making this kind of lethal fraud easy to get away with).

The local councils who'd saved pennies buying these fraudulent materials went into full CYA mode. They told their residents that information about which homes were affected needed to be kept secret, lest arsonists burn them all down (no, really).

Still, the cladding had to be replaced, and so work began. The same property developers who'd padded their bottom lines by skimping on fire-safety and installing the cladding made millions replacing it.

These companies sent gleeful notes to their shareholders announcing massive increases in their profitability:

and the people who lived in the buildings got sent the bills:

It's been four years since Grenfell, and at last, a new Fire Safety Bill is working its way through Parliament. The Lords amended it to shift the costs of replacing cladding to the landlords who bought it, the developers who recommended it, and the manufacturers who sold it.

But the Tory Parliament of Landlords voted the amendment down. Millions of English people (Wales, Scotland and NI are a different story) are now on the hook for £40-50K in costs.

They're already paying huge insurance premiums because their homes are deathtraps. Banks won't extend mortgages because their homes are deathtraps. They are obliged to spend hundreds of pounds a month for fire-prevention "walking watches" because their homes are deathtraps.

These leaseholds are the cheapest in the country and their residents are the most economically precarious leaseholders. Many are selling at steep discounts to cash buyers, losing everything.

A survey found 90% of the people in these buildings are experiencing declining mental health as a result of the inaction and uncertainty.

These people had nothing to do with the decision to convert their homes to deathtraps, but they are now stuck with the bill.

The three main manufacturers – Celotex, Kingspan, and Arconic – were all determined to have falsified their fire-safety test data and ignored whistleblowers who warned management about the risk.

The newly privatised standards bodies – the British Board of Agrément, British Standards Institute, British Research Establishment – that certified the buildings also operate a revolving door with execs from firms whose work they certify.

None have paid a price. Quite the reverse! Arconic billed HM Treasury for £500k in furlough subsidies last year.

The £5.1b that Parliament has approved for cladding replacement does not come close to the total cost, and tenants are being stuck with the shortfall.

In particular, buildings with fewer than 7 storeys will get no subsidy – instead, the government will offer the people unlucky enough to live in them loans that they can't afford.

And while these are tenants, they can't move. They are "leasehold tenants" with 99-999 year leases: they don't own their flat, but they own the right to live there for a century. The building is owned by a freeholder – typically an aristocrat or financial speculator.

These leases are sold as though they were property – when a leaseholder "buys a flat," they actually buy the lease, typically with a mortgage. These leases are now underwater, because they are leases on deathtraps.

To move, they'd have to convince someone to buy their flammable leases. To stay, they have to borrow £40-50k to make their homes safe. They didn't create this situation, but the Tories have stuck them with the bill.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Warner’s lawyers nastygram teenagers running Harry Potter fansites

#15yrsago Rant transcript from Game Developers’ Conference

#15yrsago Intellectual property's worst excesses

#10yrsago Understanding the SSL security breach, preparing for the next one

#10yrsago Anti-union group: send us secret, unlimited donations so we can bring transparency to politics!

#10yrsago LSE economists: file sharing isn’t killing music industry, but copyright enforcement will

#5yrsago Bake: homemade Jabba the Hutt peeps

#1yrago It's time for a coronavirus jubilee

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 527 words (118759 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 298 words (9569 total).

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1033 words (37342 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Free Markets
Upcoming appearances:

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Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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