Pluralistic: Pluralistic is four; The Bezzle excerpt (Part III) (20 Feb 2024)

Today's links

Christian Speyer's 1914 painting 'Die Apokalyptischen Reiter,' picturing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding out, trampling people beneath their hooves as a doomed soul runs from them, looking over his shoulder with an expression of terror. In the distance, we see his horse, riding away.

Pluralistic is four (permalink)

Four years ago, I started, my post-Boing Boing, solo blog project: an ad-free, tracker-free site that anyone can republish, commercially or noncommercially. It's been a wild four years, featuring over 1,150 editions, many consisting of multiple articles:

As a project, Pluralistic has been a roaring success. I've published multiple, significant "breakout" articles that popularized obscure, important, highly technical ideas, most notably "adversarial interoperability":

"End-to-end" as a remedy for multiple internet ripoffs, including as a superior alternative to link-taxes as a means of saving the news industry from Big Tech predation:

and, of course, "enshittification":

These are emblematic of the sorts of ideas that I've spent the past 20+ years trying to popularize in tech-policy debates dominated by technologically illiterate policy ideas ("abolish Section 230!") and politically illiterate technical ideas (so many to choose from, but let's just say "cryptocurrency"). They require that the reader come along for a lot of cross-disciplinary analysis that often gets deep into the weeds. These are some of the hardest ideas to convey, but nuanced proposals and critiques that work on both political and technical axes are the best hope we have of successfully weathering the polycrisis.

Blogging has always been a part of this project. For nearly 20 years, I posted nearly every day on Boing Boing – 53,906 posts in all! – taking note of everything that seemed important. Keeping a "writer's notebook" in public imposes an unbeatable rigor, since you can't slack off and leave notes so brief and cryptic that they neither lodge in your subconscious nor form a record clear enough to refer to in future. By contrast, keeping public notes produces both a subconscious, supersaturated solution of fragmentary ideas that rattle around, periodically cohering into nucleii that crystallize into full-blown ideas for stories, novels, essays, speeches and nonfiction books. What's more, those ripened ideas are supported by a searchable database of everything I've thought about the subject, often annotated by readers and other writers who've commented on the posts. I call this "The Memex Method":

Pluralistic marks a new phase in my deployment of the Memex Method. With 50K+ notes in a database, I've gradually turned Pluralistic into a forum for far more synthetic, longer-form work that pulls on threads from decades of research into nothing in particular and everything that seemed important.

Pluralistic is also an experiment in retaining control over my destiny – but not my work. Rather than hitching my ability to reach an audience through a platform that can be enshittified at the whim of a mercurial, infantile billionaire or their venal, callous shareholders, Pluralistic is published web-first, on a site I control, and then syndicated to every platform that matters to me. It's a process called POSSE (Post Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere):

I want to spread the ideas I fight for, so I post them everywhere, and license them Creative Commons Attribution-Only, encouraging others to repost them. Lots of small sites do this, but so do large ones. Notably, Wired picked up my first breakout piece on enshittification and republished it under the CC terms:

This was a really interesting process. On the one hand, I didn't get paid for this feature, which did really well for Wired. On the other hand, nearly 30 years of writing for Wired makes me doubtful that I could have gotten this piece out in the form it emerged, without substantially toning down (or, if you prefer, neutering) the rhetoric that made that piece more persuasive. A commissioning editor from one of the largest newspapers in the world got in touch with me after it came out and said they wished they'd published it – but also that they knew they couldn't possibly have done so. By publishing the story first on my blog, proving its audience, and establishing its canonical form, I was able to get it amplified by a service with a much bigger platform than me, without having to compromise on the form.

That republication gave me the much-maligned "exposure" – but it also carried the message to places it wouldn't have reached on its own. I don't write – have never written – solely as an income source. As both an artist and an activist, connecting with audiences has always been co-equal in my mind with earning my living. That's why I don't do a lot of film-writing: it pays well, but most of it never sees the light of day. It's also why I stopped writing for ad agencies: it paid well, but it didn't matter to me or my audience. To mangle Dr Johnson: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote solely for money."

The open nature of this blog, with its many open syndication channels, creates multidirectional pathways for evaluating and refining my attempts at making my ideas understood and my art land. My posts often circle back to points I made earlier, incorporating useful feedback from readers and colleagues, sure, but also anticipating and rebutting those areas where critics have convinced others in various forums. Vanity searching is unjustly maligned: I learn a ton about how to make my work better by lurking in Reddit comments, Hacker News, Twitter, Slashdot, Metafilter and other forums. I also take a sneaky pleasure in knowing that the persistent trolls who reliably pop up to grind their weird axes about me (sometimes referencing blog posts I made decades ago) have taught me how to neutralize them in advance, and it's delightful to see them try their same old lines, only to have other commentators point out that my latest piece makes it absolutely undeniable how wrong they are. Living well is the best revenge, indeed.

Four years. I've been writing Pluralistic for four years. During that time, I've published eight books – and beyond any doubt, Pluralistic helped me get those books into readers' hands. But far more importantly, during that time, I've written nine books – and contracted for a tenth – as the Memex Method paid off again and again.

I don't know how long I'll do Pluralistic for, but I don't foresee stopping any time soon. What's more, no matter what happens to Pluralistic, I can't ever see giving up on the Memex Method, keeping notes in public and making them work for me.

The cover of the Tor Books edition of *The Bezzle*: a yellow background with the words 'Cory Doctorow,' 'The Bezzle,' 'New York Times Bestselling Author,' and 'A Martin Hench novel.' Between them is an escheresque impossible triangle. The center of the triangle is a barred, smaller triangle (in blue, black and cream) that imprisons a silhouetted male figure in a suit. Two other male silhouettes in suits run alongside the top edges of the triangle.

The Bezzle excerpt (Part III) (permalink)

This week, I'm serializing part of chapter 14 from my new novel The Bezzle, which is out in stores TODAY (!!!):

The Bezzle is a Martin Hench novel, the followup to last year's Red Team Blues – though each book in the series is designed to be read in any order, and to stand alone (RTB just came out in paperback):

Hench is a two-fisted, high-tech forensic accountant whose career spans 40 years of busting high-tech scams, from the earliest days of the PC to the white-hot center of the cryptocurrency bubble. Each book revolves around a single, central scam (in The Bezzle, it's the unbelievably slimy prison-tech industry):

But each book also features lots of subplots that unpick different kinds of fraud. In this serialized excerpt, we get to watch Marty unwind a music royalty theft scheme, the kind of thing that Rebecca Giblin and I pulled apart in our 2022 book, Chokepoint Capitalism (also now in paperback!):

Today's installment gets into one of the major tactics of any semi-respectable scam – simply ignoring the victim in the hope that they'll get tired and go away. Any of us who've been ripped off by a big company can surely relate.

I'm leaving on my tour for this one tomorrow, starting with a gig in Salt Lake City at Weller Bookworks (Feb 21) at 630PM:

From there, it's on to LA (with Adam Conover), Seattle (with Neal Stephenson) and many, many more cities – maybe one near you!

Here's part one of the serial:

And part two:

And now, on to part three!

* * *

Stefon cooked Jamal another dinner and Jamal wrote another letter, this one more forceful, and addressed to Gounder by name. Two weeks later, Jamal wrote another letter without needing dinner because “that motherfucker went to Harvard fucking law”—­Jamal had looked him up in the ALA directory—­“and he knows you can’t make legal problems go away just by ignoring them. Time for that piece of shit to put on his big-­boy pants and be a goddamned lawyer.”

The one thing Jamal wouldn’t do was file a lawsuit. “You need a lawyer for that,” he said. “I mean, I can help you with the paperwork, but a paralegal can’t file the suit. And you shouldn’t file your own suit, either. Those guys’ll just hire some blow-dried asshole from a big law firm and they’ll crush you like a cockroach.”

“Well, shit,” Stefon said. But it all made sense. Anyone doing business with Chuy Flores would do business like Chuy Flores—­that is, crooked as hell.

“What you need is a contingency lawyer,” Jamal said. “Someone who’ll take the job for a piece of the action.” Which is how Stefon ended up being represented by Benny Caetani II, son of Benedetto Caetani, who graduated at the top of his Yale class, won a string of spectacular class-­action suits, then got disbarred after someone leaked calls where he admitted moving money from one client trust account into another to cover a shortfall. No one seriously thought that Benedetto was stealing anyone’s money—­he’d had receivables due within a week that let him make the trust account whole—­but he was also clearly guilty.

Equally, no one seriously believed that the high-­powered surveillance that led to Benedetto’s downfall was random. Benedetto had transferred more than a hundred million dollars from the balance sheets of America’s largest, dirtiest corporations—­ poison-­peddling pharma giants, toxic-­waste-­dumping chemical companies, a global chain of botox parlors with some very loose syringes indeed—­and they were gunning for him.

Officially, Benedetto was out of the lawyer game. Unofficially, he was the brains behind Benny, and the two of them ran a squeaky-­clean shop, making sure that everything that an actual lawyer had to do, Benny did—­while Benedetto did ­everything else. Father and son got along well and they were a hell of a team. When Benedetto called me in to audit Inglewood Jams’ books, I jumped at the opportunity. They were a delight to work for.

“They played tough,” Benedetto said, as his minions arranged the bankers’ boxes on the steel kitchen shelves he’d had installed on the long walls of the storefront he’d rented for me to work out of for the month. “At first. Told me they didn’t owe Stefon a dime, and that they’d rather bankrupt themselves in court than pay some broken-­down, washed-­up disco king anything. Told me his problem was with Chuy, not Inglewood Jams.”

“Well, to be fair, that Chuy guy sounds like a class-­A piece of shit.”

“A broke piece of shit. Guy’s got a million-­dollar nose and an empty bank account.”

“So you had to go after Inglewood Jams.”

Benedetto twirled around in his Aeron chair. He’d sent over a pair of them, asking if I needed more, because he had a storage locker full of them that he’d gotten as part of a settlement with a broke Santa Monica crowdsourcing company that stiffed its workers when it folded.

“I did. I went after them. That Gounder lawyer tried to bluff, then when that didn’t work, he tried to dodge service. Which was such a kindergarten move. Plus he was no good at it. Caught him outside the rub-­and-­tug parlor he went to every Friday after work. Handed him the papers. Wore a bodycam. Didn’t mention his wife. Didn’t have to.”

“You think he settled because he didn’t want his wife to find out he was getting hand jobs at a massage parlor?”

“No, he held out awhile after that. But I could see it preying on him, every time I was face-­to-­face with him. Eventually, he musta told his bosses that they were gonna lose, and so they offered a settlement. It was trash. I laughed in his face. He tossed out some better offers, but none of them even in the ballpark of what we would get in court. Finally, I told him to get serious or send his court suit out to the dry cleaner’s. That’s when he offered to make Stefon whole and pay me a little for my trouble on top of things.”

I suppressed a snort. I was sure that a little on top amounted to some real folding money.

“Even then he tried to pull a fast one, told me he’d calculate Stefon’s royalties and send a check the next week. I was like, ‘Hold up, there is no way you’re going to be able to make an honest accounting for Stefon’s royalties in a week. The dude’s samples are in hundreds of songs. The mere fact that you claimed that you could come up with a fair amount in a week tells me you were planning to pull a lowball number out of your ass and pass it off as the audited total, so tell you what, I’m gonna get the best forensic accountant in the state of California to come down here to LA and crawl all over your papers, and you are going to send him everything he needs to do it, or we’re going to court, motherfucker.”

“And he agreed?”

“Hell no. He refused. We went to a preliminary hearing. Judge turned out to be a classic soul fan. It didn’t go well for Gounder or Inglewood. The next day, he was back in my office, and now, well, here we are.”

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

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#5yrsago Scientists finally explain why microwaved grapes emit glorious bursts of plasma

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#5yrsago Ontario parliamentarian calls for Right to Repair legislation

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#1yrago Twiddler

#1yrago Pluralistic is three

Colophon (permalink)

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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. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: How I Got Scammed (

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Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

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

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