Pluralistic: Daily links

27 Jan. 2023


Today's links



A scary abandoned room. The back wall is stained with the Spotify podcast selection screen. In the center of the room is an oversized mousetrap, baited with the Spotify logo.

Podcasts are hearteningly enshittification resistant (permalink)

In the enshittification cycle, a platform lures in users by giving them a good deal at first, then it lures in business customers (advertisers, sellers, performers) by shifting the surplus from users to them; finally, it takes all the surplus for itself, turning the whole thing into a pile of shit:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/21/potemkin-ai/#hey-guys

When a company is neither disciplined by competition nor by regulation, enshittification inevitably ensues. If a user or business customer can't jump ship – because of lock-in, high switching costs or network effects – then companies are powerfully tempted to mistreat them – not out of sadism, but instead to harvest their surplus and goose the company's profits.

Half the results on the first five screens of an Amazon search result are ads. Amazon's business customers spend $31b/year on payola, bidding to be at the top of Amazon's search results: the top results aren't the best matches to your search, they're the matches that are most profitable for Amazon.

But out of the remaining half, many of the results are Amazon's lookalike products: Amazon coerces sellers into shipping via Amazon warehouses (otherwise their products won't be Prime eligible), and this not only lets Amazon extract 45%+ out of every sale in junk fees, it also lets them see the bills-of-lading that identify the manufacturers of products, whom Amazon can approach to make a knock-off.

These Amazon house-brand copycat products are cheaper than the original, because Amazon doesn't charge itself >45% fees. It can allocate some of the surplus to shoppers – offering a discount on the price the OEM has had to inflate to cover Amazon's fees – but keep the majority for its shareholders.

This is enshittification: Amazon is a place where buyers hold the sellers hostage (because Amazon is where all the buyers are, and the buyers are prepaying for shipping a year at a time via Prime), but the buyers can't leave either, because all the sellers are at Amazon. The sellers don't want to be on Amazon, but all the buyers are there, so…

Hypothetically there's another way to discipline Amazon's appetites as it gorges itself on all of us, buyer or seller: regulation. Much of Amazon's conduct falls under the broad terms "unfair and deceptive," which the FTC has broad authority to prohibit and punish under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/10/the-courage-to-govern/#whos-in-charge

The FTC is undergoing a renaissance under Lina Khan, its most effective chair in forty years, and she is aggressively wielding her Section 5 powers to hold corporations to account, but the FTC has two generations' worth of policy debt to pay down, and enshittification is everywhere, so Amazon and other firms generally behave as though there was no threat of regulatory punishment for even the most egregious conduct. They don't have to outrun Lina Khan, they just have to outrun all the other firms she has in her crosshairs.

Corporations, unfettered by competition or regulation, are free to pursue enshittification to the bitter end: once they have their users locked in, they use them as bait to lure in business customers, and once they are locked in, they can grab all the value for themselves, surfing the line between "so useless everyone quits" and "just useful enough that everyone keeps holding each other hostage."

Enshittification is a dangerous strategy, and not just because that's a hard wave to surf. Woe betide a platform that enshittifies prematurely, before its users or business customers are too locked in to simply say, "fuck this, I'm out of here." That's an expensive mistake, one that can cost a company all the consumer and supplier subsidies it bought with its shareholders' cash.

It's a mistake that Spotify just made, when it pursued its podcast exclusivity strategy, blowing more than a billion dollars buying up podcasts and then locking them up inside Spotify's walled garden, unreachable unless you use Spotify's client – other podcatchers need not apply:

https://variety.com/2022/digital/news/spotify-podcast-revenue-loss-2022-1235288180/

It's easy to see why Spotify liked this idea. Real podcasts are as open as you could want – encoded in the open MP3 standard, distributed over the open RSS standard – and can be subscribed to and played back by any client. There's no practical way to spy on podcast listeners, nor to enshittify their experience in other ways, say, by blocking ad-skipping.

For eshittification-thirsty corporate sociopaths, this user-centric openness is a bug, not a feature. Apple was the first company to try to enclose podcasts, but while it dominated the sector, it never controlled it fully, not least because anyone could leave Apple's walled garden and subscribe to the same podcasts using another client with just a couple clicks. Competition disciplines companies.

Disciplined by competition and the ease of user switching, the podcast-encloser brigade have proceeded with caution – even where they publish their own podcasts, they haven't tried to make them exclusive to their walled gardens, instead offering real podcast feeds that anyone could subscribe to. One notable – and shameful – exception is the BBC, which has abandoned its leadership on open standards and open protocols and moved its flagship podcasts inside its proprietary BBC Sounds app, presumably because this will help it commericalize its offerings for non-license-fee-payers (part of the long transformation of the BBC from a Public Service Broadcaster focused on Reithian values to a glorified streaming service for Americans, a transformation that started when the BBC killed the Creative Archive in favor of the Iplayer).

Where others were cautious, Spotify was reckless. It bought popular podcasts and podcast networks, then severely enshittified their programs by locking them inside Spotify's walled garden. Audience numbers plummeted, demoralizing podcast creators who were uninterested in the future date when Spotify and its Magic Underpants Gnomes would figure out how to wring more money out of the tiny cohort that stuck around.

Today, podcast advertising rates are falling off a cliff. Short on users and ad dollars, Spotify's enshittification plan is looking like a self-inflicted wound. Even the Obamas cancelled their deal and switched to Audible, a monopolist that leads the world in enshittification but who had the good sense not to make its podcasts platform-exclusive:

https://variety.com/2022/digital/news/obamas-audible-deal-spotify-1235299775/

Writing in Variety, Tyler Aquilina pens a eulogy for podcast exclusivity, quoting Parcast Union and Gimlet Union, the unions for Spotify acquisitions Gimlet and Parcast: "[exlusives] caused a steep drop in listeners — as high as three quarters of the audience for some shows."

https://variety.com/vip/podcast-exclusivity-is-quickly-becoming-an-outdated-strategy-1235495652/

That is a hell of a rush for the exits. What's more, podcasts that leave Spotify's walled garden – after their exclusive deals expire – gain listeners (though not as many as they lost).

Podcasting is an open technology built out of open technologies. We have damned few of those left. The openness of podcasts once allowed wild experimentation, with new kinds of audio made by new kinds of creators finding new kinds of audiences.

The drive to enshittify, unfettered by regulation or competition, has allowed many of the world's largest, stupidest tech companies to unhinge their jaws and tempt podcast makers and listeners to traipse blithely onto their slathering tongues. They were always going to snap their jaws shut eventually – just because Spotify lacked the executive function to wait for a fully ripened enshittification before biting down, it doesn't mean we're out of the woods.



The cover of the Tor edition of Red Team Blues, designed by Will Staehle.

Red Team Blues excerpt (permalink)

My next novel is Red Team Blues, a noir technothriller/heist novel about Marty Hench, a forensic accountant who is the most fearsome financial sleuth in Silicon Valley history. Marty has spent 40 years unwinding tech's biggest, sleaziest scams, and now he's ready to retire – but first he has to do one more job:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/13/marty-hench/#red-team-blues

If you'd like an essay-formatted version of this thread to read or share, here's a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/27/enshittification-resistance/#one-last-job

My publisher, Tor Books, has just published the first sneak-peek at Red Team Blues, an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 4, where Marty explains to his old friend Raza why he's doing this job, and she helps him figure out how to crack it:

https://www.torforgeblog.com/2023/01/26/excerpt-red-team-blues-by-cory-doctorow/

I haven't been this excited about a book since 2006, when Little Brother battered its way out of my fingertips in eight weeks flat (the first draft of Red Team Blues took only six weeks!). Tor agreed – they bought this book and two prequels: The Bezzle (about private prison tech) and Picks and Shovels (about affinity scams in the heroic age of the PC).

The early reviews have been spectacular: Booklist got there first, calling it "Another winner from an sf wizard who has always proved himself adept at blending genres for both adults and teens."

Next was Library Journal, who wrote, "This absorbing and ruthless cyberpunk thriller from Doctorow tackles modern concerns involving cryptocurrency, security, and the daunting omnipotence of technology."

https://www.libraryjournal.com/review/red-team-blues-1794647

Then came Publishers Weekly, with "Doctorow brings a thoroughness and honesty to a subject masked by techno-babble and emotional hype ('all that blockchain for good shit') to deliver a clear-eyed warning about how crypto is used (money laundering) and what it costs (billions of tons of CO2)."

I can't wait for this one to drop in April!

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


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Telcos attack VoIP numbering https://www.zdnet.com/home-and-office/networking/voip-caught-in-a-numbers-crunch/

#15yrsago Southern racists adopt “Canadian” as a euphemism for “black” https://memex.craphound.com/2008/01/26/southern-racists-adopt-canadian-as-a-euphemism-for-black/

#15yrsago Bavarian gov’t caught buying malware to intercept Skype calls https://wikileaks.org/wiki/Skype_and_the_Bavarian_trojan_in_the_middle

#10yrsago Berlin activists create CCTV-smashing street game https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GCsd2TJKjQ

#5yrsago OK, panic again: patching Spectre and Meltdown has been a disaster https://www.wired.com/story/meltdown-spectre-patching-total-train-wreck/

#5yrsago Your early darknet drug buys are preserved forever in the blockchain, waiting to be connected to your real identity https://arxiv.org/pdf/1801.07501.pdf

#5yrsago The Financial Times’s 404 page is an ingenious, hilarious introduction to major concepts in economic theory https://www.ft.com/404notfound

#5yrsago A journalist who was sued by Trump describes Trump’s hilarious incompetence under oath https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-01-25/i-ve-watched-trump-testify-under-oath-it-isn-t-pretty

#5yrsago Canada stripped the TPP of its terrible IP proposals: will the US seek revenge in NAFTA talks? https://www.michaelgeist.ca/2018/01/dont-make-tpp-mistake-canada-needs-maintain-progressive-approach-ip-nafta/

#5yrsago The elite belief in Uberized, Muskized cities is at odds with fundamental, irrefutable facts of geometry https://www.ft.com/content/b0c29ff7-e35e-397d-bea4-a7ca36e0ea15

#5yrsago Kimberly Clark says the Trump tax-cuts let it fire 5,500 US workers and pay out dividends to its shareholders https://www.businessinsider.com/kimberly-clark-pays-for-layoffs-with-trump-tax-cuts-2018-1

#5yrsago Short-termism led the Democratic Party to let unions die, and now they’ve lost their base https://jamesfeigenbaum.github.io/research/pdf/fhw_rtw_jan2018.pdf

#5yrsago “We Shall Overcome” has overcome copyfraud and is now unambiguously public domain https://www.techdirt.com/2018/01/26/we-shall-overcome-overcomes-bogus-copyright-claim-officially-public-domain/

#1yrago Cops' imaginary fears send addicts to real jail https://pluralistic.net/2022/01/27/extraordinary-popular-delusions/#onshore-havana-syndrome

#1yrago As stocks tumble, wealthy speculators bid up house prices https://pluralistic.net/2022/01/27/extraordinary-popular-delusions/#wall-street-slumlords



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org).

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 500 words (99091 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Social Quitting https://craphound.com/news/2023/01/22/social-quitting/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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.


How to get Pluralistic:

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

Pluralistic.net

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https://pluralistic.net/plura-list

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

https://mamot.fr/@pluralistic

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https://doctorow.medium.com/

(Latest Medium column: "Walking the Plank" https://doctorow.medium.com/walking-the-plank-a3fd1d18fe94)

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

https://twitter.com/doctorow

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

https://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/tagged/pluralistic

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

25 Jan. 2023


Today's links



Moderna headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. On the left side of the entry, a Jacobin with a guillotine gets ready to decapitate an aristocrat. On the right side of the frame, a cigar-chomping, top-hat wearing ogrish figure makes ready to yank a gilded dollar-sign lever while holding an MRNA molecule disdainfully aloft.

The public paid for "Moderna's" vaccine, and now we're going to pay again (and again and again) (permalink)

Moderna is quadrupling the cost of covid vaccines, from $26/dose to $110-130. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel calls the price hike "consistent with the value" of the mRNA vaccines. Moderna's manufacturing costs are $2.85/dose, for a 4,460% markup on every dose:

https://arstechnica.com/science/2023/01/moderna-may-match-pfizers-400-price-hike-on-covid-vaccines-report-says/

Now, obviously the manufacturing costs are only part of the cost of making a vaccine: there's also all the high-risk capital that goes into doing the basic research. Whenever a pharma company like Moderna hikes its prices, we're reminded that the rewards are commensurate with these risks.

But the story of the Moderna vaccine isn't one of a company taking huge gambles with shareholder dollars. It's the story of the US government giving billions and billions of dollars to a private firm, which will now charge the US government – and the American people – a 4,460% markup on the resulting medicine.

Writing for The American Prospect, Lily Meyersohn reminds us of the Moderna vaccine's origin story: the NIH spent $1.4B developing the underlying technology and then the US government bought $8b worth of vaccines at $16/dose, giving Moderna a guaranteed 460% margin on each jab:

https://prospect.org/health/2023-01-23-moderna-covid-vaccine-price-hike-bernie-sanders/

Moderna clearly does not feel that the billions it received in public funds came with any obligation to serve the public interest. The company falsified its patent applications, omitting the NIH scientists who co-developed the vaccine, claiming sole ownership:

https://blog.petrieflom.law.harvard.edu/2022/01/06/nih-moderna-mrna-covid-vaccine-patent/

As Meyersohn writes, this omission allows Moderna to block the NIH from licensing the vaccine to foreign manufacturers – including vaccine manufacturers in the global south, home to many powerhouse producers of vaccines:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/08/24/waivers-for-me-not-for-thee/#vaccine-apartheid

Moderna claims to have capitulated to the NIH on the patent question, but it's a lie – even as they were publicly announcing they would drop their bid to exclude NIH scientists from their patent application, they quietly filed for a continuance that would let them renew their exclusive claim later, when the heat has died down:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/17/us/moderna-patent-nih.html

This maneuver, combined with Astrazeneca reneging on its promise to open its vaccine – a move engineered by Bill Gates – has deprived billions of the world's poorest people of access to vaccines. Many of these people were previously blocked from accessing AIDS drugs when the Gates Foundation teamed up to block WTO vaccine waivers:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/13/public-interest-pharma/#gates-foundation

These immunucompromised, unvaccinated people are at increased risk of contracting covid, and when they do, they are sick for longer, creating more opportunities for viral mutation and new, more virulent variants.

That was where we stood before Moderna announced its 400% vaccine price-hike. Now, millions of Americans will also be blocked from accessing vaccines, opening the door for rampant, repeated infections, more mutations, and more variants. As Alex Lawson of Social Security Works told Meyersohn, at that price, the US will not be able to achieve herd immunity.

What will Moderna do with the billions it reaps through price-gouging? It won't be research. To date, the company has spent >20% of its covid windfall profits on stock buybacks and dividends, manipulating its stock price, with more to come:

https://www.levernews.com/how-big-pharma-actually-spends-its-massive-profits/

It's not an outlier. Big Pharma is a machine for commercializing publicly funded research and then laundering the profits with financial engineering. The largest pharma companies each spend more on stock buybacks than research:

https://www.levernews.com/how-big-pharma-actually-spends-its-massive-profits/

Moderna didn't have a single successful product for its first decade of operation: it is only a going concern because it got billions in free public research and billions more in public commitments to buy its products at a huge markup.

It wasn't always this way. Until the 1990s, pharma companies that commercialized public research were bound to license terms that required "reasonable pricing." NIH inventions were subject to non-exclusive licensing terms, ensuring a competitive market.

The NIH could act to stem Moderna's profiteering. Moderna's vaccine (like virtually all mRNA vaccines) uses NIH patent 10,960,070 – though Moderna doesn't license the '070 patent. The NIH could use the threat of a patent infringement suit to force Moderna to put pandemic resilience and access to vaccines over financial engineering and executive bonuses.

When it comes to patent enforcement to protect the public interest, the USG has a long history of channeling King Log, letting companies price-gouge with products built on public research.

https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-021-03535-x/d41586-021-03535-x.pdf

The states are stepping in where the feds have failed to act, spinning up their own pharma production capacity to create a "public option" for medicine – think of California's move to produce insulin and other meds:

https://prospect.org/health/its-time-for-public-pharma/

Or Massachusetts's MassBiologics, the "only non-profit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines" in the USA, which sells its generic tetanus and diptheria vaccines nationwide:

https://www.umassmed.edu/massbiologics/

The US has a long way to go when it comes to using public production to offer competitive discipline to private pharma. Sweden nationalized its pharma in 1970. Cuba got there in 1960, and is a pharma powerhouse:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/11/28/somos-cuba/#omishambles

Meyersohn closes her excellent article with a warning and a promise: though public covid vaccines are a long way away, new vaccines for RSV and even cancer are in the pipeline, and without "substantial intervention," Moderna will be a "harbinger…of crises of inequitable access to come."



Cambodian dictator Hun Sen's Facebook photo of himself swimming in the blue Maldives sea. Superimposed over him in white sans-serif lettering on red rectangular backgrounds is a quote from a Cambodian Facebook user: 'Yes, our beaches are the most beautiful, but our leaders are the dirtiest in the world, aren’t they?'

How Facebook's Real Names policy helps Cambodia's thin-skinned dictator terrorize dissenters (permalink)

A common refrain from Facebook apologists and anti-anonymity activists is that its "Real Names Policy" promoted "civility" by making users "accountable" for their words. In this conception, snuffing out anonymous speech is key to protecting "the vulnerable" from trolls and other bad actors.

But while some trolls hide behind anonymity, others are only too happy to sign their vitriol. Donald Trump didn't need an anonymous account. Tucker Carlson is right there in the chyron. Nick Fuentes isn't hiding behind a pseudonym – he's proud to be associated with Holocaust denial.

Despite the moral panic about "cancel culture," the powerful can say outrageous and disgusting things without any meaningful consequence. But when it comes to speaking truth to power, anonymity protects the vulnerable from retaliation.

Nowhere will you find a better case-study of this phenomenon than in Cambodia, a basket-case, one-party dictatorship that has been ruled over by the corrupt, authoritarian dictator Hun Sen, a former general, since 1985.

Hun Sen's corruption and authoritarianism chafed at the Cambodian people, but his repressive statecraft allowed him to keep a tight grip on the reins of power. But all that nearly came to a halt in 2013, when an opposition movement, organized on Facebook, came within a whisker of defeating him during what should have been a sham election.

Other dictators would have used that moment to block Facebook, but not Hun Sen. After squeaking out a narrow victory, he decided to take control of Facebook in Cambodia and co-opt it as a tool of oppression. To do this, Hun Sen would weaponize the Real Names policy.

Because he was dictator, Hun Sen already knew the real names of every person in Cambodia, which meant that he could tell when a Cambodian poster used a pseudonym. Armed with this knowledge, Hun Sen forced Facebook to order Cambodians to post under their real names (which made them liable to arrest and torture) or fall silent.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/meghara/facebook-cambodia-democracy#.km2QBoKME

Hun Sen then spent public funds to hire a bleating army of astroturf supporters from Filipino clickfarms who would "like" his posts and shout down Cambodians – especially exiled Cambodians speaking from abroad – who dared to criticize him:

https://qz.com/1203637/facebook-likes-are-a-powerful-tool-for-authoritarian-rulers-lawsuit-says

All of this created cover for the "Khmer Riche": politically connected insiders and Hun Sen's relatives, who looted the country, hired Pricewaterhousecooper to help them offshore their money through Cypriot banks, and procured glden passports from Cyprus to let them trip through the EU on luxury spending-sprees:

https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/cambodia-hunsen-wealth/

Earlier this month, Hun Sen took an "official visit" to the Maldives, which was commemorated by an official Facebook post that included a gallery of Hun Sen relaxing in a seaside luxury resort:

https://www.facebook.com/hunsencambodia/posts/pfbid02KYoqDAJbeMGyRP9xMYpntYEdKsczGQijRGYJiDDiPSV4u5DDxmwXuCjpRrse8AEtl

As Mech Dara1 wrote for Vod, the post racked up thousands of "fawning comments," along with a single, brave remark from "Ver To" (a pseudonymous account): "Yes, our beaches are the most beautiful, but our leaders are the dirtiest in the world, aren’t they?"

https://vodenglish.news/hun-sen-orders-police-to-find-facebook-beach-insulter/

Within hours, Hun Sen had vowed to use Facebook to hunt down and punish the person behind "Ver To," writing "This is a wicked man’s words. Please, police, find it immediately. Where is it?"

In an expanded version of Daral's article on Global Voices, we see Hun Sen's Interior Ministry swing into action to punish this mild act of dissent, with ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak saying:

This is not freedom of expression — this is insulting the leader of the country. … Even for me, we cannot accept this.

People who live abroad can say anything, but in Cambodia they cannot.

Even though the prison is crowded, there is enough space to hold these people.

Hun Sen knows that Facebook will help him hunt down this dissenter and jail them in one of his "crowded prisoners," because Facebook's Real Names policy dictates that this will happen.

The Real Names policy might as well be called "The Zuckerberg Doctrine." It originates with Mark Zuckerberg's oft-stated belief that people who present a different facet of their personality to different people are "two-faced." This is an abysmal, idiotic belief, one that requires that we related to our bosses the same way we relate to our lovers, and also to our grandparents. But on the plus side, outlawing anonymity and pseudonymity makes it a lot easier to assemble nonconsensual surveillance dossiers on our activities, social graph and beliefs, and then sell access to those dossiers to advertisers:

https://memex.craphound.com/2018/01/22/social-scientists-have-warned-zuck-all-along-that-the-facebook-theory-of-interaction-would-make-people-angry-and-miserable/

Lots of companies have tried for their own Real Names policy. Famously, it was a feature of Google Plus, Alphabet's failed Facebook competitor. More recently, Twitter's new owner has made moves to link Twitter accounts to identities by hiding posts that aren't from "Twitter Blue" accounts, and then insisting that these accounts must be verified with a phone number.

The powerful can abuse the powerless and get away with it, in large part because the powerless can't speak back without risking retaliation. Sexual abuse was a feature of many industries and large companies for decades, but it too anonymity to create the #MeToo movement. There, anonymity is a force for accountability – not a way to avoid it.

(Image: Hun Sen/Facebook, fair use, modified)


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Moses Znaimer ready to quit? https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/znaimer-ponders-his-future-at-chum-as-he-takes-sabbatical/article25277829/

#20yrsago Palladium changes name, but not stripes https://web.archive.org/web/20030216080548/weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/archives/000755.shtml

#10yrsago German court awards damages for loss-of-Internet, says net is “crucial part of people’s economic living standards” https://web.archive.org/web/20130127084852/http://www.computerworlduk.com/news/networking/3422348/internet-connection-crucial-everyday-life-german-federal-court-rules/

#10yrsago Susan Crawford should run the FCC! https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/opinion/how-to-get-high-speed-internet-to-all-americans.html

#10yrsago German soldiers develop left breasts https://web.archive.org/web/20130127060240/https://www.germanherald.com/news/Germany_in_Focus/2013-01-21/2243/Bra-Gade_of_Guards

#5yrsago Trump will not make a state visit to UK unless Theresa May bans protests https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-01-24/inside-the-dysfunctional-relationship-of-donald-trump-and-theresa-may

#5yrsago The world’s richest 2000 billionaires could wipe out extreme poverty with one seventh of what they gained last year https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/reward-work-not-wealth

#5yrsago Police Get Out of Jail cards are just the tip of the iceberg: no perp gets a sweeter deal than a cop https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/01/police-union-privileges.html

#5yrsago South Korean law bans mobile crapware, network discrimination, deceptive native advertising, and anti-adblock https://web.archive.org/web/20180321130314/http://www.kimchang.com/frame2.jsp?lang=2&b_id=88&m_id=81&mode=view&idx=17195

#5yrsago Research report explains how adtech supercharges political deceit, allowing even bumblers to be master propagandists https://www.newamerica.org/pit/policy-papers/digitaldeceit/

#5yrsago Ontario Conservative leader abruptly resigns after he is accused of sexual assault and misconduct with very young, drunk women https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/patrick-brown-denies-sexual-misconduct-allegations-from-two-women-resigns-as-ontario-pc-leader-1.3774686



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 513 words (98083 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Social Quitting https://craphound.com/news/2023/01/22/social-quitting/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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

24 Jan. 2023


Today's links



The Farrar, Strauss, Giroux cover for David Graeber's 'Pirate Enlightenment, Or the Real Libertalia.'

David Graeber's "Pirate Enlightenment" (permalink)

The untimely death of activist/anthropologist/author David Graeber in 2020 tore a hole in the future, depriving us of not just Graeber's presence, but of the books he had left to write – incisive, brilliant, hilarious followups to the likes of Debt and Bullshit Jobs:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/07/facebook-v-humanity/#spectre

And what books Graeber had left in him! Just weeks prior to his death, Graber finished Dawn Of Everything, his ten-year collaboration with David Wengrow. It's a nose-to-tail reconsideration of everything we know about the civilizations of prehistory, and what they tell us about the essential nature of humanity:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/03/08/three-freedoms/#anti-fatalism

Today, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux publishes Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, billed as Graeber's "final posthumous work" (more on this later).

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374610197/pirateenlightenmentorthereallibertalia

It's a reworking of Graeber's anthropology doctoral research, studying the Zana-Malata people of Madagascar, the living descendants of the feminist, anarchist pirates who ruled the island in the early 18th century.

I read a prepublication draft of the book for a blurb, and I was riveted. In the early 18th century, the Zana-Malata people – a new culture created jointly by pirates from around the world and Malagasy – came to dominate the island. They brought with them the democratic practices of pirate ships (where captains were elected and served at the pleasure of their crews) and the matriarchal traditions of some Malagasy, creating a feminist, anarchist "Libertalia."

Graeber retrieves and orders the history of this Libertalia from oral tradition, primary source documents, and records from around the world. Taken together, it's a tale that is rollicking and romantic, but also hilarious and eminently satisfying.

For example, the pirates of Madagascar found it useful (and amusing) to trick visitors into thinking the island had "pirate kings." They created sham courts, where Zana-Malata, Malagasy and pirates put on elaborate cons for visitors where they all pretended to be subjects of a pirate monarch whose treasures were borrowed for the duration of the show.

These shams, in turn, spawned a popular English literature, with the likes of Defoe penning bestselling, fantastical accounts of the pirate kings and their improbable adventures. Back in Madagascar, the Zana-Malata laughed themselves silly at the credulous crowds on the other side of the world.

18th century Madagascar was a crossroads of sea-traders, religious apostates (radical Jews!), exiles and sea-bums of every description. Graeber describes how the Zana-Malata's egalitarian made them resilient and adaptable, able to meet aggression with force when needed, or to turn it away when possible.

Graeber tells this tale as skillfully as any 18th century romantic pirate novelist, but grounded in academic rigor and careful research. "Pirate Enlightenment" is a swashbuckling, anti-authoritarian thrill-ride through the true pirates of the Indian Ocean, and the legacy they left behind.

One note on that "final posthumous work" epithet. I'm told that Graeber left behind a mountain of unpublished work, in various degrees of done-ness, ranging from notebooks to unpublished articles. I'd be very surprised if this was the last work of Graeber's we see in print.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago God Save Stan Lee tee https://memex.craphound.com/2008/01/24/god-save-stan-lee-tee/

#15yrsago FBI whistleblower tells librarians about discriminatory practices and bad procedure at the Bureau https://web.archive.org/web/20080127183738/http://alfocus.ala.org/videos/fbi-whistleblower-answers-questions

#10yrsago Tim Wu: “Escape From Tomorrow” doesn’t violate Disney’s copyright https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/its-a-mad-mad-mad-mad-disney-world

#5yrsago EU fines Qualcomm over $1 billion for anti-competitive iPhone deal https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_18_421

#5yrsago The NSA’s new “core values” statement no longer includes “honor,” “honesty” or “openness” https://theintercept.com/2018/01/24/nsa-core-values-honesty-deleted/

#5yrsago For 100 minutes, more than a million tuned into Sanders’ Medicare for All town hall https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/01/24/bernie-sanders-talks-universal-medicare-and-1-1-million-people-click-to-watch-him/

#5yrsago California’s lax usury laws means out-of-state loan sharks are charging desperate Californians 183% APRs https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-installment-loans-20180119-htmlstory.html

#5yrsago Florida state cop says he can’t remember why he bought mobile stalking app https://www.vice.com/en/article/gyweyy/florida-cop-bought-powerful-phone-malware-that-can-intercept-emails-and-whatsapp

#5yrsago Congressional Budget Office will (eventually) investigate the millions of fraudulent anti-Net Neutrality comments sent to the FCC https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/24/16926952/fcc-net-neutrality-false-identities-comments

#5yrsago TWANG! A one-dimensional dungeon-crawler that uses a springy doorstop as a controller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yf_VINmbTE

#5yrsago Despite the FCC, more than 750 predominantly conservative US communities have built their own publicly owned ISPs https://www.vice.com/en/article/a3np4a/new-municipal-broadband-map



Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 506 words (97570 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Social Quitting https://craphound.com/news/2023/01/22/social-quitting/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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

23 Jan. 2023


Today's links



Humpty Dumpty, smashed and crying at the bottom of a wall. To his left, a tiny Jacobin makes ready to decapitate an aristocrat in a guillotine. The guillotine's basket is full of eggs.

Eggflation is just more price-gouging (permalink)

The very instant that world governments rolled out relief funds so quarantine-shuttered businesses wouldn't fail and covid-furloughed workers wouldn't starve, corporate executives started rubbing their forelegs together and planning to raise prices and blame it on inflation brought on by letting The Poors have too much money.

They weren't exactly subtle about it: the CEOs of America's largest companies got on their quarterly investor calls and chortled about the willingness of "consumers" to blame inflation for the price-hikes they were cramming down their throats:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/11/20/quiet-part-out-loud/#profiteering

Republicans – always happy to serve as useful idiots for monopolists – stickered gas-pumps up and down the country with Joe Biden "I Did That" stickers, even as gas companies declared record profits and boasted to investors about how they were able to drill directly into drivers' wallets under cover of inflation.

In absolutely unrelated news, eggs are suddenly incredibly expensive. A dozen "conventional" eggs are currently averaging $2.88, which is double what they cost a year ago. Supposedly, this is caused by a supply chain shock (an avian flu outbreak).

But – and this will shock you, I know – the single company that dominates the US egg industry, Cal-Maine Food (AKA CALM – ugh) is making record profits. Their Q3/22 net was up 65% from the year before. Cal-Maine's Q4-22 sales were up record-smashing 110% – $801.7m:

https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/13/business/egg-prices-cal-maine-foods/index.html

Egg prices have climbed month-on-month even as other prices have stabilized or fallen. In its communications to investors, Cal-Maine's eminently guillotineable CFO Max Bowman attributed the monopolist's good fortune to "significantly higher selling prices" and "our ability to adapt to inflationary market pressures." Cal-Maine's stock is up 47% from a year ago – a record high.

All of this militates for price-gouging as the factor driving record egg prices, with bird flu standing in for inflation as a handy smokescreen. But even if we stipulate that Cal-Maine has cut its margins to the bone to help out the American egg-eater amid an avian superflu, that's no reason to CALM down.

Supply-chain shocks are endemic to concentrated markets. When we put all our eggs in one basket (see what I did there?) then even minor disruptions can have huge effects.

https://pluralistic.net/2022/02/02/its-the-economy-stupid/#overinflated

You may think that Cal-Maine is only one of many egg companies, but that's only because it's a many-tentacled octopus of a company, having rolled up dozens of other companies, including "Farmhouse Eggs, Sunups, Sunny Meadow, Egg-Land’s Best and Land O’ Lakes eggs."

The egg-aisle at your supermarket is just another Duff brewery, where all the different vats are being fed with the same sludge out of a common pipe:

https://simpsons.fandom.com/wiki/Duff_Tour_Guide

In this regard, it's no different from the rest of the groceries elsewhere in the store. Nearly all the consumer packaged goods in your store come from one of two companies; Unilever and Procter and Gamble. If a local company does manage to eke out a success, one or the other will buy them, announcing as they do that "We know our customers value choice."

But giving control over our production to a single company doesn't just deprive us of the choice to take our business elsewhere. It's an invitation to dominant firms to squeeze all the slack out of their supply chains, stripping out all the safety margins, selling off plant and leasing it back, relocating to distant, low-tax jurisdictions.

Because not all inflation is caused by price-gouging. Some is caused by too little capacity:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/06/01/factories-to-condos-pipeline/#stuff-not-money

Concentrated, financialized companies slash their payrolls, firing senior staff, declare massive dividends, then they founder when business picks up (looking at you, Southwest Air):

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/16/for-petes-sake/#unfair-and-deceptive

Whenever this kind of thing happens, corporate ghouls, ineffectual regulators, and the lickspittle apologists who carry their water shrug and say, "What, do you expect us to spend money on resilience, or take lower profits when your cost basis shifts?"

Yes. That is exactly what we should expect. And if they don't like it, we should shatter their monopolies. You can't make an omelette without breaking a some eggs.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago New CE lobby begs to voluntarily screw customers https://web.archive.org/web/20030413214359/http://alliancefordigitalprogress.org/ADP/content/?p=WhentheTechIndustryandHollywoodCooperate

#20yrsago Hilary Rosen resigns https://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2003/01/683-2/

#10yrsago TARDIS dress is bigger on the inside https://www.flickr.com/photos/jere7my/8396310518/in/photostream/

#10yrsago More on “Escape From Tomorrow,” the guerrilla art-house movie shot at Walt Disney World and Disneyland https://archive.nytimes.com/carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/disney-world-horror-fantasy-raises-knotty-copyright-issues/

#10yrsago How the NY Daily News covered Stonewall https://www.yak.net/ian/stonewall.html

#5yrsago Trump slaps 30% tariff on imported solar-cells https://www.axios.com/2018/01/22/trump-issues-tariffs-on-imported-solar-panels-1516657913

#5yrsago Governor of Montana signs executive order banning state from doing business with non-neutral ISPs https://www.techdirt.com/2018/01/23/montana-says-it-wont-do-business-with-net-neutrality-violating-isps/

#5yrsago South Korea, gripped by suicide epidemic, criminalizes suicide-pacts https://web.archive.org/web/20180123121136/https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/south-korea-to-criminalise-suicide-pacts-9887660

#5yrsago Today’s scares over smartphones are largely indistinguishable from yesterday’s technology-driven moral panics https://www.wired.com/story/demonized-smartphones-are-just-our-latest-technological-scapegoat/

#5yrsago App to record sexual consent in the blockchain will be used to discredit sexual assault survivors https://abovethelaw.com/2018/01/blockchain-sex-contracts-will-be-weaponized-against-women/?rf=1

#5yrsago The inexperienced man-child frat-rat that Trump made deputy drug czar got fired from his only real job for not showing up https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/trumps-24-year-old-drug-policy-appointee-was-let-go-at-law-firm-after-he-just-didnt-show/2018/01/20/a7de7c28-fd43-11e7-ad8c-ecbb62019393_story.html

#5yrsago NHS okays hospitals and doctors storing patient data on public cloud servers https://www.zdnet.com/article/cloud-computing-now-hospitals-can-keep-confidential-patient-records-in-the-public-cloud

#5yrsago New York cops furious that the union has reduced the number of “get out of jail free” cards they can give to their pals https://nypost.com/2018/01/21/police-union-slashes-number-of-get-out-of-jail-free-cards-issued/

#5yrsago Facebook helped consolidate power for Cambodia’s dictator and his attack-dog media, then killed the independent press’s platform https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/meghara/facebook-cambodia-democracy

#5ysago Social scientists have warned Zuck all along that the Facebook theory of interaction would make people angry and miserable https://particle.scitech.org.au/tech/secret-history-facebook-depression/

#5yrsago Sears Canada execs paid hundreds of millions in dividends before declaring bankruptcy and leaving 16,000 workers’ pensions unfunded https://www.thestar.com/business/2018/01/20/will-16000-sears-canada-retirees-see-their-pensions.html

#5yrsago No such thing as Bernie Bros: Bernie’s approval rates are women 50%, Black people 70%, Latinos 55%; men 46%, whites 43% https://www.truthdig.com/articles/bernie-bros-phenomenon-debunked-latest-sanders-poll/

#5yrsago Thanks to “consent” buried deep in sales agreements, car manufacturers are tracking tens of millions of US cars https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2018/01/15/big-brother-on-wheels-why-your-car-company-may-know-more-about-you-than-your-spouse/



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 517 words (97064 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Social Quitting https://craphound.com/news/2023/01/22/social-quitting/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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

21 Jan. 2023


Today's links



Hansel and Gretel in front of the witch's candy house. Hansel and Gretel have been replaced with line-drawings of influencers, taking selfies of themselves with the candy house. In front of the candy house stands a portly man in a business suit; his head is a sack of money with a dollar-sign on it. He wears a crooked witch's hat. The cottage has the Tiktok logo on it.

Tiktok's enshittification (permalink)

Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.

When a platform starts, it needs users, so it makes itself valuable to users. Think of Amazon: for many years, it operated at a loss, using its access to the capital markets to subsidize everything you bought. It sold goods below cost and shipped them below cost. It operated a clean and useful search. If you searched for a product, Amazon tried its damndest to put it at the top of the search results.

This was a hell of a good deal for Amazon's customers. Lots of us piled in, and lots of brick-and-mortar retailers withered and died, making it hard to go elsewhere. Amazon sold us ebooks and audiobooks that were permanently locked to its platform with DRM, so that every dollar we spent on media was a dollar we'd have to give up if we deleted Amazon and its apps. And Amazon sold us Prime, getting us to pre-pay for a year's worth of shipping. Prime customers start their shopping on Amazon, and 90% of the time, they don't search anywhere else.

That tempted in lots of business customers – Marketplace sellers who turned Amazon into the "everything store" it had promised from the beginning. As these sellers piled in, Amazon shifted to subsidizing suppliers. Kindle and Audible creators got generous packages. Marketplace sellers reached huge audiences and Amazon took low commissions from them.

This strategy meant that it became progressively harder for shoppers to find things anywhere except Amazon, which meant that they only searched on Amazon, which meant that sellers had to sell on Amazon.

That's when Amazon started to harvest the surplus from its business customers and send it to Amazon's shareholders. Today, Marketplace sellers are handing 45%+ of the sale price to Amazon in junk fees. The company's $31b "advertising" program is really a payola scheme that pits sellers against each other, forcing them to bid on the chance to be at the top of your search.

Searching Amazon doesn't produce a list of the products that most closely match your search, it brings up a list of products whose sellers have paid the most to be at the top of that search. Those fees are built into the cost you pay for the product, and Amazon's "Most Favored Nation" requirement sellers means that they can't sell more cheaply elsewhere, so Amazon has driven prices at every retailer.

Search Amazon for "cat beds" and the entire first screen is ads, including ads for products Amazon cloned from its own sellers, putting them out of business (third parties have to pay 45% in junk fees to Amazon, but Amazon doesn't charge itself these fees). All told, the first five screens of results for "cat bed" are 50% ads.

https://pluralistic.net/2022/11/28/enshittification/#relentless-payola

This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they're locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they're locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.

This is why – as Cat Valente wrote in her magesterial pre-Christmas essay – platforms like Prodigy transformed themselves overnight, from a place where you went for social connection to a place where you were expected to "stop talking to each other and start buying things":

https://catvalente.substack.com/p/stop-talking-to-each-other-and-start

This shell-game with surpluses is what happened to Facebook. First, Facebook was good to you: it showed you the things the people you loved and cared about had to say. This created a kind of mutual hostage-taking: once a critical mass of people you cared about were on Facebook, it became effectively impossible to leave, because you'd have to convince all of them to leave too, and agree on where to go. You may love your friends, but half the time you can't agree on what movie to see and where to go for dinner. Forget it.

Then, it started to cram your feed full of posts from accounts you didn't follow. At first, it was media companies, who Facebook preferentially crammed down its users' throats so that they would click on articles and send traffic to newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Then, once those publications were dependent on Facebook for their traffic, it dialed down their traffic. First, it choked off traffic to publications that used Facebook to run excerpts with links to their own sites, as a way of driving publications into supplying fulltext feeds inside Facebook's walled garden.

This made publications truly dependent on Facebook – their readers no longer visited the publications' websites, they just tuned into them on Facebook. The publications were hostage to those readers, who were hostage to each other. Facebook stopped showing readers the articles publications ran, tuning The Algorithm to suppress posts from publications unless they paid to "boost" their articles to the readers who had explicitly subscribed to them and asked Facebook to put them in their feeds.

Now, Facebook started to cram more ads into the feed, mixing payola from people you wanted to hear from with payola from strangers who wanted to commandeer your eyeballs. It gave those advertisers a great deal, charging a pittance to target their ads based on the dossiers of nonconsensually harvested personal data they'd stolen from you.

Sellers became dependent on Facebook, too, unable to carry on business without access to those targeted pitches. That was Facebook's cue to jack up ad prices, stop worrying so much about ad fraud, and to collude with Google to rig the ad market through an illegal program called Jedi Blue:

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

Today, Facebook is terminally enshittified, a terrible place to be whether you're a user, a media company, or an advertiser. It's a company that deliberately demolished a huge fraction of the publishers it relied on, defrauding them into a "pivot to video" based on false claims of the popularity of video among Facebook users. Companies threw billions into the pivot, but the viewers never materialized, and media outlets folded in droves:

https://slate.com/technology/2018/10/facebook-online-video-pivot-metrics-false.html

But Facebook has a new pitch. It claims to be called Meta, and it has demanded that we live out the rest of our days as legless, sexless, heavily surveilled low-poly cartoon characters.

It has promised companies that make apps for this metaverse that it won't rug them the way it did the publishers on the old Facebook. It remains to be seen whether they'll get any takers. As Mark Zuckerberg once candidly confessed to a peer, marvelling at all of his fellow Harvard students who sent their personal information to his new website "TheFacebook":

I don’t know why.

They "trust me"

Dumb fucks.

https://doctorow.medium.com/metaverse-means-pivot-to-video-adbe09319038

Once you understand the enshittification pattern, a lot of the platform mysteries solve themselves. Think of the SEO market, or the whole energetic world of online creators who spend endless hours engaged in useless platform Kremlinology, hoping to locate the algorithmic tripwires, which, if crossed, doom the creative works they pour their money, time and energy into:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/04/11/coercion-v-cooperation/#the-machine-is-listening

Working for the platform can be like working for a boss who takes money out of every paycheck for all the rules you broke, but who won't tell you what those rules are because if he told you that, then you'd figure out how to break those rules without him noticing and docking your pay. Content moderation is the only domain where security through obscurity is considered a best practice:

https://doctorow.medium.com/como-is-infosec-307f87004563

The situation is so dire that organizations like Tracking Exposed have enlisted an human army of volunteers and a robot army of headless browsers to try to unwind the logic behind the arbitrary machine judgments of The Algorithm, both to give users the option to tune the recommendations they receive, and to help creators avoid the wage theft that comes from being shadow banned:

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/tracking-exposed-demanding-gods-explain-themselves

But what if there is no underlying logic? Or, more to the point, what if the logic shifts based on the platform's priorities? If you go down to the midway at your county fair, you'll spot some poor sucker walking around all day with a giant teddy bear that they won by throwing three balls in a peach basket.

The peach-basket is a rigged game. The carny can use a hidden switch to force the balls to bounce out of the basket. No one wins a giant teddy bear unless the carny wants them to win it. Why did the carny let the sucker win the giant teddy bear? So that he'd carry it around all day, convincing other suckers to put down five bucks for their chance to win one:

https://boingboing.net/2006/08/27/rigged-carny-game.html

The carny allocated a giant teddy bear to that poor sucker the way that platforms allocate surpluses to key performers – as a convincer in a "Big Store" con, a way to rope in other suckers who'll make content for the platform, anchoring themselves and their audiences to it.

Which brings me to Tiktok. Tiktok is many different things, including "a free Adobe Premiere for teenagers that live on their phones."

https://www.garbageday.email/p/the-fragments-of-media-you-consume

But what made it such a success early on was the power of its recommendation system. From the start, Tiktok was really, really good at recommending things to its users. Eerily good:

https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1093882880

By making good-faith recommendations of things it thought its users would like, Tiktok built a mass audience, larger than many thought possible, given the death grip of its competitors, like Youtube and Instagram. Now that Tiktok has the audience, it is consolidating its gains and seeking to lure away the media companies and creators who are still stubbornly attached to Youtube and Insta.

Yesterday, Forbes's Emily Baker-White broke a fantastic story about how that actually works inside of Bytedance, Tiktok's parent company, citing multiple internal sources, revealing the existence of a "heating tool" that Tiktok employees use push videos from select accounts into millions of viewers' feeds:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilybaker-white/2023/01/20/tiktoks-secret-heating-button-can-make-anyone-go-viral/

These videos go into Tiktok users' ForYou feeds, which Tiktok misleadingly describes as being populated by videos "ranked by an algorithm that predicts your interests based on your behavior in the app." In reality, For You is only sometimes composed of videos that Tiktok thinks will add value to your experience – the rest of the time, it's full of videos that Tiktok has inserted in order to make creators think that Tiktok is a great place to reach an audience.

"Sources told Forbes that TikTok has often used heating to court influencers and brands, enticing them into partnerships by inflating their videos’ view count. This suggests that heating has potentially benefitted some influencers and brands — those with whom TikTok has sought business relationships — at the expense of others with whom it has not."

In other words, Tiktok is handing out giant teddy bears.

But Tiktok is not in the business of giving away giant teddy bears. Tiktok, for all that its origins are in the quasi-capitalist Chinese economy, is just another paperclip-maximizing artificial colony organism that treats human beings as inconvenient gut flora. Tiktok is only going to funnel free attention to the people it wants to entrap until they are entrapped, then it will withdraw that attention and begin to monetize it.

"Monetize" is a terrible word that tacitly admits that there is no such thing as an "Attention Economy." You can't use attention as a medium of exchange. You can't use it as a store of value. You can't use it as a unit of account. Attention is like cryptocurrency: a worthless token that is only valuable to the extent that you can trick or coerce someone into parting with "fiat" currency in exchange for it. You have to "monetize" it – that is, you have to exchange the fake money for real money.

In the case of cryptos, the main monetization strategy was deception-based. Exchanges and "projects" handed out a bunch of giant teddy-bears, creating an army of true-believer Judas goats who convinced their peers to hand the carny their money and try to get some balls into the peach-basket themselves.

But deception only produces so much "liquidity provision." Eventually, you run out of suckers. To get lots of people to try the ball-toss, you need coercion, not persuasion. Think of how US companies ended the defined benefits pension that guaranteed you a dignified retirement, replacing it with market-based 401(k) pensions that forced you to gamble your savings in a rigged casino, making you the sucker at the table, ripe for the picking:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/25/derechos-humanos/#are-there-no-poorhouses

Early crypto liquidity came from ransomware. The existence of a pool of desperate, panicked companies and individuals whose data had been stolen by criminals created a baseline of crypto liquidity because they could only get their data back by trading real money for fake crypto money.

The next phase of crypto coercion was Web3: converting the web into a series of tollbooths that you could only pass through by trading real money for fake crypto money. The internet is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, a prerequisite for full participation in employment, education, family life, health, politics, civics, even romance. By holding all those things to ransom behind crypto tollbooths, the hodlers hoped to convert their tokens to real money:

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

For Tiktok, handing out free teddy-bears by "heating" the videos posted by skeptical performers and media companies is a way to convert them to true believers, getting them to push all their chips into the middle of the table, abandoning their efforts to build audiences on other platforms (it helps that Tiktok's format is distinctive, making it hard to repurpose videos for Tiktok to circulate on rival platforms).

Once those performers and media companies are hooked, the next phase will begin: Tiktok will withdraw the "heating" that sticks their videos in front of people who never heard of them and haven't asked to see their videos. Tiktok is performing a delicate dance here: there's only so much enshittification they can visit upon their users' feeds, and Tiktok has lots of other performers they want to give giant teddy-bears to.

Tiktok won't just starve performers of the "free" attention by depreferencing them in the algorithm, it will actively punish them by failing to deliver their videos to the users who subscribed to them. After all, every time Tiktok shows you a video you asked to see, it loses a chance to show you a video it wants you to see, because your attention is a giant teddy-bear it can give away to a performer it is wooing.

This is just what Twitter has done as part of its march to enshittification: thanks to its "monetization" changes, the majority of people who follow you will never see the things you post. I have ~500k followers on Twitter and my threads used to routinely get hundreds of thousands or even millions of reads. Today, it's hundreds, perhaps thousands.

I just handed Twitter $8 for Twitter Blue, because the company has strongly implied that it will only show the things I post to the people who asked to see them if I pay ransom money. This is the latest battle in one of the internet's longest-simmering wars: the fight over end-to-end:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/12/10/e2e/#the-censors-pen

In the beginning, there were Bellheads and Netheads. The Bellheads worked for big telcos, and they believed that all the value of the network rightly belonged to the carrier. If someone invented a new feature – say, Caller ID – it should only be rolled out in a way that allows the carrier to charge you every month for its use. This is Software-As-a-Service, Ma Bell style.

The Netheads, by contrast, believed that value should move to the edges of the network – spread out, pluralized. In theory, Compuserve could have "monetized" its own version of Caller ID by making you pay $2.99 extra to see the "From:" line on email before you opened the message – charging you to know who was speaking before you started listening – but they didn't.

The Netheads wanted to build diverse networks with lots of offers, lots of competition, and easy, low-cost switching between competitors (thanks to interoperability). Some wanted this because they believed that the net would someday be woven into the world, and they didn't want to live in a world of rent-seeking landlords. Others were true believers in market competition as a source of innovation. Some believed both things. Either way, they saw the risk of network capture, the drive to monetization through trickery and coercion, and they wanted to head it off.

They conceived of the end-to-end principle: the idea that networks should be designed so that willing speakers' messages would be delivered to willing listeners' end-points as quickly and reliably as they could be. That is, irrespective of whether a network operator could make money by sending you the data it wanted to receive, its duty would be to provide you with the data you wanted to see.

The end-to-end principle is dead at the service level today. Useful idiots on the right were tricked into thinking that the risk of Twitter mismanagement was "woke shadowbanning," whereby the things you said wouldn't reach the people who asked to hear them because Twitter's deep state didn't like your opinions. The real risk, of course, is that the things you say won't reach the people who asked to hear them because Twitter can make more money by enshittifying their feeds and charging you ransom for the privilege to be included in them.

As I said at the start of this essay, enshittification exerts a nearly irresistible gravity on platform capitalism. It's just too easy to turn the enshittification dial up to eleven. Twitter was able to fire the majority of its skilled staff and still crank the dial all the way over, even with a skeleton crew of desperate, demoralized H1B workers who are shackled to Twitter's sinking ship by the threat of deportation.

The temptation to enshittify is magnified by the blocks on interoperability: when Twitter bans interoperable clients, nerfs its APIs, and periodically terrorizes its users by suspending them for including their Mastodon handles in their bios, it makes it harder to leave Twitter, and thus increases the amount of enshittification users can be force-fed without risking their departure.

Twitter is not going to be a "protocol." I'll bet you a testicle¹ that projects like Bluesky will find no meaningful purchase on the platform, because if Bluesky were implemented and Twitter users could order their feeds for minimal enshittification and leave the service without sacrificing their social networks, it would kill the majority of Twitter's "monetization" strategies.

¹Not one of mine.

An enshittification strategy only succeeds if it is pursued in measured amounts. Even the most locked-in user eventually reaches a breaking-point and walks away, or gets pushed. The villagers of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof tolerated the cossacks' violent raids and pogroms for years, until they were finally forced to flee to Krakow, New York and Chicago:

https://doctorow.medium.com/how-to-leave-dying-social-media-platforms-9fc550fe5abf

For enshittification-addled companies, that balance is hard to strike. Individual product managers, executives, and activist shareholders all give preference to quick returns at the cost of sustainability, and are in a race to see who can eat their seed-corn first. Enshittification has only lasted for as long as it has because the internet has devolved into "five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four":

https://twitter.com/tveastman/status/1069674780826071040

With the market sewn up by a group of cozy monopolists, better alternatives don't pop up and lure us away, and if they do, the monopolists just buy them out and integrate them into your enshittification strategies, like when Mark Zuckerberg noticed a mass exodus of Facebook users who were switching to Instagram, and so he bought Instagram. As Zuck says, "It is better to buy than to compete."

This is the hidden dynamic behind the rise and fall of Amazon Smile, the program whereby Amazon gave a small amount of money to charities of your choice when you shopped there, but only if you used Amazon's own search tool to locate the products you purchased. This provided an incentive for Amazon customers to use its own increasingly enshittified search, which it could cram full of products from sellers who coughed up payola, as well as its own lookalike products. The alternative was to use Google, whose search tool would send you directly to the product you were looking for, and then charge Amazon a commission for sending you to it:

https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/10ft5iv/comment/j4znb8y/

The demise of Amazon Smile coincides with the increasing enshittification of Google Search, the only successful product the company managed to build in-house. All its other successes were bought from other companies: video, docs, cloud, ads, mobile; while its own products are either flops like Google Video, clones (Gmail is a Hotmail clone), or adapted from other companies' products, like Chrome.

Google Search was based on principles set out in founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin's landmark 1998 paper, "Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine," in which they wrote, "Advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers."

http://ilpubs.stanford.edu:8090/361/

Even with that foundational understanding of enshittification, Google has been unable to resist its siren song. Today's Google results are an increasingly useless morass of self-preferencing links to its own products, ads for products that aren't good enough to float to the top of the list on its own, and parasitic SEO junk piggybacking on the former.

Enshittification kills. Google just laid off 12,000 employees, and the company is in a full-blown "panic" over the rise of "AI" chatbots, and is making a full-court press for an AI-driven search tool – that is, a tool that won't show you what you ask for, but rather, what it thinks you should see:

https://www.theverge.com/2023/1/20/23563851/google-search-ai-chatbot-demo-chatgpt

Now, it's possible to imagine that such a tool will produce good recommendations, like Tiktok's pre-enshittified algorithm did. But it's hard to see how Google will be able to design a non-enshittified chatbot front-end to search, given the strong incentives for product managers, executives, and shareholders to enshittify results to the precise threshold at which users are nearly pissed off enough to leave, but not quite.

Even if it manages the trick, this-almost-but-not-quite-unusuable equilibrium is fragile. Any exogenous shock – a new competitor like Tiktok that penetrates the anticompetitive "moats and walls" of Big Tech, a privacy scandal, a worker uprising – can send it into wild oscillations:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/08/watch-the-surpluses/#exogenous-shocks

Enshittification truly is how platforms die. That's fine, actually. We don't need eternal rulers of the internet. It's okay for new ideas and new ways of working to emerge. The emphasis of lawmakers and policymakers shouldn't be preserving the crepuscular senescence of dying platforms. Rather, our policy focus should be on minimizing the cost to users when these firms reach their expiry date: enshrining rights like end-to-end would mean that no matter how autocannibalistic a zombie platform became, willing speakers and willing listeners would still connect with each other:

https://doctorow.medium.com/end-to-end-d6046dca366f

And policymakers should focus on freedom of exit – the right to leave a sinking platform while continuing to stay connected to the communities that you left behind, enjoying the media and apps you bought, and preserving the data you created:

https://www.eff.org/interoperablefacebook

The Netheads were right: technological self-determination is at odds with the natural imperatives of tech businesses. They make more money when they take away our freedom – our freedom to speak, to leave, to connect.

For many years, even Tiktok's critics grudgingly admitted that no matter how surveillant and creepy it was, it was really good at guessing what you wanted to see. But Tiktok couldn't resist the temptation to show you the things it wants you to see, rather than what you want to see. The enshittification has begun, and now it is unlikely to stop.

It's too late to save Tiktok. Now that it has been infected by enshittifcation, the only thing left is to kill it with fire.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Recording industry needs collaborative filtering https://web.archive.org/web/20030410212626/http://www.shirky.com/writings/music_flip.html

#20yrsago Origin of spam https://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html

#15yrsago Joel Johnson puts AT&T on the spot over copyright spying plan https://web.archive.org/web/20080122084628/http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/01/21/talking-about-atts-i.html

#20yrsago SBC’s patent-shakedown: website navigation https://web.archive.org/web/20030207060405/http://www2.museumtour.com/sbc.html

#15yrsago Congress moving forward with plan to scare colleges into supporting RIAA measures https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/01/digital-theft-prevention-requirements-remain-higher-education-bill

#15yrsago Canadian Privacy Commissioner rejects DRM: don’t give spyware legal protection! https://web.archive.org/web/20080122014445/http://www.privcom.gc.ca/parl/2008/let_080118_e.asp

#10yrsago Guerrilla indie feature film shot at Walt Disney World https://web.archive.org/web/20130120020745/http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/review-escape-from-tomorrow-is-a-surrealist-treat-that-will-give-disneys-lawyers-nightmares

#10yrsago Designing for the factory: makers, machines, China, and industrial design https://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=2790

#10yrsago Jonathan Coulton: Glee plagiarized my arrangement of “Baby Got Back” https://www.techdirt.com/2013/01/18/jonathan-coulton-publicly-shames-fox-copying-his-arrangement-glee/

#10yrsago More plagiarism from Glee https://twitter.com/djearworm/status/172367818942185473

#10yrsago Podcast of my memorial for AaronSw, and the afterword he wrote for Homeland https://craphound.com/news/2013/01/21/rip-aaron-swartz/

#10yrago Edward Tufte on Aaron Swartz and his own hacking career https://danwin.com/2013/01/edward-tufte-aaron-swartz-marvelously-different/

#10yrsago Montreal comp sci student reports massive bug, is expelled and threatened with arrest for checking to see if it had been fixed https://www.theregister.com/2013/01/21/dawson_student_expelled_code_flaw/

#10yrsago Pennsylvania kindergartener uses Hello Kitty bubble-gun at school, suspended for “terrorist threat” https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/01/kindergartner-suspended-over-bubble-gun-threat/

#10yrsago Guy re-creates a VIA Rail car, in his basement, down to the most minute detail https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjMnWdIWjWs

#5yrsago Apple, Google add 45 minutes to commuter-bus run to avoid 280 highway, where the buses’ windows keep getting smashed https://fortune.com/2018/01/18/apple-google-bus-attacks/

#5yrsago Racist authoritarians insisted that ending stop-and-frisk would increase violent crime, but the opposite just happened https://www.propublica.org/article/in-new-york-crime-falls-along-with-police-stops

#5yrsago Comic-strip contracts, so no one argues they’re too confusing to be enforceable https://theconversation.com/comic-contracts-and-other-ways-to-make-the-law-understandable-90313

#5yrsago City of Sarajevo bans unsanctioned utterances of its name, threatens Facebook groups https://web.archive.org/web/20180122000110/https://blog.r3bl.me/en/the-city-whose-name-i-cannot-mention/

#5yrsago To keep their bond-ratings, hedge-funds have to publicly demonstrate that they are the most ruthless of landlords https://ourfinancialsecurity.org/2018/01/afr-report-wall-street-and-single-family-rentals/

#5yrsago Self-destructing thumb drives with smoke loads, glowing elements, tiny explosives https://medium.com/@_MG_/mr-self-destruct-7986998f32a8



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 517 words (97064 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

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

19 Jan. 2023


Today's links



A vintage postcard illustration of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC. The building is spattered with blood. In the foreground is a medieval woodcut of a physician bleeding a woman into a bowl while another woman holds a bowl to catch the blood. The physician's head has been replaced with that of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Why the Fed wants to crush workers (permalink)

The US Federal Reserve has two imperatives: keeping employment high and inflation low. But when these come into conflict – when unemployment falls to near-zero – the Fed forgets all about full employment and cranks up interest rates to "cool the economy" (that is, "to destroy jobs and increase unemployment").

An economy "cools down" when workers have less money, which means that the prices offered for goods and services go down, as fewer workers have less money to spend. As with every macroeconomic policy, raising interest rates has "distributional effects," which is economist-speak for "winners and losers."

Predicting who wins and who loses when interest rates go up requires that we understand the economic relations between different kinds of rich people, as well as relations between rich people and working people. Writing today for The American Prospect's superb Great Inflation Myths series, Gerald Epstein and Aaron Medlin break it down:

https://prospect.org/economy/2023-01-19-inflation-federal-reserve-protects-one-percent/

Recall that the Fed has two priorities: full employment and low interest rates. But when it weighs these priorities, it does so through "finance colored" glasses: as an institution, the Fed requires help from banks to carry out its policies, while Fed employees rely on those banks for cushy, high-paid jobs when they rotate out of public service.

Inflation is bad for banks, whose fortunes rise and fall based on the value of the interest payments they collect from debtors. When the value of the dollar declines, lenders lose and borrowers win. Think of it this way: say you borrow $10,000 to buy a car, at a moment when $10k is two months' wages for the average US worker. Then inflation hits: prices go up, workers demand higher pay to keep pace, and a couple years later, $10k is one month's wages.

If your wages kept pace with inflation, you're now getting twice as many dollars as you were when you took out the loan. Don't get too excited: these dollars buy the same quantity of goods as your pre-inflation salary. However, the share of your income that's eaten by that monthly car-loan payment has been cut in half. You just got a real-terms 50% discount on your car loan!

Inflation is great news for borrowers, bad news for lenders, and any given financial institution is more likely to be a lender than a borrower. The finance sector is the creditor sector, and the Fed is institutionally and personally loyal to the finance sector. When creditors and debtors have opposing interests, the Fed helps creditors win.

The US is a debtor nation. Not the national debt – federal debt and deficits are just scorekeeping. The US government spends money into existence and taxes it out of existence, every single day. If the USG has a deficit, that means it spent more than than it taxed, which is another way of saying that it left more dollars in the economy this year than it took out of it. If the US runs a "balanced budget," then every dollar that was created this year was matched by another dollar that was annihilated. If the US runs a "surplus," then there are fewer dollars left for us to use than there were at the start of the year.

The US debt that matters isn't the federal debt, it's the private sector's debt. Your debt and mine. We are a debtor nation. Half of Americans have less than $400 in the bank.

https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/personal-finance/articles/49-of-americans-couldnt-cover-a-400-emergency-expense-today-up-from-32-in-november/

Most Americans have little to no retirement savings. Decades of wage stagnation has left Americans with less buying power, and the economy has been running on consumer debt for a generation. Meanwhile, working Americans have been burdened with forms of inflation the Fed doesn't give a shit about, like skyrocketing costs for housing and higher education.

When politicians jawbone about "inflation," they're talking about the inflation that matters to creditors. Debtors – the bottom 90% – have been burdened with three decades' worth of steadily mounting inflation that no one talks about. Yesterday, the Prospect ran Nancy Folbre's outstanding piece on "care inflation" – the skyrocketing costs of day-care, nursing homes, eldercare, etc:

https://prospect.org/economy/2023-01-18-inflation-unfair-costs-of-care/

As Folbre wrote, these costs are doubly burdensome, because they fall on family members (almost entirely women), who have to sacrifice their own earning potential to care for children, or aging people, or disabled family members. The cost of care has increased every year since 1997:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/18/wages-for-housework/#low-wage-workers-vs-poor-consumers

So while politicians and economists talk about rescuing "savers" from having their nest-eggs whittled away by inflation, these savers represent a minuscule and dwindling proportion of the public. The real beneficiaries of interest rate hikes isn't savers, it's lenders.

Full employment is bad for the wealthy. When everyone has a job, wages go up, because bosses can't threaten workers with "exile to the reserve army of the unemployed." If workers are afraid of ending up jobless and homeless, then executives seeking to increase their own firms' profits can shift money from workers to shareholders without their workers quitting (and if the workers do quit, there are plenty more desperate for their jobs).

What's more, those same executives own huge portfolios of "financialized" assets – that is, they own claims on the interest payments that borrowers in the economy pay to creditors.

The purpose of raising interest rates is to "cool the economy," a euphemism for increasing unemployment and reducing wages. Fighting inflation helps creditors and hurts debtors. The same people who benefit from increased unemployment also benefit from low inflation.

Thus: "the current Fed policy of rapidly raising interest rates to fight inflation by throwing people out of work serves as a wealth protection device for the top one percent."

Now, it's also true that high interest rates tend to tank the stock market, and rich people also own a lot of stock. This is where it's important to draw distinctions within the capital class: the merely rich do things for a living (and thus care about companies' productive capacity), while the super-rich own things for a living, and care about debt service.

Epstein and Medlin are economists at UMass Amherst, and they built a model that looks at the distributional outcomes (that is, the winners and losers) from interest rate hikes, using data from 40 years' worth of Fed rate hikes:

https://peri.umass.edu/images/Medlin_Epstein_PERI_inflation_conf_WP.pdf

They concluded that "The net impact of the Fed’s restrictive monetary policy on the wealth of the top one percent depends on the timing and balance of [lower inflation and higher interest]. It turns out that in recent decades the outcome has, on balance, worked out quite well for the wealthy."

How well? "Without intervention by the Fed, a 6 percent acceleration of inflation would erode their wealth by around 30 percent in real terms after three years…when the Fed intervenes with an aggressive tightening, the 1%'s wealth only declines about 16 percent after three years. That is a 14 percent net gain in real terms."

This is why you see a split between the one-percenters and the ten-percenters in whether the Fed should continue to jack interest rates up. For the 1%, inflation hikes produce massive, long term gains. For the 10%, those gains are smaller and take longer to materialize.

Meanwhile, when there is mass unemployment, both groups benefit from lower wages and are happy to keep interest rates at zero, a rate that (in the absence of a wealth tax) creates massive asset bubbles that drive up the value of houses, stocks and other things that rich people own lots more of than everyone else.

This explains a lot about the current enthusiasm for high interest rates, despite high interest rates' ability to cause inflation, as Joseph Stiglitz and Ira Regmi wrote in their recent Roosevelt Institute paper:

https://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/RI_CausesofandResponsestoTodaysInflation_Report_202212.pdf

The two esteemed economists compared interest rate hikes to medieval bloodletting, where "doctors" did "more of the same when their therapy failed until the patient either had a miraculous recovery (for which the bloodletters took credit) or died (which was more likely)."

As they document, workers today aren't recreating the dread "wage-price spiral" of the 1970s: despite low levels of unemployment, workers wages still aren't keeping up with inflation. Inflation itself is falling, for the fairly obvious reason that covid supply-chain shocks are dwindling and substitutes for Russian gas are coming online.

Economic activity is "largely below trend," and with healthy levels of sales in "non-traded goods" (imports), meaning that the stuff that American workers are consuming isn't coming out of America's pool of resources or manufactured goods, and that spending is leaving the US economy, rather than contributing to an American firm's buying power.

Despite this, the Fed has a substantial cheering section for continued interest rates, composed of the ultra-rich and their lickspittle Renfields. While the specifics are quite modern, the underlying dynamic is as old as civilization itself.

Historian Michael Hudson specializes in the role that debt and credit played in different societies. As he's written, ancient civilizations long ago discovered that without periodic debt cancellation, an ever larger share of a societies' productive capacity gets diverted to the whims of a small elite of lenders, until civilization itself collapses:

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2022/07/michael-hudson-from-junk-economics-to-a-false-view-of-history-where-western-civilization-took-a-wrong-turn.html

Here's how that dynamic goes: to produce things, you need inputs. Farmers need seed, fertilizer, and farm-hands to produce crops. Crucially, you need to acquire these inputs before the crops come in – which means you need to be able to buy inputs before you sell the crops. You have to borrow.

In good years, this works out fine. You borrow money, buy your inputs, produce and sell your goods, and repay the debt. But even the best-prepared producer can get a bad beat: floods, droughts, blights, pandemics…Play the game long enough and eventually you'll find yourself unable to repay the debt.

In the next round, you go into things owing more money than you can cover, even if you have a bumper crop. You sell your crop, pay as much of the debt as you can, and go into the next season having to borrow more on top of the overhang from the last crisis. This continues over time, until you get another crisis, which you have no reserves to cover because they've all been eaten up paying off the last crisis. You go further into debt.

Over the long run, this dynamic produces a society of creditors whose wealth increases every year, who can make coercive claims on the productive labor of everyone else, who not only owes them money, but will owe even more as a result of doing the work that is demanded of them.

Successful ancient civilizations fought this with Jubilee: periodic festivals of debt-forgiveness, which were announced when new monarchs assumed their thrones, or after successful wars, or just whenever the creditor class was getting too powerful and threatened the crown.

Of course, creditors hated this and fought it bitterly, just as our modern one-percenters do. When rulers managed to hold them at bay, their nations prospered. But when creditors captured the state and abolished Jubilee, as happened in ancient Rome, the state collapsed:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/07/08/jubilant/#construire-des-passerelles

Are we speedrunning the collapse of Rome? It's not for me to say, but I strongly recommend reading Margaret Coker's in-depth Propublica investigation on how title lenders (loansharks that hit desperate, low-income borrowers with triple-digit interest loans) fired any employee who explained to a borrower that they needed to make more than the minimum payment, or they'd never pay off their debts:

https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-sales-practices-of-biggest-title-lender-in-us


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Robbie Williams: “‘Piracy’ is great” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2673983.stm

#15yrsago Florida school board approves McDonald’s report-cards and school-bus audio ads https://web.archive.org/web/20080121065543/https://consumerist.com/346745/bus-radio-advertises-to-school+bound-kids

#15yrsago World of Warcraft limits your wealth to 2^31 copper https://web.archive.org/web/20080117214357/http://www.wowinsider.com/2008/01/16/apparently-you-can-have-too-much-gold/

#10yrsago How the vile Daily Mail handles Creative Commons licenses https://memex.craphound.com/2013/01/19/how-the-vile-daily-mail-handles-creative-commons-licenses/

#5yrsago Trump’s “consumer protection bureau” will let the $50B payday lending industry gouge the poorest Americans with triple-digit interest rates https://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-cfpb-payday-lenders-20180119-story.html

#5yrsago The Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th District is a torture advocate who worked at Abu Ghraib https://theintercept.com/2018/01/19/gop-candidate-for-pennsylvania-special-election-is-a-former-abu-ghraib-interrogation-consultant/

#5yrsago It’s Poe’s birthday, so here’s Neil Gaiman reading The Raven https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jSHKPp-66w

#5yrsago America’s large hospital chains will start manufacturing generic drugs in order to beat shkrelic price-gouging https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/01/peeved-by-price-gouging-and-shortages-hospitals-will-now-make-their-own-drugs/



Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 523 words (96026 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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

18 Jan. 2023


Today's links



The old woman in the shoe. She stands before her shoe, wearing a fierce expression and brandishing a switch, as a line of downtrodden children file into the shoe. Behind her is a three-dimensional 'line-goes-up' graphic with a dollar-sign at the tip of its surging, rightmost arrow.

Care Inflation (permalink)

You can be forgiven for thinking that the Great Inflation Story is how a recent once-in-a-century pandemic, combined with a senseless war, combined with monopolistic price-gouging, temporarily drove prices up by less than ten percent, prompting calls to crush worker power and suppress wages in order to "reduce demand" for scarce goods:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/12/14/medieval-bloodletters/#its-the-stupid-economy

But for all the attention we gave to this transient inflation, there has been precious little alarm over the soaring inflation in "Care Labor" – daycare, preschool, nursing homes and medical services – whose price growth has outpaced the Consumer Price Index (CPI) every year since 1997.

Care inflation has severe knock-on effects for the rest of the economy. When workers can't find someone to look after their kids, their elderly relatives, or a sick or disabled partner, they are often forced out of the workforce, or they give up good jobs and accept lower wages and worse working conditions so they can take the time to do care labor.

Writing for The American Prospect, Nancy Folbre unpacks the causes and effects of this massive, long-term inflation, and offers a compelling explanation for why it garners so little attention (spoiler: because it mostly harms women, especially low-waged women):

https://prospect.org/economy/2023-01-18-inflation-unfair-costs-of-care/

It's a subject Folbre is eminently qualified to write on. She is an emeritus professor of economics at UMass Amherst, where she directs the Program on Gender and Care Work. Her blog, Care Talk, is a must-read on this subject:

https://blogs.umass.edu/folbre/

Folbre notes that workforce participation by working-aged people has declined since 1999, as an ever-larger slice of our productive capacity has been sidelined by the need to stay home and do care work. This unwaged care work can't pay the bills, leaving workers to fill in the gaps with insecure, low-paid jobs. This, in turn, leaves workers dependent on community ties that make it impossible to relocate in search of better jobs.

Despite a quarter century of price increases, "child care workers and nursing home aides have been and remain among the most poorly paid workers in the US." In health care, workers other than MDs have seen only modest, subinflationary pay increases.

Unlike manufacturing and customer service, care work can't be offshored. You can't ship your toddlers, elderly parents, or disabled spouse to a poor country where low-waged workers will take care of them. The declining pool of low-waged immigrant labor only partially offsets this disparity between the price of care and other services.

Leaving care work to the market – rather than subsidizing care through public services – enriches a small pool of shareholders, especially backers of the private equity funds that have "rolled up" smaller care facilities and practices, slashing wages and jacking up prices:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/12/16/schumpeterian-terrorism/#deliberately-broken

For anyone who doesn't own a private equity fund, the rising price of care work exacts a terrible toll. Public investment in care work has a "high social payoff" – it is necessary to produce the next generation of productive workers and the goods and services they will provide to each other and everyone else:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/hec.3995

The rising price of care is an example of what AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs calls "inequality inflation." When care is left up to the market, affluent families bid up the price of decent care. Poor families drop out of the market altogether, because it's cheaper for them to forego waged work than it is to outbid a professional family for care work.

This "pits low-wage workers providing care services against low-income consumers" – any time a care worker gets a raise, it gets harder for low-waged families to afford care work. The care work market gets hollowed out, with a high-end servicing the richest 10 percent of households, and Medicaid providing stopgap service for the very poorest, while everyone else is out in the cold.

(This has political consequences. As Folbre writes, "No wonder families with incomes just above the official thresholds for public assistance are politically disenchanted.")

The unwillingness to commit public funds to care work produces inexorable pressure to reduce the labor costs of care. For decades, care workers have seen their colleagues laid off and been told to work longer hours to pick up the slack, yielding a care sector filled with burned-out, demoralized workers.

And, as Folbre points out, care workers are disproportionately female – as are the workers who leave the waged workforce to work for free providing care to their family members. Unpaid "women's work" is badly accounted for in tradition economics, which gives politicians cover for inaction as women are forced out of the labor market by failures in the care economy.

The (predominantly) women who do unpaid care work are heavily reliant on programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is not indexed to inflation and has fallen in real terms every year since 1996 – a total drop of 40% in a generation.

Even if you don't care about gender equity, equity for disabled people, or a dignified old age for our elders, this should concern you: "Our economic system runs on human capabilities, and these are not a costless resource supplied by some self-sacrificing Mother Nature. Our own production, development, and maintenance requires both personal commitments and public support."

Public investment in care work would do more to curb this critical form of inflation than any interest rate hike. "[Care workers] will never be as cheap to produce as television sets, cars, or even robots. We will remain more valuable, even if we can’t be bought and sold."

Folbre's excellent piece is part of an equally excellent series at the Prospect: The Great Inflation Myths is a riveting, ongoing series of articles that demystify inflation through a political economy lens, probing the causes and effects of inflation on real human lives, beyond esoteric economic equations and jargon:

https://prospect.org/great-inflation-myths


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Eric Eldred Act: A bookkeeping change that would feed the public domain https://web.archive.org/web/20030201110456/https://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/blog/archives/2003_01.shtml

#20yrsago Bernstein’s patent-policy work-to-rule https://cr.yp.to/patents/tarzian.html

#20yrsago Civil liberties in gamespace https://web.archive.org/web/20030110002343/https://www.legendmud.org/raph/gaming/playerrights.html

#15yrsago Can the Smithsonian’s public domain images join the Library of Congress’s “Commons”? https://groups.google.com/g/open-government/c/VJ5UL8UdhIw?pli=1

#15yrsago Lawyer claims he owns “cyberlawyer” — actual cyberlawyers laugh and laugh https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/01/cyberlaw-and-cyberlawgs

#10yrsago TSA terminates its contract with Rapiscan, maker of pornoscanners https://www.latimes.com/business/la-xpm-2013-jan-17-la-fi-mo-fullbody-scanner-contract-20130117-story.html

#10yrsago Dan Bull song tribute to Aaron Swartz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb0tCgNzbjk

#10yrsago Debunking DoJ statement on Aaron Swartz’s prosecution https://www.techdirt.com/2013/01/17/carmen-ortiz-releases-totally-bogus-statement-concerning-aaron-swartz-prosecution/

#5yrsago EFF to NSA: you scammed your way to another six years of warrantless spying, and you’d better enjoy it while it lasts https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/01/open-letter-our-community-congresss-vote-extend-nsa-spying-eff-executive-director

#5yrsago Amazon’s useless “transparency reports” won’t disclose whether they’re handing data from always-on Alexa mics to governments https://www.zdnet.com/article/amazon-the-least-transparent-tech-company/

#5yrsago Hawai’i emergency notification system password revealed in photo about problems with Hawai’ian emergency notification system https://qz.com/1181763/hawaiis-emergency-management-agency-accidentally-revealed-an-internal-password

#5yrsago Trials confirm the use of psilocybin for depression without the “dulling” effects of traditional antidepressants https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320636

#5yrsago Leaseholders in building sheathed in flammable Grenfell cladding sent a £2m bill for repairs https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jan/17/citiscape-croydon-2m-recladding-bill-prompted-grenfell-disaster



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 504 words (95504 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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.


How to get Pluralistic:

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

17 Jan. 2023


Today's links



The cover for Eleanor Janega's 'The Once and Future Sex.'

Eleanor Janega's "Once and Future Sex" (permalink)

The Once and Future Sex is Eleanor Janega's new history of gender and sex in the medieval age, describing the weird and horny ways of medieval Europeans, which are far gnarlier and more complicated than the story we get from "traditionalists" who want us to believe that their ideas about gender roles reflect a fixed part of human nature, and that modern attitudes are an attempt to rewrite history.

https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393867817

If you'd like an essay-formatted version of this thread to read or share, here's a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/17/ren-faire/#going-medieval

Janega is a fantastic and hilarious medievalists whose blog, "Going Medieval" is essential reading, offering a well-informed and profane counterpoints to the ideologically driven, just-so stories that get rolled out to explain why progressive ideas are doomed. Some of my favorite installments:

  • I assure you, medieval people bathed

https://going-medieval.com/2019/08/02/i-assure-you-medieval-people-bathed/

  • On courtly love and pick up artists

https://going-medieval.com/2019/10/28/on-courtly-love-and-pick-up-artists/

  • If you’re going to talk about the Dark Ages, you had better be right

https://going-medieval.com/2020/07/02/if-youre-going-to-talk-about-the-dark-ages-you-had-better-be-right/

  • On putting sex work on the map

https://going-medieval.com/2021/06/11/on-putting-sex-work-on-the-map/

  • On women, pleasure, and semen

https://going-medieval.com/2022/03/24/on-women-pleasure-and-semen/

  • On conflating drag, (and femininity), with sexuality

https://going-medieval.com/2022/06/10/on-conflating-drag-and-femininity-with-sexuality/

  • On medieval kink (part one)

https://going-medieval.com/2022/06/24/on-medieval-kink-part-one/

  • On medieval kink (part two)

https://going-medieval.com/2022/07/08/on-medieval-kink-part-2/

  • A medieval abortion reading list

https://going-medieval.com/2022/06/29/a-medieval-abortion-reading-list/

Once and Future Sex is one of those very excellent blogger books that takes all the ideas that the author has developed through short pieces reacting to current events, takes all the reactions to those pieces, including the squeals of outrage from less-informed people desperately invested in a certain vision of medieval life, and synthesizes them into a single consistent narrative.

Books like these are the comedy specials of blogging: the author has road-tested their material, tried it in front of audiences up and down the land, polished it to a high shine, and now brings it all together in a triumphant, confident bravura performance.

Janega's overarching point is that gender and sex are contingent. Our obvious, "biologically determined" ideas about sex – for example, that men are sexual aggressors and women are generally uninterested in sex – are relatively modern, and millions of people once believe the exact opposite, with equal confidence.

This extends in all directions: whether women did hard physical labor, whether beauty ideals are eternal, whether women went to war, or ruled, or engaged in scholarship. When someone claims that the "hip to waist ratio" for women has an evolutionary determined ideal that is found everywhere, Janega's work lets us counter with the fact that for hundreds of years, the ideal female body was one with small breasts and a prominent pot-belly.

Janega's point is by no means that the medieval era was a golden age of gender equality – rather, it's that the problems of gender were very different from our own. If, as a society, we are capable of believing that women are sex-crazed monsters, and capable of believing that women are frigid and sex-averse, then perhaps we could find some happy medium, like "Some women like sex a lot. Others, not so much. Still others: it depends."

But while Once and Future Sex has a point and a narrative, it is also a bouquet of delightful grace-notes and weird facts from the age – from the belief that horny women tricked their men into having sex with them by putting live fish in their vaginas, then cooking and serving them, to the criminal hijinx of oven-for-hire bakers who stole their customers dough by means of a hole in the table.

The past is a different country. Our understanding of the past is always changing – and that's not new, either (after all, many of the ideals of the medieval era's ruling class were based on revisionist beliefs about life in ancient Greece and Rome). Janega is a thoroughly modern medievalist, able to inform and contextualize while entertaining and amazing.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago FBI responds to ACLU FOIA request…with 111 blank pages https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/fbi-to-aclu-nope-we-wont-tell-you-how-when-or-why-we-track-you/

#10yrsago Michelle Bachmann stiffs her campaign staff, they retaliate by ratting to the feds https://www.startribune.com/ex-bachmann-aide-alleges-campaign-finance-violations/187048461/

#5yrsago Neither Huxleyed, nor Orwelled: living in the Phildickian dystopia https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/henry-farrell-philip-k-dick-and-fake-humans/

#5yrsago A newly discovered strain of Android malware contains never-seen surveillance features https://securelist.com/skygofree-following-in-the-footsteps-of-hackingteam/83603/



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 512 words (94995 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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.


How to get Pluralistic:

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

Pluralistic.net

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

https://pluralistic.net/plura-list

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https://mamot.fr/@pluralistic

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(Latest Medium column: "Normalize Dark Corners!" https://doctorow.medium.com/normalize-dark-corners-6df4bc752cf3)

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

16 Jan. 2023


Today's links



The La Brea tar-pits. A Southwest jet is nose-down in the tar, next to a stranded mastodon. In the foreground are the three wise monkeys, their faces replaced with that of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

1,000,000 stranded Southwest passengers deserved better from Pete Buttigieg (permalink)

The catastrophic failure of Southwest Air over Christmas 2022 was the worst single-airline aviation failure in American history, stranding over 1,000,000 passengers. But while it was exceptional, it was also foreseeable: 2022 saw Southwest and the other carriers rack up record numbers of cancellations, leaving crews and fliers stranded.

It's not like the carriers can't afford to improve things. After pulling in $54 billion in covid relief, the airlines are swimming in cash, showering executives with record bonuses and paying titanic dividends to shareholders. Southwest has announced a $428m dividend.

This isn't a new problem. Trump's Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was a paragon of inaction and neglect, refusing even to meet with consumer advocacy groups. This is bad, because under US law, state attorneys general are not allowed to punish misbehaving airlines – that power vests solely and entirely with the Secretary of Transport.

It's been two years since Biden appointed Pete Buttigieg to be the human race's most powerful aviation regulator. Buttigieg started his tenure on a promising note, meeting with the same consumer groups that Chao had snubbed, but after that hopeful beginning, things ground to a halt.

As Corporate Crime Reporter details, William McGee of the American Economic Liberties Project was impressed by the Secretary: "He was intelligent, articulate, he had good questions for us, he was taking notes, he seemed concerned." But 18 months later, McGee describes Buttigieg's leadership as "lax."

https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/pete-buttigieg-and-the-southwest-airlines-meltdown/

Buttigieg likes to tout a single enforcement action as his signature achievement: fining six airlines and ordering them to issue refunds to US passengers. But only one of those airlines was a US carrier: Frontier, which only accounts for 2% of all US flights. The US monopoly carriers have gone unscathed.

The US carriers are in sore need of regulatory discipline. In 2020 alone, United racked up 10,000 consumer complaints, twice as many as any other carrier. Under Buttigieg, the DOT investigated these airlines and closed every one of these complaints without taking any action against them.

This is part of a wider pattern. In Buttigieg's 18 month tenure, not a single airline has been ordered to pay any fines as a result of cancellations. In the absence of oversight and accountability, the airlines have made a habit out of scheduling flights they know they don't have the crew to fly (they used public covid funds to buy out senior crew contracts, retiring much of their workforce).

This gives the airlines the flexibility to offer many flights they know they can't service, and to allocate crew to whichever runs will generate the most profit, stranding US passengers and holding onto their money for months or years before paying refunds – if they ever do.

Consumer groups weren't alone in sounding the alarm over the deteriorating conditions in the airline sector. In 2022, dozens of state attorneys general – Democrats and Republicans – sent open letters to Buttigieg begging him to use his broad powers as Secretary of Transport to hold the airlines accountable.

What are those powers? Well, the big one is USC40 Section 41712(a), the "unfair and deceptive" authority modeled on Section 5 of the FTC Act. This authority allows the Secretary to act without further Congressional action, to order airlines to end practices that are "unfair and deceptive," and to extract massive fines from companies that don't comply.

As McGee told CCR, "the scheduling and canceling of flights is both unfair and deceptive." In order to force the airlines to end this practice, Buttigieg would have to initiate an investigation into the practice. The American Economic Liberties Project called on Buttigieg to open an investigation months ago. There has not been such an investigation.

Even on refunds, Buttigieg's much-touted signature achievement, the Secretary has left Americans in the cold. US law requires airlines to give cash refunds to passengers on cancelled flights. But to this day, passengers are sent unfair and deceptive messages by airlines offering them credit for cancellations, and fliers must fight their way through a bureaucratic quagmire to get cash refunds.

McGee and other advocates met with Buttigieg twelve times asking him to address this. When he finally took action, he ignored the domestic airlines – which racked up 5,700% more complaints in his first year on the job than in the previous year – except for tiny, largely irrelevant Frontier. If you are an American whose journey on an American airline was cancelled, there's a 98% chance that Buttigieg let them off without a single dollar in fines.

McGee isn't an armchair quarterback. He is an industry veteran, an FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher: "I canceled flights. I rescheduled flights. I diverted flights. I delayed flights. I did that every day."

Apologists for Buttigieg claim that he's doing all he can: "Pete isn't in charge of airline IT!" But while USC 40 doesn't mention computer systems or staffing levels directly, it doesn't have to: the "unfair and deceptive" standard is deliberately broad, to give regulators the powers they need to protect the American people.

In understanding whether the million fliers that Southwest stranded on the way to their Christmas vacations could have expected more from their DOT, it's worth looking at how other regulators have used similar authority to protect the American people.

Exhibit A here has to be FTC Chair Lina Khan, whose powers under FTCA5 are nearly identical to Buttigieg's power under 41712(a) (the DOT language was copied nearly verbatim from the FTCA). Two years ago, Khan began an in-depth investigation into the use of nonompete agreements in the US labor market.

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/events/2020/01/non-competes-workplace-examining-antitrust-consumer-protection-issues

This investigation created an extensive evidentiary record on the ways that workers are harmed by these agreements, and collected empirical observations about whether industries really needed noncompetes to thrive (for example, noncompetes are banned in California, home to the most profitable, most knowledge-intensive businesses in the world, undermining claims that these businesses need noncompetes to survive).

Then, right as Southwest was stranding a million Americans, Khan unveiled a rulemaking to ban noncompetes for every American worker, using her Section 5 powers. Khan's rule is retroactive, undoing every existing noncompete as well as banning them into the future.

https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/10/the-courage-to-govern/#whos-in-charge

This is what a fully operational battle-station looks like! Khan and Buttigieg are among the most powerful people who have ever lived, with more and farther-reaching regulatory authority, more power to alter the lives of millions of people, than almost anyone who every drew breath.

And yet, when Secretary Buttigieg jawbones about the airlines, it's all pleading, not threats. As McGee says, "If you have a Secretary of Transportation who does not punish the airlines when they act terribly, then we should not be surprised when they continue to behave terribly."

State AGs from both parties are desperate for Buttigieg to back legislation that would return their right to punish airlines. So far, he has not voiced his support for this regulation. When the Secretary of Transport won't act, and when he won't support the right of other officials to act, the American traveler is truly stranded.

(Image: Tomás Del Coro, Japanexperterna.se, CC BY-SA 2.0; Tarcil, CC BY-SA 3.0; modified)


Hey look at this (permalink)

The world’s biggest PR firm claims to be an expert on trust – but is it? https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/jan/15/edelman-pr-firm-davos-trust



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Lessig: Whither the Supremes’ Constitutional commitment? https://web.archive.org/web/20030201110456/https://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/blog/archives/2003_01.shtml

#20yrsago Melancholy Elephants: infinite copyright = infocalypse https://www.baen.com/chapters/W200011/0671319744___1.htm

#20yrsago WiFi-SciFi: My open spectrum fiction on Salon https://www.salon.com/2003/01/16/liberation_spectrum/

#20yrsago Supreme Court rules against Eldred, Alexandria burns https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eldred_v._Ashcroft

#15yrsago Bruce Sterling’s Kiosk: geniunely 21st century science fiction https://web.archive.org/web/20080115084153/https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/fiction/bs01.htm

#15yrsago Fair use for the 21st century: if it adds value, it’s fair; if it substitutes, it’s not https://archive.nytimes.com/bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/830/

#10yrsago “Aaron’s Law” introduced, would change computer law so violating Terms of Service isn’t a felony https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/16njr9/im_rep_zoe_lofgren_im_introducing_aarons_law_to/

#10yrsago Meet Zack Kopplin, the 19-year-old who started winning battles against teaching creationism in Louisiana public schools when he was 14 https://web.archive.org/web/20130116011419/http://io9.com/5976112/how-19+year+old-activist-zack-kopplin-is-making-life-hell-for-louisianas-creationists

#10yrsago Tim Wu: what if we’d treated Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak the way we treated Aaron Swartz? https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-the-legal-system-failed-aaron-swartzand-us

#10yrsago Free Freedom of Information Requests, in honor of Aaron Swartz https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2013/jan/14/aaron-swartz-1986-2013/

#5yrsago MLK: anti-capitalist activist https://www.rawstory.com/2017/01/11-most-anti-capitalist-quotes-from-martin-luther-king-jr/

#5yrsago Marriott fires employee for “willfully liking” a tweet in support of Tibetan independence https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2128124/marriott-sacks-employee-who-liked-twitter-post-tibet-independence

#5yrsago Playing low frequency noise to disrupt hard-drives: denial of service for CCTVs, data-centers, and other computing environments https://arxiv.org/pdf/1712.07816.pdf

#5yrsago Trump’s new assistant Drug Czar: a 24-year-old campaign volunteer with no experience, in charge of billions to end the opioid epidemic https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/meet-the-24-year-old-trump-campaign-worker-appointed-to-help-lead-the-governments-drug-policy-office/2018/01/13/abdada34-f64e-11e7-91af-31ac729add94_story.html

#5yrsago Inmate, denied health care in an Arizona private prison, chews his own fingers off https://www.newsweek.com/prison-health-care-chewed-fingers-pain-arizona-corizon-780648



Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 512 words (94995 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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 Jan. 2023


Today's links



The cover of the Drawn & Quarterly edition of Kate Beaton's 'Ducks.'

Kate Beaton's "Ducks" (permalink)

It's been more than a decade since I began thrilling to Kate Beaton's spectacular, hilarious snark-history webcomic "Hark! A Vagrant," pioneering work that mixed deceptively simple lines, superb facial expressions, and devastating historical humor:

https://memex.craphound.com/2012/03/23/hark-a-vagrant-the-book/

Beaton developed Hark! into a more explicit political allegory, managing the near-impossible trick of being trenchant and topical while still being explosively funny. Her second Hark! collection, Step Aside, Pops, remains essential reading, if only for her brilliant "straw feminists":

https://memex.craphound.com/2015/09/15/step-aside-pops-a-new-hark-a-vagrant-collection-that-delights-and-dazzles/

Beaton is nothing if not versatile. In 2015, she published The Princess and the Pony, a picture book that I read to my own daughter – and which inspired me to write my own first picture book, Poesy the Monster-Slayer:

https://memex.craphound.com/2015/08/07/the-princess-and-the-pony-from-kate-hark-a-vagrant-beaton/

Beaton, then, has a long history of crossing genres in her graphic novels, so the fact that she published a memoir in graphic novel form is no surprise. But that memoir, Ducks: Two Years In the Oil Sands, still marks a departure for her, trading explosive laughs for subtle, keen observations about labor, climate and gender:

https://drawnandquarterly.com/books/ducks/

In 2005, Beaton was a newly minted art-school grad facing a crushing load of student debt, a debt she would never be able to manage in the crumbling, post-boom economy of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Like so many Maritimers, she left the home that meant everything for her to travel to Alberta, where the tar sands oil boom promised unmatched riches for anyone willing to take them.

Beaton's memoir describes the following four years, as she works her way into a series of oil industry jobs in isolated company towns where men outnumber women 50:1 and where whole communities marinate in a literally toxic brew of carcinogens, misogyny, economic desperation and environmental degradation.

The story that follows is – naturally – wrenching, but it is also subtle and ambivalent. Beaton finds camaraderie with – and empathy for – the people she works alongside, even amidst unimaginable, grinding workplace harassment that manifests in both obvious and glancing ways.

Early reviews of Ducks rightly praised it for this subtlety and ambivalence. This is a book that makes no easy characterizations, and while it has villains – a content warning, the book depicts multiple sexual assaults – it carefully apportions blame in the mix of individual failings and a brutal system.

This is as true for the environmental tale as it is for the labor story: the tar sands are the world's filthiest oil, an energy source that is only viable when oil prices peak, because extracting and refining that oil is so energy-intensive. The slow, implacable, irreversible impact that burning Canadian oil has on our shared planet is diffuse and takes place over long timescales, making it hard to measure and attribute.

But the impact of the tar sands on the bodies and minds of the workers in the oil patch, on the First Nations whose land is stolen and despoiled in service to oil, and on the politics of Canada are far more immediate. Beaton paints all this in with the subtlest of brushstrokes, a thousand delicate cuts that leave the reader bleeding in sympathy by the time the tale is told.

Beaton's memoir is a political and social triumph, a subtle knife that cuts at our carefully cultivated blind-spots about industry, labor, energy, gender, and the climate. But it's also – and not incidentally – a narrative and artistic triumph.

In other words, Beaton's not just telling an important story, she's also telling a fantastically engrossing story – a page-turner, filled with human drama, delicious tension, likable and complex characters, all the elements of a first-rate tale.

Likewise, Beaton's art is perfectly on point. Hark!'s secret weapon was always Beaton's gift for drawing deceptively simple human faces whose facial expressions were indescribably, superbly perfect, conveying irreducible mixtures of emotion and sentiment. If anything, Ducks does this even better. I think you could remix this book so that it's just a series of facial expressions and you'd still convey all the major emotional beats of the story.

Graphic memoirs have emerged as a potent and important genre in this century. And women have led that genre, starting with books like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (2006):

https://cbldf.org/banned-challenged-comics/case-study-fun-home/

But also the increasingly autobiographical work of Lynda Barry, culminating in her 2008 One! Hundred! Demons!:

https://drawnandquarterly.com/books/one-hundred-demons/

(which should really be read alongside her masterwork on creativity, 2019's Making Comics):

https://memex.craphound.com/2019/11/05/lynda-barrys-making-comics-is-one-of-the-best-most-practical-books-ever-written-about-creativity/

In 2014, we got Cece Bell's wonderful El Deafo:

https://memex.craphound.com/2014/11/25/el-deafo-moving-fresh-ya-comic-book-memoir-about-growing-up-deaf/

Which was part of the lineage that includes the work of Lucy Knisley, especially later volumes like 2020's Stepping Stones:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/09/enhanced-rock-weathering/#knisley

Along with Jen Wang's 2019 Stargazing:

https://memex.craphound.com/2019/09/25/stargazing-jen-wangs-semi-autobiographical-graphic-novel-for-young-readers-is-a-complex-tale-of-identity-talent-and-loyalty/

2019 was actually a bumper-crop year for stupendous graphic memoirs by women, rounded out by Ebony Flowers's Hot Comb:

https://drawnandquarterly.com/books/hot-comb/

And don't forget 2017's dazzling My Favorite Thing is Monsters, by Emil Ferris:

https://memex.craphound.com/2017/06/20/my-favorite-thing-is-monsters-a-haunting-diary-of-a-young-girl-as-a-dazzling-graphic-novel/

This rapidly expanding, enthralling canon is one of the most exciting literary trends of this century, and Ducks stands with the best of it.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago RIAA opposes the Hollings Bill https://web.archive.org/web/20030117091355/https://www.theinquirer.net/?article=7198

#15yrsago Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind: book explains magic, hypnosis and the rationale for rationalism https://memex.craphound.com/2008/01/14/derren-browns-tricks-of-the-mind-book-explains-magic-hypnosis-and-the-rationale-for-rationalism/

#10yrsago DoJ drops charges against Aaron Swartz https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/government-formally-drops-charges-against-aaron-swartz/

#10yrsago How Internet copyright laws let Big Content get away with paying less to artists https://toc.oreilly.com/2013/01/liability-vs-leverage.html

#10yrsago MIT president appoints Hal Abelson to investigate university’s role in Aaron Swartz’s prosecution https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/mit-president-calls-for-thorough-analysis-of-schools-involvement-with-swartz/

#10yrsago Aaron Swartz’s politics weren’t just about free technology: they were about freeing humanity https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/aaron-swartzs-politics.html

#5yrsago Congressional Democrats have so little faith in Trump’s leadership that they’ve awarded him the power to conduct limitless, warrantless mass surveillance of Americans https://theintercept.com/2018/01/12/the-same-democrats-who-denounce-trump-as-a-lawless-treasonous-authoritarian-just-voted-to-give-him-vast-warrantless-spying-powers/

#5yrsago Peter Thiel, “libertarian,” wants to buy Gawker’s archive, which would give him the power to censor stories he didn’t like https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gawker-thiel/peter-thiel-submits-bid-for-gawker-faces-challenges-idUSKBN1F02V2

#5yrsago German steelworkers demand the right to take two years’ worth of “work-life balance” 28-hour work weeks to look after children or aging parents https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/08/german-metal-workers-strike-in-bid-to-gain-28-hour-working-weeks



Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 512 words (94995 words total)

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Daddy-Daughter Podcast, 2022 Edition https://craphound.com/podcast/2022/12/12/daddy-daughter-podcast-2022-edition/

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

This work 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

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