Pluralistic: 07 Jul 2020

Today's links

New Little Brother/Homeland edition is out today! (permalink)

Today marks the publication of a new edition of Little Brother (2008) and its sequel, Homeland (2013), with a gorgeous cover by Will Staehle and a spectacular intro by Edward Snowden.

I wrote Little Brother in a kind of white heat, finishing the first draft in eight weeks exactly, from first having the idea to typing "The End" (while away on holiday for my anniversary, at 5AM).

It reflected my fear and rage at the co-option of networked tech for surveillance and control, and the indifferent political response to these alarming developments.

Alas, this fear and rage futureproofed the tale, as we continue to regulate tech badly and inadequately, to treat it variously as a video on demand service, or a pornography delivery service, or a radicalization vector, rather than as the nervous system of the 21st century.

But I have hope this is changing: the pandemic, in particular, has shattered our complacency about tech, made us realize that everything we do involves the net, and shortly, everything we do will require it. It must be taken seriously, and its defects treated as alarming.

And while the pandemic marks a phase-change in our relations to tech, it comes as the result of a long, steady, mounting tech reform movement.

I wrote Little Brother after the AT&T; whistleblower Mark Klein walked into EFF's Shotwell St offices and revealed that his employer had built a secret NSA listening post inside its Folsom St switching enter.

This sparked lawsuits and hearings, including the notorious Senate hearing in which Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

And in which Clapper perjured himself, answering, "No, sir. … Not wittingly."

We knew he was lying. So did a young, idealistic technologist who had washed out of Special Forces training after a severe injury and ended up working for the CIA and NSA.

That technologist was Edward Snowden, and the spectacle of Clapper's lies to Congress and the American people prompted him to do something that would alter the course of our history. It also sent him into exile.

And when he left his Hong Kong hotel room and went underground, he had a book in his carry-on: Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.

Macmillan reissued Little Brother/Homeland between a single set of covers as a run-up to October's publication of ATTACK SURFACE, a third, standalone book about technologists work surveilling protest movements, and how they rationalize to themselves.

It's a story about comparmentalization, self-deception, amends-making and redemption, and it addresses itself to the ways that individual actions relate to systemic changes: how movements are made up of individuals but are bigger than individuals.

When Snowden agreed to write the intro to this reissue, I was delighted and honored, even moreso than when I saw that footage of him putting HOMELAND into his bag in Laura Poitras's outstanding, Oscar-winning doc, CITIZENFOUR.

I was also delighted to have the chance to make some small corrections to the text, reflecting my own evolution in thought and language – this is the author's preferred text.

You can get it at any bookstore, but if you're after a signed/personalized copy, the good folks at Dark Delicacies are taking orders and I'm going to to drop in and deface them to order:

There is no automation employment crisis (permalink)

My latest Locus column is "Full Employment," in which I forswear "Fully Automated Luxury Communism" as totally incompatible with the climate emergency, which will consume 100%+ of all human labor for centuries to come.

This fact is true irrespective of any breakthroughs in AI or geoengineering. Technological unemployment is vastly oversold and overstated (for example, that whole thing about truck drivers is bullshit).

But even if we do manage to automate away all of jobs, the climate emergency demands unimaginably labor intensive tasks for hundreds of years – jobs like relocating every coastal city inland, or caring for hundreds of millions of refugees.

Add to those: averting the exinctions of thousands of species, managing wave upon wave of zoonotic and insect-borne plagues, dealing with wildfires and tornados, etc.

And geoengineering won't solve this: we've sunk a lot of heat into the oceans. It's gonna warm them up. That's gonna change the climate. It's not gonna be good. Heading this off doesn't just involve repealing thermodynamics – it also requires a time-machine.

But none of this stuff is insurmountable – it's just hard. We can do this stuff. If you were wringing your hands about unemployed truckers, good news! They've all got jobs moving thousands of cities inland!

It's just (just!) a matter of reorienting our economy around preserving our planet and our species.

And yeah, that's hard, too – but if "the economy" can't be oriented to preserving our species, we need a different economy.


Cyberpunk Culture (permalink)

The Cyberpunk Culture online conference is streaming later this week on Jul 9/10. It features a wide range of keynotes, panels and Q&As.;

The final program is live – it leans heavily to cinematic analysis and critiques, but there are some exciting literary, RPG and fashion items:

Some items that leapt out for me:

"Chrome and Matte Black: Cyberpunk’s Speculative Posthuman Fashions"

"Pants Scientists and Bona Fide Cyber Ninjas: Tracing the Poetics of Cyberpunk Menswear"

"Surveillance, Deception, and Agency in Chen Qiufan’s 'The Flower of Shazui'

"'The (Cyber) Center Cannot Hold': Futures, Bodies and Minds in William Gibson’s The Peripheral"

"Machine Logic Can Be Tricky: Pat Cadigan’s “AI and the Trolley Problem”"

"Resilient Cyborgs: Trauma and the Posthuman in Pat Cadigan’s Synners"

"'So, you wanna be a Cyberpunk?' How Tabletop RPGs Provoke Storytelling in Their Players"

The event is pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $3.

Or What You Will (permalink)

"Or What You Will" is the latest novel from Jo Walton, and it is spectacular, even by her remarkable standards: it's a fictionalized memoir (shades of her Hugo-winning "Among Others") and a metafiction (shades of her brilliant "My Real Children").

Sylvia Harrison is an elderly, successful fantasy novelist from Montreal who, despite her late entry into the field, has published 30 successful novels. She's had a life of incredible hardships and incredible joys, and she only made it through because she has a secret.

Sylvia has an imaginary friend – a playmate who's been with off and on her since her desperately unhappy girlhood – who acts as a sort of repertory actor in her books, stepping forward to inhabit her characters and give them life.

That nameless, imaginary friend is the narrator of the novel (!). Sylvia is dying, and he wants them both to survive, and he has a plan. Sylvia's last novel is a final volume in her longrunning Ilyria novels, set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Florence.

In Ilyria, the Gods have made a pact with the wizard Pico and have left the world, and the people of the land now enjoy eternal life in an eternal Renaissance, where Progress has been banished from the world.

It is to Ilyria that the narrator hopes to bring Sylvia and himself, where they might join the undying people of this eternal Renaissance, achieving immortality.

So it is that "Or What You Will" is two novels: the tale of Sylvia and her imaginary friend, and the novel that Sylvia is writing about Ilyria, in which the narrator has a starring role, inhabiting one of the lead characters.

Ilyria is filled with characters out of antiquity and the Renaissance, and with Shakespeareans like Caliban, and "Or What You Will" is filled with breathtaking word-paintings of modern Florence and the ancient city beneath its modern veneer.

It's a complex stew of a novel, luscious enough to eat in places, with pockets of shocking bitterness and drama that give it such a rich and complex texture, somehow capturing both what makes novels so special and what makes Florence so special.

#BlackOutDay2020 (permalink)

Today is #BlackOutDay2020, a day that challenges people to "not spend a dime in a store or online," except in Black-owned businesses.

It demands action on both police violence and systematic racism that murdered so many people of color during the pandemic.

It demands action for the millions of Black and brown people in prison, especially those incarcerated for minor drug offenses, "while John Boehner made $300 million dollars on the “gentrified” cannabis industry."

It demands action on the bailout that has seen millions – billions! – in relief for connected corporations, while minority-owned businesses were forced to shutter.

It calls us to address the rental and evictions crisis, the failure of unemployment benefits systems.

Here is how to find Black-owned businesses near you:

Right wing press duped by state-sponsored influence campaign (permalink)

Writing in The Daily Beast, Adam Rawnsley reveals that many of the Saudi-friendly commentators published in leading right-wing news outlets do not exist, and are likely part of a foreign government's propaganda campaign intended to influence US policy.

The network of at least 19 non-existent "experts" duped Newsmax, Spiked, Washington Examiner, RealClear Markets, American Thinker, The National Interest, The Post Millennial, The Jerusalem Post, Al Arabiya, Jewish News Service and The South China Morning Post.

Their home base was a pair of propaganda outlets called The Arab Eye and Persia Now, whose editorial boards, addresses and other details made reference to nonexistent people and places. These outlets billed themselves as a tonic against "fake news."

The forged identities used a mix of author avatars "manipulated to defeat reverse image searches" and faces generated by machine learning algorithms, and had Linkedin profiles that gave impressive sounding – imaginary – work histories and affiliations.

They championed a variety of causes: the virtues of Dubai, and the need for belligerent action against Iran, Qatar, Turkey; Hong Kong's response to the pandemic; criticism of Al Jazeera; and calls for Tawakkol Karman to be removed from Facebook's oversight board.

Many of the associated sites disappeared when the Daily Beast published its findings, and Twitter has deleted many of the accounts for ToS violations.

Coronavirus tests are a taxable benefit (permalink)

HMRC, the UK tax authority, has issued governance informing workers that employer-provided coronavirus testing will be treated as a taxable benefit, meaning that your taxes will go up every time you get tested.

Treasury Committee Chair Mel Stride wrote to the exchequer to object to this rule, pointing out that "healthcare and hospitality workers are required to undergo regular coronavirus testing."

"If these tests are to be treated as a taxable benefit in kind, the tax bill for workers could soon mount up. Many of our key workers could be faced with the perverse incentive of avoiding employer-sponsored tests in order to reduce their tax bill."

Big 4 accounting firms headed for breakup (permalink)

Capitalism is grounded in investors entrusting businesses with their money, which requires a system to prevent firms from robbing investors: auditors.

Like every industry, auditing has been monopolized by a handful of firms, but auditing isn't like every industry.

Auditing is the industry that lets other industries function, and as auditing shrank to four giant firms – EY (Ernst & Young), PWC (Pricewaterhousecooper), Deloitte, and KPMG – the auditors have switched sides.

You see, these mega-firms don't merely audit giant companies – they also sell them farcically high priced "consulting" services, and winning these lucrative contracts requires that auditors tacitly (or overtly) agree to turn a blind eye to financial fraud.

Lurking behind virtually every major corporate scandal of the past decade is an auditor that was secretly in cahoots with the company it was supposed to be overseeing and watchdogging.

The multibillion-pound Carillion collapse? Abetted by all four of the firms, who also picked up hundreds of millions in contracts to oversee the company's unwinding after it collapsed in a blaze of fraud.

Microsoft's breathtaking tax fraud? That was KPMG.

And the internal culture of these companies is – predictably – awful.

Deloitte got hacked, lost 5 million confidential customer documents from the world's largest businesses, and kept it a secret.

PWC threatened security researchers who found grave defects in the software it charged its clients to develop:

But KPMG might be the worst.

Start with the company's criminal conspiracy to recruit members of its own government oversight board, smuggling documents out of government watchdog offices into its own files.

But it gets even dirtier! Last year, the company admitted that its most senior officials had been conspiring to steal the answer-keys to government ethics exams in order to cheat on them.

The thing is, the Big 4 steal from rich people – the investor class – so eventually this shit was going to stick to them. It finally has. Sorta. A little.

The Financial Reporting Council, Britain's accounting regulator, has given the companies until Oct 24 to submit plans to spin out their consulting arms into separate businesses, which must take place by Jun 2024.

It was prompted by EY's complicity in billions of fraud by Wirecard, Germany's disgraced payment processor.

Hilariously, the companies claim to welcome the news: "Deloitte has been consistent in our support for reform. We remain committed to playing our role in delivering change that embraces audit quality, improves choice and restores trust" -Stephen Griggs/Deloitte UK Deputy CEO

Uh, dude. If only you knew someone high up at Deloitte who could have taken action before this?

Home security cameras are really insecure (permalink)

"Your Privilege Gives Your Privacy Away: An Analysis of a Home Security Camera Service," is a new IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications paper by researchers from Queen Mary U and the Chinese Academy of Science.

The researchers analyzed 15.4m encrypted streams from 211k users' homes and found that they could characterize activity levels in the homes without decrypting the streams. IOW: the encrypted video from your home CCTVs is detectably different when you're not home.

The researchers were able to do more than figure out if now was a good time to rob your house, though – analysis of the encrypted streams also distinguished different types of motion, like running and sitting.

Home cameras epitomize the shitty tech adoption curve – our worst technologies ascend a privilege gradient that starts with kids, prisoners, refugees, welfare recipients etc, and works its way to the rest of the world as it's normalized and perfected.

20 years ago, if you had a camera streaming video from your living quarters to a third party, it was because you were in a supermax prisoner. Now it just means you were unwise enough to invest in Nest, Apple Home, Google Home, or Ring.

Why covid cases are spiking but deaths aren't (permalink)

The number of covid cases in the US is spiking but the death count isn't. This mystery has spawned many explanations, most of them optimistic ("it's young people who are recovering," "our therapies are better," etc). But the real explanation is simpler, and it's sad.

As epidemiologist Ellie Murray explains, it's almost certainly just "lead time bias."

That's when you test more people, including presymptomatic people, and thus discover the disease earlier than before.

That means we learn people are sick earlier, which means that the time between detection and death gets longer – not because people are surviving longer from the onset of symptoms, but because we're detecting sick people before they exhibit symptoms.

Lead-time bias emerges whenever we ramp up testing: routine mammograms and colonoscopies appeared to change the course of related cancers, but what was really going on was earlier, presymptomatic identification of cancers.

And while it's true that we measured earlier cases from the first symptoms, we didn't know what some symptoms were (loss of smell, for example) and we relied on self-reporting by gravely ill people, which isn't as good as actual tests.

That's called "recall bias." Sometimes we'd ask family members, who only knew about the symptoms that were severe enough to warrant mentioning ("proxy respondent bias").

Bottom line: "When you start identifying people at earlier stages of a disease, it looks like they survive longer (or have the disease longer) compared to when you identify based on severe symptoms." -Ellie Murray

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Basil Wolverton's CULTURE CORNER: grotesque HOWTOs from MAD Magazine's gross-out king

#10yrsago Glucosamine no better than placebo for lower back pain;=1

#10yrsago America's "jobless recovery"

#10yrsago Finance columnist explains capitalism to children: take things without paying, then sell them,CST-NWS-savage05.savagearticle

#5yrsago Hacking Team leak: bogus copyright takedowns and mass DEA surveillance in Colombia

#5yrsago Foo Fighters demand bullshit terms from concert photographers

#5yrsago RIP, Disney Imagineering great Blaine Gibson

#5yrsago Colorado achieved incredible reductions in teen pregnancy through free birth control

#1yrago Mississippi makes it a jailable offense to call plant-based or cultured-meat patties "burgers"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Lars Schmeink, AngryUKStaffer (, Naked Capitalism (, Patrick Nielsen Hayden (,

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (34991 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 09)

Upcoming appearances:

"Working as Intended: Surveillance Capitalism is not a Rogue Capitalism," Jul 21,

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:; personalized/signed copies here:

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