Pluralistic: 25 May 2020

Today's links

Crowdfunding an open access jewelry course (permalink)

The people are the best thing about a life in science fiction – eclectic, bright, opinionated, talented – people like Elise Mathson: writer, jeweller, and all-round brilliant person (she's up for a Hugo this year).

Matheson's "wandering wire" jewellery is unmistakable – as anyone who's ever bid at a Wiscon auction knows. And as great as she is at making jewellery, she's even better at teaching, much beloved for her patient one-on-one lessons.

But Elise's health issues are making it harder for her to teach, so she's kickstarting a series of high-quality instructional videos that document her methods while she can still work.

The idea is that these can be shared among students, including students who can't afford to travel, or who have disabilities that make in-person tutelage impractical (they will all have captions). The videos will be limited to backers for a year, and open access thereafter.

With 40 hours to go, Elise has made her funding goal, but is shooting for an ambitious stretch goal: if she hits $25K, she'll make a mini-documentary about her methods, including interviews with the astronomers who inspire her work.

Bahamas Company Registry leaked (permalink)

The Distributed Denial of Secrets project publishes leaks that reveal corruption, particularly leaks that undo financial secrecy. They have just released their latest dump: Project X-Ray, a leak of scanned the Bahamas Company Registry.

These are scanned documents – 135,166 in all – that reveal the directors and officers of shell companies, many of them used to hide the looted wealth of poor nations, or funds hidden away by corrupt "businesspeople" evading taxes, or just plain criminals.

They're looking for help transcribing the contents of these records so they can be made fully searchable. Many of these companies are matrioshke grifts, numbered owned by other numbered companies in other notorious secrecy jurisdictions from New Zealand to Delaware.

A previous dump revealed the contents of the Cayman National Bank and Trust, a favored cutout for Russian oligarchs.

Mafia logic and conservative ideology (permalink)

It's a commonplace that labels like "left" and "right" don't mean anything, but that's not true.

The first clean distinguishing test I ever heard came from Steven Brust: "Ask what's more important, human rights, or property rights. If they say property rights are a human right, they're on the right." (I liked this so much I put it in my novel Walkaway)

Then came the definition from Corey Robin's "The Reactionary Mind": to be on the right is to believe that some of us were ordained to rule and the rest to be ruled over, and that the world is only right when the correct rulers are enthroned.

(I liked this so much I put it in my novella "The Masque of the Red Death).

Today, I learned a new definition, courtesy of John Holbo: "Conservatism says the law protects in-group members without binding them; while binding out-group members, not protecting them. Mafia logic all the way up and down."

This follows perfectly from the second definition. The purpose of the law is to protect the rightful rulers, so the law can't – by definition – punish them. And it is "mafia logic."

Holbo was talking about Michael Gove – a UK Tory Minister – excusing his the Prime Minister's advisor Dominick Cummings repeatedly breaking the quarantine rules that Cummings is responsible for creating and enforcing.

But it could apply equally well to Trump's pardons for his crooked henchmen, or the legions of Karens who think the cops should come and bust some Black kid's head for selling lemonade without a license, while ignoring their own anti-vax playground quarantine-breaking.

It's pure Blue Lives Matter logic: the law should protect cops from Black people, but not Black people from cops. It should punish Black people who break the law, but protect cops who break the law.

There is a meaningful difference between reactionary and progressive, left and right. It's the difference of property rights vs human rights – whether you exact the right to hoard while others starve, or the right not to starve while others hoard.

It's the difference between pluralism and elitism: whether you think some of us were born to be ruled over, or whether you think we should have a government selected by its people to serve those people.

It's the difference of equal protections and duties under the law, as opposed to impunity for the powerful and the legalized oppression of the powerless.

Podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town Part 4 (permalink)

My latest podcast is part 4 of my ongoing reading of my novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read.”

In this episode, we meet Kurt, the high tech, crustypunk dumpster-diver who is building a citywide mesh wireless freenet with refurbished e-waste he's pulled out of the trash.

Kurt is based on a real person! Darren Atkinson, a high-tech dumpster-diver who was the subject of my first-ever Wired article. Some of the most memorable nights of my life were spent chest-deep in suburban Toronto dumpsters with Darren.

Google's free/open multilingual font (permalink)

"Tofu Type" is a web design term for the square boxes that show up in lieu of letters when type is specified in a language for which the font has no glyphs. Google's Noto ("no more tofu") Fonts aims to fix this with character sets for 75 alphabets.

It's one of many high-quality, open/free fonts from the company. I'm especially fond of their monospace fonts.

The fonts are licensed under the SIL Open Font License: "The OFL meets the specific needs of typographic design and engineering as well as the gold standards of the FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software).";=OFL

Noto is missing a few languages. From the FAQ:

When will Google support Klingon/Elvish/etc?

Once Klingon/Elvish/etc is included in Unicode. Please contact the Unicode consortium to encourage them to support your favourite invented language.

Soviet Signs and Relics (permalink)

French photographer Jason Guilbeau has used the lockdown to virtually travel through the former USSR with Google Street View, capturing images of Soviet relics and signage. These have been collected in "Soviet Signs and Street Relics," a new book.

The publisher writes, "This collection of photographs portrays a surreal reality: it is a document of a vanishing era, captured by an omniscient technology that is continually deleting and replenishing itself – an inadvertent definition of Russia today."

I love this kind of exuberant relic, these monuments to a vanished past of promise and progress; first, because they remind me of the strange gifts my great-grandparents would bring when they came from Leningrad to Toronto for visits in the 70s and 80s.

And second, because they are forceful reminders of the fragility of hegemony – the fact that a society is busily sticking up giant monuments to its durability in no way indicates whether it is, indeed, durable.

One of the most striking passages in OCTOBER, China Mieville's novelistic history of the Russian Revolution, deals with the events leading up to the revolution, a series of minor peasant uprisings that were put down with overwhelming shows of force.

Many revolutionary strategists took this to be an indication of the Czar's strength: why would a Czar squander all this military might for these insignificant uprisings in the outer provinces? Imagine how he'll deal with a real revolution!

But it turned out that the reason that the Czar was so dedicated to stamping out the most insignificant embers of rebellion is that he knew he was surrounded by dry tinder, and a single spark could send his empire up in flames.

Reading it, I was struck by the underlying lesson: that the behavior of autocrats at their top strength is indistinguishable – from the outside – from their behavior when their strength is at its lowest ebb.

The Trump administration embodies this principle – every time Trump does something arrogant and overreaching, the sort of thing you'd expect of an autocrat with power to burn, it emerges that his motivation was a bluffer's desperation.

Crumbling Soviet monuments are mementos mori, the skull on your desk that reminds you that this too shall pass.

Rogue UK civil service tweet damns "truth-twisters" (permalink)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top advisor, Dominic Cummings, violated the quarantine rules he'd personally overseen and drove 264 miles to his parents' "estate" while his wife was ill with coronavirus.

Not only that: Cummings is credibly accused of repeatedly violating his own public health measures.

What's more, Johnson "vigorosly defended" this conduct in a "sometimes extraordinary" press conference.

This presser appears was the final straw for the manager of the @UKCivilService Twitter account, which posted, "Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?”

The tweet was quickly deleted but was still shared tens of thousands of times.

The UK Cabinet Office account later tweeted "An unauthorised tweet was posted on a government channel this evening. The post has been removed and we are investigating the matter."

A jailbreak for every version of Ios (permalink)

Whenever I talk about protections for "adversarial interoperability" (allowing third parties to service, extend, improve existing products) someone will inevitably say that the legal right to mod a product is irrelevant because companies like Apple make impregnable products.

But when it comes to security, attacking is easier than defending. For Apple to fend off third-party app stores or other products that give its customers more rights to their property, Apple needs to be perfect. To defeat this, third parties only need to find a single error.

This principle keeps getting proved. A new jailbreak from the unc0ver team works on every Iphone and every version of Ios, including version 13.5, only released this week.

This is in addition to Axi0mx's "Checkm8" crack, which exploits a defect in a security component that Apple designed not to be modified after manufacture, meaning that any patch from Apple would require de/resoldering a tamper-resistant component.

Checkm8 is a forever-day bug that affects 11 years' worth of Iphone models, though not the most recent ones.

Texas Instruments locks down its hackable calculators (permalink)

In a deceptive software update, Texas Instruments removed a popular feature from its bestselling TI-84 graphing calculators, removing the ability of calculator owners to write and run their own C and assembler programs.

The change was blamed on "exam boards and teachers" who'd been inflamed by "sensationalized videos" that showed how homebrew software could help students cheat during exams.

Peter Balyta, Texas Instruments' President of Educational Technology, called the move "a difficult decision, but one that was made out of an abundance of caution to prioritize learning for students and minimize any security risks."

The practice of using deceptive software updates to remove desirable features from products after they have been sold is an incredibly bad idea. Regular software updating is the key to technological "herd immunity."

The failure to patch devices is largely to blame for Denial of Service epidemics, and compromised systems can be used as a jumping-off point for attacks on other systems. As a technologically dependent civilization, we cannot afford to disincentivize people from updating.

The first time I encountered this tactic was with Apple's Itunes, which went through a multi-year period of deceptive updates that removed desirable functionality to please the record companies whose approval was needed to keep the Itunes Store in business.

More recently, HP pushed a fake "security update" to its printers that lay dormant for six months, then activated and began blocking third-party/remanufactured ink cartridges.

It's such a reckless act, a poisoning of the well, like Trump's attempt to use the US census to gather citizenship data or the CIA's impersonation of public health workers when they were searching for Osama bin Laden.

These practices are essential to our common wellbeing, and rely heavily on voluntary cooperation. Teaching people that participating in these actions – whose benefits are not personal, but rather distributed across our whole society – is an act of depraved indifference.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Internet features in modern paranoid delusions

#15yrsago Register of copyrights: a national embarrassment

#10yrsago 7 Copyright Questions for Canada's DMCA Minister

#10yrsago Debt-crisis explained through tearful laughter

#5yrsago If you want a picture of the future, imagine a Roomba leaking pix of your home, forever

#5yrsago John Scalzi and Tor Books sign 13 book, 10 year, $3.4M deal

#5yrsago This Towel Day, remember Terry Pratchett, too

#5yrsago Anti-austerity parties soar in Spanish elections as Greece threatens default

#5yrsago Screw the techno-determinists — give me hope instead

#5yrsago Al Qaeda's job application form

#1yrago Europe's surging, far-right, "anti-establishment" parties: funded by billionaires, voting for billionaire-friendly policies, lining their own pockets

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Matthew Caruana Galizia (, Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (, Four Short Links (, Damon Murray.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 543 words (18963 total).

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

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

Upcoming appearances: Discussion with Nnedi Okorafor, Torcon, June 14

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:

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

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.