Stinkpump Linkdump

With a bonus jarring shift in tone.

Cory Doctorow
10 min readDec 2, 2023

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A faded, greenish page out of a 1950s Sears Wishbook catalog, depicting various chocolate assortments.

Next Tuesday (Dec 5), I’m at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC, with my new solarpunk novel The Lost Cause, which 350.org’s Bill McKibben called “The first great YIMBY novel: perceptive, scientifically sound, and extraordinarily hopeful.”

Once again, I greet the weekend with more assorted links than I can fit into my nearly-daily newsletter, so it’s time for another linkdump. This is my eleventh such assortment; here are the previous volumes:

https://pluralistic.net/tag/linkdump/

I’ve written a lot about Biden’s excellent appointees, from his National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chair Rohit Chopra to FTC Chair Lina Khan to DoJ antitrust boss Jonathan Kanter:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/09/14/prop-22-never-again/#norms-code-laws-markets

But I’ve also written a bunch about how Biden’s appointment strategy is an incoherent mess, with excellent appointees picked by progressives on the Unity Task Force being cancelled out by appointees given to the party’s reactionary finance wing, producing a muddle that often cancels itself out:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/11/08/fiduciaries/#but-muh-freedumbs

It’s not just that the finance wing of the Democrats chooses assholes (though they do!), it’s that they choose comedic bunglers. The Dems haven’t put anyone in government who’s as much of an embarrassment as George Santos, but they keep trying. The latest self-inflicted Democratic Party injury is Prashant Bhardjwan, a serial liar and con-artist who is, incredibly, the Biden Administration’s pick to oversee fintech for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC):

https://www.americanbanker.com/news/did-the-occ-hire-a-con-artist-to-oversee-fintech

When the 42 year old Bhardjwan was named Deputy Comptroller and Chief Financial Technology Officer for OCC, the announcement touted his “nearly 30 years of experience serving in a variety of roles across the financial sector.” Apparently Bhardjwan joined the finance sector at the age of 12. He’s the Doogie Houser of Wall Street:

https://www.occ.gov/news-issuances/news-releases/2023/nr-occ-2023-31.html

That wasn’t the only lie on Bhardjwan’s CV. He falsely claimed to have served as CIO of Fifth Third Bank from 2006–2010. Fifth Third has never heard of him:

https://www.theinformation.com/articles/the-occ-crowned-its-first-chief-fintech-officer-his-work-history-was-a-web-of-lies

Bhardjwan told a whole slew of these easily caught lies, suggesting that OCC didn’t do even a cursory background search on this guy before putting him in charge of fintech — that is, the radioactively scammy sector that gave us FTX and innumerable crypto scams, to say nothing of the ever-sleazier payday lending sector:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/05/01/usury/#tech-exceptionalism

When it comes to appointing corrupt officials, the Biden administration has lots of company. Lots of eyebrows went up when the UN announced that the next climate Conference of the Parties (COP) would be chaired by Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, who is also the chair of Dubai’s national oil company. Then the other shoe dropped: leaks revealed that Al-Jaber had colluded with the Saudis to use COP28 to get poor Asian and African nations hooked on oil:

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-67508331

There’s an obvious reason for this conspiracy: the rich world is weaning itself off of fossil fuels. Today, renewables are vastly cheaper than oil and there’s no end in sight to the plummeting costs of solar, wind and geothermal. While global electrification faces powerful logistical and material challenges, these are surmountable. Electrification is a solvable problem:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/12/09/practical-visionary/#popular-engineering

And once we do solve that problem, we will forever transform our species’ relationship to energy. As Deb Chachra explains in her brilliant new book How Infrastructure Works, we would only need to capture 0.4% of the solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface to give every person on earth the energy budget of a Canadian (AKA, a “cold American”):

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/17/care-work/#charismatic-megaprojects

If COP does its job, we will basically stop using oil, forever. This is an existential threat to the ruling cliques of petrostates from Canada to the UAE to Saudi. As Bill McKibben writes, this isn’t the first time a monied rich-world industry that had corrupted its host governments faced a similar crisis:

https://billmckibben.substack.com/p/a-corrupted-cop

Big Tobacco spent decades fueling science denial, funneling money to sellout scientists who deliberately cast doubt on both sound science and the very idea that we could know anything. As Tim Harford describes in The Data Detective, Darrell Huff’s 1954 classic How to Lie With Statistics was part of a tobacco-industry-funded project to undermine faith in statistics itself (the planned sequel was called How To Lie With Cancer Statistics):

https://pluralistic.net/2021/01/04/how-to-truth/#harford

But anything that can’t go on forever will eventually stop. When the families of the people murdered by tobacco disinformation campaigns started winning eye-popping judgments against the tobacco industry, the companies shifted their marketing to the Global South, on the theory that they could murder poor brown people with impunity long after rich people in the north forced an end to their practice. Big Tobacco had a willing partner in Uncle Sam for this project: the US Trade Representative arm-twisted the world’s poorest countries into accepting “Investor-State Dispute Settlements” as part of their treaties. These ISDS clauses allowed tobacco companies to sue governments that passed tobacco control legislation and force them to reverse their democratically enacted laws:

https://ash.org/what-is-isds-and-what-does-it-mean-for-tobacco-control/

As McKibben points out, the oil/climate-change playbook is just an update to the tobacco/cancer-denial conspiracy (indeed, the same think-tanks and PR agencies are behind both). The “Oil Development Sustainability Programme” — the Orwellian name the Saudis gave to their plan to push oil on poor countries — maps nearly perfectly onto Big Tobacco’s attack on the Global South. Nearly perfectly: second-hand smoke in Indonesia won’t give Americans cancer, but convincing Africa to go hard on fossil fuels will contribute to an uninhabitable planet for everyone, not just poor people.

This is an important wrinkle. Wealthy countries have repeatedly demonstrated a deep willingness to profit from death and privation in the poor world — but we’re less tolerant when it’s our own necks on the line.

What’s more, it’s far easier to put the far-off risks of emissions out of your mind than it is to ignore the present-day sleaze and hypocrisy of corporate crooks. When I quit smoking, 23 years ago, my doctor told me that if my only motivation was avoiding cancer 30 years from now, I’d find it hard to keep from yielding to temptation as withdrawal set in. Instead, my doctor counseled me to find an immediate reason to stay off the smokes. For me, that was the realization that every pack of cigarettes I bought was enriching the industry that invented the denial playbook that the climate wreckers were using to render our planet permanently unsuited for human habitation. Once I hit on that, resisting tobacco got much easier:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/06/03/i-quit/

Perhaps OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al-Ghais is worried about that the increasing consensus that Big Oil cynically and knowingly created this crisis. That would explain his new flight of absurdity, claiming that the world is being racist to oil companies, “unjustly vilifying” the industry for its role in the climate emergency:

https://www.cnbc.com/2023/11/27/opec-says-oil-industry-unjustly-vilified-ahead-of-climate-talks-.html

Words aren’t deeds, but words have power. The way we talk about things makes a difference to how we act on those things. When discussions of Israel-Palestine get hung up on words, it’s easy to get frustrated. The labels we apply to the rain of death and the plight of hostages are so much less important than the death and the hostages themselves.

But how we name the thing will have an enormous impact on what happens next. Take the word “genocide,” which Israel hawks insist must not be applied to the bombing campaign and siege in Gaza, nor to the attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. On this week’s On The Media, Brooke Gladstone interviews Ernesto Verdeja, executive director of The Institute for the Study of Genocide:

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/genocide-powerful-word-so-why-its-definition-so-controversial-on-the-media

Verdeja lays out the history of the word “genocide” and connects it to the Israeli government and military’s posture on Palestine and Palestinians, and concludes that the only real dispute among genocide scholars is whether the current campaign it itself an act of genocide, or a prelude to an act of genocide.

I’m not a genocide scholar, but I am a Jew who has always believed in Palestinian solidarity, and Verdeja’s views do not strike me as outrageous, or (more importantly) antisemitic. The conflation of opposition to Israel’s system of apartheid with opposition to Jews is a cheap trick, one that’s belied by Israel itself, where there is a vast, longstanding political opposition to Israeli occupation, settlements, and military policing. Are all those Israeli Jews secret antisemites?

Jews are not united in support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. The hardliners who insist that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic are peddling an antisemitic lie: that all Jews everywhere are loyal to Israel, and that we all take our political positions from the Knesset. Israel hawks only strengthen that lie when they accuse me and my fellow Jews of being “self-hating Jews.”

This leads to the absurd circumstance in which gentiles police Jews’ views on Israel. It’s weird enough when white-nationalist affiliated evangelicals who support Israel in order to further the end-times prophesied in Revelations slam Jews for being antisemitic. But in Germany, it’s even weirder. There, regional, non-Jewish officials charged with policing antisemitism have censured Jewish groups for adopting policies on Israel that mainstream Israeli political parties have in their platforms:

https://jewishcurrents.org/the-strange-logic-of-germanys-antisemitism-bureaucrats

Antisemitism is real. As Jesse Brown describes in his recent Canadaland editorial, there is a real and documented rise in racially motivated terror against Jews in Canada, including school shootings and a firebombing. Likewise, it’s true that some people who support the Palestinian cause are antisemites:

https://www.canadaland.com/podcast/is-jesse-a-zionist-editorial/

But to stand in horror at Israel’s military action and its vast civilian death-toll is not itself antisemitic. This is obvious — so obvious that the need to say it is a tribute to Israel hardliners — Jewish and gentile — and their ability to peddle the racist lie that Israel is Jews and Jews are Israel, and that every Jew is in support of, and responsible for, Israeli war-crimes and crimes against humanity.

One need not choose between opposition to Hamas and its terror and opposition to Israel and its bombings. There is no need for a hierarchy of culpability. As Naomi Klein says, we can “side with the child over the gun”:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/11/why-are-some-of-the-left-celebrating-the-killings-of-israeli-jews

Moral consistency is not moral equivalency. If you’re a Jew like me who wants to work for an end to the occupation and peace in the region, you could join Jewish Voice For Peace (like me):

https://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org

Now, for a jarring tone shift. In these weekend linkdumps, I put a lot of thought into how to transition from one subject to the next, but honestly, there’s no good transition from Israel-Palestine to anything else (yet — though someday, perhaps). So let’s just say, “word games can be important, but they can also be trivial, and here are a few of the latter.”

Start with a goodie, from the always brilliant medievalist Eleanor Janeaga, who tackles the weirdos who haunt social media in order to dump on people with PhDs who call themselves “doctor”:

https://going-medieval.com/2023/11/29/doctor-does-actually-mean-someone-with-a-phd-sorry/

Janega points out that the “doctor” honorific was applied to scholars for centuries before it came to mean “medical doctor.” But beyond that, Janega delivers a characteristically brilliant history of the (characteristically) weird and fascinating tale of medieval scholarship. Bottom line, we call physicians “doctor” because they wanted to be associated with the brilliance of scholars, and thought that being addressed as “doctor” would add to their prestige. So yeah, if you’ve got a PhD, you can call yourself doctor.

It’s not just doctors; the professions do love their wordplay. especially lawyers. This week on Lowering The Bar, I learned about “a completely ludicrous court fight that involved nine law firms that combined for 66 pages of briefing, declarations, and exhibits, all inflicted on a federal court”:

https://www.loweringthebar.net/2023/11/federal-court-ends-double-spacing-fight.html

The dispute was over the definition of “double spaced.” You see, the judge in the case told counsel they could each file briefs of up to 100 pages of double-spaced type. Yes, 100 pages! But apparently, some lawyer burn to write fat trilogies, not mere novellas. Defendants accused the plaintiffs in this case of spacing their lines a mere 24 points apart, which allowed them to sneak 27 lines of type onto each page, while defendants were confined to the traditional 23 lines.

But (the court found), the defendants were wrong. Plaintiffs had used Word’s “double-spacing” feature, but had not ticked the “exact double spacing” box, and that’s how they ended up with 27 lines per page. The court refused to rule on what constituted “double-spacing” under the Western District of Tennessee’s local rules, but it ruled that the plaintiffs briefs could fairly be described as “double-spaced.” Whew.

That’s your Saturday linkdump, jarring tone-shift and all. All that remains is to close out with a cat photo (any fule kno that Saturday is Caturday). Here’s Peeve, whom I caught nesting most unhygienically in our fruit bowl last night. God, cats are gross:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/53370882459/

It’s EFF’s Power Up Your Donation Week: this week, donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation are matched 1:1, meaning your money goes twice as far. I’ve worked with EFF for 22 years now and I have always been — and remain — a major donor, because I’ve seen firsthand how effective, responsible and brilliant this organization is. Please join me in helping EFF continue its work!

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/12/02/melange/#defendants_motion_to_require_adherence_with_formatting_requirements_of_local_rule_7.1

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