Pluralistic: 22 May 2020

Today's links

Oh Joy Sex Toy's new teen sex-ed book (permalink)

Oh Joy Sex Toy is Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan's superb webcomic that started as a sex-toy review site but has branched out to cover every element of human sexuality and sexual health with comedy, pathos, and wisdom.

After kickstarting a string of outstanding collections, they branched into sex-ed books for young readers. The first volume was "Drawn to Sex," a book so good I DIDN'T give it to my daughter (which would have guaranteed that she wouldn't read it).

(Instead, I left it where I knew she'd find it on her own!)

Now – great news! – there's a second volume in the works, called "Our Bodies and Health," which deals with "the science-y, biology-y side of things" and is up for preorder:

Subjects covered: "genital construction to pregnancy to abortion to STIs to the various ways your reproductive organs can go haywire and what you can do to deal with it." These are comics "designed to help the reader learn about difficult topics without shame or judgement."

Here's that Kickstarter. The book is $8 for a PDF, $20 for a hardcopy, and $36 for a bundle with volume 1 – delivery is Nov, in time for Xmas!

I ordered one!

Torcon: Gaiman, Okorafor, Kowal, Schwab (permalink)

I have literally lost count of the number of sf cons I was supposed to attend that have cancelled, but there's one NEW con that I've signed up for that I'm SO STOKED about: Torcon, the sf con from Tor Books, which runs online Jun 11-14.




Neil Gaiman. VE Schwab. Brandon Sanderson. Nnedi Okorafor. Christopher Paolini.


I'm speaking with Nnedi Okorafor on 6/14 at 19h Eastern/16h Pacific!

There are online screenings, brunch with Mary Robinette Kowal, a live storytelling session with an all-star lineup, panels… It's all in collaboration with @denofgeek, featuring some of their best-loved hosts…

The pandemic sucks. Missing cons sucks. This will NOT suck.

Copyright bots are slaughtering classical musicians' performances (permalink)

During the pandemic, classical musicians and orchestras are reliant on streaming their performances to maintain their profile and solicit donations. That's a problem, because the platforms' copyright bots hate classical music.

Once a record label like Sony Music or Naxos claims a performance that they have released, the bots scour the services for anything that sounds even remotely like that performance and either deletes it, mutes it, or steals the money it generates.

And on the platforms, users are considered guilty until proven innocent. An automated takedown is virtually instantaneous, while a human review that reverses it can take twenty-eight months.

The fascinating thing about this is that it is entirely predictable. It's a known failure mode for filters. Either you narrow the matching so that they only catch precise matches (in which case they are easy to trick by making trivial changes); or you broaden the matching, in which case they take down innocent musicians' own performances.

The fact that they've chosen the latter tells you that this is not "copyright protection," because the musicians whose performances are removed are also copyright holders.

Indeed, the majority of classical music copyright holders are not large companies like Naxos or Sony – they're the musicians whose performances Sony and Naxos have removed.

These filters are not for copyright protection: they're for corporate protection.

What do Naxos and Sony say? Duncan Hammons from Naxos blames the filters: "We’re at the mercy of automation in order to uphold our obligations to our clients."

Translation: Naxos chose not to manually review the filters' results, rather, they run the system on full autopilot, and anyone who gets censored in the process is an unavoidable consequence of Naxos's decision.

He doesn't raise the possibility of making a different decision.

Instead, he proposes that Naxos can be in charge of who is allowed to make classical music even if they don't have a relationship with Naxos: "[arrangements can be made for channel owners to prove] the legitimacy of their status as a performing arts entity."

In March 2019, the EU passed its new Copyright Directive, whose Article 13 (now Article 17) mandates copyright filters like Facebook's for all platforms.

At the time, critics like me argued that this would allow giant entertainment corporations to decide when and whether an indie musician could perform online.

After all, these companies don't fear being trapped in the filternet: they have direct lines to the online appeals court. It's only the indie musicians who have to get in the queue to have the robot's judgment reviewed by a human, who might take 28 months to get to it.

And of course, now that every online platform has to find the money to build these filters – Youtube's Contentid, which only does a tiny fraction of the filtering required, cost $100m – only the biggest tech players will remain.

So here we are, headed for a future in which only giant tech platforms are allowed to operate, and where giant media companies are given a veto over who can make art on those platforms.

This is not a good situation for artists. Even if you want to sign to Sony or another label, the fact that Sony (and the other two giant labels) are the only game in town means that they will squeeze their talent, giving them less of the money their art generates.

Once, online platforms constituted an escape valve on this pressure-cooker, an alternative to the abusive label system. Now it is captured by them.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)

Coronavirus has made the super-rich MUCH richer (permalink)

In "Tale of Two Crises: Billionaires Gain as Workers Feel Pandemic Pain," a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Insitute for Policy Studies, we learn that America's billionaires have added $434B to their fortunes during the crisis.

America's 5 richest billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison – grew their fortunes by $40B.

Bezos alone made $35B. He is canceling the $2/hour "hazard pay" for Amazon warehouse workers effective Jun 1.

36 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the same period.

How to start a platform co-op (permalink)

The problem with the gig economy isn't that it makes it easy for workers, customers and businesses to find each other: it's that the platforms are parasitic grifts who ruin everyone, lose money, and get flogged off to suckers during the IPO.

There's a better way: "platform co-operativism," in which workers clone the apps – a trivial task – and then turn them into nonpredatory, worker-owned businesses that support the real economy instead of annihilating it to enrich Saudi oil families.

The biggest co-op success story is Spain's Mondragon Co-Op. They've teamed up with NYU's New School (which has a major platform co-op project) and the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy to offer courses in platform co-op entrepreneurship.

It runs Jun 1-Jul 24.

"In moments of crisis like this, things that had been considered impossible can become common sense: The Great Depression gave rise to the original New Deal. We need to show possibilities for how the world could be better."

Mum uses GDPR to force Gran to take down pics (permalink)

A Dutch court has sided with a woman who sued her mother to force her to remove pictures of her grandchildren from social media, finding that the images violated the GDPR.

The mum said that she had repeatedly asked the grandmother to remove the pictures. The court found that the "purely personal" exception to the GDPR does not apply when large commercial platforms like Facebook and Pintrest are involved.

If the grandmother doesn't remove the photos, she'll be fined €50/day to a max of €1000. If she posts more images in the future, these, too, will incur €50/day fines.

I'm not sure how I feel about this, to be honest. I do think that kids (and therefore, by extension, their guardians) should have autonomy over their personal info, and also that the polite thing to do when asked by your daughter to remove her kids' photos is to comply.

But the GDPR is a gnarly hairball of law that's hard to understand, even for experts. I'm all for having complex, purpose-suited rules for complex industries, but I'm sceptical that they will carry over well to resolving disputes between private individuals.

Certainly, this feels like a scorched-earth approach that would likely create a permanent rift between Gran and Mum.

Physical BLINK tag (permalink)

My favorite terrible outcome of the browser wars is the BLINK tag, which Netscape introduced as a nonstandard HTML extension in a bid to tempt web authors to optimize their sites for Netscape instead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The tag lingered long after the browser wars ended. I went through a period around 2013 where I used it (and its many variations, like the "marquee" argument a lot). Eventually (and not coincidentally, I believe), Firefox nuked it.

So I was delighted to wake up this morning and discover that @edent is making good use of quarantine time to commission a lenticular BLINK tag sticker from a Chinese manufacturer.

You can order your own! It's £100 for 100, with a 10% discount at this link:

(which also pays a commission to Eden).

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrago Official French translation for "weblog"

#10yrsago Infoladies of Bangladesh revolutionize rural life

#5yrsago The Man Who Sold The Moon

#1yrago A self-appointed wing of the American judicial system is about to make it much harder to fight terms of service

#1yrago Exploitation of workers becomes more socially acceptable if the workers are perceived as "passionate" about their jobs

#1yrago The "Uber of Live Music" will charge you $1100-1600 to book a house show, pay musicians $100

#1yrago In less than one second, a malicious web-page can uniquely fingerprint an Iphone, Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 without any explicit user interaction

#1yrago Americans believe that they should own the mountains of data produced by their cars, but they don't

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Timothy Haas, Naked Capitalism (, JWZ (, Slashdot (, Trebor Schulz.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 500 words (18420 total).

Currently reading: The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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

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