Pluralistic: 26 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. EFF's videoconferencing backgrounds: With a deep cut from the NSA's secret listening post.
  2. The ideology of economics: Economics doesn't have "laws" it has "policies."
  3. LoC plugs Little Brother: Open access FTW.
  4. Canada nationalizes covid patents: An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19.
  5. Exponential Threat: Trump threatened to sue media outlets that aired this spot.
  6. Sanders on GOP stimulus cruelty: "Millions for plutes, but not one cent for workers."
  7. Record wind-power growth: Covid stimulus could start a Green New Deal.
  8. Social distancing and other diseases: Do we trust IoT thermometer companies, though?
  9. Badger Masks: UW Madison's open facemask design.
  10. This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
  11. Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading

EFF's videoconferencing backgrounds (permalink)

Telework is a quiet reminder that we live, in some sense, in an age of wonders. As terrible as lockdown is, imagine it without any way to videoconference with your peers and colleagues.

But it's also a moment where we tremble on the precipice of cyberpunk dystopia, when calls for mass surveillance – both for epidemiology and stabilizing states that are bruised and reeling – meet a world where everything is online and amenable to "collection" by spooks.

This is, basically, the moment that EFF has been warning about for 30 years: the moment when the "digital world" and the "real world" fully merge, and where the distinction between "tech policy" and "policy" dissolves.

One way you can help keep this in your colleagues' minds is to use EFF's amazing, free/open graphics as your videoconferencing background (most of these are the creation of the brilliant Hugh D'Andrade).

Now, those are all great, but this one is Room 641A at AT&T's Folsom Street center, where the whistleblower Mark Klein was ordered to build a secret room so the NSA could illegally spy on all US internet traffic.

The ideology of economics (permalink)

Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" advanced a simple, data-supported hypothesis: that markets left to their own will cause capital to grow faster than the economy as a whole, so over time, the rich always get richer.

He's followed up Capital with the 1000-page "Capital and Ideology" – whose thesis is that the "laws" of economics are actually policies, created to "justify a society's inequalities," providing a rationale to convince poor people not to start building guillotines.

The first ideology of capital was the "trifunctional" system of monarchist France, dividing society into "those who pray," "those who fight," and "those who work."

After the French revolution, we enter the capitalist phase, then social democracies, and now, "meritocracies."

"Meritocracies" invest markets with the mystical power to identify and elevate the worthy, in a kind of tautology: those who have the most are worth the most. You can tell they're worth the most because they have the most.

("That makes me smart" -D. Trump)

In Piketty's conception, "Inequality is neither economic nor technological. It's ideological and political," where "ideology" "refers to a set of a priori plausible ideas describing how society should be structured" (think: Overton Window).

The major part of the book seeks to explain how the post-war social democracies gave way to the grifter meritocracies of today, pulling together threads from across the whole world to tell the tale.

On the way, he described alternatives that were obliterated, and others that were never tried, and shows how "meritocracy" gave us Trump, xenophobia, Brexit, and the Current Situation.

In particular, he's interested in why working class people stopped voting (spoiler: they no longer perceive that elites will pay attention to them irrespective of how they vote) — and what it would take to mobilize them again.

The elites' indifference to working people is grounded in an alliance between the Brahmin Left (educated, well-paid liberals) and the Merchant Right (the finance sector). Notionally leftist parties, like the Democrats, are dominated by the Brahmin Left.

But more than any other, Macron epitomizes this alliance: proclaiming his liberal values while slashing taxes on the wealthy — punishing poor people for driving cars, exempting private jets from his "climate" bill.

Life in a "meritocracy" is especially cruel for poor people, because meritocracies, uniquely among ideologies, blame poor people for poverty. It's right there in the name. French kings didn't think God was punishing peons, rather, that the Lord had put them there to serve.

"The broadly social-democratic redistributive coalitions of the mid-twentieth century were not just electoral or institutional or party coalitions but also intellectual and ideological. The battle was fought and won above all on the battleground of ideas.”

As Marshall Steinbaum writes in his excellent review, Piketty's work doesn't just highlight new ideas in economics: it highlights the intellectual poverty of the economics profession and its tunnel vision.

"Economists cannot be allowed to be the arbiters of the intensely political concerns Piketty takes up in the book, and the good news is that there is reason to believe they won’t be."

LoC plugs Little Brother (permalink)

Honored and pleased to have my book Little Brother included on the Library of Congress's excellent collection of open-access ebooks in its collection, which you can always access gratis but which may be of especial interest during the lockdown.

If you enjoyed Little Brother and its sequel Homeland, you might be interested in the third Little Brother book, Attack Surface, which Tor is publishing on Oct 12.

If you're looking for more topical reading, Infodocket's carefully curated list of coronavirus resources is here for you:

Canada nationalizes covid patents (permalink)

Canada's Parliament has passed Bill C13, "An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19," amending patent law to create automatic compulsory licenses for any inventionused to fight covid, including diagnostics, vaccines, therapies or PPE.

As E Richard Gold writes, it's an "important signal that Canada will not support IP delays…While most firms are helping find solutions, this will prevent those who try to take advantage-by raising prices or limiting supply-or those who cannot deliver to block what is needed."

Exponential Threat (permalink)

"Exponential Threat" is a remarkable – and factual – political ad, one that contrasts Trump's statements on coronavirus with the spread of the disease in America.

More remarkable: Trump has threatened to sue the media for airing it, which is a totally cool and normal thing for someone who has sworn a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to do.

"In case you needed more, here’s an (admittedly incomplete) list of Trump statements on the novel coronavirus and COID-19"

Sanders on GOP stimulus cruelty (permalink)

This Bernie Sanders floor speech in the Senate on the GOP's relentless attempts to punish poor people in the covid relief package is a must-watch

tldr: GOP Senators are freaking out because some people in line to get the pittances they're doling out actually earn EVEN LESS than $1k-2k/month, and so they might get a raise in the form of covid relief.

That is, rather than taking the fact that this bare-minimum subsidy package exceeds "normal" income as a wakeup call to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 2009, the GOP is calling for cuts to aid to the most vulnerable Americans.

As Sanders points out, these same Senators had no problem with the Tax Scam, which poured trillions into the accounts of the richest Americans, directly and indirectly through stock-buybacks, which also left US business vulnerable and in need of trillions more today.

Now those bailed-out plutes want workers to risk death to "restart the economy," and the GOP will ensure they'll starve if they don't.

As ever, The Onion nails it:

"GOP Urges End Of Quarantine For Lifeless Bipedal Automatons That Make Economy Go"

Record wind-power growth (permalink)

As the world's wind-generation capacity increases, you'd expect annual growth to fall proportionately (it's easier to double a very small number than a very big one!), but this year should see the largest proportional growth ever, a 20% increase!

That number is uncertain (hello, coronavirus), but on the other hand, there's a massive stimulus package in the offing that could be used to restart the economy by saving the planet with renewable energy.

The non-adjusted, pre-virus projection for this year's total growth in wind power was an additional 76GW (to meet climate projections, that number has to rise to 100GW/year, and then to 200GW/year).

Social distancing and other diseases (permalink)

Though the evidence is a little shaky, it appears that social distancing has dramatically reduced the spread of other infectious diseases, like flu.

The data comes from an Internet of Shit "connected thermometer" company that (allegedly) anonymizes its data and uses it for health surveillance; they report a massive drop-off in high temps relative to other years and pre-distancing levels.

The claims are plausible, but they're also an ad for an IoT company that sells a product no one needs, so take them with a grain of salt.

I'd be interested in STI transmission after weeks/months of government-recommended masturbation-over-hookups:

Badger Masks (permalink)

A local hospital asked researchers at the UW Madison Engineering Design Innovation Lab to design them a field-expedient face-shield that could be mass-manufactured to protect its staff from coming cases.

Using hardware-store parts, the UW makerspace, and teleconferencing with self-isolating collaborators, the team designed an excellent mask, the Badger Shield:

They've manufactured and delivered 1,000 Badger Masks to the hospital and a Ford plant in MI is making 75,000 more this week for Detroit-area hospitals. Here's a technical spec you can follow if you have access to equipment and parts:

It involves just 3 pieces: polyethylene sheets (laser- or die-cut), an elastic headband, and a 1" thick strip of self-adhesive polyurethane foam. For initial production, Midwest Prototyping used office-supply-store electric staplers for assembly.

The design process started with a teardown of an existing, approved mask, and the project lead, Lennon Rodgers, worked with collaborators to replicate it, sanity-checking successive designs with his wife, an anaesthesiologist.

They started hand-delivering prototypes to the hospital, who refined the design further, swapping in latex-free elastic and lengthening the shield. Tim Osswald from UW used his polymer engineering expertise to find a supplier who could create a custom die.

Now, more than 1M Badger Masks have been sought, with manufacturers like St Paul's Summit Medical tooling up to meet demand.

Other designs are popping up across America. San Francisco's Exploratorium is making 200+ shields/day using its own makerspace.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago If the Constitution was a EULA

#10yrsgo Discarded photocopier hard drives stuffed full of corporate secrets

#5yrsago TPP leak: states give companies the right to repeal nations' laws

#5yrsago Woman medicated in a psychiatric ward until she said Obama didn't follow her on Twitter

#5yrsago Sandwars: the mafias whose illegal sand mines make whole islands vanish

#5yrsago Australia outlaws warrant canaries

#5yrsago As crypto wars begin, FBI silently removes sensible advice to encrypt your devices

#1yrago Article 13 will wreck the internet because Swedish MEPs accidentally pushed the wrong voting button

#1yrago EU’s Parliament Signs Off on Disastrous Internet Law: What Happens Next?

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (, Late Stage Capitalism (

Currently writing: I'm getting geared up to start work my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation.

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: Data – the new oil, or potential for a toxic oil spill?

Upcoming appearances:

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 new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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

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

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