On “founders”.

I’ve co-founded two startups. One in mobile apps for social organizing, the other in fintech.

^ That’s technically true, but actually kind of misleading.

Actually, the work I’ve done in other jobs is arguably much more important and interesting. Those startups I mentioned didn’t become wildly successful. But it sounds much cooler to “found” a thing than to “join as an employee”.

There was a time when I knew a lot of people who founded their own nonprofits. When I dug in deeper, though, I realized that they were the only employees of those nonprofits, and all their income came from one source — a larger nonprofit. So what exactly distinguished them from an employee, only paid in prestige instead of healthcare?

At this point, when I meet someone in SF with the title of “founder and CEO”, I immediately translate that into “sole employee, good chance they have no customers, I bet their startup dies in a months.”

That’s often not fair to them — but it feels more accurate than “oh my gosh, founder and CEO! So fancy! Swoon”

Now there’s a paper out about that phenomenon: Towards an Untrepreneurial Economy? The Entrepreneurship Industry and the Rise of the Veblenian Entrepreneur. It even cites my favorite economic philosopher, Thornstein Veblen. Can’t wait to read it.

Until then, here’s a small piece of career advice I’ve given people for the last 10 years — if you can, don’t be afraid to found companies. Expect you’ll fail. Failure is often desirable — it means you don’t have to commit years of your life to this thing any more. But our culture weirdly values being a “founder” of a thing that barely existed, even over being an amazing worker that saved a company from destruction.

Given that, are we so surprised that people take that advice?


The system lacks legitimacy

Some thoughts rattling around in my little brain:

We face a crisis of elite impunity in this country. This isn’t new. Chris Hayes laid it out unsparingly in his excellent 2012 book, Twilight of the Elites. (Don’t want to read the whole thing? Freddie DeBoer had an excellent essay and critique that is arguably better than the book he was reviewing)

We face a crisis of elite impunity inside big companies. Even tech companies. Andy Rubin. Joel Kaplan. Golden parachutes.

Even in the last few months, we saw how corporations can fleece their customers during good times (they’re a monopoloy, what are you going to do), and then get bailouts in bad times. And don’t get me started on the lies that corporations tell to get mergers approved, or “economic development” funding or tax credits, or the post-2008 wave of legal immunity for fraud. Again, just read Twilight of the Elites.

We also face a crisis of impunity for our elites even in new, supposedly fair places, like social media.

These are related.

A cable news host’s facebook page will get better treatment than a normal person would. If their traffic goes down, they will complain to someone who will try to find out why, and fix it. If, say, the President lies on the platform, the platform will shy away from enforcing its own rules.

Epstein was a great encapsulation of elite impunity. He had so many accomplices! So many powerful friends. So many connections. And now — no followup.

Trump is a great symptom of this epidemic of white-collar lawnessness. In a world that prosecuted him for mob connections in the 80’s and 90’s, he would not be president.

Cops have also had impunity for a long time. Lately, they’re ratcheting up that impunity. Shooting journalists on live television is relatively new and a dangerous escalation. If they get away with it, we are one step closer to the police state.

Protests are happening because, in part, the lack of accountability for anyone in power who does things that are wrong.

Even the Iraq war cheerleaders are still literally the same people in the media, and those who dissented were fired.

All this was predicted.

I’m old enough to remember blogs, and civil liberties groups yelling about:

  • Sending military surplus gear to police departments.
  • Militarization of police post Miami
  • LRAD cannons being bought years ago
  • Surveillance of activists
  • Qualified immunity for police brutality
  • “Occupation corrupts, and the tactics used in Iraq will come home to us”
  • Even during Occupy, we said: “If they do this brutality to us, they’ll do it to you”.

It’s important to acknowledge that it was predicted. Predicted by leftists specifically, and also the free-internet, Edward-Snowden-is-good, crowd. Too often, the online civil liberties people and the left don’t see themselves on the same side.

This isn’t the first time that police in america have killed people on camera, beaten up bystanders, attacked the press. This isn’t the first time that they’ve attacked a peaceful march, unprovoked, and then blamed the violence they themselves instigated on “rioters”.

I want to be very clear about that. The model is now: people nonviolently march. Police march in and attack them. All is confusion and teargas. The news covers it as “protests get violent”. This was true before 2020. Luckily, it seems like more people are realizing it.

It is so important not to shame people for figuring it out now, rather than earlier. Convincing people is the main strategic goal of most political activity.

But convincing doesn’t happen without work. My twitter feed is full of videos of cops doing horrible things to unarmed, nonviolent people. The biggest Facebook pages are pushing out stories about evil looters and rioters. Even as television news hosts are being arrested or *literally shot at* on live TV, the dominant narrative is about riots, clashes, and violence. This is a great example of how the ownership of the mass media (corporate, conservative) matters much more than the views of labor (people who were just attacked by police) in how they slant coverage.

We’ve seen a ratcheting up of police terror. We’re seeing a ratcheting up of propaganda by the republican party. Now US Senators are calling for the military to shoot american citizens for the crime of believing in anarchism. Being “anti-fascist” is now … terrorism? It’s all bluster, and legally unenforceable. Until, of course, it isn’t.

The Erdoganization of the US continues. We should be excited that people are still willing to brave the streets, even though it means facing death by coronavirus and death by cop.


A fun personality test

Sarah and I were taking a stroll tonight, when we came up with a lighthearted but also insightful way to categorize our friends. Here it is.

Knowledge, Skills, Insight, Wisdom. These are different kinds of intelligence. You can understand some people by figuring which of these four they value the most.

Let’s imagine someone named Steven. Steven lives in SF. He is a hacker and loves building things. He has a book club, and handpicks the people who he invites. He might value skills, then knowledge, then insight, then wisdom.

Let’s imagine someone else named Ingrid. Ingrid is an academic with a side hustle of being a columnist for a publication that sees itself as the next Slate. She writes hot takes and also avidly consumes advice columns. Ingrid values insight by far. Then wisdom, knowledge, and lastly skills.

Steven might not really understand Ingrid. Or vice versa. They’re both smart! They both are intellectual, even. But they value different things.

So, what are these axes? Let’s go deeper.

  • Skills: The obvious one. Doing things.
  • Knowledge: Being a collector, almost aesthete, of facts. This could be metadata or non-traditional facts too.
  • Insight: Being able to understand situations and systems. An analytic understand of models of how everything functions
  • Wisdom: The sense of what’s important now. Intuition. Knowing the real question that is being asked when someone asks for advice.

Wisdom is the trickiest to define, so let’s give an example:

Someone with high insight, but low wisdom, would be able to explain office politics amazingly well, but not be able to actually thrive in the system.

Someone with high wisdom, but low insight, would be able to do the local more-or-less optima in each situation they found themselves in, but maybe wouldn’t bother thinking about the question in the first place.

Thinking about different kinds of leftist is a useful illustrative example.

Leftists with high insight would be able to explain capitalism, various smaller systems (prison industrial complex? city politics) and explain what’s happening and how it fits to bigger ideas.

Leftists with high wisdom would be the nice ones. They mediate a lot. They have good gut feelings about which people to talk to, about what. (This is the hardest to put my finger on.)

Leftists with high knowledge know every organization, know the heads of organizations. Know all about what happened in the october revolution. Have read Capital.

Leftists with high skills can actually organize.

Values vs Identity

Here’s the catch, though! What you have is not always what you value.

For example: I really value wisdom. I seek advice from elders, peers, strangers, etc. I constantly worry that I’m doing the risky or wrong thing, and respect people who have that ineffable aura of having life figured out.

I value it, but I think it’s clear that I have more insight than wisdom. That’s why I get into trouble sometimes in social or political situations.

Similarly, I am high skilled. I can code, data crunch, write, political campaign, email blast, social butterfly, etc. But I value knowledge more. That’s why I read history books for fun, collect JustSeeds posters, and my arduino kit is still unopened.

Understand relationships, not just people

It’s great to use this as a tool for understanding people, but perhaps it’s even more useful to think about how this relates to people’s relationships with *each other*.

Are two people not getting along? Maybe one just doesn’t value the sort of intelligence the other has. Maybe it’s the opposite, and they’re feeling threatened. Imagine a person who highly values knowledge, but feels like they have very little. They might have a weird relationship with a very knowledge-heavy person. Etc.

It also covers relationships with the self. I can think of a few people who have healthy self esteem off the top of my head. All of them seem to value the sort of intelligence that they seem strongest in.

Where to go from here

It’s a fun game to think of people in your life, and then rank them. What do they value most and least? What do they have most and least?

Once you’ve done so, compare notes with them. Does their self-assesment match up to what you thought?

On that subject, what is your self-assessment? What do you value? What are your actual attributes?

Here’s a caveat: this isn’t meant to be a unified theory of all personalities. Some people value, say, Charisma! Or loyalty. There are tons of different qualities. But it does serve as a useful map for understanding a certain type of people.

Does that make sense? Questions? Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.


Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund

I love Brandeis, I love its mission. I want to help it become the best version of what it is and what it was meant to be.

I also love Louis Brandeis, the greatest american jew. He pioneered so many things: from reining in the banks to the institution of a law review to pro bono legal work to, weirdly, management consulting. A brilliant person.

And now it’s a little bit more official.

Thanks to the legendary Jules Bernstein, I’ve been added as a member of the 5-person advisory committee for the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund. Think of it as a sort of donor-advised fund (de-facto, not de-jure) that operates inside Brandeis University, and funds the sort of things that it wants to see more of: social justice!

I’m honored to be asked by him to join.


Find me on the What Origin Podcast

I’m very pleased to share that I was recently interviewed on the What Origin podcast. What Origin is a podcast about creativity (in the sense of creation). It was so fun! I think I did a great job.

We talked about stuff like:

  • Creating communities vs projects vs clubs
  • How does community get built? How can you structure it?
  • How do companies build community?
  • What is a company? What does working for one feel like?
  • What happens when they lie to you?
  • Don’t fall in love with a company — they can’t love you back.
  • Do people need a boss? Do they need structure?
  • The process of deprogramming yourself / leaving workism.
  • Grief.
  • The boss. Thinking a lot about making the boss happy is bad for the soul.
  • How do you learn to be free? (Spoiler: the humanities!)

Can’t wait for you all to hear it.

Based on this experience, I’m open to being a guest on more podcasts! Tell your friends!

The process of doing it was really fun, too. Getting a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes of how audio editing works, etc.

Thanks so much to Gavin Knight for having me on and showing me the ropes. You can check out other interviews he did, like with Mek about the Open Library or about the invention of the slinky. A gracious person and a pleasure to get to know him.

Anyway, it turned out really well. If you like what I tend to talk about, I bet you’ll get a kick out of it. Let me know what you think. Listen here.


The May 2020 Mixtape

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear.

This month, I made Sarah a mixtape of “iconic songs by iconic bands”. No searching for great music from obscure-to-me artists. Just a list of songs that are purely delightful and have stood the test of time.

Here it is. Or, if you prefer text:

The May 2020 Sarah Mixtape

Everyone Hides by Wilco
Chicago by Sufjan Stevens
Your Rocky Spine by Great Lake Swimmers
Bodysnatchers by Radiohead
Montezuma by Fleet Foxes
No Sleep Till Brooklyn by Beastie Boys
Piazza, New York Catcher by Belle & Sebastian
Hercules Theme by Hercules & Love Affair
Thinkin Bout You by Frank Ocean
Fineshrine by Purity Ring
Black Sheep by Metric
Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem
Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys
Your Hand In Mine by Explosions In The Sky
No One Said It Would Be Easy by Cloud Cult
Comfy In Nautica by Panda Bear
Brennisteinn by Sigur Rós
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart by Wilco


Introducing: Now

In writing letters to old friends, I’ve found it a little hard to get a sense of “how are they doing these days?”. Skimming Facebook doesn’t seem to be great way to figure that out, for a few obvious reasons. I ask them, of course, but that too often tends to get a 2-3 sentence answer about their last few weeks, instead of the more fully considered sense of who they are and what they’re about.

I can’t blame them, though. In telling the story of my life, who I am these days, etc, I can get similarly tongue-tied. Luckily, Derek Sivers has a solution: the now page.

So — I wrote up what I’m up to these days. (And, as a treat, what I was up to back in the day).

I’ll update it as my life changes. Here’s the snapshot of what it says today, May 15th, 2020:

Last year, I moved to Somerville, MA, to live with Sarah. It was hard, because I had to leave my wonderful friends in San Francisco. I miss my roommates, in particular, even still. By December, after a long deliberation, I decided to leave Facebook.

In what has become a lovely tradition, I’m taking months of unpaid vacation after leaving a stressful job. Before the latest plague, I had been going to cafes, reading magazines, auditing some classes, and meeting old friends and new. I’ve started getting closer to the Jews of Color, Mizrahi, Sephardic Caucus of a local jewish social justice organization, and thinking more about the feeling of being a brown jew.

Now, I’ve been even more focused on a few projects. Matchmaking (of many kinds), thinking, running a book club, and more. Join me!

It’s not all labor, though! I’m taking longer walks. Playing games alone and with friends. Bridge, Hanabi, and Dominion are my favorites to play together.

Speaking of friends, I’ve started my correspondence habit again. Emailing, but also writing longhand letters. Tell me your address and you might get a surprise note in the mail.

Hope you like it.



Here’s a quick, biased history of my adult life.

I’ve been writing a lot of letters to old friends lately. That’s necessitated a lot of “here’s what I’ve been up to since we last talked” conversation. It could be useful to have that in one place: linkable, searchable, updateable. See also: Now.

In 2011, I graduated college. I loved both the undergraduate experience, and Brandeis University specifically, so I didn’t want to leave. I stayed an extra year to pick up a master’s degree in computer science. I did it in a strange way: taking an intense course in app development and game design in the summer, auditing courses in the fall, and finishing my degree in 2012.

Between graduation and the start of the program, however, I went on an epic road trip with Sarah, James, Rek, and Zuzana.

Occupy Wall Street kicked off in 2011, and I happened to be in DC for a few conferences in late September/early October. I stayed an extra two weeks and had a small role in founding Occupy K Street.

In 2012, I graduated my master’s degree. I was building lots of apps for fun, and asked Rootscamp if I could make them an unofficial app for the conference. That turned official, and then into a contract, and later into an “apps for organizing” startup with Adam Hughes, Chris Stathis, and Alice Chuang.

We moved our headquarters to Connecticut, and learned a lot in an incubator, before winding it down.

In 2013, Aaron died. I got angry, and moved to Springfield, Missouri to join Zack Exley at the Wikimedia Fundraising team. I built the infrastructure for the A/B testing team better refine how Wikipedia asks you for money, some stats to figure out when to stop a test, and an internal web app to view the results. I moved back to Rochester, NY, then Manhattan.

My time in Springfield was important. It was so different than my life up till then! I was in a truly christian-dominated space. There were more “jews for jesus” (read: Christian) synagogues there than actual jewish places of worship (there was only 1, and you needed a friend with a car to take you). I learned a lot about life in truly christian-dominated spaces, made a bunch of friends I’d normally never meet, and met people of very different lives than mine. I think about my time there a lot.

In Rochester, I made friends with local, erudite anarchist communists. I made friends with Metro Justice, Rochester Red and Black, and started a little blog called People Powered Rochester.

In 2014, I moved to Oakland to take care of Joshua Kahn’s geckos. For a couple, glorious weeks, I lived with Jay Carmona, Becca Rast, and Jonathan Matthew Smucker. It was amazing. Then I moved in with Bhavik Lathia, also in Oakland, also wonderful.

I went on many dates, and eventually wound up my time at Wikipedia (The ED was leaving, Zack was leaving, and my project felt complete). I started mentoring heavily at Startingbloc. I was confused: why, if I had done all those cool things, did I feel so unfulfilled?

I spent about 8 months traveling around the country, trying out different lives like you try on a hat, doing different projects for 2 weeks 2 months. (Touring hackerspaces around the country, housing justice organizing, cofounding a startup, helping run Zephyr Teachout’s gubernatorial race, hanging out with the homeless, tumblr diaries, a romance back in Rochester, living with Charles Lenchner for a bit, some online campaigning, etc).

In 2015, I decided it was time for a job again. I joined a 100-person startup as their first Data Scientist. I moved to Brooklyn with Lydia Bowers, and then Manhattan / Murray Hill in a studio, 5 minutes from work.

My sister Shelly moved to New York for a fancy job on Broadway, and so she lived with me for a while. It was really nice. We never could agree on what to watch on television, so we compromised on old favorites from childhood like Winnie the Pooh.

I went on lots of dates. James Cersonsky stopped by quite often. I left the startup. I romanced a brilliant artist. I spent 6 months thinking about what I wanted from life, how society worked, mentored even harder at StartingBloc, wrote some code for Bernie, and enjoyed life. I even got an acting reel! Facebook gave me a call — and I decided I’d work there next: but not until I took a few more months off.

In 2016, I moved to Palo Alto. I had some time before starting work, so I spent a lot of time helping friends get jobs. I moved into a hacker house that was kind of a scam, but made great connections with my housemates. I biked to work (for 45 minutes each way!) every day via a state park. Later in the year, I moved to San Francisco. I reconnected with Elise Liu, and made friends with Adam Reis and Mek Karpeles.

I started work. I was scared at first, but by the end of the year I found my confidence. It was a fun, innocent time. Yes, came into the company determined to remember that it was an “it” or a “they”, not a “we” or an “us”. At the same time, here I was, working at a respected company with amazing perks and a sense of optimism.

Trump won the election. The mood was black. I founded Oh Damn, Now What to be an organization for tech-ish friends of mine to radicalize and organize.

In 2017, I moved into what became Serapeum with Mek, Drew Winget, and Jessy Diamondman. It changed my life. Oh Damn Now What turned into a book club, and lived on for most of the year. I got closer to Bend the Arc and became a Jeremiah Fellow. I hired Sasha Silberberg as my dating coach. I moved to the civic team at Facebook.

The Civic team was amazing. A little island of essentially a mission-driven nonprofit within a larger corporate structure. We had an amazing culture and did pro-social, fun work like registering more voters than anyone else in america, and building tools to help people look up and contact their elected officials. Then Cambridge Analytica hit, and we spun up a team to tackle election integrity. We built the first ever tools for that, in the Alabama special election. That’s where I met George Berry, got close to Monica Lee, Bogdan State, and other amazing friends.

At the very end of 2017, Sarah and I kicked off our romance at a Hannukah party at her parent’s house in Rochester. (We were both visiting from different coasts). I started rock climbing with my roommates and loved it.

In 2018, Serapeum moved to a new house. Jessy left us, and we gained Ariel Liu. I switched from data engineering to software engineering at work. Our team and scope ballooned in size.

With James Barnes and other friends, we built the first and second election integrity war rooms to monitor and protect the US midterms and Brazilian presidential election. It was intense.

Sarah and I became a solid item by February. She stayed with me over the summer, and I visited her in Philly as often as I could. Serapeum moved again to a new, more permanent home — 24th street.

In 2019, I made some moves. I started working closely with Matt Wilde. I decided to move to greater Boston to live with Sarah, who was going to start the Climenko Fellowship at Harvard Law. For a little while, my sister Talie lived with me at Serapeum while Mek and Ariel temporarily moved to Atlanta.

I moved to Somerville. I started working on Presto. It was amazing to work on a heavy-duty, infrastructural piece of open source software.

The news got worse. I left Facebook. It was a hard decision.

Now it’s 2020. You can see what I’m up to lately here, on my projects page.



I love people. I love helping them. I found a really fun way to do that, and it’s this: setting people up. It’s quite nice. For one thing, even if it doesn’t work out, people are so grateful that you made the introduction. For another thing, if it does work out, you get two happy friends, rather than one, out of the effort.

And it’s fun. Oh my it’s fun. Talking to people, thinking about them, that eureka moment when you figure out a way to change their life at little cost to yourself.

Setting people up on dates, however, isn’t the full picture. Why not set people up on jobs? I have friends hiring, and I have friends to hire. Why not housing?

There was a time when I had some time on my hands, and a fair number of friends were looking to hire. So I started matching people up in earnest for jobs. It was wonderful! I started a tinyletter list. I created guides for job finding. I created spreadsheets and so on. It got a little out of control, took up hours a day, and I scrapped it.

Later, I restarted on Facebook. Just a thread every once in a while inviting people to matchmake themselves in the comments for dates, housing, or jobs. It works!

But I still have the same problem I used to have: let’s say I run into an amazing job opportunity, or find a hot single in my area. Let’s say that a month earlier, someone perfect for it told me they were available. Ideally, I should match them. In practice, I often forget who is looking for what.

I think the answer is a few intake forms on Airtable. Just to keep me remembering.

Here they are:

Jobs for Friends intake form

Romance for Friends intake form

But linking to 2 different forms each time I do a monthly facebook post doesn’t like enough.

Update — I’ve launched a newsletter. It can:

  • Link to the monthly Facebook thread.
  • Remind people to fill out the intake form.
  • Highlight extra stuff and be fun.

Here’s the link.



A friend and I were playing Starcraft (o.g. Brood War) the other day. We were chatting with some strangers on multiplayer, and here’s what we found:

  • No more spamming of slurs. Seems like either Blizzard’s filters have finally caught up, or all the idiot teenagers are no longer playing a 20-year old game.
  • A lot of players (even in US leagues) are from south america, or Korea.
  • One comparatively longer conversation online was with a guy who said he couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Cheekily, we said something like, “why? more time for starcraft”. He answered that he was a single dad working 60 hours a week. That dampened that conversation.
  • The people who play starcraft these days are really, really, good at it.

My first experience with antisemitism was through starcraft. In the cloud of slurs (anti-gay, anti-black, etc), was weirdly the word “jew”. It was clear from the context that it wasn’t meant as a compliment, or even anything specific. Just another way to insult someone you’ve never met before.

It’s kinda nice to finally be able to play this game without running into it any more.


I’m still mad about Aaron

A bunch of us are reading David Graeber’s Debt. In the course of preparing for our upcoming discussion, I started re-reading that amazing resource: Crooked Timber.

That reminded me that Aaron Swartz wrote a couple guest posts on Crooked Timber. I reread one of his essays. Then another. Then more. You can guess what happened next. DANG. What an amazing writer. What a thinker.

There’s no one I’ve met in my life that I was so sure would change the course of history. No one I’ve met that was so obviously, even qualitatively, smarter than me. For a while, it felt like every big project I joined, or every cool thing I tried, he was there first, and happened to (sometimes co-)found it.

I think about Aaron all the time. Even now, years later.

For a long time, he was my role model: clear moral compass, brilliant, a tech genius but at the same time rooted in movement work and so much more than “the computer guy”.

It’s weird when your role model used to be your boss, is the brother of a friend, the ex of your boss. It’s weird to have this role model be a real person.

I was so angry when he died. I went on, well, a rampage, for the next few years. I never forgave Obama, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, Steve Heymann, MIT, and the Democratic Party in general. I talked about it as part of my personal life story on dates, organizing 1-1’s, etc. I grew close to the angry wing of the radical left. I traveled the country. I took jobs based on what I felt he would have wanted me to do. When I played role-playing games, I would make a character named “Aharon Schahor” to try to process things.

I still get angry about his death. I still tell people about it. I still tell people about how important he was to me. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers who happen catch me in a particular mood.

Once, to my horror and embarrassment, I realized that one of those strangers was his brother. Oops! Sorry Noah. I seriously didn’t know.

Sidebar — Babbling about Aaron helped a friend introduce me to Mek, though, so overall the “talk about your feelings” seems to be working for me.

I’m still mad.

PS — And of course, Chris Dodd, that scumbag, the villain in the SOPA/PIPA fight that Aaron won for us; Chris Dodd, who flat out lied about his revolving door plans; Christopher J “Waitress Sandwich” Dodd — that’s the guy that Biden is tapping to lead his VP search.


My Debt story

Our book club is reading Debt, The First 5000 Years. A prompt before starting has been: “What is your professional and personal experience with the concept of debt?”. This is lightly adapted from my response:

My last decade or so of life has been conducted just a little bit under the shadow of Debt, (the book). I remember reading the Crooked Timber symposium on it when it came out, reading the back and forth in Jacobin, etc. I think I’ve read more criticism and reviews of the book than there are pages in the book itself.

In that decade, I’ve felt a need to have read the book, in the same way I feel the need to read Keynes, Piketty, and Marx’s Capital. If I haven’t read those, how else could I show my face in public and dare to have opinions?

But I haven’t read the book. That is, until now. (And I’m not finished yet!)

I also have had a relationship with debt, the improper noun.

  • My father’s business has depended on debt. Loans, rotating credit cards, etc, in order to fund the expansion of a small real estate business. And he’s been remarkably successful!
  • I grew up feeling afraid of repeating his feat, and then failing. 
  • I went to my second (or fifth!) choice university to escape debt and high tuition. 
  • I arguably ruined my first startup / my relationship with my best friend, in part, because we both paid ourselves high enough salaries to pay our university debt. 
    • (This might a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was so worried about paying off my university debt that it overhung my actions the entire time)

Debt has been a political topic I haven’t quite cracked. Post-Occupy, the group Strike Debt came out with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. I remember poring over it. Feeling so excited. Part manual, part guide to “this is how the world works, you’re being screwed”. In my travels, I’d recommend it to strangers who were having debt problems. They often followed up to thank me. 

I dimly know that debt has been used to reinforce the post-WWII US-centered order. That it has to do with oil, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, and private equity. That leveraged buyouts are bad. And that there’s a weird thing where people feel obligated to pay their debts but corporations are assumed to be allowed to default on them all the time.

But I haven’t, yet, stitched that into a holistic idea of how the world works.

I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. 


Workers of the world, unite.

It’s May 1st. An international holiday commemorating an event that happened in the US, celebrated everywhere but in the US.

Except, slowly, over my lifetime, that’s changed. The big “day without an immigrant” strike of 2006 kicked it off. The slow buildup of left organizations starting to march and celebrate it over the years. Occupy gave it a kick in the pants, too.

Happy International Worker’s Day. Happy labor day. Happy socialist day. Happy strike day. (Like all good holidays, it contains several different meanings).

There’s a lot to say. About the importance of labor unions. Of worker militancy. How “solidarity” is a term with a ton of meaning and power, too-often cheapened by easy use. About the situation of capitalism, of the bosses and 1%, and so on.

Too much, to say. So let’s talk about the celebration itself.

Every May Day, I take the day off work and go marching. And, in the last few years, it’s been fantastic. So much energy. All the signs! All the different groups, showing themselves off, meeting each other, building energy.

A good May 1st march can give you enthusiasm and energy to last for months.

Here’s a sense of what it could be like. May 1, 2014.

Same march, different vantage point:

One one hand — so much energy! On the other hand — we could do better today. We’re growing.
It’s sad that I can’t go to a march and feel a little happier about the world. But we do have one of the largest strikes by non-unionized workers in memory. We have calls for a rent strike. That’s a pretty nice May 1st.

In my last year of college, our big musical extravaganza, Springfest, hit on May 1st. I spent the first half of the day stuck in my room, playing the Internationale at full blast, and doing my best to memorize the lyrics. Only after I could belt out La Marseillaise from memory (and the first few stanzas of the Internationale), did I go out into the sun and enjoy the beautiful day.

I think about it from time to time. I was a weird kid. But maybe, while we’re stuck here in our homes, memorizing a few classic labor songs doesn’t sound like a bad way to celebrate.

Here’s a new favorite:

This world looks like a chain of heavy broken hearts
It chains my brothers and sisters all apart
Link after link it clatters thru my land
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Selfish pride is one link in this chain
And you better drive it out of your heart
Brother and sister when you do it’s then that you’ll get loose
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Fear is a link in this chain
Of sorrow and trouble and pain
Drive out your fear and you will break apart
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Jealousy is a link of the worst
A worry, a blister and a curse
Join our union band and break with your hands
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

This long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s when you are free from this chain
Love will come and fill you up again
Show your friends and neighbors how to break away
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Yes this long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts


History Time: The Book Club

A little while ago, on Facebook, I asked:

A lot is happening quickly. We are in big bold idea territory. History time.

What if we started a reading group that covered works by great thinkers on topics like: political economy, how power works, authoritarianism, crises, how business works from a sociological perspective, radical politics (pro and con)?

Would you be interested in something like that?

Turns out, a few people were interested. But there were a lot of questions for how one might structure a thing like this online. Would discussions be synchronous or asynchronous? What role would we have to writing? How much time and commitment would work for people?

So, I created a form to sign up. (Feel free to sign up yourself)! The responses, however, were split: there’s definitely a role for synchronous meetings / video, but disagreement on the role of text and async discussion. Some people wanted to use Slack. Others (like me) hate Slack.

So — how might we go deep, but also accommodate people’s desire for this not to turn into a chore? How might we stay off walled gardens (Facebook, Slack)? How could we end up with artifacts coming out of this, instead of just ephemeral conversation?

I had some long talks with some friends, especially Anne Gomez and Danny Spitzberg. Here’s our draft idea of how it will all work.

In short:

  • Meetings are conducted by video. They both kick off discussion of a book / article / work, and also serve as organizational meetings to choose the next work to discuss
  • Someone posts a recap of discussion, summary of the book, or general essay based on the reading.
  • The discussion continues via text, probably in response to that post.

It’s intentionally loose. Each book (or article, video, etc.) will have a different facilitator, who can structure discussion however they like.

Anyway, we are starting up soon. Wanna join?


My Monthly Mixtape Ritual

As you know, I’m dating Sarah. Sarah is very good. When we started dating, however, I noticed that she had a small flaw: not only did she not like the same music as me, she didn’t even know that my favorite bands existed. When she listened to music, which wasn’t often, it was mainly show tunes from her favorite musicals.

Now, musicals are great. I enjoy them, and have been known to go to a few on some occasion. It’s delightful that Sarah likes them — it gives her something with which to bond with my sister Shelly, who works in Broadway. But — what about The Mountain Goats? What about Wilco? What, not to put a fine point about it, about LCD Soundsystem?

So I made her a mixtape. A song each from some of my favorite bands. Bookended by two songs from a particularly good band. The format, and the habit, stuck. That was back in April 2018.

I’ve made a mixtape per month since then. It’s pretty fun! The challenge of making an aesthetically coherent album each month, always with new music, and all but the first and last song by a different artist, is real. I’ve explored arabic, hebrew, persian, afro-punk, chillwave, jug bands, and other forms of music I wasn’t normally listening to normally. I’ve started keeping an ear out for new things I haven’t heard before, and chatting up strangers to learn their tastes. It’s fun! Each month has a pretty different sound.

You can find them all on Spotify. March 2020 just dropped (with a lot of help from Disco). Take a listen.