- Witch: Kill Bill meets Thomas Hardy.
- Attack Surface on the MMT Podcast: Imagining the first days of a better world.
- Private equity's profitable murder: Leonard Green, Prospect Medical Holdings, and the vast fortunes built on the dead.
- The Years of Repair: A Message From the Future (II).
- Block Google-Fitbit: A merger made in hell.
- This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading
WITCH is Finbar Hawkins's debut novel, a supernatural YA revenge story about a pair of 17th century sisters who are orphaned when witchfinders hunt down and murder their mother before their eyes.
Evey, the older one, is the least magical in the family and she harbors a terrible jealousy for her happy-go-lucky little sister Dill, to whom magic comes easily. But with her last breath, Evey's mother charges her to look after Dill, so they flee together through the woods.
Evey knows that she must avenge her mother, find the witchfinder and his men and the mysterious crone who abetted them and kill them, or the world will never balance for her again.
As they make their way to the distant, secret lair of her mother's sister's coven, they learn of the murderous swathe the witchfinders have slashed through the land, murdering the witches who helped they and their Parliament overthrow the old, corrupt King.
And Evey knows that she must leave Dill with their aunt and return to her mother's lands to kill these witchfinders, not just for her mother, but for all the women and girls with a witchy way.
So begins a vividly told, beautifully written, blood-soaked revenge tale, an inversion of the fairy-tale trope of the brave heroes hunting the wicked witches.
Evey is a marvellous, complex, flawed heroine, and the friends and enemies she makes on her revenge trail make spring off the page (the French publisher called it "Kill Bill meets Thomas Hardy.")
Hawkins is a master of raising and re-raisng the stakes, as every person who helps Evey is drawn into the revenge and also threatened by Evey's sworn enemies. The tale builds to a climax of incredible, cinematic imagery and finishes on a beautiful, sweet note.
It's a fantastic first outing and an excellent read for the witchy youngsters in your own life.
Attack Surface on the MMT Podcast (permalink)
I was incredibly happy to appear on the MMT Podcast again this week, talking about economics, science fiction, interoperability, tech workers and tech ethics, and my new novel ATTACK SURFACE, which comes out in the UK tomorrow (Oct 13 US/Canada):
We also delved into my new nonfiction book, HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM, and how it looks at the problem of misinformation, and how that same point of view is weaponized by Masha, the protagonist and antihero of Attack Surface.
It's no coincidence that both of these books came out at the same time, as they both pursue the same questions from different angles:
- What does technology do?
Who does it do it TO and who does it do it FOR?
How can we change how technology works?
- Why do people make tools of oppression, and what will it take to make them stop?
Here's the episode's MP3:
and here's their feed:
Private equity's profitable murder (permalink)
Let's meet some job creators! Private equity plute Leonard Green bought Prospect Medical a decade ago. He and his CEO Sam Lee, spent the years since buying up hospitals that serve low-income people. It paid off. Green has extracted $400m in dividends!
Green and Lee have a really cool way to make money on hospitals: they don't pay their suppliers, they steal their workers' pensions, and they get government subsidies to keep low-income hospitals open and then close them. Also, they defraud Medicare.
Oh, and they borrow fuckloads of money by issuing junk bonds, weaseling around with bond-rating agencies that would otherwise issue a strong stay-the-fuck-away rating on their debt offerings.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, "What if I was in danger of dying and one of Green and Lee's hospital was the closest hospital?"
I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that Green made $400m from this proposition.
The bad news? His hospitals don't have…anything. Like, gauze. Sponges. IV fluid. They don't have gas for the ambulances.
Why? Because Green and Lee stiffed their suppliers and got on credit hold with 'em.
This was all before the pandemic. It only got worse after the plague struck: Green and Lee's hospitals saw nurses wearing plastic shopping bags on their feet because there were no booties. Nurses who brought in their own N95s were threatened with termination
All of this is recounted in eye-watering, blood-boiling detail in Propublica 's "Investors Extracted $400 Million From a Hospital Chain That Sometimes Couldn’t Pay for Medical Supplies or Gas for Ambulances," by Peter Elkind with Doris Burke.
Much of their reporting relies on the legion of Prospect executives that were hired by Leonard and Lee, who then cheated them out of their compensation, bonuses and severance, abusing them and firing them, then forcing them into arbitration instead of a court.
Now, here's the thing. Leonard and Lee are pioneers. Back in the late 90s, healthcare was poison for private equity – too regulated! These job-creators gambled that they could apply the traditional PE business-model to hospitals.
As a reminder, here's that business model: Buy a bunch of companies, mostly financed with debt. Screw suppliers. Slash staff. Screw suppliers. Lower product quality. Raise prices. Borrow like crazy on the assets. Pay yourself HUGE dividends and consulting fees.
Then, unload the debt-saddled, crippled, disgraced, demoralized husks onto someone else (often another PE vulture who repeats the process!), fill your bathtub with krugerrands, and literally wallow in your money.
Lee and Leonard bet that they could make this work in health-care, but they were only partly right. As it turns out, no one wants to buy their death-trap morgues-masquerading-as-hospitals. Leonard keeps trying to unload 'em, but no one is buying.
(Don't worry: the unlimited fed backstop of junk bonds let him issue even more debt and declare yet another dividend to himself, even as the doctors and nurses in his hospitals were putting shopping bags on their feet)
Other PE job-creators have learned an important lesson from Lee and Leonard's partial victory: rather than buying and looting whole hospitals, they're sticking to Emergency Rooms:
It's a great bet. Lee and Leonard correctly assumed that if they murdered poor people through medical negligence that no one would hold them to account; the ER looters' assumption is that if they steal from unconscious people, they won't be able to complain.
And Prospect is instructive in another regard: if you want a preview of the future of emergency care in America, just look at Prospect, with its closures, the empty ambulance gas tanks, the bare medical-supply shelves.
The Years of Repair (permalink)
The surest recipe for despair is to fall prey to the fallacy of Capitalist Realism: the idea that "it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism."
When the world is on fire, sickened, flooding, and on the brink of out-of-control violence and you literally can't imagine any of that changing, it feels like you should just give up.
This is the point of capitalist realism: to make us believe, as Margaret Thatcher liked to say, that "there is no alternative." It's not just a counsel of despair – it's also a statement in opposition to science fiction's core tenet, that alternatives can always be imagined.
Back in 2019, Naomi Klein, Molly Crabapple and AOC collaborated on a stellar short video set in the years after a successful GND transition: "A Message From the Future," narrating back to how we got to a place where we no longer feared the future.
Today, Klein has dropped part two in the series: The Years of Repair, once again featuring Crabapple's stop-motion watercolor animations, cocreated with BLM cofounder Opal Tometi and Avi Lewis.
Years of Repair gets closer to our own timeline, describing the transition from our current capitalist crises of disease, incarceration and climate emergencies to a more just world, one devoted to healing and building rather than looting and extracting.
It's hard to overstate what a tonic this is: breaking free of Capitalist Realism and letting your imagination visit a place where, as a species, we recover the best of our practices, the mutual aid and stewardship that built the world in spite of greed and oppression.
Since Dec 4, I've been writing my own post-GND novel, "The Lost Cause," about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias funded by offshore plutes, and visiting that world every day has kept me sane through the plague months.
The idea that we might someday have a generation – the first in more than a century! – that does not fear the future is dizzying to contemplate.
You can read the prologue here, btw:
For years, Kim Stanley Robinson has written a series of audacious novels about a post-climate-emergency humanity, starting with 2012's "2312," set 300 years in the future. Since then, he's come closer and closer to the present day.
Novels like Aurora:
and New York 2140:
act as a kind of future-history rangefinding.
Robinson is landing an ever-closer series of volleys that start in the the unknowably distant future, then walk back to the present day, reverse-engineering a path from Capitalist Realism to a utopian leap.
Klein's Messages from the Future are taking a similar path, and the closer they get to our dark moment, the realer (and hence, brighter) the future they paint becomes.
Block Google-Fitbit (permalink)
Google is buying Fitbit and it's likely they'll succeed, despite the fact that this is an obviously bad idea: allowing one of the world's most data-hungry companies to acquire the assets and customers of a rival whose pitch was, "We don't give your sensitive data to Google."
To say nothing of the fact that many Fitbit users were nonconsensually opted into wearing a 24/7 tracking cuff by their employers, who reduced their health coverage and/or charged more for it if employees refused.
So why is this merger likely to sail through competition scrutiny, despite its obvious defects and despite the renewed interest in competition in the tech sector?
Under this standard, mergers are allowed to proceed unless someone can prove that they'll make prices go up immediately.
That is, even if you can show that a merger will reduce choice, cost jobs, and cement a dominant player's spot at the top of the pyramid, under "consumer harm," the merger can proceed.
This has led to ever-more-absurd and toxic marketplaces, with scholars desperately trying to fit the obvious problems with monopolistic mergers and acquisitions into a consumer harm framework.
A very good example of this weird genre is Vox EU's "Google/Fitbit will monetise health data and harm consumers" which takes 6,000 words to state the obvious: it's a bad idea to let dominant companies buy their smaller competitors.
The reason it takes so much verbiage to accomplish this is that the authors have to fit all the obvious harms of Google buying the company you've been tracking your sex-life, alcohol consumption and menstrual cycles into a "consumer harm" framework.
It's pretty convincing, but mostly because they make the case that the groteque marketplace distortions – the anti-competitive effects of this merger – will, at the margins, also make some prices go up.
The most convincing part of the paper, then, isn't the argument for consumer harms per se, but rather the stark demonstration that there's lots of bad stuff that doesn't fit in the frame.
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago Pi joke https://xkcd.com/10/
#10yrsago Stuttgart police use overwhelming force against peaceful protestors concerned about new train station https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-world-from-berlin-germany-shocked-by-disproportionate-police-action-in-stuttgart-a-720735.html
#5yrsago Judge John Hodgman is back in the NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/magazine/judge-john-hodgman-on-a-christmas-wish.html
#5yrsago Nuanced profile of the Oklahoma county where “no one believes in climate change” https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/03/opinions/sutter-climate-skeptics-woodward-oklahoma/index.html?eref=rss_topstories
#5yrsago Tube-map labelled with one-bedroom flat rental rates https://www.thrillist.com/lifestyle/london/london-underground-rent-map
#5yrsago France’s plan to legalize mass surveillance will give it the power to spy on the world https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/09/frances-government-aims-give-itself-and-nsa-carte-blanche-spy-world
#1yrago Europe’s Right to Repair rules have passed, and will take effect in 2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49884827
#1yrago Stock buybacks: how Wall Street has created “profits without prosperity” https://www.worth.com/stock-buybacks-threaten-economic-growth/
#1yrago Global shipping companies comply with anti-air-pollution rules by dumping pollution into the sea, instead https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/shipping-pollution-sea-open-loop-scrubber-carbon-dioxide-environment-a9123181.html
#1yrago Surveillance camera hallucinates face in the snow, won’t shut up about it https://twitter.com/kcimc/status/1099934485301276673
#1yrago “The Tragedy of the Commons”: how ecofascism was smuggled into mainstream thought https://thebaffler.com/latest/first-as-tragedy-then-as-fascism-amend
#1yrago Consent in Gaming: a guide for GMs and players to difficult subjects for amazing games https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/288535/Consent-in-Gaming
#1yrago Zuckerberg: President Warren would “suck” for Facebook https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/1/20892354/mark-zuckerberg-full-transcript-leaked-facebook-meetings
Today's top sources: Naomi Klein (https://twitter.com/NaomiAKlein), Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).
Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 523 words (67566 total).
Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 16) https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/09/28/someone-comes-to-town-someone-leaves-town-part-16/
- Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1, https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/writing-into-an-uncertain-future-tickets-115378329690
Library Leaders Forum, Oct 6 https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_9GoMvPZmT7KKCQ2fZIgmrQ
3 Big Ideas To Fix the Internet, Oct 7, https://www.nycmedialab.org/upcoming-events/summit2020
Wired Nextfest Italia, Oct 10, https://nextfest2020-milano.wired.it/speaker/cory-doctorow/
The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22 https://read.macmillan.com/torforge/cory-doctorow-virtual-lecture-series/
- Digital Rights, Surveillance Capitalism & Interoperable Socks (MMT Podcast)
If Big Tech Is Toxic, How Do We Build Something Better? (panel)
On ‘Attack Surface’ and WiFi Fridges (What a Hell of a Way to Die Podcast):
- "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.
- "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250757531
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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla