A response to Yasha Levine’s “All EFF’d Up”

I sent the following in to The Baffler, but it does not appear that they publish letters either in their print publication or online, so I’ve put it here. I have not received any response or acknowledgment yet from The Baffler editors.

This is in response to Yasha Levine’s essay “All EFF’d Up” about the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Yasha Levine’s screed against the EFF overlooks a couple of major campaigns that contradict their thesis of its being a “corporate front”.

First, EFF has campaigned strongly against software patents which large tech companies love, as they provide leverage over smaller competitors (including the threat of their own employees leaving and starting competitive businesses).

Second, EFF has consistently fought tooth and nail against so-called “free trade” agreements such as CAFTA, FTAA, and TPP that are really instruments to reduce democracy and increase corporate power through the backdoor. If the EFF was a good corporate stooge, they would have supported such agreements wholeheartedly.

The fact is that the EFF is an uneasy mix of liberals, libertarians, and leftists. They tend to focus on things they can all agree on, which is why government surveillance has been such a hot-button issue for them, and opposition to surveillance capitalism has been harder to build internal consensus around.



email to BART board re: surveillance technology (again)

For the BART Board meeting of August 9th, 2018, in reaction to recent stabbings on BART, the BART police have submitted a proposal with just three days’ notice of a kind of dragnet system similar to the DAC that activists successfully opposed a couple years ago.

I wasn’t able to make the 9am meeting, but sent in the following email comment.

Subject: don’t rush proposed surveillance technology

I understand that people are on edge from recent attacks on BART. But we should not rush into adopting new surveillance technologies without a proper period of consideration and public comment, especially not before passing a surveillance transparency ordinance.

Continue reading “email to BART board re: surveillance technology (again)”

Too many meanings for “reproductive labor” and “emotional labor”

It strikes me that two important feminist / Marxist concepts each have, confusingly, two separate meanings.

First, there’s the concept of “reproductive labor”. Wikipedia says it’s “work often associated with care giving and domestic roles including cleaning, cooking, child care, and the paid domestic labor force”. But there are two, maybe three, separate parts.

One part is the actual physical reproduction of new human beings, and (perhaps should be considered separate) the work of raising those new human beings, taking care of them, teaching them, etc.

The second part of reproductive labor is the daily work of maintaining a household so that the paid workers can go out and work the next day – cooking the meals, doing the laundry, etc. These two things are related, obviously, but the maintenance and renewal of existing paid workers versus bringing up a new generation are different and we should have different names for them.

The second term is “emotional labor”. If you’re new to this, there’s a fantastic PDF called “Emotional Labor: The MetaFilter Thread Condensed“. This is a somewhat newer term, and a very useful one for dissecting ways in which men offload work in undervalued and unpaid ways onto women.

But again, there are two very different parts to this.

First, there is true emotional labor – the work of handling other people’s emotions, taking care of them, etc. etc.

But there’s also something else which should be its own term, which is organizational labor. Here is where a wife complains that her husband says he’ll help out around the house, but he insists on being given tasks, and doesn’t just figure out what needs to be done and then do it. The wife often just does all the work out of exasperation.

Interestingly, this organizational labor is a kind of executive function, which in the marketplace is highly valued not only with compensation but also with control of corporations. Yet in the household it is completely devalued.

Why I no longer support the Long Now Foundation

Several years ago, I was very pleased to find the Long Now Foundation. I appreciated their focus on long-term thinking, was delighted by their 10,000-year clock project, and enjoyed their monthly seminars. The seminars were informative and thought-provoking, and best of all, were attended by intelligent, interesting people, some of whom I got to know at the receptions after the talks.

Unfortunately, the quality and focus declined and after a while I ended my membership. A staff member followed up by asking me, “We would really appreciate your thoughts on membership, especially what we could have done or offered that would have encouraged you to keep your membership going?”

That prompted me to articulate what I had grown to dislike about the Long Now Foundation. This was a little over a year ago, but I’ve been thinking about it lately and thought it might be valuable to add it to this blog.

(August 16, 2016)
I have lapsed my membership because the foundation doesn’t seem to me to be following its calling of supporting long-term thinking.

A couple years ago I noticed that I attended fewer and fewer seminars, which I used to enjoy, because they had degenerated to TED-style talks on topics less and less relevant to long-term thinking. In particular, it’s amazing to me how little the Long Now Foundation talks about climate change. The next few centuries are going to be the “Long Emergency” as we and our descendants try to cope with the consequences of current and past greenhouse gas emissions. We really need to be ringing the alarm bells about changing our society and the way we live our lives right now, rather than chatting about cheery little geoengineering ideas or marshmallow tests.

In addition, I grew tired of Stewart Brand’s focus on big technology and capitalism as solutions to the problems we face and as an assumption for our world in the future. Capitalism is a particular social form that has lasted for a few hundred years at the most. It is not logical to assume that it is the social form society will take for the next several thousand years, not if we are to have a viable planet, anyway.

Not sure that helps, but there it is.



Letter to US Bank Executives re: DAPL

A few weeks ago I closed my U.S. Bank credit card. I recently wrote a letter the U.S. Bank executives explaining that it is because they are a bigger funder of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Here’s the letter:

December 27, 2016

To: Richard K. Davis, Chairman and CEO, U.S. Bank
Cc: Dana E. Ripley, Senior VP of Corporate Communications, U.S. Bank
Susan Beatty, Brand, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sponsorships, U.S. Bank

Recently I closed my U.S. Bank credit card. I have not had any negative experiences with U.S. Bank, but I learned that the bank is one of the biggest funders of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and heeded the calls from #NoDAPL organizers to close accounts with U.S. Bank.

It is worth remembering that the fight at Standing Rock over the DAPL is first and foremost about respecting the sovereignty and land of American Indian tribes. Only secondarily is it about fossil fuels and climate change. However, as a climate activist, that secondary motive is very important to me, as it should be to you.

Funding a fossil fuel project is fundamentally at odds with the function of a bank. The role of a bank is to facilitate investment: the use of today’s money to build things that will generate value over time. Building fossil fuel infrastructure now destroys value. Generations will suffer and have to pay dearly for the damage generated by new oil and gas pipelines, coal mines, and the like.

What you are doing is enriching yourselves in the present at the expense of the future, and that is the exact opposite of investment.

I ask you to remove all funding from the DAPL, and also to remove all funding from all fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and to publicly commit not to fund any fossil fuel projects in the future.

Martin MacKerel

If you would like to join me, check out Yes Magazine’s article on which banks are funding DAPL and how to contact them.

Keep San Francisco FAIR!

Ed Lee is corrupt and San Francisco is being destroyed by the lack of affordable housing and the evisceration of rental stock by Airbnb.

Keep San Francisco FAIR! Vote yes on Prop F, yes on Prop A, yes on Prop I, and Replace Ed Lee!

Vote 1-2-3 to Replace Ed Lee! Use ranked choice voting to vote for the following candidates for Mayor, in any order:

  • Amy Farah Weiss
  • Francisco Herrera
  • “Broke-ass” Stuart Schuffman

Check out the campaign websites for:

Feel free to use the artwork, modify as you wish. Contact martin.mackerel@gmail.com for source documents.

I’ve also made a PDF on white background suitable for printing.

No, We Don’t Stand Together

The slogan “We Stand Together” is as bad as “All Lives Matter”, and Bernie supporters would do well to steer clear of it.

Everyone should realize by now how hollow the phrase “All Lives Matter” is. If black people had used the slogan “All Lives Matter” originally, that would actually mean what it says. But the phrase “All Lives Matter” was only uttered after the slogan “Black Lives Matter” burst upon the scene. “Black Lives Matter” is used to emphasize that black lives do matter, in the face of a society that so clearly does not value black lives.

In that context, the phrase “All Lives Matter” is a retort – it opposes “Black Lives Matter”, covers it up, hides it under the false universal of “all lives”. But, of course, if all lives truly mattered, there would be no need to say “Black Lives Matter”.

In the same way, “We Stand Together” uses a false universal. Who is we? “We” are the white progressives who don’t want to be distracted by all this discussion of racism and white supremacy – that’s “someone else’s issue”. Why can’t we instead talk about class, or debt, or the 1% – you know, the issues that matter to “all” of “us”.

This is the same “we” of feminism that obscures women of color and trans women. This is the “we” of gay rights that says that staying in solidarity with the “T” of LGBT is just too divisive.

We don’t stand together. Some of us do stand in a very different position vis-à-vis the police, the courts, the banks, the job market, etc., etc. The reaction of the crowd to the Seattle interruption shows exactly why it is necessary to keep bringing up the issue of race.

“We Stand Together” is a blatant attempt to shut down dissent, to crowd it out, to refuse to listen to it. If you’re standing in a crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters who start chanting “We Stand Together”, do the honorable thing: sit down. Or even, lie down for Mike Brown.