Pluralistic: 25 Jun 2020
- How Big Tech distorts discourse: My free Oxford Internet Institute webinar.
- Talking Job Guarantee with Pavlina Tcherneva: My latest for the LA Times.
- Walkaway, Chicago-style: Protesters re-enact the climax of my 2017 novel (and it worked!)
- 759 Trump atrocities: McSweeney's saved the receipts.
- Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act: $80B for universal fiber rollout.
- Canada Reads is back: The debates will happen July 20-23.
- This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading
How Big Tech distorts discourse (permalink)
On Jul 1, I'm giving a seminar on how Big Tech distorts our discourse for the Oxford Internet Institute. It's free to attend, but you need to RSVP:
This is a really urgent question, since it's pretty clear that our discourse is a mess, from fake news to conspiracism to the rise of authoritarian, genocidal movements.
The dominant explanation for this is that Big Tech accidentally created a mind-control ray.
They wanted to sell us fidget spinners, but in perfecting the tools to bypass our critical faculties in order to sell us stuff, they inadvertently created a superweapon that the worst people on Earth are using to turn us into eugenicist end-time preppers.
I think we should be skeptical of this claim. Everyone (until now) who's claimed to have invented a form of mind-control was a charlatan or a deluded fool (or both). Big Tech's claims to having perfected the tools of persuasion are self-serving and unreliable.
Big Tech wants its advertisers to believe that machine learning and mass surveillance can sell fidget spinners to anyone, so they repeatedly make claims to having perfected mind-control. These claims are marketing puffery, not peer-reviewed science.
I think there's a simpler explanation for our distorted discourse: Big Tech has used lax anti-monopoly enforcement to create an environment where a handful of companies dominate what information we see and how we can discuss it.
This means that anyone who hijacks the system – evil SEO scum, etc – can inject false claims into our discourse in ways that seem true (if you ask Google for the age of a celeb or a pol, you'll probably accept the answer, even if it turns out wrong).
It also means that people with disfavored views – some of which I support (Black Lives Matter), others I despise (white nationalism) – can find each other without risking social sanction by publicly proclaiming their views.
And it means that people who have lost trust in the system – for good reasons, such as the skepticism of pharma regulation on the part of survivors of the opioid epidemic – can be easily located by those whose core message is that experts are corrupt.
If our discourse is poisoned by monopolism and corrupt institutions, it's both bad and good news: good news because we have no idea what to do to fight mind-control rays, while in theory it's simple (but hard) to fix monopolies and bad institutions.
The bad news is that both of those can be VERY hard, but on the other hand, there's rising political will to make institutions accountable and break up oligarchic markets from all sides, and not just for tech – these problems plague every sector.
The coalition possibilities are dazzling.
I wrote up a preliminary essay about this for EFF Deeplinks, and I've got a 37,000-word pamphlet on the subject coming soon.
I hope to see you on the first of July!
Talking Job Guarantee with Pavlina Tcherneva (permalink)
This week marks publication of The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva's brilliant, lucid pamphlet laying out the case for a radical rethinking of work and the creation of a true minimum wage: the wage you'll earn if you want a job but no one will give one to you.
I published my review of Tcherneva's book yesterday:
Today, the LA Times books section published my interview with Tcherneva, in which she explains and expands upon her argument:
As she points out, governments guarantee all kinds of things: contracts, loans, even the price of cheese. But the one area of uncertainty that each of us has to face on our own, without any kind of price-floor, is our own ability to find meaningful, well-compensated work.
Such a program would be federally funded – the feds alone have the power to spend money into existence – but it would be locally administered by states and localities, who would solicit proposals for work from community groups and bank them against future downturns.
When you need a job, the employment office would just…employ you. Give you a choice of jobs, with training if necessary, from among things your own community has decided needs doing, especially environmental rehabilitation and care work.
Today, we are facing down years – maybe decades – of structural unemployment at unmanageably high levels, 25% or more, far higher even than the absurd "natural rate of unemployment" that economists insist we must maintain.
Unemployment is supposed to fight inflation, and perhaps it does, but so too can employment. Rather than maintaining a buffer stock of immiserated, traumatized, job-seeking workers, we can maintain a stock of good jobs with socially inclusive wages and good benefits.
We already fund unemployment – the huge costs that structural unemployment exacts on our society and our productive economy – so why not switch to funding EMPLOYMENT instead?
As we head into this period of long term, high unemployment, SOMETHING will give. Possibly we'll do nothing, and our society will be so destabilized by poverty and unemployment that it will face collapse.
Or if the right gets its way, we'll create workfare – that is, forced labor: "Don't want to starve? Fine – build the border wall and we'll feed you."
The alternative is a Job Guarantee: an add-on beyond benefits for people who can't work, that buys the labor of people whom the private sector refuses to employ and puts it to work doing things their own communities need.
Walkaway, Chicago-style (permalink)
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD FOR MY 2017 NOVEL WALKAWAY
At Walkaway's climax, prisoners who've taken over their prison face off against an army of militarized police who lay siege to the occupied prison complex.
Just as the prisoners' defenses are about to fail, their network of supporters watching from a livestream all over the world leap into the fray, doxing the cops on the line and waking their relatives and talking them into broadcasting pleas on the prison's PA system.
As the cops hear their loved ones' pleas, their morale breaks. One at a time, then in bunches, they set down their weapons, shuck body armor, and walk away down the highway. As they trickle away, their commanders are enraged, then terrified, sensing the turn. They retreat.
Yesterday, visual journalist Tyler LaRiviere posted a stunning series of images and clips from a protest in Chicago where protesters faced a standoff with the CPD at a barricade near Mayor Lori Lightfoot's home.
LaRiviere: "The person on the megaphone is searching up officers information on a web database and announcing how many complaints they have."
"To clarify these aren't random officers they are getting information on but the officers blocking off the intersection on Kimball and Wrightwood. Two of the officers who had their infomation publicized left the line and walked away."
The protest ends peacefully as the cops – numbers depleted – wait out the protest's natural wind-down.
I've been sent this dozens of times since Tuesday. I am elated every time.
(Image: thumbnail of a frame from Tyler LaRiviere's video)
759 Trump atrocities (permalink)
The Trump administration commenced amid a flood of scandals, lies and controversies, coming so fast that crises that would have tainted a "normal" administration were forgotten in days, drowned out by new scandals.
"Flood the zone with shit." -S. Bannon.
Early in those days, a group of writers at McSweeneys set to cataloging each of these "atrocities." Today, they've released the first 759 of these, in chronological order and broken down by category:
– Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Bullying
– White Supremacy, Racism, & Xenophobia
– Public Statements / Tweets
– Collusion with Russia & Obstruction of Justice
– Trump Staff & Administration
– Trump Family Business Dealings
Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (permalink)
HR 7302, the "Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act," allocates $80B for nationwide fiber rollouts and creates a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth to coordinate fiber investment between the federal and state governments.
If the bill passes, the US will complete its fiber transition just a few years after China, and will finally cease to have some of the slowest, most expensive, patchiest internet coverage of any OECD nation.
The bill emphasizes open access fiber networks – government owned, privately provisioned by competing firms, including co-ops – a model that's been hugely successful in Utah, where even rural subscribers get competitors bidding to sell them 10GB internet.
The bill also nullifies the state-level laws banning municipal broadband provision that telcoms operators have made their number one lobbying priority, dooming the poorest Americans to aging, copper-wire internet from the last millennium.
It also intervenes in disconnections during the covid emergency, with the government guaranteeing the bills of any family that falls so far behind that it risks being cut off.
It's basically fucking amazing.
The next step: getting it through Congress. Telcoms has some of the most ruthless, best-connected lobbyists on the hill, men and women who've made it their business to starve Americans of decent internet to line the pockets of financialized, monopolistic telcoms behemoths.
Canada Reads is back (permalink)
The CBC Books Canada Reads competition is an annual literary event that pits five books by Canadian authors against each other, each represented by a "champion" from the Canadian arts scene in a series of televised debates.
After each debate, one book is voted off by viewers, until the final book is chosen.
This year, I was over-the-moon ecstatic to learn that my collection of novellas Radicalized was among the contenders for the prize, with the incomparable Akil Augustine defending it.
But the debates were one of the casualties of the pandemic, delayed indefinitely…
….Until now! The CBC has announced that the debates will be back Jul 20-23:
This is very exciting news! And while the pandemic has heaped tragedy upon misery, I do believe that when life gives you SARS you should make sarsaparilla, and in that spirit, I can't help but observe that the passage of time has only boosted my book's chances.
After all, this is a book whose four tales deal with:
- The racial and economic politics of technological control (Unauthorized Bread, read it here: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/)
- Racialized police violence, allyship, and predictive policing (Model Minority)
- How the inevitable outcome of a for-profit health-care system is desperation and murderous violence, spread through toxic online forums (Radicalized)
- The ghastly comeuppance awaiting wealthy preppers who cower in luxury bunkers while we all deal with the crisis – the absurdity of hoping finance bros can reboot civilisation (listen here https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/03/13/the-masque-of-the-red-death/)
I mean, it's all a little on-the-nose at this point.
Before the crisis, CBC recorded and wrote a wealth of material about all five of the finalists and their champions: podcasts, video interviews, Q&As;, essays, and more. They've collected all that material here for your review:
And as much as I can't help but notice the convergence of current events with my own contender in the race, all five of the books are outstanding and worthy of your attention.
- Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan G Coles (defended by Alayna Fender).
"A cast of flawed characters; over the course of a snowy Feb day, they're implicated in each other's hopes, dreams and pains amid harsh economic times."
- We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib, (defended by Amanda Brugel)
"An exploration of the ways we disguise and minimize ourselves for the sake of survival."
- Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson (defended by Kaniehtiio Horn)
"A novel about Jared, a compassionate 16-year-old, maker of famous weed cookies, son of an unreliable father and unhinged, though loving in her way, mother."
- From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle (defended by George Canyon)
"His memoir, From the Ashes, details how his issues with abandonment and addiction led to homelessness, incarceration and his eventual redemption through higher education."
One of my favourite Canada Reads resources is the Canada Reads American Style podcast, created by a pair of canlit-obsessed Michigan librarians. I did a long interview with them after the initial debates were canceled.
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago NYT endorses Bugmenot https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/25/technology/a-broadband-beatdown.html
#10yrsago Toronto's secret ID law used to arrest G20 protestor https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/g20/2010/06/25/man_arrested_and_left_in_wire_cage_under_new_g20_law.html
#5yrsago Stephen Harper ready to sign TPP and throw Tory rural base under the bus
#5yrsago Wil Wheaton on depression https://news.avclub.com/exclusive-hear-wil-wheaton-discuss-his-mental-illness-1798281130 #5yrsago How the UK Prime Minister's office gets around Freedom of Information requests https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/downing-st-accused-of-deliberate-attempts-to-avoid-freedom-of-information-requests-as-ex-staff-10325231.html #5yrsago They're tearing down the Adventurer's Club https://twitter.com/davecobb/status/613747291229257728 #1yrago Cult of the Dead Cow: the untold story of the hacktivist group that presaged everything great and terrible about the internet https://boingboing.net/2019/06/25/hacker-zelig.html #1yrago Microsoft employees want to starve its PAC, which keeps giving money to homophobic, racist, climate-denying Republicans https://onezero.medium.com/a-group-of-microsoft-employees-is-fighting-the-companys-political-action-committee-7dae732290e3https://www.zdnet.com/article/new-silex-malware-is-bricking-iot-devices-has-scary-plans/
#5yrsago Wil Wheaton on depression https://news.avclub.com/exclusive-hear-wil-wheaton-discuss-his-mental-illness-1798281130
#5yrsago How the UK Prime Minister's office gets around Freedom of Information requests https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/downing-st-accused-of-deliberate-attempts-to-avoid-freedom-of-information-requests-as-ex-staff-10325231.html
#5yrsago They're tearing down the Adventurer's Club https://twitter.com/davecobb/status/613747291229257728
#1yrago Cult of the Dead Cow: the untold story of the hacktivist group that presaged everything great and terrible about the internet https://boingboing.net/2019/06/25/hacker-zelig.html
#1yrago Microsoft employees want to starve its PAC, which keeps giving money to homophobic, racist, climate-denying Republicans https://onezero.medium.com/a-group-of-microsoft-employees-is-fighting-the-companys-political-action-committee-7dae732290e3https://www.zdnet.com/article/new-silex-malware-is-bricking-iot-devices-has-scary-plans/
#1yrago How Metabrainz stood up to a predatory copyright lawsuit and won https://blog.metabrainz.org/2019/06/25/we-were-sued-by-a-copyright-troll-and-we-prevailed/
#1yrago "Massive scale" intrusion into mobile carriers' networks exposed customers' location, call data for years https://www.cybereason.com/blog/operation-soft-cell-a-worldwide-campaign-against-telecommunications-providers
#1yrago Independent evaluation of "aggression detection" microphones used in schools and hospitals finds them to be worse than useless https://features.propublica.org/aggression-detector/the-unproven-invasive-surveillance-technology-schools-are-using-to-monitor-students/#163614
Today's top sources: Waxy (https://waxy.org/).
- My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 503 words (31298 total).
A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Yesterday's progress: 318 words (3250 total)
Currently reading: Goliath, Matt Stoller.
Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 07) https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/06/22/someone-comes-to-town-someone-leaves-town-part-07-2/
- In Conversation with Hank Green, Jul 10, https://www.magersandquinn.com/product_info?isbn_id=26578312&products;_id=163359157
'What Big Tech does to discourse, and the forgotten tech tool that can make tech less big', Jul 1, Oxford Internet Institute https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/6015930181073/WN_MnlH5x2XTRqiKKmhU0QPAg
Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250757531
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla