Pluralistic: 10 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Safe and moral societies need "firewalls" between immigration and public services: The UK's "hostile environment" puts everyone at risk.
  2. Detroit will reconnect water services during the Covid-19 emergency: But it's $25/month thereafter.
  3. Thomas Piketty endorses Sanders: both his program and his electability.
  4. Sonos "recycling mode" no longer bricks working speakers: Fire the person who came up with this deeply shitty idea.
  5. Brave will randomize browser profiles to fight fingerprinting attacks: More from the most privacy-friendly browser.
  6. This day in history: 2005, 2010
  7. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Safe and moral societies need "firewalls" between immigration and public services (permalink)

The UK took the decision to "create a hostile environment" for migrants, which entails denying medical care to those who can't prove their entitlement to it. Seeking care in the UK comes with threats to your residency and/or titanic bills.

This creates enormous deterrents to seeking medical care, which means that migrants – disproportionately found in low-waged jobs including cleaning and food service – are less likely to seek care or present themselves for testing if they develop symptoms. It also means that they're not entitled to paid leave, which means that potentially infectious people are being incentivised to turn up for work.

In "The Ethics of Immigration," Joseph Carens argues for a "firewall" between public services and immigration enforcement, specifically to address situations like these (and also related issues, like spousal abuse, child abuse, etc).

A civilised society shouldn't put people at risk of violence in order to attain its immigration goals.

A healthy society – one that contains the spread of pandemics – can't afford to put its immigration goals ahead of these matters.

It's both ethical and pragmatic.

Likewise (and doubly so) for the refugee gulags created Greece and Australia. It's not only inhumane to deprive the people in these camps of care – it's also a way to create and sustain reservoirs of illness that will spread into your general population.

As Chris Bertram writes, "[Authoritarians will] use COVID-19 to advance their nationalist and anti-immigrant agenda. Journalists need to ask them what they are doing to stop that very agenda from having consequences that shame and endanger us all."

Detroit will reconnect water services during the Covid-19 emergency (permalink)

Michigan has been a living laboratory for neoliberal cruelty, as gerrymandering has allowed the rich white people to dominate the state, stripmine its public assets, and privatize its services, leading to mass evictions (and the lead crisis in Flint).

In Detroit, many people are without (substandard) water, as they've been faced with the choice of paying rent or paying the water bill. This means that they can't wash their hands. So the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit have teamed up to turn on peoples' water during the crisis. The reconnection fee of $25 (a tax on poor people) will be picked up by the state. But it will be $25/month afterwards.

Many people will be able to afford the $25/month. Some will not. Who doesn't have $25/month for water? The poorest, most vulnerable people, who are disproportionately likely to be immunocompromised and susceptible to Covid-19.

Michigan – whose neoliberal belief in "moral hazard" dictates that poor people should not have benefits – has engineered a situation in which the state is full of desperately poor people who will sicken the people around them.

If you or someone you love in Detroit has no water, you can get your service reconnected starting tomorrow at 313-386-9727.

Thomas Piketty endorses Sanders (permalink)

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century quantified the rise of inequality, provided evidence for the policies that create and preserve it, and warned of the social instability it engenders (that is, guillotines).

Piketty's Capital was notable for laying out a rigorous, quantitative basis for the left's concerns over inequality, and it also rebutted the right's idea that inequality was an emergent property of meritocracy. Boris Johnson once told City bankers: when you shake a cornflake box, the big flakes rise to the top and the little flakes sink to the bottom.

Piketty showed that the most reliable predictor of increased wealth over time wasn't accomplishment, it was wealth. Rich people get richer, regardless of whether they contribute to society. Poor people generally don't, no matter what they contribute.

Today, Piketty has endorsed Bernie Sanders's candidacy, policies, and electability, applying the same rigor to these that he applied to his time-series data on capital flows and inequality.

It "is not an ‘extremist’ statement" to say that Medicare for All will "enable the American population to be cared for more efficiently and more cheaply than the present private and extremely unequal system."

"Sanders is right when he proposes large-scale public investment in favour of education and public universities…The failure of [Reagan-style education policy] is patent today with growth of national income per capita being halved and an unprecedented rise in inequality."

Piketty endorses a $15 federal minimum wage: "Learn from the experiences in co-management and voting rights for employees on the Boards of Directors of firms implemented successfully in Germany and in Sweden for decades."

On a wealth tax that tops at 8%: "this corresponds to the reality of the excessive concentration of wealth in the United States and the fiscal and administrative capacities of the American federal state, which has already been demonstrated historically."

And on polls: "The problem of the repeated assertions that Biden would be better placed to beat Trump is that they have no objective factual basis… Sanders mobilises the working-class electorate more than Biden.. mobilises the vast majority of the Latino vote and crushes Biden amongst the 18-29 years age group, as he does in the 30-44 years group…Sanders has the best scores amongst the underprivileged… whereas Biden, on the contrary, has the best scores amongst the most privileged.

"The highest potential for mobilisation is amongst the most underprivileged social categories.

"…The cynical, and unfortunately very commonplace vision amongst the Democratic elites, that nothing can be done to mobilise further the working-class vote, is extremely dangerous. This cynicism weakens the legitimacy of the democratic electoral system itself."

If you (like me) loved Warren's campaign because it appealed to the wonk in you, then this should be of real significance. Piketty is the wonk's wonk, an expert whose key work is a 15-year-long study of 300 years' worth of capital flows, which shifted the global debate.

Piketty's endorsement of Warren's wealth tax was hugely important. His endorsement of Sanders' entire program, and Sanders' electability, is even more important at this phase of the battle to abolish Trumpism and save our planet.

(Image: Sue Gardner, CC BY-SA)

Sonos "recycling mode" no longer bricks working speakers (permalink)

When you get rid of a Sonos product – either through a trade in or disposal – the company advised you to trigger "recycling mode" to wipe your account data. But this didn't wipe the speaker – it bricked it.

IOW: invoking the Sonos "recycling mode" made your device into e-waste (if you want to wipe your personal data, you could just factory reset the speaker).

Thankfully, the company has seen the error of its ways. The app no longer has the "recycle mode" option. The company is working on an alternative (which, one hopes, will not be as malicious and deceptive as the previous version). The reason for bricking devices is obvious: it eliminates competition from used devices. The reasons not to do it are also obvious: it's terrible.

Whomever came up with this policy at Sonos is a colossal asshole. The whole company should be ashamed. I am a Sonos customer (bought Sonos One speakers when they started making a model with no mic) and I enjoy them, but I don't know that I'll ever trust the company.

Brave will randomize browser profiles to fight fingerprinting attacks (permalink)

Brave is one of the two browsers I use every day (the other is Firefox). I really like the company's approach to privacy and user-control, which is deeply embedded in their culture (unlike Mozilla, Brave fought against DRM in browsers at the W3C, for example).

One of the risks to web privacy is "canvas" or "fingerprinting" attacks, which identifies users by the unique attributes of their browsers (version, OS, fonts, plugins, screen size, etc). EFF has been sounding the alarm about this for years.

This has gone from "theoretical risk" to "main tool for user tracking" in a few short years. Browsers take different approaches to fighting these attacks, but I like Brave's: it's going to randomize browser data when it's requested by servers.

Brave says the other tactics used to block fingerprinting are "useless" and describes how randomization is more effective, citing peer-reviewed studies to support its case.

This is the kind of best-practice that ever browser vendor should be adopting. Of course, we also need a federal privacy bill with a private right of action, and until we get one, this is doubly important.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Israeli Army thinks D&D players are weak-minded security risks,7340,L-3052074,00.html

#10yrsago TSA analyst indicted for tampering with terrorist watchlists

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism ( and Slashdot (

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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