Pluralistic: 16 Nov 2020

Today's links

Jeremy Meyer's typewriter assemblages (permalink)

It's been a decade since I started writing about Jeremy Meyer's assemblage sculptures: incredible, intricate pieces made from the disassembled parts of old typewriters.

These pieces speak to me, recapturing the incredible fascination of the old Underwood Noiseless I tinkered with in my parents' basement when I was growing up. In fact, I am so taken with Meyer's work that I bought one of his handmade octopuses.

Today, Colossal features new work by Meyer, a series of massive symmetrical, abstract sculptures with wingspans up to 65 inches.

Meyer consumes 12-15 broken typewriters (he seeks out bargains on unsalvageable machines) per year. He's in the midst of a ten-part series of covid-lockdown pieces.

HHS to pharma: stop bribing writing docs (permalink)

With its US body count around the 200k mark, the opioid epidemic may seem like small potatoes next to the vast slaughter of the bungled covid pandemic, but it's a still-suppurating wound on the body politic, a ghastly reminder of America's regulatory forbearance for plutocratic mass murderers.

How did the opioid epidemic burn through the country so ferociously? Blame Big Pharma, who have perfected the art of throwing gas on fires, bribing doctors with ruses so transparent and obviously harmful that they constitute existence-proof of the complicity of US regulators.

Maybe it's finally changing. The Department of Health and Human Service's Office of the Inspector General has issued a "special fraud alert" on "Speaker Programs." Maybe 'speaker program" and "fraud" don't suggest an obvious connection, but hoo-BOY.

If you're a pharma giant, your profit margin is largely dependent on the willingness of doctors to prescribe – and overprescribe – your products. Doctors often don't want to do this, so you need to "align incentives" to make the magic happen.

Lucky for Big Pharma, docs have a "continuing education" requirement to keep their licenses current. This creates a vacuum. Pharma companies pay the expenses of docs who write a lot of scrips for their dope to attend "seminars" in fancy resorts, flying in their families.

For the writin' doc whales who top the overprescription charts, pharma companies have an even sweeter deal: they get to PRESENT at these "seminars" and pull down six-figure "speaking fees" on top of the all-expense-paid family junket to a luxury tropical resort.

The memo details the results of OIG and DOJ investigations into these practices and concludes that they are exactly what they appear to be: potentially lethal scams.

They find that

  • docs who'd been tapped to speak at events were told that their slot (and fee) was contingent on meeting a prescribing quota for a given kind of dope

  • the events were held at entertainment venues or during recreational events or otherwise in a manner not conducive to an educational presentation (e.g., wineries, sports stadiums, fishing trips, golf clubs, and adult entertainment facilities)

  • or at $500/plate restaurants

And that the attendees were the same docs, over and over again, all getting the same "educational seminar" while their spouses and kids played in the pool, got spa treatments, etc.

The memo reminds doctors and pharma companies that the US has an anti-kickback statute that creates civil and criminal liability for this behavior, with both the briber and the bribee facing fines of up to $100k and 10 years in prison.

They call out junkets as scams, a means of "inducing or rewarding" prescriptions. They say that if a doc wants to learn more about a med or a device, they can attend a webinar, read the paper packaging insert, or subscribe to a medical journal.

They warn that future junkets will invite scrutiny under the anti-kickback statute, especially:

  • if "little or no substantive info is presented"
  • there's free booze or expensive food

  • the same seminars are offered repeatedly

  • companies hold seminars for products that haven't been updated or where there has been no new research of note

  • the same docs go to the same seminars repeatedly

  • pharma companies comp family members, lovers, etc

  • the speaking fee is excessive

All this follows on the heels of this summer's massive bribery scandal involving Novartis:

though it's not clear whether that's the inciting event.

One thing is clear, though: none of this corrupt behavior is new. For more than a decade, it's been clear that pharma companies bribe docs to do things that hurt or even kill their patients. As always, Propublica's work on this is indispensable:

The best part of their coverage is the Dollars For Docs search-engine, that lets you see how much money your doctor has taken from pharma reps:

The Attack Surface Lectures (permalink)

Last month saw the publication of my novel ATTACK SURFACE, the third book in the multi-bestselling Little Brother series. For the launch, Tor Books and I threw an eight-part seminar series in collaboration with eight outstanding indie bookstores.

Each event featured me and two guest co-hosts discussing themes from the book, ranging from politics and protest to cyberpunk to information security to intersectionalism, race and surveillance.

Now, the booksellers involved have begun to post their recordings, and I'm pleased to present them to you! I'll be doing one a day for the next eight days (assuming the stores' posting schedule keeps up!).

First up is "Politics and Protest," featuring the amazing Ron Deibert (Citizen Lab) and Eva Galperin (EFF), hosted by Strand Bookstore.

If you'd prefer to watch without subjecting yourself to Youtube's surveillance, you can also view it on The Internet Archive:

Or listen to it as an MP3:

I'm also folding these daily releases into my podcast feed. If you'd prefer that, use your podcatcher to subscribe to The Cory Doctorow Podcast, or sign up through the RSS feed:

Youtube-dl is back (permalink)

The RIAA threw an October Surprise late last month when it sent a takedown demand to Github over Youtube-dl, a general purpose, lawful tool that allowed people to download Youtube videos.

The RIAA's position on this was downright bizarre. First, it asserted that the kind of obfuscation that Youtube uses to hide the download URLs for its videos were a form of DRM, illegal to bypass under Section 1201 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Second, it asserted that it had the right to demand the removal of this tool because some RIAA members' works were available on Youtube, so bypassing Youtube's access controls gives the RIAA standing to shut the tool down.

These are both extreme legal positions, untested in court, but DMCA 1201 carries stiff penalties: a five-year prison sentence and a $500k fine. So Github (a division of Microsoft, itself a member of the RIAA) (!) removed youtube-dl.

But in the weeks since, and behind the scenes, Github's legal team have been working with EFF to reinstate youtube-dl, and today, that's just what they did:

In their letter to their users, Github points to a letter from EFF's Mitch Stoltz that explained why the RIAA's legal threat was baseless, saying that this was a key factor in reinstating youtube-dl

Github closes out with a series of promises for handling future DMCA 1201 claims: detailed legal and technical reviews before taking any action; erring on the side of developers; giving devs a chance to dispute claims; and allowing devs to download their code after takedowns.

They are also creating a $1m defense fund for "developers who want to push back against unwarranted takedowns" and committing to lobbying for reform of DMCA 1201.

This is basically the best possible outcome and it can't have been easy for Github.

Someone Comes to Town Part 23 (permalink)

This week on my podcast: part 23 of my serial reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

You can catch up on the other installments here:

and subscribe to my podcast feed here:

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

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Sony’s spyware “remover” creates huge security hole

#15yrsago Sony issues non-apology for compromising your PC

#15yrsago Sory Electronics: Will Sony make amends for infecting our computers?

#15yrsago Sony infects more than 500k networks, including military and govt,1282,69573,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_2

#15yrsago Sony’s rootkit uninstaller is really dangerous

#10yrsago New Calgary mayor sets bar for transparency with searchable vids and realtime audio streams of council meetings

#10yrsago Copyfraud: Anne Frank Foundation claims father was “co-author,” extends copyright by decades

#1yrago Banned from Youtube, Chinese propagandists are using Pornhub to publish anti-Hong Kong videos

#1yrago Why are we still treating economics as if it were an empirical science that makes reliable predictions?

#1yrago “Hope literacy,” “functional denial” and other ways to keep going in this difficult time

#1yrago Uber pretended its drivers were contractors, and now it owes New Jersey $650m in employment tax

#1yrago Thanks to an article about why science fiction great John M Ford’s books are out of print, they’re coming back

#1yrago Hong Kong protesters’ little stonehenges impede police cars

#1yrago The poorest half of Americans have nothing left, so now the 1%’s growth comes from the upper middle class

#1yrago American health care’s life-destroying “surprise bills” are the fault of local, private-equity monopolies

#1yrago Big Tech’s CEOs can’t possibly fix Big Tech

#1yrago Trump’s signature tax break for poor people went to subsidize a superyacht marina in Florida

#1yrago Activists target Facebookers over “Gold Tier” sponsorship of Kavanaugh event

#1yrago Hong Kong protests: “Might as well go down fighting”

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 515 words (84217 total).

Currently reading: The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 23)

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

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