2013/04/22

Why I am Engaging in Civil Disobedience to Prevent the Keystone XL Pipeline

Note: I provided the following as a public comment to the State Department. The last day to submit comments is the day I am posting this, April 22nd, 2013. You can easily add your name to comments from 350.org.

Later today (Earth Day, April 22nd, 2013), I am going to engage in civil disobedience in San Francisco to pressure the State Department and Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

I am part of a growing and determined movement to move us off of our addiction to fossil fuels - to keep the oil in the ground. A key part of that goal is stopping the mining of tar sands, which Michael Brune of the Sierra Club says "is symbolic of development that is not sustainable". Right now the first step is preventing Keystone XL from being built.

The core of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is section 1.4, titled "Market Analysis". In it are tucked away all the assumptions and the mindset that leads to the glib conclusion that Keystone XL would not substantially contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

The basic argument is that the alternative ways to move tar sands oil to refineries are more polluting, and that the tar sands will be developed regardless of the decision on the Keystone XL proposal. Therefore, the logic goes, you might as well approve the pipeline.

The document essentially counsels capitulation to market forces.

large area of tar sands strip mining area with roads through it

But that's the whole problem - "the market" is insane. It is leading us to catastrophic climate change. We need to interfere with the market. "Fundamental changes to the world crude oil market, and/or [more] far reaching actions than are evaluated in this Supplemental EIS, would be required to significantly impact the rate of production in the oil sands." (Page 1.4-2)

That's what we're asking for, and that's what we're focusing on providing.

And thankfully, that's happening. Other pipeline projects "face significant opposition from various groups". (Page 1.4-26) Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is an active campaign to make sure that tar sands oil is not refined in Richmond, California. No doubt there are similar campaigns elsewhere. We will attempt to stop the destruction of the boreal forest, to stop the strip mining, to stop the pipelines and the trains and the ships, and to prevent the refining, distribution, and sale of products from tar sands oil.

Keystone XL does not have social license to operate - this is the beginning of the revocation of the social license to operate of all sorts of fossil fuel industries.

The State Department and President Obama can either help us in our effort to turn us back from catastrophic climate change, or they can try to hinder us. It would be "in the national interest" to come willingly and lead the way to a sustainable future. But we will act regardless.

2013/04/16

My Comments on the USPTO Software Patent Roundtable

Note: I emailed these comments in response to the US Patent and Trademark Office's "Listening Sessions" where they solicited opinions on how to fix the software patent system, which pretty much everyone agrees is broken.




I have several points to make about software patents, most of which come under the topic of "potential future topics" and many of which, I realize, the USPTO cannot act on without new law from Congress. I'm glad the USPTO is acknowledging that there are some real problems with software patents, but I think that they're asking the wrong questions. They're also asking the wrong people.

To summarize my bottom-line view on software patents, based in part on spending 15 years as a professional programmer and having worked at four startups: software should not be patentable at all. If we allow software patents, there are three things we can do to make them less damaging:
  1. reduce the duration to 4 or 5 years instead of 20 (which is a really long time in the software world),
  2. increase the bar so only truly innovative things like spreadsheets count, and
  3. actually require "reduction to practice" - the submitter must implement it, and release source code, as part of the patent.

2013/04/04

Book Review: Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism book cover
At first glance, Conscious Capitalism looks like just another business book from an egotistical CEO. John Mackey has had great success running Whole Foods Market, and now he wants to share his learnings with the rest of the business world in self-serving, boldly self-assured, and dreadfully written prose. But his aim is higher than just giving business tips or recounting war stories - with co-author Raj Sisodia, he wants to revitalize the entire economic system and provide a "richer and more ethically compelling narrative" about capitalism. Their subtitle, without any trace of irony or humour, of course, is "Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business".

The combination of the title and the subtitle gives it away. What we have here is a very contemporary collision of values: a New Age libertarian how-to. Eckhart Tolle meets Adam Smith - The Secret for the haves.

2013/04/02

So This is the Other Side of how the Sausage is Made

On Friday, March 29th, I went to the Hall of "Justice" in San Francisco to watch part of a hearing related to the case of the so-called ACAC19. These are 19 people who were arrested during a "Anti-Colonial, Anti-Capitalist March" on Columbus Day, 2012.

I was there for the whole afternoon - the hearing had apparently started in the morning, and will be continued at 9am, April 17th. The spectacle was fascinating in a sick way - so this is the other side of how the sausage is made. Apparently this hearing was about a motion to suppress certain evidence. A couple of cops testified and a video was played. There was no jury; just a judge, a prosecutor, and 19 defense attorneys, one for each defendant.

The hearing started out with the prosecutor showing the following video of events near the intersection of Battery and Sacramento:

Your browser is not able to display this multimedia content.

First of all, I was astonished by just how much detail one can miss, which became clear when the cops were questioned by the defense attorneys. After watching that video (only 1 minute 39 seconds long), can you answer the following questions?