The Longform thread

The opposite of the old Random News Item-thread.

JOJUTLA, Mexico — The recruits filed into a clearing, where a group of trainers with the stern bearing of drill sergeants stood in a tight row, hiding something.

“How many of you have killed someone before?” one of the instructors asked. A few hands shot up.

The trainers separated, revealing a naked corpse face up in the grass. One thrust a machete into the nearest man’s hand.

“Dismember that body,” he ordered.

The recruit froze. The instructor waited, then walked up behind the terrified recruit and fired a bullet into his head, killing him. Next, he passed the blade to a lanky teenager while the others watched, dumbfounded.

The teenager didn’t hesitate. Offered the chance to prove that he could be an assassin — a sicario — he seized it, he said. A chance at money, power and what he craved most, respect. To be feared in a place where fear was currency.

“I wanted to be a psychopath, to kill without mercy and be the most feared sicario in the world,” he said, describing the scene.

Good thread idea.

Here’s another one from Matt Stoller:

Today I’m going to write about Google’s exceptionally dangerous decision yesterday to de facto cut off Turkey’s access to Android phones.

Google has told its Turkish business partners it will not be able to work with them on new Android phones to be released in Turkey, after the Turkish competition board ruled that changes Google made to its contracts were not acceptable…

The regulator had asked Google to change all its software distribution agreements to allow consumers to choose different search engines in its Android mobile operating system. The probe was triggered by a filing by Russian competitor Yandex.

What is interesting about what Google did to Turkey to stop an antitrust suit is that it’s exactly what the U.S. government ordered Google to do to Chinese giant Huawei to address national security concerns.

So why did Google do what it did? And why is it so dangerous?

In July, I noted that the most effective antitrust enforcers in the world in the tech sector are Russian. This is, in part, because there’s an existing search engine in Russia - Yandex - that indexes Russian language content as well or better than Google does. So there is existing competition already to protect. Google tried to kill Yandex using an explicit strategy to leverage desktop search dominance into mobile search dominance

Here’s how I described it.

In 2008, Google experimented by building its first Android phone. The company eventually settled on a strategy of having original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Samsung use Android as the brains of their phones. The price was irresistible: zero. Google gave away Android, and starting in 2012, gave away their app store known as Google Play. This pricing strategy was wildly successful. Global Android phone usage hit 1 billion users in 2014, and 2 billion by 2017. Android and Google Play are immensely valuable parts of the phone. Android offers the phone function, and Google Play and its service layer lets third party apps operate on a phone. The ‘free’ price and high functionality of the operating system was a compelling pitch. Google rapidly gained share everywhere. In Russia, at the beginning of 2011, Google had less than 20% market share of the phone operating system market. By 2012, it had over 50% market share, reaching 80% by 2013.

It worked. Here’s a chart showing how Google was able to gain on Yandex using this tie.

The Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia could have let competition die, which is what competition enforcers tend to do these days. Instead, the enforcers made Google stop tying its Android mobile operating system to its search engine. The result was… competition. Google’s market share gains stopped, because they were about a tying regime and not quality or pricing improvements.

One might be skeptical of the Russian antitrust enforcers, except the Europeans found Google guilty of the same violation. It’s just that the European remedy didn’t work because the EU was slower at reaching a verdict, there really wasn’t a similar Yandex-style competitor, and EU competition chief Margarethe Vestager allowed Google to design its own remedy. (Vestager has acknowledged this failure and says she’ll try to be more aggressive, which is good.)

What’s interesting is that Yandex isn’t just good at indexing Russian language content, it can also index the Turkish language. This means it could be a strong competitor in the Turkish market. And what do you know, Yandex filed a complaint with the Turkish antitrust authorities over anti-competitive tactics.

Google’s response wasn’t just to use the legal system to fight for its rights, but then ultimately obey the law. Instead, Google said it was willing to ‘work with’ Turkey, but as a partner and not as a corporation working within a sovereign nation. It simply said it doesn’t like Turkey’s law, and so it will stop providing Android phones for an entire country. In other words, Google has a private sanctions regime against smaller countries.

There’s something of a parallel to what Google is doing to Turkey, and it’s in China. The U.S. government ordered Google to stop delivering apps to Huawei, and the result is a catastrophe for any attempt to build phones for use outside of China. Here’s one review of one of Huawei’s new phones that works without Google’s apps:

The Mate 30 Pro is an exceptional piece of hardware. Its quad-camera setup shoots outstanding photos, a dazzling 6.53-inch waterfall display is the centerpiece of an inspired design, and its 4,500-mAh battery goes and goes and goes. But the fiasco that is Android without full Google support makes it impossible to recommend.

This isn’t such a problem in China, which has a parallel tech ecosystem of apps like Weibo and WeChat. But it’s a huge problem everywhere else, including in Turkey. I don’t know what happens at this point, but it’s very obvious that if I’m a foreign official anywhere in the world I’m going to realize that Google wants to run my legal system and that I better get access to some sort of tech ecosystem that can support a modern economy.

Google is making a call to use leverage that should only be resolved for very serious foreign policy disputes by the U.S. government, and doing so to protect itself from having to obey an antitrust law in a foreign country. Pulling this kind of stunt is like using financial sanctions recklessly. It works if you’re the dominant network, but every time you use sanctions you create the incentive to build an alternative. To put it differently, it’s like overusing antibiotics. Turkey’s response will in the long-term mean leaning more on China, or Russia, or both. Or the EU and the U.S. could step in, and find ways of demanding that Google obey Turkish law.

Maybe the U.S. government is fine with this decision to prioritize Google’s monopoly and forgo leverage by the government it might need in a genuine national security crisis. But somehow I doubt anyone’s really thinking this through, except the officials who used to work at the State Department and now work at Google, like Jared Cohen.
And Cohen didn’t do a great job when he worked at State.

In other words, I hope a grown-up steps in, but I fear there are no grown-ups, anywhere.


This is Chesters ultimate nightmare. What a fucking story.

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Unpaywalled FT piece on some bad pharma:

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Vicious Cycles: Theses on a Philosophy of News

Analyses of the news tend to focus on how the internet has changed things, and there is no doubt that the intrusions of Facebook’s news feed and Google News, online aggregation and free content, real-time reporting, YouTube, blogging, podcasting, and Twitter have roiled and remade the news business. But the crisis in news as an industry is not the same as the crisis in news as a cultural institution. The latter took root long before we connected online. It is for this reason, because so much media today represents the continuation, even the culmination, of trends that originated in the late Seventies and early Eighties, that writers such as Neil Postman remain relevant. They saw that the news was moving in two directions even then: toward entertainment and away from the local reality of people’s lives. For all the intervening technological change, entertainment on TV remains the dominant modality of all twenty-first-century news.

And while the news may not feel like fun, it is fun in the sense that it is stimulating without demanding effort—that doing anything else would require more energy and commitment, even turning off the TV. Watching television leaves no meaningful residue of knowledge or skill. When I visited Amsterdam many years ago, kids staying at the hostels liked to tour the Heineken brewery for an afternoon. They wanted to do something “cultural,” an activity that justified having traveled to the Netherlands, but really they wanted to drink beer. This is the logic of all infotainment, all TV and most internet news: it soothes the mind’s demand for constructive activity while delivering entertainment—a sugary drink sold on its vitamin content. Prestige TV works the same way: by convincing people that they are engaging with art. Make no mistake—well-wrought entertainment can require as much talent as art to create, but that alone does not make it art. Likewise, not all experiences of information are the same, since more or less passive forms of learning involve us differently. What distinguishes art (or knowledge) from entertainment (or infotainment) is that art asks something of its audience, and that its form serves the artwork, and not the other way around. Until the news can say, “We have no show (or paper) today because there is nothing of significance to concern you,” the news will build its monument to truth on a lie.

The coincidence of trauma and therapy, alarm and comfort, is the essence of today’s news, which requires emergency, high-stakes drama, breaking stories, updates, and alerts to keep its audience engaged, but which must then solve the problem it has created by offering explainers and analyses to give coherence to so much terrifying chaos and by employing informational docents, in the form of likable media figures, to soothe our fear of a world on fire with their good humor, their intelligence, and the reassuring whisper embedded in their format: the news exists so it can disappear. And the news does disappear, inevitably, because its salience in the virtual sphere of our apprehension is so disproportionate to its salience in our lives. But what does not disappear is the residue of the experience and how this primes us for our next encounter with news of politics and the world out there.

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There is little about Tim Crowley that doesn’t provoke a strong reaction. At 65, he is a tall, forceful, and fastidiously dressed man, even when he’s in jeans, cowboy boots, and a T-shirt. He brushes his silver hair carefully away from his high, unlined forehead, and he has a thin upper lip that can flatten into an expression of deep distaste when necessary. He flashes extremely white teeth and emits a deep—occasionally mirthless—belly laugh. Overall, Crowley has the cultivated manner and authoritative ease of an eighteenth-century British lord, which suits someone who is a successful trial lawyer, a global entrepreneur, and the biggest man in a small West Texas town of around 1,700 people.

That the town, Marfa, happens to be the unlikeliest of global art capitals and hipster hangouts is due in large part to the persistence and generosity of, well, Tim Crowley. Since arriving in the nineties he has been buying promising if decrepit buildings and turning them into showpieces. “When I first moved here there was one hill you could get cell service on,” he tells me, a bit nostalgically. Crowley turned an old feed store into the Crowley Theater, which hosts, free of charge, everything from local kids in cowboy costumes riding stick horses to the tune of “Texas, Our Texas” to live performances by John Waters or Sissy Spacek. “I couldn’t do this in Houston,” Crowley says.

“Do you know how lucky a town of this size is to have this rebirth?” Crowley asks me, his voice low, taking me into his confidence. “It’s every small town’s dream that you could have this. I just don’t know how much more you could want.”

Well, if you ask quietly—very quietly—around Marfa, some folks will tell you exactly what more they want. They want their town back from Tim Crowley. They won’t tell you this in public or on the record, because they are afraid of Crowley. He is a rich, big-city litigator in a small town full of residents who were once unfamiliar with the type. “He will make your life miserable” is a refrain among those who either have had firsthand experience with his ire or have gone to great lengths to avoid it.

Marfa is a strange place for sure. it feels weird there

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So, if Brad Wesley from Roadhouse ran a company town centered around an art fair.


David Brooks goes all in, apparently.

The golden quarter

Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled?

Lack of money, then, is not the reason that innovation has stalled. What we do with our money might be, however. Capitalism was once the great engine of progress. It was capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries that built roads and railways, steam engines and telegraphs (another golden era). Capital drove the industrial revolution.

Now, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. A report by Credit Suisse this October found that the richest 1 per cent of humans own half the world’s assets. That has consequences. Firstly, there is a lot more for the hyper-rich to spend their money on today than there was in the golden age of philanthropy in the 19th century. The superyachts, fast cars, private jets and other gewgaws of Planet Rich simply did not exist when people such as Andrew Carnegie walked the earth and, though they are no doubt nice to have, these fripperies don’t much advance the frontiers of knowledge.

Furthermore, as the French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in Capital (2014), money now begets money more than at any time in recent history. When wealth accumulates so spectacularly by doing nothing, there is less impetus to invest in genuine innovation.


Ancient history for most of us on here.


This idea, that architecture should try to be “honest” rather than “beautiful,” is well expressed in an infamously heated 1982 debate at the Harvard School of Design between two architects, Peter Eisenman and Christopher Alexander. Eisenman is a well-known “starchitect” whose projects are inspired by the deconstructive philosophy of Jacques Derrida, and whose forms are intentionally chaotic and grating. Eisenman took his duty to create “disharmony” seriously: one Eisenman-designed house so departed from the normal concept of a house that its owners actually wrote an entire book about the difficulties they experienced trying to live in it. For example, Eisenman split the master bedroom in two so the couple could not sleep together, installed a precarious staircase without a handrail, and initially refused to include bathrooms. In his violent opposition to the very idea that a real human being might actually attempt to live (and crap, and have sex) in one of his houses, Eisenman recalls the self-important German architect from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall , who becomes exasperated the need to include a staircase between floors: “Why can’t the creatures stay in one place? The problem of architecture is the problem of all art: the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form. The only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines, not men.”

One of the most infuriating aspects of contemporary architecture is its willful disdain for democracy. When people are polled, they tend to prefer older buildings to postwar buildings; very few postwar buildings make it onto lists of most treasured places. Yet architects are reluctant to build in the styles that people find more beautiful. Why? Well, Peter Eisenman has spoken for a lot of architects in being generally dismissive of democracy, saying that the role of the architect is not to give people what they want , but what they should want if they were intelligent enough to have good taste. Eisenman says he prefers to work for right-wing clients, because “liberal views have never built anything of value,” due to their incessant concern with public process and public needs.

Eisenman suggests that if we deferred to public taste in music, we would all be listening to Mantovani rather than Beethoven, and uses this as evidence that architects should impose taste from above rather than deferring to democratic desires. Indeed, there is always a “Thomas Kinkade” problem in believing that art should be “democratic.” If you deferred to public taste as judged by sales volume, Kinkade would be the greatest artist in the world. Taylor Swift would be the best musician, and the Transformers series would be the best cinema. Of course, we don’t trust democratic judgment in matters of taste, because people often like things that are garbage.

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This is good.

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Christopher Alexander is a hero.

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