Pluralistic: 08 Jun 2020

Today's links

Podcast: part 5 of "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town" (permalink)

My latest podcast is up! It's part five of my new reading of my 2005 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book Gene Wolfe called "a "lorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read.”

This week's episode reveals the home of Kurt, a crustypunk high-tech dumpster diver bent on building a citywide open mesh wifi network. He's based, in part, on Toronto's legendary dumpster diver Darren Atkinson, subject of my first-ever Wired article:

But Kurt's home is based on the weird workshop/chop-shop/home/clubhouse of Igor Kenk, Toronto's most notorious bike thief – a charming Slovenian ex-cop/hoarder whose story was told in an incredible 2010 graphic novel, KENK.

Here's the MP3 of this week's reading:

Here's previous episodes:

Here's my podcast's RSS feed:

Cops are legally entitled to reject "high IQ" candidates (permalink)

Back in the 1990s, a man named Robert Jordan tried to join the New London, CT, police department, but he was rejected because of his intelligence test score.

It was too high.

The New London police force administered an intelligence test, and excluded anyone who scored below 20 or above 27 – on the ground that smart people might get bored with policing and leave.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that this did not constitute illegal discriminatory hiring practices.

Now, "intelligence tests" are psuedoscientific horseshit, a modern form of phrenology.

But it says volumes about US policing that forces deliberately excluded people whom they believed to be "smart" from their ranks.

How the CARES Act bails out the super-rich (permalink)

Remember when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended capping pandemic relief payments to Americans at $1,200 by saying it was a "liquidity bridge" that would last them for 10 weeks?

Well, obviously that won't do for the wealthy. The wealth-transfer to millionaires in the CARES Act is far more generous: those $1200 checks cost $285B, while relief for the rich clocks in at $292B, as Allan Sloan details in a Propublica explainer:

First: "Eliminating Required Distributions From Retirement Accounts": Did you inherit a retirement fund that's so large that if you took cash out of it, you'd have to pay taxes on it?

Me neither.

But someone is saving $11.72B in taxes due to this.

Next: "Charitable Deductions": Allowing people to deduct up to 100% of their annual income for charitable donations will save its beneficiaries $4.83B.

"Most of the value of the deduction goes to just a small number of the very wealthy."

"Pass-Through Entities": If you – like Trump and Kushner – derive your income through "partnerships, LLCs and other so-called pass-through entities," rejoice! You're participating in a $140.61B bounty, courtesy of the CARES Act.

"Corporate Interest Deductions": These were capped to discourage reckless corporate borrowing for stock buybacks, etc – by raising the ceiling on these, Congress has gifted financial engineers $12.09B in tax-savings.

Finally: "Corporate Loss Treatment": Companies like Boeing will be able to able to claim generous refunds on losses stretching back 5 years, at 35% on losses in 2015/16/17, even though the top corporate tax rate is 21% – turning losses into profits, courtesy of the USG.

Private equity's coming for your pension (permalink)

Private equity firms' business model: buy companies using the companies' own cash using "leveraged acquisitions"; pay "investors" fortunes in "special dividends" and then leave the companies to fail.

The victims of this looting are a who's-who of productive economy businesses: Hertz, AMC, and especially hospitals, especially especially emergency rooms, whose "customers" arrive in no condition to ask questions about "surprise bills."

PE has found a new mark: you.

The Department of Labor just published guidance that allows PE funds to be included in your 401(k) retirement plans.

Now, 401(k)s are already cons: the idea that pensions should be determined by how luck you get in the stock market casinos was always a recipe for dooming retired Americans to eating cat-food in their golden years.

("Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker")

But sometimes, suckers get lucky, and so PE has shown up to take their winnings before they leave the casino. PE-managed retirement funds will have a 7% (and up!) management fee – that means that even if you're beating inflation, you'll actually come out behind every year.

Instead of benefiting from compounding gains, you'll see compounding losses. And good luck if you want to pull your money out of one of these wallet-drainers: PE is "illiquid," with "investors" pledging to leave their money sit regardless of performance.

You get your money out when the fund closes – PE funds that opened before the financial crisis have taken 12-15 years to close out, while Calpers is still waiting to cash out PE funds it bought into in 1992!

About those fees: you won't even know they're being charged: PE companies extract the fees from the companies they "invest" in, and then pay their own investors out of any profits that remain after they've taken their chunk.

PE funds don't just cheat the companies they invest in – they cheat the investors who back them. PE performed well in the 1980s and from 1995-99; they've been coasting on "brand fumes" ever since.

These are powerful fumes, and they've besotted plenty of super-rich people, who helped PE double its share of global equity since 2004. They've done so with the help of a lot of funny accounting.

It starts with lying about returns when raising capital to start a fund, and continues by lying about valuations during bad markets (the technical term is "smoothing");

PE companies also report their earnings a quarter late, which can make them look like safe refuges at the start of a crisis, when the rest of the economy is reporting loses.

When you apply PE's funny accounting to Target Date Funds, the preferred retirement fund for people who don't closely follow markets, you get an especially toxic mix.

But worst of all is that your retirement fund might be providing PE funds with the capital they need to buy your employer and fire you.

"One wonders why the SEC does not think it’s important to tell investors that private equity is in the business of firing people and too often bankrupting companies. Shouldn’t investors be warned that private equity’s tender ministrations, funded in a tiny way by his 401(k), could wind up lowering his paycheck or costing him his job?" -Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Big mail providers block indie mailing lists (permalink)

There's lots of reasons for the renaissance in "newsletters" (what we used to call moderated mailing lists), but top of the list was the realization by all kinds of companies, organizations and individuals that trusting Google or Facebook was a very bad bet.

Google delivered the first warning shot when it started shuttering its social networking tools based on inscrutable business logic.

But FB showed us the worst endgame when it deployed algorithms that located vibrant "fan pages" and dialed down their ability to reach subscribers who'd asked to see updates; then approached those neutered page owners with offers to "boost their reach" for pay.

Allowing a Big Tech company to hold your customers hostage was obviously a losing bet. But thankfully, there's one major, federated platform left online, the original one: email.

By switching to email to communicate with stakeholders, businesses, orgs and individuals could insulate themselves from the arbitrary decisions of Big Tech execs whose indifference or greed had destroyed so many successful, hard-built lists.

And what's more, a raft of companies – Mailchimp and its competitors – sprang up to help these companies run their lists. But these companies leave a lot to be desired, starting with their widespread deployment of "read receipts" and other privacy-invading tricks.

And then there's their role in enabling a bunch of toxic behavior (I've unsubscribed from hundreds of Mailchimp lists, but I never signed up for any of them, and the company won't tell me which other lists I'm on and let me unsubscribe from them, too).

But running a moderated mailing-list isn't rocket science. If you operate your own mail-server, you can set up a free/open list-management tool like Mailman in minutes.

Email is federated, right? So you don't need to pay Big Tech or a spying, spammy mailing list company.


Email is much more federated in theory than it is in practice.

Most of us get our email from one of a few giant email providers – Google, Apple, or our ISPs, like AT&T; and its myriad subsidiaries – as well as secret rules for selecting blocking or passing email means that sending mail from your own mailserver is harder than it's ever been.

I've been running my own mailserver since the 20th century (more accurately, Ken Snider has run one for me!).

I routinely find that I can't exchange email with people because their mail provider has blacklisted my mailserver for looking spammy, despite the fact that the server has one user, me. I admit that I live in email, but I don't send THAT much.

For example, AT&T; – and its subsidiaries – blocked email from my server for FIVE YEARS, despite calls, emails, and public shaming on Twitter and elsewhere.

Needless to say, spam is still alive and well (and inspiring even more onerous, secretive mail procedures).

Now, I have a newsletter, the plura-list. It's a small, cozy thing that I started in January as a way of getting the threads I post to Twitter (and mirror to my blog, in a single daily email.

This weekend, I lost every single subscriber who had used a,, or other Apple-controlled mail provider.

Why? Because Apple had been rejecting email from my server after an algorithm flagged it as spam.

(It's not spam. The list uses a double opt-in where you have to sign up and then click a link that's sent to your email).

Now, if you get bounces from a mailserver and don't unsubscribe the bouncing account, there's a good chance the mailer will block you as a spammer.

So after my mailing list manager saw a bunch of bounces from Apple's mailservers, it kicked every Apple user out automatically.

Which raises the question, why did Apple start bouncing my emails?

That's not clear, but the best guess is that some subscribers didn't open their emails for several consecutive days, which caused Apple to assume that the list was spam, and start to bounce ALL messages sent to ALL Apple users.

There are ways around this. I could sign up with Mailchimp or one of its rivals – companies that have done deals with the big mail services to treat their email as non-spam. Or I can dial the number of bounces before unsubscribe way up (and risk being blocklisted for that!).

I'm manually resubbing all those Apple users today (which has its own email death-penalty risk), and if you are a subscriber and want to ensure that the mail isn't blocked, you can add the list address ( to your address book.

In the early days of the spamwars, open internet advocates warned that making it harder to send mail would lead to concentration and monopolization of the original federated channel, and that it would drive professionalization among spammers.

Which is exactly where we've landed.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Ecommerce sites use personal info to charge you more

#15yrsago Social network analyzer for Enron's emails

#15yrsago David Byrne on what phonograms mean and will mean

#10yrsago Terrorists figure out how to get America to attack itself: leave harmless, "suspicious" bags around;=7483747&rss;=rss-wabc-article-7483747

#10yrsago Potemkin insurgency: US paying Afghan security firms to bribe Taliban leaders

#5yrsago LA Times editorial board calls for prosecution of journalistic sources

#5yrsago Lessons from Pratchett

#5yrsago Corporations influence politics, but not in the way you think you do

#5yrsago How and why to default on your student loan

#5yrsago Watch: John Waters gave the 2015 commencement address at RISD and CRUSHED IT

#1yrago Training a modest machine-learning model uses more carbon than the manufacturing and lifetime use of five automobiles

#1yrago Pharma company will pay $15.4m in fines for bribing docs to prescribe an overpriced med that brings in $1b/year

#1yrago Adversarial interoperability: reviving an elegant weapon from a more civilized age to slay today's monopolies

#1yrago Inequality makes a nation poorer

#1yrago Amazon's facial recognition fear crusade ramps up: now they're paying Facebook to show you pictures of suspected criminals to scare you into getting a surveillance doorbell

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Fipi Lele.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 514 words (22079 total).

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 05)

Upcoming appearances:

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

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

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:; personalized/signed copies here:

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

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

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

2 thoughts on “Pluralistic: 08 Jun 2020”

  1. "Email is much more federated in practice than it is in reality." I think you meant to say …in practice than…. "?

    I don't use Apple for my email. Nor do I open the pluralist email — I use it as an alert that the day's edition has been published, and then I read it on the web.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.