[Plura-list] EFF's videoconferencing backgrounds, the ideology of economics, LoC plugs Little Brother, Canada nationalizes covid patents

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Mar 26 10:23:32 EDT 2020

Today's links

* EFF's videoconferencing backgrounds: With a deep cut from the NSA's
secret listening post.

* The ideology of economics: Economics doesn't have "laws" it has

* LoC plugs Little Brother: Open access FTW.

* Canada nationalizes covid patents: An Act respecting certain measures
in response to COVID-19.

* Exponential Threat: Trump threatened to sue media outlets that aired
this spot.

* Sanders on GOP stimulus cruelty: "Millions for plutes, but not one
cent for workers."

* Record wind-power growth: Covid stimulus could start a Green New Deal.

* Social distancing and other diseases: Do we trust IoT thermometer
companies, though?

* Badger Masks: UW Madison's open facemask design.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

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


🔕 EFF's videoconferencing backgrounds

Telework is a quiet reminder that we live, in some sense, in an age of
wonders. As terrible as lockdown is, imagine it without any way to
videoconference with your peers and colleagues.

But it's also a moment where we tremble on the precipice of cyberpunk
dystopia, when calls for mass surveillance – both for epidemiology and
stabilizing states that are bruised and reeling – meet a world where
*everything* is online and amenable to "collection" by spooks.

This is, basically, the moment that EFF has been warning about for 30
years: the moment when the "digital world" and the "real world" fully
merge, and where the distinction between "tech policy" and "policy"

One way you can help keep this in your colleagues' minds is to use EFF's
amazing, free/open graphics as your videoconferencing background (most
of these are the creation of the brilliant Hugh D'Andrade).

Now, those are all great, but this one is Room 641A at AT&T's Folsom
Street center, where the whistleblower Mark Klein was ordered to build a
secret room so the NSA could illegally spy on all US internet traffic.


🔕 The ideology of economics

Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" advanced a simple,
data-supported hypothesis: that markets left to their own will cause
capital to grow faster than the economy as a whole, so over time, the
rich always get richer.


He's followed up Capital with the 1000-page "Capital and Ideology" –
whose thesis is that the "laws" of economics are actually policies,
created to "justify a society's inequalities," providing a rationale to
convince poor people not to start building guillotines.

The first ideology of capital was the "trifunctional" system of
monarchist France, dividing society into "those who pray," "those who
fight," and "those who work."

After the French revolution, we enter the capitalist phase, then social
democracies, and now, "meritocracies."

"Meritocracies" invest markets with the mystical power to identify and
elevate the worthy, in a kind of tautology: those who have the most are
worth the most. You can tell they're worth the most because they have
the most.

("That makes me smart" -D. Trump)

In Piketty's conception, "Inequality is neither economic nor
technological. It's ideological and political," where "ideology" "refers
to a set of a priori plausible ideas describing how society should be
structured" (think: Overton Window).


The major part of the book seeks to explain how the post-war social
democracies gave way to the grifter meritocracies of today, pulling
together threads from across the whole world to tell the tale.

On the way, he described alternatives that were obliterated, and others
that were never tried, and shows how "meritocracy" gave us Trump,
xenophobia, Brexit, and the Current Situation.

In particular, he's interested in why working class people stopped
voting (spoiler: they no longer perceive that elites will pay attention
to them irrespective of how they vote) — and what it would take to
mobilize them again.

The elites' indifference to working people is grounded in an alliance
between the Brahmin Left (educated, well-paid liberals) and the Merchant
Right (the finance sector). Notionally leftist parties, like the
Democrats, are dominated by the Brahmin Left.

But more than any other, Macron epitomizes this alliance: proclaiming
his liberal values while slashing taxes on the wealthy — punishing poor
people for driving cars, exempting private jets from his "climate" bill.

Life in a "meritocracy" is especially cruel for poor people, because
meritocracies, uniquely among ideologies, blame poor people for poverty.
It's right there in the name. French kings didn't think God was
punishing peons, rather, that the Lord had put them there to serve.

"The broadly social-democratic redistributive coalitions of the
mid-twentieth century were not just electoral or institutional or party
coalitions but also intellectual and ideological. The battle was fought
and won above all on the battleground of ideas."

As Marshall Steinbaum writes in his excellent review, Piketty's work
doesn't just highlight new ideas in economics: it highlights the
intellectual poverty of the economics profession and its tunnel vision.

"Economists cannot be allowed to be the arbiters of the intensely
political concerns Piketty takes up in the book, and the good news is
that there is reason to believe they won't be."


🔕 LoC plugs Little Brother

Honored and pleased to have my book Little Brother included on the
Library of Congress's excellent collection of open-access ebooks in its
collection, which you can always access gratis but which may be of
especial interest during the lockdown.


If you enjoyed Little Brother and its sequel Homeland, you might be
interested in the third Little Brother book, Attack Surface, which Tor
is publishing on Oct 12.


If you're looking for more topical reading, Infodocket's carefully
curated list of coronavirus resources is here for you:



🔕 Canada nationalizes covid patents

Canada's Parliament has passed Bill C13, "An Act respecting certain
measures in response to COVID-19," amending patent law to create
automatic compulsory licenses for any inventionused to fight covid,
including diagnostics, vaccines, therapies or PPE.


As E Richard Gold writes, it's an "important signal that Canada will not
support IP delays…While most firms are helping find solutions, this will
prevent those who try to take advantage-by raising prices or limiting
supply-or those who cannot deliver to block what is needed."


🔕 Exponential Threat

"Exponential Threat" is a remarkable – and factual – political ad, one
that contrasts Trump's statements on coronavirus with the spread of the
disease in America.


More remarkable: Trump has threatened to sue the media for airing it,
which is a totally cool and normal thing for someone who has sworn a
solemn oath to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to do.


"In case you needed more, here's an (admittedly incomplete) list of
Trump statements on the novel coronavirus and COID-19"


* Jan. 22: "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in
from China."

* Feb. 2: "We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. It's going
to be fine."

* Feb. 25: "CDC & my administration are doing a GREAT job of handling

* Feb. 25: "I think that's a problem that's going to go away. They have
studied it. They know very much. In fact, we're very close to a
vaccine." [White House | New York Post]

* Feb. 26: "We're going very substantially down, not up."

* Feb. 27: "One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear."

* Feb. 28: "We're ordering a lot of supplies. We're ordering a lot of,
uh, elements that frankly we wouldn't be ordering unless it was
something like this. But we're ordering a lot of different elements of

* March 2: "You take a solid flu vaccine, you don't think that could
have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?"

* March 2: "A lot of things are happening, a lot of very exciting things
are happening and they're happening very rapidly."

* March 4: "If we have thousands of people that get better just by, you
know, sitting around and even going to work – some of them go to work,
but they get better."

* March 5: "I never said people that are feeling sick should go to work."

* March 6: "I think we're doing a really good job in this country at
keeping it down… a tremendous job at keeping it down."

* March 6: "Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test
gets a test. And the tests are beautiful. They are perfect just like the
letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not
as perfect as that but pretty good."

* March 6: "I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised
that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know
so much about this?' Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have
done that instead of running for president."

* March 6: "I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship
that wasn't our fault."

* March 8: "We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the
White House for our attack on Coronavirus."

* March 9: "The Fake News media & their partner, the Democrat Party, is
doing everything within its semi-considerable power to inflame the
Coronavirus situation."

* March 10: "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."

* March 13: National Emergency Declaration.

* March 17: "I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."


🔕 Sanders on GOP stimulus cruelty

This Bernie Sanders floor speech in the Senate on the GOP's relentless
attempts to punish poor people in the covid relief package is a must-watch


tldr: GOP Senators are freaking out because some people in line to get
the pittances they're doling out actually earn EVEN LESS than
$1k-2k/month, and so they might get a raise in the form of covid relief.

That is, rather than taking the fact that this bare-minimum subsidy
package exceeds "normal" income as a wakeup call to raise the minimum
wage for the first time since 2009, the GOP is calling for cuts to aid
to the most vulnerable Americans.

As Sanders points out, these same Senators had no problem with the Tax
Scam, which poured *trillions* into the accounts of the richest
Americans, directly and indirectly through stock-buybacks, which also
left US business vulnerable and in need of trillions more today.

Now those bailed-out plutes want workers to risk death to "restart the
economy," and the GOP will ensure they'll starve if they don't.

As ever, The Onion nails it:


"GOP Urges End Of Quarantine For Lifeless Bipedal Automatons That Make
Economy Go"


🔕 Record wind-power growth

As the world's wind-generation capacity increases, you'd expect annual
growth to fall proportionately (it's easier to double a very small
number than a very big one!), but this year should see the largest
proportional growth ever, a 20% increase!


That number is uncertain (hello, coronavirus), but on the other hand,
there's a massive stimulus package in the offing that could be used to
restart the economy by saving the planet with renewable energy.

The non-adjusted, pre-virus projection for this year's total growth in
wind power was an additional 76GW (to meet climate projections, that
number has to rise to 100GW/year, and then to 200GW/year).


🔕 Social distancing and other diseases

Though the evidence is a little shaky, it appears that social distancing
has dramatically reduced the spread of other infectious diseases, like flu.


The data comes from an Internet of Shit "connected thermometer" company
that (allegedly) anonymizes its data and uses it for health
surveillance; they report a massive drop-off in high temps relative to
other years and pre-distancing levels.

The claims are plausible, but they're also an ad for an IoT company that
sells a product no one needs, so take them with a grain of salt.

I'd be interested in STI transmission after weeks/months of
government-recommended masturbation-over-hookups:



🔕 Badger Masks

A local hospital asked researchers at the UW Madison Engineering Design
Innovation Lab to design them a field-expedient face-shield that could
be mass-manufactured to protect its staff from coming cases.


Using hardware-store parts, the UW makerspace, and teleconferencing with
self-isolating collaborators, the team designed an *excellent* mask, the
Badger Shield:


They've manufactured and delivered 1,000 Badger Masks to the hospital
and a Ford plant in MI is making 75,000 more this week for Detroit-area
hospitals. Here's a technical spec you can follow if you have access to
equipment and parts:


It involves just 3 pieces: polyethylene sheets (laser- or die-cut), an
elastic headband, and a 1" thick strip of self-adhesive polyurethane
foam. For initial production, Midwest Prototyping used
office-supply-store electric staplers for assembly.

The design process started with a teardown of an existing, approved
mask, and the project lead, Lennon Rodgers, worked with collaborators to
replicate it, sanity-checking successive designs with his wife, an

They started hand-delivering prototypes to the hospital, who refined the
design further, swapping in latex-free elastic and lengthening the
shield. Tim Osswald from UW used his polymer engineering expertise to
find a supplier who could create a custom die.

Now, more than 1M Badger Masks have been sought, with manufacturers like
St Paul's Summit Medical tooling up to meet demand.

Other designs are popping up across America. San Francisco's
Exploratorium is making 200+ shields/day using its own makerspace.


🔕 This day in history

#15yrsago If the Constitution was a EULA

#10yrsgo Discarded photocopier hard drives stuffed full of corporate

#5yrsago TPP leak: states give companies the right to repeal nations'
laws https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/press.html

#5yrsago Woman medicated in a psychiatric ward until she said Obama
didn't follow her on Twitter

#5yrsago Sandwars: the mafias whose illegal sand mines make whole
islands vanish https://www.wired.com/2015/03/illegal-sand-mining/

#5yrsago Australia outlaws warrant canaries

#5yrsago As crypto wars begin, FBI silently removes sensible advice to
encrypt your devices

#1yrago Article 13 will wreck the internet because Swedish MEPs
accidentally pushed the wrong voting button

#1yrago EU's Parliament Signs Off on Disastrous Internet Law: What
Happens Next?


🔕 Colophon

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

Currently writing: I'm getting geared up to start work my next novel,
"The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

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: Data – the new oil, or potential for a toxic oil spill?

Upcoming appearances:

* Quarantine Book Club, April 1, 3PM Pacific

* Museums and the Web, April 2, 12PM-3PM Pacific https://mw20.museweb.net/

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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