[Plura-list] The third Little Brother book, Where I write, stream global news, AT&T's CEO gets millions for his failures, Chelsea Manning freed, Katie Porter vs CDC
doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Mar 13 12:09:50 EDT 2020
* Announcing the third Little Brother book, Attack Surface: And a new
Little Brother/Homeland reissue, with an intro by Ed Snowden!
* Where I Write: A column for the CBC that's really about *how* I write.
* Stream 200+ global news channels: Each hand-picked, no registration
* AT&T's CEO fired 23,000 workers and gave himself a 10% raise: Life on
the easiest setting.
* Chelsea Manning is free: But she's been fined $256K for refusing to
testify to the Grand Jury.
* Rep Katie Porter forces CDC boss to commit to free testing: Literally
the most effective questioner in Congress.
* Trump's unfitness in a plague: It's not because he's an ignoramus,
it's because he's a nihilist.
* Malware that hides behind a realtime Covid-19 map: Peter Watts'
prophecy comes true.
* Locked-down Siennese sing their city's hymn: A cause for hope in the dark.
* This day in history: 2015, 2019
* Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming
appearances, current reading
🙈 Announcing the third Little Brother book, Attack Surface
Attack Surface is the third Little Brother book, coming out next October.
It's told from the point of view of Masha, the young woman who is Marcus
Yallow's frenemy who works first for the DHS and then for a private
spook outfit. It's a book about how good people talk themselves into
doing bad things, and how they redeem themselves. It ranges from Iraq to
the color revolutions of the former USSR, to Oakland and the Movement
for Black Lives.
The story turns on cutting-edge surveillance and counter-surveillance:
self-driving cars, over-the-air baseband radio malware, IMSI catchers,
CV dazzle and adversarial examples, binary transparency and warrant
This week, I did a wide-ranging and deep interview with Andrew Liptak
for Polygon about the book, the Little Brother series, the techlash, the
tech workers' uprising (and #TechWontBuildIt), and the future of
We also revealed the cover for Attack Surface, which was designed by the
incomparable Will Staehle (who is eligible for a Best Artist Hugo –
nominations close today!).
Not only that, but Staehle has also designed a cover for a new omnibus
edition of Little Brother and Homeland that comes out this July, and as
you can see from that cover, the book has an all-new introduction by
none other than Ed Snowden!
(In 2017, Staehle also designed all-new covers for my adult backlist)
The Little Brother books are neither optimistic nor pessimistic about
technology: instead, they are hopeful. Hope is the belief that you can
materially improve your life if you take action. A belief in human
agency and the power of self-determination.
The message of Little Brother is neither "Things will all be fine" nor
"We are all doomed."
It's: "This will be so great…if we don't screw it up."
🙈 Where I Write
I learned to be a writer while my life was in total chaos. Decades
later, I have a beautiful office to work in, but I still do my best
writing typing hurriedly on subway trains, in taxi-cabs, and airport
My CBC column on where I write is really a primer on *how* I write: what
it takes to be able to write when you're sad, or anxious, or wracked
Unquestionably the most important skill I've acquired as a writer.
"Even though there were days when the writing felt unbearably awful, and
some when it felt like I was mainlining some kind of powdered genius and
sweating it out through my fingertips, there was no relation between the
way I felt about the words I was writing and their objective quality,
assessed in the cold light of day at a safe distance from the day I
wrote them. The biggest predictor of how I felt about my writing was how
I felt about me. If I was stressed, underslept, insecure, sad, hungry or
hungover, my writing felt terrible. If I was brimming over with joy, the
writing felt brilliant."
🙈 Stream 200+ global news channels
TV News is an Android app that pulls like Youtube streams from 200+
global news channels in 50 languages, each manually selected by the
app's creator, Steven Clift, whose work I've previously admired.
You can filter the feeds by country and language and watch them as
floating windows that let you continue to use your device while you
watch. No registration required, either.
They're shooting for 1000+ channels soon.
🙈 AT&T's CEO fired 23,000 workers and gave himself a 10% raise
Randall Stephenson is CEO of AT&T. Ajit Pai killed Net Neutrality so
that Stephenson could legally slow down the services we requested to
extort bribes from us. Then, Trump gave his company a $20B tax cut.
Stephenson used that money to raise exec pay, buy back his company's
stock to juice its price and to pay off debts from earlier, disastrous
mergers. He cut 23,000 jobs and slashed capital spending (America has
the worst broadband of any rich country).
After all that, Stephenson congratulated himself on a job well done by
giving himself a 10% raise in 2019, bringing his total compensation up
to *32 million dollars*.
I mean the guy earned it. He blew billions of dollars buying Warner and
Directv, and then lost billions more on the failed aftermath. If that
doesn't warrant a raise, what does?
🙈 Chelsea Manning is free
A judge has ordered that Chelsea Manning be released from jail, a day
after her latest suicide attempt. She was jailed last March for refusing
to testify before a grand jury, held in solitary for two months, then
jailed again a few days later, in May, She's been inside ever since.
The judge ordered her release because the Grand Jury had finished its work.
It's fantastic to that Manning got her freedom back, but she has been
fined $256,000 for her noncompliance. I just donated to her fund:
🙈 Rep Katie Porter forces CDC boss to commit to free testing
I am a huge fan of Rep Katie Porter. Her outstanding questioning
techniques and unwillingness to countenance bullshit from the people she
questions are such a delight to watch.
Here she is demolishing billionaire finance criminal Jamie Dimon:
Oh, Ben Carson, you never stood a chance:
Steve Mnuchin always looks like a colossal asshole, but rarely this
I almost feel sorry for this Trumpkin from the Consumer Finance
Protection Board as she faces Porter's withering fire.
Porter – an Elizabeth Warren protege – doesn't do this to grandstand.
Like AOC, she uses her spectacular skills to elicit admissions and get
them on the record, and to hold Congressional witnesses to account.
Today, Porter attained a new peak in a short, illustrious career. That's
because today was the day she questioned CDC assistant secretary for
preparedness and response Robert Kadlec, asking him to clarify Trump's
televised lie last night that insurers would pay for Covid-19 testing.
Porter doggedly held Kadlec to account, forcing him to acknowledge that
the cost of a Covid-19 test – $1,331 – was so high that many would
forego it, and then to admit that these Americans could go on to
transmit the disease to others, making it a matter of public concern.
Then she forced CDC Director Robert Redfield to admit – as she had
informed him in writing the week before – that the CDC had the authority
to simply pay those fees, universally, for any American seeking testing,
under 42 CFR 71.30:
Having laid this factual record, Porter insisted that Redfield commit to
using that authority. Not to consider it, study it, or consult on it. To
use it to help save the country. Whenever Redfield waffled, she
reclaimed her time and forced him back on point.
KP: Dr. Redfield, will you commit to the CDC, right now, using that
existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing, free to every
American, regardless of insurance?
RR: Well, I can say that we're going to do everything to make sure
everybody can get the care they need –"
KP: Nope, not good enough. Yes or no?
RR: What I'm going to say is, I'm going to review it in detail with CDC
and the department —
KP: No, reclaiming my time [repeats the question]
RR: What I was trying to say is that CDC is working with HHS now to see
how we operationalize that
KP: Dr. Redfield, I hope that that answer weighs heavily on you, because
it is going to weigh very heavily on me and on every American family
RR: Our intent is to make sure that every American family gets the care
and treatment they need at this time in this major epidemic and I am
currently working with HHS to see how to best operationalize it.
KP: Excellent! Everybody in America hear that — you are eligible to go
get tested for coronavirus and have that covered, regardless of insurance
🙈 Trump's unfitness in a plague
In this editorial, *Science* editor-in-chief H Holden Thorp makes a
compelling case that Trump is not capable of leading the American
response to Covid-19.
Trump has spent years denigrating and ignoring science before taking
office, and it's only gotten worse, since.
As Thorp writes, "You can't insult science when you don't like it and
then suddenly insist on something that science can't give on demand."
His policy track-record is even worse: "deep cuts to science, including
cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and
the NIH…nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science."
This reminds me of an argument I often have with digital rights
activists who attribute bad technology policy to the inability of
clueless lawmakers to understand the technical nuance. I think that's
wrong. The fact that we're not all dead of cholera, even though there
are no microbiologists in Congress proves that you don't need to be a
domain expert to make good policy.
Good policy comes from truth-seeking exercises in which experts with
different views present their best evidence to neutral adjudicators who
make determinations in public, showing their work in explicit, written,
public reasoning. These processes are made legitimate – and hence robust
and reliable – by procedural rules. The adjudicators – regulators,
staffers, etc – are not allowed to have conflicts of interest. Their
conclusions are subject to the rule of law, with mandatory transparency
and a process for appeal.
It has to be this way: there's no way that – say – a president could be
an expert on all the different issues that might arise during their tenure.
This, then, is the problem with inequality and market concentration: it
merges the referees with the players. When an industry only has a
handful of players, they all end up with common lobbying positions – a
common position on what is truth. That's because the C-suites of these
five companies are filled with people who've worked at two, three or
four of the competitors, and are married to others who've worked at the
remainder. They're godparents to one anothers' kids, executors of each
There's no way for there NOT to be collusion in these circumstances.
And when an industry is that concentrated, the only people who
understand it well enough are those same execs, so inevitably the
regulators are drawn from the industry.
That's why Obama's "good" FCC Chair, Tom Wheeler, was a former Comcast
lobbyist, and why Ajit Pai, Trump's "bad" FCC chair, is a former Verizon
lawyer. Apart from Susan Crawford, there's not really anyone who's not
from the top ranks of Big Telco qualified to regulate them.
So many of us saw the photo of Trump meeting with all the tech leaders
and were dismayed that they were throwing their lot in with him.
But we should also be aghast that all the leaders of the industry fit
around one modest board-room table.
The problem with Trump's Covid-19 response is that he does not believe
in a legitimate process with neutral referees. The refereeship, in
trumpland, is an open-field auction, a transactional process that works
best when it enriches Trump and his party.
The problem of Trump taking charge of the epidemiological crisis of
Covid-19 isn't that he doesn't understand science: it's that he doesn't
believe in evidence-based policy.
He is part of the cult of "Public Choice Theory," the belief that there
is no one who can serve as referee without eventually colluding with the
players for their mutual enrichment, a cynical, nihilistic philosophy
that holds that there's no point in seeking to govern well. These people
project their own moral vacuum onto all of humanity, a kind of cartoon
Homo Economicus who is incapable of anything except maximizing personal
For these people, the existence of bridges that don't fall down and
water that doesn't give you cholera are lucky accidents, not results of
sound policy and careful truth-seeking. They reason that since they
would take bribes to poison the water of Flint, so would everyone.
Trump isn't just a non-expert, he's an ignoranamus, but that's not the
problem. The problem is that he is a nihilist, someone who doesn't
believe that truth-seeking is even possible.
🙈 Malware that hides behind a realtime Covid-19 map
Hackers have developed a malware-as-a-service that packages up realtime
Covid-19 maps with malware droppers that infect people who load them.
This reminds me intensely of Peter Watts's 2002 novel Maelstrom, in
which Watts uses his background as an evolutionary biologist to posit an
eerily plausible and devilishly clever way that a digital and a human
virus could co-evolve.
This has stuck with me! In May 2018, I wrote about it in Locus Magazine:
Maelstrom is concerned with a pandemic that is started by its
protagonist, Lenie Clark, who returns from a deep ocean rift bearing an
ancient, devastating pathogen that burns its way through the human race,
felling people by the millions.
As Clark walks across the world on a mission of her own, her presence in
a message or news story becomes a signal of the utmost urgency. The
filters are firewalls that give priority to some packets and suppress
others as potentially malicious are programmed to give highest priority
to any news that might pertain to Lenie Clark, as the authorities try to
stop her from bringing death wherever she goes.
Here's where Watt's evolutionary biology shines: he posits a piece of
self-modifying malicious software – something that really exists in the
world today – that automatically generates variations on its tactics to
find computers to run on and reproduce itself. The more computers it
colonizes, the more strategies it can try and the more computational
power it can devote to analyzing these experiments and directing its
randomwalk through the space of all possible messages to find the
strategies that penetrate more firewalls and give it more computational
power to devote to its task.
Through the kind of blind evolution that produces predator-fooling false
eyes on the tails of tropical fish, the virus begins to pretend that it
is Lenie Clark, sending messages of increasing convincingness as it
learns to impersonate patient zero. The better it gets at this, the more
welcoming it finds the firewalls and the more computers it infects.
At the same time, the actual pathogen that Lenie Clark brought up from
the deeps is finding more and more hospitable hosts to reproduce in:
thanks to the computer virus, which is directing public health
authorities to take countermeasures in all the wrong places. The more
effective the computer virus is at neutralizing public health
authorities, the more the biological virus spreads. The more the
biological virus spreads, the more anxious the public health authorities
become for news of its progress, and the more computers there are trying
to suck in any intelligence that seems to emanate from Lenie Clark,
supercharging the computer virus.
Together, this computer virus and biological virus co-evolve, symbiotes
who cooperate without ever intending to, like the predator that kills
the prey that feeds the scavenging pathogen that weakens other prey to
make it easier for predators to catch them.
🙈 Locked-down Siennese sing their city's hymn
In times of crisis, we typically pull together, but elite panic's
pervasive mythology holds that these moments are when the poors reveal
their inner beast and attack their social betters. That libel on
humanity is disproved regularly by our everyday experience. As common as
these incidents of solidarity are, they still warrant our notice.
The Song of the Verbena is the hymn of the Italian city of Sienna,
currently on lockdown.
This video of Siennese people singing their hymn from the windows of
their houses, into their empty street, is one of the most beautiful,
hopeful things I've seen this week.
Truly, it is a tonic.
🙈 This day in history
#5yrsago NYPD caught wikiwashing Wikipedia entries on police brutality
#1yrago Gimlet staff announce unionization plan following Spotify
#1yrago With days to go until the #CopyrightDirective vote, #Article13's
father admits it requires filters and says he's OK with killing Youtube
#1yrago Spotify's antitrust complaint against Apple is a neat parable
about Big Tech's monopoly
#1yrago A critical flaw in Switzerland's e-voting system is a microcosm
of everything wrong with e-voting, security practice, and auditing firms
#1yrago McMansion Hell tours the homes of the "meritocratic"
one-percenters who allegedly bought their thickwitted kids' way into top
universities in the college admissions scandal
Today's top sources: Empty Wheel (https://www.emptywheel.net/), CNN
(https://cnn.com), Memex 1.1 (https://memex.naughtons.org/), Slashdot
Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the
Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:
Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on 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've also just completed "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 next.
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: A Lever Without a Fulcrum Is Just a Stick
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 new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583
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