Pluralistic: Oops! All linkdump! (02 May 2023)

Today's links

A page of comic book 'small ads.'

Oops! All linkdump! (permalink)

In 1997, Jorn Barger coined the term "web-log" to describe his website "Robot Wisdom," where he logged his journeys around this exciting new digital space called "the web." Two years later, Peter Merholz shortened "web-blog" to "blog":

Two years after that, I started blogging, when Mark Frauenfelder made me a guest-editor on Boing Boing:

I've now been blogging for 23 years, nearly half my life, a near-daily discipline that forms the spine of my writing practice. I take everything that seems important, and, in summarizing it for strangers, embed it in my own mind, and then find connections that turn into essays, speeches, stories and novels:

For the past 3+ years, I've been blogging solo on my project. It started off as a "link-blog," in the Robot Wisdom vein – short hits summarizing interesting things:

But over the months and years, it's turned into a place where I write long essays, sometimes six or seven per week, trying to pull on all those threads that I've cataloged over the decades, weaving them together into big, thoughtful pieces, often to great and gratifying notice and even a little fanfare:

But I miss the linkblogging! For the past 14 months, Pluralistic has featured a little section called "Hey look at this," where I post three short links, bare-bones pointers to interesting stuff online:

These links pile up in my todo.txt file, ebbing and flowing. Some days, I've got nothing for the section. Some days, I've got a backlog. These days, I've got a massive backlog – enough links for many, many editions. I am drowning in linkblog debt, and the interest is compounding. It's time for a jubilee:

Here, then, is the first-ever Pluralistic Jubilee Linkdump Backlog Bankruptcy!

First up:

"The Internet Isn't Meant To Be So Small," Kelsey McKinney's crie-de-coeur for Defector:

This is part of the enshittification canon that includes Cat Valente's unmissable "Stop Talking to Each Other and Start Buying Things":

McKinney's money-shot:

It is worth remembering that the internet wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't supposed to be six boring men with too much money creating spaces that no one likes but everyone is forced to use because those men have driven every other form of online existence into the ground. The internet was supposed to have pockets, to have enchanting forests you could stumble into and dark ravines you knew better than to enter. The internet was supposed to be a place of opportunity, not just for profit but for surprise and connection and delight. Instead, like most everything American enterprise has promised held some new dream, it has turned out to be the same old thing—a dream for a few, and something much more confining for everyone else.

This doesn't just make me want to stand up and salute – it makes me want to build a barricade (or a guillotine).

On to "Reddit Data API Update: Changes to Pushshift Access," a Reddit thread where the volunteer mods are discussing another enshittification move: Reddit's pre-IPO API shut-down that has broken all the mod tools that volunteers use to shovel out Reddit's Augean Stables, getting rid of spam and catfishing and fraud:

This isn't just "stop talking to each other and start buying things" – this is "stop doing billions of dollars in volunteer labor keeping our users safe, and start paying us for the privilege." Good luck with that, Reddit.

Hey! The Hollywood writers are back on strike! The Guild is a shitkicking, take-no-prisoners, radical union with massive solidarity:

It's what let them trounce the talent agencies – hyper-concentrated to just four companies, two owned by private equity ghouls – over a 22 month strike:

The talent agencies had rigged the system so that instead of getting a 10% commission on the writers' earnings, they were taking as much as 90% out of every dollar – and were about to make it worse, building their own studios, so they could negotiate with themselves on behalf of their clients. In the same week, 7,000 writers – even the ones who weren't getting screwed – fired their agents, and demanded a return to the 90/10 split and a ban on agencies owning studios. The agencies say nfw. The writers stayed on the picket line.

There's a whole chapter on this in Chokepoint Capitalism, Rebecca Giblin's and my book on creative labor markets and monopoly. One of our sources was David Goodman, who led the strike:

David hosted our LA launch, where he told us, "We thought the agencies had all the power. We learned that they only had as much power as we gave them. You can make a movie without an agent. You can't make one without a writer."

The new strike is about the same thing as the old strike: shifting money from labor to capital. The studios have figured out how to use streaming to avoid paying writers, using gimmicks like shorter seasons and running their own streaming services to dodge the wages the writers are owed. As the union says, the studios "created a gig economy inside a union workforce."

I live in Burbank, where many of these studios are located. I'll see you on the picket line.

Sticking with labor for a moment: the Biden administration is investigating the use of bossware – the spyware your boss uses to monitor your driving, keystrokes, web usage, location, hand-movements, facial expressions, even your eyeballs:

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's Request for Information solicits your experiences with bossware:

They want to know:

  • Workers’ firsthand experiences with surveillance technologies;

  • Details from employers, technology developers, and vendors on how they develop, sell, and use these technologies;

  • Best practices for mitigating risks to workers;

  • Relevant data and research; and

  • Ideas for how the federal government should respond to any relevant risks and opportunities.

If you're living under bossware's yoke – say, if your boss has transformed "work from home" into "live at work," then you know what to do: melt the switchboard!

One more labor story: a reminder that labor rights are a marathon, not a sprint. A group of Amazon drivers won a $30/hour contract through their union, the Teamsters. Even more importantly, the contract lets them refuse to work under unsafe conditions (it's never just about money):

But there's a catch: these are Amazon drivers, but they don't work for Amazon. They drive Amazon-branded vans, specced down to the last rivet by Amazon. They wear Amazon vests. They deliver Amazon packages. But they work for "Delivery Service Partners," a kind of pyramid scheme created by Amazon that tricks workers into thinking that paying Amazon for the privilege of working for a trillion-dollar company makes them "entrepreneurs."

Instead, they're "chickenized reverse centaurs." "Chickenized" because – like poultry farmers – they are totally controlled by a monopoly buyer that dictates every part of their business to them, dribbling out just enough money to roll over their loans and go deeper into debt. "reverse-centaurs," because they're the inverse of the AI theorists' idea of a "centaur," that is, a computer-assisted human. Instead, they are human-assisted computers, with their every last move scripted to the finest degree by bossware that they have to pay for:

Amazon now has the luxury of terminating its contract with the union's employer – the cutout that allows Amazon to maintain the worker misclassification pretext that these drivers in Amazon vans wearing Amazon uniforms delivering Amazon packages don't work for Amazon.

Amazon hates unions in ways that are hard for everyday people to grasp. One of the organizers of the union drive has been illegally terminated in retaliation for his labor activism:

This fuckery doesn't mean that union organizing is dead. As Jane McAlevy writes in "A Collective Bargain," her superb memoir of her union-organizing career, unions started winning the class war when labor organizing was illegal, fighting in the teeth of a rigged legal system. We won then, we'll win again:

Seeing defeat (seemingly) snatched from the jaws of victory is a major bummer, but a better world is possible. It's not even complicated – it's just hard. If you are in precarious housing, or homeless, or if you experience the moral injury of living in a city where your neighbors lack the foundational human right to a home, it's easy to feel despondent.

But solving homelessness isn't complicated, it's just hard. In Finland, they solved homelessness through the simple expedient of giving everyone a home. This didn't just address the problem of not having a home – it also made incredible progress on the comorbidities of homelessness, like mental health problems and addiction. Turns out, getting sober or getting treatment is a lot easier when you're not freezing to death on a sidewalk. Whoathunk?

There are many ways to improve our cities. You can (and should) fight for better local government, but there's always the tantalizing option of taking matters into your own hands. That's what the Crosswalk Vigilantes do. They research the intersections where cars are killing their neighbors, then they put on hi-viz vests, set out traffic-cones, and install crosswalks:

If you're wondering how the forces of bossware, homelessness, and other enshittifying factors came to rule, it's actually pretty straightforward. 40 years ago, we installed a software patch called neoliberalism (in some regions, this patch was had localized names like Thatcherism or Reaganomics).

40 years later, the patch is an unequivocal failure and now it's our job to roll it back, despite all the broken dependencies this will trigger. Most of us can see this is true, but not The Economist, which Brad DeLong calls "Neoliberalism’s Final Stronghold" in his Project Syndicate article:

De Long's catalog of the recent bizarre, delusional work in The Economist embodies Upton Sinclair's maxim, "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Every Naomi Kritzer story is a fucking delight and "Better Living Through Algorithms," just published in Clarkesworld, is no exception:

Few writers are better at inhabiting the uncomfortable space between recognizing the delights of the internet without flinching away from its horrors. This one is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

If you're just discovering Kritzer, check out "So Much Cooking," an eerily prophetic 2015 story in the form of a series of perky cooking-blog posts amidst a global pandemic. It got a much-deserved second life during lockdown's peak sourdough moment:

And then try her at book length! "Catfishing on Catnet" is Kritzer's book-length adaptation of her Hugo-winning short story "Cat Pictures Please." It's an AI caper about cat memes, community, and the anti-enshittification underground:

Speaking of science fiction: I've got a new novel out. Red Team Blues is an anti-finance finance thriller, a heist book about cryptocurrency and forensic accounting with a 67-year-old hero, Marty Hench:

The book came out last week and I am still in the nailbiting interregnum where its fate is unknowable – will it be another bestseller, or fizzle? Thankfully, the reviews have been stunning. Mitch Wagner calls it "the most exciting technothriller about a 67-year-old accountant you’ll read this year":

Mitch ruminates some on the distinctive way I'm handling Hench's aging process in this book and its two (at least sequels). Reading other peoples' insights into one's own work is a wild experience. I mean, it's nice when a reader notices something you worked hard to put in there, and frustrating when a reader imagines something that definitely isn't there.

But the best thing is when a reader notices something that you didn't consciously put in there, but which is undeniably there, and also very cool. In his Locus review, Paul DiFilippo homes in on the way that Marty Hench is totally reliant on his friends and comrades to get out of hot water:

Marty is besieged and almost helpless without the aid of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. He is no go-it-alone superman, but rather an individual tied into a network of humanity, relying on the goodness and altruism of his fellows for survival.

This is so right. Marty is no great man of history – he is part of a polity, a collective of people from all walks of life who try hard to help each other. Call it solidaritypunk. Also, Paul opens his review with "I can’t possibly say enough good things about Cory Doctorow’s new novel." I mean, who can complain about that?

I was also very gratified by Henry Farrell's Crookedtimber review, which says some very nice things about the way I work in technical detail, and suggests that this technique is one that all kinds of technical experts, policy wonks and scientists could learn from:

Which makes Matt Green's review, where the eminent cryptographer digs into the cryptographic technical details of the book, especially delicious. Green is a brilliant scientist and science communicator, and he says I get it right, and do it well:

One of the first reviews to hit the web came from Matt Haughey, AKA "Metafilter Matt," who called it "a 'ripped from the headlines' romp":

Matt's fellow PDXer and olde timey blogger, Andy Baio, called it "a wild ride":

Andy is my host at tonight's book signing in PDX, at the Powell's in Cedar Hills:

As I type these words, I am sitting in a window-seat on Alaska Air, en route to Portland for that event. I am wearing slip-off shoes, a jacket with pockets of sufficient volume to store my watch, wallet and belt, and socks that I don't mind exposing to a dirty airport floor. As I shuffled through the TSA checkpoint an hour ago, I found myself looking on the beleaguered "officers" who were patting people down with pity and even a little sympathy.

The TSA is an abomination. A boondoggle that doesn't make aviation safer, lights billions on fire in lost productivity, wages and capital equipment. Its legion of underpaid, miserable workers invade the privacy and even sexually assault millions of Americans every day, and have been at it for decades without any sign of stopping or even slowing down.

The agency is now 20 years old, and it just keeps getting worse, finding new ways to make America hate it. Reading "The Humiliating History of the TSA," Darryl Campbell's giant reckoning in The Verge was a wild ride, and a reminder that while most of us only interact with the TSA's awful, inexcusable policies a couple times a year, TSA workers live with it every day:

Before I close, please let us have a moment to acknowledge the passing of Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian music legend, who has just died at 84. He will be missed:

All right, it's time to hit publish on this linkdump, but before I go, a couple of absolutely lovely little webtoys and grace-notes for you to take away:

Womprat (the font you're looking for) is the world's greatest Star Wars font collection:

And finally, Tumblr, now owned by WordPress parent company Automattic, is striving mightily to reverse decades of enshittification from Yahoo and Verizon. They're leaving very heavily into listening to their users, paving the desire-paths and putting the community ahead of any other priority.

One place where that is paying unexpected dividends is their deeply weird little merch store, where you can buy up to 24 blue checkmarks to appear on your posts (they sell in pairs at $8). Even better: they're now selling a 3D printed, light-up, Tumblr-themed Dumpster-Fire:

The dumpster-fire was hoisted from a community member, who made their own, sent it to management, and struck a bargain to sell them through the store. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make sarsaparilla when life gives you SARS.

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Bloomberg publishes CEO-to-employee-pay chart

#10yrsago Molly Crabapple’s SHELL GAME, free and CC

#5yrsago Cambridge Analytica is out of business, but its heavy hitters have reopened under a new name

#5yrsago Comcast: if you don’t subscribe to cable TV, we won’t sell you high-speed internet

#5yrsago Bipartisan amendment forces UK government to impose transparency on its offshore tax havens

#1yrago Revenge Of the Chickenized Reverse Centaurs

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Geoffrey Charlin, Andy Baio, Matt Haughey, Mitch Wagner, Naked Capitalism, Neil Gaiman, Diane Duane, Matt Green, Jorn Barger, Peter Merholz, Nelson Minar, Naomi Kritzer, and many, many others.

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

Latest podcast: How To Make a Child-Safe TikTok

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

  • The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech, Verso, September 2023

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

The excerpt from Red Team Blues in this edition is all rights reserved.

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

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