Pluralistic: 10 Jan 2022

Today's links

The drowning elephant sculptures at the La Brea tar pits; an Uber sign is sinking into the tar. Monopoly's 'Rich Uncle Pennybags' is exiting the frame bottom left, holding a bag of money.

Personnel are policy (permalink)

It's hard not to freak out, watching Biden get punked by Joe Manchin over Build Back Better. Manchin's transparent ruse – splitting the infrastructure bill from BBB – was obviously a prelude to a betrayal.

Thanks to Dem leadership's foolish error, the party that holds the House, the Senate and the Oval Office will go into the mid-terms and the next presidential election having failed to deliver on the vast majority of their campaign promises.

Having failed to deliver material improvements to voters' lives, they are going to struggle to win elections. Joe Manchin seems hell-bent on electing Donald Trump president again in 2024. It's hard to say whether this is more disgusting or depressing. Maybe both.

The sole thing keeping me going is the action in the administrative agencies, where genuine progressives with real political acumen have been promoted to positions of real power. Personnel really are policy, and the administrative agencies are where the rubber meets the road. In a typical day, the average American is unlikely to feel the effect of a Congress-made law, but the agencies' policies dictate everything from their working conditions to the quality of their air and water to the conditions in their kids' schools.

Here's a great example. Biden's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is poised to turn worker misclassification into an "unfair labor practice," which will give it scope to punish employers who treat their employees as contractors.

As Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has asked the regional attorneys working under her to submit cases that raise the issue. If she sets a precedent on the matter, it will instantly transform companies from Uber to Lyft to FedEx into lawbreakers and force them to reclassify all those contractors as employees at the stroke of a pen.

This is the kind of thing that would vastly improve the lives of millions of workers and restructure whole industries in durable ways. For example, the 12,000 misclassified truck drivers servicing the Port of Los Angeles would become employees, entitled to pay for the hours they spend sitting in traffic waiting for their bosses to figure out the gridlock. That way, the truckers who just skip work on days with long tailbacks would show up and the ports would unfreeze (and their bosses would be incentivized to fix the gridlock).

As Meyerson points out, US labor law has been frozen since 1947's Taft-Hartley; this administrative action takes a step towards updating it for this millennium. I don't know if I believe that this will be enough to keep Trump out of the White House in 2024, but maybe in combination with other executive actions?

I know that 2024 is hard to predict. Statistically, Biden and Trump are both at high risk for all-cause mortality between now and the general election. But the ongoing failure to deliver a progressive agenda is a recipe for continued Trumpism, if not Trump.

(Image: Tarcil, CC BY-SA 3.0, modified)

An old Ace Double paperback whose cover has been altered; it now has a fragment of an antique woodcut of Ned Ludd leading workers to battle, and has been retitled 'The Luddites' with the slug 'Smashing looms was their tactic, not their goal.'

Podcasting "Science fiction is a Luddite Literature" (permalink)

This week on my podcast, I read my latest Locus Magazine column, "Science Fiction is a Luddite Literature," an essay about the historically unsupportable libel that turned "Luddite" into a slur.

Far from rejecting technology out of some reactionary fear, the Luddites instead demanded a renegotiation of the social relations governing that the new textile machines of the industrial revolution. Rather than have these machines displace workers and pad their bosses' profits, the Luddites demanded higher wages, less work, and cheaper cloth.

Mill owners were okay with cheap cloth, but the rest of it was out. The new machines required less esoteric knowledge, meaning owners could replace their workers more readily, and they used this to drive down wages and subject workers to lethal risk from the new machines.

As I write in the column, a Martian staring down at the Earth through a telescope couldn't tell you why the benefits of textile machines – bought with profits wrung from weavers' labor – should accrue to factory owners and not factory workers. The act of challenging that arrangement is fundamentally science-fictional – a demand to go beyond what a machine does and ask who it does it to and who it does it for.

The Luddites' demand was for technological self-determination: the right of the users of technology to govern how those machines affect them. This is a theme shot through sf, and not just cyberpunk's "street finding its own use for things" – all those Golden Age sf stories about engineers improvising brilliant solutions in a crunch? That's pure Luddism – seizing the means of production!

Here's the podcast episode:

And here's a direct link to the MP3 file (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive, they'll host your stuff for free, forever):

And here's the RSS for my podcast feed:

One note: this is my last podcast for some weeks; I'm having my other hip replaced tomorrow and I'll be going offline for a month or so while I recover. I'm really looking forward to the surgery; I had my other hip done in Sept and it was remarkably low-trouble. I was even able to go skiing on my new hip over the Christmas break!

See you in a month or so!

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Norwegian cops arrest DVD Jon

#20yrsago The Web Runs on Love, Not Greed

#20yrsago 23 Myths About the Internet

#15yrsago Roth’s “Plot Against America” – chilling alternate fascist America

#15yrsago Gerlado Rivera threatens to beat up Keith Olbermann

#15yrsago "After the Siege" – my novella about the Siege of Leningrad

#15yrsago Printcrime on Escape Pod

#15yrsago RIP, Yvonne De Carlo

#15yrsago Spa offers "Blackberry Thumb" massages

#10yrsago Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing

#10yrsago How Mastercard and Visa rip off merchants with secret, 1,000-page “agreement”

#10yrsago Fight PIPA, SOPA’s Senate cousin, with this Senate scorecard

#10yrsago GameStop competitor: we’re not as bad as GameStop, but neither is getting kicked in the testicles

#10yrsago Paul Ryan drops support for SOPA

#10yrsago The Economist publishes pathetic advertorial for the City of London

#5yrsago My first Enigma machine: Mattel once sold a Barbie typewriter with built-in crypto capabilities

#5yrsago FBI arrest the VW executive who stonewalled on the first Dieselgate reports for defrauding the US Government

#5yrsago Apple Store employees fired after accusations of snooping on customers’ devices for sexual selfies and sharing them

#1yrago Impeachment and realignment

#1yrago Busting myths about the Night of the Short Fingers

#1yrago Censorship, Parler and antitrust

#1yrago The City We Became

#1yrago Crowdsourcing a list of bad cops

#1yrago Militarizing cops was a failure

#1yrago Predatory lender seeks national bank charter

#1yrago Competition is Killing Us

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: 522 words (53955 words total).

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. Yesterday's progress: 284 words (1410 words total).

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. SECOND DRAFT COMPLETE

  • 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: Science Fiction is a Luddite Literature (

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • Culture Heist: The Rise of Chokepoint Capitalism and How Workers Can Defeat It, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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