[Plura-list] Comedic obituary poetry; Tom Lehrer in the public domain; Trustbusting is stimulus;

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Oct 21 11:23:40 EDT 2020


Today's Attack Surface Lecture: Little Revolutions with Tochi Onyebuchi
and Bethany C. Morrow


Full schedule: https://attacksurface.com


Today's links

* Comedic obituary poetry: Out of the Hurly-Burly.

* Tom Lehrer in the public domain: 96 songs' lyrics, up for grabs.

* Trustbusting is stimulus: Piss on trickle-down.

* Falsehoods programmers believe about time: All discrete phenomena are

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

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


🏭 Comedic obituary poetry

The Imagineers who worked on the Haunted Mansion drew heavily on
reference material, combining a surprising number of real Victorian
ghostly and sepulchral traditions, flourishes and details, which is all
part of what makes the Mansion such a rich,  immersive experience.

Some of my favorite gags are the rhyming tombstones in the small
graveyard in the queue area, each of which pays tribute to one of the
Imagineers who worked on the Mansion (e.g. "At peaceful rest lies
Brother Claude, planted here beneath this sod" for Claude Coats).

These turn out to be the McGuffin of a late Victorian novel, 1874' s
"Out of the Hurly-Burly," by Charles Heber Clark (under the pen-name
"Max Adeler"), about an obit writer who publishes doggerel about the


Typewriter historian Harry Stephen Keeler published a fantastic thread
that collects many of these, and they are unmissably great. Here are
three of my faves:


I. The death-angel smote Alexander McGlue,
  And gave him protracted repose;
He wore a checked shirt and a Number Nine shoe,
  And he had a pink wart on his nose.
 No doubt he is happier dwelling in space
  Over there on the evergreen shore.
His friends are informed that his funeral takes place
  Precisely at quarter-past four.

II. Willie had a purple monkey climbing on a yellow stick,
  And when he sucked the paint all off it made him deathly sick;
And in his latest hours he clasped that monkey in his hand,
  And bade good-bye to earth and went into a better land.
Oh! no more he'll shoot his sister with his little wooden gun;
  And no more he'll twist the pussy's tail and make her yowl, for fun.
The pussy's tail now stands out straight; the gun is laid aside;
  The monkey doesn't jump around since little Willie died.

III. Little Alexander's dead;
  Jam him in a coffin;
Don't have as good a chance
  For a fun'ral often.
Rush his body right around
  To the cemetery;
Drop him in the sepulchre
  With his Uncle Jerry."

I don't know if the Disney Imagineering archive and library had a copy
of Out of the Hurly-Burly (it's been years since I had access to it),
but these are so reminiscent of the "family plot" tombstones at the
Mansion that I have a hard time thinking it's a coincidence.


🏭 Tom Lehrer in the public domain

Tom Lehrer is one of our great nerdy, comedic songwriters, a
Harvard-educated mathematician who produced a string of witty,
unforgettable science- and math-themed comedic airs with nary a dud.


Now in his nineties, Lehrer remains both a political and scientific
hero, sung the world round by geeks of every age. When my daughter was
young, we taught her "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park."

Undergrads at UC Santa Cruz would sign up for his math class just to
learn freshman algebra from the "Wehrner Von Braun" guy.

Now, Lehrer has done something absolutely remarkable.

In a note on his website, Lehrer has released the lyrics (and music, for
those songs where he was the composer) into the public domain, warning
fans to download the songs before 12/31/2024, when he says he will
delete his site.


Only the lyrics to 96 songs are in the release; Lehrer cautions the
accompanying music will appear later "with further disclaimers."

But it's quite a list, including "Bright College Days," "The Elements,"
"Oedipus Rex," "Smut," "Wehrner Von Braun," "The Vatican Rag," and yes,
"Poisoning Pigeons in the Park!"

In his note, Lehrer urges us to make up our own tunes for these: "In
particular, permission is hereby granted to anyone to set any of these
lyrics to their own music and publish or perform their versions without
fear of legal action."


🏭 Trustbusting is stimulus

Antitrust enforcement is virtually a dead letter in America (it was
killed 40 years ago by Reagan's court sorcerer Robert Bork, better known
as the Nixonite criminal who couldn't get approved for a SCOTUS seat).

But even when we *were* enforcing antitrust, we tended to pump the
brakes during economic crises: no one wants to put additional
constraints on business during a downturn.

That's wrong. Antitrust enforcement isn't an economic drag, it's an
economic STIMULUS.


Monopolies extract higher profits by crushing workers and small
competitors, but workers and small businesses spend their earnings back
into the economy.

Monopolist's shareholders, on the other hand, tend to bank their
winnings, or spend it on items with small multipliers like superyachts
and fractional shares in rare artworks shuttered in climate-controlled
containers in Swiss freeports.

By contrast, workers buy groceries, pay contractors to fix their roofs,
or buy braces for their kids. That money recirculates in the communities
in which it is earned, multiplying itself over and over again.

Writing in Promarket, Hal Singer and Marshall Steinbaum present us with
some contrafactuals:

"Rather than having one tech giant controlling social media and the
associated advertising, imagine we had 10: Assuming the same revenues,
it is not a stretch to conclude industry-wide spending on R&D; and labor
under the decentralized configuration would be larger."

And they propose ways that the state can intervene before monopolies
emerge, to prevent them from leveraging early wins into stagnating,
strangulating dominance.

Example: Tesla is set to corner the market on EVs in part via its
national network of superchargers. So invest in public chargers, which
can be privately operated by entities not affiliated with any
manufacturer, "so Tesla’s nascent rivals can compete in the short run."

But instead of securing the stimulus effect of competition, Congress and
the Trump admin are sitting by idly as giant firms spend their stimulus
money colluding to *reduce* competition (like Jetblue and AA announcing
a "marketing partnership" with their bailout money).

Without antimonopoly vigilance, downturns become bonanzas of
anticompetitive takeovers: all the small companies that are tipped into
precarity by the crisis can be bought for pennies on the dollar by
dominant firms, further cementing their dominance.

It's time to guillotine Borkism and its idiotic, plute-friendly doctrine
of permitting monopolistic conduct unless it results in immediate,
impossible-to-prove "consumer harm."

Not only has Borkism been shown to be a catastrophic failure, it is a
failure that is especially dangerous during this crisis. This is the
moment at which America needs firms to thrive by doing things that make
us all better off - not by choking their competitors.

The last time the DoJ did any real antitrust was in 1982, when they
broke up AT&T.; At the time, Borkists warned that DoJ was handing a gift
to the Japanese tech industry, which they characterized as sinister
copycats descended from the fascist enterprises of Imperial Japan.

They said that America needed AT&T as a "national champion" to defend
itself against this pretender half a world away. Today, we hear the same
arguments about Big Tech antitrust and the Chinese tech companies.

But breaking up AT&T in 1982 was the best thing that could have happened
to America. AT&T's core project in 1982 wasn't fighting Japanese
electronics companies: it was suppressing the growth of the internet in
the USA, to preserve its monopoly on telecoms.

AT&T's business model was controlling all the services available on the
network and charging money for every "feature" your phone came with. Not
just charging farcical markups for long-distance...remember when you had
to pay for "caller ID"?

That's the equivalent of your email provider charging extra to see who a
message comes from before you open and read it! AT&T's stranglehold over
telecoms let it nickel-and-dime Americans for every "feature" of the system.

The internet moved control over services to the edge of the network -
the programs running on the computers in users' homes (and later,
pockets). It annihilated the a-la-carte grift of Ma Bell and jumpstarted
a new, US-dominanted form of global soft power.

In other words, breaking up America's "national champion" in '82 allowed
all the current Big Tech companies - the new national champions that
Borkists say we mustn't break up - to come into existence and grow.

Imagine how many brilliant ideas, products and services the current Big
Tech companies are strangling!

After the Bell breakup, the DoJ entered its 40 year hibernation,
sleeping through AT&T's re-acquisition of the "Baby Bells," which
resurrected the telecoms octopus.

The DoJ has announced new antitrust action against Google, a long
overdue move that will doubtless lead to antitrust enforcement against
other dominant firms in tech and other industries (do AT&T next!). But
the DoJ complaint focuses on Borkean "consumer harm."

It's time to jettison "consumer harm." The reason to fight monopolies is
that they *monopolize*. They crush workers and small rivals, and pervert
regulation and law. They enrich wealthy shareholders at the expense of
the rest of us.

Monopolies should be killed because they are *monopolies*.


🏭 Falsehoods programmers believe about time

The categories we think of as discrete, bounded entities are most often
continua, with broadly coherent centers and hairy, noisy edges that defy

Computers operate on binary states, but the actual electronics that
represent these ones and zeroes are quite noisy, and only average out to
"off" and "on." It's quite ironic, because computerization so often
forces us to incinerate the edge-cases.

Prior to computerization, the fuzziness of analog record-keeping and the
potential for official forebearance allowed us to maintain the pretence
of neat categories while (sometimes) accommodating the infinite
complexity of the edges.

My grandparents had given names, Russian names, Hebrew names, Yiddish
names, anglicized names AND English nicknames, jumbled across their
official forms and paperwork.

My grandfather Avram (Abe, Abraham, William, Bill) Doctorow
(Doctorowicz, Doktorowicz, Doctorovitch, Doctorov, Doktorov) would
sometimes have to explain this to officials, and they could accept it or
even note it in the margins in ink.

Computerization doesn't necessarily allow this. A "name" field of 64
characters allows names up to 64 chars, period. If your name is longer
than that, tough shit.

Computerization is often undertaken by isolated, wealthy execs from the
global north, directing technologists.

In that sense, it is hegemonic, a way for an elite coterie to project
its will over millions, even billions of people who lack even a means of
registering their discontent.

Remember when Facebook and Google waged cruel warfare against their
users with their "Real Names" policy that unilaterally declared what a
name was (and was not)?


They were carrying on the work of the Global War on Terror. After 9/11,
the world saw waves of official name-change requests.

The requesters weren't changing their names: they were preserving them.

The names they'd used all their lives were suddenly cause for suspicion,
due to discrepancies between their real names and their official names.
In the world of unchecked GWOT power and paranoia, that discrepancy
could cost you a job or a border-crossing or your liberty.

Ambiguous categories are the rule, not the exception. It's a commonplace
that the idea of "race" within humanity is incoherent, but so is the
idea of "species" in biology, where often animals of different species
can still produce fertile offspring.

Computerization resolves ambiguity by steamrollering it, not by
accepting it. I spent years as EFF's rep to a DRM standards committee,
DVB-CPCM, whose project was to computationally define a valid "family"
(so you could share video with your family).

The committee - overwhelmingly white, male, wealthy and Anglo - ensured
that bizarre, rarely seen "families" fit the definition. If you had a
summer home in France, a houseboat, and a lux SUV with seatback videos,
they had you covered.

But if you were migrant-worker parents in Manila whose son was a
construction worker in Qatar and whose daughter was an RN in Dallas, you
were fucked. This was an "edge-case" they couldn't accommodate without
opening up the possibility of "piracy."

All of that to introduce a highly amusing list called "Falsehoods
programmers believe about time," which demonstrates that even the most
objective, quantitative constructions are riddled with irreducible
complexity resulting from qualitative factors.


The list includes obvious ones like "February is always 28 days long"
but also "The system clock will never be set to a time that is in the
distant past or the far future" and "There is only one calendar system
in use at one time" and "Time always goes forwards."

Each of these is the epitaph from some programmer's postmortem of a
ghastly error. Each is a reminder that time can be weaponized.

Think of Chinese time, a nation that is notionally many timezones wide,
all yoked to a single zone based on Beijing's sunrise and sunset.

People in outlying territories start their workdays in the dark, or with
the sun high in the sky, all so a bureaucrat in the capital need not
trifle with subtracting or adding a few hours before phoning a local
administrator to bark orders at them.


"Falsehoods programmers believe about..." is a whole genre unto itself:

* Music
* Online shopping
* Email addresses
* Gender
* Language
* Addresses


These falsehoods cover a wide range of cases, but so many can be reduced
to a longstanding and important exception that was quietly made in the
analog recordkeeping world that can't be easily adapted to a database

There are many ways to handle another person's exception to your
experience, "Computer says no" is surely the worst.


🏭 This day in history

#5yrsago Ham operator corrects Morse code on the Disneyland Railroad

#10yrsago Tentacle pot pie!

#10yrsago Terrified feds try to bar Bunnie Huang from testifying at Xbox
jailbreaking trial https://www.wired.com/2010/10/xbox-modder-tria/

#10yrsago Derren Brown’s Confessions of a Conjuror: funny memoir is also
a meditation on attention, theatrics and psychology

#5yrsago Hungarian camerawoman who tripped refugee announces she will
sue that refugee

#5yrsago UK “anti-radicalisation” law can take kids from thoughtcriming
parents in secret trials

#5yrsago How a mathematician teaches “Little Brother” to a first-year
seminar https://derekbruff.org/?p=3143

#1yrago Griefer terrorizes baby by taking over their Nest babycam…again

#1yrago Haunted Mansion/Ikea mashup tee

#1yrago Rep Katie Porter: an Elizabeth Warren protege and single mom who
destroys bumbling, mediocre rich guys in Congressional hearings


🏭 Colophon

Today's top sources: Dan Howland (https://twitter.com/ridetheory/),
Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Four Short Links

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (75012

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

* Milehicon (Guest of Honor!), Oct 23-5, https://milehicon.org/

* Coding Democracy/Toronto International Festival of Authors, Oct 24

* Beaverbrook Lecture: How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, Nov 30,

Recent appearances:

* TWiT: The J to J Protocol

* Writing Excuses: Researching the FCK out of Things

* SRSLY WRONG: Stop Techno Dystopia!

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

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

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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

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