/ / News

Today’s links

  1. How “Authoritarian Blindness” kept Xi from dealing with coronavirus: Zeynep Tufekci in outstanding form.
  2. The Snowden Archive: every publicly available Snowden doc, collected and annotated.
  3. Key computer vision researcher quits: facial recognition is a moral quagmire.
  4. My interview on adversarial interoperability: you can’t shop your way out of late-stage capitalism.
  5. 81 Fortune 100 companies demand binding arbitration: monopoly and its justice system.
  6. I’m coming to Kelowna! Canada Reads is bringing me to the BC interior, March 5.
  7. A flat earther commits suicide by conspiracy theory: conspiracies are comorbid with corruption.
  8. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2010, 2005
  9. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading


How “Authoritarian Blindness” kept Xi from dealing with coronavirus (permalink)

Xi Jinping’s refashioning of the Chinese internet to ratchet up surveillance and censorship made it all but impossible for the Chinese state to use the internet to detect and contain Corona Virus, writes Zeynep Tufekci in The Atlantic. Tufekci talks about “authoritarian blindness,” where people too scared to tell the autocrat the hard truths makes it impossible for the autocrat to set policy that reflects reality.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-and-blindness-authoritarianism/606922/

(Cue Mao telling China to “eat 5 meals a day” because his apparats were too scared to warn him of impending famine, then selling off the nation’s food reserves for foreign currency because he thought it was surplus. Food production collapsed.)

Before Xi, a certain amount of online dissidence was tolerated because it helped root out dangerously corrupt local leaders before they could do real damage. It’s always hard to make autocracies sustainable because corruption and looting leaves them hollow and brittle.

When Xi took power in 2012, he restored “one man rule” and began a series of maneuvers, including purges, to consolidate power for himself. The rise and rise of China’s mobile internet made this far more effective than at any time in history.

“Authoritarian blindness” kicked off the Hong Kong protests because the state so badly misjudged the cause and severity of the grievances there. The same thing happened in Wuhan when doctors and netizens faced retaliation for describing early virus outbreaks.

The reality-debt built up by official denial always results in reality bankruptcy, eventually – so finally, the reports of the virus were so widespread and alarming they could no longer be suppressed. But by then, the virus had proliferated. This is an important point: “the killer digital app for authoritarianism isn’t listening in on people through increased surveillance, but listening to them as they express their honest opinions, especially complaints.”

That’s how you stabilize the unstable: by using digital authoritarianism to fine tune the minimum viable amount of good governance to diffuse public anger. It’s how you maximize your looting without getting strung up by your ankles.



The Snowden Archive (permalink)

The Snowden Surveillance Archive collects “all documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have subsequently been published by news media.”

https://snowdenarchive.cjfe.org/greenstone/cgi-bin/library.cgi

It’s indexed and searchable, created by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Politics of Surveillance Project at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. (Canada is a “Five Eyes” country that partners with the NSA on global mass surveillance)

There’s a “Portable Archive” version – a tarball with all the docs so you can create your own mirror:

https://snowdenarchive.cjfe.org/greenstone/collect/snowden1/portablearchive.html

They provide instructions for turning this into a kiosk they call a “Snowden Archive-in-a-Box.” Costs about CAD120.00



Key computer vision researcher quits (permalink)

Joseph Redmon is the creator of YOLO (You Only Look Once), a key Computer Vision technology. He’s just announced his resignation from computer vision work, citing ethical concerns with Facial Recognition.

https://twitter.com/pjreddie/status/1230523827446091776

His thread is really important, calling out the gap between what ML researchers SAY they want to do about ethics and how they actually deal with ethical issues: “basically all facial recognition work would not get published if we took Broader Impacts sections seriously.”

“There is almost no upside and enormous downside risk.” That’s some serious Oppenheimer stuff right there. The kicker? “For most of grad school I bought in to the myth that science is apolitical and research is objectively moral and good no matter what the subject is.”



My interview on adversarial interoperability (permalink)

The Firewalls Don’t Stop Dragons podcast (which offers information security advice and analysis for non-technical people) just posted part 2 of our interview on Adversarial Interoperability, Right To Repair, and technological fairness.

http://podcast.firewallsdontstopdragons.com/2020/02/24/adversarial-interoperability-part-2/

Part one went live last week:

https://twitter.com/doctorow/status/1229842619380858885

In this one, I try to explain how John Deere’s war on farm-based repairs is connected to Apple’s war on independent repair, and how consumer choices can’t solve either problem — but collective action can!

It’ll take a movement, not individual action. Thankfully, such a movement exists. EFF’s Electronic Frontier Alliance, a network of groups nationwide working on local issues with national coordination. It’s the antidote to individual powerlessness.

https://www.eff.org/electronic-frontier-alliance/allies



81 Fortune 100 companies demand binding arbitration (permalink)

Binding arbitration was originally created as a way for giant corporations to resolve their disputes with each other without decades-long court battles costing tens of millions of dollars. SCOTUS ratified the principal in 1925: firms of similar size and power could use binding arbitration as an alternative to litigation.

http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/we-now-have-a-justice-system-just-for-corporations

In the century since, corporations have eroded the idea of arbitration as something reserved for co-equals and have turned it into a condition of employment and of being a customer.

In an era of both monopoly and monoposony, it can be hard to find a single employer OR vendor who will conduct business with you unless you first surrender the rights your elected lawmakers decided that you are entitled to.

Today, the largest corporations in the world require you to “agree” to binding arbitration before you can conduct business with them: your monopolistic ISP or cable operator probably does.

As do Walmart, Uber, and Amazon (and not coincidentally, all three have crowded out all the competitors you might choose to take your business to if this strikes you as unfair).

In 2019, SCOTUS ratified the practice.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/13/business/binding-arbitration-consumers/index.html

81 out of the Fortune 100 non-negotiably require binding arbitration if you want to conduct business with them. “Arbitration is often confidential and the outcome doesn’t enter the public record” – if you get screwed you won’t know if it’s a one-off or a pattern.

This is especially pernicious in the realm of US health care. There is ONE pain specialist in all of Southern California that my insurer covers who doesn’t require binding arbitration. When I took my daughter to the ER with a broken bone, they threatened not to treat her unless we signed an arbitration waiver – and that ER is now owned by a PE firm that bought every medical practice in a 10mi radius and now they all do it.

We are literally replacing public courts with private corporate justice, where the “judge” is paid by the company that maimed you, or ripped you off, or killed you.



I’m coming to Kelowna! (permalink)

I’ve never been to Kelwona, BC or anywhere in BC apart from Victoria and Vancouver, so I am SO TOTALLY EXCITED to be appearing in Kelowna for Canada Reads on Mar 5. Please come and say hello! (it’s free!)

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/cbc-radio-presents-in-conversation-with-cory-doctorow-tickets-96154415445

The event is a collaboration between the Kelowna Public Library and CBC Books, and I’m being emceed and interviewed by Sarah Penton. It’s going to be recorded for airing later as well (I’ll be sure to fold it into my podcast, which you can get here: http://craphound.com/podcast/)



A flat earther commits suicide by conspiracy theory (permalink)

A(nother) flat-earther has tried to prove that the Earth is disc-shaped by launching a homemade rocket. This one (“Mad” Mike Hughes) killed himself by pancaking into the desert.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/daredevil-mad-mike-hughes-dies-homemade-rocket-launch-filmed-tv-n1141286

This is awful. Jokes about “Darwin Awards” don’t change that.

When you scratch a conspiracist, you generally find two things:

  1. Someone who knows chapter-&-verse about real conspiracies (e.g. “If you think antivax is so outlandish, let me tell you about the Sackler family”)
  2. Someone who has been traumatized by conspiracies (belief that the levees were dynamited during Katrina to drown Black neighborhoods are often embraced by people whose family were flooded out in 58 when the levees in Tupelo were dynamited to drown Black neighborhoods).

A belief that the aerospace industry engages in coverups and conspiracies is not, in and of itself, irrational. Aerospace is the land of conspiracies and coverups. Look at the Boeing 737 Max!

Conspiracies are an epiphenomenon of market concentration. “Two may keep a secret if one of them is dead”: the ability to conspire is a collective action problem, wherein linear increases in the number of conspirators yield geometric increases in the likelihood of defections. When an industry is reduced to 3-5 giants, the likelihood is that every top exec at each company worked as a top exec at one or more of the others (to say nothing of the likelihood of intercompany friendships, marriages, etc). Moreover, an industry that concentrated will almost certainly be regulated by its own former execs, as they are likely the only ones qualified to understand its workings.

Many of us were appalled by the sight of the nation’s tech leaders gathered around a table at Trump Tower after the inauguration.

But we should have been even more alarmed by the realization that all the leaders of the tech industry fit around a single table.

We are living in both a golden age of conspiratorial thinking and of actual conspiracies. The conspiracy theories don’t necessarily refer to the actual conspiracies, but “conspiracy” is a plausible idea with a lot of explanatory power in 2020.

We spend a lot of time wondering about how we can fix the false beliefs that people have, but some of our focus needs to be on reducing the plausibility of conspiracy itself. Make industries more competitive and diverse, make regulators more accountable.

Put out the fires, sure, but clear away the brush so that they don’t keep reigniting.

I strongly recommend Anna Merlan’s REPUBLIC OF LIES for more.

https://boingboing.net/2019/09/21/from-opioids-to-antivax.html



This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago: Labour MP Brian Sedgemore excoriates his own government’s terror laws in the speech of his lifetime: https://web.archive.org/web/20050227035611/http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmhansrd/cm050223/debtext/50223-21.htm

#10yrsago: How ducks, Nazis and themeparks gave America its color TV transition: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2010/feb/23/digital-switchover-bbc-spectrum

#5yrsago: Alex Stamos, then CSO of Yahoo, publicly calls out then-NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers on crypto backdoors: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/02/yahoo-exec-goes-mano-a-mano-with-nsa-director-over-crypo-backdoors/

#5yrsago: A chronology of the Canadian Conservative Party’s war on science under PM Stephen Harper: https://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2013/05/20/the-canadian-war-on-science-a-long-unexaggerated-devastating-chronological-indictment

#5yrsago: Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s movie about Edward Snowden, wins the Academy Award for best documentary: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/edward-snowden-congratulates-laura-poitras-winning-best-documentary-oscar-citizenfour

#1yrago: Every AOC staffer will earn a living wage: https://www.rollcall.com/2019/02/22/alexandria-ocasio-cortezs-call-for-a-living-wage-starts-in-her-office/

#1yrago: Richard Sackler’s “verbal gymnastics” in defending his family’s role in killing 200,000 Americans with opiods: https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/02/sackler-behind-oxycontin-fraud-offered-twisted-mind-boggling-defense/

#1yrago: German neo-Nazis use Qanon memes to signal-boost their messages: https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-fringe-groups-are-using-qanon-to-amplify-their-wild-messages

#1yrago: French courts fine UBS €3.7b for helping French plutes dodge their taxes: https://www.thelocal.fr/20190220/breaking-french-court-hits-swiss-bank-ubs-with-37-billion-fine-in-french-tax-fraud-case

#1yrago: Apple to close down its east Texas stores to avoid having any nexus with America’s worst patent court: https://www.macrumors.com/2019/02/22/apple-closing-stores-in-eastern-district-texas/

#1yrago: Small business cancels its unusably slow Frontier internet service, Frontier sticks them with a $4,300 cancellation fee: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/02/frontier-demands-4300-cancellation-fee-despite-horribly-slow-internet/

#1yrago: Fast food millionaire complains that social media makes kids feel so entitled that they are no longer willing to work for free: https://amp.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/muffin-break-boss-fury-over-youth-who-wont-work-unpaid/news-story/57607ea9a1bbe52ba7746cff031306f2

#1yrago: Apps built with Facebook’s SDK shovel incredible quantities of incredibly sensitive data into Facebook’s gaping maw: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/22/facebook-receives-personal-health-data-from-apps-wsj.html

#1yrago: Super-high end prop horror-movie eyeballs, including kits to make your own: https://fourthsealstudios.com/

#1yrago: EU advances its catastrophic Copyright Directive without fixing any of its most dangerous flaws: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/02/european-governments-approve-controversial-new-copyright-law/



Colophon (permalink)

Today’s top sources: Four Short Links (https://www.oreilly.com/feed/four-short-links), Slashdot (https://slashdot.org), Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/”).

Hugo nominators! My story “Unauthorized Bread” is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, “The Canadian Miracle,” for MIT Tech Review. It’s a story set in the world of my next novel, “The Lost Cause,” a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I’m getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I’ve been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world’s prehistory.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein’s “American Oligarchs” this week; 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: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention: https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/02/10/persuasion-adaptation-and-the-arms-race-for-your-attention/

Upcoming books: “Poesy the Monster Slayer” (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

/ / News

Today’s links

  1. Tax Justice Network publishes a new global Financial Secrecy Index: US and UK, neck-and-neck
  2. What Marc Davis lifted from the Addams Family while designing the Haunted Mansion: Amateurs plagiarize, artists steal
  3. ICANN should demand to see the secret financial docs in the .ORG selloff: at least it’s an Ethos
  4. Wells Fargo will pay $3b for 2 million acts of fraud: they shoulda got the corporate death penalty
  5. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2010
  6. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading


Tax Justice Network publishes a new global Financial Secrecy Index (permalink)

The Tax Justice Network just published its latest Financial Secrecy Index, the leading empirical index of global financial secrecy policies. The US continues to make a dismal showing, as does the UK (factoring in overseas territories).

https://fsi.taxjustice.net/en/

Both Holland and Switzerland backslid this year.

Important to remember that “bad governance” scandals in poor countries (like the multibillion-dollar Angolaleaks scandal) involve rich financial secrecy havens as laundries for looted national treasure.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/19/isabel-dos-santos-revealed-africa-richest-woman-2bn-empire-luanda-leaks-angola

As Tax Justice breaks it down: “The secrecy world creates a criminogenic hothouse for multiple evils including fraud, tax cheating, escape from financial regulations, embezzlement, insider dealing, bribery, money laundering, and plenty more. It provides multiple ways for insiders to extract wealth at the expense of societies, creating political impunity and undermining the healthy ‘no taxation without representation’ bargain that has underpinned the growth of accountable modern nation states. Many poorer countries, deprived of tax and haemorrhaging capital into secrecy jurisdictions, rely on foreign aid handouts.”

Talk about getting you coming and going! First we make bank helping your corrupt leaders rob you blind, then we loan you money so you can keep the lights on and get fat on the interest (and force you to sell off your looted, ailing state industries as “economic reforms”).

The Taxcast, which is the Network’s podcast, has a great special edition in which the index’s key researchers explain their work. It’s always a good day when a new Taxcast drops.

https://www.taxjustice.net/2020/02/20/financial-secrecy-index-who-are-the-worlds-worst-offenders-the-tax-justice-network-podcast-special-february-2020/



What Marc Davis lifted from the Addams Family while designing the Haunted Mansion (permalink)

It’s always a good day — a GREAT day — when the Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog does a new post, but today’s post, on the influence of the Addams Family TV show on Mansion co-designer Mark Davis? ::Chef’s Kiss::

https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-addams-family-and-marc-davis.html

It’s clear that Davis was using Addams’s comics as reference, but, as Long Forgotten shows, the Davis sketches and concepts are straight up lifted from the TV show: “Amateurs plagiarize, artists steal.”

Some of these lifts are indisputable.

“Finally, it’s possible that Davis took a further cue from the insanely long sweater Morticia is knitting in ‘Fester’s Punctured Romance’ (Oct 2, 1964), but in this case I wouldn’t insist upon it.”

Likewise, from the TV show, “Bruno” the white bear rug that periodically bites people was obviously the inspiration for this Davis sketch for the Mansion. Long Forgotten is less certain about “Ophelia,” but I think it’s pretty clear where Davis was getting his ideas from here.

Davis was an unabashed plunderer and we are all better for it! “We’ve seen many other examples of Marc Davis taking ideas from here, there, and anywhere he could find them, but not many other examples of multiple inspiration from a single source.”



ICANN should demand to see the secret financial docs in the .ORG selloff (permalink)

ISOC — the nonprofit set up to oversee the .ORG registry — decided to sell off this asset (which they were given for free, along with $5M to cover setup expenses) to a mysterious private equity fund called Ethos Capital.

Some of Ethos’s backers are known (Republican billionaire families like the Romneys and the Perots) but much of its financing remains in the shadows. We do know that ICANN employees who help tee up the sale now work for Ethos, in a corrupt bit of self-dealing.

The deal was quietly announced and looked like a lock, but then public interest groups rose up to demand an explanation. Not only could Ethos expose nonprofits to unlimited rate-hikes (thanks to ICANN’s changes to its rules), they could do much, much worse.

If a .ORG registrant dropped its domain, Ethos could sell access to misdirected emails and domain lookups – so if you watchdog private equity funds and get destroyed by vexation litigation, Ethos could sell your bouncing email to the billionaires who crushed you.

More simply, Ethos could sell the kind of censorship-as-a-service it currently sells through its other registry, Donuts, which charges “processing fees” to corrupt governments and bullying corporations who want to censor the web by claiming libel or copyright infringement.

Ethos offered ISOC $1.135b for the sale, but $360m of that will come from a loan that .ORG will have to pay back, a millstone around its neck, dragging it down. Debt-loading healthy business as a means of bleeding them dry is a tried-and-true PE tactic – it’s what did in Toys R Us, Sears, and many other firms. The PE barons get a fortune, everyone else gets screwed.

The interest on .ORG’s loan will suck up $24m/year — TWO THIRDS of the free money that .ORG generates. .ORG is a crazily profitable nonprofit – it charges dollars to provide a service that costs fractional pennies, after all. In response to getting slapped around by some Members of Congress, the Pennsylvania AG, and millions of netizens, Ethos has made a promise to limit prices increases…for a while. And they say that they’ll be kept honest by the nonbinding recommendations of an “advisory council” whose members Ethos will appoint and who will serve at Ethos’s pleasure.

In a letter to ICANN, EFF and Americans for Financial Reform have called for transparency on the financing behind the sale: “hidden costs, loan servicing fees, and inducements to insiders.”

https://www.eff.org/press/releases/eff-seeks-disclosure-secret-financing-details-behind-11-billion-org-sale-asks-ftc



Wells Fargo will pay $3b for 2 million acts of fraud (permalink)

Wells Fargo stole from at least two million of its customers, pressuring its low-level employees to open fake accounts in their names, firing employees who refused (refuseniks were also added to industry-wide blacklists created to track crooked bankers). These fake accounts ran up fees for bank customers, including penalties, etc. In some cases, the damage to the victims’ credit ratings was so severe that they were turned down for jobs, unable to get house loans or leases, etc.

The execs who oversaw these frauds had plenty of red flags, including their own board members asking why the fuck their spouses had been sent mysterious Wells Fargo credit cards they’d never signed up for. Though these execs paid fines, they got to keep MILLIONS from this fraud (which was only one of dozens of grifts Wells Fargo engaged in this century, including stealing from small businesses, homeowners, military personnel, car borrowers, etc). Some of them may never work in banking again, but they’re all millionaires for life.

Now, Wells Fargo has settled with the DoJ for $3b, admitting wrongdoing and submitting to several years of oversight. That’s a good start, but it’s a bad finish.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51594117

The largest bank in America was, for DECADES, a criminal enterprise, preying on Americans of every description. It should no longer exist. It should be broken into constituent pieces, under new management. There would be enormous collateral damage from this (just as the family of a murderer suffers when he is made to face the consequences of his crimes). But what about the collateral damage to everyone who is savaged by a similarly criminal bank in the future, emboldened by Wells Fargo’s impunity?

Wells Fargo is paying a fine, but will have NO criminal charges filed against it.

https://newsroom.wf.com/press-release/corporate-and-financial/wells-fargo-reaches-settlements-resolve-outstanding-doj-and

If you or I stole from TWO MILLION people, we would not be permitted to pay a fine and walk away.

“I’ll believe corporations are people when the government gives one the death penalty.”



This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago: Kottke goes full-time https://kottke.org/05/02/kottke-micropatron

#15yrsago: New Zealand’s regulator publishes occupational safety guide for sex workers: https://web.archive.org/web/20050909001954/http://www.osh.dol.govt.nz/order/catalogue/pdf/sexindustry.pdf

#10yrsago: Principal who spied on child through webcam mistook a Mike n Ike candy for drugs: https://reason.com/2010/02/20/lower-pervian-school-district/

#10yrsago: School where principal spied on students through their webcams had mandatory laptop policies, treated jailbreaking as an expellable offense https://web.archive.org/web/20100726204521/https://strydehax.blogspot.com/2010/02/spy-at-harrington-high.html

#10yrsago: Parents file lawsuit against principal who spied on students through webcams: https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Parenting/pennsylvania-school-webcam-students-spying/story?id=9905488

#1yrago: Cybermercenary firm with ties to the UAE want the capability to break Firefox encryption https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/02/cyber-mercenary-groups-shouldnt-be-trusted-your-browser-or-anywhere-else

#1yrago: Fraudulent anti-Net Neutrality comments to the FCC traced back to elite DC lobbying firm https://gizmodo.com/how-an-investigation-of-fake-fcc-comments-snared-a-prom-1832788658



Colophon (permalink)

Today’s top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Hugo nominators! My story “Unauthorized Bread” is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, “The Canadian Miracle,” for MIT Tech Review. It’s a story set in the world of my next novel, “The Lost Cause,” a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I’m getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I’ve been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world’s prehistory.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein’s “American Oligarchs” this week; 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: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention: https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/02/10/persuasion-adaptation-and-the-arms-race-for-your-attention/

Upcoming books: “Poesy the Monster Slayer” (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

/ / News

Today’s links

  1. Bloomberg’s campaign NDA is a gag order that covers sexual abuse and other crimes: Bloomberg’s lowest moment at the debate came when he fumfuhed over whether he’d release women from his corporate NDAs.
  2. Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room “surprise billing”: AKA, “Why didn’t you ask your ambulance driver to shop around?”
  3. The Parkland kids have launched a zine: “Unquiet” is a gorgeous, haunting zine from the March For Our Lives, debuted on Teen Vogue.
  4. Tumblr’s ad policy: you can’t block ads because we don’t live in a post-scarcity society.
  5. Gopher shows us how adversarial interoperability was there from the start: the web’s precursor depended on adversarial interop to win its place in history, and the web vanquished gopher with yet more adversarial interop
  6. A line of hardcovers designed to double as decor accents: I want to hate this, but they’re so pretty!
  7. $2b later, Blue Apron is broke: incoming podcast apocalypse in 3, 2, 1….
  8. Tour Cards Against Humanity’s incredible board-game cafe: when amazing people spend amazing sums.
  9. The team behind Frozen are making a musical out of Jen Wang’s Prince and the Dressmaker: holy smokes, is this ever great news!
  10. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2010
  11. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Bloomberg’s campaign NDA is a gag order that covers sexual abuse and other crimes

Bloomberg had a Very Bad Night at the Nevada debates but the lowest point was when he weaseled in response to Liz Warren’s insistence that he voluntarily end the nondisclosure obligations of women who’d left his companies after alleging various kinds of abuse.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/20/politics/elizabeth-warren-michael-bloomberg-contract-nda/index.html

Now, someone has leaked the Bloomberg campaign’s NDA to The Nation’s Ken Klippstein, and holy smokes is it ever terrible.

https://twitter.com/kenklippenstein/status/1230223901352976384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

It runs to NINE pages, and is so overbroad that it bars Bloomberg campaign staff from speaking out against criminal workplace harassment and abuse, and binds them to an ETERNAL nondisparagement obligation, meaning they can never, ever criticize Bloomberg.

https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/bloomberg-nondisclosure-harassment/

Needless to say, rich and powerful men with long histories of presiding over coverups of abuse do not deploy these nondisclosures because they know you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they finally come clean and they just don’t want any spoilers.

Incidentally, the Warren campaign’s NDA has also leaked, and it’s 2.5 pages long, and it explicitly does NOT require silence for survivors of workplace harassment and abuse.

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6214631-Warren-Campaign-NDA.html

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Private Equity has sabotaged every attempt to end emergency room “surprise billing”

“Surprise billing” is when you go to the ER and discover that the doc, the specialist, or the test you got were performed by “independent contractors” who are not part of the hospital’s deal with your insurer. It means bills for thousands (literally) for an ice-pack.

https://www.healthexec.com/topics/healthcare-economics/5751-ice-pack-hefty-bills-await-patients-just-walking-er

The surprise billing epidemic has an unsurprising root cause: private equity looters who buy up doctor’s groups and specialists’ practices for the express purpose of gouging people experiencing medical emergencies (or their parents – it’s rampant in NICUs).

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2020/02/private-equitys-war-to-preserve-surprise-billing.html

It’s working: “The odds of getting a surprise bill increased from 32% (2010) to 43% (2016), with amounts rising from $220 to $628. Out of network billing raises health care costs by $40 billion per year.”

The PE firms behind it are the largest in the world: Teamhealth (formerly Blackrock, now KKR) raised ER bills by 68%. They have plenty left over to lobby for expanded shenanigan powers.

Two Congressional bills to address surprise billing were killed by PE astroturf operations where fake groups like “Physicians for Fair Coverage” ($1.2m) and Doctor Patient Unity ($28m) spent millions lobbying and advertising against the bills.

https://cepr.net/report/why-its-so-hard-to-end-surprise-medical-bills/

One measure nearly squeaked through, only to be sabotaged by Rep Richard Neal [D-MA], who snuck in a “compromise” that sent all disputes to a corporate arbitrator on the payroll of the PE firms, who would decide whether their paymasters had acted unfairly when they billed you.

The measure rescued the share-price of Envision and Teamhealth, reassuring investors that the gouging could continue uninterrupted.

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The Parkland kids have launched a zine

Congrats to the March for Our Lives and Teen Vogue on the launch of Unquiet, a zine edited by the amazing Emma Gonzales.

It’s home to some brilliant poetry, collages, remembrances, posters (and more).

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Tumblr’s ad policy

Tumblr got sold for more than a billion dollars to Yahoo. Yahoo sold its digital portfolio to Verizon for $4.5B. Verizon sold Tumblr to Automattic (aka WordPress) for a rumored $3m. Automattic is ten million times better than Yahoo and Verizon combined, on the best day of their corporate lives.

Now, Tumblr has updated its ad policy support page with the kind of verve and wit we expect from Automattic.

https://tumblr.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360035272334

“HOW TO TURN OFF ADS: Unfortunately, until we live in a post-consumerist society built on an economy of surplus instead of scarcity that would enable us to procure both labor and materials at zero marginal cost, there is no way to remove ads from your Tumblr experience.”

I love this, but.

There’s an equilibrium between ads and readers, and it is maintained by ad-blockers. The way we killed ubiquitous pop-up ads was with on-by-default pop-up blockers (thanks, Opera and Mozilla!). They won the argument publishers had, until then, lost with their advertisers.

Instead of saying, “Ugh, we don’t want pop-up ads because they make our website terrible,” publishers could say, “Sure, you have the market power, so if you insist we’ll have pop-ups. But you should know that no one will see ’em, because they’re blocked by default.”

Markets are places where bargains are struck. In a world where there is a glut of publishing inventory chasing ads, publishers are not a good proxy for their readers’ interests. Ad-block is the way that readers bargain directly with advertisers.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/07/adblocking-how-about-nah

As Doc Searls says, ad-blocking is the largest consumer revolt in history.


Gopher shows us how adversarial interoperability was there from the start

The latest in my series of case histories of Adversarial Interoperability and the role it played in keeping tech competitive is the history of Gopher, which I was able to write thanks to the generous assistance of Gopher’s co-inventor Paul Lindner.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/02/gopher-when-adversarial-interoperability-burrowed-under-gatekeepers-fortresses

Gopher was the web’s immediate predecessor, created by a student-support team at UMN, who burrowed under the mainframe systems’ guardians and created a menu-driven interface to campus resources, then the whole internet.

They swallowed up FTP, broke open the silos on digital library catalogs, used terminal automation to give anyone access to the Weather Underground service at UMich (who first told them to stop, then asked for usage data for their NSF grant renewal!).

They called it “internet duct tape” – scripts and tools that let them lash together all the disparate services of the net in rough-and-ready, file-to-fit, paint-to-cover fashion. And even as they were doing unto others, others were doing unto them. People created competing gopherspace search-engines (VERONICA and JUGHEAD, to complement ARCHIE, which searched FTP).

The endgame of this was an obscure Anglo-Swiss research project called “The World Wide Web.” Browser vendors swallowed gopherspace whole, incorporating it by turning gopher:// into a way to access anything on any Gopher server. Gopher served as the booster rocket that helped the web attain a stable orbit. But the tools that Gopher used to crack open the silos, and the move that the web pulled to crack open Gopher, are radioactively illegal today.

If you wanted do to, say, Facebook, or Ios, or Google Play, what Gopher did to the mainframes, you would be pulverized by the relentless grinding of software patents, terms of service, anticircumvention law, bullshit theories about APIs being copyrightable.

Big Tech tells you it’s big due to “network effects” but this is counsel of despair. If mystical, great historic forces are what keeps it big then there’s no point in trying to make it small. Better to turn it into a regulated monopoly that need never fear competitors.

(I see you, Zuck)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mark-zuckerberg-the-internet-needs-new-rules-lets-start-in-these-four-areas/2019/03/29/9e6f0504-521a-11e9-a3f7-78b7525a8d5f_story.html

And Big Tech’s critics swallow this line, demanding that Big Tech be given state-like duties to police user conduct that require billions in monopoly rents, AND total control over their platforms, to perform, guaranteeing tech monopolists perpetual dominance.

But the lesson of Gopher is that adversarial interop is judo for network effects. If companies can’t use the law to maintain their walled gardens, then they become game-preserves to be stalked by competitors, convenient places to find everyone who might want to switch.

Gopher isn’t a one-off. Look close at the history of any of our key technologies and you’ll find an adversarial interop story. Check out my growing list of case-histories for more.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/10/adversarial-interoperability

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A line of hardcovers designed to double as decor accents

Coralie Bickford-Smith designed a line of clothbound Penguin Classics reissues with gorgeous covers and even more gorgeous spines, designed to serve as decor elements as well as literary fodder.

https://cb-smith.com/cloth-bound-classics-series-one/

https://cb-smith.com/cloth-bound-classics-series-two/

https://cb-smith.com/cloth-bound-classics-series-three/

https://cb-smith.com/cloth-bound-classics-series-four/

Part of me wants to be snobby about these because books are for reading, dammit, and there are sociopaths who SHELVE THEIR BOOKS BACKWARDS to create a uniform, off-white decor courtesy of the page-edges.

https://www.today.com/home/backward-books-shelves-controversial-home-decor-trend-t119006

But the fact is these are fucking gorgeous editions, and having them in my house would make me happy not just because they’re great books, but because they are edibly pretty.

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$2b later, Blue Apron is broke

Blue Apron blew through $2b chasing the elusive market of people rich enough to subscribe to a meal-kit delivery service, but not rich enough to get takeout, buy groceries, etc.

https://observer.com/2020/02/blue-apron-disaster-silicon-valley/

Incredibly the company IPOed and founders and investors got to cash out onto suckers who bought at $11 and now are holding at $3.60 (up from <$1 in 2018!).

But don’t worry, Goldman Sachs turned a profit!

Blue Apron was a #bezzle, just like Uber. Its prospectus predicted profitability just as soon as it captured 99% of the home-cooking market (just as Uber told investors it would be profitable once it replaced every public transit system on Earth).

https://www.dailykos.com/story/2019/5/8/1856122/-Uber-files-plans-for-world-conquest-Kiss-public-transportation-good-bye-if-they-succeed

Like many of the companies that flooded podcasting with massive advertising buys, (cough Casper cough), there was never any future for Blue Apron, just as Uber/Lyft are destined to collapse and leave behind smoking transport wreckage in the near future.

https://nypost.com/2020/02/04/low-capser-valuation-worries-early-investors/

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Tour Cards Against Humanity’s incredible board-game cafe

Cards Against Humanity opened up a gorgeous, amazing, incredible board-game cafe in Chicago. Eater’s gallery of photos makes me want to go RIGHT NOW.

https://chicago.eater.com/2020/2/19/21143049/chicago-board-game-cafe-cards-against-humanity-photos-images-bucktown-logan-square

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The team behind Frozen are making a musical out of Jen Wang’s Prince and the Dressmaker

Holy smokes! SO MANY CONGRATS to Jen Wang on the news that her MAGNIFICENT, awesomely queer YA graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker is being adapted as a musical by Kristen and Bobby Lopez, the team behind Frozen!

https://www.themarysue.com/the-prince-and-the-dressmaker-next-musical-project-from-frozen-duo/

I’ve loved Jen’s work since Koko Be Good, and was so honored and delighted that she adapted my story Anda’s Game for our graphic novel In Real Life.

https://firstsecondbooks.com/books/new-book-in-real-life-by-cory-doctorow-and-jen-wang/

The Prince and the Dressmaker is about a nonbinary prince and the confidante/dressmaker who helps him become the person he knows himself to be. It’s a gorgeous, understated, sweet and wrenching story about being true to yourself, and the power of friendship.

Jen is just wonderful, and this is wonderful news!

www.playbill.com/article/kristen-and-bobby-lopez-reveal-new-movie-musical

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This day in history

#10yrsago The #ACTA internet enforcement chapter leaked: https://craphound.com/acta_digital_chapter-1.pdf

#5yrsago San Francisco’s Borderlands Books saved by crowdfunding campaign: https://missionlocal.org/2015/02/borderlands-reaches-its-goal-of-300-sponsors/

#1yrago Googler walkout ends forced arbitration for employees: https://www.wired.com/story/google-ends-forced-arbitration-after-employee-protest/

#1yrago Tucker Carlson invites anti-billionaire historian onto his show, then tells him to “go fuck yourself” https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/20/historian-who-confronted-davos-billionaires-leaks-tucker-carlson-rant

#1yrago My interview with Rebecca Giblin on what a copyright designed for creators (not corporations) would look like https://authorsinterest.org/2019/02/21/cory-doctorow-on-declining-writer-incomes-breaking-amazons-dominance-and-getting-a-bigger-share-for-authors/

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Colophon

Today’s top sources: Memex 1.1 (https://memex.naughtons.org/), Super Punch (https://superpunch.net/) and Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Hugo nominators! My story “Unauthorized Bread” is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, “The Canadian Miracle,” for MIT Tech Review. It’s a story set in the world of my next novel, “The Lost Cause,” a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I’m getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I’ve been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world’s prehistory.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein’s “American Oligarchs” this week; 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: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention: https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/02/10/persuasion-adaptation-and-the-arms-race-for-your-attention/

Upcoming books: “Poesy the Monster Slayer” (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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/ / News

Today’s links

  1. The 2020 Nebula Award Finalists: a bumper crop of outstanding SF
  2. Uber driver/sharecroppers drive like maniacs to make quota: subprime lending + gig economy = stay off the roads
  3. Barclay’s bankers forced to endure nagging work-computer spyware: the shitty technology adoption curve at work
  4. Bernie Sanders leads in 10 out of 10 polls: but unless he can get a majority of pledged delegates, he’ll be ratfucked by superdelegates
  5. Bloomberg: kids only like Sanders because they’re stupid: “Because our kids no longer learn civics in school they longer study Western history, they no longer read Western literature…”
  6. “Secure erase” with a bolt-cutter: Jamie Zawinski doesn’t mess around when it comes to getting rid of old hard drives.
  7. Adding 2 inches of tape to a road-sign induces sudden 50mph acceleration in Teslas: Adversarial examples are unstoppable.
  8. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

The 2020 Nebula Award Finalists

Ooh, they’ve announced the Nebula Award finalists! It’s a pretty fucking GREAT roster! Congrats to all the nominees! Go you!

Best novel:

  • Marque of Caine, Charles E. Gannon
  • Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow
  • A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
  • A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker

Best novella:

  • Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, Chiang
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, Djèlí Clark
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Gladstone
  • Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan
  • The Deep, Rivers Solomon et al
  • Catfish Lullaby, AC Wise

Best novelette:

  • A Strange Uncertain Light, GV Anderson
  • For He Can Creep, Siobhan Carroll
  • His Footsteps, Through Darkness & Light, Mimi Mondal
  • The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, Sarah Pinsker
  • Carpe Glitter, Cat Rambo
  • The Archronology of Love, Caroline M Yoachim

Best short story:

  • Give the Family My Love, AT Greenblatt
  • The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power, Karen Osborne
  • And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas
  • 10 Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, Nibedita Sen
  • A Catalog of Storms, Fran Wilde
  • How the Trick Is Done”, AC Wise

Full roster and details on the Nebula Awards Weekend (Los Angeles, May 28-31) here:

https://www.tor.com/2020/02/20/announcing-the-2019-nebula-awards-finalists/


Uber driver/sharecroppers drive like maniacs to make quota

When Imran Khan got into an Uber, his driver explained that the reason all the other Ubers in their traffic jam were driving so unsafely is that they’re sharecroppers hiring their cars from a millionaire who won’t pay them until they make quota.

The drivers are too economically precarious to lease cars on their own, so this guy acts as a subprime lender, and part of his deal is that the payments Uber sends to the drivers actually get diverted to his bank account, and they don’t see a penny until they hit quota.

They’re people who are working fulltime jobs and then driving Uber before and after those jobs to make ends meet. So they have to (literally) cut corners if they’re going to make this work, but if they get a ticket or lose points due to passenger reviews, they lose the car.

This was in DC, and the subprime loan-shark was based in Virginia, but you can imagine that it happens everywhere (Kahn’s replies from passengers who’ve heard the same tale elsewhere suggests that this is true).

If you get run down by one of these guys, it’s the market at work: their access to capital is limited by their economic situation; their wages are determined by supply and demand, they need to eat, clothe themselves, and have shelter. This is a totally predictable outcome.

https://twitter.com/imrankhan/status/1230193712199802882


Barclay’s bankers forced to endure nagging work-computer spyware

Bankers at Barclays are furious that their computers have been fitted with employer-provided spyware that monitors every keystroke and nags them if they’re not working hard enough. This is a great example of the Shitty Technology Adoption Curve: first we subject powerless people to bad technology and use them to normalize it even as we sand the rough edges off using their lives as sandpaper.

Then we work our way up the privilege gradient, to people with more and more social power. First it’s kids, or homeless people, or refugees, or benefits recipients or criminals. Then it’s blue collar workers, university students and library patrons. Finally it’s low-level white-collar workers, then their managers, then, eventually CEOs (as I’ve often said, CCTVs that watch you while you eat went from supermax prisons to Google Home in a generation).

“The system tells staff to “avoid breaks” as it monitors their productivity in real-time, and records activities such as toilet visits as ‘unaccounted activity’.”

“It added: ‘Tips: mute the phone, disable email/chat pop-ups, avoid breaks for 20+ minutes, 2–3 times a day.'”

https://www.cityam.com/exclusive-barclays-installs-big-brother-style-spyware-on-employees-computers/


Bernie Sanders leads in 10 out of 10 polls

Ten out of ten national polls put Bernie Sanders in a commanding lead over other candidates for the Democratic leadership. However, he is unlikely to attain a majority of delegates at the DNC, meaning the “superdelegates” will get to throw out the party members’ primary votes and impose an establishment candidate on the country.

However, he is unlikely to attain a majority of delegates at the DNC, meaning the “superdelegates” will get to throw out the party members’ primary votes and impose an establishment candidate on the country: “There’s simply not much ambiguity right now that Sanders is the first choice of a plurality of Democrats nationwide.”

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/election-update-we-got-a-flurry-of-new-national-polls-sanders-led-them-all/


Bloomberg: kids only like Sanders because they’re stupid

Michael Bloomberg, 2016, Oxford University: “Young people listened to Sanders…Because our kids no longer learn civics in school they longer study Western history, they no longer read Western literature…” “We are trying to change and dumb down the system and if you don’t know what happened in the past you’re going to have to relive it.”

Or, as Vice put it, “Bloomberg has a surprising theory about why young people love Sanders: They’re morons.”

Bloomberg: “The solution to our problems is to improve education, not to try to penalize people because they are successful. If you don’t have successful people you’re never going to have the wherewithal to support to help those who are not. We’ve tried socialism, it doesn’t work.”

Basically: eugenics. Some people are Atlases and we’d better not piss them off or they might shrug and leave the rest of us in the cold. Bloomberg has $64b in assets and the median US worker has $69k in assets because Bloomberg is worth 927,536 times more than that worker. Inequality is always comorbid with eugenics. If you can’t admit that no one can “earn” a billion dollars, then you have to stipulate that some people are just worth a lot more than the rest of us.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7eg53/bloomberg-said-young-people-support-bernie-because-theyre-dumb


“Secure erase” with a bolt-cutter


When Jamie Zawinski wants to securely erase his data, he doesn’t mess about. His break-my-drive-in-half-with-a-bolt-cutter method is a lot less messy than my tried-and-true hit-it-with-a-hammer method.

https://www.jwz.org/blog/2020/02/secure-erase/


Adding 2 inches of tape to a road-sign induces sudden 50mph acceleration in Teslas

McAfee security researchers stuck a 2″ strip of black tape on 35mph speed limit sign so that it kinda-sorta looked like an 85mph sign, then ran autopiloting Teslas past it: they automagically accelerated by 50mph after detecting it.

https://www.businessinsider.com/hackers-trick-tesla-accelerating-85mph-using-tape-2020-2

McAfee reported it to Tesla and Mobileeye, who do some of the autopilot stuff, and neither vendor plans to address it.

https://www.mcafee.com/blogs/other-blogs/mcafee-labs/model-hacking-adas-to-pave-safer-roads-for-autonomous-vehicles/

The ML term for this is “adversarial example” – that’s when you make small changes, including human-imperceptible ones, that cause otherwise reliable ML classifiers to misfire terribly.

I once had a dinner conversation with the CSO of one of the largest ML companies in the world. They confided that they believed you could never eliminate adversarial examples from classifiers, meaning they would always be vulnerable to this kind of attack. If that’s right, the implications are staggering. It basically means you shouldn’t use ML in any situation where someone is incentivized to trick it.

So maybe you can use it on a conveyor belt in a recycling plant to sort plastics from paper and direct a robot-arm. But almost every application for ML eventually becomes adversarial.

ML is supposedly pretty good at distinguishing precancerous moles from benign ones, which sounds non-adversarial. But consider the doctor who wants to gin up billings for unnecessary surgeries, or the insurer that wants pretences to deny necessary ones.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how the trajectory of most (if not all) ML classifiers is to be in adversarial situations. If we can’t provably demonstrate that a classifier is immune to adversarial examples (including ones as trivial as “2 inches of tape on a sign”), there’s not a whole lot of applications for them in the long-term.


Colophon

Today’s top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/) and Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Hugo nominators! My story “Unauthorized Bread” is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, “The Canadian Miracle,” for MIT Tech Review. It’s a story set in the world of my next novel, “The Lost Cause,” a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein’s “American Oligarchs” yesterday; 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: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention: https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/02/10/persuasion-adaptation-and-the-arms-race-for-your-attention/

Upcoming books: “Poesy the Monster Slayer” (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

/ / News

Contents

  1. The Woman Who Loved Giraffes: a documentary about Anne Innis Dagg, the magnificent feminist biologist and critic of pseudoscience like evolutionary psychology.
  2. Machine learning doesn’t fix racism: experiments in using machine-learning “risk assessment” for bail hearings collapse in ignominy.
  3. Rethinking “de-growth” and material culture: great commentary from Kate “McMansion Hell” Wagner.
  4. Bernie Sanders is a clear favorite among “regular Democrats.” 71% approval and 19% disapproval!
  5. Trump’s border wall defeated by 99 pesos’ worth of rebar.
  6. Capitalism without capitalists: companies are not their shareholders’ property. Companies own themselves.
  7. Rental car immobilizes itself when driven out of cellular range: Unauthorized Bread, but for cars!
  8. Nearly half of medical devices haven’t been patched against the Bluekeep vuln
  9. Glowing Randotti skull-prints: Coop revives the golden age of Haunted Mansion merch.
  10. Ios is now a vehicle to deliver unblockable adware
  11. Colophon

The Woman Who Loved Giraffes

Anne Dagg was my undergrad advisor at U Waterloo. She’s a pioneering biologist and feminist scientist whose scorching critiques of sexist pseudoscience (especially evolutionary psychology) led to her being denied tenure for 40 years.

Now there’s a doc about her life. It’s called “The Woman Who Loved Giraffes” because of Anne’s spectacular work about giraffes: she was the first woman scientist to study them, and, unlike the dudes who preceded her, she described how awesomely gay giraffes are.

https://zeitgeistfilms.com/film/thewomanwholovesgiraffes

The Woman Who Loved Giraffes is playing in limited release right now, and it’s coming to LA this week. Here are the LA showtimes:

https://www.laemmle.com/film/woman-who-loves-giraffes#get-tickets

I’m going to try to shuffle things to see it on Feb 27 in Pasadena

Anne is a treasure. (BTW, her maiden name was Innis, and father, was Harold Innis, Canadian media-theory royalty)

Dagg’s work on the unfalsifiable nonsense of evo-psych makes her a kind of polar opposite of Jordan Peterson. Her book LOVE OF SHOPPING IS NOT A GENE is one of the most eye-opening science books I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it enough.

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/004954631

And this, at long last, appears to be her moment! This year, she was awarded the Order of Canada:

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/queen-of-giraffes-among-new-order-of-canada-recipients-with-global-influence


Machine learning doesn’t fix racism

GIGO is an iron law of computing, Part MMLVI. Feed a ML model racist criminal justice outcomes and it will give you racist suggestions, shellacked with a layer of empiricism.

https://www.wired.com/story/algorithms-supposed-fix-bail-system-they-havent/

New Jersey tried to replace cash bail with algorithms, and bail outcomes became more racially biased, with the added complication that “the computer said it was fair.”

“Patterson of PJI says the group changed its view of algorithms in pretrial justice because since 2018 it placed more emphasis on racial justice, and begun listening more to grassroots orgs. ‘We heard people in these communities saying these are tools of harm.’


Rethinking “de-growth” and material culture

Outstanding work from Kate Wagner, evoking some of Bruce Sterling’s “Viridian Green” manifesto for embracing material culture, rather than telling people they don’t like stuff.

https://www.curbed.com/2020/2/19/21142988/the-repair-shop-netflix-arts-crafts-movement

Wagner cites the recent Oslo Architecture Triennale and its theme of “de-growth.” As it happens, I wrote a short story for that project that is skeptical of “de-growth” and instead is geared at making material choices that reflect a good’s duty-cycle:

https://craphound.com/podcast/2019/10/21/materiality-a-new-science-fiction-story-for-the-oslo-architecture-triennale-about-sustainable-green-abundance/

It’s not a sin to value the convenience of a single-use shopping bag. The problem is that the bag embodies a ridiculous amount of energy, labor and materials, and is made out of very long-lived materials that do not gracefully re-enter the material stream.

A thing you use for 10 minutes should not last for 10,000 years. And the converse is true, too: things you want to use for years should not break in minutes. And all of it should be designed for graceful re-entry into the material stream.

I love Wagner’s “upcycling” take on material efficiency; the bricolage/collage version of material goods, made from other good that hearken to their use history and their usefulness is just my favorite thing (Tangentially, I really miss Junky Styling and their amazing clothes).

As Leigh Phillips wrote convincingly, the “carrying capacity” of the planet is a function of material efficiency, not the Club of Rome’s simplistic “Cars have Xkg of steel, the world has Ykg of steel, thus the largest number of possible cars is Y/X.”

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/zer0-books/our-books/austerity-ecology-collapse-porn-addicts


Bernie Sanders is a clear favorite among “regular Democrats.”

Sanders has the highest national approval rating among Dems (71%) & the lowest disapproval rating (19%). His approval is 6% higher than Warren, 16% higher than Biden, 18% higher than Buttigieg…

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/regular-democrats-arent-least-bit-worried-about-bernie/606688/

HIS APPROVAL RATING AMONG DEMOCRATS IS 40% HIGHER THAN BLOOMBERG’S.

Forty.

Percent.

Yet the Democratic Pearl Clutching Caucus is convinced that he is “divisive” and will spark “civil war.”

Translation: Every 4 years, we demand that racialized and poor people eat a shit sandwich, from which we handsomely profit.

Sanders is not a shit sandwich, and we’re not gonna get our cut. THIS IS CLASS WAR!

“According to an In These Times study of MSNBC’s prime-time coverage, in August and September of last year, Sanders received less coverage than Biden and Warren, and the coverage he did receive was more negative.”

To avert this notional “civil war,” the Dems’ finance wing wants a brokered convention in which they sabotage the party’s popular wing and install a bespoke Bloomberg Shit Sandwich, possibly with a slathering of Mayo Pete for lube to help us swallow it.


Trump’s border wall defeated by 99 pesos’ worth of rebar.

“Show me a 20′ high wall and I’ll show you a 21′ high ladder.”

https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2020/02/14/smugglers-in-mexico-use-camouflage-ladder-to-cross-border-wall/4760798002/

In this case, the ladders are SO CHEAP AND EASY to make. Rebar ladders are exactly the same rusty metal color as the fenceposts, so they blend in. They’re skinny enough to pass between the posts, so you can reposition the ladder after you reach the top and use it to descend.

The Border Patrol’s conviction that the whole thing is a creature of Big Rebar and its Elite Ladder Barons is touching:

“Somebody is making money off those ladders” -CBP Agent Joe Romero

6m of rebar costs 99 pesos at the Ciudad Juarez True Value Hardware. That’s $5.30.

“Old-fashioned illegal crossings are on the rise in El Paso, according to Border Patrol.”

The classics never go out of style, especially when they’re priced to move at a mere 99 pesos.


Capitalism without capitalists

One of the most exciting, eye-opening articles I’ve read in AGES. Showing how shareholder capitalism is a lie BY ITS PROPONENTS’ OWN TERMS…Genius.

https://lpeblog.org/2020/02/18/privatizing-sovereignty-socializing-property-what-economics-doesnt-teach-you-about-the-corporation/

Marx thought individual property would end up being socialized, and he was right…but also wrong. The state hasn’t socialized property, corporations have. Corporatism is “capitalism without the capitalist.”

The corollary of “limited liability” is “entity shielding.” Shareholders aren’t on the hook for the company’s debts, but the company can’t be dunned for the shareholders’ debts, either.

Shareholders “cannot use the [company’s] assets, exclude others from them, lend them out, borrow on them, sell them, and they have no legal claim to the proceeds from the sale of assets or to company profits.” They are not, in short, owners.

Who owns the company? The company owns itself. “The corporate entity is the residual claimant, and this residual profit is then allocated at the discretion of management.”

Shareholder capitalism is a word-game: “All the specialized law-and-economics vocabulary for corporate firms is but an artifact of the false premise that the stockholders are its owners.”

Corporations can only exist at the largesse of the state, which charters them. Limited liability and entity shielding cannot be accomplished by contract alone. Corporations are the original public-private partnership.

Boards don’t derive their power from stockholders, they get it from the state. The board is formed BEFORE the company has stockholders.

“Our world teems with abstract legal entities, chartered by public authority as owners & principals, managed by fiduciaries.”

“Corporations are not creatures of the market, but public-privatehybrids licensed to colonize the market. This greatly heightens the ‘political’ in ‘political economy.'”

This is such a crisp articulation of what some sf writers have assayed as a way of thinking about the AI panics of our billionaire class, such as Charlie Stross and his “Slow AI”:

https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2018/01/dude-you-broke-the-future.html

Or Ted Chiang:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tedchiang/the-real-danger-to-civilization-isnt-ai-its-runaway

Or my own modest contribution:

https://locusmag.com/2015/07/cory-doctorow-skynet-ascendant/


Rental car immobilizes itself when driven out of cellular range

Yes, it’s Unauthorized Bread, but for cars! But actually, Unauthorized Bread is this bullshit, but for carbs. I’ve been tracking it for >10yrs.

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/10/16/356693782/your-car-wont-start-did-you-make-the-loan-payment

The tech started in leased cars, but quickly migrated to short-hire vehicles.

https://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/miss-a-payment-good-luck-moving-that-car/

Being able to immobilize a car whose driver missed a payment sounds nice, maybe, but recall that no language on Earth contains the phrase “As secure as the IT at a used car dealership.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/04/17/aa.bills.shut.engine.down/index.html?eref=rss_latest

Which is how, periodically, hackers pwn a car dealer’s network and IMMOBILIZE EVERY CAR THEY’VE EVER SOLD.

Designing a computer (including a car) to treat its user as an adversary works well, but boy howdy does it ever fail badly.

Immobilizers are fuelling a quiet, ugly subprime lending bubble with contours that are markedly similar to the runup to the 2008 crisis, with the difference that used cars are worthless, while at least many of the repoed houses were actually useful.

The plight of Kari Paul (author of the OP) is illustrative of the Shitty Technology Adoption Curve. We try out the worst technology ideas on people who don’t get to complain (poor, racialized, imprisoned) & then work our way up the privilege gradient to everyone else.

https://twitter.com/kari_paul/status/1229214223227478016

20 years ago, if a CCTV observed you eating dinner at home, you were in a supermax prison. Now it means you’ve bought a Ring, Nest, Alexa or Apple Home (or whatever that Facebook abortion is called – I CBA to look it up).

“At first, GIG Car Share’s plan was to send a tow to tow the Prius a few miles closer to civilization, but [then] GIG’s customer service unhelpfully suggested Paul and her companion spend the night sleeping in the car and trying to start the car again the next morning.”

It’s Biblically terrible tech: “Whatever IoT nightmare you inflicted upon one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you eventually inflicted upon me.”

Want to read the toaster version of this? Ars Technica has you covered:

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

(Hugo nominators take note! This is eligible for this year’s award in the Novella category!)


Nearly half of medical devices haven’t been patched against the Bluekeep vuln

These are “foreverday” bugs: present in systems unlikely to ever be patched. The systems are either not physically accessible or can’t risk being borked by a bad patch. Medtech is both: some implants require surgery to field-update and machines used for surgeries (etc) ABSOLUTELY cannot be put into an unstable condition.

As a result, hospitals are being pwned by digital superbugs on the reg now, and though it’s mostly encryption-based ransomware, there’s no reason grifters couldn’t pivot to ransoming hospitals by threatening to brick mission-critical devices.


Glowing Randotti skull-prints

Randotti skulls were the absolute apex of the golden era of Haunted Mansion merchandise. Coop’s long-range experiments with 2D adaptations of these 3D works are such a delight to me!

I owned so many of these as a kid (one of them is still in a storeroom at Toronto’s BakkaPhoenix, I believe).

I think this might be my favorite treatment of the subject to date. The glow-in-the-dark is SUCH a sweet touch!

What I REALLY want, though, is a modern Coop treatment of these changing-portrait/glow-in-the-dark cards, which I owned for <24h as a child, only to lose them when our rental car broke down and my souvenirs were not transferred to the replacement car.

I’ve been searching for them for >30 years now and have never seen them for sale.


Ios is now a vehicle to deliver unblockable adware

The whole basis of Ios is not “walled garden” but “benevolent dictatorship.” In exchange for irrevocably locking yourself to a platform defined by DRM and aggressive litigation to prevent interoperability, Apple implicitly promises that it won’t abuse that privilege.

This is a system that works well, but fails badly.

It requires that you rely on the outcomes of goings-on between executives and shareholders at one of the world’s most secretive corporations, a company that has threatened to sue journalists who refuse to narc on their sources.

But lock-in creates a distinctive microeconomic culture within a board-room or a company. Absent any lock-in, when one exec proposes something profitable (but bad for users), others can warn that this course of action is bad for the firm’s long-term health.

Once customers are locked into the system, though, the managers who have abusive ideas win the argument, provided that it’s a tiny, incremental wickedness that only makes things a LITTLE worse and holds out the promise of a LOT of money.

Compromise is the death of a thousand cuts. The next abusive idea will be measured not against how bad it seems compared to the original state of grace, but relative to its distance from the current, lightly stained condition.

Our cognitive apparatus is like our sensory apparatus: attuned to differences, not absolutes. One compromise at a time, the ethos is eroded until nothing remains but the sense that you’re on the side of the good guys — and whatever you’re doing is therefore good. “We’re the good guys, so what we do is good” (tautologies are a hell of a drug).

To use an Ios device is to be blitzed by an unblockable carpet-bombing of ads for Apple’s upsell services. Every screen in Itunes Store tries to trick you into signing up for Apple Music.

“Browse and For Now are entirely Apple Music ads. Radio has some free content but that largely exists to pull people into Apple Music, and Search will happily pull you in to Apple Music if you tap the button.”

Same goes for TV, which trips, tangles and shoves you into TV+ upsell ads, which violate Apple’s own rules against deceptive and intrusive advertising.

News App? Same same. “If you open a story on the Wall Street Journal, the screen it takes you often has a large banner ad at the top of the screen for the Apple News+ service. This seems to be intermittent, but it cannot be dismissed, hidden, or disabled.”

“Every time you try to add a credit/debit card to Apple Pay, you are asked if you want to sign up for Apple Card instead.”

Walled gardens are a moral hazard. The formulation that “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product” is simply wrong. The right formulation is, “If a company believes it can turn you into a product, it will try to turn you into a product.”

Which is to say that the issue is monopolies and their anticompetitive legal weapons, not “who pays for what, when.” John Deere sells you a $500k tractor and then turns you into the product by forcing you to get official repairs.

https://www.wired.com/story/john-deere-farmers-right-to-repair/

Apple’s been productizing its users for a generation, and has reached terminal velocity. The company led the coalition that killed TWENTY #RightToRepair bills in 2018. Then in the first week of 2019, Tim Cook told shareholders that his biggest profitability risk was users keeping – rather than junking – old Apple hardware. Controlling repairs means you control what can’t be repaired – what has to be “traded in” for a new device.

Apple is not your friend. Google is not your friend. Facebook is not your friend. Amazon is not your friend. Microsoft is not your friend.

Monopolists are not disciplined by the fear of losing customers, so every good impulse around the whiteboard is erased by sociopaths who get promoted by securing monopoly rents for their employer.


Colophon

Hugo nominators! My story “Unauthorized Bread” is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

Upcoming appearances:

  • The Future of the Internet: Protocols vs. Platforms (San Francisco, Feb 20): https://www.eff.org/event/future-internet-protocols-vs-platforms

  • Canada Reads Kelowna: March 6, details TBD

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, “The Canadian Miracle,” for MIT Tech Review. It’s a story set in the world of my next novel, “The Lost Cause,” a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

Currently reading: 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: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention: https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/02/10/persuasion-adaptation-and-the-arms-race-for-your-attention/

Upcoming books: “Poesy the Monster Slayer” (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.