Celebration of Occupy's and Bradley Manning's Birthdays in San Francisco

On December 17th, 2011, Occupy SF and friends had a demonstration in support of the three-month anniversary of Occupy and the 24th birthday of Bradley Manning. It was also the second day of Bradley's long-delayed trial.

We marched from Bradley Manning Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) down Market, held a brief rally at the intersection of Montgomery and Post, and then marched in the street against traffic and between cars up Montgomery, circling back around to Sue Bierman Park just a block from Bradley Manning Plaza.

When we arrived, a couple people set up tents, there were some speakers, and then, cake!

Happy Birthday, Bradley Manning! birthday cake


Movie Review: If a Tree Falls

This exceptional documentary discusses the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a group that has been slandered by the US government as terrorists. They have used arson as a tool to fight back against activities and corporations that harm the environment, while being extremely careful to avoid killing or injuring anyone. In general, my attitude toward the ELF is similar to my analysis of the Weather Underground and other armed revolutionary groups of the West in the 1970s - their actions are legitimate and morally right, but strategically wrong.

But that's an aside. The movie brings, amazingly, nuance to its subject. Focusing on the upcoming trial of Daniel McGowan, it includes interviews with his fiancée, his family, former ELF comrades, law enforcement, and the federal prosecutor of his case. The movie does an impressive job of remaining neutral and letting all parties speak for themselves, allowing us to see the motivations and humanity of all involved.

The director spoke after the screening and pointed out that they have blurbs from both the ELF and the prosecutor saying that they think the movie is important and that people should watch it, a testament to its even-handedness.

I recommend anyone interested in environmentalism or radical movements watch this movie.


Book Review: Debt: The First 5000 Years (in-progress)

David Graeber's Wikipedia entry starts with "David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist". Already you know things are going to be interesting.

I first heard of this book and Graeber in connection to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Apparently he played some part in starting them. He also was involved in the anti-corporate globalization protests of the late 1990s. Then I heard a reference to this book from none other than a Financial Times reporter. Okay, then. If the business press is interested in reading a book on money and debt by an anarchist anthropologist, I'll bite.

I loved the cover. It's a very effective illusion - I really thought that the cashier had placed my receipt on the book itself.

The book's size looks intimidating, but it shouldn't be. About a quarter to a third of the book is endnotes, and the main text is very straight-forwardedly written, which is a pleasure. Graeber covers a ridiculous amount of ground, but does so fairly thoroughly and entertainingly. Near the end, the quality craps out a little bit, and it seems a bit more hand-wavy. This, along with the rather large number of typos, leads me to suspect that the book was rushed out the door. The book is timely, to say the least, and so I can forgive it those flaws.

I'm marking this as in-progress because I read the book quickly, and I mean to re-read it more carefully and talk in more detail about the book's contents. Until then, I'll just say that the book talks about the following:

  • that the State and the Market were born together
  • that world systems have shifted between debt and coinage
  • that coinage and precious metals coincide with war and plunder
  • that debt is related to slavery
  • various non-monetary cultures, and
  • how daily life is a mixture of market relations, small non-monetary debts, and communism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the current economic crisis.

You can find it on isbn.nu.

If you are intrigued by this review, you can read Graeber's essay Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, which has some of the ideas of _Debt_ in an embryonic form.


An Open Letter to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan

Dear Jean Quan,

I hear you will be a panelist at a forum tomorrow on the future of Occupy. I find that remarkable - almost as if Karl Rove were invited to a friendly discussion on the future of the Democratic Party. You claim to "share the concerns of the Occupy Movement" but so far you've been responsible for some of the harshest repression seen in the US, including the use of tear gas, not-always-lethal projectiles, and flash-bang grenades in the streets of Oakland. To prevent another encampment, you've flooded Oscar Grant Plaza, threatening the iconic oak tree, a symbolic reminder of how the 1% so often destroy nature in pursuit of power and profit. In addition, you've done all that you could to minimize Occupy Oakland's effectiveness, discouraging people from joining the West Coast Port Shutdown and calling it "economic violence". I have yet to hear you use the label "economic violence" to describe evictions, foreclosures, massive fraud by the banks, or the day-to-day suffering of unemployment, job insecurity, and lack of worker control under capitalism.

muddy area on Oscar Grant Plaza with a small sign that says Lake Quan


Police Violence is a Tactic

A queer group entertained us at the West Coast Port Shutdown in Oakland this morning. They had a life-sized cutout of the infamous Lt. Pike. They handed out these leaflets:


Chris Jones and the Criminal Neglect of the SFPD

On Tuesday night, December 6th, the SFPD raided and destroyed the Occupy SF encampment. As a side note, related to the main story, there were 3 or so firefighters there - there was some piece of SFFD equipment holding up lights to further illuminate the already well-lit plaza. I talked briefly with a couple of the firefighters, and told them that their participation was shameful. One of them replied sarcastically, "Oh, I feel bad now". My opinion of SFFD dropped significantly. But events the next night would raise my opinion again.

#OccupySF Walked into a crazy situation. 70+ riot cops marching into the GA.
6:29 PM, Dec 7th

On Wednesday evening, December 7th, people came back to Bradley Manning Plaza/Justin Herman Plaza to have a GA (General Assembly meeting). I came by a little bit late, and arrived to see 7 columns of 10 riot cops each positioned in the walkway (and more cops elsewhere) while people were gathered in the plaza. I came to be focused on a small aspect of that evening's events, which I think is rather telling of our current situation. I tweeted from time to time, and include some of those tweets here to illustrate the events and mark them precisely in time.

The cops marched into the plaza and circled a small portion of it - about a third or a quarter. It seems that there was a little bit of time for people to decide whether to stay or not. One of my friends decided to stay in the plaza, willing to risk arrest for the sake of upholding our basic First Amendment rights to assembly and free speech. About 40 or so people and one tent were within police lines for over 2 hours during the ensuing standoff. It should be noted that lots of other people, including myself from time to time, were in the plaza, but outside of police lines - the police did not have enough numbers to surround the entire plaza.

At the edges there was quite a bit of verbal confrontation. Apparently Chris Jones was sitting on the raised embankment - for the most part cops were on or in front of that embankment. However, where he was, as Chris Jones points out in this video of the police attack, the police were standing inside the embankment. Nevertheless they had a problem with his position. He had a sign that said "Bill 1867 = George Orwell's 1984". Bill 1867 is also called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, in the words of the ACLU, "would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial.... No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military." That's rather important to be protesting, and it adds a certain tang to the following events.

#OccupySF Two roughly arrested. One's name is Christopher Jones. People are yelling for a medic or 911. REMEMBER: 415-285-1011
6:50 PM, Dec 7th

I was right in front of the police lines, keeping as close a distance to the cops as I could, and doing my part as one of the white people regularly yelling at police officers. To the right of me was a sudden scuffle, and two people were pulled over the embankment, dragged through the grass, and each jumped on by several cops. It looked pretty damn rough given the number of cops, the distance from the crowd, and the lack of urgency. I have to admit that I didn't pay a lot of attention right away, but many of the people nearby were yelling about one of the arrestees. He was still lying prone on the ground a couple minutes after being zip-tied, even though the other arrestee seemed in reasonably good shape and had shifted to sitting up.

People started yelling for medical attention, for a medic, for 911. The cops stood around impervious. Eg:

SFPD cops stand around impassively as Chris Jones is lying on the ground shaking


Occupy/Decolonize Posters

Finn Cunningham said:


Here are some posters that I've made that folks are welcome to print and use (some of them use the word Occupy which i know is problematic and also recognizable.) If there are any specific posters you'd like created, or certain quotes or phrases illustrated let me know. I injured myself in a fall last week so I have a lot of time right now to draw in bed. Also, if anyone wants to collaborate on larger works or be wheat pasting buddies feel free to email me.



Occupy Your Mind

You might think from my lack of posting that not much has been going on. On the contrary, so much has been going on, and there's so much I want to write, but I have been utterly busy in this extraordinary historical moment. This is a revolutionary time. What seems possible changes almost day-to-day. Politics are quite literally unpredictable.

I recently read a great account of a timid liberal's changes through participation in Occupy Oakland. A homeless man below tells how Occupy Atlanta has saved him from crack addiction.

The Occupy movement has changed me, too. At first, I took an observer's stance. A couple of weeks in, I joined the October 5th march around the city - a march that was extremely positive and open, without any feelings of fear or aggression. The police behaved well, blocking traffic to help the march (which I believe was unpermitted).


Robert Reich at Occupy San Francisco

Robert Reich spoke at Occupy SF on Wednesday, October 19th, 2011. He presents a left-liberal point of view, setting out the premise that progressives can save capitalism. I disagree with much of that, but am impressed to see a liberal icon out on the streets with a megaphone, expounding on economics and the moral nature of the Occupy movement to ordinary people.

There's quite a bit at this article at the Daily Kos, but I've transcribed a section of question and answer below.


Military spending

This extraordinary - the doubling of defense spending after 9/11, and what is that being done to the economy? Well, I'll tell you, what it means is, we don't have the money for schools, we don't have the money to fix our roads and bridges and public transportation, we don't have the money for healthcare, we can't do what we need to do in this country. And if I were asked, you know, what would one of my planks be in terms of change, I'd say, at least, at least, cut in half the defense budget.


Letter to Wikileaks Supporters: Bradley Manning's hearing is FINALLY coming up!

This email was sent out to the Wikileaks Support Announcement list.

As I've said before, I believe that the most important task related to defending Wikileaks is to defend Bradley Manning. His pre-trial hearing (after more than 500 days in jail) will be announced any day now. We would love to have a large and immediate response to send a message to the powers-that-be.

We were able to improve Bradley's conditions in jail through our activism. A large turnout will help Bradley get a public, instead of a closed, trial, which in turn tremendously improves his chances of going free or getting a shorter sentence.


Žižek at Occupy Wall Street

Well, this is just a wonderful confluence. Slavoj Žižek spoke at Occupy Wall Street on Sunday, October 9th, 2011, at noon. Here is the YouTube video of it in two parts. The human amplification makes for slow going. Thanks to 600euros for transcribing, which I cleaned up below. Thanks also to visitordesign for posting the videos.

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2


Book Review: Don't Sleep, There are Snakes

Daniel Everett went to Brazil as a missionary to convert the Pirahã, a tiny (<400 members) Amazonian tribe. Instead, the tribe effectively converted him into an atheist. He then became a professional linguist and anthropologist, and has continued to study the tribe.

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes is fascinating for its description of the Pirahã culture/language, which is so dramatically different from ours as to radically challenge our notions of language and even what it means to be human. They lack numbers, words for colours, Gods, and creation myths. They don't have words for "right" or "left" - instead, they might refer to your "upriver" leg. Their tonal language has three vowels and eight consonants (seven for women), although they can whistle and hum the language, useful for hunting and talking while your mouth is full, respectively.

Their language has no recursion, which makes Noam Chomsky cry. One can only legitimately talk about things one has directly experienced, or things that someone who directly experienced them told one. This made Everett's proselytizing very difficult, since he had never met anyone who had seen Jesus. Because they don't have numbers, they can't do arithmetic. At all. They have the simplest kinship system known, no war, and like many hunter-gatherers, no system of private property.

The book also includes some very lively anecdotes about river traders, malaria, etc., but for me the overwhelming value was as an ethnography that made me marvel at the diversity of human culture.

You can find it on isbn.nu.


The Post-Post-9/11 Post

It's over. The long national nightmare of navel-gazing, self-pity, self-indulgence, and excuse-making has at last come to an end.

This is your official notice: effectively immediately, the phrase "post-9/11 world" is obsolete. It has been permanently retired.

It had a good run. A full decade. I have even given you an extra day or so of leeway. But "post-9/11" must now go. For to keep it around, whether out of laziness, convenience, or just force of habit, would be to cheapen and debase it (further). We don't refer to a "post-Berlin Wall" world, do we? Or "post-JFK"? History is too far advanced for us to still be "post-Civil War" or even "post-World War Two".

Should you find someone still using the phrase "post-9/11 world", please remind them: We are now officially in a "post-post-9/11 world". The use of the phrase "post-9/11" is no longer acceptable.

The post-9/11 world is over.


My email to the BART Board

Hello, my name is Martin MacKerel. I spoke at the special BART Board meeting about the phone service cutoff on August 11th.

First of all, I want to thank you for listening. A few times I have spoken at public meetings of other bodies, and usually the public participation seems just for show. Your meeting seemed genuine.

I have a couple of responses to statements at the meeting. I agree strongly with Edward Hasbrouck's point that it is not appropriate for BART staff or the Board to have the sole power to temporarily shut off service; instead, the staff should get an injunction from a judge. This is in keeping with the long-standing American idea of checks and balances.


Special BART Board Meeting on Mobile Phone Service Interruption of August 11th

I spoke at a special BART Board meeting this morning about their cutting of cellphone service during a protest. I thought that the board actually seemed open and interested in public input, in contrast to most public hearings I've been to. The President of the Board, Bob Franklin, actually came up to me briefly afterwards and thanked me for my attitude - I had said in my comment that I was taking the Board at their word and meeting in this "appropriate" forum for dialogue before engaging in protest. The meeting did, actually, feel like part of a dialogue.

I came out strongly against the action and in favour of free speech, and pointed out that it took a riot in January 2009 to get Mehserle arrested. One might blame the immaturity of the rioters, but it would be more instructive to consider the deafness of the power structure.


Book Review: Emergence by Steven Johnson

Emergence by Steven Johnson book cover
Both my experience reading this book and my experience writing this review were quite interesting. I loved both Where Good Ideas Come From and The Invention of Air, also by Steven Johnson, and read each in a short period of time. I expected the same from this book, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.

'Twas not to be, however. I read about halfway through the book, got fed up, and left it for a few weeks before finishing it. It took me a couple weeks to start writing the book review. I wrote most of one, then threw it out. Now, several weeks later, I am starting over.


Against the Balkanization of "History"

Yesterday was Alan Turing's birthday, and this weekend is LGBT "Pride" weekend. And never the twain shall meet, it seems.

Turing played a huge role in laying the theoretical foundation for computing. His life is considered computer history, and for some reason, this means it can't be part of queer history, even though he was gay, he was persecuted and prosecuted for being gay, and he killed himself after receiving the humiliation of chemical castration by estrogen "treatments". In the same way that black history is given its own month and treated as separate from other history, LGBT history is segregated from other history as well. If it doesn't specifically pertain to the history of LGBT civil rights, apparently it doesn't count.

Needless to say, I think this is ridiculous. I also think it's incredibly self-defeating for the LGBT movement not to make more of the overlapping history it does have. Turing is a clear case of a genius whose life was cut short by homophobia. Some of the graybeards who were instrumental in the early Unix days of the 1970s are still making huge contributions to computer science - inventing the Go language and the widely-used UTF-8 encoding system for Unicode characters, for example. Turing died at the age of 41; he could easily have lived to see the beginning of the Unix epoch and made even more amazing contributions. He might also have had more insights into biology, especially developmental biology.

I think it's important that we make clear these connections: that the world lost a brilliant mathematician and scientist to the bigotry of the day. It's great that the British government apologized in 2009 for what it did six decades ago, but even better would be to tackle today's discriminations - against trans people and Muslims to name two groups - that unfairly cut short the potential of both individuals and of the societies of which they are a part.


Movie Review: Taqwacore

I was really anticipating the movie Taqwacore, about "the North American Muslim punk movement". What's not to love right there?

The trailer is enticing. Unfortunately, the movie did not provide much more than the trailer did. Watch the trailer below, then read the rest of my comments, and save yourself the 80 minutes of the movie.


The San Francisco Sit/Lie Law and the Hypocrisies of History

Wanted: (freedom-loving scofflaws, community-minded reprobates, righteous ne'er-do-wells) Harvey B. Milk, Sit/Lie Rebel since 1974 FOR: Social Use of Public Space, Enjoying Neighborhoods and Neighbors, Celebrating the City, Sharing Public Space with Everyone, Violation of the Sit/Lie Law


Yesterday, May 22nd, would have been Harvey Milk's 81st birthday. In San Francisco people held rallies and celebrations.

I and other activists against the recently passed "Sit/Lie" law held another Sidewalks are for People day. The Sit/Lie law makes it illegal to sit or lie on any public sidewalk between 7am and 11pm. It's illegal to sit on the curb while waiting for the bus, it's illegal to put a folding chair on the sidewalk to enjoy the sun and greet your neighbours, and it's illegal to sit down if you're holding a sidewalk sale, even if you're a child running a little lemonade stand.


SFPD Cars with Automatic License-Plate Recognition (ALPR)

Do you see those weird-looking things on the cop car around the lights? Those are surveillance cameras. I noticed this car (car 1272) driving very slowly around. I stopped and asked them about the devices on the roof.

Banned Books ACLU Poster

Q. What's that, Mommy?
A. Just some of the greatest books of the 20th century, dear.


Boycott Bottled Water Graffito in SF

One great thing about San Francisco is that you get used to finding things on the street. This morning, for example, on the way to a friend's house I came across a box of books, and took a couple for myself, including A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

You also find graffiti, much of it lame, some of it great. This piece is a black and red (heh) stencil, around a San Francisco Water Department access panel, poetically enough:


Book Review: The Anti-Capitalism Reader

book cover

I picked up this collection of essays many years ago. I had read a few of the pieces here and there, but recently decided to read the whole thing through from front to back. I got a startling sense of time warp.

I write this just two weeks after Osama bin Laden was assassinated by the United States, an event that seems anti-climactic, of an unimportance that would be astonishing to any time-traveler from nine or ten years ago. Already the story is fading from the news, subject only to occasional reverberations around discussion of the merits of torture or conspiracy theories that he is still alive. There is no indication that the US is any closer to ending its occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan, its wars in Libya or Pakistan, or its various military actions in other places across the world.

Google Trends on "Osama bin Laden": sharp peak on May 2nd, 2011, subsided by May 8th

The Anti-Capitalism Reader, edited by Joel Schalit, was published in 2002, and many of the essays refer to the events of September 11th, 2001. Reading the interviews and analysis, you can feel the epochal status of 9/11 at that time, while now it has faded, representing only the turning point to the Dreary New Normal.


On Republican Donor Support for Same-sex Marriage

I recently read this New York Times article on GOP donor support for same-sex marriage. Astonishingly, most of the new money to lobby for same-sex marriage in New York state is coming from wealthy donors to the Republican party.

Predictably, it's seen from two angles: 1) libertarian - it's not the state's business to butt into people's relationships - and 2) support for same-sex marriage is "good for business" and would be part of New York state's "competitive advantage".


Class and Unhappiness

I had a bizarre evening. I went to a party at the house of a colleague who, it turns out, is quite rich. I couldn't help but see class in all the interactions of the evening, especially the hired staff in the background who cleared away plates and poured drinks. I had a great conversation with the doorman, who plays poker online for a living, and was doing this job to make ends meet while waiting to collect money held up in various online forums due to the US trying to illegalize online gambling.

Later, on the way home, I ran into a friend of a friend who is a solid middle-class blue-collar worker, doing carpentry in the homes of the rich. He pointed out that the rich are often miserable. We talked for a while about how the system is so fucked up that even those who are "benefiting" from it, those who succeed by its rules, are often unhappy. In other words, even many elements of the ruling class are so unhappy under our current social system that they are amenable to a discussion about how we could organize our lives differently.

We don't envy the rich so much as we feel sorry for them. And we extend our hand to them, to join us in creating an entirely new world.

Update - 2011/05/16

I don't mean to imply that all rich people (or the party host) are unhappy. But I do think there is a pattern where unhappy people who aren't well-off can imagine that their unhappiness will be cured by money; if they succeed in becoming rich, and remain unhappy, they are at a loss for what the underlying problem could be. Even the "winners" in our society are often profoundly alienated.


Transcription/Translation of Félix Guattari - Université de Vincennes 1975 (In-progress)

This video is the top Google video result for "Guattari". The top two comments for this video say "what Guattari is describing in this lecture is Facebook. It's beyond unnerving. In 1975." and "Guattari avait en 1975 deja prevu Meetic et tout le delire d aujourd hui de rechercher l ame soeur sur Internet" (Guattari had in 1975 already foreseen Meetic [a dating site like Match.com] and all of today's delirium about finding a soulmate on the internet). This sounds very interesting, but it's in French with Italian subtitles that are in places obscured by the TV station logo.

I transcribed the Italian subtitles as best I could, doing some spell-checking and spot-checking with Google Translate. I hope to transcribe the French, which will take a lot more time, and from there attempt an English translation.


Book Review: The Invention of Air

I was so impressed by Steven Berlin Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From that I immediately bought two more of his books. I have just finished reading The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America, about Joseph Priestley, a remarkable but overlooked historical figure.

Johnson describes Priestley as "a lost Founding Father" of the United States - a friend of Ben Franklin, a major contributor to Thomas Jefferson's religious outlook, and a key figure in the controversy over the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. He is most well known as one of the discoverers/inventors of oxygen, but Johnson spins his key discovery - that plants generate oxygen and make "bad" air good - as the start of ecosystem science. He was a famous scientist (or "natural philosopher") in his time, but also famous for his religious and political radicalism. The closest we might have to someone of his stature in our day is Noam Chomsky, who is a giant in the scientific field of linguistics and also a prolific writer on politics from a radical viewpoint.


Keeping It Hyperreal

Just putting this here cause it's cool.


Book Review: A Hacker Manifesto (In-Progress)

"Information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains."

In an interview, Slavoj Zizek points out (page 80 of The Anti-Capitalism Reader):
[A]t the most elementary level, Marx's concept of exploitation presupposes a certain labor theory of value. If you take this away from Marx, the whole edifice of his model disintegrates. What do we do with this today, given the importance of intellectual labor? Both standard solutions are too easy - to claim that there is still real physical production going on in the Third World, or that today's programmers are a new proletariat.

In A Hacker Manifesto, McKenzie Wark attempts to tackle this problem, re-interpreting and adapting Marx to our current age. He does it with insight, wit, and poetic flair, but he is not always easy to follow, particularly if you are not already familiar with some Marxian jargon. This book review is also an attempt to help you interpret and understand what the book is trying to say.

It is still unfinished; I am editing it online. It will be marked as "in-progress" until I am done. In fact, right now it is just a series of notes. I have just finished reading the book, but need to think about it, rehash, perhaps re-read, and start all over again.


Need to start a glossary. abstraction, adequacy (special meaning in philosophy), alienation, appropriation, bifurcation, capitalist, class, commodification, commodity, communication, contingent, envelope, expression, flow, hack, hacker class, hacking, history, information, interiority, nature, necessity, object, pastoralist, productive classes, production, recuperation (special meaning in philosophy/Marxism), representation, second nature, spectacle, stock, subject, subjectivity, surplus, telesthesia, third nature, vector, vectoralist, virtuality

A friend lended me A Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark. Already upon opening the book, I noticed something strange. I went to see how many pages it had by turning to the back and looking for page numbers. There are none. But I can tell you it is 389 paragraphs long.

I started turning pages from the front of the book, and saw this:


Book Review: Revolutionary Rehearsals, edited by Colin Barker

A friend of mine in the ISO recently recommended that I read Revolutionary Rehearsals, edited by Colin Barker. I'm glad I did, as it contains some incredible history that I didn't know much about, and some intriguing analysis. On the whole, an excellent book.

The book delves into detail about five situations when a country was on the verge of a bottom-up, workers' revolution to overthrow capitalism (in one case, Stalinism). Each one failed to do so, but the struggles have much to tell us. The authors consider them to be "rehearsals" for real revolutions (hence the title).

A French policeman throwing a tear gas canister at an enormous mass of people
The book contains the following chapters:

1. France 1968: "All power to the imagination"
2. Chile 1972-73: The workers united
3. Portugal 1974-75: Popular power
4. Iran 1979: Long live Revolution!...Long live Islam?
5. Poland 1980-81: The self-limiting revolution
6. Perspectives

Each of the first five chapters is written by a different author and covers a specific struggle. The final chapter provides over-arching analysis and lessons.

The history is great - each historical chapter provides a compact, readable summary of the unfolding of the revolutionary times. Each gave me more information on its specific subject than I've found anywhere else. I'll describe a little bit about each piece of history first.


YouTube Censors Your World for the CIA

This video was pulled from YouTube for "violation of community guidelines". Whose community? This man killed himself to get the torturers of an invading force out of Afghanistan. That's noteworthy, and important, and although I might not agree with his politics, I agree with his anti-imperialism. I want to see this video on YouTube, and no doubt many millions across the world are also interested.

Maximilian Forte at Zero Anthropology has the backstory and larger videos. Ironically, of course, the mujahideen used to be part of the CIA's community. Had this video been about mujahideen killing Soviet rather than US invaders of Afghanistan, no doubt it would have stayed up on YouTube.

A message from a suicide bomber to the CIA agents he is about to kill


My email to the San Francisco Entertainment Commission

This is in response to the proposal to require surveillance cameras, ID scanners, data retention, and super-easy police access to data for all SF clubs.


I attended the Entertainment Commission meeting on April 12th at 6:30pm at City Hall, Room 400. They "continued" (postponed) the issue because the mayor wants to look at it. Not sure whether that's a good or a bad sign. Many people left, but many stayed and all the comments were against. I imagine that you can still submit comments to the email addresses on their contact page. Email the Commission Aide and ask that it be made part of the Public Communications File and forwarded in real-time to the Commission members.

Also join Save the Rave.

First, the personal:

I like to dance, but it's difficult for me because I'll get self-conscious. Having surveillance cameras all over a club makes it damn near impossible unless I get really drunk - hardly an intended consequence, I would imagine.

When picking a venue for my wedding reception, one thing I looked for was an absence of surveillance cameras. I was glad to find an awesome, sizable venue that didn't have any cameras. I was able to relax, have fun, and dance my ass off. It was a great night. This recent proposal to the San Francisco Entertainment Commission endangers this. It would mean that many venues would be forced to install surveillance equipment. Given its size, no doubt my wedding venue would be one of them. Just one year later, that simple, empowering experience I had might not be possible any longer - at least not in San Francisco, in a venue that size.

However, I don't want to debate the merits of this proposal or try to plead why it's a bad idea. It's obviously a TERRIBLE idea! Shortly after the SFPD is caught illegally entering people's residences and forging paperwork, this proposal would give the police more power and less accountability, and set up more of a surveillance infrastructure in our fine city. The very nature of the requirements - keep lots of information on the basis of generalized suspicion - flies in the face of Fourth Amendment principles.

The Entertainment Commission is here considering the opposite of what it ought to be doing. It ought to be regulating the club owners' ability to surveille and keep information on patrons. It should at a minimum regulate video surveillance, ban ID scanning, forbid owners from using automated means to determine the real identity of patrons, and outlaw any kind of blacklist.

The fact that this proposal is before the Commission is itself a travesty. It never should have even gotten this far.


PS For a look at the larger concerns raised by this crazy proposal, see my post on The New Surveillance, The New Blacklist.


A Big Thank-You to the Black American Civil Rights Movement

I recently saw a Jeep with a spare tire cover that said "Every Month is Black History Month". Hell yeah!

Too often, black history is relegated off into some corner, as if it were separate - segregated, one might say - from the rest of history. When said like that, it's obvious nonsense, but it's amazing how we (I speak here of mainstream US society) cut ourselves off from what is, in the end, our own history.


San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair 2011

I stopped by this year's anarchist bookfair yesterday.

The Revolution will not be motorized


The New Surveillance, The New Blacklist

I have been concerned about video surveillance for a long time. Its slow creep into every corner of our lives continues - every so often, another restaurant, another bar, another corner store adds surveillance cameras to its premises. I especially dislike them in meeting places like restaurants and bars, but for me, clubs are the worst.

I like to dance, but it's difficult for me because I'll get self-conscious. Having surveillance cameras all over a club makes it damn near impossible unless I get really drunk - hardly an intended consequence, I would imagine.


Transcript of Paul Mason at the Left Forum 2011 Opening Plenary

Update: This is the most popular post on my blog, and I've found that in the two years since I put it up, the original YouTube video (with better sound quality) has been removed and the Essential Dissent site is cleared out. I've tried to fix it up as best I can.

I watched the video below of Paul Mason's speech at the Left Forum 2011 Opening Plenary and was flabbergasted. It's packed with incisive analysis of our current historical moment. I couldn't find a transcript, so wrote it up myself. For more, see what used to be Essential Dissent.

Hey, if you're gonna do your internationalism, I think, you know, inviting a white guy from England, you could do better. [laughter]


Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson is one of the best books I have read recently, by far. At first glance, this looks like one of those mediocre-to-terrible books that seem to dominate the intellectual landscape. But Steven Johnson is the absolute opposite of the idiotic Thomas Friedman (see also: Thomas Friedman, idiot), and a far cry from the pseudo-intellectual Malcolm Gladwell.

Johnson actually has expertise in the study of innovation. He's written a book that delved quite deeply into a case study of John Snow's invention, essentially, of epidemiology, and has written a book each on neuroscience and "the connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software". Not only is this book about innovation, but its creation backs up some of its insights.


The dazzling hypocrisy of "Don't Make Us Pay"

I came across these ads recently:

Oh my god! The bad mean government wants to make you pay more to use debit cards! Are they levying a tax?

Of course not. This is a campaign by the banks to repeal a law that limits the fees they can charge retailers. They really don't like any limitations at all, do they?


Bastille Day in Egypt: Amn Dawla and the coming floods

There's been very little that's hit any mainstream news sources, but the Twitter hashtag #AmnDawla follows an astounding story.

Amn Dawla (أمن الدولة) means "State Security". This is Egypt's equivalent of the Stasi - spying on, controlling, and torturing the citizens of Egypt under Mubarak. And - this is really important - don't forget that the US outsourced most of its torture to Egypt. The CIA kidnaps people off of the streets of cities like Milan, or takes them from battlefields, and then engages in "extraordinary rendition": delivers them to third parties like Egypt to be tortured.


Movie Review: I AM

Yesterday I got free preview tickets to the movie I AM (warning: embedded YouTube starts immediately).

Here's the blurb:

I AM, a prismatic and probing exploration of our world, what's wrong with it, and what we can do to make it better, represents Tom Shadyac's first foray into non-fiction following a career as one of Hollywood's leading comedy practitioners, with such successful titles as "Ace Ventura," "Liar Liar," and "Bruce Almighty" to his credit. I AM recounts what happened to the filmmaker after a cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly for good. Though he ultimately recovered, he emerged a changed man. Disillusioned with life on the A-list, he sold his house, moved to a mobile home community, and decided to start life anew.

Shadyac was there in person and fielded questions from the audience at the end of the screening.


Why the New York Times sucks

No NYT: 14 Per Cent Club

The excellent CounterPunch website has snarky t-shirts one can buy to support them. I own one, no longer available it seems, whose front displays, in a Gothic font, "NYT" crossed out in red and "14 Per Cent Club". On the back it says

"14 per cent of Americans believe almost nothing of what they read in the New York Times."

You Can Believe What You Read

In August, biking through wine country, I stopped at a winery in the middle of a scorching afternoon to cool down, drink prodigious amounts of water, and then try a little wine. An older gentleman asked me about that shirt, which I was wearing at the time. He asked what I had against the New York Times. I don't think I gave a very good answer - he had not caught me at my best. So I thought I'd present my ideas here.


Žižek on Wikileaks

Two of my favourite things, together. Slavoj Žižek's article on Wikileaks: Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks. He ends with this:

This is precisely our situation today: we face the shameless cynicism of a global order whose agents only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights and so on. Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures, the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised. When the US intervenes in Iraq to bring secular democracy, and the result is the strengthening of religious fundamentalism and a much stronger Iran, this is not the tragic mistake of a sincere agent, but the case of a cynical trickster being beaten at his own game.


Net Neutrality and Corporate Power

Arguing with libertarians about net neutrality is like trying to convince the Pope to open a condom factory. If you succeed, you've converted them. Belief that an unregulated market is always best is a fundamental libertarian plank. With the Pope you actually have a head start because he has admitted that there might be situations in which using a condom might be moral.

I'm not naïve. I'm no fan of state power. But neither of corporate power. The world in which we live today is a complicated one, in which corporate and state power are often intertwined or interdependent, but sometimes antagonistic to each other. A properly crafted net neutrality law would limit corporate power in the critical arena of internet access, and as a consequence would limit state power as well.


Listing and Reversing Media Lies about Wikileaks

Update 2
In San Francisco, our part of the January 15th global protests for Wikileaks will focus on this issue; we are calling it a Media Intervention for Wikileaks.


The article I was looking for is here. Doesn't mention Time or TNR, though.

The Big Lie

The biggest lie is that Wikileaks "indiscriminately dumped" 250,000 unredacted cables on the Web. The truth is that as of January 4th, 2011, they have released just under 2000 diplomatic cables, each of them carefully vetted by one of their partner news organizations. Glenn Greenwald has done a great job of attempting to slay this dragon.

Many, many mainstream media outlets have repeated this lie. Sometimes an organization is inconsistent, and tells the truth sometimes and the lie other times. We need to force each and every one to always say the truth.

NPR recently corrected their lie and apologized. This is great news! But just the beginning....

Somewhere out there I thought I read a list of all the other orgs and quotes and links to this big lie. Can't find it - so I'm putting up this. Please add examples in the comments.

Easy start: Time: "But the law is too broad a brush to try to draw a distinction between WikiLeaks' indiscriminate posting of the cables — which Burns called "nihilistic" — and the more careful vetting evidenced by The New York Times, Abrams said." This was the subject of an article by Glenn Greenwald.

The New Republic: "...Wikileaks would have dumped that information, along with the other 250,000 cables."

Corrected! Information Week



If you haven't heard of Slavoj Žižek yet, well, now's the time! He's a Slovenian philosopher. In many ways he fulfills the stereotype that the phrase "Slovenian philosopher" brings to mind. He has an intense yet approachable speaking style, strangely charismatic while being slightly disgusting. YouTube has many videos of his speeches. He clearly doesn't seem to care how he's dressed and exhibits tics worthy of a cokehead at 3am on a Saturday night.

He's also a genius.