[Plura-list] Lovecraft Country; $150,000 "Magic" grants; Pandemic could make Big Tech our permanent overlords; Hospital CEOs making millions amid cuts; Wired workers have unionized

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon May 4 11:41:03 EDT 2020


Reminder that I'm on a 11AM (Pacific) panel today, "Fair Use Under the
Galactic Empire," for the Scum and Villainy Cantina,


Today's links

* Lovecraft Country: Jordan Peele's official trailer for his adaptation
of Matt Ruff's book.

* $150,000 "Magic" grants: For people to pursue their passions.

* Pandemic could make Big Tech our permanent overlords: Kara Swisher on
pandemic profiteering.

* Hospital CEOs making millions amid cuts: Nurses and docs vs execs.

* Wired workers have unionized: Just in time for rumored Conde Nast cuts.

* The failure of software licensing: The right to hire a lawyer is not
software freedom.

* XML inventor quits Amazon over whistleblower firings: Tim Bray is no
longer an Amazon VP and Distinguished Engineer.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🌯 Lovecraft Country

In 2016, Matt Ruff published Lovecraft Country, a spectacular antiracist
novel that revisits the Lovecraft mythos - and Lovecraft's despicable
racism from the other side.


Ruff meets Lovecraft's problems straight on, while reclaiming the creepy
intensity that makes people read Lovecraft long after his death.

It's so good that Jordan Peele optioned the book and put it in
production for HBO.

The official trailer just dropped, and just...wow.


I am so excited about this!


🌯 $150,000 "Magic" grants

The [Helen Gurley] Brown Institute offers an annual "Magic" grant of up
to $150,000 "for people to pursue their passions"; many of the projects
are political, but many are artistic, or just plain delightfully weird.


It's administered by Columbia's Brown Institute for Media Innovation,
but anyone can apply. This year's applications are due on May 15. The
Institute has a weekly Zoom session to guide potential applicants.

Thursday, May 7 at 4:30

Thursday, May 14 at 4:30 (for last minute questions)

Webinar Zoom Link (for each session)


Email browninstitute at columbia.edu for the password.


🌯 Pandemic could make Big Tech our permanent overlords

This op-ed about the looming permanent monopoly power of the Big Tech
giants by Kara Swisher perfectly articulates the thing that's kept me up
at night since the crisis began.


The tech giants are making bank off the pandemic, hoovering up titanic
sums by providing the comms infrastructure, ecommerce links, and
entertainment/distraction while the world is in limbo.

On top of that, they have gigantic slushfunds thanks to their years of
tax evasion, thanks to the pretense that every sale they make is
consummated somewhere in international waters off the Irish Sea.

And on top of THAT, every budding competitor to the tech giants is
starved for cash, circling the drain, out of runway, desperate for an
acquisition (and for 40 years, the DoJ has abandoned any pretence of
antitrust scrutiny when a dominant firm acquires a nascent rival).

All this has led to Big Tech operating with "unlimited power, Midas-like
financial might, minimal oversight and very few actual consequences."

There are serious echoes of the way that the robber barons capitalized
on the world wars here - like how Mellon used his government role to
take sole possession of an actual *element of the periodic table*,
aluminium, through his company Alcoa.

The abuses of the robber-barons and the way they capitalized on our
national trauma ended their rule, triggering waves of dissent. Facebook,
Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Oracle and the other techlords were
already attracting furious scrutiny before the crisis.

They may well emerge from the crisis stronger than ever, but that
strength will also engender precarity, setting them up for a New New
Deal that sees them broken into pieces and brought to heel.


🌯 Hospital CEOs making millions amid cuts

Hospital CEOs across America are slashing health-care workers' salaries
and hours, announcing layoffs and furloughs...all while pulling down
seven-figure salaries that have grown ahead of inflation for decades
while workers' wages stagnated.


I already knew about Denver Health, where health workers saw deep cuts
at the same instant that execs received six-figure "performance" bonuses
(for a hospital that lost money in 2019):


The average hospital CEO gets $3.1m/year. The average nurse gets $75k.

The differences are particularly acute in university-affiliated hospital
systems, where administrative bloat and soaring executive compensation
were rampant long before the crisis.

Even as these academic systems are staggering under losses resulting
from the cancellation of discretionary procedures and treatment, their
millionaire bosses are continuing to take home seven figures...while
announcing cuts to nurses' and doctors' wages.

Like University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, whose $1.5m/year
pay is fully intact, even as he announces 1,500 furloughs for
health-care workers in the UK system. (His VP, at $1.4m/year, also has
nothing to fear from the cuts).

As UK grad instructor Zeke Perkins told Emily Shugerman for The Daily
Beast, "We’ve been calling on the administration to provide for those
who make the least and take cuts themselves. They could cut their
salaries significantly and save hundreds of jobs."

Meanwhile, Michigan's McLaren Health Care execs took a 2% salary cut
while furloughing workers at the 14 hospitals they oversee. CEO Philip A
Incarnati's 2018 pay was $6.8 million. They're rejecting calls to limit
exec pay to $1 million (!).

Even where execs are giving, there's more to the story. Tenet Healthcare
CEO Ron Rittenmeyer donated 50% of his pay, but that's after the board
increased his pay by 62% last year and gave him a $300K raise in February.

He's laid off thousands of workers.


🌯 Wired workers have unionized

Workers at Wired Magazine have formed a union, organizing under
Newsguild, along with staff from other Conde Nast publications like Ars
Technica and Pitchfork.


The workers' motivations include wide disparities in compensation among
workers who do the same jobs, and the uncertainty of life under Conde
Nast, where "our jobs depend on the precarious approval of Condé Nast
corporate leaders with whom we have no communication."

The timing is crucial. I've heard persistent rumors of cratering
revenues for Conde Nast (unsurprising, given the ad market) and that
means cuts. As Kickstarter's union showed, even when they're getting
laid off, workers benefit from unionization.



🌯 The failure of software licensing

Back in February, Jeremy Allison gave a barn-burning speech at the
Copyleftconf 2020, entitled "Copyleft and the Cloud."


Allison starts by drawing the crucical distinction between "open source"
(you can see the inner workings of the code) and "software freedom" (you
can exercise technological self-determination), and explores the many
ways that the former has eclipsed the latter.

From "tivoization" (where a vendor uses DRM to prevent users from
modifying the code on the products they own) to moving everything to the
cloud, where the underlying source code can't be modified except by the
cloud's owners.

He describes how "open source" was a technocratic proposition, concerned
with giving hackers technological self-determination while leaving users
behind to take whatever they're given - and how the failure of software
licensing takes away self-determination even for hackers.

It reminds me powerfully of Mako Hill's absolutely crucial 2018
Libreplanet keynote on the way that corporations have figured out how to
use open source to hoard all the software freedom, while taking it away
from the rest of us.


Allison excoriates software freedom orgs - like FSF and The Software
Freedom Conservancy - for their focus on licenses, saying that licenses
only really work for business-to-business negotiations, and are all but
useless to individuals who lack wherewithal to sue big companies.

Instead, Allison calls for a focus on protocol documentation, saying
that in a cloud-based era, real software freedom comes from being able
to make compatible clients for existing servers, and compatible servers
for existing clients.

I'm not entirely convinced; I think protocol documentation is incredibly
imporant and agree with the analysis of the limitations of licenses and
the rapacious hoarding of software freedom through DRM and cloud computing.

Protocol documentation will do something to address these, but not
enough. There's a legal side to this, and while Allison explicitly says
that he's more interested in engineering approaches than legal ones,
there are limits to the engineering-only approach.

The reason that companies are able to resist license enforcement, and
the reason that their enclosure of software commons is so effective, is
that tech has become monopolized by a handful of firms, and they
attained that monopoly through anticompetitive acts.

The traditional antitrust world did not permit firms to attain dominance
through mergers with major competitors, catch-and-kill buyouts of
nascent startups, or vertical monopolies where companies that owned
platforms competed with the companies that used them.

These rules were heavily nerfed by Reagan, then further eroded by every
administration since. Now, we have the an internet made of five giant
services filled with screenshots of the other four.


The reason that companies adopted software freedom even before open
source came along was their terror of competitors who might take away
their customers by offering more freedom to them. Today, that terror has
been eliminated, thanks to monopolization.

Facebook is losing millions of users every year...to Instagram.

The incredible profits created by monopolies allow Big Tech firms to
create new legal weapons - new laws and new interpretations of existing
law - that allow them to punish people who make interoperable products
without permission.

This legal power to block Adversarial Interoperability is one of the
critical ways that Big Tech maintains its monopolies. I think Allison's
analysis of the practical limitations of licenses is spot on.

But interop isn't just a matter of documentation, there's a crucial
legal dimension to it as well.



🌯 XML inventor quits Amazon over whistleblower firings

Last month, Amazon fired some of its hardest-to-replace tech workers in
retaliation for solidarity activism on behalf of Amazon warehouse
workers, who are enduring life-threatening conditions even as Jeff
Bezos's personal fortune has grown by $26B.


Now, Tim Bray - co-inventor of XML, Amazon VP and Distinguished Engineer
- has resigned from the company in protest, walking away from $1m in
unvested stock.


He calls Amazon's justifications for firing organizers Emily Cunningham
and Maren Costa "laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that
they were turfed for whistleblowing."

According to Bray, "I escalated through the proper channels and by the
book...remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off
on actions I despised. So I resigned."

The people whose firings he resigned over: " Courtney Bowden, Gerald
Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris
Smalls....I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person
of color, a woman, or both. Right?"

Bray: "Here are some descriptive phrases you might use to describe the


“Kill the messenger.”

“Never heard of the Streisand effect.”

“Designed to create a climate of fear.”

“Like painting a sign on your forehead saying ‘Either guilty, or has
something to hide.’”

And while Bray believes that Amazon is working to make warehouse
conditions safer, "at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the
specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in
the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential."

"f we don’t like things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails
in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a
combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment
legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward."

Bray points out that workers in AWS, his division, get very good
treatment: "It  treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life
balance, struggles to move the diversity needle (and mostly fails, but
so does everyone else), and is by and large an ethical organization."

But AWS workers "have power...Anyone who’s unhappy can walk across the
street and get another job paying the same or better."

"It’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and
getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and job-linked health
insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism.
Any solution starts with increasing their collective strength."

Here's something to think about, tho: with the mass-extinction event
that's hitting the tech industry right now (except for Big Tech), there
will be more unemployed techies looking for work than at any time in
history. That bargaining position is about to get a lot weaker.

Solidarity between techies and warehouse workers isn't just a matter of
ethics, it's also a matter of self-preservation. As Bray points out, the
bosses that give techies such a nice work-environment don't hesitate to
put warehouse workers' lives in danger for a few dollars.

The instant that they can get away with treating tech workers the same
way...they will.

Final word to Bray: "That’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century
capitalism is done."


🌯 This day in history

#15yrsago Neil Gaiman's Nebula toastmaster speech

#10yrsago Viacom is becoming a lawsuit company instead of a TV company

#10yrsago Six reasons to hate Facebook's new anti-privacy system,

#10yrsago Satellite photos catch Greek tax-evaders

#10yrsago Student cover for Little Brother

#10yrsago Rupert Murdoch dabbles in Socialist Realism

#5yrsago The microbes on your phone are different from the microbes on
your shoes

#5yrsago UK bigotry party hates Time Lords, too

#1yrago The new Creative Commons search engine is out of beta, with more
than 300 million images! https://search.creativecommons.org/


🌯 Colophon

Today's top sources: Fipi Lele, Slashdot (https://slashdot.org), Ari
(https://yiff.life/@ari), Naked Capitalism
(https://nakedcapitalism.com/), Beyond the Beyond
(http://www.wired.com/category/beyond_the_beyond/), Simon Phipps

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 558 words (10850 total).

Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 01)

Upcoming appearances:

* May 4: Fair Use Under the Galactic Empire, Scum and Villainy Cantina,

* May 7: The Collapse, Re:publica https://re-publica.tv/de/session/collapse

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


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.


🌯 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


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




Cory Doctorow
doctorow at craphound.com
Blog: https://pluralistic.net
Newsletter: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list
Upcoming appearances: https://craphound.com/?page_id=4667
Books: https://craphound.com
Podcast: https://feeds.feedburner.com/doctorow_podcast
Announcements list: https://mail.flarn.com/mailman/listinfo/doctorow-l

For avoidance of doubt: This email does not constitute permission to add
me to your mailing list.

READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your
employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from
any and all NON-NEGOTIATED  agreements, licenses, terms-of-service,
shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure,
non-compete and acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have
entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and
assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and
privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release
me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

As is the case with every email you've ever received, this email has not
been scanned for all known viruses.

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20200504/5a18cc96/attachment-0001.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list