Pluralistic: 29 Sep 2020

Today's links

Bust 'em all (permalink)

It's inevitable: whenever I talk about the need to curb concentrated power in the tech sector, someone comes along to ask why I only care about tech – why not do something about concentration in telecoms or entertainment?

That's not wrong, but it's not right either. Yes, telecoms and entertainment are grotesquely concentrated and abuse their monopoly power to the great detriment of the rest of us.

But no, gunning for Big Tech does NOT mean that we're not gunning for Big Content and Big Telco, too.

Bust 'em all!

The idea that these monopolized industries are somehow keeping each other in check – rather than colluding to screw the rest of us – is wrong. Google did an anti-Net Neutrality deal with Verizon. And all the tech and content companies illegally fixed wages between 'em.

I fully believe that some of the money and energy for breaking up tech is coming from astroturf campaigns run by ISPs and movie studios and record labels – but they're betting that if we break up Big Tech, that'll be the end of it.

Like trustbusting is Thanksgiving dinner, something that leaves you so satiated that you can't even think about going back for seconds.

That is so wrong. If history teaches us anything, it's that trustbusting is like potato chips, and once you start, you can't stop.

"If we're gonna make it through this monopolistic era of evidence-free policy that benefits a tiny, monied minority at the expense of the rest of us, we need to demand democratic accountability for market abuses, demand a pluralistic market where dominant firms are subjected to controls and penalties, where you finally realize birthright of technological self-determination."

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, part 16 (permalink)

This week on my podcast: Part 16 of my reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

This week's installment deals with the early 2000s awe at the idea that eBay was "normalizing the contents of America's attics" (cf William Gibson), to say nothing of its ewaste dumpsters.

Here's how to listen to the earlier installments:

and here's a direct MP3 link (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive – they'll host your stuff for free, forever, too!)

And here's a link to my podcast feed:

Dark money and SCOTUS (permalink)

You've probably never heard of the Judicial Crisis Network and that's by design: they're an ultradark money group whose funders are a secret, and they bought the Supreme Court.

JCN spent $27m worth of dark money to block Obama's Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland and put Kavanaugh and Gorsuch on the court.

In 2018/19, they got $15.9m from a single, anonymous source, which they are firehosing onto our public discourse to get Amy Coney Barrett seated before Trump and the Senate are ousted and banished to Fox News and the think-tank circuit.

They're not the only funders of this plute takeover of the court: the Koch Network, the Chamber of Commerce and other fronts for the minuscule number of eminently guillotinable modern aristos are making it rain, too.

In the Daily Poster, Andrew Perez calls JCN "the darkest of dark money groups" whose entire funder roster is secret. They're puppeteered by Federalist Society capo Leonard Leo, but the money is strictly a secret.

Historically, JCN's major funder is another dark-money group, the Wellspring Committee, which raised $28.5m and funneled $23.5m of it to JCN before shutting down.

This crime-matrioshke is now a dominant motif of late-stage capitalism, reminiscent of the shell companies that own shell companies, as revealed in the Panama and Paradise Papers.

Shells inside of other shells is the Fibonacci sequence of plutocracy, a pattern that repeats everywhere, at every scale.

Hilariously, Barrett herself has decried dark-money spending on judicial appointments: "I have not and will not solicit donations from anyone. Indeed, doing so would be a violation of my ethical responsibilities as a judicial nominee."

Machine learning hieroglyphs (permalink)

Fabricius is a new machine-learning tool from Google Arts and Culture that classifies images of hieroglyphs and returns their translations.

It also works in reverse, allowing you to encode messages as hieroglyphs.

And while the tools aimed at the general public are mostly a webtoy, there's an accompanying, serious, academic version for Egyptologists, called "Workbench."

Workbench offers a suite of image-enhancement tools and inference-based classifiers that make weighted guesses about the meaning of damaged or missing glyphs.

For example, when the suffix appended to the name of dead nobles appears next to a damaged glyph, the system is smart enough to limit its guesses for that glyph to names that make sense in this context.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Anti-MMORPG ads from D&D;

#10yrsago Only 1.7% of sites blocked by Scandinavia’s “child-porn” filters are actually child porn

#10yrsago SUPERDAD: moving and infuriating memoir of fatherhood and crack

#10yrsago Inside the finances of the UK “legal blackmail” copyright enforcement company

#5yrsago Zeroes: it sucks to be a teen, even with powers

#5yrsago Jamaica wants slavery reparations from the UK

#5yrsago Rush Limbaugh: water on Mars is a leftist conspiracy

#5yrsago The FBI has no trouble spying on encrypted communications

#5yrsago Execspeak singularity: the spectacular bullshit of Blackberry’s CEO

#5yrsago Edward Snowden is now @snowden

#5yrsago Ta-Nehisi Coates wins a 2015 MacArthur Genius award

#1yrago Jonathan Lethem on Edward Snowden’s “Permanent Record”

#1yrago Stealing Ur Feelings: interactive documentary on the snakeoil “science” of facial emotion detection

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Boing Boing (, David Sirota (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 551 words (66491 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP

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