This Week: The Grenfell Tragedy — with Andrew O’Hagan. Listen today at 2pm on WBUR or anytime on our website.
MM: We didn’t mean to pile on the beleaguered Brits after a bad week on the football pitch in St. Petersburg and at Number 10, but we had this show in the can and ready to go.
Journalist Andrew O’Hagan’s year-long investigation of the deadly fire in London’s Grenfell Tower took up the whole issue of the London Review of Books last month and our radio hour this week. In Andrew O’Hagan’s telling, the story about a fire last June in a 23-story building that killed 72 people is about the history of social housing in the mega rich finance capital of London; it’s also about the de-regulation of safety — in this case, the deregulation of building materials (the flammable cladding on the exterior of the building that caught fire and caused the firestorm); it’s about the media, too, of course, and the cliches and narratives that take hold in a disaster. O’Hagan worked hard to get to know the residents of the tower and what their lives were like.
These were asylum seekers very often. And so it adds in one sense to the heartbreaking nature of this that they came away from danger only to encounter fatal danger here in the UK. But again I wanted to tell those stories that these bakers these drivers these students these flower sales people who absolutely understood themselves to be part of a modern city which had a place for them. Sometimes reading the coverage now, you would imagine they were all desperately unhappy ignored downtrodden people with no families and nowhere to turn. In fact they would have given and indeed did give the survivor a very reverse idea of their living situation. It was a village, not perfect, plenty to complain about plenty to worry about, but the basic conditions were step up in many cases from what they’d experienced before.
Most people in the tower were not wealthy by and large and they were emigrants by and large, but there was a great sense of cohesion. They were called Moroccan flats — a great number of people from Morocco and from Saudi Arabia and from Egypt and from many other places came to live there and they looked after each other to some extent. It was a close community. There was a lot of child care and a lot of cooking going back and forth between those apartments. So let’s beware of those cliches about people living in slums and so on because I would resist that after interviewing so many of the people in that building and in the estate generally….who came to live in that not because they were desperate not because they were forced to live in a slum but because they felt part of a community in west London and in this town in particular they felt safe and they felt they were part of a social mix.
The story wasn’t without some detractors, though. Some readers felt he gave short shrift to to the voices of residents and let the council leadership off the hook. Thanks to twitter user Anas al-Rawi for sending over these critiques and responses to O’Hagan’s essay:
O’Hagan himself encourages us to look at the Dickensian big picture, including the dissenting voices in London. Read his essay as well as his critics and send us your own thoughts too: email@example.com.
Talk of the Town: Logic Magazine @ MIT
ZG: Thanks to our friends from Logic Magazine for hosting this week’s excellent panel discussion on the new tech resistance. The event highlighted recent tech worker organizing in the ICE Age:
Right now, most news is unbearably ugly. But in the past month, rank-and-file organizers within the tech industry have given us reasons to hope. In early June, Google engineers compelled the company to not renew Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon using AI to improve drone strike accuracy. The success of their campaign — and recent outrage about human rights abuses by ICE — have inspired similar efforts at Amazon, Microsoft, and, Salesforce.
Ben Tarnoff moderated the discussion with the ACLU’s Kade Crockford (who joined Ben on our “consider the algorithm” program), MIT’s Sasha Costanza-Chock, and Northeastern undergrad Valeria Do Vale. All of the panelists were great, but Kade’s no-bullshit advice on what needs to happen next was one the major highlights:
We recorded the whole talk and will be releasing edited audio later this week — stayed tuned!
Watch: Sorry to Bother You
Speaking of tech worker organizing, Sorry to Bother You might be this decade’s best movie on bullsh*t jobs and workers in the new economy. Imagine if Office Space’s gen-x anxieties about white collar work were updated for the post-recession generation; it’s 90s slacker ethos with black surrealist aesthetics. Others have described it as Get Out-meets-Norma Rae.
The movie is ostensibly about a black telemarketer who rises up in the company ranks after learning to speak with his inner white voice, but the bumper sticker description doesn’t do it justice. Directed by the Oakland-based rapper and radical organizer Boots Riley, the film is rooted in a kind of a techno-skepticism that stretches back to the first dot com boom and the early days of Bay Area gentrification. As Riley told WIRED magazine in a recent profile: “During the first tech boom, I was publicly saying it was bullshit. And I was looked at as crazy … I think there’s a little bit of bullshitting going on right now too. The tech world is not a new phenomenon; it’s a new era.”
Hopefully, Riley’s lens will help people think about the techlash less in terms of luddite-ish skepicism about new machines and more in terms of who is actually in control.
Listen: Molly Crabapple
MM: We posted the audio from Chris’ convo with artist and OS pal Molly Crabapple, and she posed holding illustrations by our own artist Susan Coyne. What other podcast do you know that has their own artist by the way?
She talked about her work with the Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham and also about activist artists working in Puerto Rico. Molly also has a piece about Puerto Rican activist Nina Droz Franco in the latest issue of the Baffler (there’s another terrific piece by M.H. Miller about his student debt which might make you short of breath).
Happy Birthday to Us
Fifteen years ago this week Chris Lydon and Dave Winer, launched the world’s first podcast. For real. Those Marconi dudes deserve the bragging rights. All kinds of important digital tools have been swallowed up by the tech monopolies, but kind of amazingly, podcasting is still free, open and not corporate-owned, and that’s because it was designed that way. Send a birthday card our way (and feel free to put in a ten spot like your mom would do).
Vive La France!
I’m celebrating Bastille Day by seeing Kieslowski’s triple feature at the Brattle. Bleu et Blanc down, et Rouge to go!
Til next week,
The OS Crew