[Plura-list] Dinkclump Linkdump; The Bezzle excerpt (Part VI)

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Feb 23 10:05:00 EST 2024

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/23/gazeteer/


I'm on tour with my new novel *The Bezzle*! Catch me TOMORROW in LA with Adam Conover (Feb 24, Vroman's) and Monday in SEATTLE with Neal Stephenson (Feb 26, Third Place Books). After that, Portland, Phoenix, Tucson, Anaheim and more!



Today's links

* Dinkclump Linkdump: A rare, out-of-cycle linkdump.

* The Bezzle excerpt (Part VI): The thrilling conclusion!

* This day in history: 2009, 2014, 2019

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


⛳️ Dinkclump Linkdump

Some Saturday mornings, I look at the week's blogging and realize I have a *lot* more links saved up than I managed to write about this week, and then I do a linkdump. There've been 14 of these, and this is number 15:


Attentive readers will note that this isn't Saturday. You're right. But I'm on a book tour and every day is shatterday, because damn, it's *grueling* and I'm not the spry manchild who took *Little Brother* on the road in 2008 - I'm a 52 year old with two artificial hips. Hence: an out-of-cycle linkdump. Come see me on tour and marvel at my verticality!


Best thing I read this week, hands down, was Ryan Broderick's Garbage Day piece, "AI search is a doomsday cult":


Broderick makes *so* many excellent points in this piece. First among them: AI search sucks, but that's OK, because no one is asking for AI search. This only got more true later in the week when everyone's favorite spicy autocomplete accidentally loaded the James Joyce module:


(As Matt Webb noted, Chatbots have slid rapidly from Star Trek (computers give you useful information in a timely fashion) to Douglas Adams (computers spout hostile, impenetrable nonsense at you):


But beyond the unsuitability of AI for search results and beyond the public's yawning indifference to AI-infused search, Broderick makes a more important point: AI search is about summarizing web results so you don't have to click links and read the pages yourself.

If that's the future of the web, *who the fuck is going to write those pages* that the summarizer summarizes? What is the incentive, the business-model, the rational explanation for predicting a world in which millions of us go on writing web-pages, when the gatekeepers to the web have promised to rig the game so that no one will ever visit those pages, or read what we've written there, or even know it was us who wrote the underlying material the summarizer just summarized?

If we stop writing the web, AIs will have to summarize each other, forming an inhuman centipede of botshit-ingestion. This is bad news, because there's pretty solid mathematical evidence that training a bot on botshit makes it *absolutely useless*. Or, as the authors of the paper - including the eminent cryptographer Ross Anderson - put it, "using model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects":


This is the mathematical evidence for Jathan Sadowski's "Hapsburg AI," or, as the mathematicians call it, "The Curse of Recursion" (new band-name just dropped).

But if you really have your heart set on living in a ruined dystopia dominated by hostile artificial life-forms, have no fear. As Hamilton Nolan writes in "Radical Capital,"  a rogues gallery of worker-maiming corporations have asked a court to rule that the NLRB can't punish them for violating labor law:


Trader Joe’s, Amazon, Starbucks and SpaceX have all made this argument to various courts. If they prevail, then there will be no one in charge of enforcing federal labor law. Yes, this will let these companies go on ruining their workers' lives, but more importantly, it will give carte blanche to every *other* employer in the land. At one end of this process is a boss who doesn't want to recognize a union - and at the other end are farmers dying of heat-stroke.

The right wing coalition that has put this demand before the court has *all sorts of demands*, from forced birth to (I kid you not), the end of recreational sex:


That coalition is backed by ultra-rich monopolists who want wreck the nation that their rank-and-file useful idiots want to wreck your body. These are the monopoly cheerleaders who gave us the abomination that is the Pharmacy Benefit Manager - a useless intermediary that gets to screw patients and pharmacists - and then let PBMs consolidate and merge with pharmacy monopolists.

One such inbred colossus is Change Healthcare, a giant PBM that is, in turn, a mere tendril of United Healthcare, which merged the company with Optum. The resulting system - held together with spit and wishful thinking - has access to the health records of a *third* of Americans and processes 15 billion prescriptions per day.

Or rather, it *did* process that amount - until the all-your-eggs-in-one-badly-maintained basket strategy failed on Wednesday, and Change's systems went down due to an unspecified "cybersecurity incident." In the short term, this meant that tens of millions of Americans who tried to refill their prescriptions were told to either pay cash or come back later (if you don't die first). That was the first shoe dropping. The second shoe is the medical records of a third of the country.

Don't worry, I'm sure those records are fine. After all, nothing says security like "merging several disparate legacy IT systems together while simultaneously laying off half your IT staff as surplus to requirements and an impediment to extracting a special dividend for the private equity owners who are, of course, widely recognized as the world's greatest information security practitioners."

Look, not *everything* is terrible. Some computers are actually getting *better*. Framework's user-serviceable, super-rugged, easy-to-repair, powerful laptops are the most exciting computers I've ever owned - or broken:


Now you can get one for $500!


And the next generation is turning our surprisingly well, despite all our worst efforts. My kid - now 16! - and I just launched our latest joint project, "The Sushi Chronicles," a small website recording our idiosyncratic scores for nearly every sushi restaurant in Burbank, Glendale, Studio City and North Hollywood:


This is the record of two years' worth of Daughter-Daddy sushi nights that started as a way to get my picky eater to try new things and has turned into the highlight of my week. If you're in the area and looking for a nice piece of fish, give it a spin (also, we belatedly realized that we've never reviewed our *favorite* place, Kuru Kuru in the CVS Plaza on North Hollywood Way - we'll be rectifying that soon).

And yes, we have a lavishly corrupt Supreme Court, but at least now everyone *knows* it. Glenn Haumann's even set up a Gofundme to raise money to bribe Clarence Thomas:


The funds are intended as a "signing bonus" in the event that Thomas takes up John Oliver on his offer of a $2.4m luxury RV and $1m/year for life if he'll resign from the court:


This is truly one of Oliver's greatest bits, showcasing his mastery over the increasingly vital art of turning abstruse technical issues into entertainment that negates the performative complexity used by today's greatest villains to hide their misdeeds behind a Shield of Boringness (h/t Dana Clare).

*The Bezzle* is my contribution to turning abstruse scams into a high-impact technothriller that pierces that Shield of Boringness. The key to this is to master exposition, ignoring the (vastly overrated) rule that one must "show, not tell." Good exposition is *hard to do*, but when it works, it's *amazing* (as anyone who's read Neal Stephenson's 1,600-word explanation of how to eat Cap'n Crunch cereal in *Cryptonomicon* can attest). I wrote about this for Mary Robinette Kowal's "My Favorite Bit" this week:


Of course, an undisputed master of this form is Adam Conover, whose Adam Ruins Everything show helped invent it. Adam is joining me on stage in LA *tomorrow night* at Vroman's at 5:30PM, to host me in a book-tour event for my novel *The Bezzle*:



⛳️ The Bezzle excerpt (Part VI)

It's launch-week for my new novel *The Bezzle*, a high-tech, revenge-soaked crime thriller in which my intrepid forensic accountant Martin Hench must pit his wits against unbelievably evil (and sadly true-to-life) prison-tech grifters:


As part of the launch, I'm serializing part of Chapter 14, a side-plot about music royalty theft and the (again, sadly true-to-life) corruption of the LA Sheriffs Deputies, who are organized into criminal gangs that murder, run drugs and intimidate with impunity:


Today marks the sixth and final installment of the serial, but you can hear me read more of the book. Just show up at one of the stops on my book tour! Tomorrow (Feb 24) in LA, I'm appearing on Saturday evening with AdamC onover at Vroman's:


And then on Monday I'll be in Seattle at Third Place Books with Neal Stephenson:


 From there, I'm off to Portland, Phoenix, Tucson and points further:


Here's part one of the serial:


Part two:


Part three:


Part four:


Part five:


And now, the thrilling conclusion!

* * *

Benedetto was outraged by my face and swore he’d sue the Sheriff’s Department on my behalf. He got even angrier when I got stopped again, the following week, as I was leaving my concussion checkup at the Kaiser hospital on Sunset by a sheriff’s deputy who had me pull over in front of the big Scientology building. This deputy was a little bantam rooster of a fellow, with a shiny bald head and mirror shades and no neck. He strutted up to my car, got me out of it, ran my ID, and frisked me. “Do you know why I pulled you over, sir?” he said. He had that cop knack for making “sir” sound like “motherfucker.”

“No, sir,” I said, trying it out myself.

He didn’t like that and leaned in close enough for me to smell his aftershave and the scented sunscreen on his bare scalp.

“I stopped you, *sir*, because you were using your phone while driving.”

I must have looked surprised.

“I personally saw you tapping at your phone screen. That is a misdemeanor, sir. Reckless driving.”

He stopped as if waiting for me to respond. I made myself go mild. “Sir, I did not use my phone.”

He was waiting for that. He narrowed his eyes and leaned in closer. “Are you telling me I didn’t see what I saw?”

*Mild, Marty, mild*. “I don’t know what you saw, sir, but I didn’t use my phone.”

He rocked back and tilted his head. Patients went by with crutches and walkers. Nurses and doctors passed in scrubs. Scientologists scurried in and out of their gigantic temple. A fruit cart man labored past us.

“Well, sir, this should be simple enough to resolve.” He reached for his belt and pulled out a generic ruggedized cop-­rectangle of gear, and unspooled a multiheaded cable from its side. He leaned into the rental and retrieved my phone, and squinted at its I/O port, then attached the cable to my phone. The rugged rectangle beeped. “I’m gathering forensics on your mobile device, sir,” he said.

I’d figured that out already. My phone—­like yours and ­everyone else’s—­was a trove of my most intimate information, a record of all the places I’d been and people I’d spoken to and all the things I’d said to them. It was full of photos and passwords and client files and voice memos. It was more information than any judge would have granted a warrant for on a reckless-­driving rap.

The little man smirked as he held my phone and his gadget. I stayed mild as milk. I was running full-­device encryption. I’m no computer security expert, but I spend a lot of time around them, and they’d been insistent on this point, and had made reference to this very scenario in describing why I would bother to dig around my phone’s settings to turn this on.

God, my face hurt. I didn’t know how long the gadget was supposed to take, but from the cop’s increasing impatience, I could tell it was going long.

Beep. The cop shaded the gadget’s little screen from the punishing LA sun with one hand and peered at it.

  “Sir, I need you to unlock this device, please.”

My face hurt. *Be mild, Marty*. “I invoke my right to counsel,” I said.

He pursed his lips. “Sir, if you would please enter your unlock code, we can verify whether your device is in use and we can both be on our way.”

“I invoke my right to remain silent.” I said it straight into his bodycam.

He sighed and looked irritated. I had known Benedetto for so long that I had once had to dial his number from a landline. I’d long ago memorized his office’s number, 1–­800-­LAWER4U. He’d bought it early, back before 800 numbers got expensive, and he’d had plenty of offers for it. He’d kept it.


⛳️ This day in history

#15yrsago Tonga Room, San Francisco’s magnificent tiki bar: doomed? https://laughingsquid.com/will-the-tonga-room-be-a-casualty-of-the-fairmont-condo-plans/

#15yrsago New Zealand’s terrible copyright law suspended, may be dead https://web.archive.org/web/20090317045724/http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/news/86D681292534A2CCCC25756600143FD1

#10yrsago Ukrainian president Yanukovuych flees Kiev as opposition seize the palace https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/22/ukraine-crisis-uncertainty-after-yanukovych-signs-deal-live-updates

#10yrsago Cossacks horsewhip Pussy Riot at Sochi https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26265230

#10yrsago Pussy Riot use footage of cossack horsewhipping in new music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjI0KYl9gWs

#10yrsago Austin cops violently crack down on scourge of anonymous jaywalking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6ugqW7fFmk

#5yrsago Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github https://memex.craphound.com/2014/02/22/whatsapp-abused-the-dmca-to-censor-related-projects-from-github/

#5yrsago Blockbuster Gizmodo investigation reveals probable masterminds of the massive anti-Net Neutrality identity theft/astroturf campaign https://gizmodo.com/how-an-investigation-of-fake-fcc-comments-snared-a-prom-1832788658

#5yrsago This is bad: the UAE’s favorite sleazeball cybermercenaries have applied for permission to break Mozilla’s web encryption https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/02/cyber-mercenary-groups-shouldnt-be-trusted-your-browser-or-anywhere-else

#5yrsago Google ends forced arbitration contracts for workers after googler uprising https://www.wired.com/story/google-ends-forced-arbitration-after-employee-protest/


⛳️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Benjamin Jolley, Glenn Haumann.

Currently writing:

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

* The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: How I Got Scammed (https://craphound.com/news/2024/02/18/how-i-got-scammed/)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Bezzle at Vroman's (Pasadena), Feb 24

* The Bezzle at Third Place Books (Seattle), Feb 26

* The Bezzle at Powell's (Portland) Feb 27:

* The Bezzle at Changing Hands (Phoenix), Feb 29:

* Tucson Festival of Books, Mar 9/10

* Enshittification: How the Internet Went Bad and How to Get it Back (virtual), Mar 26

* Wondercon Anaheim, Mar 29-31

* The Bezzle at Anderson's Books (Chicago), Apr 17

* Torino Biennale Tecnologia (Apr 19-21)

* Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Winnipeg), May 2

* Tartu Prima Vista Literary Festival (May 5-11)

* Media Ecology Association keynote, Jun 6-9 (Amherst, NY)

* American Association of Law Libraries keynote, (Chicago), Jul 21

Recent appearances:

* Radioactive (KCRL)

* The enshittification of music (Music Ally)

* Aaron Swartz (EpistemiCast)

Latest books:

* The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books (US), Head of Zeus (UK), February 2024 (the-bezzle.org). Signed, personalized copies at Dark Delicacies (https://www.darkdel.com/store/p3062/Available_Feb_20th%3A_The_Bezzle_HB.html#/).

* "The Lost Cause:" a solarpunk novel of hope in the climate emergency, Tor Books (US), Head of Zeus (UK), November 2023 (http://lost-cause.org). Signed, personalized copies at Dark Delicacies (https://www.darkdel.com/store/p3007/Pre-Order_Signed_Copies%3A_The_Lost_Cause_HB.html#/)

* "The Internet Con": A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech (Verso) September 2023 (http://seizethemeansofcomputation.org). Signed copies at Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/book/9781804291245).

* "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.

* "Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59?sk=f6cd10e54e20a07d4c6d0f3ac011af6b) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.

Upcoming books:

* Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

* Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

This work - excluding any serialized fiction - is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, 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.


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