[Plura-list] Marie Newman ousts Dan Lipinski, Radicalized radio documentary, African Whatsapp modders, Imagineering in a Box, Data is the New Toxic Waste, a fair covid bailout

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Mar 19 12:07:18 EDT 2020

Today's links

* The worst Democrat in Congress just lost his job: Dan Lipinski
primaried by the amazing Marie Newman.

* Canada Reads documentary on Radicalized: The Great Canadian Book
debate is indefinitely postponed, but here's an hour on my book!

* Africa's Facebook modders are world leaders: Technological
self-determination through adversarial interoperability.

* Imagineering in a Box: Interdisciplinary theme park design lessons
from Khan Academy and Disney.

* Data is the New Toxic Waste: It was never "the new oil."

* How to structure a fair covid bailout: Stimulus, not private jets.

* Fox News is a suicide cult: Telling your elderly viewers to perform
tribal loyalty by engaging in high-risk behaviors is a career-limiting move.

* Grocery supply chains are resilient: One less thing to worry about.

* Magic in the time of coronavirus: Never let a good crisis go to waste,
card-trick edition.

* This day in history: 2010, 2019

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


🥫  The worst Democrat in Congress just lost his job

Congress's worst Democrat is Dan Lipinski, a corrupt, anti-abortion,
corporatist, gunhumping asshole in a safe seat that he inherited from
his father in 2004, who handed it to him after nominations had closed,
bypassing the semblance of democracy.


He's a homophobic bigot who opposed the $15 minimum wage and allowed the
rail-barons who fund his campaign to dismantle safety regulations.

He was primaried by Marie Newman (I'm a donor!) whose campaign was
vicious sabotaged by the DNC.


Despite this, Marie Newman successfully primaried this piece of shit.

Like AOC's seat, Newman's is a very safe one, meaning she's all but
guaranteed to go to Congress in November.


🥫  Canada Reads documentary on Radicalized

The Canada Reads national book prize is indefinitely postponed, thanks
to covid. In lieu of the televised debates originally scheduled for this
week, the CBC is airing one-hour specials on each book, including mine,


If you're jonesing for The Great Canadian Book Debate, you can fill the
gap with the whole series:



🥫  Africa's Facebook modders are world leaders

In most of Africa, the most popular app by far is WhatsApp, and
unofficial WhatsApp mods – including one that started life as a Syrian
alternative at the height of its civil war – are offering local tools
for local contexts.


"Nothing about us without us" has been a rallying cry for many
movements, most recently the disability rights movement. Coders working
for a Silicon Valley Big Tech firm shouldn't have the last work on how
apps work for people half a world away.

The big WhatsApp mods accommodate lots of local needs: larger groups and
filesizes, better privacy protection, multiple accounts on a single device.

But it's also hard to find reliable mods, because FB used legal threats
to shut down the largest, most popular one.

Ironically, this has driven peer-to-peer app sharing, where people you
trust will directly send the app from their phone to yours, assuring you
that they haven't detected any spyware. That's just great.

What would be even better is if local coders could dismantle FB's
digital colonialism and market their improved apps directly, come out of
the shadows without fear of retaliation by distant juggernauts who want
to capture "the next billion users" and own their digital lives.

The history of Adversarial Interoperability is full of users modifying
their tools to improve them. Before John Deere was a monopolistic
copyright troll, it used to send engineers out to farms to collect and
integrate farmers' mods into its products.


Every human being should have the right of technological
self-determination: the right to decide which tools they use, and to
change how those tools work to suit their own needs.


🥫  Imagineering in a Box

Imagineering in a Box is a joint project from Khan Academy, Pixar and
Disney Imagineering. It's a series of interactive lessons and lectures
on designing themed spaces, rides to go in those spaces, and
animatronics to go in those rides.


It's interdisciplinary: land design is meant to be undertaken with
physical materials, ride design uses art and math, and animatronic
design is robotics – mechanical engineering and software development.


🥫  Data is the New Toxic Waste

In a new article for Kaspersky, I argue that data was never "the new
oil" – instead, it was always the new toxic waste: "pluripotent,
immortal – and impossible to contain."


Data breaches are inevitable (any data you collect will probably leak;
any data you retain will definitely leak) and cumulative (your company's
data breach can be combined with each subsequent attack to revictimize
your customers). Identity thieves benefit enormously from cheap storage,
and they collect, store and recombine every scrap of leaked data.
Merging multiple data sets allows for reidentification of "anonymized"
data, and it's impossible to predict which sets will leak in the future.

These nondeterministic harms have so far protected data-collectors from
liability, but that can't last. Toxic waste *also* has nondeterministic
harms (we never know which bit of effluent will kill which person), but
we still punish firms that leak it.

Waiting until the laws change to purge your data is a bad bet – by then,
it may be too late. All the data your company collects and retains
represents an unquantifiable, potentially unlimited source of downstream

What's more, you probably aren't doing anything useful with it. The
companies that make the most grandiose claims about data analytics are
either selling analytics or data (or both). These claims are sales
literature, not peer-reviewed citations to empirical research.

Data is cheap to collect and store – if you don't have to pay for the
chaos it sows when it leaks. And some day, we will make data-hoarders pay.


🥫  How to structure a fair covid bailout

It's a foregone conclusions that there will be a bailout. My first worry
is that it will be inflationary, because production has ground to a
halt. More dollars chasing fewer goods — not good.


But there's another risk, which is that it will just go to the finance
sector, who will use it to buy private jets and political influence,
repeating the 2008 pattern.


Financialization is how the economy got so fragile in the first place.
Leveraged buyouts, debt-loading, payoffs for layoffs, looting corporate
cash reserves, selling assets and spiking executive competition made
companies brittle. As Matt Stoller writes, financialization's goal "is
to eliminate production in favor of scalable profitable things like
brands, patents, and tax loopholes, because producers – engineers,
artists, workers – are cost centers."

Bush/Obama had huge leverage over corporations during their bailout, but
they squandered it by making companies subservient to finance, instead
of public priorities, workers' rights, or a fair deal for customers.

We must not repeat that blunder. Any company that gets a covid bailout

* be permanently banned from buybacks, and banned from dividends for 5
years. Companies need to restore their financial cushions.

* have their share price zeroed. Shareholders aren't getting a bailout.
They "took the risk and upside, they should get the downside too."

* have limits on executive comp. Tax dollars shouldn't make execs who
presided over failure into millionaires.

* a ban on lobbying, limits on PR – you can't spend public handouts to
lobby for more public handouts

* no M&A activity for 5 years. We're bailing you out so you can run a
productive business, not become an acquisition target.

This crisis is different than 2008. It's worse. Let's not make the
response worse, as well.


🥫  Fox News is a suicide cult

Throughout the crisis, Fox News has been dutifully fulfilling its role
as a state new organ for the Trump admin. When Trump's narrative was "no
big deal," the network engaged in denial and urged its viewers to engage
in high-risk conduct to perform their tribal loyalty.

TV news viewers are much older than the median American. Fox viewers are
much older than the median TV new viewer. Old people are at the highest
risk of covid complications. Linear increases in patient age yield
exponential increases in mortality.

Fox has since changed its orthodoxy to match the president's new
narrative. But it's too late. Many viewers will cling to their original
denial in order to protect themselves from feeling like dupes.


Others are already incubating – and passing on the virus.

Fox News just murdered a substantial portion of its viewership.


But don't get smug. The Fox viewers' risky conduct will have spread the
virus further, infecting people far beyond the circle of denialists.

And their cases and the cases of those they infected will contribute to
the overwhelming of the health-care system.

People who have car-wrecks or burst appendices or complex births or
other emergency hospitalizations will die as a result.

Fox didn't cause the pandemic, and its viewers aren't solely responsible
for its spread. But their ideology and conduct made it much, much worse.


🥫  Grocery supply chains are resilient

If you – like me – have been worried about empty US grocery shelves, it
appears that you can rest easy (or easier).

US food distributors' warehouses are at 200-500% nominal, comparable to


They saw this coming and stocked up.

Food production is also still very healthy.

The shortages appear temporary, driven by logistics bottlenecks that
will ease with time, assuming the labor force for
grocers/warehousers/shippers remains healthy and available.


🥫  Magic in the time of coronavirus

I really dote on the "social magic" of Andy at The Jerx, a one-on-one
style of conjuring and mentalism that often plays out over weeks and
months. He's been doing a series of performing tricks during
coronavirus, and the latest instalment is great.


"I have this trick I'm working on but I've run out of people to perform
it on in person. Can you hop on Skype for a few minutes?"

This implies that you *could* do the trick in person, and you can use it
to do something you *couldn't* do in person.

"The window of the Skype frame makes switching and ditching and that
sort of thing incredibly easy. You don't need a pocket index, you can
have stuff just sitting on your computer desk off frame."


🥫  This day in history

#10yrsago Peter Watts found guilty www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=1186

#10yrsago Icelandic Pirates soar: citizenship for Snowden?

#1yrago Uber used spyware to surveil and poach drivers from Australian
rival service Gocatch

#1yrago Kickstarter employees want to unionize under OPEIU and have
formed Kickstarter United to make that happen

#1yrago The European Copyright Directive: What Is It, and Why Has It
Drawn More Controversy Than Any Other Directive In EU History?

#1yrago Matt Taibbi finally makes sense of the Pentagon's trillions in
off-books "budgetary irregularities"

#1yrago New Zealand's domestic spies, obsessed with illegally
surveilling environmental activists, missed a heavily armed right-wing


🥫  Colophon

Today's top sources: Disney Parks Blog
(https://disneyparks.disney.go.com), Naked Capitalism

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: The Masque of the Red Death and Punch Brothers Punch

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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