Weak Institutions

It’s not a fair fight.

Cory Doctorow


Today (Apr 30) at 2PM, I’ll be at the San Francisco Public Library with my new book, Red Team Blues, hosted by Annalee Newitz.

Tuesday (May 2) at 7PM, I’ll be at the Cedar Hills Crossing (PDX) Powell’s with Andy Baio.

I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.

— Boss Tweed.

Around 2010, I had a problem. My kid was just turning two, and finally starting to sleep through the night, which was a blessing, but then a mysterious company bought the building next door to our east London flat.

The building next door had been sitting empty for years, ever since a safety inspection determined that a) it was full of asbestos and b) it lacked a fire-exit. Either one of these made the building unfit for commercial or residential use, and the long-term tenants had moved into other office buildings in the neighborhood.

So it was a surprise when a new company moved in and put up signs advertising the building as the coming site of a hotel. The surprise turned to dismay as the new owners set to renovating their new digs, working exclusively between 10 p.m. and four a.m., drilling, jackhammering and sawing on the party-wall that ran along both our bedroom and our two-year-old’s bedroom.

Hackney — our local council — was worse than useless. They had two noise-control officers, and if you had someone e.g. jackhammering on the wall next to your bed, all night, every night, for weeks on end, all you could do was leave a message on what I swear was a literal answering machine, complete with tape-hiss, and if they got the message and showed up to the site and determined that things were too noisy, they would “caution” the noisemaker.

If that didn’t end the noise-torture, you could start leaving messages again, and if they caught the miscreants jackhammering next to your bed at three a.m. again, they could take away the jackhammer.

It never came to that because the noise officers never caught these guys in the act. I’d call them every night at 10 p.m., leave a message, and then they would just not show up. A couple times, they arrived at 5 or 6 in the morning, after the jackhammering had finally stopped, and they’d shrug…