Pluralistic: Linkdump Minkchump (16 Dec 2023)

Today's links

A fruit salad.

Linkdump Minkchump (permalink)

It's linkdump time! Saturday has arrived and I once again find myself with a zillion tabs' worth of things that I couldn't squeeze into this week's newsletters. This is lucky linkdump number 13 – here's the previous dozen installments:

Let's ease into it with some whimsy: a Death Metal cover of JohnCage's 4'33" from Dead Territory. Warning, once you hear them perform this banger, it'll be stuck in your head all day, especially in those quiet moments of reflection:

Those guys go hard. You know who else goes hard? Billionaires. Especially when they're bribing judges. The Clarence Thomas/Samuel Alito bribery scandal prompted the Supremes to proffer an entirely ornamental and toothless code of conduct:

It takes a lot of work to create an accountability mechanism that's weaker than the system that other federal judges answer to. The Judicial Conference oversees the rest of the federal bench, and it's far too flimsy to qualify as a paper tiger – maybe a toilet-paper kitten?

Here's how weak the ethics code for non-SCOTUS federal judges is: 100 members of the US federal judiciary enjoyed 251 luxury junkets paid for by two billionaire-controlled dark money orgs:

The Antonin Scalia Law School ("the finest in legal education") funneled money from its wealthy backers to judges on 152 occasions, paying for transport, meals and/or lodging. The Federalist Society did the same on at least 99 occasions.

Gifts from these two orgs constitute 42% of all judicial disclosures from the entire judiciary. While some of these trips took judges to GMU's campus, the majority of these junkets were sited at tropical beauty-spots at fancy resorts.

No other organization does anything remotely similar and not every judge gets to enjoy Fedsoc and GMU hospitality – just the ones who produce rulings favorable to the organizations' backers.

Oligarchy takes many forms, but it is a single project: the transfer of wealth and power from the many to the few. This isn't an easy sell. The manifest problems of organizing our society to benefit a few wealthy people at the expense of the rest of us mean that the system's legitimacy is constantly crumbling and must be continuously shored up.

Take the US "health" system, unique on the world stage for how much it costs and how little it delivers. As with other American pathologies (like, say, internet access), the US health system is more expensive and less effective than dozens of rival systems (however, it is more lucrative than those systems).

And yet…the US health insurance system keeps finding new depths of sleaze to plumb. From Patrick M Rucker, Doris Burke and David Armstrong for Capitol Forum and Propublica: a deeply reported story of the worst doctors in America and their indispensable role for insurers:

Doctors are overwhelmingly highly trained, ethical professionals who want to help their patients. But they are often thwarted by insurers, who deny their recommended treatments as unnecessary. When patients complain that corporate bean-counters are overriding their medical professionals' advice, the insurers insist that nothing of the sort is taking place.

Your claims aren't being denied by an algorithm or an accountant – rather, they're being individually reviewed by another qualified MD, who's helping you avoid allopathic risk by offering a second opinion and keeping you safe from unnecessary interventions.

It's true that insurance companies pay trained doctors to assess (and deny) claims – but which doctors do they employ?

Absolute fucking butchers.

Propublica found that insurance companies are the preferred second act for MDs who have lost their medical licenses and their malpractice insurance after repeatedly, egregiously maiming and killing their patients. These doctors bumbled their way out of the ability to see patients, and now they get paid big bucks to review 10,000 cases per year and override the judgments of their competent, still-practicing peers.

Only in America! These docs killed with scalpels and prescription pads, and now they get to continue to hurt the sick and injured with a DENIED rubber-stamp.

Oligarchy makes everything worse – even Twitter, a thing that was objectively very bad before it was acquired by a fool who found greater fools to bankroll his folly. An excellent package in The Verge lays out a timeline of bad-to-worse, leavened with some of the better moments:

Musk didn't inaugurate Twitter's enshittification, but he sure speedran it. The sudden platform collapse syndrome he brought to the hellsite prompted a mass exodus, with millions of ex-Twitterers landing on Mastodon. Of course, not all of them stayed on Mastodon, which is a totally normal pattern for platform growth:

Far more interesting are the people who wanted to leave Twitter, but didn't. Bootlicker economists will tell you that your continued presence on a platform you loathe is a "revealed preference." As David Roth says, the job of a neoclassical economist is to come up with new ways to say, "Actually, your boss is right."

Meanwhile, tech bros will tell you that the reason you keep using their products despite professing a deep loathing for them is that they are dopamine-hacking evil sorcerers, a claim that doubles as a salespitch to credulous advertisers who love the idea that they can rent time on a mind-control ray and use it to trick you into buying their garbage.

But there's a simpler explanation for platform stickiness, one that neither gaslights you by insisting that you like things you hate, nor does it validate the self-serving claims of delusional high-tech Rasputins. The reason you use platforms you hate is because you love the people there. The reason they're using the platform is that you're there. You have a collective action problem: you all want to go, but you can't agree on when to depart or where to go. You're like the residents of Anatevka in Fiddler On the Roof, who, despite getting six kinds of shit kicked out of them by Cossacks on the reg, all stay put in their village because they can't bear to part with one another:

A scholarly analysis of which communities left Twitter supports this thesis. "Drivers of social influence in the Twitter migration to Mastodon," published in Nature, finds that the looser a community was – the less important its members were to one another – the easier it was for them to up sticks and move from Twitter to Mastodon:

In other words, if the people you hung out with on Twitter weren't that important to you, then switching to Mastodon wasn't a big deal. You would find equally satisfying people to hang out with there. Ironically, this made it easy for the community to remain intact, because its members could trickle from one platform to the other without undue suffering during the transitional phase.

Your ability to change your technology habits is ultimately governed by "switching costs" – the things you have to give up when you go switch vendors. When a company can hold something you value hostage – the people you love, the data you rely on, or even access to your front door locks – then can treat you worse and you'll still stick around. The "revealed preference" here is that you like your family photos more than you hate Mark Zuckerberg:

If we're going to make a new, good internet that stays good, we have to keep switching costs low. One way to do that is to decentralize our services through federation, like Mastodon does. But federation is just table-stakes. For full decentralization, you want peer-to-peer, in which our devices talk directly to one another. P2P was once the new hotness, but copyright lawsuits chased P2P design underground for a generation.

Now, it's reemerging. New P2P systems are popping up and popping off. My EFF colleague Ross Schulman breaks down the promise of two of these: Spritely and Veilid – the latter having taken last summer's Defcon by storm:

Moving the locus of control to your own device is critical to staving off abusive conduct. If you want to make sure a company won't hurt you, then make sure it can't hurt you. High-tech guns on the mantelpiece in Act I will blow your face off in Act III. Last week, I wrote about Polish security researchers who discovered that NEWAG, who make locomotives, had boobytrapped them with remote killswitches that shut them down if they were independently serviced:

It's a wild story, and it keeps getting wilder. This week, 404 Media's Jason Koebler got deeper into the story, surfacing juicy technical details and connecting the scam to his years of excellent reporting on right to repair:

The dirty tricks used to brick locomotives to punish disloyal customers are widespread in heavy equipment, but they started in personal devices. Apple, in particular, has been an endless innovator of fuckery, finding all kinds of nasty ways to control how you use your device after you buy it:

Inevitably, Apple insists that it's engaging in these dirty tricks to protect it customers. That's the rhetoric the three trillion dollar tech giant rolled out last week when they smeared Beeper Mini:

Beeper Mini is an iMessage app for Android, which independently re-implements Apple's iMessage end-to-end encryption so that Apple customers' data isn't left unprotected and unencrypted when they communicate with Android users. Apple's message to its customers is that if they want security, they should confine themselves to communicating with other Apple customers. If that's not good enough, Apple says, you should buy your Android-using friends iPhones:

This is of a piece with Apple's anti-repair rhetoric. Apple claims that they're taking away your right to get your phone repaired by the depot of your choosing in order to protect you from unethical repairers who steal your data. That really is a risk:

But it's a risk that can be mitigated. Google just announced a new "Repair Mode" for Android devices – this lets technicians boot and test your phone without accessing your data:

It's nice to see Google guarding its customers' backs every now and again, even from its depraved enshittified depths. Google also just announced that it will move GMaps' location data storage to your device. That means that it will no longer be able to use Maps data to answer "geofence warrants" (AKA "reverse warrants"), where the cops demand the identities of everyone in a location – say, all the participants in a Black Lives Matter demonstration:

As with Repair Mode, this is a best of all worlds solution. Maps users can still get access to their location history, but Google can't. Google's also end-to-end encrypting Maps data backups, so you can store your Maps data in the cloud and recover it if you lose your device, but Google can't see that data and use it to answer law enforcement demands.

It's a marker of how far Google has moved on locational privacy. Just a couple years ago, top Google execs who oversaw Google Maps were caught complaining that they couldn't figure out how to opt out of Google location tracking:

That's why – as my EFF colleague Jen Lynch writes – we have to look very closely at these new privacy promises:

"Google collects additional location information as well. It remains to be seen whether law enforcement will find a way to access these other stores of location data on a mass basis in the future":

Sorting corporate technical claims from reality requires independent verification and discussion – AKA hackers. The reverse-engineers who relentlessly poke at the workings of tech are how we get to find out whether it's safe to rely on the systems in our life. One of the oldest and best hacker cons in 2600's Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE), now heading into its fifteenth biannual edition:

I've attended many of these cons, and they're amazing. I'm also a huge fan of 2600 magazine – I'm a contributor and lifetime subscriber. The archives of 2600 were critical when I was researching and writing Picks and Shovels, the third Martin Hench novel, which comes out in Feb 2025. I relied on 2600's DRM-free ebook archives:

Keeping ebooks DRM-free means that they don't contribute to high switching costs that lock you into platforms that harm you. If you can quit a platform and keep your ebooks, then the second a platform sours, you can bolt for the exits.

This cuts both ways: DRM keeps readers locked into platforms, but it also keeps publishers locked in. As Charlie Stross prophesied over a decade ago, Kindle DRM locks in the publishers' best customers, meaning that the publishers would not be able to credibly threaten to sell elsewhere because their readers wouldn't be able to leave Amazon without surrendering their books:

In the intervening years, Amazon has found a myriad of ways to shift value from publishers to themselves. Pro-monopoly economists say this doesn't matter, so long as Amazon remains good to readers, but unfortunately for those economists, reality has an anti-neoliberal bias:

Ebooks are now surveillance honeypots, allowing Amazon to capture an astonishing amount of private data on readers – data that is especially dangerous in an era of rampant book banning:

The irony here is that all of this surveillance data isn't even accessible to publishers, who know less about their readers every day – even as Amazon, a monopolist that dominates bookselling, and competes directly with publishers – becomes the world's leading authority on publishers' best customers.

Blunders like DRM make it easy to dismiss publishing as a "legacy industry." But any industry that sticks around long enough will accumulate layers of hard-to-budge cruft. Irrational conduct is often an emergent property of a series of perfectly rational choices.

For a fascinating case-study in how this works, check out Patrick McKenzie's history of how checks came into existence in the USA, and why American still rely on these antiquates slips of paper to move billions of dollars around:

But inertia can be broken. When the status quo is terrible enough, and the alternatives are compelling enough, we can change. Take the US job market. Today, the true US minimum wage is $0: that's how much you earn if no one will give you a job. The "actually, your boss is right" economists insist that this is a feature, not a bug. The reserve army of unemployed people – we're told – are necessary to fight inflation. When inflation rises, these economists insist that we have to make more people unemployed, to save the economy:

But there's another form of automatic price-stabilization, one that's been tried before in the USA to enormous success: a "Job Guarantee." That's where the feds fund jobs that are administered by local governments. These jobs – at socially inclusive wages, with good benefits – set the true minimum wage in the economy, because bosses have to beat the job guarantee offer to attract employees.

The best authority on the Job Guarantee is Pavlina Tcherneva. Her slim book on the subject is a fantastic explainer, from how the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps's proof of the lasting improvements a Job Guarantee can deliver to the nation, to how a new Job Guarantee could be part of a Green New Deal:

Tcherneva's book was partial inspiration for my latest novel, the bestselling solarpunk adventure The Lost Cause, where a Green New Deal and its Job Guarantee are both under threat from seagoing, Neal Stephenson LARPing billionaire wreckers and their white nationalist, onshore shock troops:

The case for a Job Guarantee is even stronger today than it was a couple years ago, when I was writing the novel. Tcherneva's just launched "The Job Guarantee Program" ("An essential resource for scholars, policymakers, and engaged citizens"):

The next time Larry Summers and co insist that we need to create an army of unemployed people to save the economy, you can refer them to the site's FAQ:

That about wraps up this week's linkdump. It only remains for me to leave you with a lighthearted palate cleanser – a glorious Rube Goldberg clock that uses black and marbles fired into racing tracks to display the time.

Part I:

Part II

(Image: Natalie Maynor, CC BY 2.0, modified)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Elf Sex, per Tolkien

#20yrsago You need a license to say “I have a dream”

#20yrsago Cousin-identification chart for cousin-marriage advocacy

#20yrsago Blockbuster prez calls for end to DVD region-coding

#20yrsago LiveJournal demographics

#20yrsago Verisign calls for Internet redesign, Minitel-style

#15yrsago Henry Jenkins’s Neil Gaiman interview video

#15yrsago Steven Johnson’s “The Invention of Air” — how an eclectic minister/scientist/politician shows that history is a web

#15yrsago Yahoo to anonymize logs after 90 days

#15yrsago HOWTO Make a DNS dead-drop

#15yrsago HOWTO build a Linux-based supercomputer out of Playstation 3s

#15yrsago New York Public Library joins Flickr Commons

#10yrsago Google yanks vital Android privacy feature

#10yrsago CopyrightX: Harvard’s ground-breaking MOOC on copyright law

#10yrsago Amnesty petition to release Chelsea Manning

#10yrsago Arapahoe teacher on survival and resilience

#10yrsago 60 Minutes attains new journalistic low with NSA puff-piece

#10yrsago Edward Snowden’s open letter to the people of Brazil, offering help in rooting out NSA spying in exchange for asylum

#5yrsago London cops are subjecting people in the centre of town to facial recognition today and tomorrow

#5yrsago Official UK investigation of $100 billion laundered through Scottish Limited Partnerships ignores all evidence

#5yrsago No peace in Hungary as thousands fill the streets, risking police violence, to protest slave labor law

#5yrsago ISP that protested being ordered to block Sci-Hub by blocking Elsevier and government agencies now under threat for “Net Neutrality” violations

#5yrsago “Owning your data” will not save you from data capitalism

#5yrsago Science fiction writers on the future of work

#5yrsago Google’s secretive, data-hungry private city within Toronto will be much larger than previously disclosed

#5yrsago Internal sources say googler uprising has killed Google’s plans to launch a censored, spying Chinese search engine

#5yrsago False Flag: my science fiction story about the future of copyright filters in an Article 13 Europe

#5yrsago Arizona realtor surprised to find Canadian “white hat” hacker talking to him through his smart doorbell

#5yrsago Developer who tore down historic San Francisco house ordered to build an exact replica

#5yrsago Podcast: “Sole and Despotic Dominion” and “What is the Internet For?”

#1yrago The antitrust Twilight Zone

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Evil Mad Scientist Labs (, Taylor Lorenz (

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2023 edition

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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