Pluralistic: 05 Jun 2020

Today's links

EFF offering legal referrals to protesters (permalink)

EFF has a "cooperating attorneys" list of hundreds of cyberlawyers who care about keeping good people safe from legal harms.

The organization is opening that list to "people facing legal troubles as a result of their participation in the ongoing demonstrations, especially those involving surveillance or devices such as phones."

"Protesters and reporters in need of legal assistance should reach out to us at We treat requests that come in to us as confidential, and always protect the identities and information of those that come to us for legal assistance."

The unsatisfying history of obscenity (permalink)

I have exactly one complaint about "Make No Law," Ken White's superb podcast that explains the evolution of First Amendment law by dramatizing and explaining pivotal Supreme Court cases: it doesn't come out often enough.

On the other hand, absence makes the heart grow fungus, and so my heart mushroomed with joy when I saw a new episode in my podcatcher this morning: "I Know It When I See It," on the evolution of American obscenity laws.

The episode features a deep dive into Jacobellis v. Ohio, the case that birthed the infamous and unsatisfying cop-out standard for what is, and is not obscenity: "I know it when I see it."

Critical First Amendment cases are always fascinating because they deal with contentious expression, often artistic expression, and Jacobellis is no exception.

It concerned a theater's exhibition of Les Amants, a 1958 French film about an affair. What outraged the state of Ohio? A woman has an affair without being condemned for it, and has a pleasurable experience when her lover performs oral sex on her.

White's delightful dive into the evolution of US obscenity rules takes detours through film criticism and American puritanism, and delivers a gripping seminar on the fine points of the law on the way.

Here's a direct MP3:

And here's the RSS for Make No Law.

A ride through of Elitch Gardens' Kaleidoscope (permalink)

For centuries, Denverites have enjoyed the pleasures of their Elitch Gardens, a pleasure park that opened 30 years after the founding of Denver and has since evolved into a wonderful theme park.

One of the park's marquee attraction is "Kaleidoscope," created by Santa Fe's Meow Wolf, the justifiably famous and beloved immersive experience designers backed by George RR Martin.

Kaleidoscope is pure atmosphere, mixing cutting-edge projection-mapping with traditional mechanical effects to create a surreal, psychedelic experience – like if Disneyland's Alice ride was remade by Tim Burton.

The video ridethough is pure bonkers pleasure. I don't know when I'll be able to fly again, but I am still technically the Guest of Honor for Denver's Milehicon, next October, and if it happens, I'm definitely sneaking off for a ride!

Big Tech is good at being big (permalink)

When I talk about how we should fight tech monopolies, I often make the point that tech companies used to grow by making things, but now they grow by buying them.

For example Google created 1.5 amazing products (a search engine and a Hotmail clone) and then bought a bunch of companies. Its in-house products – G+, Sidewalk Labs, smartwatches, Loon – are boondoggles, vanity projects and failures.

A couple weeks ago, a Twitter commenter challenged me on this, asking why Google's excellence when it comes to SCALE didn't qualify as "innovation"? In some ways, making a hit product is the easy part – keeping it running once it's a hit is the hard part.

I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. I'm a recovering systems administrator. I know how hard scale is. I remember when Youtube was all "buffering…" errors. Hell, I remember when Blogger crashed on a near-daily basis.

Google's expertise in running reliable services at scale is humbling and astounding.

But it's not enough. The argument is complex, so I wrote an essay about it:

The short version: doing things well at scale comes with the territory for monopolists. Standard Oil pumped a lot of oil and the Rail Trust moved a lot of rolling stock. If being good at scale gets you a pass from anti-monopoly law, then anti-monopoly law is meaningless.

What's more, much of Google's expertise at scaling (as well as that of other Big Tech, from Apple and Microsoft to Facebook) is the result of still more acquisitions – from server companies to cluster-management companies.

In a world of vigorously enforced anti-monopoly rules, those companies would be standalones, selling products to anyone who wanted them – not allowing monopolists to better manage the nascent competitors they've gobbled up.

Personalized, signed copies of Little Brother/Homeland (permalink)

During this month's uprisings, I've heard from hundreds of people who wrote to tell me that they're reminded of my novels Little Brother and Homeland, books in which youth-led uprising meet overwhelming, militarized force and high-tech surveillance.

Often, people praise me for some kind of prescience in writing these books; but as with so much science fiction, what looks like prediction is actually observation. Cops have been ratcheting up surveillance and militarization for longer than I've been writing.

I find this trend every bit as alarming as you do. The closer I observe it, the more worried I become, especially as the private sector becomes more and more central to the totalitarian project .

At that point, you're not just fighting systemic racism and paranoia in law enforcement. Private sector procurements turn that into a chimera where gladhanding commissioned salesfores offer junkets, massages, cash and gear to cops who buy spy tech.

They recruit sports stars as spokespeople (and offer them shares in the company):

Their billionaire owners threaten reporters who disclose their role in helping governments violate human rights and use attack lawyers to secure misleading "retractions."

Periodically this boils over and I write a new Little Brother. The next one, Attack Surface, is about a spy-tech hacker who realizes she's been on the wrong side of things when her friend's Oakland BLM chapter is targeted by the tools she developed.

In anticipation of that release, on Jul 7, Tor Books is publishing an omnibus edition of Little Brother and Homeland, which Snowden – who knows firsthand what it means to switch from spying on people to defending them from spying – wrote an amazing intro for.

My local sf/horror/fantasy bookstore, Dark Delicacies, is offering signed, personalized copies of the book, which you can preorder here:

They're hanging in there, despite having been kicked out of their home of 25 years by a greedy landlord (who still hasn't managed to rent their old space, and may he lose his shirt), and despite the pandemic. I'm so pleased to be able to find a way to support them.

Dark Delicacies is also offering personalized, signed copies of my first picture book, Poesy the Monster Slayer, which comes out the following week:

No fix for Chrome's Incognito Mode (permalink)

When you hit a newspaper's "soft paywall" and try to load the article in Chrome's Incognito Mode (which promises to undetectably present your browser to the site as a new user, with no cookies), the site often complains that you're in private mode and balks.

How is this possible? What happened to "undetectable?" Google updated Chrome in 2019, promising to make it impossible for sites to distinguish between incognito mode and new users.

The way sites had previously made this distinction was by checking to see whether they could write data to your browser's local storage; Incognito Mode did not allow this. Chrome "fixed" this by capping Incognito's local storage at 120MB.

So, of course, anti-Incognito scripts immediately appeared: all they had to do was check to see whether available storage was precisely 120MB. Sites like the New York Times rolled out this script right away.

A year's gone by and Google still hasn't fixed it. Google's caught between different priorities here: on the one hand, it's been named in a class action suit for tracking users in Incognito Mode.

On the other hand, news companies have pursued both litigation and lawmaking (especially in the EU) against Google, and the company is unwilling to pick a fight with companies that buy their ink by the barrel.

Caught in the crossfire are users, who want Incognito Mode to block their identities from a wide range of spying activities, including protesters looking to protect their identities from police surveillance.

DoJ seizes pro-BLM coronavirus masks (permalink)

The Movement for Black Lives had tens of thousands of dollars' worth of coronavirus masks printed for protesters to wear, but these keep getting seized by cops in the mail.

Four shipments – from Oakland to NYC, DC, Minneapolis and St Louis – were seized, and M4BL has been instructed to "contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for further information."

The masks were produced by Movement Ink's Rene Quinonez, who said, "This isn't a weapon. It's more about safety. We’re trying to figure out how to keep our community safe."

The CDC – which, under Trump's direction, has put in one of the worst public health responses on the planet – advises protesters to wear masks and has warned that protests could be "seeding events" for covid outbreaks.

Here's a statement from The Movement for Black Lives's Chelsea Fuller: "Police have rioted coast to coast, beating and gassing protesters who have called for an end to police violence, with the explicit approval of President Trump.

"Now, it appears they want to ensure that people who protest are susceptible to the same deadly pandemic that they have failed miserably at stopping. The continued surveillance and disruption of social movements under this administration is as chilling as it is dangerous. It should be roundly condemned."

Science Fiction Writers of America on Black Lives Matter (permalink)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has published an excellent statement on Black Lives Matter and the protests.

In it, they acknowledge that "SFWA has historically ignored and, in too many instances, reinforced the injustices, systemic barriers, and unaddressed racism, particularly toward Black people, that have contributed to this moment."

Science fiction has had a large reactionary element literally from the start, when leftist science fiction writers from the Futurian house were excluded from the very first World Science Fiction Convention because of their political views.

SFWA's forums and message boards were slow off the mark to address racist and sexist harassment, and white supremacist elements in the field have tried to sabotage the Hugo Awards, picketed conventions, and sent racist messages over SFWA's channels.

But SFWA underwent a sea change some years ago and has been making meaningful strides towards inclusion ever since. In the new statement – unanimously signed by SFWA's board – the organization acknowledges that these measures are not enough.

They announce a raft of new, concrete steps they will take to improve the inclusivity and diversity of the field, including:

  • Donating proceeds from June Nebula Conference ticket purchases to the Carl Brandon Society and the Black Speculative Fiction Society

  • Matching every Nebula ticket bought in June with a seat for a Black writer at the event

  • Waiving fees for Black writers at next year's Nebula event

  • Offering travel subsidies to Black writers attending next year's Nebulas

  • Waiving SFWA membership dues for Black writers for the next year

  • Offering grant money to Black-led sf/f organizations

The organization also links to several reading lists, notably Ibram X Kendi's "Antiracist Reading List":

And they provide links to several Black sf/f and literary organizations:

  • Black Science Fiction Society

  • FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

  • Carl Brandon Society

  • Black Tribbles

  • People of Color in Publishing

  • I Need Diverse Games

  • We Need Diverse Books

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Dilbert shills for the BSA

#15yrsago Orwell Plaza in Barcelona has continuous CCTV recording

#10yrsago Fish oil and snake oil

#5yrsago CVS security guards sue: "they made us tail Black and Latino customers"

#5yrsago Edward Snowden, two years later: the world rejects surveillance

#5yrsago After lying and covering up, Facebook finally changes rules for inmates' pages

#5yrsago Connecticut teacher fired for reading Allen Ginsberg poem to AP class

#5yrsago Utah cop executes unarmed man who was listening to headphones, gets away with it

#1yrago AOC condemns solitary confinement for Paul Manafort

#1yrago New Jersey law would force Verizon to pay the taxes it avoided for a decade

#1yrago Russia adds Tinder to the list of apps that have to release user data to its cops and spies on demand, without a warrant

#1yrago The best Joker is the woman Joker who snaps after a lifetime of being told to "smile, baby" by shitty men

#1yrago 68% of "ordinary Facebook investors" voted to fire Zuckerberg

#1yrago LA's new homelessness stats reveal a crisis that is only worsening

#1yrago Patronscan wants cities to require bars to scan your ID with its service so it can maintain a secret, unaccountable blacklist

#1yrago Leaked UK military "Extreme Right Wing" checklist: "using the term 'Islamofascism'", adding "-istan" to place names

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Dan Howland (, Deeplinks (, Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 534 words (23706 total).

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

Latest podcast: How Big Tech Monopolies Distort Our Public Discourse

Upcoming appearances:

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

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