[Plura-list] The Fifth Pig; "Fuck the algorithm"; Mr Cook, Tear Down That Wall

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Aug 18 11:41:55 EDT 2020

Today's links

* The Fifth Pig: OG antifa agitprop.

* "Fuck the algorithm": English children force Tories to U-turn on
algorithmic educational assessments.

* Mr Cook, Tear Down That Wall: Interop, Apple, Fortnite and the Berlin

* Deindustrialization is a market failure: Future crises are never
priced into market transactions.

* Fed cops substitute dollars for warrants: Why talk to a judge when you
can talk to a data-broker?

* Upbeat surveillance marketing: Hikvision's jolly medieval spy-tech.

* South Africa's copyright and human rights: Fair use, the Berne
Convention, and Ramaphosa.

* This day in history: 2005, 2015, 2019

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


🦾 The Fifth Pig

Fans of Al Jaffee are familiar with the concept of "fold-ins" -
illustrations that transform with comic results after a bit of simple

These aren't limited to MAD Magazine back covers, either. Sometimes they
make their way into wartime propaganda.

A classic political fold-up is "where is the fifth pig" puzzles: four
pigs in four quadrants, which, when folded, come together to reveal the
fifth pig, Adolph Hitler. Several of these were distributed  by the
British Special Operations Executive.


These were translated into other languages and also adapted for other
leaders: a Dutch Hitler version, a Green Mussolini version, a
jackal-to-Mussolini version. Some were airdropped by the RAF!

It's only fitting that we've got a Trump version, of course!


This is some OG antifa stuff right here.


🦾 "Fuck the algorithm"

High stakes tests serve no pedagogical purpose; however, they do serve
an important *social* purpose, namely, they convert cash into the
appearance of academic achievement.

Since scores on these tests can be improved through expensive prep,
tests can be a way to preferentially advance the children of wealthy
people without coming out and admitting that you don't want poor kids in
the best schools.

Nowhere in the English-speaking world is this more true than in England,
where the majority of secondary and even primary educational assessments
are based entirely on tests - often a *single* test for a whole year's

I remember political scandals in the late Blair/early Brown period when
a few select courses were to be evaluated based on "continuous
assessment" - class work, teachers' rubrics, etc. This was deemed
dangerously "subjective" and widely decried.

Enter the pandemic, which made it impossible for students to sit their
A-level exams - these being the highest of the high-stakes tests, the
key to admission to postsecondary institutions.

It's a darkly hilarious fact that your A-level grades aren't what get
you into uni; offers are made based on your *predicted* grade, which is
based on your historical performance compared to other students at your
school and your school's performance relative to rival schools.

But with huge data-voids left behind by the lockdown in the last school
year, the Office of Qualifications (Ofqual, and yes, this is a real
fucking thing) told teachers to just make up a grade that reflected
their best guess.

It's the worst of both worlds: the "objective" measure ("how much did
you pay to prepare for the exam?") is replaced with a "subjective" one
("does your teacher think you're smart?") with no formal rubric or

But the Tories found a way to make this even worse. They created a
black-box algorithm that then "adjusted" the teachers' estimated scores,
giving upward nudges to students in exclusive private schools, and
downgrading students in state schools.

This was justified by saying that it reflected the historical scores
from each type of institution, which is so on-brand for Tories: on the
one hand, it's an admission that the system exists to promote rich people.

And on the other, it implies that the reason to promote rich people is
that they're just better - the toff's cod-eugenics that is perfectly in
keeping with the idea of a hereditary aristocracy and monarchy.

But this was too ghastly for the Tories to get away with (a high bar to
hurdle in 2020!), and, after students mobbed the Department of Education
offices chanting "FUCK THE ALGORITHM" (yes, this also actually
happened), the Tories reverse course.


This is nice, and I've got a warm schandeboris glow, but let's not lose
sight of how *bonkers* the whole high-stakes testing apparatus is.

Yes, it's great that we've got them to stop using phrenology to overtly
discriminate against the poors, but let's dare to dream of a
phrenology-free future, shall we?


🦾 Mr Cook, Tear Down That Wall

You've probably heard that Fortnite publishers Epic are suing Apple over
the right to sell software to Iphone owners without cutting Apple in for
a 30% vig on every sale. Epic wants a court to order Apple to allow
software vendors to offer direct sales.

Apple apologists insist that Apple should have the right to both lock
its devices so that Apple customers can only get their software through
the App Store, AND that Apple should be able to cream off 30% of every
sale in the store.

There's been some smart commentary on this. In particular, I recommend
Jay Freeman's long thread on whether the App Store is monopolistic (it
most certainly is) and whether that's good for users or software
developers (it most certainly is not).


I've made my own contribution to the debate. In a new article for
Slate's Future Tense, I talk about the role that interoperability could
and should play in safeguarding user rights and blocking monopolistic


True believers in Apple's business model argue that Apple customers
don't even WANT to buy software elsewhere (similar to how they argue
against the Right to Repair by insisting that Apple customers are happy
to be limited to getting repairs from Apple).

This is a frankly bizarre argument. Apple isn't spending millions are
hiring entire buildings full of lawyers to block right to repair or
independent app stores on general principle - the only reason to block
these things is because you think your customers would use them.

As my EFF colleague Mitch Stoltz says, the argument that Apple users
don't want flexibility is like the argument that the Berlin Wall isn't
there to keep East Germans IN, it's there to keep the bourgeoisie out of
the Worker's Paradise.

If the DDR really believed that people were happy to be behind the wall,
they could easily test the proposition: just install a gate that anyone
could pass through and see whether anyone stayed.

Likewise, if Apple's convinced that no one wants independent repair or
third-party app stores with more dev-friendly policies, it can just put
a gate in ITS walled garden and see what its customers do.

The Apple version of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy ("You're not a true
Iphone owner if you object to the company you gave $1000 to for a phone
charging software vendors a 30% commission") was always absurd.

But it would be fascinating to find out how many "true" Iphone users
there are by those lights. If we were to allow owners of Iphones to
treat them as their property, to use without regard to the shareholders
of a $1T corporation, what would they do?

Apple probably won't unilaterally disarm its DRM arsenal. That's why EFF
is suing the US government to overturn the law that makes it a crime to
bypass DRM.



🦾 Deindustrialization is a market failure

In Rowan Moore Gerety's MIT Tech Review feature "Unmade in America," we
get a vivid picture of how little industrial capacity remains in America
and how much that has harmed the country's resilience to disasters and


Gerety describes the mad scramble early in the crisis to manufacture PPP
onshore, and the deep structural problems with doing so: America doesn't
merely lack the machines to do this, it lacks the labs to test the
materials, the people who know how to do the tests, and so on.

The entire pipeline is empty. The only people qualified to do the work
are in their 70s, on the verge of retirement (some have retired since
the crisis started). There are no people coming up behind them because
deindustrialization means there's nowhere to train or practice.

From there, Gerety goes on the road with Jon Clark, a scrapper who's
spent 30 years buying the equipment from closed factories and selling
them overseas. Clark, more than anyone, has a bird's eye view of the
literal demolishing of American industrial capacity.

These tangible phenomena reveal the invisible, intangible workings of
the market system running beneath the surface: the 40 year neoliberal
project that asserted that if it was profitable, it was sustainable.

The reason we can't make textiles onshore anymore is investors like
Wilbur Ross, the (self described) billionaire who made his fortune
buying up textile firms, shuttering them, and moving their production

These overseas operations are more profitable in part because the
workers earn 10% of what their US counterparts take home - but also
because the territories the factories relocated to had weak health,
safety and environmental regs.

But economic orthodoxy holds that this is actually a net positive, that
whatever problems arise from these transactions are offset by the gains.

Hayek's conception of the market as an aggregator of "information" from
buyers and sellers insists that all of these downsides are "priced in"
to the final outcome.

Garety goes over some of the funny math that "pricing in" uses: for
example, if a TV factory shutters in the US and moves overseas, and TV
prices fall from $1000 to $500, the net loss to America is $500 - but
the town has lost $1,000 worth of work.

But the real funny math comes from the loss of reslience. Stripping
America of its domestic capacity to create and maintain its
infrastructure and vital supplies is a "negative externality" - a cost
everyone bears, even as the investors behind the operation profit.

These costs are never priced into the market transaction, because the
political system - which makes the rules of the market - allows those
who incur them on all our behalf to act as though they don't exist.

Negative externailities are endemic to market systems: the CO2 that
firms subject the rest of us to, the evictions that property speculation
fuels, the national brittleness and weakness that offshoring creates.

These are features, not bugs, in "free market" capitalism.


🦾 Fed cops substitute dollars for warrants

The 1970s saw profound changes in US domestic surveillance. First, the
Church Commission - fueled by the rampant abuses of the FBI in spying on
political activists - radically curtailed the ability of domestic
agencies to conduct surveillance without particularized suspicion.

But the credit bureaux - like Equifax and Experian - had massive growth
spurts. Their origins lie in facilitating the systemic punishment of
activists as well as sexual and racial minorities, so it's no surprise
that they picked up the slack.


Today, data brokerages and official domestic surveillance have fused
into a public-private partnership from hell. Consider "Babel Street," a
shadowy location-data broker that buys your travel history from the apps
you run on your phone.

Their big customers aren't just marketing firms: they're surveillance
agencies like CBP and the Secret Service, who find writing a check to
Babel Street to be an expedient, simple alternative to going before a
judge with probable cause for a warrant.


Babel Street makes millions from these deals, and they will not answer
any questions about them, not even to Ron Wyden, a member of the US
Senate Intelligence Committee.

Wyden has proposed legislation to block government agencies from evading
warrant requirements by paying companies like Babel Street to do their
dirty work for them.


🦾 Upbeat surveillance marketing

Hiktech is a Chinese surveillance-tech company that produces
extraordinary, upbeat, cheerful comic ads about how great spying is.

For example in "After an Easy Prey," a medieval Chinese warlord calls
upon a sorcerer with mysterious surveillance gadgets to track down a spy
in his midst - it's like a cheerful, surveillance-oriented version of
Jackie Chan's Drunken Master.


Their other videos aren't nearly so slick but they are quite a
rabbit-hole of alternate-universe surveillance-boosterism. Like this CG
animaiton selling anti-shoplifting tech to grocers:


Or this one, in which footballers take turns kicking a ball into a
ruggedized CCTV to demonstrate the beating it can take:



🦾 South Africa's copyright and human rights

South Africa is in the midst of a major overhaul to its copyright
system, in particular the "limitations and exceptions" that are the
escape valves within copyright for such core human rights as free
expression and self-determination.

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to copyright exceptions:
"enumerated uses" (lists of things you're allowed to do) and
"frameworks" (criteria that judges can use to assess whether a use
should be allowed).

Examples of the "enumerated uses" system are the UK fair dealing system,
or the EU Copyright Directive's guarantee of a "criticism" and "parody"

While the "frameworks" approach is in use in the US through "fair use,"
as well as in the copyright systems of Israel, South Korea and other

Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Enumerated exemptions
provide certainty by listing things you are absolutely allowed to do.
Frameworks are future-proof, allowing courts to reason about uses that
were not technologically possible when the law was created.

To its credit, South Africa adopted both: a set of enumerated exemptions
to reflect the state of the art, and a straightforward importation of
the US fair use "four factor" framework for new uses.

And to its shame, the US Trade Rep took the bizarre position that South
Africa was not *allowed* to have fair use, claiming that this would
violate SA's international trade obligations under the Berne Convention,
TRIPS, the WCT, etc.

This is obviously wrong. For one thing, the US itself is party to all
these same treaties, and it has never faced enforcement action for its
fair use rules. If fair use was incompatible with these treaties, it
would have faced a challenge.

But despite both domestic and overseas NGOs pointing this out, SA
President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent the copyright bill back to
parliament, having stripped it of *both* the exemptions and fair use,
claiming it would violate the Berne Convention.

Yesterday, EFF sent an open letter to the Parliament and the President
with extensive legal citations to show that South Africa will not be in
breach of its international obligations if it creates a fair use system.


As I explain in the accompanying blog post, exemptions for education,
research, archiving, libraries and museums are critical to the human
rights of the South African people and the national and economic
sovereignty of the South African nation.



🦾 This day in history

#15yrsago Hunter S Thompson's ashes to be sent high on fireworks

#15yrsago Southern Baptist guide to non-gay Disney movies

#15yrsago Disneyland brought low by Windows worms

#5yrsago Women of the Haunted Mansion cosplayers at SDCC

#5yrsago The End of the Internet Dream: the speech that won Black Hat
(and Defcon)

#5yrsago Chuck Wendig's Zeroes: a hacker technothriller in the War Games
lineage https://boingboing.net/2015/08/18/chuck-wendigs-zeroes-a-hack.html

#1yrago A new biography reveals the Koch brothers' very early role in
creating organized climate denial


🦾 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism
(https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/),
John Nagle.

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 524 words (50583 total).

Currently reading: Null Set, SL Huang.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 13)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote for Law Via the Internet conference, Sept 22,

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

Latest book:

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

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

Upcoming books:

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

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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