Pluralistic: 14 Sep 2020

Today's links

How Big Oil lied about "recyclable" plastics (permalink)

Exxon knew.

They knew, 50 years ago, that they were going to murder the planet and our species with their oil.

And they acted.

Oh, how they acted!

They created a campaign of lies to distort the public perception of climate change.

Exxon knew.

They knew in '73, when their researchers told them: plastics would never be recycled. There would not be a cost effective way to recycle plastic.

And they acted.

They created a disinformation campaign to convince us plastic could be recycled.

That campaign – the little recycling logos on our plastics, the upbeat videos about a future where plastic was part of a circular economy of use and recycling – convinced us to buy, wash, and sort plastic.

90% of that plastic was never recycled. It never will be.

NONE of those splashy campaigns – the announcement that all NYC school plastics would be recycled, the recycling in national parks – ever worked. They all lasted long enough to get some upbeat press, and then they quietly shut down.

This week's NPR/Planet Money investigation by Laura Sullivan doesn't just talk to the ex-chief lobbyists, now serving as belated Oppenheimers, lamenting the impending destruction of our planet.

It also talks to the current round of executives who have announced a fresh round of plans to recycle plastics – completely disingenuous, insultingly obvious distraction tactics to convince us that their projections of tripling production by 2050 isn't a form of mass murder.

Then Sullivan circles back to those retired executives, the ones who oversaw the first disinformation campaign, and they confirm that this latest round of promises are literally the same tactic, barely updated for a world on fire.

The world is on fire. My sky has been orange all week. Our family's socially distanced meetings with friends in parks or back yards have been cancelled because we cannot breathe outside.

Exxon – and Chevron, and the rest of Big Oil – knows.

In a secret recording released to the New York Times, oil execs meet to cheerfully discuss how they will burn the world and murder us all but make a buck in the process.

Their plans for climate change don't involve reducing emissions – they're building bunkers and hiring mercenaries to keep us at bay when we come for them. They know what they've done.

Exxon knows.

Exxon knows.

When I searched for the "Exxon Knew" campaign to find a link for this piece, the top of Google's search results included a blisteringly expensive ad for a disinformation site, paid for by Exxon.

The sky is orange. The oceans are choking. The air is unbreathable. Your body is full of microplastics.




Levels of Interoperability (permalink)

Big Tech concentration is commonly attributed to "network effects" and "data advantage," but there's a simpler explanation, one that is much more in line with historic precedent and political conditions:

Big Tech is concentrated because it formed monopolies whose excess revenues were spent on anti-competitive policies (generating more excess revenues). Notably, the Big Tech monopolies have spent decades destroying interoperability.

After all, an examination of the history of tech shows that, time and again, when tech grew concentrated, new companies, products and services broke up that power by creating interoperable products.

Interoperability turns "network effects" on their head by treating established walled gardens as corrals full of conveniently organized potential customers for new, competing products and services.

The reinvigorated pro-competition discussion has triggered a very welcome interest in interoperability as well, with some of the best work being done by Oxford computer scientist Ian Brown.

Back in July, Brown released a preprint of a magesterial new paper on how interoperability can be a tool for promoting competition policy.

Now he's released a followup, "The technical components of interoperability as a tool for competition regulation," which really digs into the technical aspects of interop – what do we talk about when we talk about interoperability?

The basis for the paper is a literature review, augmented by "10 semi-structured interviews with software developers, platform operators, technical standards experts, current and former government officials, and academic and civil society experts working in this field."

And its headline finding is a short, excellent taxonomy of five different degrees of interop:

  1. Platform-permissioned vertical interoperability – stuff like "Sign in with [Facebook/Twitter/Apple/Google]"

I. Open vertical interoperability – stuff like "data portability" where you can take your data to a rival service

II. Public interaction – public messages mirrored between different services (like embedding a Tweet in a Facebook post)

III. Private interaction – friending or messaging someone on a rival service, locating friends from one service who're using another one

IV. Horizontal interoperability – replacing components of one service with a rival's versions, seamlessly interacting with users of rival services

Brown's paper has a wealth of thoughtful detail and real-world technical examples.

And he's promised a third instalment in the series, on interop, disinformation and privacy – this is the white whale of interop, and I'm working on a paper about it myself right now and eagerly looking forward to cribbing from Brown on it!

Podcasting "IP" (permalink)

I've just posted the latest instalment in my podcast: it's a reading of the first half of my new Locus column, "IP," the most substantial and significant work I've done in 14 years on Locus's masthead:

It's a sweeping history of the way that a grab bag of mismatched laws – trademark, copyright, patent, etc – were seized upon by budding oligarchs, repurposed to mean "any law that I can invoke that allows me to control the conduct of my competitors, critics, and customers."

The column runs over 5,000 words. I read a little more than half of it in a 30-minute podcast:

Here's a direct MP3 link (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive, they'll host your stuff for free, forever, too!):

And here's the feed for my podcast:

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Australian PM Tony Abbot ousted in own-party coup

#5yrsago "Crisis actors": a conspiracy theory that re-victimizes shooting survivors

#5yrsago Harpo-Deetoo and Chicopio in "A Day at the Pod Races"

#5yrsago Vivienne Westwood drives a tank to David Cameron's house

#1yrago New York AG finds a billion dollars that the Sacklers funneled through a single bank

#1yrago A quarter of NYC's post-2013 luxury condos are unsold

#1yrago Majority of Americans want free college and student debt cancellation

#1yrago This is your smartphone on feminism

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Ian Brown (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 534 words (60528 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Chapter 1 of Attack Surface, the third Little Brother novel

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