Pluralistic, your daily link-dose: 27 Feb 2020

Today's links

  1. Ripping the window-dressing off the .ORG selloff: It's not even an ethos.
  2. CDC guide to filter-mask-friendly facial hair: You're good to go with a Zappa, Villain or Hitler, but stay away from the Dali, Hulahee and the dread F(l)u Manchu.
  3. Don't trust Google to build Toronto's Smart City: Sidewalk Labs's sleaze has disqualified it.
  4. A "girls-only" social service wants to analyze your facial bone structure: "It's science!"
  5. Norman Rockwell turned into a radical civil rights activist: His last painting was of Nixon, too.
  6. Gmail's filters are blocking opt-in election emails: Mayo Pete and Andrew Yang are winning the spam-filter primary.
  7. Talking Radicalized with The Next Chapter: Shelagh Rogers is a national treasure.
  8. Neoliberalism kills, the coronavirus edition: And you thought capitalism would kill us all with climate change!
  9. Bernie Sanders and Public Enemy LA rally this Sunday: With Sarah Silverman and Dick van Dyke!
  10. Venezuelan women's "army" break into dead factories to reboot them: "Only the people can save the people."
  11. Meet Akil Augustine, voice of the Raptors…and Radicalized: A fighter in my corner.
  12. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2005
  13. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Ripping the window-dressing off the .ORG selloff (permalink)

The latest on ISOC's shameful attempt to flog off .ORG to a group of sketchy billionaires: Ethos Capital's promises concerning its stewardship are pure window-dressing.

Its binding promise not to increase prices for .ORG domains? Still allows it to DOUBLE prices in 8 years, then allows UNLIMITED increases afterwards. Its "Stewardship Council"? Handpicked by Ethos's own bagmen, & only empowered to rule on very narrow questions of de-anonymization and censorship, AND Ethos can simply ignore its rulings by declaring them to be required by a government or consistent with anti-abuse policies.

In an open letter in the Nonprofit Times, Cindy Cohn of EFF and Amy Sample Ward of NTEN break it down:

"Your proposal cabins the council’s authority by placing anything construed as 'advice or recommendations regarding day-to-day operational, financial or budgeting matters, or pricing out of bounds. It would be trivial to categorize harmful practices as 'operational.'"

CDC guide to filter-mask-friendly facial hair (permalink)

The CDC has an infographic enumerating the effect of various styles of facial hair on filtering respirators.

You're good to go with a Zappa, Villain or Hitler, but stay away from the Dali, Hulahee and the dread F(l)u Manchu.

Don't trust Google to build Toronto's Smart City (permalink)

Google is planning to turn a vast swathe of Toronto into a high-tech "smart city" through its Sidewalk Labs division. They've been incredibly misleading and opaque about their plans, and yet the city keeps greenlighting through successive phases.

The latest phase is the publication of the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel's report, a wide-ranging critical report from technologists and tech experts on Google's plan to instrument the city and extract its data.

It's pretty sharp stuff. Michael Geist's introductory letter gives a taste of things.

But far more pointed is Andrew Clement's Appendix D, a kind of minority report that makes it abundantly clear that Google has totally disqualified itself from this project.

Question One: Does Sidewalk have a strong track record as an urban innovator appropriate for Toronto?

Short answer: No

(Sidewalk lied, omitted other projects that were terrible, and literally followed a grifter's playbook called "BOLD")

Question Two: Can Sidewalk Labs’ core claims be relied on?

Sidewalk "consulted" with 21,000 Torontonians, but it hasn't shown that it's willing to take any of that consultation advice to heart ("corporate self-defense").

Sidewalk claims it's not "tech for tech's sake," but the whole plan reeks of it.

Sidewalk claimed it's not about extracting data, but the plan is totally about extracting data.

Question Three: What does experience with Sidewalk to date in this project indicate about its reliability as a partner? In particular, has Sidewalk respected its contracts and other commitments?

Nope. For example, it held its expert panel to NDAs after promising it wouldn't.

Question Four: Can Sidewalk be treated as independent of its parent Alphabet/Google and its wider enterprise?

Obviously not! "In business strategy, financing and overall managerial control, there are clear indications that Sidewalk is unlikely to diverge from Alphabet/Google."

"Nearly all Alphabet revenues are earned by Google and they have the same CEO, Sundar Pichai, and same CFO, Ruth Porat."

Question Five: What are the risks of partnering with an Alphabet enterprise?

"It has been fined a combined $9.5 billion since 2017 by EU antitrust regulators while facing further significant government investigations for its anti-competitive behaviour."

"It will be challenging to make a positive determination absent public evidence of a thorough, independent risk-benefit analysis of the prospective partnership or other contractual relationship."

A "girls-only" social service wants to analyze your facial bone structure (permalink)

Well, this is the most "now you've got two problems" moment in recent memory. "Giggle" is an all-girl social network. To be "all-girl" they have keep men off of the platform. How do they do that? With FACIAL BONE STRUCTURE scans.

"It's science! Just like archaeologists do with mummies."


The impulse to start a girl-only social space is a potentially fine one, but deploying what amounts to eugenics – heavily borrowed from the incel movement's obsession with facial bone-structure – is idiotic.

"Unfortunately it doesn't verify trans-girls."

No shit. Also, it doesn't verify people whose bone-structure fails your digital phrenology tests. And it WILL verify men and boys who generate false positives in the system.

I can't believe I need to say this, but: The goal of making girls feel OK with who they are cannot be attained by subjecting their facial bone-structure to algorithmic femininity assessments.

Norman Rockwell turned into a radical civil rights activist (permalink)

I hadn't known that at the end of his career, Norman Rockwell became a political radical, breaking with the Saturday Evening Post over his desire to depict the civil rights struggle.

Writing in Vox, Tom Carson describes how Rockwell's personal tragedies – the death of his wife – and the advice of his therapist helped him transform into an acerbic, radical painter, the opposite of who we remember him as.

Switching from the Post to Look Magazine, Rockwell depicted such subjects as 6-y-o Ruby Bridges being escorted into an all-white school by federal marshalls who led her past howling mobs of white supremacists.

He went on to paint a depiction of the imagined last moments of civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, who were tortured and murdered by white nationalists.

A staunch anti-war activist, he pestered LBJ with an endless stream of telegrams demanding negotiations, not bombings, in Vietnam (ironically, he voted for Nixon in the hopes that he would end the war).

Further irony: the last substantial painting he completed was of Nixon after his election win: "This time around, he managed what he’d once said was impossible. His subject looks like a nice man who is, nonetheless, unmistakably Richard Nixon."

It's the only Rockwell painting in the National Portrait Gallery.

Gmail's filters are blocking opt-in election emails (permalink)

Gmail's spam filters perform very differently when it comes to fundraising emails from Democratic leadership contenders: Mayo Pete evades filters 63% of the time, Yang lands 46% of the time. EVERY Warren campaign email tested got filtered to spam.

These are all emails that Gmail users have opted to receive, too, but most are filtered to the "promotions" inbox, rather than "primary." In all only 11% of emails from "candidates, think tanks, advocacy groups, and nonprofits" reached primary.

It's turning email — the last federated platform on the internet — into Facebook, a filternet whose rules are set by unaccountable algorithms operated by a secretive monopolist.

Goog has a conflict of interest here: "While Gmail does not sell ads in the primary inbox, advertisers can pay for top placement in the social and promotions tabs in free accounts."

This was Facebook's media-killing strategy: when you started your media outlet's FB presence, the company delivered 100% of your posts to your followers, then, once you depended on that, it dialed delivery down unless you paid for "reach."

The pretense of Big Tech is that you they connect you to the stuff you ask for (this is also the premise behind Net Neutrality). The reality is that they decide, unaccountably, invisibly and inexplicably, what you may see.

While the overfiltering might in error, it's an error Goog is incentivized to wontfix: "'You’re not precluded from buying an ad in the promotions tab, or offering a deal,' said Lee Carosi Dunn, who at the time led election sales, political outreach and policy for Google."

Talking Radicalized with The Next Chapter (permalink)

My book Radicalized is a finalist for Canada Reads, the CBC's national book prize

That means all kinds of good stuff, but one of the highlights was talking with Shelagh Rogers for The Next Chapter. I grew up listening to Shelagh, and she's so incredibly smart about books.

The interview came out great! (How could it not, given the interviewer). We ranged widely over "Canadianness," "Americanness," literary forms, anxiety and creativity, and the substance of the stories themselves.

You can get the MP3 here:

It's also been included in my podcast feed, which you can subscribe to here:

Neoliberalism kills, the coronavirus edition (permalink)

Neoliberalism kills, a play in two acts

Act I: UK employers are not required to offer sick pay to asymptomatic potential coronavirus carriers, even if those workers' doctors have ordered them to "self-isolate" to avoid spreading pandemic.

Leaving workers with a stark choice: perform your duty to the public health and lose your wages or even your job, or turn up for work and infect your co-workers and customers.

Typhoid Mary vs Moral Hazard in action, there.

Act II: Alex Azar, the US Health and Human Services secretary, has ruled out price controls for a coronavirus vaccine, arguing that pharma companies need "incentives" to produce.

"Alex Michael Azar II (/ˈeɪzər/ born June 17, 1967) is an American attorney, politician, pharmaceutical lobbyist, and former drug company executive who serves as the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services."

This former pharma lobbyist, whose industry gobbles public subsidies like a tweaker gobbles bennies, firmly believes that his once-and-future paymasters must be permitted unlimited gouging, and if they choose to leave those who can't pay to die, that's "the market."

Lambert Strether, 2014:

"I propose two simple rules to which neo-liberalism can be reduced. They are:

"Rule #1: Because markets.

"Rule #2: Go die!"

It turns out that all those people who thought late-stage capitalism would exterminate the human race through climate change were wrong! It's going to kill us all with pandemics, instead.

Herd immunity has a well-known leftist bias.

Bernie Sanders and Public Enemy LA rally this Sunday (permalink)

Angelenos! Bernie Sanders is doing a gig with Dick Van Dyke (!), Sarah Silverman (!!) and Public Enemy (!!!) this SUNDAY (Sunday Sunday Sunday!) at the LA Convention Center.

Admission is free, but you need to RSVP here. Doors open at 3, rally starts at 5, ends at 7. Word of warning: the last Sanders rally I attended (in 2016) started REALLY late, like 2h.

Campaigning presidential candidates have hard-to-predict schedules apparently (but warn your babysitter).

Venezuelan women's "army" break into dead factories to reboot them (permalink)

The "Productive Army" is a Venezuelan women's collective that has been operating since 2017. They visit shuttered factories, get workers to explain what's needed to reopen them, break in and start them up again.

They organize themselves like military units, with captains, etc, and the units generally have to beg their bosses for time off to roam the country, putting it back on its feet. Operations typically run for less than a week, and incorporate weekends to minimize time off.

They describe themselves as carrying out the Chavismo doctrine of "workers' control of factories," which even Chavez largely treated as a slogan, and which his successors have been even less committed to.

They remind me of the elite Chinese students whom Xi ordered to read Marx and Lenin, who then decided Xi was a bourgeois sellout and took to the road to support wildcat workers' strikes against Xi-aligned factory owners.

The Productive Army's slogan is "Only the People Can Save the People." Its missions are "productive battles." A productive battle might involve repairing the furnace in a sardine canning factory to get it running again, then turning it over to workers: "In the EPO they say that they not only repair machines but, above all, consciences."

One of the crispest definitions of "rightism" came I've heard came from Steven Brust: "Ask them what's more important: property rights, or human rights? If they answer, 'Property rights are human rights," they're on the right." (I quoted this in Walkaway).

When people want the things the factory produces, and workers want to produce those things in the factory, but the spreadsheet says the factory isn't viable, the problem is with the spreadsheet, not the people.

Meet Akil Augustine, voice of the Raptors…and Radicalized (permalink)

In the #CanadaReads national book prize, each book gets a "champion" – a defender who speaks for the book in a series of televised debates. My champion is the incredible Akil Augustine, voice of the Toronto Raptors.

Akil and I met in Toronto last month when they announced that my book Radicalized was a finalist for the prize, and the CBC sat us down for a rollicking joint interview.

I love that Radicalized connected with Akil, given how divergent our interests are (I can't even name a single basketball goalie!). I love even more how competitive he is. As someone who grew up at hippie summer-camp playing "co-operative volleyball" I'm very grateful to have a fighter in my corner who plays to win!

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Halle Berry accepts "Razzie" for Catwoman, calls it a "piece of shit"

#5yrsago Mass surveillance hip-hop from the director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee

#1yrago Bunnie Huang's tour-de-force explanation of how hardware implants and supply chain hacks work

#1yrago AOC grills Equifax CEO: the Congressional record now contains the obvious, infuriating truth that everyone else already knew

#1yrago Fox hit with $179m (including $128m in punitive damages) judgment over shady bookkeeping on "Bones"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: JWZ (, Pipe Dream Dragon (, Metafilter (, Karl Bode (, RCB Leon (, Naked Capitalism (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished 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'm getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I've been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world's prehistory.

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 week, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs" this week; 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: Gopher: When Adversarial Interoperability Burrowed Under the Gatekeepers’ Fortresses:

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 very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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