[Plura-list] Ventilation vs covid; NY AG wants to dissolve NRA; Qanon is an ARG (pt II)

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Aug 6 14:28:55 EDT 2020

Today's links

* NY State's promising new antitrust law: Senator Mike Gianaris will let
the state step into the federal vacuum.

* Ventilation vs covid: Survive winter with DIY HEPA filters plus
over-indexed steam heaters.

* Writers Guild vanquishes a major agency: ACM folded, WME and CAA next.

* NY AG wants to dissolve NRA: "Rampant corruption" is not compatible
with tax-charitable status.

* Qanon is an ARG (pt II): The other Hon brother weighs in.

* This day in history: 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🚯 NY State's promising new antitrust law

New York State Senator Mike Gianaris has introduced an important bill
reforming the state's antitrust law, S8700A. The bill allows the state
to take unilateral antitrust action against companies engaged in
monopolistic conduct, without waiting for the feds.


Now, it's not as if the feds don't have the power to take action on
market concentration, and it's not as if market concentration hasn't
ruined competition is virtually every sector of the global economy.


Ronald Reagan's pet fabulist, Robert Bork, proposed an antitrust theory
that held that the only time the DoJ should take antitrust action is
when companies do anticompetitive actions that raise prices in the short
term. Everything else was fair game.


And every administration since - particularly Clinton - has doubled down
on that plute-licking version of antitrust, with the effect that we are
down to between 1-5 companies in virtually every industry.

And where the feds won't step in, states can. In California, the AG is
taking on Google.


While in NY, you have a critical mass of hyperconsolidated finance,
entertainment and telcoms companies.

The bill has real support, too.


This is gonna be fu-uuun.


🚯 Ventilation vs covid

There's increasing medical consensus that indoor spread of covid takes
place through floating aerosol particles. If your environs are warm and
dry year round (like my place in San Fernando Valley) this militates a
cautious shift to outdoor activities.


But not everyone can be outdoors all the time. Some activities are
necessarily indoors, while others will be shifted indoors by rain and
cold (and wind, etc). There's preliminary evidence that good air
filtration makes a big difference when you're inside.

Good HEPA systems for every room can cost $500+. That's a lot! Some
experts, inspired by a study of improvised filters in Singapore as a
means of filtering Indonesian wildfire smoke, are looking into $10 paper
HEPA filters strapped to $27 box-fans.


These filters were found to capture 75% of  1-10μm particles! Wired's
Adam Rogers talked to air-quality expert Richard Corsi from Maseeh
College Engineering/Comp Sci, who started riffing on ways this design
could be improved upon.

Of course, that's no magic bullet. You could improve the ventilation in
your indoor spaces by opening a window, which is hard to do when it's
really cold out.

As it turns out, there's one place that's really well-prepared for that
exigency: New York City.


New York's infamously "over-indexed," sweltering steam heaters date back
to the 1918 flu pandemic, when buildings were fitted with high-powered
heating specifically so they could stay warm in winter, even with all
their windows open to the elements (!).

That's the origin of the perennial New Yorker's lament that their
apartments are turned into saunas every winter because their steam
radiators have two settings: "off" and "broil."

What's more, steam radiators are basically indestructible and a LOT of
New York's housing stock still uses these systems (though the boilers
don't run on coal anymore).

This isn't much help to people who don't have this kind of heating, but
we've already seen what happens in NYC when airborne diseases aren't
confronted with sufficient vigor.

None of this is a replacement for a vaccine or therapeutic, but as
harm-reduction strategies go, it's good to see this stuff enter the
discourse. What's more, this is all early days, and there are probably
some serious, easy gains yet to be won.


🚯 Writers Guild vanquishes a major agency

When we talk about market concentration in entertainment, we often
default to the most visibly concentrated elements: one movie theater
chain, four movie studios, one cable operator and one telco per region,
five tech giants.

But there's another - incredibly salient - form of concentration that's
invisible unless you're actually in the industry: consolidation in the
talent agencies.

Private equity-backed rollups have turned a wild jungle of hundreds of
agents and agencies into a manicured, ornamental hedge of four
mega-agencies: WME, CAA, UTA and ICM.

Private equity is the most predatory form of capitalism extant, the
end-product of generations of looters who distanced the financial
economy from the real economy, until the best way to make money is to
destroy real value.


And when these eminently guillotinable wreckers took over the talent
agencies, the got control over a critical bottleneck in entertainment
production, the funnel that all creative laborers move through en route
to production. Having control over a bottleneck, they *squeezed*.

The agencies started creating "packaging deals": when you hire a writer,
they also find you a director, lead actors, and so on. And they skim a
"packaging fee" off the top of the production, in addition to the
commissions they earn from their clients.

This is a massive conflict of interest. Agencies could (tacitly) offer
studios lower compensation for their clients in exchange for higher
fees. The talent got less, the studios paid less, and the agencies made

The arts are a bizarre labor market, because people make art even in the
absence of a rational expectation of return - arts production is
motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

When Samuel Johnson said "None but a blockhead ever wrote but for
money," it was pure aspiration. Not even Johnson himself ever lived up
to that standard!

This gives rise to highly exploitative relationships, where unscrupulous
middle-men can charge money to artists for access to audiences (or even
the promise of access, never delivered upon).

Predatory "vanity publishers," fake agents, and other grifters have
bankrupted many a would-be artist.

To counter this tendency, writers are advised to stick to a rule of
thumb that "money flows towards the artist."

That is, your publisher makes money from your creation, not fees you pay
for publication. Your agent makes money from commissions on the
publisher's royalties, not from a service charge to you.

Publishers and agents should *never* have side-deals that incentivize
agents to accept less for you. This is incredibly obvious: agents argue
your side in a negotiation with an entertainment company. They can't
*also* be working *for* the entertainment company.


I mean... *duh*.

So when the big agencies started doing this packaging thing, writers got
pissed. What's more, screenwriters are unionized, represented by (among
others), the WGA. And they told the agents, fuck no, no way, cut this
shit out.

And the private equity bosses running the agencies said fuck off, what
are you all gonna do, fire your agents?

So every WGA member fired their agents.

That was in April 2018!

Most of the mid-sized agencies caved. But the action dragged on for
YEARS, seemingly with no end in sight.

Then, last month, UTA caved.

And now, ICM has surrendered.


That just leaves CAA (who used to rep me) and WME (who currently do) as
holdouts, still involved in both the labor action and an endless,
slow-motion lawsuit.

This is a huge victory for the writers, but it's not really clear
what'll happen next.

For one thing, there are all the writers who fired their agents and
hired managers, went to mid-sized agencies, or used lawyers to rep them
-- will they go back?

Then there are writers like me: not in the Guild, but with enough option
deals to need a screen agent.

As I understand it, if I ever get signed on to adapt any of my work on a
union production, I'll have to join the Guild to work on it, and that
means firing the agent who got the deal. It's a pretty weird situation!

And for the record, my agent is a hardworking, lovely person who gets my
work and is great to work with. She's not a private equity baron.

For me, the ICM deal is a hopeful sign that CAA and WME will cave soon.
Their biggest (former) clients can now sign with UTA or ICM, which
should scare the shit out of the holdout agencies.


🚯 NY AG wants to dissolve NRA

If you think about the NRA, you probably concentrate on the org's
program activities: raising stupendous sums from terrified musketfuckers
and spending them to lobby for the most lethally irresponsible firearms
policies imaginable.

Which is understandable! Terrorizing ammosexuals is a pretty odious
business, reliant on racist dog-whistles, conspiracy theories that
victimize the parents of children slaughtered in school shootings, and
so. much. red-baiting.

But the NRA isn't merely a terrorist organization. It's a terrorist
organization with a business-model. That is, it's a grift. A way to
funnel bedwetting gun-humpers' money into the pockets of mediocre
sociopaths who run the org.

For years, the NRA has been mired in scandal, making lavish dispersals
to its board of directors and execs:


And spending a fortune helping its president-for-life Wayne LaPierre buy
a multimillion-dollar mansion is definitely *not* part of its
"charitable purpose."


And because there is no honor among thieves, the NRA has also been
roiled by internal brawls, as "internal coups" briefly displaced
LaPierre and replaced him with (I shit you not) Oliver North, who was
then swiftly deposed.


The NRA isn't just a terrorist organization. Nor is it just a grift. It
is also - and this is *very* important - a tax-exempt charitable
nonprofit. Which means that it is very tightly regulated.

In theory.

In practice, it has been largely left alone as it lost more than $64m
over three years, paid for execs' fancy meals, vacations, and private
jets, guaranteed LaPierre $17m in post-employment benefits without Board
approval, and did some way shady accounting with its PR firm.

Finally, the grift has become impossible to ignore, and so the AG of the
NRA's home state has filed suit to dissolve the organization and force
LaPierre to pay back his corrupt gains.

Here's a fun fact: the NRA is headquartered in New York!


NY AG Letitia James is *not* fucking around. And she's got a hell of a
case, thanks in large part to the NRA itself: when its internecine
struggles spilled over into the courts, warring NRA factions exposed a
lot of the org's darkest secrets.

The timing couldn't be better. The NRA spent tens of millions backing
Trump in 2016. Now, they're not just broke - they're also battling for
their lives.


🚯 Qanon is an ARG (pt II)

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea that Qanon is an alternate reality
game, recapping the arguments that leading ARG designer Adrian Hon had


The ARG company that Adrian Hon helped found, Six to Start, once also
included his brother, Dan Hon, who also knows an awful lot about ARGs
and has also been thinking about the relationship between Qanon and ARGs.


Dan Hon's analysis recaps Richard Bartle's taxonomy of gamers: "killers,
achievers, socializers and explorers" and shows how Q cultists fit into
(and render toxic) these archetypes.

In Q, socializers are meme-makers: "their success creates achievement
and community standing."

Achievers are connection finders: "They play for local fame: to be the
first to find the connection"

Explorers are connection finders who "get to create new evidence"

Killers are griefers, punishing cult members for doing Q wrong and
trolling nonbelievers. Horrifyingly, they're also non-metaphorical
killers - cultists have already murdered for the cult and will again.

Conspiracies share ARG-like characteristics: as with ARGs, conspiracists
get to make their own canon. If you come up with a cool idea in an ARG,
the GM ("puppetmaster") will add it to the story. In conspiracies the
coolest theories get promulgated by other "players."

If you squint hard at Q, it looks like an obsessive fandom, and there
are elements of Q that are scratching the same itch that fanac does:
community, recognition, the satisfaction of creativity and shared
storytelling and the joy of feeling significant.

On The Beast, the seminal  game that was the Hon brothers' entree into
ARGs, players were so excited by their puzzle-solving achievements that
reacted to the 9/11 attacks by announcing that they'd solve those, too.

Hon cites the work of Molly Sauter, one of my absolute favorite internet
theorists, in a piece called "The Apophenic Machine," which explores the
relationship of the internet to conspiracism more generally.


The internet is incredibly rewarding to the conspiratorial impulse:
(quoting Kathleen Stewart) "the internet was made for conspiracy theory:
it is a conspiracy theory: one thing leads to another, always another
link leading you deeper into no thing and no place."

The dispersed, complex, networked world invites complex, dispersed
explanations: "the illusion of the world as graspable, strung together
with links even as the socially contingent markers of importance, trust,
and validity are increasingly on the fritz."

The "paranoid-realist" mode of thought is coming to dominance in our
age, epitomized by conspiracies like Pizzagate. As Michael Fortun says,
"paranoiacs do not look, they find...[They] do not simply weigh and
measure [evidence], but they create it with their instruments."

ARGs are about the pleasure of  "making meaning," while conspiracism is
"an overabundance of meaning-making."

But conspiracies are also "attempts to wrestle the complexities of the
modern world down to a level of simplicity that can be grasped by an
individual... manifestations of the reactive attempt to reassert
individual control over systemic forms of power that defy narrative. "

Above all, conspiracism is correlated with conspiracies: "One only has
to look at the fracking industry, the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D;
policies, or the Catholic Church scandals to see that our world weeps
conspiracies. They come out of the walls."

Sauter imagines "two separate reality streams: the human politics
stream, full of reactive paranoia intent on creating graspable
narratives for human consumption, and the overarching networks of
networks, the financialized global capital streams and automated
algorithmic diktats that operate and adhere without being wholly
grasped, without anyone understanding them in their entirety."

(Aside: if you like this kind of thing, make sure to check out Sauter on
machine learning)



🚯 This day in history

#5yrsago Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities: when science changes

#5yrsago Universal Music's anti-piracy ads reached new heights of
crazypants gore

#1yrago The only thing health insurance companies are good at is scaring
us about socialized medicine

#1yrago How Quebec's health-care system uses "vaccine whisperers" to
keep "vaccine hesitancy" from turning to anti-vax

#1yrago Amazon's surveillance doorbell marketers help cops get
warrantless access to video footage from peoples' homes

#1yrago A loophole in nonprofit law means that corporate lobbying is at
least double the official figure


🚯 Colophon

Today's top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/), Naked Capitalism
(https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Boing Boing
(https://boingboing.net), Ilan Muskat (https://twitter.com/IlanMuskat).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 516 words (46068 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12),

Upcoming appearances:

* Virtual event with Christopher Brown for his novel "Failed State," Aug

* Induction into the CSFFA Hall of Fame, Aug 15,

Latest book:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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

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