[Plura-list] I'm teaching a teen writing class; Trump will deliver killing blow to the USPS; Fighting the EU Copyright Directive in court; Virginia's election-day holiday; Quantifying Boris Johnson's body-count

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Apr 13 11:19:37 EDT 2020

Today's links

* I'm teaching a teen writing class: "Stories are Super Weird. Here's
Why They Work."

* Trump will deliver killing blow to the USPS: The murder's been
underway since 2006.

* Fighting the EU Copyright Directive in court: Former MEP Julia Reda
has a new gig doing impact litigation.

* Virginia's election-day holiday: They also eliminated Lee-Jackson Day.

* Quantifying Boris Johnson's body-count: Ireland makes for a natural

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015

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


🧂 I'm teaching a teen writing class

I'm teaching a writing seminar for teens through the Clarion West
writing workshop this Thursday, 4/16, from 12-1PM Pacific. It's called
"Stories are Super Weird. Here's Why They Work."


"Stories are weird. Why do we care about imaginary people? How can you
make strangers care about *your* imaginary people? Cory explains how to
get readers engaged with the lives and deaths of people who never
existed and never will exist and therefore do not matter at all."

It's part of a slate of teen writing workshops Clarion West is offering:


There's also an adult series:



🧂 Trump will deliver killing blow to the USPS

The USPS is about to declare bankruptcy. It's at the center of the
longstanding plans for disaster recover and has been since the Cold War.
It's the only institution that could (for example) deliver covid meds to
every home in America in one day.


But Congress has decided not to bail out the postal service, despite Art
1, Sec 8 of the US Constitution: "To establish Post Offices and post Roads."

Maybe it's because without a USPS we couldn't have a postal vote in 2020?


The proximate cause of the post office's bankruptcy is the pandemic, but
that is merely the finishing blow. The USPS was murdered in 2006, when
Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.


The Act gave the USPS a mere 10 years to "prefund its future health care
benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years." That is, to set
aside cash to pay medical bills for future employees who hadn't been
born yet.


The Act gave the USPS a mere 10 years to "prefund its future health care
benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years." That is, to set
aside cash to pay medical bills for future employees who hadn't been
born yet.


The USPS's murder is straight out of the neoliberal playbook: "1 Defund,
2 claim crisis, 3 call for privatizatization, 4 profit!"

As Lambert Strether points out, it was a bipartisan act of murder,
cosponored by the "centrist" Democrat Henry Waxman.

Killing the USPS looms large in the Trump admin's (nonmetaphorical,
actual) privatization playbook, "Delivering Government Solutions in the
21st Century Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations":


The proposals are for USPS to become a Wework clone or franchisee, but
not to become a publicly owned bank – a common line of business for
other nations' postal services, natural based on the amounts of cash
they handle.

The USPS is the nation's second largest employer of veterans, with
630,000 employees. Trump is about to allow it to collapse so that UPS,
Fedex and other private firms can skim off the most profitable parts of
its business and leave rural Americans totally isolated.

The loss of the USPS would mean the loss of the last truly universal
federal program in America and would unduly hammer the people whom Trump
claims to love — veterans and rural voters.



🧂 Fighting the EU Copyright Directive in court

"Impact litigation" is an invaluable activist tool. When lawmakers enact
a rule that violates your constitution, you sue to have the law
overturned. That means that you can reverse bad law and establish key
protections through the courts.

It's true that lawyers are expensive, but not as expensive as, say,
convincing the majority of lawmakers to betray the industry groups that
lobbied them to pass an unjust law. Lobbying delivers returns on
spending almost without limit: there's always more you can accomplish
with more lobbying.

But courtroom battles are different. As expensive as they can be, adding
more lawyers to your battle does not produce returns beyond a threshold.
Same goes for exotic tactics like paying experts to write law review
articles to support your theory – beyond a certain ceiling, spending
more money does not improve your case.

It's not an even playing field between activists and industry, but it's
more even than any other.

Impact litigation requires that you have a constitutional court that can
apply scrutiny and invalidate law based on a set of constitutional
principles, and it helps if that constitution has been around for a
while, attracting jurisprudence that clarifies its meaning.

That's why impact litigation is such a powerful tactic in the USA, but
has been less used in countries like Canada (whose Charter of Rights and
Freedoms was established in 1982, and has a huge loophole in the
"Notwithstanding Clause"):


The EU's top court, the CJEU, is older and better established, but many
of the principles it upholds are newer, and its contemporary form only
dates to 2009 and the Treaty of Lisbon, so its contours are not as crisp
as you might like.

But when it comes to internet law, the CJEU has proved itself a
force-multiplier for pushback against corporate hegemony:


EU activists are expanding their use of impact litigation, which is
amazing. For example, Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, which relies on
Art 5 of German Basic Law (freedom of expression, press, information,
arts, sciences, and from censorship) and the EU Charter of Fundamental

They've just spun out a new project, Control-C, run by Julia Reda, the
former Pirate Party MEP who did outstanding work fighting the 2019
Copyright Directive and its disastrous Article 13 (now Article 17).


Article 17 mandates upload filters for online services, requiring them
to subject all user-submitted content to automated surveillance and
blocking if the algorithm believes you have violated copyright.

The rule was the most controversial EU undertaking ever, with more than
5M signatures on a petition against it (the largest petition in EU
history), and marches in 50+ cities. It passed by 5 votes (and
afterwards 10 MEPs said they were confused and pushed the wrong button).

To pass it, its backers wrote some "protections" into the rule,
including a guarantee that these filters would not block content that
included copyrighted works for the purpose of commentary, criticism,
parody and pastiche.

This means that the filters will only be legal if they can (for example)
tell the difference between a song that samples a musician to condemn
them for supporting the Directive, and one that does the same thing to
celebrate them for their support.

I haven't been a programmer for a long time, but I'm sceptical that this
is possible, and this leads me to believe that the inclusion of these
"protections" was either profoundly cynical or profoundly ignorant.


What's more, there is literally no conceivable way that automatically
surveilling and judging everything that every European posts to the
internet can comply with the GDPR:


So the launch of Control-C is very exciting. Article 17 was plainly
illegal and was only passed thanks to enormous spending by entertainment
industry lobbyists (who falsely claimed the majority of spending was
from the tech sector):


In reality, the US-based tech sector's first preference was to have no
Directive, but its second preference was to have THIS Directive, which
would make it impossible to launch EU-based competitors as they could
never afford to comply with it.

That's why Facebook and Youtube both lobbied FOR filters (they already
have them).

A17 is ripe for impact litigation. The cause is urgent. The pandemic has
made educators reliant on online resources even as geographic and use
restrictions have made these *far* less reliable.


🧂 Virginia's election-day holiday

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has made election day a statewide
holiday, joining the handful of other states that have passed this
vital, democracy-protecting law, like Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New


It should be a federal holiday. It isn't, because Republicans believe
that increased voter turnout is bad for their electoral chances.


That's why Mitch McConnell has rejected any attempt to establish a
federal voting holiday, claiming that it would allow federal employees
(whom he loathes) to "hang out at the polls during an election" or
campaign for candidates.

Northam's new holiday-establishing order also eliminates Virginia's
Lee-Jackson day holiday, which celebrated the traitorous, slave-owning
Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who murdered American soldiers to
defend their right to treat other Americans as property.

Here's a campaign to #TakeBackTuesday and establish a US-wide
election-day holiday.



🧂 Quantifying Boris Johnson's body-count

In the early days of the pandemic, the UK pursued a plan that was
developed for a less contagious, less lethal flu pandemic, which
proposed deliberately allowing the disease to burn through the
population quickly to develop "herd immunity."


Despite expert advice that this would not work with the novel
coronavirus, the UK Tory government pushed ahead with it. PM Boris
Johnson sought out covid patients to shake hands with while gerning for
newscameras. (He ended up in intensive care).


How much damage did this political malpractice inflict upon Britons? It
turns out there's something of a national experiment that we can use to
answer that question, by looking at what happened in the Republic of

These are two neighbouring, English-speaking nations with similar
cultures (Ireland was long a colony of Britain), comparably underfunded
health services, and they experienced their first covid cases on the
same day.

By comparing the outcomes in the two countries, we can get an estimate
of how lethal the Conservative government's incompetence really was.

It's not pretty.

As medical historian Elaine Doyle writes in an epic thread, Britons are
dying at *more than twice* the rate of the Irish.


Doyle points out that as the Irish government was shutting schools,
250,000 people in the UK were gathering for a Cheltenham match.

Ireland canceled St Paddy's Day and shut pubs a week in advance. The UK
had megaconcerts like the Stereophonics gig in Cardiff.

The Irish government made clear, continuous announcements about the
gravity of the pandemic, urging people to stay home and take care. The
UK government was virtually silent.

The thing about exponential growth is that early interventions make a
huge difference. The UK dawdled for nearly two weeks before taking the
lockdown steps that the Irish enacted.

The Tory ideology holds that governments are incompetent. This creates a
perverse incentive: when Tories govern badly, they prove their own
point. But Tories are supposed to murder poor people to juice the
economy, not murder pensioners AND the economy.

Boris Johnson is a vile piece of work: a racist, misogynist bigot and a
fool. His unwillingness to take (medical) expert advice (and his
reliance on finance-sector advice) resulted in the measurable, deaths of
Britons. Thousands of them.


🧂 This day in history

#15yrsago Bush's iPod filled with infringing goodness

#15yrsago GPLed code generates automated Comp Sci papers — output
accepted for conferences!

#15yrsago Phone DRM cartel lowers fees from outrageous to merely

#15yrsago BBC Creative Archive launches, without DRM

#10yrsago Felten: Why the RIAA is suing Internet2 users

#10yrsago John Scalzi is a Fuzzy

#10yrsago BITTER SEEDS: Alternate WWII novel pits English warlocks
against Nazi X-Men

#10yrsago Design contest for the developing world: save the rich world
from itself

#5yrsago NSA declares war on general purpose computers

#5yrsago On the Hugo Award hijacking

#5yrsago Exploding the Phone: the untold, epic story of the phone
phreaks https://boingboing.net/2015/04/13/exploding-the-phone-the-untol.html


🧂 Colophon

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

Currently writing: 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" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

Upcoming appearances:

* Apr 16, Stories are Super Weird. Here's Why They Work, Clarion Teen
Writing Classes

* Apr 22, Flatten The Curve Summit https://flattenthecurve.tech/

* Apr 23, Canada Reads Q&A

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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