[Plura-list] Afterland; Mexican copyright crushes free speech; Audible Exclusives; Snowden's Little Brother intro

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Jul 28 11:37:58 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Afterland: Lauren Beukes's regrettably brilliantly timed plague novel.

* Mexican copyright crushes free speech: Trump's trade deal takes away
Mexicans' fundamental rights.

* Audible Exclusives: Monopolists gonna monopolize.

* Snowden's Little Brother intro: The Age of Mass Surveillance Will Not
Last Forever.

* Police "unions" are not unions: They're protection rackets.

* Quick, inaccurate, cheap covid tests: Frequency vs accuracy.

* Swarov.se: Once you see it...

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2019

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


©️ Afterland

Afterland, the latest novel from Lauren Beukes, goes on sale today. It's
a spectacular and obviously incredibly timely plague novel, set in the
aftermath of a plague that kills nearly every man and boy on Earth,
leaving only the women and girls.


It's an American road-trip novel, about Cole, a South African mom, and
her pubescent son Milo, who has, miraculously, survived the plague -
only to be scooped by up the militarized national research establishment
to be used as a research subject.

They're on the run after breaking out the military research facility
with the help of Cole's sister Billie, a semi-criminal drifter who has
arranged to sell some of Milo's sperm to a plute who has buyers who'd
like to violate the global ban on conception.

But Billie betrayed Cole and tried to snatch Milo, so Cole brained
Billie with a tire-iron and fled with Milo, who is now living as a girl,
Mia, as they take us on a tour of a traumatized, radically depopulated

Billie, meanwhile, has been dispatched on her sister's trail in the
company of a couple of mercs in the employ of her boss, to snatch Milo
and sell him to a foreign potentate who wants to buy a son.

All of this is a great setup for a tight thriller of a plot, as Billie,
the mercs, the cops, and a cult of penitent nuns race across the nation.
Cole and Mia are hoping to smuggle themselves onto a freighter and
return to Africa.

Billie convinces herself that selling Milo is both just and merciful.
The relationships are beautifully drawn, and the tension is real.

But most important is the way that all this noir plotting moves us
across the American landscape, touring us through the varied changes.

There's kindness and cruelty, suspicion and openness, madness and calm.
The way we respond to disaster and trauma is very much on all our minds
today, of course, and Beuke's superbly timed novel provides an excellent
series of meditations on who our crisis-selves could be.

It helps that both Beukes and her protagonists aren't Americans. In the
same way that Canadians inevitably make the best American comedians,
other non-Americans are able to describe the water that America swims in
with a facility that the native-born struggle to match.

Books about America by foreigners have been important contributions to
American literature since (at least) de Tocqueville. Beuke's pandemic
novel is an important contribution to that tradition.


©️ Mexican copyright crushes free speech

Mexico's wholesale, overnight importation of the USA's disastrous
copyright system is a catastrophe for human rights - another Trump
casualty, precipitated by the #USMCA.


In particular, the new rules are terrible for free expression, totally
incompatible with Mexico's strong (stronger than US!) constitutional
protections for speech.


The new rules mandate copyright filters, which will instantaneously
censor anything a black-box algorithm deems a copyright infringement; if
your work is censored, you get to the back of a very long line of people
hoping a human moderator will spring you from content jail.

They also import America's rules that give DRM precedent over the
property rights of device owners or the fundamental human rights of
people who need to bypass the manufacturer-imposed restrictions.

But Mexico left out the USA's weak and inadequate safeguards, creating a
corporate all-you-can-eat buffet where Mexicans' rights are served up to
tech and entertainment companies.

When DRM interferes with the rights of software authors, the speech of
security researchers, or the freedom to read of everyday Mexicans, the
new law favors corporate profits over human rights.

Finally, the Mexican law allows for deliberate, human acts of
censorship, creating an even-more-extreme version of American "notice
and takedown," allowing anyone to remove speech they object to by
claiming copyright infringement.

Worse still, these rules allow criminals or corrupt officials to demand
that service providers turn over the sensitive personal information of
their critics simply by pretending that they are the victim of a
copyright infringement.

Who will speak out against abuses by the powerful if they know that
doing so will expose them to retaliation?


©️ Audible Exclusives

Libro.fm is an amazing alternative to Amazon's Audible: an independent
audiobook platform that sells books from every major publisher at the
same price as Audible - but without DRM, and with a share of every sale
going to an indie bookseller of your choosing.

Virtually every audiobook title is available through Libro.fm - except
for those titles that Audible demands be sold as "Audible exclusives."

Not only are these not available through Libro, they're also not offered
to libraries.


Libraries are the delivery system of choice for people with dyslexia and
other learning disabilities, as well as people with physical
disabilities that make handling books difficult, or people with visual
disabilities that rely on audiobooks.

Many of these Audible exclusives come through Audible's Creation
Exchange - an unpoliced, self-serve platform that has been abused by
unscrupulous people who've illegally created audio editions of my own
books (Audible won't carry my official audiobooks as they're DRM-free).

If you create an audiobook on ACX, Amazon demands that it be
Audible-exclusive (and banned from library distribution) -- or it cuts
your royalty rate IN HALF.

"Audible Exclusives also work in direct opposition to the basic
principles of libraries—free access to books, both digital and print."

And, of course, Audible-only titles are also barred from bookstore
distribution...which only enhances Amazon's monopoly over book-sales and
erodes the dwindling, fragile market for your community bookseller.

Many new releases are embargoed from non-Audible distribution for the
first 90 days - Amazon bribes publishers to make their books "Audible
exclusive" at launch time to freeze out competitors.

I mean, fuck that.

Libro.fm is great. I have given up enough money to buy a house by
refusing to give in to Audible's demand that my books have DRM and be
locked to Amazon's platform forever.

I'm currently setting up presales for my independent audio edition of
ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother novel, which is read by the
incredible Amber Benson.

Our family finances could be better. We're not broke, but we're down by
a *bunch* and getting a little worried. My agent and publisher would
love me to go with Audible, and I'm not gonna lie, I've thought about it.

Not because I want to. Not because it's the right thing to do. But
because if I can't pay my mortgage, it's gonna be hard to write books.
Audible might turn out to be the lesser of two evils.

I hate that. I've lived my principles for decades, but these are
desperate times. This is the nature of monopolies, after all - they
choke off access to the marketplace, so you either give them a share or
you get out of the business.

I'm glad Libro's calling attention to this important issue, but I don't
think we can shame Audible into dropping exclusives. They broke their
promise to drop DRM back when Amazon bought them in 2008. Why would they
start behaving honorably now?


©️ Snowden's Little Brother intro

Earlier this month, Tor Books reissued my novels Little Brother and
Homeland in a gorgeous new omnibus edition with a cover by Will Staehle
and a new introduction by Edward Snowden.


The Snowden intro was so important to me, first because of his
connection to the books. If you watched Laura Poitras's Academy Award
winning doc Citizenfour, you might have noticed Snowden packing a copy
of Homeland in his go-bag as he fled his Hong Kong hotel.

But far more important was the text of intro itself: a call to imagine
what a world after the age of mass surveillance, and how we might bring
that world into being. Today, Wired published that intro. It's amazing:


"Nearly everything you do, and nearly everyone you love, is being
monitored and recorded by a system whose reach is unlimited, but whose
safeguards are not."

"But while the system itself was not substantially changed—as a rule,
governments are less interested in reforming their own behavior than in
restricting the behavior and rights of their citizens—what did change
was the public consciousness."

"We are coming to see all too clearly that the construction of these
systems was less about connection than it was about control: the
proliferation of mass surveillance has tracked precisely with the
destruction of public power."

"There were times when empires were won by bronze and boats and powder.
None survive. What outlasts each forgotten flag is our greatest
technology, language: the empire of the mind."

"We've seen ingenuity give rise to systems that keep our secrets, and
perhaps our souls; systems created in a world where possessing the means
to a private life feels like a crime. We have seen lone individuals
create new tools—better tools—than even the greatest states."

"But no technology, and no individual, will ever be enough to curtail
for long the abuses of our weary giants, with their politics of
exclusion and protocols of violence. This is the part of the story that
matters: what begins with the individual persists in the communal."


©️ Police "unions" are not unions

Periodically, some dimbulb will pop up and say, "Hey, you love unions
but you hate police brutality - so how about police unions, huh? Ever
think of that? Huh? Huh?"

Yeah, I know. Thing is, police unions aren't "unions" in the traditional

To understand the different, try William Finnegan's incredible, long New
Yorker piece, "How Police Unions Fight Reform," a masterful history and


Police unions got off to a rocky start. Policing was an ugly and
dangerous job in the 19th century (it's not dangerous now, it's not even
in the top ten most dangerous careers), but the labor movement wasn't
interested in helping cops.

And with good reason! As cops transitioned from being "slave patrols,"
hunting Black people who'd escaped bondage, they found a new role in
brutalizing and murdering striking workers.

The first US deaths of unionists was in 1850, when NYC cops clubbed
striking tailors to death. Despite the role of cops in striker deaths
(in 1937, Chicago PD opened fire on striking steelworkers and families,
murdering 10), the AFL started chartering police unions after WWI.

But the solidarity went one way: by the 1960s, the NY Police Benevolent
Society promised politicians they would never "strike or affiliate with
any other union."

Front-line workers' unions like teachers and nurses strike to improve
conditions for the people they care for; police unions' main cause is
reducing oversight and accountability, waging a decades-long war on
civilian oversight boards.

There is an explicit racist agenda in resisting oversight: cops do not
want Black people, or politicians who answer to Black people, having a
say in police procedure. When NYC Mayor Dinkins - the city's first Black
mayor - proposed civilian oversight, the response was *ugly*.

They ran ads showing a white woman emerging from the subway, looking
terrified, warning against civilian review: "Her life...your life...may
depend on it."

In 92, cops protested Dinkins' plan with a 10,000 person rally in which
cops brandished firearms, consumed alcohol, and waved racist signs with
slogans like "Dump the washroom attendant." Others depicted Dinkins as a
minstrel, engaged in lewd sex acts.

A drunk, off-duty cop stopped Black councilwoman Una Clarke from
crossing Broadway during the rally: "This n_____ says she’s a member of
the City Council," he told his partner.

On of the rally's highlights? Rudy Giuliani, screaming obscene chants
through a bullhorn. He ran for mayor the next year.

In most regards (public interest, solidarity), police unions are not
real unions, but there's one area in which they excel: getting sweet
deals for their members. NYPD cops  retire after 20 years on $74.5k/year

As terrible and corrupt as the NYPD are, they're far from the most
racist and brutal police forces. That's saying something, because BOY is
the NYPD racist and brutal:


Compare 'em with St Louis, where cops murder at 14 times the rate of
NYPD; or Chicago, where the racial disparity in police murders is 27.4:1
black:white (in NYC it's 7.8:1).

Police unions hate the public. Their overall message is that the public
are hostile and must be controlled.

As Kirk Burkhalter - multigenerational cop turned NYU law prof - says:
"imagine a nurses’ union that hated patients, that went on TV and talked
about how much trouble the patients give them."

American cops are among the worst-trained, most undisciplined in the
world. Cops in the US can start work after 11 weeks training (mostly in
"firearms and survival").

In some Western European countries, cops compete for entry into highly
selective police academies where they study for 3+ years under top

US cops' training is both inadequate and inappropriate. Again, policing
just isn't that dangerous. Roofing is more dangerous! Only 5% of patrol
callouts involve any form of violent crime.

Real unions focus on solidarity, and while cop unions will protest
anti-union bills that threaten them, when they are carved out of
anti-union bills (like Wisconsin's bill that targeted sanitation,
education and nursing), it's crickets.

The main focus of police unions is omerta: as the 1931 Wickersham
Commission reported: "It is an unwritten law in police departments that
police officers must never testify against their brother officers."

As Rhode Island College sociologist Ben Brucato wrote: "These
organizations function as lobbies to both resist accountability
legislation and shield implicated officers."

Fixing policing is a long road, but it must start. We can begin by
getting the AFL-CIO to sever all ties with police "unions."


©️ Quick, inaccurate, cheap covid tests

"Fast, cheap, good: pick two" as the old saying goes. Applies to covid
testing, too.

The FDA is currently evaluating E25Bio's home tests, which are strips
"like home pregnancy tests" that cost $3-4 and give results in 15 minutes.


The catch is they detect high virus loads, but miss people who are at
the start of their infection and don't know it. The manufacturers
proposes that you'd overcome the shortcomings of the test by
administering it frequently - every couple days or so.


Data from test results could form a probabilistic data-set that used
multiple sampling points to overcome inaccuracies in each test's data -
and the tests could serve as preliminary screens, telling you when you
need a more rigorous test at a clinic.

The issue will be false alarms, which train people to ignore alert
(think of the certificate errors your browser throws, nearly 100% of
which are false alarms). It's a subtle balance to strike.


©️ Swarov.se

For internet users of a certain generation, the "where were you when JFK
was shot" moment is "when did you first see Goatse.cx?


It wasn't the first grossout image on the web and it's certainly not the
worst one, but it's got first-mover advantage that made it absolutely


But apparently, Swarovski didn't get the memo before designing,
manufacturing and offering for sale this $90 "Tarot Magic Bracelet."

(Honestly, it's about par for the course for the company, whose products
are universally revolting)



©️ This day in history

#15yrsago Economics of used books

#10yrsago Bisson's Fire on the Mountain: alternate history in which John
Brown wins at Harper's Ferry

#1yrago "Intellectual Debt": It's bad enough when AI gets its
predictions wrong, but it's potentially WORSE when AI gets it right


©️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Kottke (https://kottke.org/), JWZ

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 527 words (42347 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 11)

Upcoming appearances:

* Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of
Google, Uber, and Elon Musk, Aug 4,

* Virtual event with Christopher Brown for his novel "Failed State," Aug

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.

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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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