[Plura-list] Save Forbidden Planet NYC; Which guillotine is right for you; A labradoodle breeder is in charge of America's vaccines; "Inject disinfectant" vs both sides-ism

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Apr 24 12:55:39 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Save Forbidden Planet NYC: Keep NYC weird.

* Which guillotine is right for you: Current Affairs's guide for the

* A labradoodle breeder is in charge of America's vaccines: An actual
labradoodle could do a better job.

* "Inject disinfectant" vs both sides-ism: We report, you decide.

* US healthcare fails insured people too: A laundry list of gaps and errors.

* Masks work: Lasers reveal your revolting, spittle-flecked utterances.

* US telcoms sector isn't doing better than Europe's: Net Neutrality's
murderers want you to believe they saved the American internet.

* Amazon uses its sellers' data to figure out which products to clone:
And they lied to Congress about it.

* Facebook let advertisers target "pseudoscience" and "conspiracy": Son
of "jew-haters.".

* Security expert conned out of $10,000: If you think you're too smart
to get phished..

* California Adventure, Minecraft edition: New maps for the Imagineering
Fun server.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019.

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


🍳 Save Forbidden Planet NYC

One of New York City great institutions of nerdy delight, the Forbidden
Planet store off Union Square, needs your help. After serving the city's
sf, comics and media fans since 1981, it is in grave danger.


As they writes, "At one point you couldn't walk a single block downtown
without coming across an interesting shop, club or gallery space.
Places like See Hear and Kim's Video lined the streets and liberated the
minds of people who braved to enter their doors."

NYC has homogenized, squeezing out the quirky, the odd, the delightful -
basically everything except chain health clubs, CVS, Citibank, and
multinational convenience stores.

Stores like FP were already marginal outfits, and now they've exhausted
that margin, thanks to a month of outgoings with no income. I don't have
much slack in my own budget, but I'm donating. If you can afford to, I
hope you will, too.


🍳 Which guillotine is right for you

The guillotine index climbed steadily after the 2008 crisis. The
pandemic - in which the rich get richer and the poor get the plague -
has accelerated the process. Exhibit A: Current Affairs's roundup of
"The Five Hottest Guillotines of 2020, Ranked."


The fashion-conscious first time guillotine acquirer is invited to
choose from The Glam-otine (“an aspirational yet haunting metaphor for
alienation"); The Guillotini ("alcohol and sedation agent not
included"); The Slicey Boi ("Billionaires’ necks go brrrr"); The
Me-otine ("it turns out you totally qualify as a member of the one
percent"); and The Baby Yoda ("mini guillotine comes with an
animatronic, life-sized, cuddly Baby Yoda").

Illustrations by Jason Adam Katzenstein.


🍳 A labradoodle breeder is in charge of America's vaccines

The US Dept of Health and Human Services has a new vaccine czar, through
whom all vaccine decisions are funnelled. His name is Brian Harrison,
and he is, by vocation, a labradoodle breeder.


Harrison only ended his labradoodle-breeding career when he went to work
for HHS Secretary (and former pharma lobbyist) Alex Azar as Chief of Staff.

Harrison's signature policy initiative to date is excluding FDA
commissioner Stephen Hahn from the vaccine task force.






🍳 "Inject disinfectant" vs both sides-ism

Trump told America to inject disinfectant. To read the press, you'd
think that there were two sides to this story.


Both sides-ism is a form of false equivalency in which claims with no
factual basis or expert support are treated as equivalent to widely
accepted claims that have been bolstered by independent tests and

We see it in the climate debate: "99% of climate scientists agree that
climate change is real, but this guy has a doctorate in an unrelated
field and he says its sunspots. ¿quién es más macho?"

Both sides-ism is the most effective tactic the establishment has for
addressing the incredibly unfair left-wing bias of reality. "Climate
change experts say the climate is changing. Oil barons say it isn't. We
report, you decide."

"Independent experts say we should bail out people, not the finance
sector. The finance sector says it really needs that helicopter money.
Who's right? We report, you decide."

Both sides-ism can only be sustained for claims that can't be
immediately verified. "He claims that being run over by a 16-wheeler is
harmless. Experts disagree. Who's right? We report --  Oh, *gross*."

Injecting Lysol is a lot more like lying down in front of a 16-wheeler
than it is like ignoring the climate crisis. Both will kill you, but the
first one has a much tighter causal loop than the second, and therefore
the "controversy" is much harder to sustain.

But as Marci Wheeler shows in her exhaustive survey of the responsible,
grown-up press's handling of the President's Jim Jones moment last
night, the habit of both sides-ism is so ingrained that even when it
comes to consuming poison, the impulse can't be resisted.

Whether that's the Washington Post calling the advice "medical musings"
that are "potentially dangerous" or New York Times calling it dangerous
"in the view of some experts." It's "potentially dangerous" in the way
that Russian Roulette is potentially dangerous: some will survive.

But as ingrained as this habit is, it's not universal. After all - as
Jason Patinkin writes - there was no both sides-ism in the global press
with ebola. The armed protesters and the miracle cures were never
contrasted with the scientific consensus.


The last time Trump told people to take medicine into their own hands,
one of his supporters poisoned himself to death within hours of the
speech. Will there come a point at which the press is finally willing to
say, "President advises us to kill ourselves?"

Or will they continue to report the controversy as people die?


🍳 US healthcare fails insured people too

During the Democratic primary, Medicare for All opponents argued that
"taking away Americans' insurance" would be unpopular because of all
those Americans for whom insurance was working well.

The obvious defect with this argument has been revealed by the pandemic:
that the person who is most likely to take away your employer-provided
healthcare is your employer.

Millions of Americans have just lost their insurance and they don't get
to keep seeing their doctors (the thing about Medicare for All is that
while you DO lose your insurance, all that means is you get to continue
seeing your doctor for free, without copays or deductibles).

But there's another argument against the US private insurance industry
that we didn't need a pandemic to illustrate. Psychiatrist Scott
Alexander enumerates a laundry-list of the ways that private coverage
placed his patients in grave danger.


"The man who had a great relationship with his last psychiatrist, who
saw him for 20 years, and who his issues. He switched jobs, got new
insurance, the psychiatrist was no longer in network, so he had to see
me. I know nothing about him."

"The bipolar man on a very important daily meds. He changed insurance.
The new insurance refused to pay for his drugs until they got a form
explaining why he needed the medication. I sent in the form. They said
they couldn’t find the patient in their system."

"The depressed guy who was doing well on a complicated antidepressant
regimen for a while, changed insurances, and was too depressed to do the
work of finding a new psychiatrist. Now he comes to me saying it’s been
five years."

"The depressed guy who was in remission for years and had a great job
with great insurance. Then he had a relapse, became too depressed to go
to work, got fired, and lost his insurance right at the moment when it
finally could have been useful for him."

"Anything involving Kaiser."

"The anorexic woman who has Blue Cross, and the only good anorexia
therapist in town only takes Aetna. The sex-addicted man who has Aetna,
and the only good sex addiction therapist in town only takes Blue Cross."

There are so many more cases in the post.

As Alexander writes, these are the insured people who SHOULD be doing
well for, the people who would notionally object to losing their
coverage. Except they don't have coverage. They have the illusion of

(Image Molly Adams, CC BY


🍳 Masks work

NIH researchers used laser light scattering to detect the presence of
infectious virus particles that are sent to float the air when someone
is speaking, with and without a mask.


"Droplets generated during speech traversed approximately 50 to 75 mm
before they encountered the light sheet." Some moved so fast that they
couldn't be resolved at 60fps.

The test phrase they used was "stay healthy."

They compared the number of droplets from a speaker not using any
barrier to a speaker with a damp cloth in front of their mouth: "when
the speaker’s mouth was covered  there was no increase in the flash
count during speech over the background level."

Basically, when you speak through a cloth, the method they used could
not detect *any* infectious particles.

So yeah, let's cover our mouths with cloth.



🍳 US telcoms sector isn't doing better than Europe's

You may have heard telcoms shills declaring that America's internet is
holding up during the pandemic while Europe's is collapsing, and it's
all thanks to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's murder of Net Neutrality. As Karl
Bode writes, "This entire narrative is fantasy."


Generally networks have help up well in most places because they're
managed by engineers who are good at their jobs. The EU's request to
streaming companies to lower their video resolution by 25% was a
pre-emptive precautionary measure, not a response to actual problems.

The actual data reveals that, irrespective of Net Neutrality policies,
most networks are generally performing at the same level.

That level is..not good, overall. After the FCC killed Net Neutrality,
the carriers' network investment plummeted.

The carriers extracted the savings from starving their network upgrade
budget and paid them out to shareholders in a series of ruinous stock
buybacks that let rich people cash out tax-free, thanks to the Trump tax

As Bode points out, the carriers don't need to make false claims about
how great network discrimination is for Americans because FCC employees
- who used to work for the carriers! - will make those claims for them,
at public expense.

Bode: "It takes a particular type of person to look at a brutal pandemic
and think that it provides a wonderful opportunity to justify one of the
most controversial, scandal prone, and fact-averse regulatory policy
decisions in modern history."


🍳 Amazon uses its sellers' data to figure out which products to clone

Amazon told Congress that it doesn't spy on its sellers to figure out
which products it should clone. Instead, the company has argued that its
longstanding practice of knocking off the most successful products on
its platform represents a string of incredible coincidences.

But internal Amazon whistleblowers told the Wall Street Journal that
they totally do this, all the time. I mean, OBVIOUSLY.

Amazon told the WSJ that anyone who engages in such conduct is a rogue
employee and has launched an "internal investigation."


The whistleblowers told the Journal that Amazon's own-label planning
meetings often featured data ganked from the platform's third-party
sellers, which suggests that the practice - rogue or not - was hardly a


The temptation is obviously irresistible. OBVIOUSLY.

The right likes to talk about "moral hazard," by which they mean, "If we
give poor people the means to avoid starvation, they won't get jobs."

But the real moral hazard is trusting companies not to be unethical
because..that would be wrong.

As usual, actions speak louder than words. Walmart founder Sam Walton
favored unlimited campaign spending and argued that this wouldn't lead
to political corruption.

Walmart founder Sam Walton ALSO forbade his buyers from taking so much
"as a handkerchief" from a salesman because he feared that even the most
trivial temptation would lead his employees astray.


Moral hazard exists. It's why companies cheat.

Lawmakers (used to) know this. Until the reforms to antitrust law in the
Reagan era (carried on by every president, R or D, since), large firms
were subject to "structural separation."

Banks weren't allowed to own businesses that competed with the firms
they lent to.

Railroads weren't allowed to own freight companies that competed with
the firms whose freight they carried.

But platforms, from app stores to Amazon, are allowed to produce
products that directly compete with the products they sell.

The law should prohibit this.



To understand how Amazon cheats, you don't have to refer to
whistleblower reports about knock-off trunk organizers. Just look at

Amazon is a publisher. They're also the dominant retail channel for the
entire publishing industry.

If you're a publisher, Amazon knows how your books sell - not just how
many, but HOW. They know which search terms brought the customer to your
book. They know where your customer lives. They know everything else
your customer bought.

They know who your customer lives with. For ebooks, they know where your
customer reads, when they stop, and when they start again. They know who
your customers loan their books to. They know which books by rival
publishers your customer also bought.

And also they know how your books are selling. To the second. Publishers
get that data quarterly, or every six months. Amazon knows how many
copies translate to which salesrank. Publishers never ever get that data.






They are in direct competition with the firms whose products have
generated that data, and they do not share that data with those firms.

So yeah, you don't need knock-off trunk organizers to understand why
this is cheating.


🍳 Facebook let advertisers target "pseudoscience" and "conspiracy"

Facebook has an automated system for creating classifiers for its
advertisers to use in their ad-targeting. This is a a terrible idea,
whose idiocy has been obvious since 2017, when this system started
allowing people to advertise to "Jew-haters."


But FB has 2.5B users, and while the impossibility of doing that
responsibly is obvious to those without a financial stake in it, FB's
got Upton Sinclair disease:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary
depends upon his not understanding it."

That's why FB is *still* running the system that coughed up "Jew-hater"
3 years ago.

Now, The Markup has identified some of its other categories, like
"pseudoscience" and various conspiracy theories ("New World Order,"
"Chemtrails," etc).


FB has now deleted those categories. But it hasn't deleted the system
that generated them.


These categories are partially to blame for the spread of 5G/coronavirus
conspiracies, as well as the promotion of ineffective and dangerous
quack "medicine." They're used to target vulnerable people with messages
that are shrouded in secrecy.

"A a test by Consumer Reports in April showed Facebook approving ads
containing coronavirus misinformation, including false claims that the
virus was a hoax or that people could stay healthy through small daily
doses of bleach."


🍳 Security expert conned out of $10,000

Earlier this week, I posted about a phishing scam that was using fake
covid contact-tracing warnings to trick people into clicking on links to
malicious sites:


Some of the responses to that post were sadly typical: Internet Tough
Guys asserting that anyone duped by such an obvious scam had only
themselves to blame. I actually took the time to try to explain why this
was so wrong.


That explanation is well-complemented by Brian Krebs's report of a
security researcher who was scammed out of $10,000 by some pretty clever
con artists who managed to man-in-the-middle themselves between him and
his bank.


Some of their tactics: they called the target after using his stolen
debit-card number to commit some small-dollar frauds, and *they* told
*him* about them, pretending to be his bank alerting him to the frauds
they'd just committed.

When the target looked at his bank balance, he discovered, yeah, he
*had* been the victim of fraud, so he was probably talking to his actual
bank. They didn't ask for any info, and assured him a new card was on
the way.

Then the fraudsters called back, pretending to be his bank again. Just
to be sure, he called the bank from another line to confirm that he was
in conversation with a bank employee.

The bank confirmed that he was - because the fraudsters had
simultaneously called his bank, impersonating him and telling them that
he was on vacation in Florida and to ignore any out-of-state ATM
withdrawal fraud flags.

The con artist who was talking with the bank then started to set up a
wire-transfer, while the con artist who was talking with the victim
said, "We, the bank, need to confirm your identity. I'm sending over an
SMS with a one-time code. Please read it back to me."

Of course, they were man-in-the-middling him. The one-time code *was*
sent by the bank..to confirm the wire transfer. When the target read it
to the fake banker, they passed it on to the crook who was talking to
the bank, who read it to them.

The target had several moments where his suspicions were roused, but the
con artists figured out how to smooth out these rough moments. The
entire con took place over the phone - the crooks never once compromised
the target's online banking.

The target could have kept himself safe by hanging up and calling the
bank back to complete the conversation, but he didn't. There have been
times when i didn't, either (like when I get a call after I know a big
wire transfer is coming in and the bank wants to check on it).

I won't be doing that anymore.

On that subject, here (again) is the true story of how I was phished. If
you think you will never be phished, you are wrong.



🍳 California Adventure, Minecraft edition

Imagineering Fun is a Minecraft server that has delighted users with its
incredible, high-fidelity, playable re-creation of the Disneyland Park
in Anaheim.


They have just unveiled a Minecraft re-creation of the park's second
gate, California Adventure, and it is available for anyone to play.


It's a linear descendant of the old tradition of making Doom and Quake
maps based on Disneyland and its rides.

This is my local park, the one our family pass gets us into with almost
no blackout dates, and we've been missing it like crazy. What a treat to
re-visit it virtually!


🍳 This day in history

#10yrsago Protect your copyrights, boycott DRM-locked platforms

#10yrsago UK's super-rich get even richer

#5yrsago School bus driver bans little girl from reading

#5yrsago Senators announce "Aaron Swartz Should Have Faced More Jail
Time" bill

#1yrago Nest's "ease of use" imperative plus poor integration with
Google security has turned it into a hacker's playground


🍳 Colophon

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

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (7400

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about
tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You

Latest podcast: Podcast swap: Wil Wheaton on Little

Upcoming appearances:

* Apr 25: Podapalooza https://www.podapalooza.org/live

* Apr 29: Reset Everything https://reseteverything.events/

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

"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

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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