[Plura-list] Stunning RPG dice, Shell funded climate denial, Church sends US predator priests to Mexico, South Korea is beating covid-19

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Mar 6 13:13:59 EST 2020

Today's links

* The most beautiful RPG dice I've ever seen: And you can also make your

* The king of Dutch climate denial was secretly in Shell's pay: Frits
Böttcher was a packrat, and his papers detail exactly how he was paid to
sow climate doubt. He was very good at it.

* American Catholic officials helped priests who preyed on children
escape to Mexico: At least 51 "credibly accused" priests left the US and
took up positions abroad.

* A grifty AI company conned the state of Utah into giving access to
everything: Banjo claims it will predict and head off terrorist attacks,
mass shootings, and child abductions without invading anyone's privacy.

* Clearview AI says it only lets cops use its facial recognition tool
but it's lying: Investors, cronies and pals got to literally use it as a
party trick.

* South Korea's beating covid-19 with free testing: Testing is part of
the free national health system, and 140,000 tests have been administered.

* The web is unusably beshitted with terrible ad-tech: "No, I don't want
great articles."

* For $3, a robolawyer will automatically force data brokers to delete
you and sue the ones who don't: Donotpay meets the CCPA, it's like
peanut butter and chocolate.

* This day in history: 2005, 2015, 2019

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


🛄 The most beautiful RPG dice I've ever seen

Sasha is a spectacularly talented RPG dice-maker, whose online store
features the most beautiful dice I've ever seen – and as if that wasn't
enough, she also sells dice-making kits to use at home.


Last month, ahead of the C2E2 con, she posted a series of new,
not-for-sale (argh) dice that embed a variety of materials inside large
D20s to form nebulas, clouds, alien landscapes, menacing eyeballs, and
eldritch scenes. Check them out for yourself!


It's hard to say what these will cost; comparable dice on her site sell
for $400. They're handmade, beautiful sculptures, after all.


At that price, they're maybe too expensive for a gift for yourself, but
as a graduation present, maybe? And that said, it's exactly the kind of
thing I sometimes buy to celebrate selling a new novel, and that's on my
roadmap for THE LOST CAUSE, my post-GND, truth-and-reconciliation novel,
so I'm definitely putting a reminder in my calendar.


🛄 The king of Dutch climate denial was secretly in Shell's pay

Club of Rome founder Frits Böttcher was the Netherlands' leading climate
denier. He died in 2008. Investigative journalists combing through his
papers, discovered that he was paid €500K by Shell and others to sow
doubt about climate change.


His network pushed out scientific frauds like the idea that excess
atmospheric CO2 would be "good for plants" through books, lectures and

He was good at it. His work was crucial to stalling action on climate
change in the 1990s. Despite this, his 24 sponsors dumped him in 1998
after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, worried that outright climate
denial had lost credibility.

No wonder! This was the guy who'd called climate science "a witch-hunt
on CO2" and declared "Our planet is not a greenhouse."

In his papers, Böttcher notes that after he published these frauds,
Shell contacted him and offered him giant sums to keep it up and amplify
it. The work was personally commissioned by Shell managing director Huub
Van Engelshoven. Böttcher was a packrat. His papers in the
Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem stack 15.9m tall. Inside of them is an
eye-wateringly detailed account of how wealthy, planet-wrecking firms
deliberately and maliciously paid for climate denial.

That means that we now can name names. We think of climate denial as a
kind of emergent property with no human agent, but as the world drowns,
roasts, and writhes with pandemic, we have the names and addresses of
the people who engineered that situation for their own gain. We know who
his political allies were: the VVD party. When the Netherlands' dikes
fail and the country begins to drown, these politicians might still be
running for office.

It's tempting to think of the climate crisis as something we all bear
responsibility for, because we didn't sort our recycling or because we
didn't use the underfunded, anemic public transit options available to
us. But efforts like this – from Platform Authentieke Journalistiek and
Follow the Money – show we were corralled into our complicity by a
network of super-rich plutes for their own gain, who knew they were
wrecking the world and dooming our children but did not care.


🛄 American Catholic officials helped priests who preyed on children
escape to Mexico

A new instalment in Propublica's outstanding coverage of the Catholic
Church's complicity in sexual abuse by priests shows that dozens of
American priests who raped children were relocated to Mexico, where they
continued to rape children


These priests found new postings thanks to glowing letters of
recommendation from church officials who knew that they had been accused
– or, in some cases convicted – of raping children in their parishes.
Some fled to Mexico to avoid prison, resisting extradition for years.

Not just Mexico: Propublica found 51 "credibly accused" US priests who
are currently working in Mexico, Ireland, Nigeria, and the Philippines.
Some of them continued to draw pay from their US parishes while they
settled in abroad. Parishoners' donations paid for the predators who
victimized their children to escape justice.

One priest, Jose Antonio Pinal, wrote letters to Church officials
blaming the boy he raped, saying, "that he is not innocent of the
situation he wants to blame me for completely." Pinal is still
ministering in Cuernavaca. He claims his longrunning rapes of a
15-year-old were consensual, but "he was a minor; so, legally, I am

When he moved to Mexico, Sacramento church officials wrote to him
promising to support him, so long as the new diocese promised to
"protect the diocese of Sacramento against any financial liability for
any acts committed by you while working in that diocese."

Some of these priests are listed as "inactive" in Church websites, but
are still ministering in Mexico. Rev. Jeffrey David Newell, admitted to
sexually abusing another 15 year old, and called it a "mistake." He
currently serves in Tijuana. Newell says it was a single slip up. Other
survivors of his abuse have filed lawsuits against his old US
archdiocese. Newell calls their claims "totally absurd." His name has
been removed from Church lists of "credibly accused" sexual predators in
the clergy.

These predators' survivors are alive and deeply traumatized. And thanks
to the inaction, complicity and even encouragement of US Catholic church
officials, these priests are ruining the lives of new children all over
the world.


🛄 A grifty AI company conned the state of Utah into giving access to

The State of Utah has secretly contracted with "Banjo," a grifty "AI"
company, to analyze all the surveillance and internal data generated by
all the state's agencies.


Banjo gets all the 911 calls, CCTV camera feeds, license plate readers,
and internal state databases, and its proprietary, secret algorithm will
comb through all that to direct law enforcement.


The company claims there are no privacy concerns because it has a
patented system for anonymizing data. The patents do not disclose their
anonymization method, and every other attempt at this kind of
anonymization has fallen prey to "re-identification" attacks.

Banjo gets to locate a facility inside the Utah DOT HQ, and will operate
in all 29 counties, state university campuses and 23 cities (including
Utah's 10 largest cities). The company's making $20.7m on this contract
over five years.

Using FOIA requests, Motherboard retrieved records showing how Banjo got
Utah officials to help it sell its services ot the state. When
Motherboard questioned the officials about this, they flat-out lied and
denied it. The Banjo pitch claims that they'll head off terrorist
attacks, mass shootings and child abductions in realtime. The company
provides zero evidence that they have ever done such a thing, or that
they ever could.

But that lack of evidence didn't deter Utah AG Ric Cantrell:

"They do have case studies. I'm waiting for case studies from Banjo. I'm
still waiting for information from them."

Uh, maybe you should have seen the studies before putting Banjo's
servers behind your firewall?


🛄 Clearview AI says it only lets cops use its facial recognition tool
but it's lying

Clearview AI is another grifty "AI" company cutting secret deals with
law enforcement to use its facial recognition tech, which relies on a
database of nonconsensually scraped social media photos.

They claim only cops get to use this. It's a lie.


Clearview investors, clients and cronies all have logins to the system.
Long before it was selling to cops, these people were literally using it
as a party trick, getting people at parties to give them photos to
subject to Clearview analysis, just for shits and giggles.

For example, billionaire John Catsimatidis used it to freak out his
daughter, sneaking a pic of her data while she was at a restaurant and
then IDing the guy and texting her with the guy's bio while she was
still eating with him.

An investor named David Scalzo gave the app to his children: "They like
to use it on themselves and their friends to see who they look like in
the world. It's kind of fun for people."

It sure seems like Ashton Kutcher also got to run around and use it
without limit or accountability. Last time I checked, he was also not a
police officer.


One tech expert, Nicholas Cassimatis, uses the app as "a hobby."

Your 21st Century panopticon, folks, brought to you by compulsive liars
who ask us to trust them not to get it wrong.


🛄 South Korea's beating covid-19 with free testing

South Korea has tested 140,000 people for Covid-19. The tests are free
for all as part of the nation's public health program. Testing has led
to world-leading containment of the disease.


President Moon Jae-in calls it a "war" and has put the country on the
kind of footing that you'd expect of any existential threat, sidelining
the interests of industry in favor of national survival. They're testing
10,000 people/day. Results are available in hours. You can get tested at
drive-through testing centers. The kits are 90% accurate and were
developed by a domestic producer, Seegene Inc.

America is learning that offshoring high-tech manufacturing to save on
labor costs and allowing its private sector to dominate its healthcare
resulted in a brittle situation where it can't produce reliable tests,
and the unreliable tests are only available to the wealthy.

The fate of uninsured, untested, untreated Americans is not theirs
alone. They're the ones preparing wealthy Americans' food and cleaning
their homes.

We have a shared microbial destiny that no amount of neoliberal doctrine
can handwave away.



🛄 The web is unusably beshitted with terrible ad-tech

The web is unusably beshitted and encrufted with popups, interstitials,
rolldowns, nagware, paywalls, autoplaying video, ads that scroll with
the page, and worse. I haven't looked at the web without an adblocker in
years and it's still barely usable.


The modern web's equilibrium is "as terrible as possible, without being
so terrible that you stop reading," or, worse, "as terrible as is
necessary to get you pay to bypass the paywall."

In the CJR, David Roth publishes one of the most pitiless, accurate,
evocative descriptions of using the modern internet of cruft.

"The page loads, and a little video ad box rises from the bottom left of
the screen and begins buffering. Then a big box pops up over the small
one with an offer to subscribe to the paper at a special promotional
rate… As you contemplate it, the video begins to play in a muted spasm.
This throws a scrim of gray over the rest of the page, making it
impossible to read…While you've been triaging a second small video
player has floated up into the middle left of the screen. You manage to
close these various boxes, and now you can scroll. For a few seconds,
anyway, until another ad creeps down from the banner ad above the headline."

But Roth isn't merely complaining here. He's also digging into the
underlying reality: dwindling margins, short-term thinking,
monopolization of the ad-market, and a buyer's market for ads that lets
advertisers demand worse and worse of publishers. Publishers are staffed
with people who are "perpetually maxed-out and stressed and scrabbling
for a dwindling and finite amount of money." They're choosing chumboxes
and other garbage because they want to keep the lights on.

This happened before, of course. It's an HTML5, CSS-enabled reprise of
the pop-up wars, where exploding inventory and finite advertising
allowed advertisers to play publishers off against each other with
increasingly obnoxious, intrusive pop-ups.

These were unbelievably terrible, even by modern standards. Pop-ups
would spawn at 1px X 1px, making them invisible, autoplaying audio.
Others would sense your mouse heading for the close box and move
themselves away from your pointer. They'd spawn 3 more pop-ups for every
one you closed, or 300, until your computer ran out of RAM and crashed,
taking all your work with it.

These pop-ups didn't go away because publishers won the battle. They
went away because of pop-up blocking.

When Opera, and then Mozilla, turned pop-up blocking on by default,
users finally had a meaningful reason to prefer one browser to the
others. One browser was usable. The other one let pop-up ads crash your
computer and eat your unsaved docs. As users switched en masse to
blocking browsers, publishers could tell advertisers, "Look, we'll run
any garbage ad you tell us to because we need your money. But if it's a
pop-up it will be blocked by the majority of our users. They just won't
see it."

The pop-up wars were won because technologists helped users exercise
technological self-determination. But increasingly, browser vendors are
ad-tech companies. Even when they're not, browsers are being designed to
serve publishers (who are under advertisers' thumbs), not users.


We should address monopolies in ad-tech and browsers, we should create
meaningful privacy protections via a federal privacy law with a private
right of action. But all of that needs to be accompanied with legal
cover for users who assert the right to unshittify their web sessions.


This won't just protect users, it will protect publishers. It's one
thing to prohibit publishers from intrusive advertising. But it's
another altogether to make that kind of advertising literally
technically impossible.


🛄 For $3, a robolawyer will automatically force data brokers to delete
you and sue the ones who don't

The always-amazing Donotpay has a new robot-lawyer service: as part of
your $3/month, they'll serve every data-broker with a demand to purge
your records under the CCPA, and sue the ones who don't.


Data-brokers don't just drive nuisance calls, they also expose you to
risks like being doxed and swatted, or having your identity stolen,
including by stalkers and bounty hunters who exploit mobile phone
tracking to get your realtime location. Every single person should purge
their data from every single data-broker, period. Donotpay targets the
top 20 brokers and facial recognition companies, including Clearview AI.

Donotpay automates opt-outs for these companies. It also automates suing
companies that don't comply or those that make illegal demands like
requiring you to send a scan of your driver's license before they'll
purge your records. Once you're signed up, you can opt out your whole
family, and even your friends. If you don't want a $3/month sub (which
gets you tons of other awesome robolawyering), you can just sign up
once, pay $3, purge your records and cancel.

Fulfilling deletion requests costs companies about $10. You can use them
punitively. Any time a company pisses you off, you can just file a
data-deletion demand under CCPA.

When Donot pay started, it was Ios only and I couldn't use it. Somewhere
along the way, they got a web interface, too. I just signed up. I'm
gonna pay for the wifi on my flight this afternoon just so I can explore
all its options.


🛄 This day in history

#15yrsago Bram Cohen's Stanford talk on BitTorrent

#5yrsago DMCA abuser ordered to pay $25K to WordPress

#5yrsago Albuquerque PD encrypts videos before releasing them in records

#5yrsago Judge who invented Ferguson's debtor's prisons owes $170K in

#5yrsago Hartford, CT says friends can't room together unless some of
them are servants

#5yrsago Finnish millionaire gets EUR54K speeding ticket

#1yrago Zuckerberg announces a comprehensive plan for a new,
privacy-focused Facebook, but fails to mention data sharing and ad
targeting https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-zuckerberg-privacy-pivot/

#1yrago Ruminations on decades spent writing stories that run more than
1,000,000 words

#1yrago A thorough defense of Modern Monetary Theory

#1yrago GOP lawmaker driven mad by bill that would decriminalize
children who take naked photos of themselves, delivers a frenzied rant
about anal sex on legislature's floor

#1yrago Bounty hunters and stalkers are able to track you in realtime by
lying to your phone company and pretending to be cops

#1yrago From prisons to factories to offices: the spread of workplace
surveillance and monitoring tech

#1yrago NH GOP lawmakers mocked gun violence survivors by wearing
clutchable pearl necklaces to gun control hearing


🛄 Colophon

Today's top sources: Emptywheel (https://www.emptywheel.net/), Slashdot
(Slashdot), Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Super
Punch (https://superpunch.net/, Bas van Beek (http://www.basvanbeek.com/).

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

Upcoming appearances:

* Museums and the Web: March 31-April 4 2020, Los Angeles.

* LA Times Festival of Books: 18 April 2020, Los Angeles.

Currently writing: I'm rewriting 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
also working on "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in
The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting
geared up to start work on the novel afterwards.

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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