Pluralistic: 30 Mar 2021

Today's links

How to donate to John Varley (permalink)

On Sunday, I published a long tribute to sf writer John Varley, occasioned by a fundraiser to defray the post-operative costs of a quadruple bypass.

I included a Paypal link for would-be donors, but almost immediately started to get bug-reports from readers who found that it didn't work. A reader supplied an updated link and then it, too, started to fail.

It turns out that the Paypal donate button uses a weird HTML form element ("input type="hidden" name="encrypted" value="—–BEGIN PKCS7") that generates a one-time link for each donor, which makes if very hard to share donation links!

Which means that if you'd like to donate to Varley's fund, you can visit his site,, and then click the Donate button, it's about a third of the way down the screen, center-left.

Minimum wage vs Wall Street bonuses (permalink)

The Fight For 15 is back on the table, thanks to some canny procedural wrangling by Chuck Schumer (it remains to be see whether ghouls like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will sabotage it again).

The Fight for $15 started in 2012. The $15 figure represented the fair, inflation-adjusted minimum wage that Americans should have if minimum wage tracked the cost of living. By 2021, the inflation-adjusted minimum wage should have been $24/hour.

That means that even if we get around Manchin and Sinema to deliver a fair share to the country's worst-paid workers, we'll still be lagging a true, inflation-adjusted minimum wage.

Now, if $24/hour gives you a little sticker shock, here's another number to think about:

$44 per hour.

That's the minimum wage we'd have today if the minimum had tracked the growth in Wall Street Bonuses.

Wall Street bonuses have grown 1,217% since 1985 – in 2020, the finance sector handed out $31.7b in bonuses – enough to pay the full salaries of 1m workers earning $15/h.

As Sarah Anderson writes in her Institute for Policy Studies report, the beneficiaries of this massive bonus inflation are overwhelmingly white dudes. The targets of real-terms pay-cuts to the minimum wage are overwhelmingly not dudes, nor white.

This increasing return to the finance sector is what we mean when we say "financialization." The workers who literally risked their lives to keep society from collapsing during the crisis face constant wage erosion, while the reckless gamblers cash out ever-larger jackpots.

The finance sector has mastered the art of externalizing its risk and privatizing its gains. When they engineer a massive crash and an eviction crisis, they don't get punished – instead, they snap up all those houses and become mass-scale corporate landlords.

Then they parlay the supernormal profits realized by gouging people to live in the houses they stole into legislation that makes it easier to raise rent, evict tenants, and neglect maintenance.

Over the period in which finance sector bonuses climbed by 1,217%, the industry has repeatedly exacted enormous planetary-scale harms: bubble after bubble, predatory acquisitions, pandemic profiteering, and worse.

The fact that we're fighting for $15 – and not $24, and certainly not real criminal and civil penalties for destructive, fraudulent financial engineering – means we're fighting a rear-guard action.

The Archegos collapse isn't a one-off – it's the latest in a string of mass-scale frauds that made billionaires out of their perpetrators and left the rest of us holding the bag.

NFTs, Stonks, and other tulip-bulb eruptions are pure financialization. Like poulaines – pointed shoes whose toes grew so long they had to be anchored by chains to the wearer's knees (!) – they are the sign that the concerns of elites are totally unmoored from reality.

An economy that is simultaneously capable of producing billions in wealth for pure speculation over symbolic, brittle ledger-entries, while catastrophically failing to pay a living minimum wage, is an economy whose priorities are wildly off-kilter.

When unproductive number-shuffling produces billions, while back-breaking, civilization-saving work faces real-terms pay cuts every single year, something is terribly, awfully wrong.

America needs a high-fiber broadband diet (permalink)

Since the 19th century, AT&T has hoovered up incredible, priceless public subsidies – despite this, it insists that it has no duty to provide the public with the connectivity it monopolizes in markets across the country.

AT&T's subsidies started early with things like rights-of-way, the privilege of digging up public lands, piercing and even knocking down buildings to allow it to string the wires it charged us to access.

All along, AT&T has maintained the fiction that the expensive part of the network was the copper wires and the poles and the switches – not the incalculably massive discount it got by not having to buy its rights-of-way on an open market.

AT&T has enjoyed many other subsidies along the way as well – fat government contracts (including hundreds of millions in compensation for the illegal mass surveillance it partnered with the DHS on), antitrust waivers, and the right to sue competitors who made phone devices.

Now, AT&T has finally admitted what everyone else already knew: the only future-proof internet infrastructure is fiber. Not copper. Not 5G (useless without fiber). Certainly not satellites (whose speeds are an infinitesimal fraction of fiber).

The admission came in a blog-post that was aimed at heading off a new Biden FCC that promises to reverse Trump FCC Chair Ajit Pai's cozy, fraud-friendly relationship with the Big Telco industry he once served as a top executive lawyer.

Despite admitting the only future-proof internet is fiber, AT&T Exec VP of Federal Regulatory Relations Joan Marsh went on to say that America does not deserve fiber. Instead of 100,000,000,000bps fiber, we only need 10,000,000bps copper lines.

Not coincidentally, sticking with copper allows AT&T shareholders to trouser the billions they'd need to spend to upgrade their creaking infrastructure – and it would also head off public broadband investment comparable to the rural electrification projects of the New Deal.

They call fiber "overinvestment" and add "there is no compelling evidence that those expenditures are justified over the service quality of a 50/10 or 100/20Mbps product."

Thankfully, Congress has moved way, way past AT&T's 20th Century definition of "broadband." As Jon Brodkin writes in Ars Technica, there's already a proposal to spend $80b upgrading rural networks to symmetrical 100mbps service.

And that's just table-stakes: the $3t infrastructure package includes massive cash infusions for rural broadband:

Brodkin gives the last word to Glen Akins, who led an historic effort to build municipal fiber in Ft Collins, CO, clearing the absurd state-law threshold that ALEC lobbied for, which blocked cities from providing high-speed networks.

"If you run power to a house, you can run fiber to a house. Substituting anything else is grift."

(Image: Jürgen Schoner, CC BY-SA, modified)

Als Sysadmins die Erde beherrschten (permalink)

When the lockdown started, I got a ton of messages from readers who were thinking of my 2005 story "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," set in a sealed data-center where network admins struggle to keep global comms going in the midst of a global biowar.

I revisited the story then, recording a special reading of it on my podcast, where I recounted the circumstances of writing it, in the midst of the London 7/7 bombings, which hit my usual morning bus and my wife's usual morning train:

It was indeed timely, and as the new edition spread around the world, I started hearing from IT workers who were living out a real-world version of the tale:

A year later, the story still resonates. Christoph Jansen, a German reader, used the Creative Commons Non-Commercial/Share-Alike license and made an open access German edition ("Als Sysadmins die Erde beherrschten"), which I've hosted here:

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago How DRM would kill the next Netflix (and how the W3C could save it)

#5yrsago Judge says Citibank’s law-school loan isn’t “student debt” and can be discharged in bankruptcy

#5yrsago Up to half of the Americans killed by police have a disability

#5yrsago Playable records laser-etched in cheese, eggplant and ham

#1yrago Digital rights are human rights

#1yrago Lax antitrust killed ventilator stockpiles

#1yrago Private equity firms scooping up pandemic bargains

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Late Stage Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 532 words (121548 total).

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1042 words (44653 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Past Performance is Not Indicative of Future Results
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Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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