Pluralistic: 13 Apr 2020

Today's links



I'm teaching a teen writing class (permalink)

I'm teaching a writing seminar for teens through the Clarion West writing workshop this Thursday, 4/16, from 12-1PM Pacific. It's called "Stories are Super Weird. Here’s Why They Work."

https://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/online-workshops/cory-doctorow-april-16/

"Stories are weird. Why do we care about imaginary people? How can you make strangers care about your imaginary people? Cory explains how to get readers engaged with the lives and deaths of people who never existed and never will exist and therefore do not matter at all."

It's part of a slate of teen writing workshops Clarion West is offering:

https://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/online-workshops/teen-online-workshop-series/

There's also an adult series:

https://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/online-workshops/april-online-workshop-series/



Trump will deliver killing blow to the USPS (permalink)

The USPS is about to declare bankruptcy. It's at the center of the longstanding plans for disaster recover and has been since the Cold War. It's the only institution that could (for example) deliver covid meds to every home in America in one day.

https://pluralistic.net/2020/03/25/national-emergency-library/#going-postal

But Congress has decided not to bail out the postal service, despite Art 1, Sec 8 of the US Constitution: "To establish Post Offices and post Roads."

Maybe it's because without a USPS we couldn't have a postal vote in 2020?

https://pluralistic.net/2020/03/27/just-asking-questions/#save-usps

The proximate cause of the post office's bankruptcy is the pandemic, but that is merely the finishing blow. The USPS was murdered in 2006, when Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2020/04/will-the-united-states-post-office-become-a-victim-of-covid19.html

The Act gave the USPS a mere 10 years to "prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years." That is, to set aside cash to pay medical bills for future employees who hadn't been born yet.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h109-6407

The USPS's murder is straight out of the neoliberal playbook: "1 Defund, 2 claim crisis, 3 call for privatizatization, 4 profit!"

As Lambert Strether points out, it was a bipartisan act of murder, cosponored by the "centrist" Democrat Henry Waxman.

Killing the USPS looms large in the Trump admin's (nonmetaphorical, actual) privatization playbook, "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations":

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Government-Reform-and-Reorg-Plan.pdf

The proposals are for USPS to become a Wework clone or franchisee, but not to become a publicly owned bank – a common line of business for other nations' postal services, natural based on the amounts of cash they handle.

The USPS is the nation's second largest employer of veterans, with 630,000 employees. Trump is about to allow it to collapse so that UPS, Fedex and other private firms can skim off the most profitable parts of its business and leave rural Americans totally isolated.

The loss of the USPS would mean the loss of the last truly universal federal program in America and would unduly hammer the people whom Trump claims to love — veterans and rural voters.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/02/europeans-deserve-have-their-governments-test-not-trust-filters



Fighting the EU Copyright Directive in court (permalink)

"Impact litigation" is an invaluable activist tool. When lawmakers enact a rule that violates your constitution, you sue to have the law overturned. That means that you can reverse bad law and establish key protections through the courts.

It's true that lawyers are expensive, but not as expensive as, say, convincing the majority of lawmakers to betray the industry groups that lobbied them to pass an unjust law. Lobbying delivers returns on spending almost without limit: there's always more you can accomplish with more lobbying.

But courtroom battles are different. As expensive as they can be, adding more lawyers to your battle does not produce returns beyond a threshold. Same goes for exotic tactics like paying experts to write law review articles to support your theory – beyond a certain ceiling, spending more money does not improve your case.

It's not an even playing field between activists and industry, but it's more even than any other.

Impact litigation requires that you have a constitutional court that can apply scrutiny and invalidate law based on a set of constitutional principles, and it helps if that constitution has been around for a while, attracting jurisprudence that clarifies its meaning.

That's why impact litigation is such a powerful tactic in the USA, but has been less used in countries like Canada (whose Charter of Rights and Freedoms was established in 1982, and has a huge loophole in the "Notwithstanding Clause"):

https://globalnews.ca/news/4438198/notwithstanding-clause-doug-ford-bill-5-toronto-city-council/

The EU's top court, the CJEU, is older and better established, but many of the principles it upholds are newer, and its contemporary form only dates to 2009 and the Treaty of Lisbon, so its contours are not as crisp as you might like.

But when it comes to internet law, the CJEU has proved itself a force-multiplier for pushback against corporate hegemony:

https://epic.org/privacy/intl/schrems/

EU activists are expanding their use of impact litigation, which is amazing. For example, Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, which relies on Art 5 of German Basic Law (freedom of expression, press, information, arts, sciences, and from censorship) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

They've just spun out a new project, Control-C, run by Julia Reda, the former Pirate Party MEP who did outstanding work fighting the 2019 Copyright Directive and its disastrous Article 13 (now Article 17).

https://freiheitsrechte.org/urheberrecht/

Article 17 mandates upload filters for online services, requiring them to subject all user-submitted content to automated surveillance and blocking if the algorithm believes you have violated copyright.

The rule was the most controversial EU undertaking ever, with more than 5M signatures on a petition against it (the largest petition in EU history), and marches in 50+ cities. It passed by 5 votes (and afterwards 10 MEPs said they were confused and pushed the wrong button).

To pass it, its backers wrote some "protections" into the rule, including a guarantee that these filters would not block content that included copyrighted works for the purpose of commentary, criticism, parody and pastiche.

This means that the filters will only be legal if they can (for example) tell the difference between a song that samples a musician to condemn them for supporting the Directive, and one that does the same thing to celebrate them for their support.

I haven't been a programmer for a long time, but I'm sceptical that this is possible, and this leads me to believe that the inclusion of these "protections" was either profoundly cynical or profoundly ignorant.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/02/europeans-deserve-have-their-governments-test-not-trust-filters

What's more, there is literally no conceivable way that automatically surveilling and judging everything that every European posts to the internet can comply with the GDPR:

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/02/upload-filters-are-odds-gdpr

So the launch of Control-C is very exciting. Article 17 was plainly illegal and was only passed thanks to enormous spending by entertainment industry lobbyists (who falsely claimed the majority of spending was from the tech sector):

https://corporateeurope.org/en/2018/12/copyright-directive-how-competing-big-business-lobbies-drowned-out-critical-voices

In reality, the US-based tech sector's first preference was to have no Directive, but its second preference was to have THIS Directive, which would make it impossible to launch EU-based competitors as they could never afford to comply with it.

That's why Facebook and Youtube both lobbied FOR filters (they already have them).

A17 is ripe for impact litigation. The cause is urgent. The pandemic has made educators reliant on online resources even as geographic and use restrictions have made these far less reliable.



Virginia's election-day holiday (permalink)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has made election day a statewide holiday, joining the handful of other states that have passed this vital, democracy-protecting law, like Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/12/politics/virginia-election-day-holiday-early-voting/index.html

It should be a federal holiday. It isn't, because Republicans believe that increased voter turnout is bad for their electoral chances.

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/30/saying-quiet-part-very-loud-trump-admits-youd-never-have-republican-elected-country

That's why Mitch McConnell has rejected any attempt to establish a federal voting holiday, claiming that it would allow federal employees (whom he loathes) to "hang out at the polls during an election" or campaign for candidates.

Northam's new holiday-establishing order also eliminates Virginia's Lee-Jackson day holiday, which celebrated the traitorous, slave-owning Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who murdered American soldiers to defend their right to treat other Americans as property.

Here's a campaign to #TakeBackTuesday and establish a US-wide election-day holiday.

https://www.good.is/take-back-tuesday



Quantifying Boris Johnson's body-count (permalink)

In the early days of the pandemic, the UK pursued a plan that was developed for a less contagious, less lethal flu pandemic, which proposed deliberately allowing the disease to burn through the population quickly to develop "herd immunity."

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2020/feb/27/what-are-the-uks-plans-for-dealing-with-a-pandemic-virus

Despite expert advice that this would not work with the novel coronavirus, the UK Tory government pushed ahead with it. PM Boris Johnson sought out covid patients to shake hands with while gerning for newscameras. (He ended up in intensive care).

https://www.newsweek.com/boris-johnson-says-shaken-hands-coronavirus-patients-1490214

How much damage did this political malpractice inflict upon Britons? It turns out there's something of a national experiment that we can use to answer that question, by looking at what happened in the Republic of Ireland.

These are two neighbouring, English-speaking nations with similar cultures (Ireland was long a colony of Britain), comparably underfunded health services, and they experienced their first covid cases on the same day.

By comparing the outcomes in the two countries, we can get an estimate of how lethal the Conservative government's incompetence really was.

It's not pretty.

As medical historian Elaine Doyle writes in an epic thread, Britons are dying at more than twice the rate of the Irish.

https://twitter.com/laineydoyle/status/1249127908876128259

Doyle points out that as the Irish government was shutting schools, 250,000 people in the UK were gathering for a Cheltenham match.

Ireland canceled St Paddy's Day and shut pubs a week in advance. The UK had megaconcerts like the Stereophonics gig in Cardiff.

The Irish government made clear, continuous announcements about the gravity of the pandemic, urging people to stay home and take care. The UK government was virtually silent.

The thing about exponential growth is that early interventions make a huge difference. The UK dawdled for nearly two weeks before taking the lockdown steps that the Irish enacted.

The Tory ideology holds that governments are incompetent. This creates a perverse incentive: when Tories govern badly, they prove their own point. But Tories are supposed to murder poor people to juice the economy, not murder pensioners AND the economy.

Boris Johnson is a vile piece of work: a racist, misogynist bigot and a fool. His unwillingness to take (medical) expert advice (and his reliance on finance-sector advice) resulted in the measurable, deaths of Britons. Thousands of them.

(Image: Think London, CC-BY, modified)



This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Bush's iPod filled with infringing goodness https://web.archive.org/web/20050411203618/http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/04/10/news/letter.html

#15yrsago GPLed code generates automated Comp Sci papers — output accepted for conferences! https://web.archive.org/web/20050416191520/http://www.pdos.lcs.mit.edu/scigen/

#15yrsago Phone DRM cartel lowers fees from outrageous to merely ridiculous https://web.archive.org/web/20050413205335/http://news.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/mobile/0,39020360,39195029,00.htm

#15yrsago BBC Creative Archive launches, without DRM https://web.archive.org/web/20051224140856/http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk/archives/what_is_the_creative_archive/project_faqs/index.html

#10yrsago Felten: Why the RIAA is suing Internet2 users https://web.archive.org/web/20050420082611/https://freedom-to-tinker.com/archives/000797.html

#10yrsago John Scalzi is a Fuzzy https://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/04/07/the-super-secret-thing-that-i-cannot-tell-you-about-revealed-introducing-fuzzy-nation/

#10yrsago BITTER SEEDS: Alternate WWII novel pits English warlocks against Nazi X-Men https://boingboing.net/2010/04/13/bitter-sands-alterna.html

#10yrsago Design contest for the developing world: save the rich world from itself https://web.archive.org/web/20100416141345/http://www.designforthefirstworld.com/jury/

#5yrsago NSA declares war on general purpose computers https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/as-encryption-spreads-us-worries-about-access-to-data-for-investigations/2015/04/10/7c1c7518-d401-11e4-a62f-ee745911a4ff_story.html

#5yrsago On the Hugo Award hijacking https://grrm.livejournal.com/417125.html

#5yrsago Exploding the Phone: the untold, epic story of the phone phreaks https://boingboing.net/2015/04/13/exploding-the-phone-the-untol.html



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/)

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/04/05/the-jubilee-fill-your-boots/

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627?utm_source=socialmedia&utm_medium=socialpost&utm_term=na-poesycorypreorder&utm_content=na-preorder-buynow&utm_campaign=9781626723627

(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. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250757531

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583


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