[Plura-list] Cool Tools, scientists predict cooperation, Don't Look for the Helpers, after the crisis, a people's bailout, judge vs unicorns, Marc Davis's Haunted Mansion

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Mar 21 11:42:21 EDT 2020

Today's links

* My appearance on Cool Tools: My favorite gadgets.

* UK emergency science panel predicts mass altruism: Reality has a
well-known collectivist bias.

* Don't Look for the Helpers: The text version of my essay for the new
Nightvale anxiety podcast.

* After the crisis, a program for transformative change: Pandemic
reveals the systems' failures, and what to do about them.

* Pandemic stimulus, realpolitik edition: Stephanie Kelton and AOC on a
people's bailout.

* Beautiful judicial snark: "No, your unicorn trademark is not an

* Marc Davis's Haunted Mansion: What if Marc Davis had sole control over
the ride's design?

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming
appearances, current reading


🍹 My appearance on Cool Tools

This week, I appear on the Cool Tools podcast to discuss my favorite,
most indispensible gadgets and services and why I love them.


My top picks were my Crkt Snap-Lock knife – a one-handed-opening,
lightweight, super versatile pocket knife that I carry everywhere.


I also chose my Chinese OEM underwater MP3 player. I swim every day for
my chronic pain maintenance and this is how I make it bearable, getting
through 1-2 audiobooks/month.


My third choice was Libro.fm, the DRM-free, indie-bookseller friendly
way to listen to audiobooks. Basically the same catalog as Audible, at
the same price, the only difference being that buying from them supports
neighborhood booksellers, not Amazon.

It was a really fun! Mark Frauenfelder and Kevin Kelly are super smart
about gadgets.

Here's the MP3:



🍹 UK emergency science panel predicts mass altruism

SAGE is the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
This is their hour to shine.

They have just published a spectacular, plain-language set of technical
reports on the pandemic.


This is the most interesting: "on risk of public disorder."


The expert panel affirms the conclusions of Rebecca Solnit in her
indispensable book "A Paradise Built in Hell," a closely researched
history of disasters that finds that they are the moment in which people
spring to the aid of their neighbors.


SAGE's expert panel on disasters: "large scale rioting is unlikely. It
is rarely seen in these circumstances. Acts of altruism will
predominate, and HMG could readily promote and guide these."

"Where public disorder occurs, it is usually triggered by perceptions
about the Government's response, rather than the nature of the epidemic.
A perception that Government response strategies are not effective in
looking after the public may lead to an increase in tensions."

"Promote a sense of collectivism: All messaging should reinforce a sense
of community, that 'we are all in this together.'"

For decades, Britain has been poisoned by Margaret Thatcher's
sociopathic maxim, "There is no such thing as society."

It turns out that reality (and pandemics) has a well-known collectivist


🍹 Don't Look for the Helpers

I wrote a short essay about how I'm coping with The Current Situation
for Our Plague Year, a new podcast from Joseph Fink of Welcome to
Nightvale, called "Don't Look for the Helpers".


Today, PM Press published the essay in a new digital collection, "All We
Have Is Each Other."


"Assuming things will break down does not make you a dystopian.
Engineers who design systems on the assumption that nothing could go
wrong aren't utopians, they're idiots who kill people. 'Nothing could go
wrong' is why there weren't enough lifeboats on the fucking Titanic."

"Every disaster ends with mutual aid. By definition. That's the only way
a disaster *can* end: with people pulling together. If there's one
lesson to take from Mad Max, it's that pulling apart only deepens the
crisis, and the it will not end until we pull together."

"I've been telling stories of humanity rising to crisis for decades. Now
I'm telling them to myself. I hope you'll keep that story in mind today,
as plutocrats are seeking to weaponize narratives to turn our crisis
into a self-serving catastrophe."



🍹 After the crisis, a program for transformative change

The Current Situation has revealed deep cracks in our system: replacing
public transit with gig economy drivers who don't get health care or
sick leave; the gig economy itself; the lethal inadequacy of
private-sector broadband and private-sector health-care, and beyond.

The fact that we can simply abolish data-caps (without networks falling
over) and the liquid ban (without planes blowing up) reveals that these
supposed existential threats were, in fact, arbitrary, authoritarian,
rent-seeking bullshit.


The people who've spent 40 years convincing us that we're just not
free-marketing hard enough continue to insist that all of these problems
are merely the result of not having fully dismantled the state (so much
for "state capacity libertarianism"):


They're licking their chops for a 2008-style reboot: eviscerating public
services, immiserating workers, fattening plutes and dissolving
regulatory safeguards.

It's a playbook developed by Milton Friedman: the scheme to have "ideas
lying around" when crisis strikes.

But as Naomi Klein reminds us, the Shock Doctrine cuts both ways. The
manifest failures of plutocracy in the Great Depression got us the New
Deal and the "30 Glorious Years" of shared prosperity and growth.


We haven't been idle since 2008. We have "ideas lying around" too. Ideas
for a just and resilient society that reorients human life around
sustainable and just practices. Motherboard's editorial staff gives us a
manifesto for that society, so that this crisis doesn't go to waste:


* Free and universal healthcare ("healthcare is a basic human right" -B.

* Abolish ICE and prisons ("ICE is now a public health hazard")

* Protect and empower labor ("Without these protections, everyone's
safety and health is put at risk")

* A healthier climate ("If the 2008-09 financial crash is any indicator,
carbon could shoot right back up as soon as the crisis is over")

* Fast, accessible broadband ("Community owned/operated broadband
networks, long demonized and even prohibited by law are looking better
than ever")

* Smash the surveillance state ("This pandemic mustn't be used to
infringe on the civil liberties and privacy of millions")

* Billionaire wealth ("They're sending people to work while jetting off
to luxurious doomsday bunkers, getting Covid-19 tests while normal
people can't, and also singing 'Imagine' from bucolic getaways.")

* Public transit that works ("Congress is poised to prioritize bailing
out airlines and the cruise industry before it takes a look at public

* The right to repair ("Right-to-repair has become a matter of life and

* Science for the people ("We were caught flat-footed by a fixation on
'innovation' and lack of public options")

The future will not be like the past. Whether it is worse or better is
our choice to make. It is in our (well-scrubbed) hands.


🍹 Pandemic stimulus, realpolitik edition

I've been thinking a lot about what a covid stimulus package could and
should look like, and what the possible failure modes and transformative
changes could be. Obviously, there's real risk of inflation if handled
wrong, because production has halted, so more money could end up chasing
fewer goods. That gets ugly quick.


Then there's the risk that we just infuse trillions of
no-strings-attached dollars into the finance sector, who use it to make
our society even more brittle and unstable by hollowing out reeling
companies and grinding down brutalized workers.


Writing about this stuff in public makes a lot of Twitter people with
"investor" in their bios very, very angry. They want giant bailouts for
the companies they own stocks in, not transformative change. They use
the neolib tactic of throwing out a lot of jargon to instil a sense of
your technical illiteracy. Complexity is a con-artist's go-to tactic,
after all – it's why proposition bets are so complicated, so you can't
do the odds in your head (see also: craps tables).

But not every economist believes that sociopathy is pareto optimal.
Leading lights like Stephanie Kelton, the mother of Modern Monetary
Theory, who can go toe-to-toe with oligarch-apologists from the Chicago
School, explaining how public debt *really* works.

Kelton and AOC appeared on this week's Deconstructed podcast with Mehdi
Hasan to discuss the true scale of the bailout that will be needed (far
more than $1T) to get the economy working again. That number can come
down (by lowering working peoples' outgoings through
rent/mortgage/student loan holidays, etc). But the lesson of 2008 is
that to be credible, stimulus must be transparent and aimed at the
public good, not the donor-class.



Otherwise, Congress risks having its hands tied: it might inject an
inadequate and corrupt stimulus that benefits its cronies, then be
unable to follow that on with a people's bailout that would help us all.

AOC: "Look at this kind of trash pile of legislation the Republicans
have just introduced. I've never seen such a thing in my life of, we're
going to give the neediest people less. And we're going to give people
who are you know, need help but don't need as much help more."

Kelton: "What people mean when they say, you know, oh, Senator Sanders,
you want Medicare for All or you want to make public colleges and
universities tuition free, you want to cancel student debt, how are you
going to pay for it? Where is the money going to come from? What that
means in beltway speak is how are you going to offset all of that
spending with new revenue from somewhere else, or by spending less in
defense or some other category, the budget?"

"When you do a piece of legislation that's 'paid for,' it means you're
putting the 50 billion in and it goes to some parts of the economy, and
you're taking 50 billion out of some other parts of the economy so that
you're not deficit spending."

"We've been so badly educated to respond to deficits as something that's
fiscally irresponsible, reckless. It isn't. The government is committing
to dropping dollars into the economy without ripping them right back out
again. It's exactly what we want them to do right now."

Kelton's work on Modern Monetary Theory is transformative. Her lectures
present both a powerful descriptive account of how money works in the
economy and a prescriptive account of how we can use that knowledge to
make a better, more prosperous world.


She has a new book about this coming in June, The Deficit Myth. This
would be a good time to pre-order it. These are scary times for writers
with books about to come out (signed, I have three new books out in 2020).



🍹 Beautiful judicial snark

As Ken "Popehat" White is fond of reminding us, no one snarks quite like
a federal judge. And despite being a Trump appointee, Steven C Seeger
manages to rip off a couple zingers in this ruling.


At issue: Art Ask Agency is upset that someone is counterfeiting their
unicorn-logo merch, such as this unicorn-scented candle:


But Illinois is in covid lockdown, so its case against a bunch of John
Doe (alleged) counterfeiters is on hold. Their lawyer has sent a string
of motions to the court asking for an emergency hearing so they can
proceed, despite the fact that the court clerks are operating on reduced
staff and only dealing with matters of the utmost urgency.

The judge is Not Impressed: "At worst, Defendant might sell a few more
counterfeit products in the meantime. But Plaintiff makes no showing
about anticipated loss of sales. One wonders if fake fantasy products
are experiencing brisk sales at the moment."

The judge takes notice of the time a telephonic hearing would consume,
"especially given the girth of the Plaintiff's filings."

"Plaintiff argues that it will suffer an 'irreparable injury' if this
court does not put a stop to the infringing unicorns and knock-off elves."

"The world is facing a real emergency. Plaintiff is not."


🍹 Marc Davis's Haunted Mansion

Along with Passport to Dreams Old and New, the Long Forgotten Blog is
the best source of information on the history, design, and evolution of
Disney theme-parks.


But Long Forgotten focuses on a single ride, the glorious, brilliant
Haunted Mansion.

The history of the Haunted Mansion was completely upended in late 2019,
when Christopher Merritt published his "Marc Davis in His Own Words," a
two-volume compendium of journals and interviews with the legendary
Imagineer, who was Merritt's mentor.


This is probably the best book of Disney/theme-park history ever
published, and that's no surprise, as Merritt has already written the
definitive history of Knott's Berry Farm:


And Pacific Ocean Park:


Merritt is an Imagineer, an artist, and a historian, who has direct,
lifelong connections with the original Imagineering team. He has
unparalleled access, inside knowledge and perspective. So yeah, that is
a *fucking great book.*

Marc Davis was the best character designer in the original Imagineer
cohort: he created the Country Bears, the Pirates, and the Haunted
Mansion ghosts. He was a spectacular visual gag master, too. And he was
one of the (many) legendary Imagineers who had a hand in designing the
Haunted Mansion. That ride had so many different iterations, drafts,
plans and schemes, and the final product is so wonderful in part because
of their remnants.

But Davis actually designed a full-on Haunted Mansion attraction, from
start to finish, and those plans are kicking around. Based on those,
Long Forgotten has created a narrative account of what it would be like
to tour "Marc Davis's Haunted Mansion."


It's…interesting. Davis had some really fun ideas like meeting up with a
talking bust (or raven).

And there are great gags (Davis designed the "three-part" stretching
portraits, after all).

I mean. This would have been so freaking boss.


But the real meat is something called "The Most Dangerous Ghost":

"The final picture is perhaps behind black drapes which raise as the
ghost host calls out attention to it. As the drapes part we see a
painting that has everything in it except a figure. There is perhaps a
vague image where the figure should be. The ghost host reacts in a
frightened manner. He explains that this is terrible because this is the
most dangerous ghost in the mansion. When he climbs out of his picture
he mingles with the guests until he has turned one of them into a ghost.
He describes the ghost's appearance and its omnipotent powers. He
suggests again that everyone should stay in a tight group; this evil
ghost loves to pick off stragglers. He suggests that the group be wary
of sliding panels, gusts of cold air and etc."

Long Forgotten: "The MDG character undercuts the intellectually sloppy
notion that all Davis cared about was making the HM funny."

LF goes on to make a good case that Davis wanted to incorporate many of
Rolly Crump's gorgeous "Museum of the Weird" designs into his Mansion.

Davis's seance room seems to flirt with MDG some more: "The presence of
the villain ghost makes itself felt and these older retired ghosts are
frightened. Whatever we have used to indicate the nearness of the
villain ghost would be repeated here."

Davis once planned for a Mansion filled with "working class ghosts"
(carpenters, soldiers, boxers, etc). The only ones that survived were
the coachmen in the graveyard sequence.

And his bride sequence was very explicit about wedding-night murders,
culminating with MDG manifesting amid the guests: "He starts a wild
mocking laugh. It clouds up outside. The curtains blow inward. It starts
to rain along with thunder and lightning. "Outside we see a figure take
form and it moves into the room. The rain comes into the room with the
figure and a pool of water forms around its feet."

This is gorgeously scary, but as Long Forgotten points out, it has
little re-play value (similar to Tomororwland's Alien Encounter): "The
gag about the Ghost Host revealing himself as the Most Dangerous Ghost
has the obvious disadvantage that it can surprise you only once. Pretty
soon everyone knows the 'secret,' and as its usefulness as a genuine
shock or scare tactic fades its status as pure camp inevitably increases."

That all said, "We learn what we should already know but sometimes
forget: Marc Davis was never an imperious, one-man show. He was a team
player. He interacted creatively with the work already done by previous
Imagineers, displaying in this outline nothing but respect for what was
good in what they had done."


🍹 This day in history

#15yrsago Disney busts amateur Disneyland tour guide

#10yrsago James Randi is gay

#5yrsago Windows 10 announcement: certified hardware can lock out
competing OSes

#1yrago Two arrested for hiding cameras in motel rooms and charging for
access to livestreams


🍹 Colophon

Today's top sources: Ok børge (https://twitter.com/forteller), Beyond
the Beyond (http://www.wired.com/category/beyond_the_beyond/).

Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on a short story, "The
Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of
my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. I've also just completed "Baby Twitter," a piece of
design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British
think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel next.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland:
it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs.
Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a
magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they
cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into
Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt
Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to
it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: The Masque of the Red Death and Punch Brothers Punch

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies
and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the
monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

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