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July 31, 2015

sarah stodola on process

This is just a brief not-for-nothing post, but a couple days ago over on Medium I published an interview I had with author Sarah Stodola, who wrote the book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors. I know what you're going to say before you say it: "Why, Brent, based on the past eleven years or so of writing on this website, you've given the impression that a book like that is exactly the kind of book that would 'gag you with a spoon,' as it were."

Reader: I did not gag! On a spoon, or any other inconvenient thing!

I found it thoughtful and informative and not a little bit deft, and it left me with a lot of big thoughts, which big thoughts got batted back and forth by me and Sarah.

So maybe a long-ish interview about writing and the ineffabilities thereof (with an awful lot of Old Brooklyn nostalgia, most of which did not make the cut, as I recall) is not exactly what your own personal doctor order on a sweltery TGIF, but maybe it is!

In fact, you'll never know until you try.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:08 AM

July 30, 2015

uber, alles

Possibly the most interesting thing about the conflict between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and $40bn taxi pimp Uber is that it went from What are you talking about? to Please do shut up in about three business days. And it was as divisive as it was quickly-escalating, with people who thought that private companies shouldn't try to strong-arm municipalities on the one side, and people who think Uber is "neat", have been bought and paid for by Uber and/or Ayn Rand fans on the other side.

And already too much has been written about this, like this story on reverse race-baiting or this shrill bit of triumphalism or even this blast from the past on what it really means to have one of those capital-J jobs that Uber keeps bragging about, but I personally received two pieces of direct mail from Uber (pictured), and as annoying as the endless promoted Tweets and targeted webvertising, that was the last straw. I look forward to receiving mail, dammit, and I do not need such poison tainting all the other good mail.

I think that a lobbying plan aimed at voters is just as insidious as any lobbying, but three times as unethical, and even more galling than Uber (impotently!) threatening the electoral chances of city councilmen was the mantle assumed by Uber, as the creator of jobs and the protector of the outer-boroughs (which is, as we know, a load of crap).

So then, some rhetorical questions that I would love to see answered by Travis Kalanick or David Plouffe:

If Uber is so focused on the well-being of outer-borough car service patrons, why does Uber insist on charging money for the service?

Further to that, considering that a credit card is needed to access Uber's services, they're helping the outer-borough, low income patron exactly how again? The consumers you're talking about are marginalized out of bank accounts, let alone credit cards. So you're somehow disrupting dollar vans?

Is Uber organized as a not-for-profit entity or B corporation (or any other entity that is by formation intended to take into account the public good)? And if not then is there a provision in the by-laws, operating agreement or other organizational document that actually impels Uber to act in any public way intended to do anything other than increasing shareholder value?

Or are you just pretty much spewing bullshit and hoping that we're stupid?

How much did Uber spend in its campaign to intimidate the de Blasio administration? For that matter, how much (and in what form) did Uber compensate Kate Upton, Ashton Kutcher and (sadly) Neil Patrick Harris to publicly endorse Uber's extortion campaign?

And finally, these thousands of jobs that Uber is threatening to create, are these like, actual jobs? As defined by the NYS Labor Department? Do they get unemployment insurance, do you pay social security for them? And, if not, why the fuck are you calling it a job?

I guess mostly I want to ask what sort of monster feels the need to fuck with an entire city so that their taxi pimp business takes off and everyone sees that Ayn Rand was right all along, but that answer is self-evident: Travis Kalanick and his mouthpiece, David Plouffe.

At the end of the day this is just one more useless half- rant of a not universally-held conviction. But for a clear and cogent explanation of the actual ways Uber is no better than a drug cartel, I recommend this brief piece by Frank Pasquale and Siva Vaidhyanathan.

I mean it's fun to get all mad and say mean things, but this issue, the greater issue that includes "gig economy" entities that aren't exactly the remorseless assholes that people Uber, is an important one in determining what the employment playing field is going to look like in the next couple decades.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM