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.

Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 2

August 7th, 2015 – my second email submitting comments, focusing on climate change. Part one focuses on more local and regional issues.

This is the second part of my comments on the scope of the WesPac RDEIR, focusing on climate change, both the project’s effect on climate change and the effects of climate action on the project’s purpose and long-term viability.


It is not merely the manner in which the proposed WesPac project would operate that is a problem; it is its very existence itself. The purpose of the project is to increase the flexibility and capacity of the petroleum industry. It is likely to, however marginally, increase production of and reduce the costs of fossil fuels, and thereby increase the global use of those fossil fuels. And that is precisely the problem.

In a public comment of September 13, 2013, I said the following:

Even if the facility operated flawlessly, however, it would contribute to the increased global use of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gases that through climate change endanger our physical infrastructure, our health, our environment, and potentially the very viability of human civilization.

It is imperative that we change our energy system. To start with, we must insist on NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE.

There is simply no excuse to do otherwise; any statement of environmental impact that claims low impact for additional fossil fuel infrastructure and allows its construction is extremely irresponsible.

Two years later that comment is, unfortunately, still valid. My claim that the very viability of our civilization is endangered is far from being an exaggeration. The climate change that is already “locked in” will strain our ability to adapt. The very material bases of our civilization are under assault: changing weather patterns mean that agriculture will be increasingly difficult, sea-level rise threatens many cities and much infrastructure, and more heat waves, storms, and cold spells mean more property damage and fatalities in the years ahead.

Continue reading “Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 2”

Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 1

August 7th, 2015 – my first email submitting comments, on issues other than climate change. Part two focuses on climate change.

In this document, I am listing all comments on the scope of the WesPac 2015 RDEIR other than those related to climate change.

Pipeline and tank integrity issues

When I refer to “pipelines”, I mean both the pipelines fully internal to the site, as well as the external pipelines that connect to the regional refineries and other distribution networks.

Please include detailed information about the age of all tanks and pipelines. Which of these tanks will be refurbished?

What are the limits of vapor pressure that the tanks and pipelines can handle? How does this compare to the known very high vapor pressure of Bakken shale oil?

What other effects does crude type have on pipeline or tank integrity? For example, both tar sands dilbit and Bakken shale are likely to be more corrosive than fuel oil or other crudes, and the more viscous tar sands dilbit is likely to be pumped at higher pressure than other crudes. Tar sands dilbit is also often heated to get it to flow; how does this affect pipeline integrity? It could increase corrosion and it could also increase wear-and-tear from thermal expansion and contraction.

The Mayflower spill in Arkansas was a result of the rupture of Pegasus, a 65-year-old pipeline that was intended for refined products. Exxon 1) reversed the flow and 2) sent more corrosive tar sands dilbit down the pipe 3) at high pressure. All three actions stressed the already quite old pipeline; together, they weakened it enough to rupture it.

Continue reading “Comments on the scope of the WesPac EIR, part 1”

Notes from WesPac EIR Scoping Session, 2015/07/22

WesPac is back. The proposal for an oil terminal in Pittsburg, CA has been modified, dropping the rail component. It would include a marine terminal, lots of oil storage, and pipelines to Bay Area refineries. The storage tanks are within 200 feet of homes, and there are churches and schools nearby as well.

A new EIR will be prepared, and there was a scoping session on July 22nd. Comments on the scope of the EIR will be taken until 5pm on Friday, August 7th, 2015. I took some rough notes from the scoping session.

A couple of City staffers and a representative from TRC, the consulting company doing the EIR, spoke. The purpose of the scoping session, they said, was 1) to educate the public about the process and 2) to take public comment. Significantly, the public comment was supposed to be on the scope of the EIR, and not supposed to be about the merits of the project itself. Nevertheless, many speakers did share their opinion on the project as a whole. After public comment, the TRC rep said there had been two kinds of comments: 1) impacts of the EIR, and 2) opinions. He said, “Please let your decisionmakers (City Councilmembers and Planning Commissioners) know your opinions.”

The rep introduced the rationale for the project: a California Energy Commission determination that there is a shortage of crude oil storage in the Bay Area, coupled with an increase in oil imports, and ship congestion at existing terminals. None of this holds water – the CEC determination is from several years ago, there are plenty of marine terminals at existing refineries, and in any case, California gasoline and diesel use is declining.

Public Comment

I took brief notes on each speaker. Public comment lasted about two hours. Unfortunately, the City did not provide video recording or a stenographer – they had a staffer take notes on an easel pad. I will be submitting these notes.

Continue reading “Notes from WesPac EIR Scoping Session, 2015/07/22”