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Hurricane Katrina, 10 years later

It might seem curious that after a long absence of publishing anything here, the first two post link to Buzzfeed stories. I assure you, it’s a coincidence. They do not need my traffic.

Together with my friends Chantal, Adrian and Daniel, I visited New Orleans in 2011. We arrived after some crazy days in Austin at SXSW. New Orleans was warm, welcoming and left quite the impression. The way I know that New Orleans is different to me is how many details stuck with me over the years. I can’t even remember when I was the first time in London or what I did there. But, as things usually are in the States, it’s not only pleasurable memories that you will end up carrying with you. Here’s the one that has been constantly on my mind:

I had a couple of cab drives during my visit to New York, Austin and New Orleans. But two stood out. The first one was in New York, where the cabbie talked to us about the USA. “This is America!”. Yes, sure. But the same phrase was used in a completely different way by the cabbie who drove us at 4 in the morning to the airport in New Orleans. He took us on a small tour through some of the worst districts of New Orleans, those who have been hit the hardest by Katrina and those who still look like it has been only a couple of days since nature decided to rain its rage upon NOLA. His disappointment almost sounded like embarrassment about the fact, that this indeed is America and nothing happens to really help those people.

Which leads me to Buzzfeed. They’re launching an extensive series on New Orleans, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. You can find the description here, the series will be documented here and the first article is already up too. Go read it. It’s worth it.

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Modern day journalism

I wanted to highlight The New American Slavery: Invited to the U.S., Foreign Workers Find A Nightmare story by Buzzfeed News.

First and foremost, it’s a staggering account of how people who arrive in the US legally based on an H-2 Visa – those are the visas that are being granted for low-paying jobs – are being mistreated, sexually harassed, underpaid and sometimes killed. Not because this is legal, but because the government, on various levels, fails to ensure the rights that those people have both based on their visa and generally under the constitution of the United States of America. It’s a long article, but worth every minute and should count as a reminder that not only places like Qatar can be critisized for that kind of behavior. The team on Buzzfeed News did a stellar job uncovering it.

But they did not only uncover it, they also documented it in a way that I haven’t seen before. For the research, the team conducted interviews and went through a ton of documents. Usually we do not see the sources that journalists use to write their story and we certainly do not see what they found to be specifically important in said documents. Not so with this story. Buzzfeed’s team uploaded all their documents and highlights to DocumentCloud and linked to the specific passage of the document mentioned in the story. Furthermore they uploaded their Data & Analysis of Labor Department documents to Github and linked to it as well.

It should be noted that this is not only about application of new technology. This kind of behavior makes it significantly harder to poke wholes into a well researched story, because it applies radical transparency by design thus creating a shield for the narrative. Impressive work.

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Short review of Peter Thiel's "Zero to One"

Finished reading Thiel’s book this weekend. Because that’s what I do while in bed, trying to get over a cold. It left me with a surprising emptiness, almost an apathy of knowing that the things said in this book will be taken for fact. It’s not that I only disagree with his world view, I actually find him to be dangerous on a similar scale to one his heroes: Ayn Rand. With the difference that Thiel knows how to package things and puts everything into a 200 page pamphlet. It’s agenda setting for the 21st century attention span.

(If this sounds a bit weird, it’s because I formulated it to be a twitter storm. If you don’t know what it is, you’re probably better off continue not knowing. But I also decided that there is no reason why this should remain only to be five tweets and can’t be one, small blog post on a neglected blog.)

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