[Plura-list] Understanding Qanon; Devo Emergency Dome; Covid Seuss parodies; Self-cooling sweaty solar panels

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri May 15 17:51:35 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Understanding Qanon: Big Tech hasn't invented a mind-control ray.

* Devo Emergency Dome: Are we not men?

* Covid Seuss parodies: Sosumi.

* Self-cooling sweaty solar panels: Material science ftw.

* Google's GDPR reckoning: Max Schrems to the max.

* A people's vaccine: Can't pay won't pay.

* Whistleblower warns of massive mortgage fraud: 2008, again.

* Tear gas ice-cream: It feels difficult to breathe at first, and it’s
really pungent and irritating.

* Lockdown Haunted Mansion theme: Dapperdans at home.

* A Furiosa movie: No Max in the next Mad Max.

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

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


🧝‍♂️ Understanding Qanon

Both left and right politics have seen surges of conspiratorial
thinking, but without question the most organized and politically
salient conspiracy theory at the moment is Qanon. In The Atlantic,
Adrienne LaFrance dives deep into Q and its context.


As comprehensive as LaFrance's account is, there's one blank spot: why
is belief in conspiracies is surging in the first place?

The main explanation - a subtext running through LaFrance's excellent
piece - is that algorithmic persuasion is to blame.

That is, the systems that Big Tech built to convince us to buy
refrigerators and acne cream are now being hijacked to convince us that
pizza parlors are harboring pedophile rings in their (non-existent)
basements. I am very skeptical of this account.

First, because the best evidence we have for Big Tech's power to perform
these persuasive miracles comes from Big Tech's own marketing puffery,
what they tell potential advertisers to justify their rate-cards, and
what they tell investors to buoy their share prices.

Neither the source nor the claim is particularly credible. If there's
one thing we know, it's hard to convince people of stuff. That, in fact,
is the hard problem of advertising, religion, politics, art, and social
change. No one has systematized it in an enduring way.

What Big Tech does VERY well, however, is find people. It can find
people who are thinking of buying a fridge (a diffuse, hard-to-locate
cohort) by targeting people who've shopped for fridges or kitchens, or
perused reviews. This isn't a persuasive miracle, it's just spying.

Likewise, Big Tech can help people with fringe ideas locate each other.
This is true irrespective of how much you like those fringe ideas: it
doesn't matter if the idea is #BlackLivesMatter and gender is a spectrum
or white nationalism and the Earth is flat.

I believe what we call "persuasion" is primarily "targeting." If the
major barrier to the spread of your message is that you can't find the
people who would be receptive to it, Big Tech's people-finding systems
can supercharge your ideas.

This works especially well for ideas that invite social disapprobation
if you publicly embrace them - which is why the internet is such a
godsend for queer kids who fear discussing their sexuality with
intolerant friends or parents.

It also works great for conspiracies.

Which raises a different question: why is it so easy to find people who
want to believe in conspiracies. My answer: because so many of the
things that have traumatized so many people ARE conspiracies.

The opioid epidemic was a conspiracy between rich families like the
Sacklers and regulators who rotate in and out of industry. The 737
crisis was caused by Boeing's conspiracy to cut corners and aviation
regulators' conspiracy to allow aerospace to regulate itself.

Senators conspire to liquidate their positions ahead of coronavirus
lockdown, well-heeled multinationals conspire to get 94.5% of the "small
business" PPP fund, Big Tech conspires to fix wages with illegal
collusion while fast food franchises do the same with noncompetes.

In a world of constant real conspiracy scandals that destroy lives and
the planet, conspiracy theories take on real explanatory power. This is
beautifully discussed in Anna Merlan's 2019 book, "Republic of Lies."


All of this is the context for Qanon. Add to that the fact that Q is
also a literal industry whose superstars make fortunes - and not
necessarily cynically, because, after all, what better proof could you
ask for of the truth of Q than the fact that it's making you rich?

Another consequence of making it easier to find people is that groups
can coalesce around loosely defined principles. Pre-internet, the high
cost of group-forming meant that you would be wasting a lot of effort by
grouping with people who disagreed with you on fundamentals.

Eventually, those disagreements would drive you apart and all your
group-forming work would be wasted. But lower-cost group forming makes
it easier to take risks on making common cause with people you disagree

People who criticized Occupy for the lack of a crisply defined program
missed this point: by refusing to narrowly define its cause, Occupy
could be a broad tent.

Q's gnomic utterances are perfectly suited to exploit this increased
appetite for risk in group forming.

Q's nonsensical utterances become an oracle that different kinds of
conspirators can project their own fears and aspirations onto, creating
multiple, irreconcilable interpretations for these pronunciations.

And that very vagueness and imprecision allows Q followers to find
post-facto interpretations that show that Q was right all along (a
favorite pastime of mystics from Revelations to Nostradamus).

Q is both a rehash of historical conspiracy pathologies and utterly of
this moment, then. It's a phildickian phenomenon, a conspiracy whose
gospel reads like the cryptic notes I get from stalkers who are having
terrible, paranoid hallucinations.

Q is both a rehash of historical conspiracy pathologies and utterly of
this moment, then. It's a phildickian phenomenon, a conspiracy whose
gospel reads like the cryptic notes I get from stalkers who are having
terrible, paranoid hallucinations.

One of the milestones in my understanding of conspiracists was this
outstanding interview with a leading Flat Earther by the Oh No Ross and
Carrie podcast:


He describes his satisfaction with Flat Earth as compared with other

By which he means that the community bonds and his ability to have high
stature in it are satisfying and that makes it feel true.

These feelings, along with the trauma of real conspiracies, make
conspiracism a powerful temptation. That should guide our thinking on Q.

Not the junk science of the nonreplicating, discredited "backfire
effect" (which is a polestar for Facebook's approach to conspiracy
despite its lack of rigor):


Meanwhile, if you want to get deeper into the bizarre mythology of Q, I
highly recommend this "Qanon exit briefing."



🧝‍♂️ Devo Emergency Dome

Looking for PPE? Devo's got you covered. Their Energy Dome PPE Kit
combines a face-shield with the classic upturned flower-pot. Pair with a
boiler suit for the full look.


If that's not your thing, or if you want another look for formal
occasions, there's Etsy seller WellDoneGoods's $30 Cthuhlu masks
(available in "XXL/Beard" at a higher price). #fhtagn



🧝‍♂️ Covid Seuss parodies

These covid/Dr Seuss mashups from art director Jim Malloy are INSPIRED.


They're a tribute to the power of remix and the fair use that enables
it. Alas, the Seuss estate is among the vicious foes of remix, as is
demonstrated by their all-out war on Comixmix's "Oh, the Places You'll
Boldly Go."



🧝‍♂️ Self-cooling sweaty solar panels

Peng Wang and an environmental engineering team at Hong Kong Polytechnic
University have developed a way to increase the efficiency of solar
panels by allowing them to "sweat" during the day.


Solar efficiency decreases as photovoltaic panels heat up, so the team
tried coating their undersides with hydrogels - "a mix of carbon
nanotubes in polymers with a water-attracting calcium chloride salt" -
that absorb atmospheric moisture during cool night hours.

During the day, the moisture evaporates, conferring an evaporative
cooling benefit to the panels. It's very efficient: in a 35% humid
desert environment, every square meter of PV panel needs just 1kg of gel
(that goes down to 300g in an 80% humid environment).

The panels are cooled by up to 10'C, and produce up to 15% more energy.

Best of all: its a retrofit, so existing installations can benefit from it.


🧝‍♂️ Google's GDPR reckoning

When Max Schrems was an Austrian law student doing a study-abroad
semester at Stanford, he wrote a paper on Facebook's noncompliance with
EU privacy law, based on a fumbled by FB's privacy counsel to his class.
This led to a privacy complaint against Facebook in Ireland.

The ensuing legal wrangle dealt a serious blow to all of Big Tech,
ending the "safe harbour" system that allowed it to store Europeans'
data on servers outside of the EU. This laid the groundwork for the GDPR
(Schrems is currently pursuing action against FB under GDPR).

Now, Schrems is taking on Google. He and his nonprofit NOYB (None of
Your Business Nonprofit) have asked the Austrian privacy regulator to
find that Google violates the GDPR by not obtaining consent before
assigning users an ad-tracking ID.

They further allege that Google's remedy to a GDPR request to halt
processing of a users' data is merely to assign you a new tracking ID
and continuing to track you.


Here's the complaint:


Google's response boils down to, "We have to spy on you to figure out if
you told us to stop spying on you."

The complaint challenges the entire ad-tech industry. That's what the
GDPR was designed to do, after all. Alas, for the first few years, the
major impact has been to annihilate EU-based ad-tech companies while US
Big Tech got free rein.

There's two reasons for that: first, smaller ad-tech companies have less
capital to spend on compliance, and second, they're more money-hungry
and play fast and loose and are more demonstrably in violation with GDPR

But Big Tech's GDPR compliance has been smoke-and-mirrors from day one,
risible garbage that made it clear that they were treating GDPR as a
convenient way to clear the field of competitors, not a signal to
fundamentally change their business.

Schrems and NOYB are the kinds of dedicated, driven, principled actors
that can force regulators to finally do their jobs. If I was Google, I'd
be worried.


🧝‍♂️ A people's vaccine

UNAID and Oxfam have coordinated a letter signed by 140 current and
former world leaders, economists and public health experts calling on
every government in the world to ensure that any covid-19 vaccine is
available for free.


There are obvious humanitarian reasons for this - letting people die of
a preventable illness because they can't afford vaccination is barbaric.

But there's also a practical reason: if we are to attain herd immunity,
we have to get everyone vaccinated who can be.

It's not enough to vaccinate people who can afford it. Not all of them
can be vaccinated - due to illness or other conditions - and not
everyone who is vaccinated will be immune.

Having some places were the disease has been stopped and others where it
rages on is like having a pool with a "no pissing" end and a "pissing"
end. We're all in the same pool.

But it's no better to declare the whole pool a "no pissing" zone and
then tell half the people in it they're no longer allowed to use the
toilets. Everybody poops. Telling people they're not allowed to use the
toilet doesn't mean they stop needing to use the toilet.

Accordingly, the letter calls on world governments to institute
worldwide free sharing of "all COVID-19 related knowledge, data and
technologies"; to require rich countries to fully fund production of any
vaccine and to make all products available "at true cost."

To recruit an army to distribute vaccines, with "vaccines, diagnostics,
tests and treatments provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere,"
with first priority to " front-line workers, the most vulnerable people,
and poor countries with least capacity to save lives."


🧝‍♂️ Whistleblower warns of massive mortgage fraud

The 2008 financial crisis was precipitated by massive mortgage-backed
securities fraud, in which corrupt bankers colluded with bond-rating
agencies and regulators to trick people into thinking that bonds based
on mortgage payments were safe bets.

It's happening again.

Last year, John Flynn, a senior figure in the commercial mortgage-backed
securities, filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC detailing
billions in fraud from Wells Fargo, Deutsche Bank and other major
financial players.


These are the same banks that destroyed the world's economy in 2008 and
got bailed out. Flynn shows that they've followed the same playbook that
they used then, but this time, it's mortgages on commercial real-estate.
These loans are packaged as bonds and sold on.

If the banks can convince investors to buy the bonds from them, they can
issue bonds on the basis of cooked financials that hide the fact that
the businesses taking out the loans are destined to fail, and then
offload the risk onto suckers who'll be on the hook later.

He's telling the truth. Propublica pulled paperwork on these loans and
discovered properties listed twice under different addresses, lies about
historic profits, existing debts omitted, etc. Flynn's found $150B worth
of fraud...so far (the market's worth $592B).

Bankers rely on the fact that no one ever reads the whole prospectus,
just the summary (no one, that is, except Flynn).

These companies are mostly doomed, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, but
because of this fraud, they'll cost the rest of us MUCH more when they tank.


🧝‍♂️ Tear gas ice-cream

An ice-cream shop owner in Hong Kong is selling tear-gas-flavored
ice-cream as a gesture of solidarity with the pro-democracy movement
which has been in limbo during the pandemic.


Anna Wong, a customer who was gassed at the protests, said that it did
indeed taste of tear gas: "It feels difficult to breathe at first, and
it’s really pungent and irritating. It makes me want to drink a lot of
water immediately..."

"It’s a flashback that reminds me of how painful I felt in the movement,
and that I shouldn’t forget."

The shop also has a "Lennon wall" where people can leave political
messages on postit notes.


🧝‍♂️ Lockdown Haunted Mansion theme

One of the great joys of Disneyland is its street performers, who are
drawn from the massive LA-area pool of talented singers, dancers and
musicians of every kind. One of my favorite acts is the Dapper Dans, a
barbershop quartet act that performs on Main Street.


During the annual Halloween nights, the Dans are recostumed in ghostly
outfits and they haunt New Orleans Square, performing a spooky
barbershop rendition of "Grim Grinning Ghosts," X Atencio and Buddy
Baker's amazing Haunted Mansion theme song.

The Dapper Dans are all on lockdown, but they've been reunited virtually
for a pandemic edition of their rendition of GGG: it's all singing, all
dancing, and just fantastic.


As ever, if you want to learn about something Mansion related, you
should start at the Long Forgotten blog. Predictably, the entry on Grim
Grinning Ghosts is fantastic:



🧝‍♂️ A Furiosa movie

George Miller's next Mad Max movie is a prequel, telling the story of
Fury Road's Imperator Furiosa, easily the best character in the entire
franchise: a compromised and principled badass who's far tougher than
Max himself.

The new movie will tell the tale of the matriarchal "Green Place" and
will doubtless infuriate many manbabies. Fuck them.

Alas, Charlize Theron will not reprise the role, but production designer
Colin Gibson and cinematographer John Seale are back.

No word on whether editor Margaret Sixel - who won the Oscar for Fury
Road - will be back, but I sure hope so. She is phenomenal.



🧝‍♂️ This day in history

#15yrsago Jargon: Treeware -- a dead-tree book

#10yrsago Will 3D plans for bongs become illegal, too?

#5yrsago MAME going open-source

#5yrsago The Subprimes: a novel of the Piketty/Klein apocalypse

#5yrsago Stephen Harper extended music copyright to please US record
industry lobbyist

#5yrsago BB King, RIP

#1yrago Discovering whether your Iphone has been hacked is nearly
impossible thanks to Apple's walled garden

#1yrago After retaliation against Googler Uprising organizers, a
company-wide memo warns employees they can be fired for accessing "need
to know" data

#1yrago Axon makes false statements to town that bought its police
bodycams, threatens to tase their credit-rating if they cancel the

#1yrago Naked Capitalism reviews Radicalized

#1yrago European telcos want the right to perform "deep packet
inspection" on our data

#1yrago Foxconn promised it would do something with the empty buildings
it bought in Wisconsin, but they're still empty (still no factory,


🧝‍♂️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/),
Super Punch (https://superpunch.net/), Geeks Are Sexy
(https://www.geeksaresexy.net/), Fipi Lele, Slashdot
(https://slashdot.org/), Marginal Revolution
(https://marginalrevolution.com/), Alice Taylor
(https://twitter.com/wonderlandblog/), Neatorama

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 505 words (15824

Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.

Latest podcast: Rules for Writers

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"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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