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PLURALISTIC

Cory DOCTOROW

Science fiction author, activist and journalist.

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16.07.2024 à 12:34

Pluralistic: Bowen McCurdy and Jordan Morris's "Youth Group" (16 Jul 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (3324 mots)


Today's links



The Firstsecond cover for Youth Group by Bowen McCurdy and Jordan Morris.

Bowen McCurdy and Jordan Morris's "Youth Group" (permalink)

Youth Group is Bowen McCurdy and Jordan Morris's new and delightful graphic novel from Firstsecond. It's a charming tale of 1990s ennui, cringe Sunday School – and demon hunting.

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250789235/youthgroup

Kay is a bitter, cynical teenager who's doing her best to help her mother cope with an ugly divorce that has seen her dad check out on his former family. Mom is going back to church, and she talks Kay into coming along with her to attend the church youth group.

This is set in the 1990s, and the word "cringe" hasn't yet entered our lexicon as an adjective, but boy is the youth group cringe. The pastor is a guitar-strumming bearded dad who demonstrates how down he is with the kids by singing top 40 songs rewritten with evangelical lyrics (think Weird Al meets the 700 Club). Kay gamely struggles through a session and even makes a friend or two, and agrees to keep attending in deference to her mother's pleas.

But this is no ordinary youth group. Kay's ultra-boring suburban hometown is actually infested with demons who routinely possess the townspeople, and that baseline of demonic activity has suddenly gone critical, with a new wave of possessions. Suddenly, the possessed are everywhere – even Kay's shitty dad ends up with a demon inside of him.

That's when Kay discovers that the youth group and its corny pastor are also demon hunters par excellence. Their rec-rooms sport secret cubbies filled with holy weapons, and the words of exorcism come as readily to them as any embarrassing rewritten devotional pop song. Kay's discovery of this secret world convinces her that youth group isn't so bad after all, and soon she is initiated into its mysteries, including the existence of rival demon-hunting kids from the local synagogue, Catholic church, and Wiccan coven.

As the nature of the new demonic incursion becomes clearer, it falls on Kay and her pals to overcome these sectarian divisions over the protests of their guitar-strumming, magic-wielding leader. That takes on a special urgency when Kay learns why the demons are interested in her, personally, and a handful of other kids in town who all share a secret trait.

I confess that as someone who lived through the 1990s as a young man, there is something disorienting about experiencing the decade of my young adulthood through the kind of retro lens I associate with the 1950s or 1960s. But while the experience is disorienting, it's not unpleasant. McCurdy's artwork and Morris's snappy dialog conjure up that bygone decade in a way that is simultaneously affectionate and critical, exposing the hollowness of its performative ennui and the brave face that performance represented even as the world was being swept up in corporate gigantism.

McCurdy and Morris are really onto something here, implicitly asking us why the 1990s gave us Buffy and Sabrina (and The Coven, etc etc) – what was it about that decade in which Reaganomics and globalism consolidated the gains of the 1980s, where the climate emergency took on its undeniable urgency, where media monopolies mastered the art of commodifying counterculture faster than it could mutate into new forms?

Morris's writing really shines here. If you enjoyed Bubble, his earlier outing based on the post-apocalyptic comedy podcast of the same name, you will love this one:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/08/21/podcasting-as-a-visual-medium/#huntr

Morris is also half of Jordan, Jesse Go!, the long-running podcast where he and Jesse Thorn do a weekly ha-ha-only-serious goofball schtick that never fails to smuggle in really clever and insightful ideas amidst the poop jokes.

https://maximumfun.org/podcasts/jordan-jesse-go/

John Hodgman calls nostalgia a "toxic impulse." Church Group deftly avoids nostalgia's trap, managing to be a period piece without falling prey to the Happy Days pathology of ignoring the many flaws and problems of its era. And of course, it's a hoot and a blast.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Britain will subject everyone who works with kids to multiple, repeated police-checkshttps://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/07/false_positives.html https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/07/false_positives.html

#10yrsago Australian bill will put journos in prison for 10 years for reporting leaks https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/16/journalists-face-jail-leaks-security-laws

#10yrsago NY DA says he won’t prosecute minor drug possession; NYPD officers ordered to go on arresting https://www.techdirt.com/2014/07/16/nypd-tells-brooklyn-officers-to-continue-making-low-level-drug-arrests-da-has-stated-he-wont-prosecute/

#10yrsago Fake TSA screener infiltrates SFO checkpoint, gropes women https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/Fake-screener-probes-passengers-at-SFO-5626732.php

#10yrsago Google Plus drops “Real Names” policy https://web.archive.org/web/20140717024719/https://plus.google.com/+googleplus/posts/V5XkYQYYJqy

#10yrsago New Mexico threatens inmate with 90 days’ solitary because his family made him a Facebook page https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/07/new-mexico-inmate-faces-90-days-solitary-over-facebook-profile

#10yrsago Yet another TSA screener doesn’t know that DC is part of America https://web.archive.org/web/20140715200126/https://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/orlando-tsa-agents-getting-geography-refresher/ngfmH/

#5yrsago How F Scott Fitzgerald conjugated the verb “To cocktail” https://www.openculture.com/2015/06/f-scott-fitzgerald-conjugates-to-cocktail.html

#5yrsago When Trump’s #TaxScam meant that affluent people no longer had to use the paid version of Turbotax, Turbotax started charging poor people, disabled people, students and elderly people https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-tax-law-threatened-turbotax-profits-started-charging-disabled-unemployed-and-students#164493

#5yrsago Tennessee police to drug users: don’t flush your dope or you’ll create “meth gators” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tennessee-police-warn-locals-not-flush-drugs-fear-meth-gators-n1030291

#5yrsago Read: Trump’s grandfather’s letter, in which he begs not to be deported https://harpers.org/archive/2017/03/the-emigrants/

#5yrsago Lessons from testing decades of forgotten rape kits: serial rapists are common, they don’t follow a pattern, they’re not very bright, and they’re often the same men who commit acquaintance rape https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/08/an-epidemic-of-disbelief/592807/

#5yrsago In 1943, the chairman of the NY Fed backed Modern Monetary Theory: “Taxes for Revenue Are Obsolete” https://memex.craphound.com/2019/07/16/in-1943-the-chairman-of-the-ny-fed-backed-modern-monetary-theory-taxes-for-revenue-are-obsolete/

#5yrsago How To: play Vlad Taltos in an RPG https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg220.pdf#[{"num"%3A197%2C"gen"%3A0}%2C{"name"%3A"Fit"}]

#5yrsago Podcast: Occupy Gotham https://ia903008.us.archive.org/30/items/Cory_Doctorow_Podcast_303/Cory_Doctorow_Podcast_303_-_Occupy_Gotham.mp3

#5yrsago Many of the key Googler Uprising organizers have quit, citing retaliation from senior management https://googlewalkout.medium.com/onward-another-googlewalkout-goodbye-b733fa134a7d


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Today's progress: 766 words (21648 words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/30/the-reason-you-cant-buy-a-car-is-the-same-reason-that-your-health-insurer-let-hackers-dox-you/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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.


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

15.07.2024 à 14:50

Pluralistic: Foxx Nolte's "Hidden History of Walt Disney World" (15 Jul 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (3610 mots)


Today's links



The Arcadia Press cover of Foxx Nolte's 'Hidden History of Walt Disney World.'

Foxx Nolte's "Hidden History of Walt Disney World" (permalink)

No one writes about Disney theme parks like Foxx Nolte; no one rises above the trivia and goes beyond the mere sleuthing of historical facts, no one nails the essence of what makes these parks work – and fail.

I first encountered Nolte through her blog, Passport to Dreams Old and New, where her writing transformed the way I viewed the project of these giant, elaborate built environments. It was through articles like this one – about the sightlines from bathrooms! – that I came to truly understand what design criticism means:

https://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-awkward-transitions-of-disneyland.html

While her work on queue design transformed how I thought about waiting, scarce-goods allocation, and the psychology of anticipation and desire:

https://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2010/12/third-queue.html

But I really knew her for a kindred spirit when I read her masterful analysis of the historical context and enduring power of the Haunted Mansion:

https://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2010/05/history-and-haunted-mansion.html

A decade after that Haunted Mansion post, Nolte published the definitive history of the Haunted Mansions, Boundless Realm, the very best book ever written on the subject:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/11/09/boundless-realm/#fuxxfur

This year, Nolte came back with another short, smart, endlessly fascinating history of Disney World, Hidden History of Walt Disney World:

https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/products/9781467156189

There are many histories of Walt Disney World, but none are quite like this. Nolte – who worked at the park for many years – combines her insider's view with her deep historical knowledge and yields up a "hidden history" that will forever change how I look at the built environment and the natural landscape it sits atop.

The path to Walt Disney World – an entertainment juggernaut that occupies a landmass twice the size of Manhattan – was anything but smooth. Its original design – Walt's design – barely survived groundbreaking, dying with Walt himself. Walt's successor, his brother Roy, used the occasion of Walt's death to assert his long-contested dominance over the park, drastically scaling back Walt's ambition for a bizarre residential/utopian community and replacing it with a kind of deluxe Disneyland with the idea of limiting the company's financial risk by re-creating a pre-existing, sure thing money-maker.

But Roy died within a few years of Walt, and the company transitioned from a family business to a managerial one, its direction set by executives who weren't named "Disney." These managers were just as flawed as the Disney brothers, but in much different ways (one long-serving CEO insisted that Disney should stay out of the hotel business, leaving billions on the table for contractors and third parties.

Of course, all of this is happening in Florida, and many of Nolte's funniest, juciest stories play Walt, then Roy, then various CEOs and execs off of flamboyant locals straight out of a Carl Hiaasen novel. In Nolte's capable hands, the many acres of Disney property come alive with the ghosts of Florida eccentrics and conmen who play against the deeply weird Disney brothers and their baffled corporate successors.

The history of Walt Disney World is also a history of the American narrative from the 1960s to the turn of the millennium, especially once Epcot enters the picture and Disney sets out to market itself as a futuristic mirror to America and the world. There's a doomed plan to lead the nation in the provision of an airport for the largely hypothetical short runway aircraft that never materialized, the Disney company's love-hate affair with Florida's orange growers, and the geopolitics of installing a permanent World's Fair, just as World's Fairs were disappearing from the world stage.

With Disney in disarray, corporate raiders smelled blood, and the company found itself on the brink of leveraged buyout hell, triggering another change in corporate leadership with the arrival of Michael Eisner. Nolte's portrait of Eisner is far more nuanced than the presentation in rival histories, surfacing his many forgotten gaffes – but also giving him credit where it was due. When the dust settles on the Eisner era, Disney has more theme parks in one place than can possibly be justified – in an America where workers get almost no paid vacation days, building more theme parks does not extend visitors' stays. It only adds to the expense of keeping those guests entertained during those brief, flitting visits.

The Disney empire is rooted in contradictions. The Disney brothers cordially loathed one another and the company split into "Walt people" and "Roy people" who schemed against one another in secret and sometimes even erupted into open conflict. There's something Hegelian about the Walt/Roy split: Walt went bust trying to run a creative empire that ignored the financials, and fled the ashes of his first venture to work with Roy in California. Roy disciplined Walt with financial rigor, often to excess. When the company emerged from WWII with its outside shareholders in charge, Roy became their champion and Walt's tormentor, with the ability to exercise a firm veto when he couldn't win the day through moral suasion.

Walt sought escape from his brother, proposing a series of ill-starred ventures that eventually became Disneyland. First, he proposed that he would transform his backyard ride 'em train-set into a public attraction that he would personally oversee, so that he wouldn't have to go to the office and let his brother boss him around. Then he proposed buying a locomotive and fitting out a train of railcars with exhibits promoting Disney movies, which he, personally, would drive around America, far from his brother.

Finally, he hit on Disneyland, poaching the company's best animators for a separate firm that Roy was eventually forced to buy from Walt in order to bring it back into the corporate fold. These power struggles, in which Roy first took orders from Walt, before turning the tables, only to have them turned again, culminated in the uneasy detente that characterized the era from Disneyland's opening to Walt's death.

Working with his brother may have made Walt miserable, but he evidently saw the benefit in this Hegelian dialectic, because he became infamous for putting together creative teams who were forever at each other's throats. The storied Sherman Brothers – Disney's star songwriting team – barely tolerated each other. The titans of early Imagineering were often at odds, and Walt took seemingly sadistic glee in forcing artists who disliked one another to work on joint projects.

In focusing on the conflicts between different corporate managers, outside suppliers, and the gloriously flamboyant weirdos of Florida, Nolte's history of Disney World transcends amusing anaecdotes and tittle-tattle – rather, it illustrates how the creative sparks thrown off by people smashing into each other sometimes created towering blazes of glory that burn to this day.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Differences between WorldCon and the DNC https://www.mcfi.org/noreascon4/not-the-dnc.html

#15yrsago Top Shelf Jazz’s “Fast and Louche” — part Cab Calloway, part Atomic Fireballs, all good smutty Prohibition jazz https://memex.craphound.com/2009/07/15/top-shelf-jazzs-fast-and-louche-part-cab-calloway-part-atomic-fireballs-all-good-smutty-prohibition-jazz/

#15yrsago RIP, Phyllis Gotleib, the mother of Canadian science fiction https://memex.craphound.com/2009/07/15/rip-phyllis-gotleib-the-mother-of-canadian-science-fiction/

#15yrsago Kathe Koja’s KISSING THE BEE audiobook: betrayal and emotional whirlwinds told with originality and subtlety https://memex.craphound.com/2009/07/15/kathe-kojas-kissing-the-bee-audiobook-betrayal-and-emotional-whirlwinds-told-with-originality-and-subtlety/

#10yrsago The Shadow Hero: giving an origin story to comics’ first Asian-American superhero https://memex.craphound.com/2014/07/15/the-shadow-hero-giving-an-origin-story-to-comics-first-asian-american-superhero/

#5yrsago Ex-Fox & Friends host, accused of a Ponzi scheme that turned Indianapolis real-estate investors into slumlords, moves to Portugal https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2019/07/12/ex-fox-friends-host-clayton-morris-leaves-country-for-portugal-amid-fraud-allegations/1705521001/

#5yrsago 5G won’t fix America’s terrible broadband https://potsandpansbyccg.com/2019/07/11/will-broadband-go-wireless/?mc_cid=7a2fa307cd

#5yrsago Putting a price on our data won’t make the platforms stop abusing our privacy https://memex.craphound.com/2019/07/15/putting-a-price-on-our-data-wont-make-the-platforms-stop-abusing-our-privacy/

#5yrsago Presidential fundraising scorecard: who’s raising the most and who is most beholden to the ultra-wealthy and corporations? https://projects.propublica.org/itemizer/presidential-candidates/2020

#5yrsago Heirs’ property: how southern states allow white land developers to steal reconstruction-era land from Black families https://features.propublica.org/black-land-loss/heirs-property-rights-why-black-families-lose-land-south/#164706

#5yrsago The new £50 notes will feature Alan Turing (whilst HMG proposes bans on Turing complete computers AND working crypto) https://memex.craphound.com/2019/07/15/the-new-50-notes-will-feature-alan-turing-whilst-hmg-proposes-bans-on-turing-complete-computers-and-working-crypto/

#1yrago Linkty Dumpty https://pluralistic.net/2023/07/15/in-the-dumps/#what-vacation


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Today's progress: words ( words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/30/the-reason-you-cant-buy-a-car-is-the-same-reason-that-your-health-insurer-let-hackers-dox-you/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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.


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

14.07.2024 à 13:15

Pluralistic: The true, tactical significance of Project 2025 (14 Jul 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (6018 mots)


Today's links



An X-ray of a broken femur. On either side of the fracture is a elephant (cropped from a medieval illumination) facing one another, in the livery of the GOP logo.

The true, tactical significance of Project 2025 (permalink)

Like you, I have heard a lot about Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation's roadmap for the actions that Trump should take if he wins the presidency. Given the Heritage Foundation's centrality to the American authoritarian project, it's about as awful and frightening as you might expect:

https://www.project2025.org/

But (nearly) all the reporting and commentary on Project 2025 badly misses the point. I've only read a single writer who immediately grasped the true significance of Project 2025: The American Prospect's Rick Perlstein, which is unsurprising, given Perlstein's stature as one of the left's most important historians of right wing movements:

https://prospect.org/politics/2024-07-10-project-2025-republican-presidencies-tradition/

As Perlstein points out, Project 2025 isn't new. The Heritage Foundation and its allies have prepared documents like this, with many identical policy prescriptions, in the run-up to many presidential elections. Perlstein argues that Warren G Harding's 1921 inaugural address captures much of its spirit, as did the Nixon campaign's 1973 vow to "move the country so far to the right 'you won’t even recognize it.'"

The threats to democracy and its institutions aren't new. The right has been bent on their destruction for more than a century. As Perlstein says, the point of taking note of this isn't to minimize the danger, rather, it's to contextualize it. The American right has, since the founding of the Republic, been bent on creating a system of hereditary aristocrats, who govern without "interference" from democratic institutions, so that their power to extract wealth from First Nations, working people, and the land itself is checked only by rivalries with other aristocrats. The project of the right is grounded in a belief in Providence: that God's favor shines on His best creations and elevates them to wealth and power. Elite status is proof of merit, and merit is "that which leads to elite status."

When a wealthy person founds an intergenerational dynasty of wealth and power, this is merely a hereditary meritocracy: a bloodline infused with God's favor. Sometimes, this belief is dressed up in caliper-wielding pseudoscience, with the "good bloodline" reflecting superior genetics and not the favor of the Almighty. Of course, a true American aristocrat gussies up his "race realism" with mystical nonsense: "God favored me with superior genes." The corollary, of course, is that you are poor because God doesn't favor you, or because your genes are bad, or because God punished you with bad genes.

So we should be alarmed by the right's agenda. We should be alarmed at how much ground it has gained, and how the right has stolen elections and Supreme Court seats to enshrine antimajoritarianism as a seemingly permanent fact of life, giving extremist minorities the power to impose their will on the rest of us, dooming us to a roasting planet, forced births, racist immiseration, and most expensive, worst-performing health industry in the world.

But for all that the right has bombed so many of the roads to a prosperous, humane future, it's a huge mistake to think of the right as a stable, unified force, marching to victory after inevitable victory. The American right is a brittle coalition led by a handful of plutocrats who have convinced a large number of turkeys to vote for Christmas.

The right wing coalition needs to pander to forced-birth extremists, racist extremist, Christian Dominionist extremists (of several types), frothing anti-Communist cranks, vicious homophobes and transphobes, etc, etc. Pandering to all these groups isn't easy: for one thing, they often want opposite things – the post-Roe forced birth policies that followed the Dobbs decision are wildly unpopular among conservatives, with the exception of a clutch of totally unhinged maniacs that the party relies on as part of a much larger coalition. Even more unpopular are policies banning birth control, like the ones laid out in Project 2025. Less popular still: the proposed ban on no-fault divorce. Each of these policies have different constituencies to whom they are very popular, but when you put them together, you get Dan Savage's "Husbands you can't leave, pregnancies you can't prevent or terminate, politicians you can't vote out of office":

https://twitter.com/fakedansavage/status/1805680183065854083

The constituency for "husbands you can't leave, pregnancies you can't prevent or terminate, politicians you can't vote out of office" is very small. Almost no one in the GOP coalition is voting for all of this, they're voting for one or two of these things and holding their noses when it comes to the rest.

Take the "libertarian" wing of the GOP: its members do favor personal liberty…it's just that they favor low taxes for them more than personal liberty for you. The kind of lunatic who'd vote for a dead gopher if it would knock a quarter off his tax bill will happily allow his coalition partners to rape pregnant women with unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds and force them to carry unwanted fetuses to term if that's the price he has to pay to save a nickel in taxes:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/29/jubilance/#tolerable-racism

And, of course, the religious maniacs who profess a total commitment to Biblical virtue but worship Trump, Gaetz, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Reagan, and the whole panoply of cheating, lying, kid-fiddling, dope-addled refugees from a Jack Chick tract know that these men never gave a shit about Jesus, the Apostles or the Ten Commandments – but they'll vote for 'em because it will get them school prayer, total abortion bans, and unregulated "home schooling" so they can brainwash a generation of Biblical literalists who think the Earth is 5,000 years old and that Jesus was white and super into rich people.

Time and again, the leaders of the conservative movement prove themselves capable of acts of breathtaking cruelty, and undoubtedly many of them are depraved sadists who genuinely enjoy the suffering of their enemies (think of Trump lickspittle Steven Miller's undisguised glee at the thought of parents who would never be reunited with children after being separated at the border). But it's a mistake to think that "the cruelty is the point." The point of the cruelty is to assemble and maintain the coalition. Cruelty is the tactic. Power is the point:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/03/09/turkeys-voting-for-christmas/#culture-wars

The right has assembled a lot of power. They did so by maintaining unity among people who have irreconcilable ethics and goals. Think of the pro-genocide coalition that includes far-right Jewish ethno-nationalists, antisemitic apocalyptic Christians who believe they are hastening the end-times, and Islamophobes of every description, from War On Terror relics to Hindu nationalists.

This is quite an improbable coalition, and while I deplore its goals, I can't help but be impressed by its cohesion. Can you imagine the kind of behind-the-scenes work it takes to get antisemites who think Jews secretly control the world to lobby with Zionists? Or to get Zionists to work alongside of Holocaust-denying pencilneck Hitler wannabes whose biggest regret is not bringing their armbands to Charlottesville?

Which brings me back to Project 2025 and its true significance. As Perlstein writes, Project 2025 is a mess. Clocking in an 900 pages, large sections of Project 2025 flatly contradict each other, while other sections contain subtle contradictions that you wouldn't notice unless you were schooled in the specialized argot of the far right's jargon and history.

For example, Project 2025 calls for defunding government agencies and repurposing the same agencies to carry out various spectacular atrocities. Both actions are deplorable, but they're also mutually exclusive. Project 2025 demands four different, completely irreconcilable versions of US trade policy. But at least that's better than Project 2025's chapter on monetary policy, which simply lays out every right wing theory of money and then throws up its hands and recommends none of them.

Perlstein says that these conflicts, blank spots and contradictions are the most important parts of Project 2025. They are the fracture lines in the coalition: the conflicting ideas that have enough support that neither side can triumph over the other. These are the conflicts that are so central to the priorities of blocs that are so important to the coalition that they must be included, even though that inclusion constitutes a blinking "LOOK AT ME" sign telling us where the right is ready to split apart.

The right is really good at this. Perlstein points to Nixon's expansion of affirmative action, undertaken to sow division between Black and white workers. We need to get better at it.

So far, we've lavished attention on the clearest and most emphatic proposals in Project 2025 – for understandable reasons. These are the things they say they want to do. It would be reckless to ignore them. But they've been saying things like this for a century. These demands constitute a compelling argument for fighting them as a matter of urgency, with the intention of winning. And to win, we need to split apart their coalition.

Perlstein calls on us to dissect Project 2025, to cleave it at its joints. To do so, he says we need to understand its antecedents, like Nixon's "Malek Manual," a roadmap for destroying the lives of civil servants who failed to show sufficient loyalty to Nixon. For example, the Malek Manual lays out a "Traveling Salesman Technique" whereby a government employee would be given duties "criss-crossing him across the country to towns (hopefully with the worst accommodations possible) of a population of 20,000 or under. Until his wife threatens him with divorce unless he quits, you have him out of town and out of the way":

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Final_Report_on_Violations_and_Abuses_of/0dRLO9vzQF0C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22organization+of+a+political+personnel+office+and+program%22&pg=PA161&printsec=frontcover

It's no coincidence that leftist historians of the right are getting a lot of attention. Trumpism didn't come out of nowhere – Trump is way too stupid and undisciplined to be a cause – he's an effect. In his excellent, bestselling new history of the right in the early 1990s, When the Clock Broke, Josh Ganz shows us the swamp that bred Trump, with such main characters as the fascist eugenicist Sam Francis:

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374605445/whentheclockbroke

Ganz joins the likes of the Know Your Enemy podcast, an indispensable history of reactionary movements that does excellent work in tracing the fracture lines in the right coalition:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/when-clock-broke-106803105

Progressives are also an uneasy coalition that is easily splintered. As Naomi Klein argues in her essential Doppelganger, the liberal-left coalition is inherently unstable and contains the seeds of its own destruction:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/09/05/not-that-naomi/#if-the-naomi-be-klein-youre-doing-just-fine

Liberals have been the senior partner in that coalition, and their commitment to preserving institutions for their own sake (rather than because of what they can do to advance human thriving) has produced generations of weak and ineffectual responses to the crises of terminal-stage capitalism, like the idea that student-debt cancellation should be means-tested:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/05/03/utopia-of-rules/#in-triplicate

The last bid for an American aristocracy was repelled by rejecting institutions, not preserving them. When the Supreme Court thwarted the New Deal, FDR announced his intention to pack the court, and then began the process of doing so (which included no-holds-barred attacks on foot-draggers in his own party). Not for nothing, this is more-or-less what Lincoln did when SCOTUS blocked Reconstruction:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/20/judicial-equilibria/#pack-the-court

But the liberals who lead the progressive movement dismiss packing the court as unserious and impractical – notwithstanding the fact that they have no plan for rescuing America from the bribe-taking extremists, the credibly accused rapist, and the three who stole their robes. Ultimately, liberals defend SCOTUS because it is the Supreme Court. I defended SCOTUS, too – while it was still a vestigial organ of the rights revolution, which improved the lives of millions of Americans. Human rights are worth defending, SCOTUS isn't. If SCOTUS gets in the way of human rights, then screw SCOTUS. Sideline it. Pack it. Make it a joke.

Fuck it.

This isn't to argue for left seccession from the progressive coalition. As we just saw in France, splitting at this moment is an invitation to literal fascist takeover:

https://jacobin.com/2024/07/melenchon-macron-france-left-winner

But if there's one thing that the rise of Trumpism has proven, it's that parties are not immune to being wrestled away from their establishment leaderships by radical groups:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/06/16/that-boy-aint-right/#dinos-rinos-and-dunnos

What's more, there's a much stronger natural coalition that the left can mobilize: workers. Being a worker – that is, paying your bills from wages, instead of profits – isn't an ideology you can change, it's a fact. A Christian nationalist can change their beliefs and then they will no longer be a Christian nationalist. But no matter what a worker believes, they are still a worker – they still have a irreconcilable conflict with people whose money comes from profits, speculation, or rents. There is no objectively fair way to divide the profits a worker's labor generates – your boss will always pay you as little of that surplus as he can. The more wages you take home, the less profit there is for your boss, the fewer dividends there are for his shareholders, and the less there is to pay to rentiers:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/04/19/make-them-afraid/#fear-is-their-mind-killer

Reviving the role of workers in their unions, and of unions in the Democratic party, is the key to building the in-party power we need to drag the party to real solutions – strong antimonopoly action, urgent climate action, protections for gender, racial and sexual minorities, and decent housing, education and health care.

The alternative to a worker-led Democratic Party is a Democratic Party run by its elites, whose dictates and policies are inescapably illegitimate. As Hamilton Nolan writes, the completely reasonable (and extremely urgent) discussion about Biden's capacity to defeat Trump has been derailed by the Democrats' undemocratic structure. Ultimately, the decision to have an open convention or to double down on a candidate whose campaign has been marred by significant deficits is down to a clutch of party officials who operate without any formal limits or authority:

https://www.hamiltonnolan.com/p/the-hole-at-the-heart-of-the-democratic

Jettisoning Biden because George Clooney (or Nancy Pelosi) told us to is never going to feel legitimate to his supporters in the party. But if the movement for an open convention came from grassroots-dominated unions who themselves dominated the party – as was the case, until the Reagan revolution – then there'd be a sense that the party had constituents, and it was acting on its behalf.

Reviving the labor movement after 40 years of Reaganomic war on workers may sound like a tall order, but we are living through a labor renaissance, and the long-banked embers of labor radicalism are reigniting. What's more, repelling fascism is what workers' movements do. The business community will always sell you out to the Nazis in exchange for low taxes, cheap labor and loose regulation.

But workers, organized around their class interests, stand strong. Last week, we lost one of labor's brightest flames. Jane McAlevey, a virtuoso labor organizer and trainer of labor organizers, died of cancer at 57:

https://jacobin.com/2024/07/jane-mcalevey-strategy-organizing-obituary

McAlevey fought to win. She was skeptical of platitudes like "speaking truth to power," always demanding an explanation for how the speech would become action. In her classic book A Collective Bargain, she describes how she built worker power:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/23/a-collective-bargain/

McAlevey helped organize a string of successful strikes, including the 2019 LA teachers' strike. Her method was straightforward: all you have to do to win a strike or a union drive is figure out how to convince every single worker in the shop to back the union. That's all.

Of course, it's harder than it sounds. All the problems that plague every coalition – especially the progressive liberal/left coalition – are present on the shop floor. Some workers don't like each other. Some don't see their interests aligned with others. Some are ornery. Some are convinced that victory is impossible.

McAlevey laid out a program for organizing that involved figuring out how to reach every single worker, to converse with them, listen to them, understand them, and win them over. I've never read or heard anyone speak more clearly, practically and inspirationally about coalition building.

Biden was never my candidate. I supported three other candidates ahead of him in 2020. When he got into office and started doing a small number of things I really liked, it didn't make me like him. I knew who he was: the Senator from MBNA, whose long political career was full of bills, votes and speeches that proved that while we might have some common goals, we didn't want the same America or the same world.

My interest in Biden over the past four years has had two areas of focus: how can I get him to do more of the things that will make us all better off, and do less of the things that make the world worse. When I think about the next four years, I'm thinking about the same things. A Trump presidency will contain far more bad things and far fewer good ones.

Many people I like and trust have pointed out that they don't like Biden and think he will be a bad president, but they think Trump will be much worse. To limit Biden's harms, leftists have to take over the Democratic Party and the progressive movement, so that he's hemmed in by his power base. To limit Trump's harms, leftists have to identify the fracture lines in the right coalition and drive deep wedges into them, shattering his power base.


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This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago RIAA’s INDUCE Act letter deconstructed https://corante.com/importance/the-excessively-annotated-riaa-letter-on-the-induce-act-iica/

#20yrsago Lou Reed wants remixes https://web.archive.org/web/20040804104424/https://www.billboard.com/bb/daily/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000577588

#20yrsago ICANN emancipate domain owners from scummy registrars https://web.archive.org/web/20040722061910/http://www.byte.org/blog/_archives/2004/7/14/105552.html

#20yrsago Disney’s $80 million mistake: Fahrenheit 911 https://web.archive.org/web/20040804183640/https://www.technicianonline.com/story.php?id=009702

#20yrsago Druid busted for possession of a sword https://mg.co.za/article/2004-07-13-swordpacking-druid-appears-in-court/

#15yrsago Michael Jackson didn’t sell 750 million records https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124760651612341407

#15yrsago Phones confiscated at preview screenings: whose hypothetical risk is more important? https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/jul/14/mobile-phones-and-movie-security

#15yrsago Visa claims teen spent $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 on prepaid credit card https://web.archive.org/web/20090716125509/https://consumerist.com/5314246/unruly-teen-charges-23-quadrillion-at-drugstore

#10yrsago Freedom of info funnies: CIA cafeteria complaints https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2014/jul/14/doc-note-cia-cafeteria-complaints/

#10yrsago Economist examines empirical evidence of file-sharing on box-office revenue https://web.archive.org/web/20140816180401/http://conference.nber.org/confer/2014/SI2014/PRIT/Strumpf.pdf

#10yrsago Understanding #DRIP: new spy powers being rammed through UK Parliament https://web.archive.org/web/20140711071612/https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/no-emergency-stop-the-data-retention-stitch-up

#10yrsago Tesla’s “car-as-service” versus your right to see your data https://appliedabstractions.com/2014/07/14/elon-i-want-my-data/

#10yrsago Scalia may have opened path for Quakers to abstain from taxes https://www.salon.com/2014/07/14/scalias_major_screw_up_how_scotus_just_gave_liberals_a_huge_gift/

#10yrsago Unions considered helpful (economically) https://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2014/07/unions-productivity-.html

#10yrsago Hearings into mass surveillance begin in UK https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jul/14/court-gchq-surveillance-tempora-ipt-nsa-snowden

#10yrsago Everyone hates the NSA: survey https://web.archive.org/web/20140715012054/http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/nsa-opinion/table/country-citizens/

#10yrsago GCHQ’s black bag of dirty hacking tricks revealed https://web.archive.org/web/20140714190448/https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/07/14/manipulating-online-polls-ways-british-spies-seek-control-internet/

#10yrsago Snowden: #DRIP “defies belief,” could have been dreamed up by NSA https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/edward-snowden-condemns-britain-emergency-surveillance-bill-nsa

#5yrsago Florida DMV makes millions selling Floridians’ data…for pennies (and you can’t opt out) https://www.wxyz.com/news/national/florida-is-selling-drivers-personal-information-to-private-companies-and-marketing-firms

#5yrsago #TelegramGate: leaks show Puerto Rico’s appointed officials mocking the dead as hurricanes devastate the island https://web.archive.org/web/20190714004011/https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/puerto-rican-chief-financial-officer-resigns-chat-scandal-64318436

#1yrago Why they're smearing Lina Khan https://pluralistic.net/2023/07/14/making-good-trouble/#the-peoples-champion


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

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A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. July 1's progress: 792 words (20879 words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/30/the-reason-you-cant-buy-a-car-is-the-same-reason-that-your-health-insurer-let-hackers-dox-you/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

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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.


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

01.07.2024 à 14:41

Pluralistic: Austin Grossman's 'Fight Me' (01 Jul 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (3700 mots)


Today's links



The cover of the Penguin edition of Austin Grossman's 'Fight Me.'

Austin Grossman's 'Fight Me' (permalink)

In Fight Me, the novelist and game developer Austin Grossman uses aging ex-teen superheroes to weigh the legacy of Generation X, in a work that enrobes its savage critique with sweet melancholia, all under a coating of delicious snark:

http://www.austingrossman.com/fight-me

It is, in other words, a very Gen X kinda novel. Prodigy (AKA Alex Beekman) is a washed-up superhero. As a nerdy high-schooler, he was given super powers by a mysterious wizard (posing as a mediocre teacher), who gave him an amulet and a duty. Whenever Alex touches the amulet and speaks the word of power, reaclun (which he insists is not "nuclear" backwards) he transforms into Prodigy, a nigh-invulnerable, outrageously handsome living god who is impervious to bullets, runs a one-minute mile, and fights like a champ. Prodigy, he is told, has a destiny: to fight the ultimate evil when it emerges and save the world.

Now, Alex is 40, and it's been a decade since he retired both Prodigy and his Alex identity, moving into a kind of witness protection program the federal government set up for him. He poses as a mediocre university professor, living a lonely and unexceptional life.

But then, Alex is summoned back to the superhero lair he shared with his old squad, "The Newcomers," a long-vacant building that is one quarter Eero Saarinen, three quarters Mussolini. There, he is reunited with his estranged fellow ex-Newcomers, and sent on a new quest: to solve the riddle of the murder of the mysterious wizard who gave him his powers, so long ago.

The Newcomers – an amped-up ninja warrior, a supergenius whose future self keeps sending him encouragement and technical schematics backwards through time, and an exiled magical princess turned preppie supermodel – have spent more than a decade scattered to the winds. While some have fared better than Alex/Prodigy, none of them have lived up to their potential or realized the dreams that seemed so inevitable when they were world famous supers with an entourage of fellow powered teens who worshipped them as the planet's greatest heroes.

As they set out to solve the mystery, they are reunited and must take stock of who they are and how they got there (cue Talking Heads' "Once In a Lifetime"). With flashbacks, flashforwards, and often hilarious asides, Prodigy brings us up to speed on how supers fail, and what it's like to live as a failed super.

The publisher's strapline for this book is "The Avengers Meets the Breakfast Club," which is clever, but extremely wrong. The real comp for this book isn't "The Breakfast Club," it's "The Big Chill."

When I realized this, I got briefly mad, because I've only had two good movie high concept pitches in my life and one of them was "Gen X Big Chill." Rather than veterans of the Summer of 68 confronting the Reagan years, you could have veterans of the Battle of Seattle living through the Trump years. One would be on PeEP, one would be an insufferable Andrew Tate-quoting bitcoiner, one would be a redpilled reactionary with a genderqueer teen, one would be a squishy lib, one a firebreathing leftist, etc. The soundtrack would just be top 40 tracks from artists who have songs on "Schoolhouse Rock Rocks":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schoolhouse_Rock!_Rocks

Every generation has some way in which they seek to overthrow the status quo and build a new, allegedly better one, after all. "Big Chill"'s impact comes from its postmortem on a generation where it was easy to feel like you were riding destiny's rails to greatness thanks to the sheer size of the Boomer cohort and the postwar prosperity they lived through. A Gen X Big Chill would be a stocktaking of a generation that defined itself as a lost generation reared in the Boomers' shadows, armored against the looming corpo-climate apocalypse with the sword of irony and the shield of sincerity.

Which is basically what Grossman is doing here. What's more, doing this as a superhero story is a genius move – what could be a better metaphor for a teen's unrealistic certainty of destined greatness than a superhero? Superhero fantasies are irreducibly grandiose and unrealistic, but all the more beautiful and brave and compelling for it.

You know, like teens.

At 52, I'm a middle-aged Gen Xer. I've got two artificial hips and I just scheduled a double cataract surgery. My hairline is receding. I'm an alta kaker. But I wasn't always: I was a bright and promising kid, usually the youngest person in the room where we were planning big protests, ambitious digital art projects, or the future of science fiction. I had amazing friends: creative and funny and sweet, loyal and talented and just fun.

We're mostly doing okay (the ones that lived; fuck cancer and fuck heroin and fuck fentanyl). Some of us are doing pretty good. On a good day, I think I'm doing pretty good. I had a night in 2018 where I got to hang out, as a peer, with my favorite musician and my favorite novelist, both in the same evening. These were artists I'd all but worshipped as a teen. I remember looking at the two selfies I took than night and thinking, Man, if 15 year old me could see these, he'd say that it all worked out.

But you don't get to be 52 without having a long list of regrets and failures that your stupid brain is only too eager to show you a highlight reel from. No one gets to middle age without a haunting loss that is always trying to push its way to the fore in order to incinerate every triumph great and small and leave ashes behind.

That's why there's a "Big Chill" for every generation. Each one has its own specific character and meaning situated in history, but each one has to grapple with the double-edged sword of nostalgia. Not for nothing, John Hodgman (a bona fide Gen X icon) calls nostalgia "a toxic impulse."

Grossman really makes Fight Me work as a Gen X Big Chill. He's a great Gen X writer; his first novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible, was a knockout debut about superheroes and supervillains that had a very "The Boys" vibe, you know, that neat little move where you contend with the banal parts of a super's life and show how super powers don't make you a good person, or even a competent one.

His followup to Invincible came six years later. YOU is a coming-of-age story about the games industry with a second-person narrator (think "Zork"). Grossman is an accomplished game dev (Tomb Raider Legend, Deus X, Dishonored, etc), and he uses YOU to really plumb the depths of what games mean, what fun is, and how working on games isn't just work, it's often really shitty work, the opposite of fun:

https://memex.craphound.com/2013/04/16/austin-grossmans-you-brilliant-novel-plumbs-the-heroic-and-mystical-depths-of-gaming-and-simulation/

Grossman's last novel was Crooked, a very daffy alternate history in which Richard Nixon is a Cthulhoid sorcerer locked in a Lovecraftian battle of good and evil. This is a purely hilarious romp, wildly imaginative and deliciously certain to offend reactionary jerks:

https://memex.craphound.com/2015/08/26/austin-grossmans-crooked-the-awful-cthulhoid-truth-about-richard-nixon/

All those chops are on display in Fight Me: a book that covers its brooding with wisecracks, that spits out ten great gags per page even as it drives a knife into your heart. It's a great novel.

Fight Me doesn't come out in the US and Canada until tomorrow (it's been out in the UK, Australia, NZ, etc for more than a month). Normally, I would hold off on reviewing this until the on-sale date, but this is my last day on the blog for two weeks – I'm leaving on a family vacation early tomorrow morning. I'll see you on July 14!


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A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsgo Flickr adds Creative Commons licenses https://web.archive.org/web/20091226143532/http://blog.flickr.net/en/2004/06/29/creative-commons/

#20yrsago Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom wins Locus Award https://memex.craphound.com/2004/06/29/down-and-out-wins-locus-award/

#20yrsago Fast Company’s new linking policy still broken https://memex.craphound.com/2004/06/29/fast-companys-new-linking-policy-still-broken/

#20yrsago Bayesian spam rumination: when word-frequency-histograms attack! https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2004/06/29/victims-spam-filtering/

#15yrsago Pirate Bay to sell to private company, go legit (?) (!) https://techcrunch.com/2009/06/30/swedish-software-firm-acquires-the-pirate-bay-for-77-million/

#15yrsago Gold farming, real money trades banned in China https://web.archive.org/web/20090706063914/http://www.informationweek.com/news/internet/ebusiness/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=218101859

#15yrsago 13 year old kid reviews a 30 year old Sony Walkman https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8117619.stm

#15yrsago Little Brother wins the Campbell Award — see you in Lawrence, KS https://web.archive.org/web/20090703190435/https://www.news.ku.edu/2009/june/29/sciencefiction.shtml

#10yrsago Internet’s Own Boy, free CC-licensed download on Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/TheInternetsOwnBoyTheStoryOfAaronSwartz

#10yrsago Black ASU prof beaten by campus cops without provocation, charged with assault https://newsone.com/3028140/ersula-ore-arizona-state-university/

#10yrsago Stupid Congress: 20 years of GOP war on congressional competence https://washingtonmonthly.com/2014/06/09/the-big-lobotomy/


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Friday's progress: 838 words (20090 words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/30/the-reason-you-cant-buy-a-car-is-the-same-reason-that-your-health-insurer-let-hackers-dox-you/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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.


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

29.06.2024 à 19:04

Pluralistic: Kitchensink callithump linkdump (29 Jun 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (6403 mots)


Today's links



A mix of unsorted sediments, labeled 'Tholeiitic basalt dike & peperite & basaltic lapillistone in the Precambrian of Ontario, Canada.'

Kitchensink callithump linkdump (permalink)

With just days to go before my summer vacation, I find myself once again with a backlog of links that I didn't squeeze into the blog, and no hope of clearing them before I disappear into a hammock for two weeks, so it's time for my 21st linkdump – here's the other 20:

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

I'm going to start off this week's 'dump with a little bragging, because it's my newsletter, after all. First up: a book! Yes, I write a lot of books, but what I'm talking about here is a physical book, a limited edition of ten, that I commissioned from three brilliant craftspeople.

Back in March 2023, I launched a Kickstarter to pre-sell the audiobook of Red Team Blues, the first novel in my new Martin Hench series, about a forensic accountant who specializes in unwinding tech bros' finance frauds:

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250865847/red-team-blues

One of the rewards for that campaign was a very special hardcover: a handmade, leather-bound edition of Red Team Blues, typeset by the typography legend John D. Berry:

https://johndberry.com/

Bound by the legendary book-artist John DeMerritt:

https://www.demerrittstudios.com/

And printed by the master printer JaVae Berry:

https://www.jgraphicssf.com/

But this wasn't a merely beautiful, well made book – it had a gimmick. You see, I had already completed the first draft of The Bezzle, the second Hench novel, by the time I launched the Kickstarter for Red Team Blues. I had John Berry lay out a tiny edition of that early draft as a quarter-sized book, and then John DeMerritt hand-bound it in card.

The reason that edition of The Bezzle had to be so small was that it was designed to slip into a hollow cavity in the hardcover, a cavity that John Berry had designed the type around, so that both books could be read and enjoyed.

I offered three of these for sale through the Kickstarter, and the three backers were very patient as the team went back and forth on the book, getting everything perfect. Last month, I took delivery of the books: three for my backers, one each for John DeMerritt and John Berry's personal archives, one for me, and a few more that I'm going to surprise some very special people with this Christmas.

Look, I had high hopes for this book. I dote on beautiful books, my house is busting with them, and I used to work at a new/used science fiction store where we had a small but heartstoppingly great rare book selection. But these books are fucking astounding. Every time I handle mine, my heart races. These are beautiful things, and I just want to show them to everyone:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/albums/72177720318331731/

As it happens, the next thing I'm going to do (after I finish this newsletter) is turn in the copyedited manuscript for the third Hench novel, Picks and Shovels, which comes out in Feb 2025 (luckily, I had enough time to review the edits myself, then turn it over to my mom, who has proofed every book I've written and always catches typos that everyone else misses, including some real howlers – thanks Mom!):

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250865908/picksandshovels

Of course, the majority of people who enjoy my books do not end up with one of these beautiful hardcovers – indeed, many of you consume my work exclusively as electronic media: ebooks and (of course) audiobooks. I love audiobooks and the audio editions of my books are very good, with narrators like Amber Benson, Wil Wheaton, and Neil Gaiman.

But here's the thing: Audible refuses to carry my books, because they are DRM-free (which means that they aren't locked to Audible's approved players – you can play my audiobooks with any audiobook player). Audible has a no-exceptions, iron-clad rule that every book they sell must be permanently locked into their platform, which means that Audible customers can't ditch their Audible software without losing their libraries – all the books they purchased:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/07/25/can-you-hear-me-now/#acx-ripoff

Being excluded from Audible takes a huge bite out of my income – after all, they're a monopolist with a 90% market share. That's why I'm so grateful for indie audiobook stores that carry my books on equitable terms that Audible denies – stores like Libro.fm, Downpour and even Google Books.

This week, I discovered a new, amazing indie audiobook store called Storyfair, where the books are DRM-free and the authors get a 75% royalty on every sale:

https://storyfair.net/helpstoryfairgrow/

Storyfair is a labor of love created by a married couple who were sickened and furious by the way that Audible screws authors and listeners and decided to do something about it. Naturally, I uploaded my whole catalog to the site so they could sell it:

https://storyfair.net/search-for-audiobooks/?keyword=cory+doctorow&filter=any

These books are DRM-free, which means that no matter who you buy them from, you can play them in the same player as your other DRM-free audiobooks. You know how you can read all your books under the same lamp, sitting in the same chair, and then put them in the same bookcase when you're done with them? It's weird – outrageous even! – that tech companies think that buying a book from them means that they should have the legal right to force you to read or listen to it using their technology exclusively.

If you let your Storyfair audiobooks touch your Libro.fm audiobooks, they won't get cooties! Audible is like a toddler that won't let their broccoli touch their peas – only that toddler is also a rapacious monopolist that keeps 75% of every sale.

The fight for fair audiobooks is one of those places where the different parts of my professional life cross over: activism, digital media, art, writing the web, and breaking down complex technical subjects for a mass audience. I've just signed up to a six-year project to combine all those facets in a structured way, in collaboration with Cornell University.

Cornell just named me as their latest AD White Professor-at-Large. This is a six-year appointment that involves a series of week-long visits to Ithaca to lecture, run seminars, meet with colleagues, collaborate on research, and do community performances:

https://adwhiteprofessors.cornell.edu/

We've tentatively scheduled my first visit for early September 2025, to coincide with the Ithaca Book Festival, and we've got big plans, roping in multiple departments at Cornell, the local alternative school and local colleges, doing talks at the fair as well as at the university, and (we hope!) squeezing in a stop in NYC on the way home for a day at Cornell Tech. I'm so excited (and honored) to be working with Cornell (and getting a chance to visit Moosewood Restaurant, whose cookbooks taught me how to cook!). Watch this space.

Authorship has always been a political act, but never moreso than today, with waves of book-bans sweeping the country. One of the heroes of those bans is Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who made headlines when she publicly excoriated Scholastic for demanding that she remove references to racism from her kids' books in order to make them more palatable to reactionaries:

https://www.npr.org/2023/04/15/1169848627/scholastic-childrens-book-racism

Tokuda-Hall has stepped up the fight, co-founding Authors Against Book Bans, an org that provides training and support for author/activists so they can fight back against book bans at library board and city council meetings:

https://www.authorsagainstbookbans.com/

Authors Against Book bans is looking for members! I signed up last week, within seconds of having Tokuda-Hall give me the pitch when we ran into each other in Oakland at the Locus Awards. Are you an author? Sign up too! They're especially interested in branching out beyond YA and kids' authors (though they want those kinds of writers, too!).

Book bans affect us all. Even if you, personally, are never stymied when you visit your library and discover the book that you want to read has been removed by a swivel-eyed loon with terminal groomer-panic. The bans sweeping our country mean that our neighbors and loved ones are being denied literature by these cranks. There are people in your life who are losing out on the possibility of a life-changing literary adventure (which is why the far right hates these books – they want to be sure no one encounters the ideas between their covers).

The realization that you have to live in a society with people who are harmed by injustice, even if you personally escape that justice? It's the whole basis for solidarity.

Americans are living through a multigenerational project of stamping out solidarity and insisting that we only ever view ourselves as individuals, with no stake in the plights of our neighbors. That's how the US got the most expensive, least effective health care system in the world. And even if you are in the vanishingly tiny minority of Americans who are happy with their health care, you live amongst people who are being killed by the system around you.

The health system is a perfect example of how monopolization drives more monopolization, and how that comes to harm the public and workers. Health consolidation began with pharma mergers, that led to pharma companies gouging hospitals. Hospitals, in turn, engaged in a nonstop orgy of mergers, which created regional monopolies that could resist the pricing power of monopoly pharma – and screw insurers. That kicked off consolidation in insurance, which is why most Americans have a "choice" of between one and three private insurers – and why health workers' monopoly employers have eroded their wages and working conditions.

A new study in American Economic Review: Insights puts some quantitative spine in this tale, tracking the relationship between hospital mergers and skyrocketed health-care prices:

https://harris.uchicago.edu/news-events/news/consolidation-hospital-sector-leading-higher-health-care-costs-study-finds?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template

The researchers investigated 1,164 acute-care hospital mergers, finding that while the FTC only challenged 1% of these, they could – and should – have challenged 20% of them, based on the agency's own criteria for merger scrutiny. The researchers blame the rising costs of hospital care directly on these mergers, and point out that Congress has historically starved the FTC of the budget it needed to investigate these mergers. The annual additional costs to the American people from these mergers exceed the entire annual budget of the FTC.

It's not just hospitals: the entire investor class is hell-bent on spending their way to monopoly. Nowhere is that more true than in AI, where hundreds of billions are being poured into bids to attain permanent dominance through scale. Writing for their excellent AI Snake Oil newsletter, Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor inject some realism into the AI scale hype:

https://www.aisnakeoil.com/p/ai-scaling-myths

Narayanan and Kapoor challenge the idea that throwing more data at large language models will make them better: "With LLMs, we may have a couple of orders of magnitude of scaling left, or we may already be done." They are skeptical that this can be fixed with synthetic data (whose use is limited to "fixing specific gaps and making domain-specific improvements"). They also point out that if returns from data slow, then returns from adding more compute or making bigger models might also be throttled.

They reserve their most skeptical take for "AGI" – the idea that LLMs are going to achieve consciousness. This is a fundamentally unserious idea, one that they unpack in detail in their forthcoming book:

https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691249131/ai-snake-oil

One thing I'm hoping for from the book is some analysis of the material usefulness of AI hype – what purpose does the hype serve? I mean, obviously, hype is useful if you're looking to suck up investor capital, or flip an investment to a greater fool. But there's a specific character to AI hype: namely, the claim that AI will displace labor, which is really a claim that a bet on AI is a bet on the increasing wealth of capital at labor's expense.

In other words, AI is a bet on oligarchy. In America, that's a pretty safe bet, and the odds just got even better, thanks to a string of brutal Supreme Court decisions that legalized bribery, banned most regulatory enforcement, and made being alive and unhoused into a crime (Poor Laws 2.0):

https://prospect.org/justice/2024-06-29-whos-gonna-check-supreme-court-chevron-separation-powers/

But amidst all those gimmes to the rich and powerful, there was one notable exception: the SCOTUS ruling on the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy. Purdue was the family business of the Sacklers, a multigenerational dope-peddling dynasty that went from super-rich to stratospherically rich by kickstarting the opioid epidemic with their blockbuster drug Oxycontin.

The Sacklers sold mountains of Oxy the old fashioned way: by lying. They lied about its efficacy and they lied about its safety, and they helped kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. Eventually, this caught up with them, and Purdue lost a bunch of court cases and was forced into bankruptcy.

That's where things get gnarly: the Sacklers took the already-sleazy world of elite bankruptcy to a whole new level, with a set of breathtakingly sleazy maneuvers that ensured that their case would be heard by the one judge in America who would let them off the hook:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/08/11/justice-delayed/#justice-redeemed

That judge was Robert Drain and the Sacklers were the blow-off to a long and shameful career in public "service." The Sacklers incorporated a subsidiary in White Plains, NY (in Drain's turf) precisely 181 days before filing for bankruptcy, then claimed that this empty small-town office had been the company HQ for more than six months. Then they hid machine-readable metadata in their filing that tricked the court's database into assigning the case to Drain:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/08/07/hr-4193/#shoppers-choice

The reason the Sacklers were so horny for Drain? He was a notoriously generous source of "nonconsensual third-party releases." These would allow the Sacklers to permanently end every lawsuit against them without having to declare bankruptcy. Instead, they could take their (ruined, hollow) company through bankruptcy, throw a small fraction of their personal fortunes into the pot, representing fractional pennies on the dollar of what they owed to their victims, and walk away with tens of billions and eternal protection from any future suits.

In other words, they could stiff their creditors and keep the loot. Which is exactly what Robert Drain gave them – before retiring from the bench to get a two-orders-of-magnitude pay raise at a white-shoe firm that specializes in representing corporate mass-murderers like the Sacklers.

That's where it would have ended, but for a surprising ruling from the Supreme Court, which threw out the nonconsensual third-party release deal and put the Sacklers back on the hook to pay the victims of their many, many crimes.

As ever, the best source of analysis and explanation for elite bankruptcy shenanigans is Adam Levitin of the Credit Slips blog:

https://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/2024/06/purdue-pharma-decision-a-big-win-for-mass-tort-victims.html

Levitin has a prediction for what's going to happen next. He rejects the predictions of Sackler apologists, who say that this is going to add years or decades to the already too-long wait for compensation that the Sacklers' victims have endured. Instead, Levitin says that the Sacklers will almost certainly transfer billions more from their personal fortunes to the settlement pot and beg for consensual releases from their victims. In other words, they'll go from dictating terms to asking for them.

So the settlement will stand, but it will be larger, and victims who don't want to take it won't have to – they'll be able to sue. In other words, this ruling "does not prevent deals in bankruptcy. It just changes the terms of what those deals."

This has implications for other mass-murderers and corporate criminals, like Johnson and Johnson (who tricked women into dusting their vulvas with asbestos):

https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/01/j-and-j-jk/#risible-gambit

And the Boy Scouts of America, who let pedophiles abuse children for decades:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/12/05/third-party-nonconsensual-releases/#au-recherche-du-pedos-perdue

Both J&J and BSA carved out nonconsensual third-party releases in the mold of the Sacklers' deal, and both briefed the Supreme Court, warning that if the Sacklers were forced to pay what they owed, J&J and BSA's victims would also be entitled to far larger sums. Go ahead and threaten us with a good time, why doncha?

The Sackler decision is a real bright spot at a dark time for corporate impunity. It's always nice to see big corporate bullies getting a bit of a comeuppance. Another one of those comeuppances was just delivered thanks to a classic fatfinger error.

A Microsoft engineer accidentally released the sourcecode to Playready, the company's flagship DRM product:

https://borncity.com/win/2024/06/26/microsoft-employee-accidentally-publishes-playready-code/

Microsoft's DRM doesn't do anything to protect the interests of creative workers or even the companies that employ them. As a Microsoft rep admitted on stage at a presentation in 2006, the purpose of Microsoft DRM is to prevent small startups from entering the market, ensuring that Microsoft and its "rivals" can safely divide up the world without worrying about disruptive competitors:

https://memex.craphound.com/2006/01/30/msft-our-drm-licensing-is-there-to-eliminate-hobbyists-and-little-guys/

I was there that day and reported on the remarks, prompting both Microsoft and its rep to furiously deny that they'd ever said this, despite multiple witnesses who heard it. This was just a couple years after I gave a viral talk at Microsoft about why the company shouldn't use DRM:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/06/18/greetings-fellow-pirates/#arrrrrrrrrr

By 2006, it was clear that the company was all in on DRM, and today, DRM is the centerpiece of Microsoft's anticompetitive strategy, and Playready is the centerpiece of Microsoft's DRM. The source-code leak is doubtless going to give rise to lots of grey-market tools for stripping DRM from all kinds of media:

https://security-explorations.com/microsoft-playready.html

You love to see it! Now I'm doubly looking forward to this summer's security conferences, including Defcon, where, for the first time, I'll be emceeing the charity poker tournament to benefit EFF:

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2024/06/betting-your-digital-rights-eff-benefit-poker-tournament-def-con-32

This should be very fun – and funny – especially given how little I know about poker (I have been specifically selected on that basis, for the comedy value). Every player gets a custom EFF poker-deck, and the winner gets a treasure chest filled by EFF board member Tarah Wheeler, including "emeralds, black pearls, amethysts, diamonds, and more."

I like to close these linkdumps with something fun and uplifting, and I'd planned to end things with the poker-tournament, but then my pal Raph Koster announced that his game studio Playable Worlds had dropped its first announcement of Stars Reach, an open-world MMO like no other:

https://www.raphkoster.com/2024/06/28/announcing-stars-reach/

Raph is a legend in MMO design circles, whose credits include Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. He wrote the definitive text on how games work, A Theory of Fun, that does for games what Understanding Comics did for comics:

https://www.theoryoffun.com/

Stars Reach is stupidly ambitious. It consists of truly open worlds, modeled to an absurd degree of fidelity:

We know the temperature, the humidity, the materials, for every cubic meter of every planet. Our water actually flows downhill and puddles. It freezes overnight or during the winter. It evaporates and turns to steam when heated up. And not just our water — everything does this. Catch a tree on fire with a stray blaster bolt. Melt your way through a glacier to find a hidden alien laboratory embedded in the ice. Stomp too hard on a rock bridge, and watch out, it might collapse under your feet. Dam up a river to irrigate your farm. Or float in space above an asteroid, and mine crystals from its depths.

The game is fundamentally a climate story, whose lore has humanity seeded around the galaxy by a powerful alien race called the Old Ones, only to have humans bust through the planetary limits of every world they were given. Now the Old Ones are giving humans another chance to try smarter ways of sustaining ourselves on new worlds, with the aid of powerful robots call "Servitors."

Because this is a Raph Koster game, it's got a bunch of extremely satisfying play dynamics:

  • A classless skill tree advancement system, where peaceful play matters just as much as combat
  • An intricate player-driven economy where players can craft their way to fame and fortune

  • An accessible yet deep combat system, where you can choose whether to play using action aiming or more forgiving homing shots or lock-on targeting

  • In-world player housing that lets you build and customize your home and form towns… and enough room for everyone to have a house

  • A single shardless galaxy, with both space and ground gameplay… in fact, you can build that house on an asteroid, if you want

  • The ability for a group to govern a planet, and define its laws, whether you want a peaceful home or a PvP free for all

Stars Reach is not playable yet, but the company's looking for gamers to give them feedback and steer the development:

https://starsreach.com/

OK, that wraps up the week's links. I'm gonna get one more edition out on Monday, god willin' and the crick don't rise, and then I'll be off for a couple weeks. Enjoy your summer!

(Image: James St John, CC BY 2.0)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago BBC affirms Creative Archive in Charter Renewal plans https://web.archive.org/web/20050308195821/https://www.bbc.co.uk/thefuture/pdfs/bbc_bpv.pdf

#20yrsago How Free Software won the hearts of hackers, capitalists, commies and academics https://web.archive.org/web/20040701094054/http://www.media-culture.org.au/0406/02_Coleman-Hill.html

#20yrsago Toaster oven casemod https://web.archive.org/web/20040701051006/https://www.snapstream.com/Community/Articles/tvtoaster/

#15yrsago Automated shakedown racket sends legal threats, demands cash https://torrentfreak.com/automated-legal-threats-turn-piracy-into-profit-090628/,/a>

#15yrsago Honduran coup is the first successful military coup d’etat in the region since the Cold War ended https://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE55R24E20090628/

#10yrsago Aaron Swartz documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, out today https://web.archive.org/web/20140628031422/http://www.takepart.com/internets-own-boy

#10yrsago Horror movies and the Haunted Mansion https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2014/06/creepy-old-flicks-part-three-uninvited.html

#5yrsago Felony Contempt of Business Model: Lexmark’s anti-competitive legacy https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/06/felony-contempt-business-model-lexmarks-anti-competitive-legacy

#5yrsago Three Halflings in a Trenchcoat: a homebrew fighter class for D&D https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/c6fdw4/oc_introducing_three_halflings_in_a_trenchcoat_a/

#5yrsago Microsoft is about to shut off its ebook DRM servers: “The books will stop working” https://memex.craphound.com/2019/06/28/microsoft-is-about-to-shut-off-its-ebook-drm-servers-the-books-will-stop-working/

#5yrsago Improving Q&As with peer-review https://memex.craphound.com/2019/06/28/improving-qas-with-peer-review/

#5yrsago Howto: stay civil while discussing the children in America’s concentration camps https://www.theonion.com/tips-for-staying-civil-while-debating-child-prisons-1827147411

#5yrsago Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of AI’s computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics https://memex.craphound.com/2019/06/28/rage-inside-the-machine-an-insightful-brilliant-critique-of-ais-computer-science-sociology-philosophy-and-economics-2/


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Raph Koster, Nancy Proctor, Claudia Knight, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Slashdot.

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Friday's progress: 838 words (20090 words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: My 2004 Microsoft DRM Talk https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/16/my-2004-microsoft-drm-talk/>


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

28.06.2024 à 18:23

Pluralistic: The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you (28 Jun 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (5906 mots)


Today's links



A Depression-era photo of a used car lot with three cars for sale. It has been hand-tinted. The sky has been replaced with a 'code waterfall' effect as seen in the credit sequences of the Wachowskis' 'Matrix' movies. All of the car headlights have been replaced with the hostile red eye of 'HAL 9000' in Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

The reason you can't buy a car is the same reason that your health insurer let hackers dox you (permalink)

In 2017, Equifax suffered the worst data-breach in world history, leaking the deep, nonconsensual dossiers it had compiled on 148m Americans and 15m Britons, (and 19k Canadians) into the world, to form an immortal, undeletable reservoir of kompromat and premade identity-theft kits:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Equifax_data_breach

Equifax knew the breach was coming. It wasn't just that their top execs liquidated their stock in Equifax before the announcement of the breach – it was also that they ignored years of increasingly urgent warnings from IT staff about the problems with their server security.

Things didn't improve after the breach. Indeed, the 2017 Equifax breach was the starting gun for a string of more breaches, because Equifax's servers didn't just have one fubared system – it was composed of pure, refined fubar. After one group of hackers breached the main Equifax system, other groups breached other Equifax systems, over and over, and over:

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/equifax-password-username-admin-lawsuit-201118316.html

Doesn't this remind you of Boeing? It reminds me of Boeing. The spectacular 737 Max failures in 2018 weren't the end of the scandal. They weren't even the scandal's start – they were the tipping point, the moment in which a long history of lethally defective planes "breached" from the world of aviation wonks and into the wider public consciousness:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_the_Boeing_737

Just like with Equifax, the 737 Max disasters tipped Boeing into a string of increasingly grim catastrophes. Each fresh disaster landed with the grim inevitability of your general contractor texting you that he's just opened up your ceiling and discovered that all your joists had rotted out – and that he won't be able to deal with that until he deals with the termites he found last week, and that they'll have to wait until he gets to the cracks in the foundation slab from the week before, and that those will have to wait until he gets to the asbestos he just discovered in the walls.

Drip, drip, drip, as you realize that the most expensive thing you own – which is also the thing you had hoped to shelter for the rest of your life – isn't even a teardown, it's just a pure liability. Even if you razed the structure, you couldn't start over, because the soil is full of PCBs. It's not a toxic asset, because it's not an asset. It's just toxic.

Equifax isn't just a company: it's infrastructure. It started out as an engine for racial, political and sexual discrimination, paying snoops to collect gossip from nosy neighbors, which was assembled into vast warehouses full of binders that told bank officers which loan applicants should be denied for being queer, or leftists, or, you know, Black:

https://jacobin.com/2017/09/equifax-retail-credit-company-discrimination-loans

This witch-hunts-as-a-service morphed into an official part of the economy, the backbone of the credit industry, with a license to secretly destroy your life with haphazardly assembled "facts" about your life that you had the most minimal, grudging right to appeal (or even see). Turns out there are a lot of customers for this kind of service, and the capital markets showered Equifax with the cash needed to buy almost all of its rivals, in mergers that were waved through by a generation of Reaganomics-sedated antitrust regulators.

There's a direct line from that acquisition spree to the Equifax breach(es). First of all, companies like Equifax were early adopters of technology. They're a database company, so they were the crash-test dummies for every generation of database. These bug-riddled, heavily patched systems were overlaid with subsequent layers of new tech, with new defects to be patched and then overlaid with the next generation.

These systems are intrinsically fragile, because things fall apart at the seams, and these systems are all seams. They are tech-debt personified. Now, every kind of enterprise will eventually reach this state if it keeps going long enough, but the early digitizers are the bow-wave of that coming infopocalypse, both because they got there first and because the bottom tiers of their systems are composed of layers of punchcards and COBOL, crumbling under the geological stresses of seventy years of subsequent technology.

The single best account of this phenomenon is the British Library's postmortem of their ransomware attack, which is also in the running for "best hard-eyed assessment of how fucked things are":

https://www.bl.uk/home/british-library-cyber-incident-review-8-march-2024.pdf

There's a reason libraries, cities, insurance companies, and other giant institutions keep getting breached: they started accumulating tech debt before anyone else, so they've got more asbestos in the walls, more sagging joists, more foundation cracks and more termites.

That was the starting point for Equifax – a company with a massive tech debt that it would struggle to pay down under the most ideal circumstances.

Then, Equifax deliberately made this situation infinitely worse through a series of mergers in which it bought dozens of other companies that all had their own version of this problem, and duct-taped their failing, fucked up IT systems to its own. The more seams an IT system has, the more brittle and insecure it is. Equifax deliberately added so many seams that you need to be able to visualize additional spatial dimensions to grasp them – they had fractal seams.

But wait, there's more! The reason to merge with your competitors is to create a monopoly position, and the value of a monopoly position is that it makes a company too big to fail, which makes it too big to jail, which makes it too big to care. Each Equifax acquisition took a piece off the game board, making it that much harder to replace Equifax if it fucked up. That, in turn, made it harder to punish Equifax if it fucked up. And that meant that Equifax didn't have to care if it fucked up.

Which is why the increasingly desperate pleas for more resources to shore up Equifax's crumbling IT and security infrastructure went unheeded. Top management could see that they were steaming directly into an iceberg, but they also knew that they had a guaranteed spot on the lifeboats, and that someone else would be responsible for fishing the dead passengers out of the sea. Why turn the wheel?

That's what happened to Boeing, too: the company acquired new layers of technical complexity by merging with rivals (principally McDonnell-Douglas), and then starved the departments that would have to deal with that complexity because it was being managed by execs whose driving passion was to run a company that was too big to care. Those execs then added more complexity by chasing lower costs by firing unionized, competent, senior staff and replacing them with untrained scabs in jurisdictions chosen for their lax labor and environmental enforcement regimes.

(The biggest difference was that Boeing once had a useful, high-quality product, whereas Equifax started off as an irredeemably terrible, if efficient, discrimination machine, and grew to become an equally terrible, but also ferociously incompetent, enterprise.)

This is the American story of the past four decades: accumulate tech debt, merge to monopoly, exponentially compound your tech debt by combining barely functional IT systems. Every corporate behemoth is locked in a race between the eventual discovery of its irreparable structural defects and its ability to become so enmeshed in our lives that we have to assume the costs of fixing those defects. It's a contest between "too rotten to stand" and "too big to care."

Remember last February, when we all discovered that there was a company called Change Healthcare, and that they were key to processing virtually every prescription filled in America? Remember how we discovered this? Change was hacked, went down, ransomed, and no one could fill a scrip in America for more than a week, until they paid the hackers $22m in Bitcoin?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_Change_Healthcare_ransomware_attack

How did we end up with Change Healthcare as the linchpin of the entire American prescription system? Well, first Unitedhealthcare became the largest health insurer in America by buying all its competitors in a series of mergers that comatose antitrust regulators failed to block. Then it combined all those other companies' IT systems into a cosmic-scale dog's breakfast that barely ran. Then it bought Change and used its monopoly power to ensure that every Rx ran through Change's servers, which were part of that asbestos-filled, termite-infested, crack-foundationed, sag-joisted teardown. Then, it got hacked.

United's execs are the kind of execs on a relentless quest to be too big to care, and so they don't care. Which is why they had to subsequently announce that they had suffered a breach that turned the complete medical histories of one third of Americans into immortal Darknet kompromat that is – even now – being combined with breach data from Equifax and force-fed to the slaves in Cambodia and Laos's pig-butchering factories:

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/01/politics/data-stolen-healthcare-hack/index.html

Those slaves are beaten, tortured, and punitively raped in compounds to force them to drain the life's savings of everyone in Canada, Australia, Singapore, the UK and Europe. Remember that they are downstream of the forseeable, inevitable IT failures of companies that set out to be too big to care that this was going to happen.

Failures like Ticketmaster's, which flushed 500 million users' personal information into the identity-theft mills just last month. Ticketmaster, you'll recall, grew to its current scale through (you guessed it), a series of mergers en route to "too big to care" status, that resulted in its IT systems being combined with those of Ticketron, Live Nation, and dozens of others:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/31/business/ticketmaster-hack-data-breach.html

But enough about that. Let's go car-shopping!

Good luck with that. There's a company you've never heard. It's called CDK Global. They provide "dealer management software." They are a monopolist. They got that way after being bought by a private equity fund called Brookfield. You can't complete a car purchase without their systems, and their systems have been hacked. No one can buy a car:

https://www.cnn.com/2024/06/27/business/cdk-global-cyber-attack-update/index.html

Writing for his BIG newsletter, Matt Stoller tells the all-too-familiar story of how CDK Global filled the walls of the nation's auto-dealers with the IT equivalent of termites and asbestos, and lays the blame where it belongs: with a legal and economics establishment that wanted it this way:

https://www.thebignewsletter.com/p/a-supreme-court-justice-is-why-you

The CDK story follows the Equifax/Boeing/Change Healthcare/Ticketmaster pattern, but with an important difference. As CDK was amassing its monopoly power, one of its execs, Dan McCray, told a competitor, Authenticom founder Steve Cottrell that if he didn't sell to CDK that he would "fucking destroy" Authenticom by illegally colluding with the number two dealer management company Reynolds.

Rather than selling out, Cottrell blew the whistle, using McCray's own words to convince a district court that CDK had violated antitrust law. The court agreed, and ordered CDK and Reynolds – who controlled 90% of the market – to continue to allow Authenticom to participate in the DMS market.

Dealers cheered this on: CDK/Reynolds had been steadily hiking prices, while ingesting dealer data and using it to gouge the dealers on additional services, while denying dealers access to their own data. The services that Authenticom provided for $35/month cost $735/month from CDK/Reynolds (they justified this price hike by saying they needed the additional funds to cover the costs of increased information security!).

CDK/Reynolds appealed the judgment to the 7th Circuit, where a panel of economists weighed in. As Stoller writes, this panel included monopoly's most notorious (and well-compensated) cheerleader, Frank Easterbrook, and the "legendary" Democrat Diane Wood. They argued for CDK/Reynolds, demanding that the court release them from their obligations to share the market with Authenticom:

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/court/us-7th-circuit/1879150.html

The 7th Circuit bought the argument, overturning the lower court and paving the way for the CDK/Reynolds monopoly, which is how we ended up with one company's objectively shitty IT systems interwoven into the sale of every car, which meant that when Russian hackers looked at that crosseyed, it split wide open, allowing them to halt auto sales nationwide. What happens next is a near-certainty: CDK will pay a multimillion dollar ransom, and the hackers will reward them by breaching the personal details of everyone who's ever bought a car, and the slaves in Cambodian pig-butchering compounds will get a fresh supply of kompromat.

But on the plus side, the need to pay these huge ransoms is key to ensuring liquidity in the cryptocurrency markets, because ransoms are now the only nondiscretionary liability that can only be settled in crypto:

https://locusmag.com/2022/09/cory-doctorow-moneylike/

When the 7th Circuit set up every American car owner to be pig-butchered, they cited one of the most important cases in antitrust history: the 2004 unanimous Supreme Court decision in Verizon v Trinko:

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2003/02-682

Trinko was a case about whether antitrust law could force Verizon, a telcoms monopolist, to share its lines with competitors, something it had been ordered to do and then cheated on. The decision was written by Antonin Scalia, and without it, Big Tech would never have been able to form. Scalia and Trinko gave us the modern, too-big-to-care versions of Google, Meta, Apple, Microsoft and the other tech baronies.

In his Trinko opinion, Scalia said that "possessing monopoly power" and "charging monopoly prices" was "not unlawful" – rather, it was "an important element of the free-market system." Scalia – writing on behalf of a unanimous court! – said that fighting monopolists "may lessen the incentive for the monopolist…to invest in those economically beneficial facilities."

In other words, in order to prevent monopolists from being too big to care, we have to let them have monopolies. No wonder Trinko is the Zelig of shitty antitrust rulings, from the decision to dismiss the antitrust case against Facebook and Apple's defense in its own ongoing case:

https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/073_2021.06.28_mtd_order_memo.pdf

Trinko is the origin node of too big to care. It's the reason that our whole economy is now composed of "infrastructure" that is made of splitting seams, asbestos, termites and dry rot. It's the reason that the entire automotive sector became dependent on companies like Reynolds, whose billionaire owner intentionally and illegally destroyed evidence of his company's crimes, before going on to commit the largest tax fraud in American history:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/billionaire-robert-brockman-accused-of-biggest-tax-fraud-in-u-s-history-dies-at-81-11660226505

Trinko begs companies to become too big to care. It ensures that they will exponentially increase their IT debt while becoming structurally important to whole swathes of the US economy. It guarantees that they will underinvest in IT security. It is the soil in which pig butchering grew.

It's why you can't buy a car.

Now, I am fond of quoting Stein's Law at moments like this: "anything that can't go on forever will eventually stop." As Stoller writes, after two decades of unchallenged rule, Trinko is looking awfully shaky. It was substantially narrowed in 2023 by the 10th Circuit, which had been briefed by Biden's antitrust division:

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca10/22-1164/22-1164-2023-08-21.html

And the cases of 2024 have something going for them that Trinko lacked in 2004: evidence of what a fucking disaster Trinko is. The wrongness of Trinko is so increasingly undeniable that there's a chance it will be overturned.

But it won't go down easy. As Stoller writes, Trinko didn't emerge from a vacuum: the economic theories that underpinned it come from some of the heroes of orthodox economics, like Joseph Schumpeter, who is positively worshipped. Schumpeter was antitrust's OG hater, who wrote extensively that antitrust law didn't need to exist because any harmful monopoly would be overturned by an inevitable market process dictated by iron laws of economics.

Schumpeter wrote that monopolies could only be sustained by "alertness and energy" – that there would never be a monopoly so secure that its owner became too big to care. But he went further, insisting that the promise of attaining a monopoly was key to investment in great new things, because monopolists had the economic power that let them plan and execute great feats of innovation.

The idea that monopolies are benevolent dictators has pervaded our economic tale for decades. Even today, critics who deplore Facebook and Google do so on the basis that they do not wield their power wisely (say, to stamp out harassment or disinformation). When confronted with the possibility of breaking up these companies or replacing them with smaller platforms, those critics recoil, insisting that without Big Tech's scale, no one will ever have the power to accomplish their goals:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/07/18/urban-wildlife-interface/#combustible-walled-gardens

But they misunderstand the relationship between corporate power and corporate conduct. The reason corporations accumulate power is so that they can be insulated from the consequences of the harms they wreak upon the rest of us. They don't inflict those harms out of sadism: rather, they do so in order to externalize the costs of running a good system, reaping the profits of scale while we pay its costs.

The only reason to accumulate corporate power is to grow too big to care. Any corporation that amasses enough power that it need not care about us will not care about it. You can't fix Facebook by replacing Zuck with a good unelected social media czar with total power over billions of peoples' lives. We need to abolish Zuck, not fix Zuck.

Zuck is not exceptional: there were a million sociopaths whom investors would have funded to monopolistic dominance if he had balked. A monopoly like Facebook has a Zuck-shaped hole at the top of its org chart, and only someone Zuck-shaped will ever fit through that hole.

Our whole economy is now composed of companies with sociopath-shaped holes at the tops of their org chart. The reason these companies can only be run by sociopaths is the same reason that they have become infrastructure that is crumbling due to sociopathic neglect. The reckless disregard for the risk of combining companies is the source of the market power these companies accumulated, and the market power let them neglect their systems to the point of collapse.

This is the system that Schumpeter, and Easterbrook, and Wood, and Scalia – and the entire Supreme Court of 2004 – set out to make. The fact that you can't buy a car is a feature, not a bug. The pig-butcherers, wallowing in an ocean of breach data, are a feature, not a bug. The point of the system was what it did: create unimaginable wealth for a tiny cohort of the worst people on Earth without regard to the collapse this would provoke, or the plight of those of us trapped and suffocating in the rubble.


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This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Comics creator stopped by TSA for carrying script about writer under suspicion by TSA https://web.archive.org/web/20090516205904/http://www.sfscope.com/2009/05/comics-artist-mark-sable-detai.html

#10yrsago SWAT teams claim to be private mercenaries, immune to open records laws https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/06/26/massachusetts-swat-teams-claim-theyre-private-corporations-immune-from-open-records-laws/

#10yrsago Poesy guest-reviews the new Ariol book https://memex.craphound.com/2014/06/27/poesy-guest-reviews-the-new-ariol-book/

#5yrsago Internet users are wising up to persuasive “nudge” techniques https://behavioralscientist.org/consumers-are-becoming-wise-to-your-nudge/

#5yrsago Congress orders Ajit Pai: hands off San Francisco’s broadband competition law https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/06/house-votes-to-block-ajit-pais-plan-to-kill-san-francisco-broadband-law/

#5yrsago NYC Mesh, a neutral, nonprofit meshing ISP, dramatically expands access in Brooklyn https://www.vice.com/en/article/paj8z8/a-diy-internet-network-has-drastically-expanded-its-coverage-in-nyc

#5yrsago Robert Reich backs Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Big Tech https://www.alternet.org/2019/06/robert-reich-why-we-need-to-break-up-big-tech

#5yrsago How Memphis’s Methodist University Hospital, a “nonprofit,” sued the shit out of its Black, poor patients while raking in millions and paying execs more than a million each https://www.propublica.org/article/methodist-le-bonheur-healthcare-sues-poor-medical-debt#163801

#5yrsago Hong Kong protesters repeatedly blockade police HQ, demanding release of people arrested at #612strike demonstrations https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3016238/hong-kong-police-under-siege-again-protesters-surround


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Latest books (permalink)



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Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



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Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Today's progress: 791 words (19252 words total).
  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: My 2004 Microsoft DRM Talk https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/16/my-2004-microsoft-drm-talk/>


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