[Plura-list] Bloomberg editorial calls for a supersized New Deal; A Database of Ruin; Coronagrifting and other bad design fictions

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun May 24 11:22:12 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Bloomberg editorial calls for a supersized New Deal: Noah Smith says
FDR didn't go far enough.

* A Database of Ruin: Another excerpt from Barton Gellman's Snowden book.

* Coronagrifting and other bad design fictions: Photoshop will not win
the war on the virus.

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

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


🎪 Bloomberg editorial calls for a supersized New Deal

Sometimes, you can actually see the Overton Window shifting. This month
is one of those times, with Bloomberg running a Noah Smith op-ed calling
for a new New Deal, arguing that the main problem with the last one is
that it didn't go far enough.


Smith devotes a fair chunk of his column to debunking New Classical
economists who claim that the New Deal lengthened the Great Depression,
an idea that has been comprehensively demolished by careful empirical
work, and is only cited today by plute-lovin' motivated reasoners.

Though Smith doesn't write the words "Modern Monetary Theory," it's hard
not to see them waiting just off to one side - the idea that inflation
is causedby government spending on things the private sector is trying
to but - not by deficits.


With the corollary that when the private sector stops buying things -
especially the labor of tens of millions of people - the private sector
can buy those things without creating inflation.

In other words, everyone can have a job. Everyone should have a job. Not
giving people jobs is bad for the economy. An economic system that has a
"natural level of unemployment" is cruel and unworthy of our loyalty.



🎪 A Database of Ruin

This week marks the publication of Barton Gellman's "Dark Mirror," an
important addition to the canon of books about the Snowden revelations.
Earlier this week, The Atlantic ran a fascinating excerpt about how spy
agencies targeted Gellman.


Today in Wired, we get another taste - a long excerpt about the
"Database of ruin" - the NSA's system for mapping the "social graphs" of
every person in America using phone billing record.


This system was handwaved by GW Bush, who said, "if somebody is talking
to al Qaeda, we want to know why" - but as Gellman discovered, that's
not what the "Stellarwind" program did. This wasn't about getting
terrorists' call records to see who they talked to.

It was about "six degrees of separation," finding everyone who talked to
someone that a terrorist talked to, then everyone *they* talked to, and
so on and so on. Exponential growth (a subject we've become much more
familiar with) means that soon, you're looking at everyone.

The computational intensity of this task meant that the trillions of
records the NSA ingested weren't inert on a hard-drive, waiting to be
pulled after an attack so that cops could find confederates of the
attacker. Rather, they were constantly, continuously recomputed.

For decades, the NSA was created these algorithmic webs of suspicion,
seemingly in ignorance of Cardinal Richilieu's Law: "If you give me six
lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find
something in them which will hang him."

This is what made it a "database of ruin." Because just as predictive
policing doesn't predict crime (it predicts whom the police will suspect
of crime), so did Mainway/Stellarwind perfectly predict whom the NSA
would suspect - but it did not predict who was a terrorist.

And it's what made the system a "dark mirror" - the NSA knew who we
talked to and when, but we never knew who they talked to and when. It
was one-way glass.

Gellman: "If the power implications do not seem convincing, try
inverting the relationship in your mind: What if a small group of
citizens had secret access to the telephone logs and social networks of
government officials?"

"How might that privileged knowledge affect their power to shape events?
How might their interactions change if they possessed the means to
humiliate and destroy the careers of the persons in power?"

In 2008 - a few years after the Mark Klein revelations (the events that
precipitated Snowden's own whistleblower journey), I was so struck by
this concern that I wrote a short story about it.

In "The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away," I
imagine a system of automated, universal suspicion, abetted by a cadre
of willfully blind, technically excellent and brilliant prodigies in


Rather than raising honeybees or making wine, their monastic order
processes data for the security agencies. "Weak and Strange" follows one
of these monks as he confronts who he is and what he does.

Living in our present moment requires enormous compartmentalization
skills - there is no "ethical consumption," so either you don a
hairshirt of material privation, or you try not to dwell on the oceans
of blood just below the surface.

It's why I'm so interested in whistleblowers like Snowden, and anyone
who confronts the reality of their own complicity in the indefensible.
Even if you don't have to go into exile as a result of your actions, you
still pay a giant psychic price for it.

I re-read Weak and Strange the other day, after reading Matt Web's post
about neurodiversity (I wrote the story after a car-ride in which
Patrick Nielsen Hayden proposed that monasteries were the medieval way
of managing neurodiversity).


It reminded me that I've been thinking about the subject of confronting
complicity for a *long* time.

Which was something of a revelation, because my next novel, ATTACK
SURFACE (AKA Little Brother 3) is all about this.


Somehow, I'd forgotten about Weak and Strange for the years I spent on
that book (!). But again, that is the satisfying and sometimes
frightening thing about writing: it tells you stuff about yourself
you've forgotten or never noticed.


🎪 Coronagrifting and other bad design fictions

My favorite kind of humor turns on sharp analytic observations, which is
why some of my favorite non-comedic writing comes from very funny
people. Exhibit A is Kate "McMansion Hell" Wagner, whose superb dunks of
bougie architecture are always a highlight of my day.


As good as those are, I'm even more fond of Wagner's writing about other
subjects - the wider social context she draws on for her signature humor


In a new piece in this vein, Wagner outdoes herself, coining
"coronagrifting" to describe a particularly odious form of "design
fiction" in which design and architecture firms photoshop unworkable,
fanciful "inventions" for a post-pandemic world.


From Burger King's cardboard crowns to a conversion of Berlin's
half-built Brandenberg airport into a pandemic ward to torso-shielding
glass bubbles for restaurants, coronagrifting is a symbiosis between
moribund design studios and revenue-starved ad-supported media.

Wagner traces their lineage to "paper architecture," a 1960s/70s trend
where designers and architects switched from designing buildings to
drawing pictures of buildings that couldn't ever exist.

But while paper architecture was "radical, critical and playful," it was
eventually sapped of this spirit in the 1980s with the "aesthetic
hegemony of Postmodernism," which reinvented paper architecture as

PRchitecture: "architecture and design content that has been dreamed up
from scratch to look good on instagram feeds or, more simply, for
clicks." When starchitects like Bjarke Ingels photoshop designs like
"Oceanix," it begets TED Talks, not buildings.

And those TED Talks land Ingels contracts with fascist dictators like
Jair Bolsonaro - not contracts to build ecotopian post-global warming
floating cities.

PRchitecture, in turn, was the larval form of coronagrifting: creating
fanciful, impossible coronavirus designs that get seized upon by the
ad-supported, click-driven design press, as a way of sustaining both
design firms and their press during the economic apocalypse.

If so, what's the big deal?

Wagner: "You may be asking, “What’s the harm in all this, really, if it
projects a good message?” And the answer is that people are plenty well
encouraged to stay home due to the spread of a deadly virus at the
urging of health authorities."

"These tone-deaf art world creeps are using such a crisis for shameless
self promotion and the generation of clicks and income, while providing
little to no material benefit to those at risk and on the frontlines."

IOW, Wagner is a true believer in design and architecture and she wants
it to DO BETTER. This is where Wagner's critical and comedic work
converges, with the idea that this could turn out great...if we don't
screw it up.

(this is basically my motto for tech, which may be why I love her work
so much)

Wagner: "I’m also extremely sure there are interventions that can be
made at the social, political, and organizational level, like
campaigning for paid sick leave, organizing against layoffs and for
decent severance or an expansion of public assistance, or generally
fighting the rapidly accelerating encroachment of work into all aspects
of everyday life – that would bring much more good and, dare I say,
progress into the world than a cardboard desk captioned with the hashtag


🎪 This day in history

#15yrsago Alan Moore tells DC Comics to get bent

#15yrsago Thurl Ravenscroft, RIP: voice of Haunted Mansion and Grinch
song, Tony the Tiger

#10yrsago Schneier at the airport

#10yrsago Peter Watts discusses his arrest at US border

#10yrsago Ireland's largest ISP begins disconnecting users who are
accused of piracy

#5yrsago What Sony and Spotify's secret deal really looks like

#1yrago Real estate title insurance company exposed 885,000,000
customers' records, going back 16 years: bank statements, drivers'
licenses, SSNs, and tax records

#1yrago Germany demands an end to working cryptography

#1yrago Comcast fights shareholder call for lobbying transparency,
saying that it would be "burdensome" to reveal how much it spends
lobbying states


🎪 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 543 words (18963 total).

Currently reading: The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

Upcoming appearances: Discussion with Nnedi Okorafor, Torcon, June 14

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

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


🎪 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20200524/e2c737c6/attachment-0001.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list