Pluralistic: 20 Mar 2021

Today's links

Department of Truth (permalink)

The first trade paperback collection of Image Comics' DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH came out in February; I found it on the 100% always-reliable recommended release table at Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles. I read it in an hour and added it to my pull list immediately.

DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH is written by Batman's James Tynion IV, drawn by Martin Simmonds and lettered by Aditya Bidikar. It's a dreamlike, impressionistic book with shades of Dave McKean.

It tells the story of Cole Turner, an FBI agent who studies far-right conspiracists, and who, after being brought into a inner circle that has documentary and directly physical evidence of the flat earth and faked moon-landings, is kidnapped by a black-ops government bureau.

The bureau is the Department of Truth, and its mission is to neutralize beliefs in conspiracies because the true nature of reality is that it is a democracy: whatever the majority believes, comes true.

Turner is the operative born to do this job, because he was implicated in the Satanic Panic of the 1980s when he was in nursery school, "recovering memories" of a murdering, baby-eating occult priest who tormented him.

And even as Turner has grown up to understand that his "recovered memories" were, in fact, a cruel hoax perpetrated by the adults in his life, he's never stopped having nightmares about this literal demon he imagined.

And with reality being a democracy and all, Turner now has to confront the possibility that the hoax that has haunted him all his life might become real, if enough others buy into it.

The mission of the Department seems right, even if it is shrouded in secrecy and filled with a menagerie of cold-blooded killers of surpassing eccentricity. But then again, if reality is a matter of opinion, then what business does the Department have killing off people who prefer a different reality?

In the first volume, Turner is drawn into the strange reality-warps of Sandy Hook truthers, Qanon cultists, and birthers, and is set up for a moral conundrum with real heft and salience about it.

You can get a sense of just how well-told and beautifully illustrated this extremely timely graphic novel is by reading the first issue, which Image has posted to the web:

Support Amazon workers today (permalink)

Amazon is an innovator: the company has invented some of the most sophisticated techniques ever seen to avoid taxation, the minimum wage, worker safety, and climate justice.

They pioneered worker misclassification, allowing them to treat their drivers as independent contractors or even subcontractors to independent contractors, even as they subjected those workers to supervision to rival the most invasive workplaces.

They summoned into existence the "Mechanical Turks," among the lowest-paid pieceworkers in existence, largely overseas, receiving pennies (or fractional pennies) to backstop "AI" applications, proving that AI really stands for "absent Indians".

Amazon gets its workers coming and going: it's not just denying bathroom breaks and other human necessities, nor merely wage-theft – it's also tip-theft, stealing the alms we guilty customers toss to its workers to assuage our shame.

But the most visible sign of Amazon labor exploitation is in its warehouse workers, a vast army of "reverse centaurs" who serve as the hands of remorseless, relentless robots. The more automated an Amazon warehouse is, the more workers it maims.

Amazon's incredible profitability during the lockdown was paid for with workers' lives. Its warehouses were the nexus of multiple covid outbreaks, and the company used racist smears to discredit workers who demanded basic safety precautions.

Amazon understands that warehouse organizing is the beginning of the end for its extraction of inhuman work for inhuman wages.

That's why even its prized tech workers get fired for expressing solidarity with warehouse workers.

And it's why the project of organizing Amazon warehouse workers is so urgent. Amazon's plans for its warehouses are even more Dickensian than the current system. Take the "megacycle," a ten-hour shift that runs from 1:20AM to 11:50AM.

It's a shift that any worker would suffer under, but it's especially hard on women workers, forcing them to leave behind their families, and to commute to work at an hour when public transit isn't running.

The megacycle isn't just a way to realize "efficiencies" (more work for less money), it's also a way to punish labor activists: it's being piloted at DCH1, the Chicago warehouse whose workers made national news by demanding safe work conditions during the lockdown.

But Amazon's workers refuse to be intimidated. Warehouse workers continue to demand the right to organize and collectively bargain for a living wage and safe, humane working conditions.

In Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse workers are voting on union formation.

Amazon has pulled out every stop to sabotage the union vote. They even got the city to change the timing of the traffic lights near its warehouse so that organizers couldn't use red lights to talk to workers on their way to the plant.

Statistically, you are probably an Amazon customer. So am I. They are nearly impossible to avoid. After all, not only has Amazon predated upon small businesses, eliminating choice – and what they didn't kill, private equity looters destroyed.

My problem with Amazon isn't the ease of buying web hosting or compute time; it's not the convenience of having a lot of goods for sale in one place; it's not the utility of music streaming or the entertainment from TV shows.

My problem with Amazon is its brutal labor policies, its tax evasion, its climate wreckage, its monopolistic predation, its union busting, its wage theft.

It's not like the company can't afford to end these crimes.

It made $20B in profits in 2020.

When we talk about a good Amazon, we're not talking about eliminating Amazon (though maybe we should break the company up). We're talking about shifting the disposition of that $20B, so it doesn't accrue solely to its shareholders.

Much of that $20B is the result of exploiting workers, dodging taxes (or even getting tax subsidies), stealing from suppliers, externalizing the climate and other costs of its business onto the rest of the world.

We all have a stake in a fair Amazon – whether or not we're Amazon customers. The workers in Bessemer have faced an onslaught of propaganda, spying and intimidation from Amazon and its contractors, the Pinkertons (yes, the literal Pinkertons).

Many of us have recognized that the Bessemer workers deserve our solidarity. The Tech Workers Coalition, for example, has been running the #DoItWithRealPower campaign to counter Amazon's propaganda.

Today, we have the chance to directly support the workers in Bessemer. has organized 40+ solidarity demonstrations in cities in the USA and Canada, which you can attend.

Amazon knows this fight matters and it doesn't just target @BAmazonUnion for propaganda. You're on the receiving end of those messages, too. That "news report" you watched about how cool an Amazon warehouse is? An ad disguised as news.

Amazon workers in Germany have already unionized. The company can certainly pay living wages and continue to operate. It's not fighting for its life – its fighting to maintain incredibly high levels of profitability, no matter what the cost to workers and the world.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago A new discipline to describe the copyfight

#10yrsago Epublishing Bingo card from John Scalzi

#5yrsago Meet the Commercial Energy Working Group, a lobby group that won’t say who it lobbies for

#5yrsago Bruce Sterling’s SXSW 2016 closing remarks

#1yrago Ifixit's new database of med-tech repair guides

#1yrago Republican senators told us everything was fine as they secretly panic-sold their stocks

#1yrago Judge overturns terrible copyright decision against Katy Perry

#1yrago Right to Repair during pandemics

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 511 words (118232 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Friday's progress: 388 words (9273 total).

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1079 words (34191 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and Interoperability (Part 3)
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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla