Reading more about the social

As of right now I’m frightfully behind on my Latour MOOC. What I have been doing instead is reading up old articles in my Instapaper. One such is this interview with Dutch sociologist/philosopher Willem Schinkel in Vrij Nederland. It’s good to read a fresh Dutch thinker who seems to understand things (and who also is in with Latour). Calling Geert Wilders a proto-fascist and the Netherlands a museum are only a couple of the ringers in there.

The disappointing bit came at the end where he confessed to not having a cell phone out of principle. This is a terrible bit of intellectual laziness which brings me to this point on Sloterdijk by Adam Greenfield which rings true:

The task before us is to discover, or invent, a politics, a mobility and a conviviality that are both authentic to the circumstances in which we find ourselves and capable of giving full expression to the emancipatory potential that remains latent and unrealized in our networked technologies.

Highlights from The Unwinding by George Packer

This got stuck in my draft queue but I have no idea what to meaningfully add to this absurd amount of highlights. The Unwinding by George Packer is a massive and amazing work with turns of phrase worth remembering on every page. It also shows very precisely how amazingly fucked up the USA is right about now. Here is the book cut up through my lens, but I would highly encourage you to read the whole thing (I tore through it in a couple of days).

When the norms that made the old institutions useful began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone. The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.

The unwinding brings freedom, more than the world has ever granted, and to more kinds of people than ever before—freedom to go away, freedom to return, freedom to change your story, get your facts, get hired, get fired, get high, marry, divorce, go broke, begin again, start a business, have it both ways, take it to the limit, walk away from the ruins, succeed beyond your dreams and boast about it, fail abjectly and try again.

Winning and losing are all-American games, and in the unwinding winners win bigger than ever, floating away like bloated dirigibles, and losers have a long way to fall before they hit bottom, and sometimes they never do.

He had bought into a lie: go to college, get a good education, get a job with a Fortune 500 company, and you’d be happy. He had done all that and he was miserable.

Gingrich knew exactly what to do. He moved to the right and went after her on welfare and taxes. He had a new rock in his pocket, “the corrupt liberal welfare state,” and he nailed her between the eyes with it.

What he would do once he got there wasn’t clear, and didn’t really matter. The point was to be in the room, at the summit of American life.

But in retrospect, the dénouement looked as mechanical and inevitable as an ancient sacrificial rite at the center of a tribal culture. The candidate vows to carry on and tries to ignore the baying of the hounds. The media keep drawing more blood. The candidate receives expressions of support from his colleagues. But the stories are creating an overwhelming and awful impression, one that may never be lifted. The candidate gathers his family and inner circle around him and, one by one, asks their advice. They want him to stay in so he can defend his honor; they want him to get out so he can defend his honor. Amid tears, the candidate decides to stand down. He faces the cameras chin up, in a contained rage.

They began to wander. They had great dreams and believed that hard work would make those dreams come true. Ray was going to be a writer. Everything else would come after that.

He seemed to know, in the unintentional way of a fiction writer, that the country’s future would be most unnerving in its very ordinariness, in the late-night trip to the supermarket, the yard sale at the end of the line. He sensed that beneath the surface of life there was nothing to stand on.

After years of cutbacks and other warning signs, the end came with breathtaking speed, as companies that had been the most important institutional pillars of their communities for over a century and looked set to continue forever disappeared in rapid order

But Carter was also one of the most spiritual people Dean had ever met, always seeking after the things that you couldn’t see. He gave Dean a book called Think and Grow Rich, written by a man named Napoleon Hill and published in 1937. Dean must have read it twenty-five times without putting it down.

Getting rich was a matter of wanting to be rich, wanting it with “a white heat of desire,” teaching yourself to imagine wealth as specifically as possible, learning to concentrate your mind on the desired goal and the means, and to eliminate besetting fears and other negative thoughts. These were lessons that Americans, living under a system of capitalism and democracy, were uniquely equipped to apply in their lives.

Spiritual and material thirsting were always mingled in Americans, leaving them easy prey to hucksters of the cloth, the book, the screen.

Over time, she got pretty jaded about the union. She went to a meeting and spent it watching a couple of white guys argue.

That was his first job in retail, and it lasted long enough for Sam to learn that if employees were called “associates,” they gained a sense of pride in the company.

People were cheap. They’d never pass up a rock-bottom price. It was true in the little all-white towns around Arkansas and Oklahoma and Missouri after the war. It was true everywhere all the time.

When the departure of factory jobs for overseas turned into a flood, Mr. Sam launched a Buy American campaign, winning praise from politicians and newspapers around the country, and Wal-Mart stores put up MADE IN THE U.S.A. signs over racks of clothing imported from Bangladesh, and consumers didn’t stop to consider that Wal-Mart was driving American manufacturers overseas or out of business by demanding killingly low prices.

and eventually six of the surviving Waltons would have as much money as the bottom 30 percent of Americans.

Biden had used him, and he had used Biden, and they would go on using each other, but that would be all. It was a Washington relationship.

And he began to understand how power worked in the White House. People didn’t have it—they made it. If you wanted to be included in a meeting, you didn’t wait for an invitation; you just showed up. He told Mikva, “If you don’t use your power, you won’t have any power.”

They stayed up late arguing about things like the nature of property rights (that was how Thiel made friends, at Stanford and all his life). Hoffman said that property was a social construct, it didn’t exist without society, while Thiel quoted Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”

Confinity’s cramped, spartan offices above a bike shop soon filled with carelessly dressed, badly groomed men in their twenties (Thiel was one of the oldest at thirty-two), chess players, math whizzes, libertarians, without distracting obligations like wives and children or time-wasting hobbies like sports and TV (one applicant was turned down because he admitted to enjoying shooting hoops). Some employees lived on junk food at their desks, others were on life-extension calorie-restricted diets.

Thiel read a book published the previous year, The Sovereign Individual by Lord William Rees-Mogg and James Dale Davidson.

The book sketched out a libertarian apocalypse, a dream with dark edges, and it was part of the inspiration for PayPal.

Clinton told a crowd assembled just off the National Mall, where a gala public celebration was scheduled for later Friday night. “Light may be fading on the twentieth century, but the sun is still rising on America.”

Clinton told a crowd assembled just off the National Mall, where a gala public celebration was scheduled for later Friday night. “Light may be fading on the twentieth century, but the sun is still rising on America.”

and a framed copy of his favorite Bible verse, Matthew 7:7.

He had two hundred employees, poor blacks and white trash, many of them single mothers, and he hated paying them close to minimum wage with no health benefits—how could you raise kids on that?—but when he tried to get a better class of workers by pushing the pay up to ten or twelve dollars an hour, the performance never improved and it took him two years to get the wage back down by attrition.

With the Mastermind alliance, ideas could be caught out of the air that wouldn’t have appeared to someone working alone. Dean and Chris had been like that. But Napoleon Hill didn’t have instructions for what to do if one of the minds turned out to be a crackhead.

“From day one I’ve struggled with the business, always undercapitalized, always trying to leverage everything I had. Between the credit card companies, the big oil companies, the taxes, the employees stealing, with twenty-something percent unemployment around here, I just never had a chance.”

Three Wal-Marts for a poor rural county of just ninety thousand people: that would wipe out just about every remaining grocery store, clothing store, and pharmacy in the area, and because Wal-Mart also sold discount fuel, eventually it would kill the truck stop owners.

In 1995 he declared himself a Republican. His friend Rich Armitage, a known party member, had warned him not to: it was no longer the party of Eisenhower—it was no longer even the party of Reagan. Something had been set loose, a spirit of ugliness and unreason, even in foreign policy.

He was holding together the foreign policy establishment without knowing that it was gone. He needed structure to thrive, but the structures that held up the postwar order had eroded. The Council on Foreign Relations and the Ford Foundation no longer mattered. The statesmen and generals had become consultants and pundits. The army was composed of professionals, not citizens. The public schools were leaving the children of the whole people semiliterate. The parties were locked in a war of attrition. He was trying to function inside institutional failure, but that was incomprehensible to the stellar product of great American institutions. The administration was rotten with ideologues and operatives who showed contempt for the institutions. He didn’t see that they had him isolated and defeated.

When the war began, the president said that he was sleeping like a baby. “I’m sleeping like a baby, too,” the secretary said. “Every two hours, I wake up screaming.”

At Arnold & Porter, Connaughton had drawn the line at representing Allianz, a German insurance company that had been accused of cheating Jewish policyholders after World War II.

public service seemed to bring more humiliation than triumph—but the private sector was closer to a meritocracy: you got rewarded according to what you produced, not the whims and flaws of the boss.

Wealth added to their power, power swelled their wealth. They connected special interests to party officials using the adhesive of fundraising. They ate breakfast with politicians, lunch with the heads of trade associations, and dinner with other Professional Democrats.

Power couples could switch off between government and the private sector, one spouse bringing in money while the other climbed the rungs of government, sharing whatever intelligence they picked up along the way.

listened to the trucks heading south on 220, carrying crates of live chickens to the slaughterhouses—always under cover of darkness, like a vast and shameful trafficking—chickens pumped full of hormones that left them too big to walk—and he thought how these same chickens might return from their destination as pieces of meat to the floodlit Bojangles’ up the hill from his house, and that meat would be drowned in the bubbling fryers by employees whose hatred of the job would leak into the cooked food, and that food would be served up and eaten by customers who would grow obese and end up in the hospital in Greensboro with diabetes or heart failure, a burden to the public, and later Dean would see them riding around the Mayodan Wal-Mart in electric carts because they were too heavy to walk the aisles of a Supercenter, just like hormone-fed chickens.

Dean, in his awakened state, met a writer named James Howard Kunstler, through his books and his weekly blog, Clusterfuck Nation.

In the 1980s, the food scene took off around the country, and young people with new money wanted to eat only the best things, or at least be told they were doing so.

This woman was sanitizing herself and her daughter against contamination from a disorderly and dangerous society in which the lives and bodies of the poor presented a harsh example.

A few local critics pointed out the strategy’s resemblance to a Ponzi scheme. But everything kept growing and no one paid attention.

In the hierarchy of the boom years, the poor were Mexican day laborers on construction sites; the working class had jobs in the building trades; the lower middle class were bank tellers; the middle class were real estate agents, title insurance agents, and civil engineers; the upper middle class were land use attorneys and architects; and the rich were developers.

“They get you into debt like putting butter in your mouth,” she said.

When he was covering city hall at The Palm Beach Post, he’d gotten deeply interested in urban planning—for a while he even thought about switching careers, until he realized that city planners had even less clout than reporters. But his bookshelves filled up with titles like A Field Guide to Sprawl, The History of the Lawn, Suburban Nation, and the pair that were his bibles: The Power Broker and The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Van Sickler became a Jane Jacobs disciple.

Tampa had tried to take a shortcut to greatness, but that never worked; its downtown had no coherence, nothing to attract people beyond an office job, a hockey game, or a court case.

The corporate-built houses in the subdivisions looked like bunkers, with tiny windows, no breezeways or courtyards to suit the climate, air conditioners running all the time in cavelike darkness. Inside, families sat in their carpeted living room before a large-screen plasma TV, with the blinds drawn against the sunlight. Outside, the long, long streets of identical houses without shade gave people no reason to want to walk anywhere, so they went from car to driveway to house and never got to know their neighbors. They were retreating from the world, and their isolation was deepened by a pervasive paranoia. Signs advertising accident attorneys, fast cash for houses, and get-rich-quick schemes were everywhere, and auto insurance was higher in Florida than elsewhere—insurers called it “a fraudulent state.”

Van Sickler believed that there were two kinds of journalists—the ones who told stories, and the ones who uncovered wrongdoing.

At some point in late 2005 or early 2006, with the housing market at its dizzying mid-decade height, speculators suddenly lost confidence, the faith that kept Florida aloft gave way, and the economy plummeted like a Looney Tunes character who, suspended in midair, looks down.

When Usha talked about American workers, her nose scrunched up and her mouth turned down and her eyes narrowed as if the subject was physically unpleasant. They were spoiled, as she had once been spoiled, and it was by all the foreigners doing cheap labor.

He borrowed money from a former client to put his family into a rental apartment in a ghettoish neighborhood, where the kids in the parking lot picked on the grandson with cerebral palsy. They were living on food stamps, his wife’s disability, the grandson’s SSI, and charity. Mike was deteriorating psychologically, his mind racing three hundred miles an hour—he was afraid of homelessness, suicide, the loony bin, running into the boyfriend, who didn’t know they were back in St. Petersburg—afraid all the time, making up stories in his mind about what could happen to him and then finding that the things did happen. And he had once been so calm, so steady, varnishing yachts in the marina under a blue sky. His torso ballooned, and though he could still laugh at himself, his eyes stared out through rimless glasses in medicated sadness. He was on painkillers for back pain and Xanax for anxiety, and once, tired of it all, wanting to put his load down and sleep, he took thirty Xanax and four Vicodin and fell into a two-day coma. “The economy triggered it all,” he said. “It just ripped me apart, it took away my will to live. That’s the way I see it.”

“In suburbia,” Van Sickler said, “no one can hear you scream.”

A Ponzi scheme was a confidence game that succeeded only when enough people were willing to put aside common sense. Everyone involved was both being taken and taking someone else. The result was universal credulousness and universal fear.

Everyone was making money on Sonny Kim’s business, and the business of all the other Sonny Kims out there, while the bad loans seemed to vanish into the air.

The banks had thrown money at fraudulent borrowers to overpay for crappy houses because the risk was immediately passed on to someone else.

The conventional wisdom among journalists was that everybody was responsible for the financial crisis. “Greed just got out of control. We don’t know why, we just got really greedy, and everybody wanted a house they couldn’t afford,” Van Sickler said. “I think that’s lazy journalism. That’s a talking point for politicians who want to look the other way. We’re not all to blame for this.

Ayn Rand wouldn’t have invested in Thefacebook.

Thefacebook was already on about twenty campuses, operating under a benign version of the Brezhnev Doctrine: once a college was targeted for a takeover, pretty much the entire student population was captured in a matter of days, and the process became irreversible.

He was only twenty, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and rubber flip-flops, and already stubborn about what he wanted, with an intense focus, a coder’s introversion, obtuse to the point of Asperger’s about other people (something of a paradox in the founder of a social network).

Over dinner they did not talk about sex, religion, or other people’s lives. Instead, they talked about ideas, world events, and the future of technology.

As a libertarian, Thiel welcomed an America in which people could no longer rely on old institutions or get by in communities with longstanding sources of security, where they knew where they stood and what they were bound for.

He got there, much to his own surprise, by maintaining the modesty of his ambition and the calm of his daring.

He was careful to hedge his ambition with humility, his risk-taking with expressions of worry.

the bond market was reality and everything else was an interest group.

Even Alan Greenspan admitted that he had been wrong, but the pride that had always been masked by humility would not allow Rubin to do it.

Out here in the middle of the country he felt no energy, none of the entrepreneurial spirit of the coasts and big cities, as if all the molecules had come to a rest.

If it was true, everything he had learned in business school about efficient markets, everything he had learned in law school about the standards of disclosure at banks, about the professional duty of the lawyers and accountants they hired to reveal material information and protect investors, was bullshit. He believed in those institutions—he had to.

All the large institutions in Youngstown were distrusted, because they had failed: industry, unions, banks, churches, every level of government.

“A lot of it is not that they don’t want. It is because the system is designed in some instances like it feeds on people a little bit and messes up people’s minds. People get caught in it and they don’t know how to stop it.”

“the real America,” by which she did not mean fallow farms and disability checks and crack.

But every time—and he must have given the pitch to a hundred different audiences—Dean sounded as if the exciting novelty of his words was occurring to him right then for the very first time, because it was, and that this and only this was the road to collective salvation, because it was.

Elites thought that everyone needed to become a computer programmer or a financial engineer, that there would be no jobs between eight dollars an hour and six figures.

He was always about the money. Second best wasn’t worth the ultimate price on the street, so he learned to compete and win as if his life depended on it.

He gave Marcy a voice, and the nightmare that America had locked in the basement was suddenly playing in kids’ bedrooms. They wanted to live the American dream with a vengeance, like Scarface, like Jay-Z, they wanted to break the laws and win because only fools still thought you could do it in an orange uniform or a cheap suit when that game was fixed, and there could be a shortcut with a big payoff.

But the overwhelming majority of the cases went uncontested. Sylvia knew how it was, how the banks beat them down, lied to them, gave them the runaround, didn’t answer calls, until, by the time their day in court finally came, most defendants had long since given up. Justice was delivered in their absence, in the blink of an eye.

Basically, Weidner took anything that walked through the door—he was a door lawyer, the subsistence farmer of the legal world, a couple-grand retainer up front.

“We’re consuming crap from wherever but we’re not making anything. How are we supposed to make mortgage payments here in the United States when we don’t make anything else?

“Our grandparents would never have mortgaged everything and lived off the credit. If you look at the gross domestic product in the past twenty years, in particular the last ten years, it’s not off anything we’ve produced. It’s trading on the paper of what was produced thirty years before that.”

Through most of 2008 and 2009 he assumed that the government and the banks would work something out—split the defaulted loans, the Treasury paying the banks half the value, the banks writing off the other half as bad debt, the mortgages now belonging to the feds, who would start over with the homeowners and keep them in their houses. Something like the bank bailout—just evaporate all that phantom debt, which would never be paid off in the whole history of the world. But there was no bailout for homeowners.

No one noticed any of this while the economy chugged along, but as soon as things went into the toilet and people stopped being able to pay, America’s mortgages turned out to be a hoax.

Wall Street (“Gotham,” he called it, “the anus, the black hole of the country, sucking all the money up there, the core of the apocalypse”)

His mind filled with visions of a decadent kleptocracy in rapid decline, abetted by both political parties—America’s masses fed on processed poison bought with a food stamp swipe card, low-skill workers structurally unable to ever contribute again and too dumb to know their old jobs weren’t coming back, the banks in Gotham leeching the last drops of wealth out of the country, corporations unrestrained by any notion of national interest, the system of property law in shambles, the world drowning in debt.

Chaos. That was the future—civil unrest, social disintegration.

Weidner to Sylvia Landis. Blogging under the slogan “Fighting for the American People, Speaking Out As Long As Political Speech Remains Protected,” he wrote every day, in the early morning or late at night, often at great length. The week of Martin Luther King’s birthday he posted an essay to “My Dear Fellow Attorneys,”

Fighting a global financial services company to an exhausting draw caused Usha to revise her view of her adopted country. Justice, she concluded, was for rich people, not her. The bankers and lawyers benefited while she went broke. The banks made their money by bullying little people, first trying to intimidate her into surrender, and then, when she fought back, burying her in paperwork, hiring appraisers and inspectors who filed false reports about the condition of her motel, smearing her name.

Connaughton, a moderate Democrat, was in the process of being “radicalized by a stunning realization that our government has been taken over by a financial elite that runs the government for the plutocracy.”

It was easy to overlook this denuded free-market landscape during the long boom years—Connaughton had done just that—but when the storms blew in and there were no walls to keep out the gale or trees to hold down the eroded earth, everyone howled.

The establishment could fail and fail and still survive, even thrive.

“You know, just about whatever anyone proposes, no matter what it is, the banks will come out and claim that it will restrict credit and harm the economy.” Long pause from the little round face at the top of the long body, eyes magnified by glasses, cagey creases running down either side of the mouth. “It’s all bullshit.”

You had to think really hard before you took on the establishment, because there were a lot of ways to build a very comfortable life if you went with the flow (like become the top lobbyist for the movie industry, which was what Dodd would go on to do), but standing against the establishment closed off a big part of America that otherwise would have made room for you. You were in or you were out.

“There’s nothing more honorable than standing up as the sole dissenting voice on a matter of principle.”

Spectacles perched on the end of his nose, Kaufman towered over his desk and chopped the air and his trembling voice declaimed, “In 1933 we made a decision that helped us through three generations. Why are we not passing legislation that’ll work over the next two or three generations? Something that’ll work whether we get a president who believes in the fact that we should have free markets or not? Whether we have a good regulator or a bad regulator? Why should not the Senate of the United States do its job?”

“When you go back into government, you realize how dramatically asymmetrical it has become with the public interest. Virtually no one walks in your door trying to educate you about the public’s argument.”

Connaughton spent months researching these new markets and was stunned by the opacity of the electronic labyrinth. He was a pretty sophisticated investor, but he could no longer say what happened to the trade orders he placed—and none of the insiders seemed able to explain it, either.

Fortunately, he was too drunk to be thoroughly indoctrinated in critical theory, but the prevailing philosophy of moral relativism inevitably eroded his personal standards. It wasn’t such a big step from the Frankfurt School to getting shitfaced nightly.

Foucault, Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse

Drudge and the Internet rescued him from the cynical irony of his generation and showed him the power of one individual to expose the corruption of the Complex.

He read Camille Paglia on academic politics and saw his whole life as an illustration of the Complex’s totalitarian power.

’d been living behind enemy lines

He’d been living behind enemy lines ever since birth: the liberal fascism of the Hollywood elite, the left-wing bias of the mainstream media, the Nazi-fleeing German philosophers of his Tulane syllabi who had settled in L.A. and taken over higher education in order to destroy the coolest lifestyle in history and impose their Kurt Cobain–like depressive nihilistic Marxism.

The terrain Breitbart sauntered onto was diminishing, crumbling, wide open to him. Pillars of the Old Media were turning to infotainment and opinion journalism to save money and hold on to a distracted audience.

Telling the truth was fun, having the American people behind him was fun, fucking with the heads of nervous journalists and helping the mainstream media commit suicide was fun.

Breitbart went on Real Time with Bill Maher and stood up for himself and Rush to the politically correct hometown mob of an audience, and it was an incredibly committed moment in his life.

Anyway, Old Media’s rules about truth and objectivity were dead. What mattered was getting maximum bang from a story, changing the narrative.

Andrew Breitbart collapsed from heart failure and died at age forty-three.

and then Glenn Beck was standing backstage of his set, with his blond brush cut, pinstriped suit, and sneakers, close to the camera, his face filling the frame, choking back tears. “Are you ready to be that person you were that day after 9/11, on 9/12? I told you for weeks, ‘You’re not alone.’”

The defeat of light rail had depressed Van Sickler more than he expected. It seemed as if America was becoming a country that no longer believed in itself.

His neighbors never gave Obama a chance. They called him a socialist, a radical, and a Muslim, but the word that got to the main point started with n.

The elites were biased toward other elites, even after they had failed massively.

By conventional morality, the plus side should have kept them afloat, and at another time, in another place, maybe it would have.

That kind of thing didn’t happen anymore. People were too scared to join a union, and the corporations had too much money, they’d just threaten to sue.

The Great Depression produced three regulations: The FDIC—your bank deposits were safe. Glass-Steagall—banks couldn’t go crazy with your money. The SEC—stock markets would be tightly controlled. For fifty years, these rules kept America from having another financial crisis. Not one panic or meltdown or freeze. They gave Americans security and prosperity. Banking was dull. The country produced the greatest middle class the world had ever seen.

Most people in bankruptcy weren’t irresponsible—they were too responsible.

Most people in bankruptcy weren’t irresponsible—they were too responsible.

She made no attempt to conciliate or ingratiate. She actually seemed to hate the banks. She had arrived at radicalism, like many conservatives before her, by seeing the institutions that had sustained the old way of life collapse.

She seemed to have walked into the hearing room and taken her seat at the dais out of the past, from the era when the American prairie raised angry and eloquent champions of the common people,

Timothy Geithner, aggravated almost to shouting in an oversight hearing, couldn’t stand her.

Timothy Geithner, aggravated almost to shouting in an oversight hearing, couldn’t stand her.

Wall Street used this purposefully opaque language to intimidate outsiders, but to succeed you just had to be somewhat comfortable with math or else with bullshit—the former went into trading, the latter into sales, and a quant who could lie made the big money.

It was too late to restore Glass-Steagall and go back to the 1950s. The financial sector had gotten way too big—those minds on the Street should have been finding the green energy cure or starting the next tech boom. That was the country’s future, not banking.

At the beginning of 2011 she got a tattoo on her right forearm, the names of the five New York boroughs in Old Dutch, because she liked history, and also because she wanted to remember that things change.

she plowed through a huge biography of the labor martyr Joe Hill.

She hadn’t given up on music and the arts, but she also wanted to organize, get down and dirty, be in the fight.

She hadn’t given up on music and the arts, but she also wanted to organize, get down and dirty, be in the fight.

The scene in Zuccotti reminded him of the city back in the eighties, when he attended private school, listened to Run-D.M.C., and went down to Times Square to watch the games of three-card monte and the police raids—when New York was wilder and more ragged.

But a few activists seemed to dominate these groups, in an insular conversation about “the process” that kept returning to ideas for restructuring into smaller groups in order to refine the process and make it “more inclusive.”

Both Obama and Romney ended up in the wrong place: the former thought American exceptionalism was no longer true and should be given up, while the latter thought it was still true. Neither was willing to tell Americans that they were no longer exceptional but should try to be again.

Technology, on the other hand, could change the world without other people’s permission.

If there was something inegalitarian about his investments, every technological advance had an unequal component—you were doing the new thing, and the new thing could seldom be instantaneously transmitted to everybody.

A university education had become the equivalent of a very expensive insurance policy, like owning a gun.

He wanted to burn his ship so that he would never be able to succumb and sail back to his former life. With Nellie lying at his feet, he spent each morning writing a book about what had happened to Washington in his years there. It would be called The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins. It would say everything.

A book on the subject was titled Rendering: The Invisible Industry. It was the kind of disgusting but essential service, like sewers, that no one wanted to think about.

It was strange how small the idea had to get before anyone would give it a chance.

Though this book is a work of nonfiction throughout, it owes a literary debt to the novels of John Dos Passos’s great U.S.A. trilogy, published in the 1930s and overdue for a revival.

We don’t need saddles nor do we need faster horses

We just switched over to Slack and we are quite happy with the tool as a replacement for our previous Hipchat setup. It all feels a bit fresher, it’s easier to integrate with the rest of the web and has more functionality and niceties built in.

I did have this frustrating twitter conversation with them about what I think is an important topic:

The problem is that it is difficult to use these tools if you are part of several organizations. The way people work these days I could be part of a dozen or more companies and non-profits. Slack is a bit more flexible and it allows quick switching between logged in organizations. What it doesn’t give you is an integrated view of your channels across organizations.

The way we use Slack may be different from most others people. We use it both to coordinate intensively around projects in private rooms, but besides that we have a couple dozen friends from all over the world in a couple of open channels who help us create and maintain our company culture. None of these people are ‘part of our organization’ per se but they all belong in our organization.

The hermetically sealed company wall is the anomaly. There are more free agents than ever who work in flexible configurations. This is a trend that does not show any sign of abating. What the twitter exchange above shows is that Slack either does not understand this or they don’t want to understand this. This is fine but also a bit disappointing for a company that wants to be visionary when it comes to new ways of working together.

I criticize because I love Slack. If there is any company that can help us work together in this new world, it is probably them. But for that to happen we need to start having these conversations.

Cuntstar né Congstar

I’m currently at a German MVNO called Congstar. Partially because somebody told me that they have LTE (which is not true) and partially because I had gotten rather fed up with my Vodafone prepaid plan (branded CallYa). Like any service in Germany this one too is terrible and since then I have come to call them Cunststar.

The website is an utter pain to navigate and essential information is spread out across major sections. Other essential information that you would like to have such as how much money there actually still is on your card is not available at all. Added to that there is no actual customer support but instead you are allowed to navigate through a maze of fora, bots and other things not at all relevant.

Still it gives you a data plan and such things are rare in Germany. There are also some switching costs to trying out all of the other MVNOs as well which are probably just as bad. So I stuck with it.

My latest ordeal came when I tried to upgrade my 1GB plan to a 3GB plan. Trying to give these people more money turned out to be quite difficult. It wasn’t very clear but I had to wait for the 1GB option to run out. Then out of the blue I got an SMS yesterday night that it was gone.

I then tried to activate the 3GB option. At that moment I had enough money in my account to be able to buy that option:


Still Congstar wouldn’t activate it and as if by magic the next morning some money has disappeared to make it just out of reach. I have no idea where the money went and Congstar won’t tell me:

What is to say that these operators don’t shave off money from customers’ accounts when it suits them? Due to the lack of information from them it is impossible for a customer to verify where the money goes to.

The major advantage of this plan over my previous prepaid is that I don’t get SMS spam all the time. Small blessings like that are all we can hope for in the land of telcos.

So why don’t I get a non prepaid plan? Because in Germany those are insanely expensive, all run for 24 months and LTE is but a faint glimmer on the horizon.


There is indeed a usage view but it shows that some time after I tried upgrading my plan (which failed) my phone tried to use the internet and incurred some charges.

Obviously if you don’t allow people to add a data plan if you wait long enough their phones will use data at some point when they can’t get a WiFi connection and you have a good excuse to let them pay more. Telcos are a bottomless pit into which we can throw money for all our lives.

Unleash the panther

On Saturday evening I was in the Volksbühne for Stargaze among others to see Cantus Domus perform a set with an odd German band called 1000 Robota. After that there was an intermission and the main performance of the evening by Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory.

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory

The artistic mandate of the evening bordered a bit on the odd. 1000 Robota is more or less a lunatic act part of the melodramatic German singer-songwriter movement. Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory were forced to interpret Terry Riley’s in C as part of the program. Of course they said it was a great inspiration to them and they did quite a good job of it. After the official part of the program they started making some real music and the entire Volksbühne got to its feet. I asked myself: ‘What the fuck were we doing up until this point?’

I realize that the evening wasn’t supposed to be a club night, but if the unofficial part of the program is so much more vibrant that should be a clear signal.