[Plura-list] 100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters, Attack Surface author's note, Trump admits voter suppression, Reality endorses Sanders, Amazon fires walkout organizer

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Mar 31 12:21:53 EDT 2020

Today's links

* 100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters: Based on the Pathfinder Bestiary,
readily adaptable for other systems.

* Attack Surface author's note: My latest podcast is the afterword from
the third Little Brother book.

* Trump admits voter suppression: Proving intent was never easier.

* Reality endorses Sanders: Pandemics have an obvious leftist bias.

* Amazon fires walkout organizer: Low waged workers, doing the most
important work in America, exposed to lethal risk.

* Monopolists stole your respirator: Dying a gasping death is

* Corporate welfare vs food stamps: A billion here, a billion there,
pretty soon it adds up to real money.

* How viruses experience social distancing: XKCD mixes atavistic
satisfaction with science communications.

* Scarfolk pandemics: This isn't the worst timeline after all.

* This day in history: 2005, 2019

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


🥣 100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters

Manuel Solís's "100 Ideas for Dungeon Masters" can be one-shots or whole
campaigns: rev up your D100s!


* The only way to end the Queen of Shadows is beat her at her game, and
infiltrate the organization.

* The war is about to explode. The daughter of the greatest painter asks
the PCs escape with 30 priceless paintings.

* The Princess is a doppelganger and has been discovered. Secretly, she
reveals that the entire royal family have always been dopplegangers. We
must return her to the throne and fool everyone.

* 20 magic arrows labeled with 20 names. The quiver of revenge.

* A local nobleman will inherit a castle if he wins a tournament, but
does not know how to fight. and needs our help.

* The circus is in town. They have a basilisk. The basilisk has disappeared!

* In the neighboring kingdom a man sells giant turnips that turn into
giants those who eats them.

* An Aristocrats club (The club of the humbles) is a facade of a cult
that worships Dark Nagas and Demons.

* At dawn there will be a coup, and the baby who inherited the throne
will be assassinated. The whole guard has resigned.


🥣 Attack Surface author's note

My latest podcast is a reading of the author's note from "Attack
Surface" — the third Little Brother book, which comes out on Oct 12.


I recorded this for the audiobook edition of Attack Suface, which I've
been recording all last week with Amber Benson and the Cassandra de Cuir
from Skyboat Media.


If you like what you hear, please consider pre-ordering the book — it's
a scary time to have a book in the production pipeline!

Here's the MP3:


And here's the podcast feed:



🥣 Trump admits voter suppression

Trump went on Fox and Friends to talk about switching the 2020 election
to mail-in, and said, that if you allowed everyone to vote, "you'd never
have a Republican elected in this country again."

Jon Queally calls it "Saying the quiet part out loud."


It's a pretty consequential slip, though. Trump was discussing the GOPs
opposition to providing funding to states to retool for postal voting,
which is likely to result in high-stakes litigation. And courtrooms –
even ones presided over by GOP appointees – take these frank admissions
of intent to heart.

Just look at the weird tale of Thomas Hofeller, creator of REDMAP and
architect of the GOP's nationwide gerrymandering campaign.

Hofeller's key insight was the redistricting was "an election in
reverse" where, "instead of voters choosing their politicians,
politicians choose their voters." He convinced GOP donors that funding
state-level gerrymanders was a huge bargain on political influence.

We know what happened next: the US became more antimajoritarian than
ever and started to elect antimajoritarian politicians – politicians who
embrace the core right-wing tenet that some people are better than
others and those people should be in charge.

White nationalists want whites in charge. Dominionists want rule by
Christian men. Libertarians want rule by bosses. But they all believe
that nature made some to rule and others to be ruled.

This is a hard ideology to make work in a democracy, which is notionally
a majoritarian project. To get elected, antimajoritarians have two main

The first is scapegoating. White supremacy is how the GOP gets turkeys
to vote for Christmas:


LBJ's Southern Strategy was remarkably frank about this: "If you can
convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he
won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look
down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

Right now, the GOP and its state media organ, Fox, have opted to put its
main base (old white people) into harm's way by converting high-risk
activity into a marker of tribal loyalty. They could kill of a LOT of
their base. It's a weird flex.


But then there's the other antimajoritarian way to win: cheating (i.e.
gerrymandering), which brings me back to Hoeffler.

Hoeffler was really careful about never saying the quiet part out loud.

Not only did he never admit he was gerrymandering on racial lines, he
also exhorted his allies to never write down anything like this, not to
send emails or make notes to themselves about it.

But Hoeffler wasn't good at following his own advice. When he died
suddenly in 2018, he left behind computers and thumb-drives stuffed with
frank admissions that REDMAP was a cheat, designed to steal the votes of
nonwhites and other traditional Democratic voters.

Worse (for Hoeffler and the GOP), the person who inherited his data was
his estranged, anarchist daughter, Stephanie. She put all that data online:


She dumped it all in raw form, so no one could accuse her of putting
Hoeffler's deeds and intentions in a false negative light — it's all
there, including materials that reflect badly on Stephanie. She was more
interested in truth than her own feelings.

Before Stephanie doxed her father, court cases over REDMAP
gerrymandering had been stalled and nosediving. Afterwards courts –
presided over by GOP-appointed judges – had no choice but to find in
favor of the plaintiffs, against GOP redistricting.


Proving intent is key to prevailing in court challenges to redistricting
and other election fuckery. It's really hard. The bar is set incredibly
high. If the redistricters can make *any* sort of claim of a legit
purpose for the new boundaries, they usually win.

But not when they come right out and say the quiet part out loud. When
the President goes on *national television* and announces that he wants
fewer people to vote because otherwise, "you'd never have a Republican
elected in this country again," well…

Both figuratively and literally, Trump has a really hard time keeping it
in his pants. He *always* says the quiet part out loud from "rapists and
drug traffickers" to his statement that he would withhold aid from
states whose governors criticized him.

He's really good at running across the river hopping from the back of
one alligator to the next before the jaws snap closed, but that's a
strategy much better suited to owning the news cycle than the courtroom.

Because courts don't lose focus when your outlandish deeds are chased by
more outlandish ones, obliterating the previous scandal from the public
mind. They are deliberative, slow, plodding.


Remember when Trump's Muslim ban got struck down because courts weighed
his statement that it wasn't a Muslim ban against his tweets where he
said it was? Saying the quiet part out loud is good antimajoritarian
electioneering. It's a terrible legal strategy.

Running across a river on the back of alligators works great…until it
doesn't. It's hard to keep running once you lose a leg.

Trump no longer has a leg to stand on.


🥣 Reality endorses Sanders

Hard to say it better than Keeanga Yamahtta: "Reality Has Endorsed
Bernie Sanders."


From Medicare for All to public broadband provision to reining in pharma
to the need for worker rights to universal housing, pandemics have an
incredibly unfair left-wing bias.

SF and LA can order shelter-in-place, but that doesn't magically end the
plague of homelessness that was created by allowing the private sector
to decide which housing got built and where.

Quarantine's incompatibility with mass incarceration is indisputable.

A nation without savings cannot survive a pandemic unchanged.

History tells us what those changes can be: the New Deal, the GI Bill,
the Great Society.

We're balanced on the knife edge between two futures. In the first one,
pandemic leads to fascist exterminism, the belief that poors and
spoonies and olds need to be eliminated to ensure that they don't become
reservoirs of pathogens.

In the second, the manifest failures of the cruel doctrine of "personal
responsibility" is displaced by solidarity and the frank admission that
we have a shared destiny, not just economic or social, but microbial.

We get to choose. Soon. As soon as November.


🥣 Amazon fires walkout organizer

Amazon warehouse workers and other low-waged workers who are literally
keeping us and our economy alive during the pandemic say that their
employers are cutting corners, depriving them of PPE, handwashing, sick
pay, etc.

It's especially bad at Amazon warehouses, where workers have staged
walkouts to protest unsafe working conditions.

The walkout at Staten Island's JFK8 warehouse was led by Chris Smalls,
who has been fired by Amazon.


Amazon claims that Smalls was fired for failing to observe social
distancing. Read between the lines and you'll discover that they sent
him home because he was a labor leader and insisted that he stay there,
using epidemiology as a pretence for illegal labor practices.

Workers at Whole Foods are ready to walk out too:


And Instacart:


It's funny, you'd think the right would be all over this. After all, the
excuse for paying low-waged workers substarvation wages is that the
market has set their wage there, because other people are willing to do
their jobs if they don't want to.

And now, no one is willing to do those jobs, so they have a seller's
market. When you have a seller's market, capitalists tell you that you
should demand all the market will bear. In this case, I think that comes
out to sick pay, PPE, and a giant fucking raise.


🥣 Monopolists stole your respirator

A couple days ago, I wrote about how lax antitrust enfforcement caused
America's ventilator shortage, because medtech giant Covidien bought out
tiny rival Newport to kill a USG contract to produce tons of low-cost


I based that post off this excellent NYT piece, which gets deep on
history of the plan to produce the ventilators, and the way that
Covidien killed it, and then got acquired by an even bigger company,
Medtronic (who were already a horrible shithow).


But there's even more to the story, as David Dayen writes in The
American Prospect.


The whole story is even more of a parable about late-stage capitalism
than it appears at first blush.

First of all, this kind of buy-and-kill maneuver is an epidemic in the
health industries. This paper identifies 45 instances per year in which
pharma companies acquire small competitors to prevent the release of
low-cost competitors to their products:


For example: Roche killed a promising hemophilia cure from small rival
Spark Therapeutics, whose one-shot drug would have ended the market for
Roche's once-a-month hemophilia drug Hemlibra.

Then there's Covidien's acquisition by Medtronic, which wasn't an
acquisition in the traditional sense, rather, it was a "tax inversion" —
a piece of financial engineering — that allowed Medtronic to move $1B in
offshore money to the US tax free.


Covidien had a long history of financial shenanigans, dating back to its
years as a division of Tyco International, whose CEO was imprisoned for
fraud. Covidien has variously billed itself as a US, Bermudan and Irish

tldr: "Covidien, a longtime corporate tax cheat and serial acquirer of
competitors, scooped up a rival and scotched its most promising project,
which would have significantly boosted our ability to cope with
pandemics. Then it merged with an even bigger rival and lent it the same
tax avoidance and corporate consolidation tactics, making the medical
supply chain even more fragile."


🥣 Corporate welfare vs food stamps

Are you an airline exec hoping for up to $32 no-strings billions from
the US government? Just fill in this handy, simple form:


Are you a laid off worker who needs food stamps so you and your family
don't starve to death? Here's a kafkaeque form betraying a love of
bureaucratic fuckery that makes Stalin look like Ayn Rand.

As Matt Stoller says, "The airline application for billions in
assistance is 'what's your name and where can I send the check?' The
application for food stamps requires ten pages of detailed personal
financial records.'



🥣 How viruses experience social distancing

This week's XKCD is one of the best commentaries I've seen on
coronavirus so far.


There are real risks associated with anthropomorphizing the virus – it
can feed conspiracism and xenophobia – but Randall's work at describing
the public health to the pandemic from the virus's perspective is just
incredibly heartening and also compelling.

What a sweet moment for your day, to imagine how your sacrifices are
frustrating the virus, and simultaneously to get a rigorous,
easy-to-grasp description of how social distancing and other
countermeasures work. Randall Munroe is a human treasure.


🥣 Scarfolk pandemics

You might think that this is a terrible timeline to be having a pandemic
in, but it hasn't got a patch on Scarfolk, the small, conservative
English town caught in a perpetual loop from 1970-1980.


Scarfolk is consistently brilliant. Creator Richard Littler published a
great book in time for last Christmas, the "Scarfolk Annual."


And his animated series Dick & Stewart is a must-watch.



🥣 This day in history

#15yrsago Valenti signs Betamax tape for fan at Grokster hearing

#15yrsago South Park-infringing trench art from Iraq

#1yrago The weird grift of "sovereign citizens": where UFOlogy meets
antisemitism by way of Cliven Bundy and cat-breeding

#1yrago Slovakia's first woman president is an anti-corruption,
pro-immigrant environmental campaigner

#1yrago The strange tale of Runescape's Communist republic

#1yrago Internal files reveal how US law enforcement classes
anti-fascists as fascists, and actual fascists as "anti-anti-fascists"

#1yrago America's best mobile carrier is also the first phone company to
back Right to Repair legislation

#1yrago Citing transphobic policies, 172+ googlers call for removal of
Heritage Foundation from Google's "Advanced Technology External Advisory


🥣 Colophon

Today's top sources: Mitch Wagner (https://mitchwagner.blog/), Naked
Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: I'm getting geared up to start work my next novel,
"The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland:
it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs.
Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a
magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they
cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into
Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt
Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to
it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: Author's Note from Attack Surface

Upcoming appearances:

* Quarantine Book Club, April 1, 3PM Pacific

* Museums and the Web, April 2, 12PM-3PM Pacific https://mw20.museweb.net/

* Short Story Club, April 7, 530PM Pacific https://www.shortstory.club/

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies
and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the
monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

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

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

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Cory Doctorow
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