is this what a revolution looks like?

I don’t want to pile on to the huge op-ed-fest regarding the phenomenon that is the rise of Trump and Sanders’ sudden rise in popularity in the presidential race, but I blog on my website for my own sake and I need to jot down some quick thoughts and reflect on what’s going on in this country for the sake of my own sanity.

(For the hands down best piece on Trump and his popularity, you should read this piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone if you haven’t.)

We’ve already been this frail…all that’s happening now is that the symptoms of our disorders are finally appearing.

Our political and economic institutions have failed the U.S. majority for so long. It might’ve been only a matter of time before something like this would happen.

The masses hitting back at the wealthy elite and their establishment that have ruled through their a puppet democracy for at least a generation. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are catalysts for the latent frustration and despair among the low- to middle-classes that are finally fed up with watching this charade.

There’s obviously major ideological differences between the movements growing behind these two candidates, but central to both is a drastic re-questioning of the economy, government, and the relationship between the two. All the mainstream political discussions about wealth inequality, corporate money in politics, trade agreements, etc. to me signals a beginning of a popular movement to upend entrenched systems of power.

Whatever ends up happening with the presidential race, I don’t think this popular rage and discontent could ever be bottled back up. People—both left and right, bigot or moderate—are starting to articulate widespread problems in a way that is going to make it almost impossible for establishment officials to try and sell their current scheme of governance to the public. Only people who feel comfortable within this current paradigm could say that the current system is fine. Most people are NOT fine, and enough people have now realized that they’re not alone in this, that this is a systemic failure.

So this feels to me like the beginning of a revolution. Trump’s brand of it is horrifying and bigoted, but alongside that is Sanders’ fiercely optimistic and cooperative vision for America. So who knows what’s going to happen, but at least these long overdue conversations about our society and how we want the government to work people is finally happening. That’s gotta mean power in this country is going to shift in a huge way, and very soon.

 

the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.

 

The Church of Market

we kneel at the Church of Market.
our Holy Purpose is to raise the value of our shares.

faithful are those,
who have sacrificed the earth,
the commons,
our humanity,
at the altar of the Divine Profit.

regulations, are an abomination—

limits on righteous work are the work of the depraved.
they must always be demolished
for the good of the Market.

let us praise the blessed Lords Investors—
which has graced us with the strength to fight such villainy
and let our faith flow through the halls of the State.
one-by-one
we will vanquish these restraints.

let us prevail in this O Divine Profit,
let us prevail.

A stream of consciousness on US trade policy and nationalism

Working in the trade policy space has really made me question my thoughts about nationalism and my own feelings about how I care about my home country, the United States.

So, some people have tried to get me say I hate America. Whether I’d expatriate and move somewhere else. Or question why I even bother fighting for democracy here when it’s seems so far gone into the depths of corporate depravity. Any one of my friends or family can tell you that in conversation, I can quickly slip into a various kinds of lamentations about the state of the U.S.—sad, angry, sarcastic—depending on my mood. I never restrain my disgust for its policies that seem ass backward to me.

But I complain about the U.S. because I love it. I want it to be better. I KNOW it could be better…

Before I go on, let me get one thing straight: I don’t think the U.S. is “the best,” I don’t think it ever was, nor will it ever be. Our culture or ideals (whatever that constitutes) aren’t inherently better or more enlightened than any other nation’s. The U.S. is to blame for some of the WORST atrocities of the last couple centuries. Like any world power, we have justified invading and slaughtering people for all kinds of horrific reasons, and continue to do so to this day. Americans have collectively acted like we’re entitled somehow in a way that no other country isn’t. That we know better than others.

Despite this, I have to admit that my cultural pride of being American is probably never going away. There’s something collectively raw about us. We’re stupid honest and don’t really care about formalities. I’m fascinated by, and myself a victim to, our ideological addiction to “freedom”…which may or may not be what undermines our own ability to ever create good common services (“How dare you make me contribute to something that we can all commonly enjoy!”). It’s like we’re united in our desire to have the right to say fuck you to each other.

We’re idiots. But it’s MY group of idiots. I can’t deny that I culturally identify with people here in a way that I don’t in other places…just for the simple reason that I grew up here. I recognize that we are flawed. Deeply deeply flawed. But what country isn’t? In terms of our bullying of the rest of the world, I’d like to remind everyone that any country with any power turns into a big asshole: England, France, Russia, China, Japan, and the countless other ego tripping countries/societies/tribes that have invaded and attacked anyone else weaker than them.

Anyway, I think the sense of entitlement U.S. has is the problem. Our leaders, along with some many millions of people who elect them, still believe that the U.S. has something the rest of the world doesn’t. Sure, we’re MUCH more armed with weapons and have multiple thousands more in the military than other nations. But that’s really not something to brag about. There are dozens of other countries that provide more economic stability for its people. Our educational system is falling behind, and our healthcare system lags big time. The amount of national resources we spend on the military is INSANE. It’s like we’re building a huge wall around us with weapons pointed at every direction, while our society inside becomes more feeble and unstable as we neglect to put resources towards basic infrastructural necessities.

So, how does this relate to trade policy?

Well I can only speak to the portions of the TPP that I know about: the digital policy provisions. Based upon that, and the little I know about the medicine patent provisions, it seems to confirm the idea that “free trade” policies that have been classically pushed forth by England, and now, the U.S., are really there to undermine economic development. It’s the basic premise of Ha-Joon Chang’s book Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, the title of which refers to how these already develoPED countries try to deny the currently develoPING countries the protectionist policies they used themselves to bolster its own industries.

Recently, I realized that my work in TPP partially consisted of fighting this attempt by the U.S. to kick away the “technological” ladder for other countries. Like other things on the U.S. “free trade” agenda, it seem very likely to me that the U.S. is purposefully exporting bad digital policy to try to stunt other nations’ growth in the tech sector. This great article by Jonathan Band on the gross inconsistencies between U.S. domestic vs. foreign copyright policy made this point, although I’m not as optimistic as him that this inconsistency “gap” is closing.

The goal of the U.S. may be to give its own tech and content industries an advantage by making other copyright frameworks shit in other countries through the horrible, secretive trade policy process. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to fail for two reasons:

1) The Internet’s a force to be reckoned with. Seriously. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I really do think that the trade policy debate has gotten WAY more attention since they’ve included provisions that threaten Internet users. A big reason I think is that the Internet transcends national borders. We use the Internet to save the Internet…our ability to share intel and anger with each other about what’s going on in real time across the world really puts a damper on those closed-door, secretive corporate negotiation parties. I will guarantee (and will continue to work to exacerbate) users freaking out when state policies challenge what we have, and try to stifle our dream of an Internet that continues to thrive as the beautiful nebulous mess that it is.

2) The U.S. just isn’t as intimidating as it once was. I can’t imagine that countries that have signed trade agreements with the U.S. and got a bad deal out of it, weren’t aware about what was happening. But they probably felt pressured into agreeing to most of the terms. The way the U.S. is pretty much alone in pushing the worst copyright provisions in the leaked TPP chapter shows how other countries are a bit emboldened and unwilling to cave to them. When I went to the TPP negotiations, one of the main things we did was tell other negotiators how BAD the U.S. “Intellectual Property” proposals were. It’s looking like they get it. Chile and Canada even have better systems than the U.S., so they’re trying to hold strong against their demands.

I mean, I think it’s great that the U.S. is in less of a position to bully other countries. That doesn’t make me anti-U.S. though. I just want what’s best for us, and by extension, everyone else who then won’t have to deal with our bullshit as much. The pressure to be THE BEST MOST POWERFUL NATION OF ALL is what makes U.S. so horrible. If we’re not the most powerful, some American patriots may say, god forbid it’s going to be someone ELSE. Okay, if that’s the case then we clearly have a bigger problem on our hands. No concentrated power, whether in a government or in the global geopolitical system, should ever maintain hegemonic control.

Maybe this whole “I’m not here to make friends” approach to foreign policy is just an inevitable symptom of the nation-state system. I have all kinds of thoughts on that…but I gotta go pack to go to LA early tomorrow.

Wikileaked TPP: Some Thoughts on What Happened and What's Next

Something HUGE happened last week: Wikileaks published the full chapter on “intellectual property” issues from the secret text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. We didn’t have a current text of the agreement since February 2011, so we’ve only been able to guess based on sporadic, confidential intel about how those negotiations were going. Nothing we could’ve heard would’ve ever beat having the draft in front of us for us to analyze and figure out its impacts. The newly leaked chapter is from August 2013, so while it’s even a little bit out of date, almost everyone had already confirmed that they’ve made little progress on the text since then.

How it Happened

Civil society groups and public interest advocates from all over the world have known about this agreement for several years. We’ve been doing all we can to call attention to it. Policy experts have been meeting with negotiators on the sidelines to try to impact how the delegates set down their proposals in the backroom meetings. There were leaks here and there, but mostly it’s been a slow and frustrating. I say it’s like trench-warfare. We knew this thing would impact hundred of millions of lives, but it was all being done in secret, and it was all completely motivated and driven by what corporations wanted. TPP government reps started claiming that this was the end of the line and that it’d be completed and signed by the end of 2013.

Then seemingly out of the blue, the New York Times’ Editorial Board endorsed it. Well, they didn’t outright endorse it, but they sure as hell supported it, and did so in a disturbingly aloof way. First off, they didn’t mention any of the gaping problems with the secretive process. Nor did they truly engage with any of the actual substantive issues that they dismissively mention throughout the piece. The timing of it was completely strange too. As Parker said, if this piece came out at the beginning of the negotiations, praising the TPP’s noble, grand goals, then it probably wouldn’t have read as an endorsement. But it’s provisions (whether or not agreed upon) are on the table, and it’s been up for negotiations for over 2 years. No one would’ve read this piece and come away thinking that the Times was against it. The point of this piece was likely to appease some special interests and influence people who were completely ignorant of the issue to think this agreement is completely innocuous.

I’d imagine the point wasn’t to anger public interest advocates and thousands of Internet users from around the world, but it did a perfect job of it. This blog post about the endorsement went a bit viral on Reddit and Hacker News, and the story got picked up by the Washington Post. Rightly so. Everyone wanted to know why the Times was endorsing a policy instrument that was being kept from the public.

I wish I knew if this is what triggered it, but it was a day or two after that when Wikileaks began to tweet about the TPP incessantly. Others started asking me questions and saying things to me that, in retrospect, all would’ve been some slap-in-the-face hints that it was coming…but I was still completely oblivious. I guess I was sort of in denial that the thing I’ve wanted most to happen in my work would suddenly come to be.

So it was published on the Wikileaks site on Wednesday morning. Julian Assange was on a live video feed that morning, saying that they were up for several nights to make it publishable. Likely, they had to be extremely careful about hiding traces of the content that could reveal the individual who handed the draft over to them. We at least know that all of the copies of the text have had a kind of watermark/DRM on them to make it harder to share, in addition to a required signature to a NDA that could punish them for doing so.

It was an exciting day to say the least.

Leaks Don’t Make Up for Lack of Transparency

…In fact, they only help to emphasize the utter ridiculousness of hiding the proceedings from the public in the first place.

It goes without saying that this leaked chapter is going to be an immense help in helping us understand the dynamics of the talks between countries and allow us to have a more accurate analyses of the current text on the negotiating table. The other amazing thing about it comes from the very fact that Wikileaks published it. As a whistle-blowing organization, their work to publish this text has helped to brand TPP as the perversely undemocratic thing that it is. If we’d gotten the text by some other means, I don’t think it would’ve created nearly a quarter of the same public attention it got by virtue of Wikileaks releasing it.

I’m deeply grateful to them, and also proud for doing it in the way that they did. They partnered with some of the most respected trade and copyright+patent policy analysts out there, including Public Citizen and KEI, and were able to present it in a very eloquent way. They’ve been a bit quiet for a little while now and this was a perfect way for them to have hoisted themselves back into the limelight.

So What Next?

I think the first thing to remember is that the TPP is far from a one-off thing. They’ve enacted a lot of the same provisions in other bilateral agreements, tried to pull the same thing with ACTA, and are going to continue to do so with the EU-US trade agreement. The corporations are out there influencing policymakers, and they want our laws to be designed to benefit their profits at any cost.

This agreement is just one of many ugly symptoms of a system that justifies public policies on purely economic grounds. Besides all the cronyism that truly does exist, it’s only logical that policymakers are going to listen to corporations and their promise to create jobs. Why? Because these private institutions seem to be the most stable investment. You can calculate how much these companies are worth, how much capital they have. You have hard numbers about the numbers of people they employ. I think these industries have sway over lawmakers in selling them the hope of stability they seem to hold in their sheer size. This is one big part of the equation that needs to change.

I see TPP as being just one of the many battles we’re going to have to win to take back our autonomy from private corporate interests, and reassert our goal of enacting law for the benefit of our various communities. As a user, I’m appalled that Hollywood can get away with regulating my technology and culture. As a patient, I’m horrified that companies want to have a right to sequester medical discoveries so they can make a bigger profit off of human lives. And as a person who believes in law for the common good, I’m not going to stand for policies that elevate corporate rights at the expense of everyone else’s well-being.

If we win this one, we’ll use it to build up the triumph of democracy.

Cooperatives: The Hope for Trickle Up Democracy?

An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” — Arthur Miller

I spend a lot of time thinking about how and why our laws are created. Each rule is a way to resolve a specific problem or to achieve a certain objective. Law is a way for us to have a common understanding of how we all interact each other. Taken altogether they can reflect the priorities of our society: for example, which social programs we fund or what kinds of activities we prohibit. But all of that is assuming there’s a functional system in place to enact law based upon addressing real issues in peoples’ lives. When they don’t, or in practice result in causing more difficulties for everyone, then there’s a problem with how that society designs its own rules.

We’re now way beyond the point of asking whether the US political system is broken. The question now is how we fix it.

The problem with initiatives like Rootstrikers is that it’s trying to use the system to fix the system. Our lawmakers aren’t doing their job of addressing their constituents’ needs, because they’re more often representing the interests of those that have the money to finance their election campaigns and spend the resources to convince lawmakers that their enterprises are crucial to the economy and the creation of jobs. Lawmakers are already failing to represent their constituents’ interests on more specific policies, so how would they even begin to address the brokenness of our campaign system? Especially when all of the private, wealthy interests combined have a stake in keeping the system rigged in their favor?

I think we need to step back a little and address a larger element at play: the extreme power that corporations themselves have to influence government. While greater taxation and regulations can remedy some of the symptoms, they’re just patches to the underlying problem that big companies largely dictate state policies in their favor, in the interests of their CEOs, board members, and investors. Corporate executives will make any decision to maximize profit, even if it means laying off their workers or giving them terrible working conditions.

And that’s the point: corporations don’t even function in the best interests of their own employees because they don’t need to. Many times, they’re even economically incentivized to undermine their own workers’ interests. Which is why it’s necessary to have a paradigm-shift about what it means to have a successful, valuable private enterprise. As of now, all we measure and celebrate is how much wealth and resources they accumulate. What if companies were at least forced to prioritize the interests of their very own employees?

Co-operative businesses are a direct challenge to the corporate business model. Co-operatives are by design enterprises that function in the interests of its workers, consumers, and communities. The model for management in co-ops vary widely, but there’s always going to be the assurance that the enterprise won’t do anything harmful to its workers in the name of maximizing its profits.

I think that a large part of the reason why our democracy is broken is because most people lack shared decision-making and ownership in their work. A mass adoption of the co-operative business model may atomize the economy in a way that fosters more community awareness and a heightened value for the commons. On a more practical level, it’ll force people to be more engaged with others and learn how to negotiate and compromise in a way that I think most people just don’t have the opportunity to do outside of their nuclear families.

Not all types of businesses should be co-opted into co-ops (sorry, had to do that). I’m also not saying co-operatives are going to be the be all end all towards a perfectly stable, more equitable society. But I think promoting co-operative businesses are a step in the right direction, not just for democratizing workplaces but also because they could lead to better services in general.

Can you imagine if you could join a co-op insurance company? You would pay your dues every month and feel completely safe knowing that if anything were to happen to you, you’ll be taken care of. They won’t have a reason to swindle you out of coverage, since it exists to protect you and all of its members.

How about co-op publishers? It would do everything to provide the best service for its writers and creators. It may even have “member readers” so it’d be intimately familiar with all sides of the consumption experience. A co-op publisher likely wouldn’t push for harsher, more extreme copyright enforcement provisions since it’ll also be concerned about its readers’ interests.

And even credit unions, which really are just co-op banks. I have accounts at two different credit unions, and they don’t change up the fees without proper warning. I love knowing that they’re likely not taking giant financial/investment risks at their members’ expense.

In general, I’m getting tired of only thinking about problems and their temporary solutions without coming up with some effective strategies to move past them. I’m definitely not the only one. When people lament about the Occupy Movement, or act like it was a big waste of time, I have to disagree with them. Up until that point, huge swaths of the population was simply in denial that our problems were institutional. I think a lot of people felt that they were alone in suffering. What Occupy did was bring people together to share their experiences of living with economic insecurity.

Strong communication and patient consideration are necessary for coming to shared decisions, but both of these I think, take tons of practice and it’s always going to come with its frustrations. By building enterprises that themselves necessitate regular exposure to collaborative problem-solving and shared responsibility, maybe we’d all grow to be better at civic engagement.

However we do it, it’s time to take back our democracy. It’s not enough to hope and plead that the system is capable of reforming itself.

Our National Insecurity (a rant)

Whether or not my job necessitates me to constantly pay attention to the brokenness of our society, I’d do so anyway. There was a turning point in high school Morality class when we were discussing the morality of war. A fellow student who claimed to be the most faithful to Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, said that the invasion of Iraq was well-justified in our hunt for terrorists. Moreover, that the lives that were lost were unfortunate, but unimportant in the scheme of things because we had to win the War on Terror and bring justice to the lives lost on 9/11. National security must be restored, she said.

At that point I lost it. Without a word, I shoved everything off my desk, threw my chair backward, and stormed out of the classroom to find a place to cry. I ended up in a fire escape, where I promised myself I’d fight against such ignorant callousness in any way that I could. As that girl continued to spew neoconservative garbage throughout that semester, what stuck to haunt me ever since was the concept of “national security.”

Really though, what the fuck is “national security”? I may not know exactly what it is, but I do know where it isn’t.

It isn’t in a society that allows millions of people to fall through the cracks of the broken educational system and throws them aside into poverty because it recognizes no use for bodies no longer capable for manual labor.

It won’t be found in a system wherein billions of dollars of value is held by a few thousand individuals who can buy their way through democracy and rig the rules in their favor.

It isn’t in a world where discrimination based on gender, race, sexual preference, religion, ethnicity or any other characteristic is exacerbated by violent and savage rhetoric that is perpetuated out of unsubstantiated cowardly fear.

And it definitely won’t be found in a state that uses technology to intimidate, surveil, and kill innocent individuals for the sake of state-defined interests.

 

The U.S. has become a crumbling fortress from which we coerce our neighbors and shoot at our illusory foes. We bully others through the manipulation of international law, and cultivate enemies through state-sanctioned violence.

We have an entire agency committed to this thing “national security.” We throw billions of dollars at it, and all it does is undermine the exact values necessary for people to feel secure: trust and good will.

 

 

 

=====

 Sidenote:

I just finished listening to this week’s episode of This American Life and it made me furious.

“Trends With Benefits” is about the U.S. federal disability program where 14 million Americans receive monthly payments because they’re unable to work. In theory, because they are too “disabled” to have a job. They step you through the statistics, peppered with interviews with individuals who are part of the system to personalize the cold numbers. As the number of people on welfare has declined, the number of those on the disability program has about tripled in the last 30 years. Private sector groups benefit from the situation, as do states and counties across the nation who can relieve their ailing budgets of the thousands of individuals on welfare, by shoving them over to the federal disability system where they tend to receive better benefits overall.

You just have to read this piece or listen to the story. It’s nasty.

 

 

The Cyclists' Uprising

The last thing I remember was turning down the Wiggle with my friend Rich as we headed to the Mission to get some late-night tacos.

I have a vague memory of being lifted into the ambulance with a plastic neck brace. I woke up for a few minutes in the MRI machine in a teary, but weirdly comforted daze, and really regained my consciousness in the hallway of SF General Hospital’s emergency room. When I asked Rich about it later, he told me that I was making a turn over some Muni rails when my bike wheel got caught in the track, and I landed face first onto the pavement and was immediately knocked unconscious.

The thing is, I’m a proud cyclist. I love that I leave my house every morning to soar down the Glen Park hill and into the Mission to the EFF office, already refreshed and awake from my commute. I love that I don’t pay for car insurance or maintenance, and that I can remain blissfully ignorant about the current price of gas. I love that biking was really the thing that first got me to care about exercise after a stupidly lazy Freshman year of college and its unlimited access to university dining halls (which I’d unfortunately taken full advantage of at all hours of the day).

And finally, I love the cycling community. Of course there’re assholes in every mass interest group, but I’ve met so many awesome people and have had tons of pleasant conversations and interactions with cyclists from SF Bike Party to my daily commute. Unlike car drivers, who are isolated into a big metal pod of pricey convenience, bikers are exposed to their total surroundings. That includes the weather and traffic, but it’s also the physical presence of fellow cyclists, who experience the same ol’ scary conditions of the roads as one other. There’s a simple sense of camaraderie that comes of out that, which I’d never experience as a driver growing up in Los Angeles (other than the endless commiserating over freeway traffic, which got old about 15 years ago).

Friday, the night before my accident, was the 20th Anniversary of Critical Mass. Just as expected, it was a huge bike lovefest. By some estimates, there were 10,000 cyclists riding the streets of San Francisco. All kinds of people, riding all sorts of bikes were there to celebrate a movement to take over city streets, and to make them safer for us to be on.

Critical Mass - Broadway Tunnel
SF Critical Mass 20th Anniversary: Bombing down the Broadway tunnel, bass drops from the music exploding out of the glowing bike tree.

I read my friend Parker’s post this past week, questioning whether Critical Mass undermines its purpose of making streets safer and more welcoming for cyclists. His conclusion seemed to be that the point of Critical Mass is to have fun, create a feeling of solidarity among us, and in the course of all of it, piss off drivers and make them hate cyclists by blocking their way and inconveniencing them for an evening. I agree with most of it. What I can’t agree with is that the *point* is to piss off drivers, and that this movement isn’t helping to make progress on our ultimate goal of making cars share the streets.

Every social movement is inherently inconvenient to the status quo. A group with a common interest has to band together to change the way things are, and so for the people who comfortably rely on the existing social structure, it’s gonna be upsetting for some to have to alter their way of living. Everything from the civil rights movement to the reproductive rights movement, there are people who are going to be angry and resentful of change no matter what. So the point of protest is to throw the issue into peoples’ faces. In any given movement, it’s normal for those who feel injustice to continue to silently suffer, to blame themselves, or to accept the current system as is. The problem is the majority is too busy to see or care about what those people are enduring, and won’t give a crap about it until they’re forced to.

I’ve been riding around San Francisco for the last year or so, and I’ve easily had about 4 incidents a month where I was scared I’d get seriously hurt by the conditions around me. It’s the clueless pedestrians, the huge cracks and bumps in the streets, Muni rail tracks, etc… but mostly, it’s the cars. I can honestly say that on several occasions, I could’ve have been killed by drivers if I didn’t ride everyday with my ninja-defenses on. Cars own the the streets, and given the unfortunate reality of Physics, us cyclists are no match for them.

Until my city accommodates cyclists as much as they do cars, there’s work to be done. It’s true that the way to make this happen isn’t to piss off other people-voters whether or not they’re drivers. I don’t even think I need to say how pissed off I am when other cyclists on my group rides slam the front of cars or knock on their windows just because they’re ig’nants who think drivers are the “enemies”. No one’s sympathetic to assholery. But the fact remains that cyclists are a political minority. Our urban infrastructure is built around the use of cars, so roads are inherently hostile to bikes. By the year, the awesome compound benefits of bikes—environmental, health, economic, and geopolitical (less reliance on oil)—are becoming clearer, and that there needs to be more efforts to make cycling appealing to people. Something’s gotta give.

SF Critical Mass 20th Anniversary: Massive crowd gathered at Justin Hermie Plaza

The point of Critical Mass is to be a huge inconvenience for people who take advantage of this structural bias…but just for one night a month. When it rolls through a neighborhood, someone might get stuck in their garage, be late for a date or a dinner, or much worse, not make it somewhere in an emergency. But the long-term consequences for allowing cars to remain the dominant form of independent transportation, especially in a clusterfuck city like San Francisco, is so much more daunting and unsustainable.

On a gut level, I feel bad that I’m making it difficult for people to get around for a night. But on an pragmatic-advocacy level, we have to band together. We have to show up, ride together (hopefully with music), see each others’ faces, and understand that we’re not alone out there, dodging clueless pedestrians, going over those scary Muni rails, and riding near speeding cars with defensive confidence. The most crucial element in a social movement is to have a solid community, so the point of Critical Mass is for cyclists to hang out together and to keep building a stronger one.

I’m slowly recovering from my face dive into the pavement. I got a bad concussion that night, so my concentration is shot and it’s taken me this whole freaking week to finish this blog post. But it hasn’t discouraged me from biking again. Biking has become part of who I am, and when I’m better, I’m hopping right back on. If anything, the accident’s only made me more resolute to ensure that the roads don’t accommodate cyclists as an afterthought, but that our safety becomes an elemental consideration in how we structure and utilize our roads.

The Science of Government (a poem)

The study of politics is the study of power
between people or nations, it doesn’t need to be dour.

Yet when the topic is broached, over dinner or tea
most tend to desire, to let that topic be.

But as someone who loves it, there’s something I’d like to mention,
so please for a moment, could I have your attention?

As an American a recent episode comes to mind…
but really I’d say, such examples aren’t hard to find.

The one that stands out for me the most clearly
is a moment last month when a Rep. said so sincerely

that a woman who is raped in a “legitimate” way
has a mechanism in her body to keep pregnancy at bay.

From what he understood from a doctor (perhaps it was a clown?)
he claimed that it will find ways to “shut that whole thing down”.

I don’t want to debate over conception or abortion,
or even to comment on the fellow’s mental distortion.

The bigger issue at hand, that I see at least,
is that distrust of science has only increased.

It’s easier to see this at the level of one man,
but let’s take it a bit further, to a further view span…

When you think of a policy, whether by law or decree
we have an assumption, of a simple guarantee

that the rules in question is designed for a purpose
that the policies aren’t there, just to be worthless.

Beside all the rules that warrant thoughtful debate
there’s still so many more that we tend to tolerate.

They were put there for various nonsensical reasons,
or actions by leaders we’d all deem to be malfeasance.

So my underlying point, one I’ve been thinking through
is there’s an odd disconnection in the way that we view

the necessity for analyzing the legitimacy of facts,
between science and laws that a nation enacts.

It must surely be feasible to create a certain system,
that builds upon decades of all kinds of new wisdom

to analyze the impact of a policy in place
and determine if it’s a rule we should truly embrace.

Whether it’s laws governing our trade, traffic, or taxes,
the logic behind them shouldn’t be an abstraction.

Instead what we’re left with is the current arrangement,
that relies on a certain level of flawed disengagement

on the part of those persons who legislate our rules
(even if they are not otherwise a dolt or a fool).

Public officials, petitions, or (in the US) the judges
whole policies can be built on some personal grudges.

Since laws are now bought through payments and lobbies
isn’t it time we acknowledge and embody,

the values of science into the political edifice
their purpose and objective as the highest requisite?

I myself don’t have the answer as to how that would look
but I think the first step that must be undertook,

is to undo many people’s embellished attachment
to a system of government where corruption is rampant.

Based upon people’s disgusted reactions,
to Rep. Akin’s odd comments which gained such attraction,

it’s clear that many value the factual truth,
yet they may also find it purely uncouth

to question the foundation of our political structure
because challenging that would just make them shudder.

So we must become comfortable to be loud and outspoken
and say to our peers that “Yes, our democracy is broken.

It’s okay to question, criticize, and proffer
that it should be upgraded since the Founding Fathers

built it up as such, so many years ago.”
and make this idea grow more apropos.

Political discussion can be less about a candidate
or a new legislation, which only does aggravate.

It can be a creative endeavor, for us to imagine
new ways to design government in a functional fashion.

I stress it won’t be easy to find the solutions
to how we should fix our public institutions.

Just remember to discuss, challenge, and surmise
new doors will be opened, once we let ourselves hypothesize.

 

 

 

 

~

Note:

When I heard the news about his death last month, I finally got around to reading his work. David Rakoff was a regular contributor to This American Life, and when I first listened to one of his segments I, as many others, became an immediate fan.

He’s one of those writers that knew so well how to use language to dance with your emotions. His writing is intimate, lyrical, and always extremely clever. You can tell that he deeply respected composition and obsessed over his words.

I wrote this piece as a sort of homage to him. I think he single-handedly resuscitated couplet poetry from being a childish, dismissible writing form usually associated with Dr. Seuss, to an elegant, expressive one, capable of delivering complex feeling in a sweet melodic way.

This is the piece that I first heard from him: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace by David Rakoff

Shortly before his death, he performed for the This American Life stage show this summer. It’s a beautiful, sad piece about living with cancer. It’s really worth watching until the end: “Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather” by David Rakoff

 

It's been bothering me…

a question

arising out of 45+ hrs a week reading, researching, writing, and thinking about intellectual property policy, combined with the incessant disquiet I feel by knowing that we’re in a growing global crisis over resources and economic value. The objective of this game was never scientific, creative progress or human sustainability, it’s the control over capital and material wealth. The ever-changing rules are laid out in such a way that rewards political and social manipulation over mutual thoughtfulness or regard.

This is the Capitalism game. How does intellectual property fit into it?

I know they’re connected. The worst intellectual property policies have been fueled by the need to preserve monopolies over creative capital at the expense of human rights and progress. From inception to execution, no reasonable person could empirically describe the kinds of intellectual property laws that have or have been attempted to pass as rules that could ever work to “promote progress” in society.

This is still working itself out in my head. And it’s very late.