[Plura-list] Brokered conventions, the Siege of Gondor, ICE risk-assessment whitebox, Chinese covid censorship, America's national immunocompromise

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Mar 4 11:18:53 EST 2020

Today's links

* A brokered convention will produce a powerless presidency:
Transformative change requires a movement, not a plan.

* What the Siege of Gondor teaches us about medieval warfare: 40,000
riveting words from Roman military historian Bret Deveraux.

* ICE's risk assessment algorithm only ever recommends detention: NYCLU
suing to force them to admit what we've all figured out.

* Probing China's Covid-19 censorship: Outstanding work from Citizen Lab.

* America is uniquely at risk from coronavirus: 77 million un- and
underinsured people.

* This day in history:

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


🗯 I'm coming to Kelowna, BC *tomorrow*! I'll be at the library from
6-8PM with my book Radicalized for the CBC's Canada Reads. It's free,
but you need to RSVP (and most of the seats are gone, so act quick).



🗯 A brokered convention will produce a powerless presidency

Hoping for a brokered convention is basically saying, "Hey, go fuck
yourself" to every doorknocker and phone canvasser in your base. It
says, "Let's not use votes to choose the candidate. You little people
were for show. We choose our leaders by gathering the people who matter
in smoke-filled rooms."

Any candidate hoping to enact a transformative program from the
presidency is going to need a powerful, motivated base to whip
establishment Dems into order: "I want to do it, now make me do it."
Jettisoning the idea that your supporters get you nominated is the most
demoralizing thing I can imagine, short of shutting off the server your
organizers used to get you elected as soon as they succeed (looking at
you, Barack Obama).

It's pure technocratic hubris, the kind of thing that turns promising
wonks into figureheads who accomplish nothing. Saving America from
plutocracy and white nationalism requires a movement, not a savior with
a plan.


🗯 What the Siege of Gondor teaches us about medieval warfare

Last spring, Roman military historian Bret Devereaux published over
40,000 words of analysis of the Siege of Gondor as depicted in Peter
Jackson's Return of the King. It is by far the best use of fiction as a
tool for teaching history that I've ever read.

It's in 6 parts, broken down by themes. By far my favorite section was
the opener, on the logistics of sieges. I am a quartermaster by
temperament, and the logistic of moving 200,000 orcs (plus trolls,
elephants, siege engines, etc) is FASCINATING.


"The road the orcs are on allows them to march five abreast, meaning
there are 40,000 such rows. Giving each orc four feet of space on the
march, that would mean the army alone stretches 30 miles down a single
road. At that length, the tail end of the army would not even be able to
leave camp before the front of the army had finished marching for the
day." (!!)

The section on the siege's opener, part II, is likewise fascinating and
contains some great craft notes.


"LOTR doesn't rely – as so much fiction does – on the 'good guys' making
stupid mistake after stupid mistake in order to create tension. Instead,
Gondor executes its plans admirably, and yet it is so outmatched in
military might that it remains in peril."

Part III is more in the weeds on weapons and tactics. It gets into some
really gnarly deep nerd stuff about the immediate preamble to a siege
that I loved.


"The paths the siege towers will take must be cleared and leveled (even
a slight grade will tip them over). Earthwork cover for the approach on
the gate should be set up, along with obstructions to prevent the army
within the city from advancing at an inopportune moment. In assaulting a
fortified city with a large army, the spade is often the most important
weapon. Even building a ramp right up the enemy walls to enter the city
was a common and successful tactic, if the assaulting army had enough
labor to do it quickly enough."

My favorite part of the section on calvary charge was the notable
absence of NCOs in the orc ranks, maintaining discipline.


"The orc general, Gothmog has to push through the ranks and reorder his
infantry, while the orcs stare dumbfounded at the new threat. This is a
task that should have been taken up by a hundred-hundred NCOs up and
down the line, which speaks to problems of command structure."

By far the most intensely geeky section is in Part V, which deals with
the math for calculating whether the trolls could possibly heft the
hammers that deal the damage that we see.


"If a troll really is around 9 times as strong as a strong man, we might
figure that a troll sledgehammer might be something like 81kg, and a
troll warhammer only 5.76 – 13.59kg. Wildly short of the massive clubs
and hammers the trolls wield in these scenes."


🗯 ICE's risk assessment algorithm only ever recommends detention

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Defenders have filed suit
against ICE, trying to force it to respond to a FOIA request about risk
assessment algorithm that has put people in detention 97% of the time.


The algorithm was tweaked after the 2016 election (prior to then, it
only recommended detention for 53% of cases), and by classifying
virtually everyone it evaluates as a public safety risk, it violates the
law's requirement of "individualized determinations" for detentions.

People in immigration detention have yet to see a judge or be found
guilty. They can be locked up for weeks or months, and detention can
cost them their jobs — or even their children. The Trump administration
has exponentially increased the number of immigration arrests; coupled
with automatic detention-by-algorithm, this has put thousands of New
Yorkers in harm's way.

Investigative journalists and activists have previously shown that the
algorithm was changed to eliminate all possible outcomes (bond, release,
etc), so that it could only recommend detention. So the problem here
isn't the usual one of not knowing how the black-box works. We know
exactly how it works. You ask it, "Should this person be detained?" and
it says "Yes."

"The no-release policy is particularly tough on people with disabilities
or health problems. 'This practice of widespread detention is both cruel
and needless.'"


🗯 Probing China's Covid-19 censorship

Citizen Lab's new report on Chinese coronavirus censorship is
outstanding. By decompiling the YY client (which stores blacklist words
on the client-side) and probing Wechat (which uses server-side
blacklisting), they build up a detailed picture of Chinese
epidemiological censorship.


Most importantly, they demonstrate how the Cyberspace Administration of
China's threat of "thematic inspections" of platforms to ensure
coronavirus censorship led to indiscriminate blocking of vital public
health information.

It's "authoritarian blindness" in the making, "where people too scared
to tell the autocrat the hard truths makes it impossible for the
autocrat to set policy that reflects reality"


"Censorship of COVID-19 content started at early stages of the outbreak
and continued to expand blocking a wide range of speech, from criticism
of the government to officially sanctioned facts and information."

By contrast, the sheer volume of "sarcastic homonyms or word play
related to COVID-19" that appear on the blacklist are really a testament
to the ingenuity and spirit of Chinese netizens.

"A number of these keyword combinations are critical (e.g., "亲自 [+] 皇上,"
by someone + emperor), criticizing the central leadership's inability or
inaction in dealing with COVID-19 ("习近平 [+] 形式主义 [+] 防疫," Xi Jinping
+ formalism + epidemic prevention). Many of them refer to leadership in
a neutral way (e.g., "肺炎 [+] 李克强 [+] 武汉 [+] 总理 [+] 北京," Pneumonia
+ Li Keqiang + Wuhan + Premier + Beijing)."


🗯 America is uniquely at risk from coronavirus

Among rich countries, the USA is uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus.
Thanks to its title to "by far the worst system among rich countries, it
is much worse than that of many poorer countries when it comes to
confronting a fast-moving epidemic."


The US has 77m un/underinsured people. "and the vicious, right-wing
ideology of the Republican Party has wrecked the government's ability to
manage crises of any kind, " with "unqualified cronies" running
important agencies.

"Now they are resorting to the only thing they know how to do really
well — lying, concocting conspiracy theories and blaming Democrats and
the media for any bad news. It does not bode well."


🗯 This day in history

#15yrsago EFF is hiring a new IP lawyer
(the ad that led to the hiring of Corynne McSherry!)

#10yrsago Guardian column on LibDem proposal to block web-lockers

#1yrago Fox News was always partisan, but now it is rudderless and

#1yrago Leaked memo suggests that Google has not really canceled its
censored, spying Chinese search tool

#1yrago Terra Nullius: Grifters, settler colonialism and "intellectual
property" https://locusmag.com/2019/03/cory-doctorow-terra-nullius/

#1yrago Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail: a debut sf novel about
counterculture, resistance, and the post-internet apocalypse

#1yrago Financialization is wearing out its welcome

#1yrago How the patent office's lax standards gave Elizabeth Holmes the
BS patents she needed to defraud investors and patients


🗯 Colophon

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

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the
Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

* Canada Reads Kelowna: March 5, 6PM, Kelowna Library, 1380 Ellis
Street, with CBC's Sarah Penton

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

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland:
it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs.
Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; 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: Disasters Don't Have to End in Dystopias:

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 very
special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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