Letter to certain SF supervisors concerning bike funding.

San Francisco loves to think that it’s a world-class biking city, but it spends less than a half a percent of its transportation budget on bicycle infrastructure. The SF Bicycle Coalition is at last pushing them hard on increasing funding. Here’s my email to three of the supervisors concerning this pressing need.

more money for bikes, and soon!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be at the hearing this Wednesday about biking in San Francisco. So I will share my thoughts with you now.

I have been biking in San Francisco for 13 years, and it’s gotten much, much better in that time. However, as a whole, SF is still way too car-centric.

A key point most people don’t mention is climate change. As part of our responsibilities under AB 32 and S-3-05, San Francisco must dramatically reduce its emissions – very quickly. This means consistently favoring transit and bikes over cars, even in cases – like Polk St – where it gets politically contentious.

Part of getting to those goals is putting our money where our mouth is. If bicycling accounts for 3.5% of all trips, and we have a goal to get to 20% by 2020, how can we have <1% of SFMTA funding go to bikes?

We need a massive increase in funding. It should be at least 5%, but 10% is much more realistic.

Thanks,
Martin

My Comments on the Proposed WesPac Pittsburg Crude Oil Storage Facility

For background, see the Contra Costa article on Oil storage and transfer facility proposed for Pittsburg waterfront. We need to make sure that NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE is built. (Pittsburg is a town in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

 

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing about the proposed WesPac Pittsburg crude oil storage facility.

Such a facility would risk the health of nearby residents by unusual events such as spills. Its day-to-day operations would doubtless also aggravate the existing asthma epidemic in Pittsburg.

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.

Yours,
Martin MacKerel

My Comments to the SF Pride Board Community Meeting regarding the Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal Kerfuffle

My name is Martin MacKerel and I am a straight ally. [some remarks about the anger in the room and remembering the pastor’s words about respecting each others’ humanity]

When I say I’m an ally, I don’t just mean that I think gay rights are cool and I have some friends who are LGBT. I have played for several years in a pool league that “just happens to be gay” and met many people and that’s when these issues became important to me. I campaigned against Prop 8, and after it passed I joined a local grassroots group called “One Struggle One Fight” to fight against it, and as part of that I went to DC for the 2009 National Equality March.

I’m also a Bradley Manning supporter since I learned about his situation two and a half years ago. You may ask why? Is there a link? And, yes, there is a simple link in that these are both about justice.

Picture of speakers in line to speak at the meeting

But I think there is a deeper link. Both the process of coming out and Bradley’s actions involve speaking truths that might make people uncomfortable. Many people might initially not want to know that a family member or friend is queer. But hopefully in coming out, attitudes are shifted, and both the speaker and the listener are transformed.

I know that lots of people would prefer to believe that the government is on their side, that its military doesn’t commit war crimes, and that its foreign policy comes from good intentions.

Bradley showed us, as Daniel Ellsberg did, that these comforting notions are not true. I see the reaction to Bradley Manning’s selection as Grand Marshal as part of a prolonged attempt not to face the truth. But sooner or later, and the sooner the better, we must face the truth.

To deny Bradley – to shove him and his uncomfortable truths back in the closet – is to fail in our responsibility as a community.

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.

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.

Continue reading “My Comments on the USPTO Software Patent Roundtable”

FCC Proposed Rulemaking on Prison Phone Rates

Here is a small but very important and effective way you can improve life for two million people in the US and their families.

From the excellent SF Bayview newspaper I found out about this promising proposed rulemaking by the FCC. As you may know if you have ever had to communicate with somebody in prison, the phone rates are exorbitant. There can be per-call and per-minute charges, as well as usurious fees simply to transfer money into a prisoner’s account. The boyfriend of one prisoner writes:

My girlfriend is currently incarcerated in Kentucky. Every time she calls me through the prison call system it costs $8.17. On top of that, every time I put money on my account with Securus, whether it is $10 or $500 it costs $6.95 per transaction. It has cost me almost $100 for eight phone calls lasting fifteen minutes each.

Continue reading “FCC Proposed Rulemaking on Prison Phone Rates”

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.

Continue reading “My email to the BART Board”