Pluralistic: 09 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Jesse Jackson endorses Sanders: "I stand with him because he stands with you."
  2. Choose Your Own Adventure was Milton Friedman for Kids: There Is No Alternative.
  3. Woman sues TSA over "pat-down" that penetrated her vagina: Las Vegas airport's finest.
  4. Shat-out pig pedometer sparks farm-fire: Beyond Thunderdome, free range
  5. UCSC strike prompts systemwide student and faculty solidarity strikes: Meanwhile, the regents are deporting striking TAs.
  6. An open syllabus on "housing struggles": Detailed resources from the Pirate Care collective.
  7. Yanis Varoufakis on how austerity leads to fascism: And how "constructive disobedience" can win support for alternatives.
  8. John Deere is Right to Repair's archnemesis: Digital feudalism has reinvented the tenant farmer.
  9. This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019
  10. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Jesse Jackson endorses Sanders (permalink)

Jesse Jackson has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president: "I stand with him because he’s never lost his taste of justice for the people. I stand with him because he stands with you.

Sanders backed Jackson's presidential bid in 1988. Jackson enumerated 13 issues that Sanders had committed on: Putting an African-American woman on the Supreme Court, adding an African American woman to his ticket, as well as wealth taxes, free tuition, and Medicare for All.

Choose Your Own Adventure was Milton Friedman for Kids (permalink)

I'm not entirely convinced by Eli Cook's thesis that the Choose Your Own Adventure craze of the 1980s helped move the Thatcher-Reagan neoliberal project forward by emphasizing the role of personal choices (rather than structural factors) in outcomes.

CYOA put an undue and unrealistic emphasis on individual agency, but that's true of fiction as a body. I remember Nancy Kress teaching my Clarion class in 1992, stressing that the protagonist must be the character with the most at stake, and who is most transformed.

It's also true that CYOA books were shopped unsuccessfully to publishers in the 1960s but only found a home (and runaway success) in the neoliberal 1980s, but that's not dispositive: Confederacy of Dunces faced decades of rejection and Harry Potter was rejected 12 times.

Sometimes books get rejected because of bad luck or bad judgment. What's more, all groundbreaking publications are the result of an incredible stroke of luck. Publishing is a lotto that you can influence a little by writing well, but mostly you just have to persist.

Attributing social problems solely to structural factors is a counsel of despair that lets the culpable off the hook. Climate change wasn't merely an outcome of industrialization. The denial industry was funded by a small number of named villains.

Think of Ada Palmer's brilliant annual undergraduate exercise of LARPing the election of the Medici's Pope, whose four final candidates inevitably comprise two of the same people, and two wildcards: an emergent outcome of the students' strategizing.

The two usual candidates are the great structural forces of history. The two wildcards are individual agency.

Every mobilization against a structural evil includes a belief in individuals' collective agency to overturn it.

That's not to say that CYOA couldn't be weaponized to convince people of "individual responsibility" narratives to blame poor people for their own poverty. And it's not to excuse the homogeniety of CYOA protagonists (white boys, universally, mostly affluent).

That said, the paper is very provocative and interesting, as is Cook's interview with Rebecca Onion. I'm looking forward to Cook's book on the subject, working title, "Funneled by Choice."

Woman sues TSA over "pat-down" that penetrated her vagina (permalink)

Last June, Michele Leuthauser was flying out of Las Vegas when a TSA agent decided that patting down her yoga pants wasn't enough, so the agent took Leuthauser into a private room and probed her groin so aggressively that she penetrated Leuthauser's vulva.

Leuthauser has filed a civil suit against the TSA and the agent. The agent violated TSA procedure (forcing Leuthauser into a private screening, forcing her to adopt a nonstandard posture for the search, penetrating Leuthauser's vagina)

Airport police refused to act on a criminal complaint of sexual assault, and the ensuing trauma cost Leuthauser her job, which required frequent travel. She's seeking both actual and punitive damages. She's being represented by Jon Corbett, the "professional troublemaker" who switched from computer science to law over problems with full-body scanners, and who has since built a practice defending those whom the TSA has victimized.

Shat-out pig pedometer sparks farm-fire (permalink)

To prove that their pigs are free-range, some farmers strap pedometers onto them. Sometimes, other pigs eat those pedometers. When they do, they poop out the the pedometers in various stages of disrepair.

As anyone who saw Beyond Thunderdome knows, pigshit is very flammable, and damaged pedometer batteries are also prone to starting fires.

Which is how a farm near Leeds lost 75m of ground cover.

No pigs were harmed.

This also gave the local fire brigade's social media person a chance for fun: "Should be an oink not a tweet. Tadcaster and Knaresbororough firecrews attended a fire to 4 pigpens near Bramham. No pigs harmed. Cause of fire attributed to a battery powered pedometer carried by one of the pigs (to prove it was free-range), which was eaten by the other pigs. After nature had taken its course, it's believed that the copper from the batteries reacted with the pigpens contents and in conjunction with dry bedding, ignited burning approx. 75sqm of hay. A hosereel was used to extinguish the fire and save the bacon."

UCSC strike prompts systemwide student and faculty solidarity strikes (permalink)

UCSC grad students have been on strike since December, demanding a living wage via a cost-of-living allowance increase (without these increases, employees take real-terms pay-cuts every year). The UC system's response has been shameful: violent, high-handed and dismissive, and it has backfired, inspiring sympathy strikes and solidarity actions across the system and the country.

UCSC, meanwhile, is raking in money by increasing tuition and undergrad enrolment, which adds to grad students' work burden – and then starkly refusing to share enough with those grad students to enable them to survive without food-poverty.

The university reached a new, disgusting low last week when it fired 70 TAs, including several non-citizens who now face deportation:

It's real Moff Tarkin bullshit, and as we all know, the failure mode for that move is, "The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

The latest slippage comes from UC students and faculty, who have declared a systemwide strike. There are pickets at UCLA, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Irvine and Riverside. UCSD TAs are refusing to grade papers. UCLA could go on strike as soon as next week.

And their union – which had been hanging them out to dry as "wildcatters" – is now moving in its bargaining team to act on their behalf (better late than never, but jeez). Grad students/TAs at UNC, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and U Sussex have all expressed public solidarity. Hundreds of UC faculty have signed open letters in support of the TAs.

The UC system is a jewel in the state's crown, but rising tuitions and precarity for academics endanger that, even as administrative costs and sports expenses balloon. This is long overdue.

An open syllabus on "housing struggles" (permalink)

Pirate Care is an anarchist online free school: "a research process – primarily based in the transnational European space – that maps the increasingly present forms of activism at the intersection of 'care' and 'piracy'"

They've got a syllabus "to freely adapt, rewrite and expand it to reflect your own experience and serve your own pedagogy."

See especially "housing," which has "been increasingly changing from someone’s home to an investment, savings, or a pension."

It's got eight sections:

  1. Debt and Housing Struggles
  2. Struggles for Social Housing
  3. Housing and Maintenance Struggles
  4. Rent Struggles
  5. Squatting
  6. Criminalization of Housing Struggles
  7. Tech and Housing Struggles
  8. Bad Housing Makes Us Sick

The subsections are detailed and thougthful, with many fascinating suggested readings. If you, too have been increasingly alarmed at housing's transformation from "human right" to "asset class" this would be a good place to start.

Yanis Varoufakis on how austerity leads to fascism (permalink)

This long Jacobin interview with Yanis Varoufakis rewards your attention. Its observations about austerity and authoritarianism are especially important – tldr, once you create an army of bailiffs to evict people, they stick around to smash protests.

Also important: plans and transformative change movements: "If you want an operational plan before every revolution, no revolution will take place. You do not break with the past, you do not push history to the brink only if you know exactly what’s going to follow."

Varoufakis is leading a new left-populist party in Greece, MeRA25, which looks to complete the work that Syriza betrayed when it capitulated to EU pressure to pay debts at the expense of the Greek people. He calls that betrayal a worse blow to the left than Thatcherism, a profoundly demoralizing moment. I agree. I felt it.

10 years later, Syriza's cowardice has hollowed out Greece, left it poorer, more authoritarian and less stable. Incredibly, there are 50 years to go before Syriza's deal expires. It's the kind of long-term, locked-in neoliberal looting last seen in Chile after the CIA and the University of Chicago helped oust an elected leader and murder his supporters.

It's allowed "a cabal of hedge funds, of advisors, of accountants, of parasites to make the highest profit rates in global capitalism, in Greece."

It's "a new parasitic oligarchy profiting from the bankruptcy of the many, creating increased authoritarianism and violence."

This led to "what Syriza did in Lesbos. Did the Troika force them to create Moria, the unspeakable concentration camp for refugees? Syriza did that. Once progressives surrender on one large issue like austerity they become ripe to surrender on almost every issue."

MeRA25 supporters are young. Half of them never voted for Syriza. 30% of them used to vote for right-wing parties. "Right-wing working-class voters disentangled themselves from the establishment parties they used to support." Fewer than 1% of over-45s support the party. They're the ones throwing in their lot with austerity-crazed neoliberals or literal fascists.

MeRA25 is pursuing "constructive disobedience": fighting state disinformation that justifies mass foreclosures, for example.

"You put forward constructive, moderate proposals that even the Right could implement tomorrow morning. And then you build a movement of civil disobedience to oppose the government’s decision not to implement it."

(Image: Olaf Kosinsky, CC BY-SA)

John Deere is Right to Repair's archnemesis (permalink)

The latest update from the RightToRepair movement's staunchest fighters, the farmers who want to fix their own John Deere tractors.

Deere has the gall to call modifying your tractor (say, to improve your horsepower) "theft of services," because they offer it as an upgrade. They have, through digital technology, conjured up a new shadow federal statute: "Felony contempt of business-model."

Deere has led the abuse of Section 1201 of the DMCA, which makes it a felony to tamper with "copyright access controls." They've designed their products so that using them in ways that benefit you, the owner, instead of their shareholders, requires violating DMCA1201. It's the ultimate rebuttal of "if you're not paying for the product, you're the product." Farmers pay $800k for tractors. They're still the product. The right way to think about this: "If a monopolist can get away with treating you like their product, you're the product."

John Deere tractors harvest the data that farmers generate when they use them – soil condition data gleaned from humidity and torque sensors – and sell it to Big Ag, and into the futures markets – but deny farmers access to their own data.

Deere killed Nebraska's Right to Repair legislation, suborning powerful state politicians to serve out-of-state corporate interests at the expense of farmers. So now, when your tractor malfunctions, you have to wait days to pay a tech hundreds of dollars to clear the error. Meanwhile, your crops are being destroyed by the cold weather snap that caused the tractor's sensors to misfire. The difficulty of sourcing repairs leads farmers to disable their (notoriously balky) emission control systems, rather than getting them fixed.

Publishers who serve farmers – and rely on Deere advertising money – refuse to cover the Right to Repair movement, with cowardly excuses like "It generates more heat than light."

Deere never told farmers it was going to extract data from their tractors – everything from the moment you open the door is logged and transmitted – and did not reveal that new models had SIMs in them, until they were caught and had to come clean.

They lie like hell about their commitment to repair, falsely claiming that independent repair shops have access to codes, parts and manuals. Even ex-John Deere techs who start independent repair businesses can't access those materials.

Deere tractors frequently brick themselves when their sensors misfire. But they can also be remotely bricked from Deere headquarters, if the company detects unauthorized modifications. They claim they only do this in China.

So far.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Looking back at the dotcom boom, ten years later

#5yrsago Italy's Hacking Team allegedly sold Ethiopia's despots cyberweapons used to attack journalists

#5yrsago McDonald's sues to block Seattle's minimum wage

#5yrsago SC Supreme Court: magistrates must be able to tell time and read

#1yrago The US requires visas for some EU citizens, so now all US citizens visiting the EU will be subjected to border formalities too

#1yrago Elizabeth Warren reveals her plan to break up Big Tech

#1yrago Pentagon reassures public that its autonomous robotic tank adheres to "legal and ethical standards" for AI-driven killbots

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (, and Beyond the Beyond (

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'm rewriting 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 also working on "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel afterwards.

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: Disasters Don’t Have to End in Dystopias:

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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