Pluralistic: 29 Jun 2020

Today's links

Female Furies (permalink)

"Female Furies" are a deep Jack Kirby/DC Comics cut, dating to a 1972 issue of Mister Miracle; but in 2018, DC announced that it was rebooting the book with Cecil Castellucci writing and Adriana Melo doing the art.

The run was collected in a trade paperback in December: "The Fourth World Revolution." I read it yesterday.

It's amazing.

The Female Furies are a warrior squad on Apokolips, Darkseid's militarized hell-planet. They were raised in Granny Goodness in her brutal orphanage.

Granny is reimagined as a betrayed Darkseid lieutenant, who was rewarded for carrying out the assassination that vaulted Darkseid to power by being sexually assaulted by Darkseid and then cast aside in favor of a male rival, banished to run the orphanage.

In Castellucci's telling, the Furies are Granny revenge, her long biding scheme to capture Darkseid's favor, rise above her rivals in the power structure, and become the true power behind the throne.

She has raised her Furies to fight better and harder then men, fashioning them into living proof of her suitability to rule. She has also trained them to be unquestioningly obedient to her, even when she sacrifices them to be abused by the men in Darkseid's inner circle.

The setup is absolutely harrowing, far more hellish than the mere Dante-esque horrors that Kirby imagined.

Castellucci's Apokolips is a place where self-preservation always involves betrayal of the people around you. Granny betrays the Furies, the Furies betray each other.

But these schemes are always overlaid with a performance of loyalty and fawning admiration, as each character seeks to flatter or toady their way to a better position. Every crumb of affection hides poison, every claim to dignity is met with gaslighting and dismissal.

Because this is a story about women seeking places in a relentless patriarchy, it's a story about how patriarchy replicates itself: how women get ahead by treating other women they way they were treated by men, how they sacrifice each other to men, how they blind themselves.

It's also a story about the only way to break the deadlock of a low-trust society: solidarity. The solidarity Castellucci's characters find is hard won and brittle, but it is also transformative, literally remaking the planet.

Castellucci shows us how a reboot should be handled: revisiting source material through a modern lens, finding the powerful stories that were elided in the original telling.

How to break up Google (permalink)

It's really hard to break up a monopoly; first, there are the practical considerations – the protracted legal wrangle that consume all the resources that competition regulators have and then some.

The most recent attempt to break up IBM lasted from 1969-82, and in each of those years, IBM's legal bills exceeded the entire budget of the FTC's antitrust division. Toxic monopolists have deep pockets and huge upsides, and they can and do spend like crazy.

But even unsuccessful breakup attempts can be worth it There's good reason to believe IBM chose commodity components for the PC because of the scars of the breakup fight, and likewise chose not to shut down PC clones because of that trauma.

There are persistent insider tales that Microsoft didn't strangle Google because they were gunshy after the DoJ's failed breakup attempt. Last year, Gates attributed the company's lack of interest in Android to the fear of more DoJ scrutiny.

So maybe we decide that despite the blood and treasure involved, we're going to take a run at breaking up tech monopolies. Next question: how should they be broken up?

That's a question XML co-inventor Tim Bray has been investigating.

Last month, Bray quit his job as a senior exec at Amazon over the company's unethical conduct, particularly its treatment of warehouse workers and the retaliation against tech workers who acted in solidarity with them.

Earlier this month, he made the case for breaking up Amazon and made some pretty definitive statements about how Amazon's cloud business would be better off separated from the rest of the company.

Today, he assays some thoughts about how to break up Google.

It's harder to be definitive here because Google's financial disclosures are really poor. We know how much revenue different divisions bring in, but not how much PROFIT they represent.

That makes it hard to know whether a given division is "a money-spinner or strictly a traffic play." Notably, there are no figures as to the profitability of Android, the most popular OS in the world. That's actually pretty weird, when you think about it.

After looking at the market power vested in Gmail, Maps, Cloud, online ads, Android and Youtube, Bray makes some suggestions for how Google could be broken up.

First, split off ads. That's a no-brainer – every trustbuster I know starts there.

Next, Youtube: "it’s got no real synergy that I can detect with any other Google property."

What about Android? It's not even clear whether it's a business. Bray's not sure what to do about it.

Maps is almost certainly a business, but it's really toxic and badly run. Bray wants to start by forcing Google to publish its financials.

He thinks Cloud should be spun out as a competitor to Amazon, with Google Office alongside of it as a competitive advantage.

He makes the point that "we could hope they’d break Google’s habit of suddenly killing products heavily depended-on by customers. You just can’t do that in the Enterprise space."

Bray: "Google’s whole is worth less than the sum of its parts. So a breakup might be a win for shareholders…the fountain of money thrown off by Web-search advertising leaves a lot of room for laziness and mistakes in other sectors of the business."

From the outside, it certainly appears that the company has lost the ability to make successful products: after search (a genuine innovation) and Gmail (a GREAT Hotmail clone), the company had an (unbroken?) string of failures in internal development.

All (?) of its other growth has come from buying up other companies. For all its labs and R&D;, Google sure seems to be in the "buying great things" business, not the "creating great things" business.

Of course, Google's also really good at scaling and operationalizing other peoples' ideas, but that's always true of monopolists: there was lots wrong with Standard Oil, but it was really good at pumping oil.

And let's not forget how much of Google's incredible scale and operational excellence is the result of…buying companies that produce scaling tools, hardware, and management.

Facebook and Trump collaborate on rule-rigging (permalink)

Amid the clamor for better Big Tech moderation rules (and better enforcement of those rules), it's important to remember that complex laws favor those who can afford lawyers.

That goes whether we're talking about actual lawyers or "consultants" who know the platforms rulebooks inside and out.

"The lines between good conduct and bad conduct are necessarily arbitrary: if you create a rule against 'harassment' then you have to create a threshold beyond which conduct crosses over from merely “unpleasant” and into 'harassing.'"

"The difference between 'harassment' and 'very nearly almost but not quite harassment' is so arbitrary that the subjects of this v-n-a-b-n-q harassment will probably not register that there’s any difference."

As bad as this power-imbalance is, it's even worse if the platform collaborates with you to revise its rules so that any time you cross the line, they move the line.

That's what Facebook did for Trump, according to a Washington Post investigation by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm.

They cite multiple Facebook sources, including senior people who quit over the practice and went on the record with their allegations.

Not only did Facebook collaborate with Trump to help reword his posts so they wouldn't break the rules; sometimes, they changed the rules.

The Trump complicity began in 2015, when Facebook found a way to leave up Trump's campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the USA, despite its clear violation of Facebook's policies.

Lurking in the background of this scale-thumbing is Vice President of Global Policy Joel Kaplan, a far-right operator brought in to assuage the victimization-complex of right-wing commentators who claimed FB was biased against them.

It was Kaplan who, with a straight face, argued against banning dangerous disinformation campaigns because this would disproportionately affect right-wing users. Even worse: Zuckerberg reversed an anti-disinfo plan on the basis of Kaplan's advice.

A leaked Kaplan memo reported on by the Post shows how Zuck's personal Richilieu leads the company through the most torturous mental gymnastics to justify complicity with political lies and obvious influence operations.

What's more, these policies have paved the way for dictator-friendly policies that have created a set of custom-tailored rules that permit Duterte, Bolsonaro, Modi and Orban to fuel autocracy and even genocide while silencing their victims.

But Facebookers don't have to take it. There's a huge labor shortage for skilled tech workers, and even junior employees can quit their jobs and walk into a comparable one by just placing a call to a recruiter (or a friend working at a rival, hoping to collect a bounty).

5,000 Facebook employees have denounced the company's pro-dictator policies, and many have quit. The fact that so many were willing to go on-the-record with their grievances suggests that they're past caring about retaliation from the company.

It's not just employees, of course. Some of Facebook's biggest advertisers have "paused" their business with the company, including Unilever, Eddie Bauer , North Face, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, REI, Mozilla and Upwork.

Of course, the joke's on us. Everyone who's fucked off with Facebook is flocking to Instagram – a company Facebook bought explicitly because Zuck viewed the company as a nascent competitor that could grow to become a threat.

IG may be a groovy place to reboot the zine revolution, but all those pixels from from the same organization, which combines and mines the data from across its properties.

That's why the majority of the 15,000,000 13-34 year olds who broke all records by quitting FB in 2018 ended up as Instagram users.

NYC housing lottery favors the least-needy (permalink)

When Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no alternative" (to market-based governance), she meant "stop trying to think of an alternative."

It worked.

Exhibit A: the utter failure of cities to provide affordable housing.

In NYC, the "affordable housing" strategy consists of giving developers breaks if they designate some of the units in their buildings as sub-market rent for people in housing poverty. These scarce units are allocated by lottery.

This is an utter, utter failure.

Landlords are given a range of rents they're allowed to charge in these "affordable" units. The lowest prices have the highest demand, thanks to the large number of working poor and disabled people barely clinging to life in the city.

Then there's the highest end: rents priced for people whose current housing situation strains their finances but does not put them in danger of eviction, starvation, or even having their utilities cut off. This category has the least demand.

You'll never guess which kind of units landlords prefer to build.

Remember, it's a lotto. You can only get a lotto ticket if your income is in the right bracket. Which means there are more tickets available for high-priced units, while these are the units with lowest demand.

But don't worry, NYC has a plan to fix this.

They're building a system that won't let people who don't earn enough to pay rent on the high-end places to put their names down for one. That will spare renting agencies the bother of turning down these ineligible bidders.

This is the kind of "solution" you only come up with if you start from the premise that the answer to a "market failure" like huge swathes of the workforce not being able to afford shelter is "market interventions."

That is, it's the kind of solution that starts from excluding any real, muscular public action. Like, how about if instead of trying to "incentivize" the super-profitable property sector who've torn down all the affordable housing to throw New Yorkers the odd crumb…

…New York just builds the housing it needs?

Podcast: Part 8 of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (permalink)

My latest podcast is up! It's part 8 of my reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, "which Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you've ever read."

If you haven't been listening along, you can catch up with this link:

Here's a direct MP3 link (thanks to @internetarchive for hosting – they'll host your stuff for free, too!):

And here's my podcast feed:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Wil Wheaton's Slashdot interview

#10yrago G20 police used imaginary law to jail harass demonstrators and jailed protestors in dangerous and abusive "detention center"

#10yrsago Canada repeating Britain's dirty copyright legislation process

#10yrsago London cops enforce imaginary law against brave, principled teenaged photographer

#5yrsago Why I'm leaving London

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Four Short Links (, Slashdot (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 559 words (32358 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Friday's progress: 304 words (3922 total)

Currently reading: Goliath, Matt Stoller.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 07)

Upcoming appearances:

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

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

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

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3 thoughts on “Pluralistic: 29 Jun 2020”

  1. Hi! I will be up-front about being biased, because I work at Google, but I want to mention that I think it is pretty misleading to say that Google hasn't had an internal success since Gmail. 🙂 For example, I work on Android, and while you could argue semantics that the company was acquired by Google, there was really nothing except talent that was being acquired — pretty much all of Android was developed at Google, and happened because Google gave us the space and support to do it; I don't think Android could have happened as it is outside of Google. And being in Google with all of the services we could deliver (Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Hangouts, etc) was a significant benefit to Android's development, both guiding the design of the platform and allowing it to come out with a rich set of services on top.

    That said, even if you want to dismiss anything that has the taint of an acquisition, it seems to me that Google Photos qualifies as a very recent example.

  2. Thanks for this, Dianne!

    Yes, I think that acquisition-driven products qualify as "buying things" not "making things." Android was a different company, now it's part of Goog.

    Regarding Photos, I certainly hear good things about it, but I don't know that it qualifies as a success – does it have any standalone revenue? Is it driving customer acquisition? Are people switching from rivals? I honestly don't know, but I think that it's hard to call a product a "success" if none of that stuff is happening. It may be a good product, but that doesn't make a successful one.

    1. Hi, thanks for the reply! I think Google Photos counts as a success — for example I see this from a quick search:

      Ironically that article compares how fast Google Photos reached a billion users vs. Gmail. 🙂

      I can't address anything around revenue, driving customer acquisition, etc… except I wonder if it is very different than Gmail in any of those areas?

      I do respectfully disagree with your view on Android. Android was very much a talent acquisition — there was basically no technology purchased, just a small initial team that was then grown significantly inside of Google as the platform was created. Basically Google identified mobile as a key strategic area ripe for improvement (due to their experience so far trying to deliver services on top of the current mobile platforms and worry about the potential for Microsoft to take it over like they did the PC platform), and found a company with people who had experience in mobile platforms and similar views on the strategy for that market. It wasn't much different than if Google had said, "we want to make a strategic move here, so let's hire an expert in the field for them to create a team to build the platform." Except they hired an expert who also already had the start of a team to build it.

      I've always found it kind of impressive what Google was doing at that point — if at the time you were to ask, "what is the next big computing platform after PCs," the answer would be either mobile or the web. And I don't think it is an accident that Google ended up building both Android and Chrome+ChromeOS. I am pretty confident that if mobile hadn't happened, we would have seen Chrome+ChromeOS very strongly competing today with Windows to be the dominant platform.

      (I would also make the argument that Chrome+ChromeOS is another very successful product post-Gmail, but if you aren't going to buy my Android argument, I suspect you won't buy my Chrome+ChromeOS argument either!)

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