Pluralistic: 26 Jun 2020

Today's links

Copyright keeps police use-of-force training a secret (permalink)

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training is required by law to "conspicuously" publish all law enforcement training materials.

They're refusing.

Because copyright.

Oh, some of it's there, but if you ask to see how CA cops are trained on facial recognition, license-plate cameras or (get this) use-of-force, you get a Word doc containing one sentence: "The course presenter has claimed copyright for the expanded course outline."

My EFF colleagues Dave Maas and Naomi Gilens have sent a demand letter insisting these materials be released. The docs come from Motorola division Vigilant Solution, which has a history of binding police to illegal/unethical nonpublication clauses.

But those clauses were nullified by SB978, the California law EFF helped get past, which makes it clear that irrespective of copyright claims, police training docs must be made available to the public.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. So far, POST has only released (some) course OUTLINES. By law, they are required to release ALL course materials.

And while that hasn't happened yet, EFF HAS gotten some course docs through FOIA requests.

What they found was profoundly disturbing. Vigilant's training docs are hopelessly out of date and counsel police to engage in illegal conduct. We told POST about it and demanded that the course be withdrawn. Was it? Who know? The docs are a secret.

This isn't over: "If California POST is going to set and uphold police standards, then it cannot ignore the law. POST must make its training materials available online immediately."

Splash Mountain to purge Song of the South (permalink)

A couple weeks ago, @tiahsoka challenged us to think of a new theme for Disney's Splash Mountain, something to replace the racist "Song of the South" skin that was grafted onto the 1989 flume ride late in its production.

Many replied, but the best idea came from Disneyland castmember Frederick Chambers, who proposed that the theme be replaced with The Princess and the Frog, a recent New Orleans-set princess movie with amazing music and Disney's first Black princess.

Chambers did a full, detailed workup for how the retheme could go. It's stone brilliant.

It worked! Disney has now officially announced that Walt Disney World and Disneyland's Splash Mountain will be rethemed for Princess and the Frog, under the direction of Imagineering's Charita Carter. (No word on the date)

Let's get rid of nursing homes (permalink)

Nursing homes were largely unheard of until the 1950s, when the Hill-Burton Act freed up public money to pay for them; prior to that, older people stayed home or with family, or lived in small "rest homes."

As Rose Eveleth writes for Wired, nursing homes – both for older people and people with disabilities – were already visibly unsafe, even before the pandemic turned them into charnel houses; long before, they've routinely incubated epidemics.

But despite their failings, the nursing home sector has grown and grown, thanks to spectacular returns to investors, who fueled a stock bubble in nursing home building, even as the homes were defunding care and increasing capacity to goose profits.

What's the solution? Some activists favor the Disability Integration Act, "which protects the right for both disabled and older Americans to live in the community."

Where that's not possible ADAPT calls for "smaller, home-like settings that are more resident-centered."

Sympathy for the mask-shy (permalink)

It seems that in every health emergency, America rejects harm reduction in favor of abstinence: don't want to get AIDS? Don't have sex. Don't want to OD? Don't take drugs.

Don't want to get coronavirus? Stay home.

As Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus writes, abstinence-based education is always less effective than harm-reduction: "trying to shame people into wearing condoms didn’t work—and it won’t work for masks either."

Mask enforcement empowers cops to force us to mask up, but those powers are disproportionately used against marginalized people, especially Black people – and paradoxically, Black men who DO wear masks are more likely to suffer racial profiling.

Meanwhile, shaming may be effective at changing public behaviors, but it also fuels bad conduct in secret. If people wear masks because of shame – and not because they believe in the science – they'll ignore masks whenever they can.

Marcus was interviewed this week on a must-listen episode of On The Media, where she pointed out that other countries had success with harm-reduction approaches that acknowledged human needs.

For example, Dutch authorities advised people to pick sex partners for the duration of lockdown and add merge their households with your own "bubble." This presents risks – especially for people in large households – but so does sneaking around.

"Public health works best when it recognizes and supports people’s needs and desires without judgment. If Americans do this right, Huff might even find that his wearing a mask is the very thing that makes those checkout ladies smile."

"Violent protests" vs "violent police" (permalink)

Media scholars say that the way the US press covered protests changed in the summer of 1968, when Chicago cops turned the same violence on reporters that had previously been meted out to demonstrators.

Finally, the press began to speak frankly and accurately about the source of violence, that it came from enraged, armed cops who acted with impunity to visit cruel violence upon protesters.

During the current uprising, press accounts have located violence with demonstrators, using terms like "clash" that implied that protesters had come out to do battle with the police.

National press lead with headlines like "A night of fire and fury across America as protests intensify" (Washpo) and "Appeals for calm as sprawling protests threaten to spiral out of control" (NYT).

As Kendra Pierre-Louis writes for Nieman Lab, this carries on the long tradition of focusing on "annoyance" factors from protests, rather than protest as a means "to publicize grievances from people who typically exist outside of traditional power structures."

At the most absurd end of the spectrum are headlines like WUSA's "Pepper spray caused a short stampede in Lafayette Park during a peaceful march honoring George Floyd" – as though pepper spray occurred without any human intervention.

In @AskAKorean's excellent history of Korea's successful, government-changing protests, they describe the process by which "violent" protests became "peaceful" protests: what changed was that the police stopped beating people up.

That change occurred when the less-favored groups who'd led the protests in the face of unrestrained police violence (workers and students) were joined on the lines by members of favored groups (wealthy professionals), whom the police couldn't beat and kill with impunity.

What brought them out? Largely the same factors that changed the dynamic in the US in 68: a shift in how the press apportioned responsibility for violence at demonstrations, from the people airing grievances to the armed public officials who hit, tortured and killed them.

That shift is starting today. It started with the headline on Matthew Dessem's Slate story: "Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide."

Other publications took cues from Slate: Zoe Schiffer's Verge article ran under the headline:

"The protest was peaceful — then the cops arrived"

Pierre-Louis sets out a slate of recommendations for press coverage of protests:

  • Address selection bias: years of underreporting of Black Lives Matter can make the protests seem sudden, but they're not – they represent an evolution in a large, well-organized movement

  • Mind how extreme protests capture disproportionate attention: the armed maniacs who stormed state capitals demanding an end to lockdown are fringe elements and unrepresentative of the national view

  • Excise the passive voice: not "police-involved shooting" – rather, "the police shot someone"

  • Watch for framing: "Peaceful protest" suggests that most protests aren't peaceful; "unarmed Black man" suggests that the default is "armed"

  • Confront racism: protests over racial discrimination and violence are legitimate; start your coverage with the grievance the protesters came to air, not how long traffic was held up for

The best of the quotes in Pierre-Louis's piece come from U Minnesota journalism prof Danielle Kilgo, who I just added to my follows on Twitter.

Microcontent guidelines for 2020 (permalink)

In 1998, Jakob Nielsen published "Microcontent Guidelines," a short essay on "How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines" ("pearls of clarity…40-60 characters to explain your macrocontent").

I absolutely took the essay to heart and I still refer to its precepts when writing subject lines, headlines, etc.

Anthony Diké's "How To Write Great Microcopy" is an interesting successor to Nielsen's 22-year-old essay.

"Microcopy" isn't exactly the same thing as "microcontent" – much of Dike's work focuses on persuasive marketing copy. But he's got a lot to say about other kinds of short text, including UI elements, error messages, etc.

A selection of my favorites:

  • (Almost) always use the active voice

It’s stronger and easier to understand than the passive voice.

Use it when you need to signal who or what caused an action.

  • Use the passive voice (sometimes)

It has its place.

Use it when the action is more important than what caused (subject) the action.

  • Keep it scannable

Reading is work. Every word takes energy. Users like to save energy by skimming.

  • Avoid destructive feedback

It’s unhelpful and depressing.

He's also collected them all into a single Twitter thread:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago What tomorrow's Grokster Supreme Court ruling will mean

#15yrsago Tit of justice reinstated by Supreme Torturer Gonzales

#10yrsago Adventurer's Club from Walt Disney World recreated in painstaking detail with Half-Life engine

#10yrsago Texas GOP comes out against oral sex, the UN, and the Supreme Court

#5yrsago Harry Reid tells BLM's Burning Man squad to suck it up

#5yrsago Supreme Court upholds marriage equality!

#5yrsago How quickly can you turn a meme into an object and back into a meme?

#1yrago EU expert panel calls for a ban on AI-based risk-scoring and limits on mass surveillance

#1yrago Dieselgate 2.0: 42,000 Mercedes diesels recalled for "illegal software"

#1yrago Insulin: why the price of a 100-year-old drug has tripled in a decade

#1yrago Podcast number 300: "Adversarial Interoperability: Reviving an Elegant Weapon From a More Civilized Age to Slay Today's Monopolies"

#1yrago How China ingests and adapts western culture

#1yrago Prosecutors and federal judges collaborate with corporations to seal evidence of public safety risks, sentencing hundreds of thousands of Americans to death

#1yrago You treasure what you measure: how KPIs make software dystopias

#5yrsago 2.5 million data points show: America's ISPs suck, and AT&T; sucks worst

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Wil Wheaton (, Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (, Four Short Links (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 500 words (31799 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Yesterday's progress: 366 words (3618 total)

Currently reading: Goliath, Matt Stoller.

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