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.

Book Review: Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe

Imperiled Life cover: the Statue of Liberty with waves above her waist

It seems my lot in life is to slog through badly written books. The Specter of Sex was informative, but a bit painful to wade through. Conscious Capitalism was truly horrendous, both in content and form, but I read through to the end for the greater good.

Javier Sethness-Castro’s Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe is a book I really wanted to like. I’ve been thinking for a while of posing the question “Can capitalism save us from climate catastrophe?” honestly, not as a leftist already knowing the answer. I’m inclined to believe the answer is no, but if it can, by all means, show me.

This book is definitely an attempt to preach to the choir, but color me an intrigued chorister. In addition, the author is a good speaker, and he and I have a mutual friend. So I was ready to enjoy this book.

The problem is that the book is absolutely awful. It’s basically a PhD thesis about the Frankfurt school smashed into mini-book form. It’s loaded down with references to and quotes from Adorno, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marx, Adorno, Kant, Adorno, Marcuse, Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Adorno, and others. We get it. You’re a fan of Adorno.

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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”

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 humor, 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.

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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:

Go to https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/13/18762796.php
and play the video about halfway down

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?

Continue reading “So This is the Other Side of how the Sausage is Made”

Book Review: The Specter of Sex: Gendered Foundations of Racial Formation in the United States

Specter of Sex book cover: woman in 19th century dress

I’m a well-off, well-educated, straight, white man living in the US, so I sit in the intersection of pretty much every dimension of privilege. I’m also a radical committed to real freedom and equality for everyone, for the destruction of all these systems of oppression. So the question I’m often faced with is: what should I work on? To what specific struggles should I contribute?

Over the years I’ve become more and more convinced that patriarchy is a linchpin hierarchy, upholding many others. It’s also historically ancient: even among the most egalitarian, classless, aboriginal societies anthropologists have reported on, most have some degree of patriarchy, and this seems to have gotten distinctly worse with the rise of agriculture, settlements, and class structure.

Accordingly, I have, for example, worked on campaigns for LGBT rights, because I believe that attacking homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people is fundamentally feminist: the basis for these kinds of discrimination is that men and boys should act certain ways, and women and girls should act certain other ways, and there are no exceptions. I can see from years of living in San Francisco how a queer-friendly environment allows even the straightest, most gender-conformant people freedom from gender and sexuality norms that don’t suit them.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Specter of Sex: Gendered Foundations of Racial Formation in the United States”

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”

Feminism Tomorrow

I came across some discussion by evangelical Christians about “egalitarian marriage”. This is in response to the concept of “complementarian marriage”, which is all the rage in evangelical Christian circles. It’s basically the latest gloss on patriarchy.

I step back and think that I’m glad that these more reasonable folks are having the argument, but to me it’s astonishing there’s a need for the argument at all. But this is the continuing strength of patriarchy today.

This light of feminism among evangelical Christians, while of course moderated by “I’m not a feminist” caveats, is quite encouraging. Two recent events show the core, solid character of feminist gains over the last few decades: the brouhaha over the Susan G. Komen foundation’s withdrawal of funding from Planned Parenthood, and the shitstorm over the right wing’s attempt to treat contraception as a truly controversial subject like abortion. Part of the outrage is over the simple fact that Congress had a discussion about contraception and “religious liberty” with several invited speakers – not one of whom was a woman. It wasn’t too long ago that it would have been normal to exclude women’s voices from a discussion of women’s reproductive health.

One comment on the blog of an evangelical says:

I think a change is coming, and right now, the swell is far off in the ocean, and so it is barely noticed. But as it approaches land, it will rise to tidal wave uprising of people who see God, church, and Scriptures in a new, liberating light.

I agree with the imagery, except I see this as the swell of the next wave of feminism, of which the conversation among evangelicals is only one part.

There is another, deeper swell. In some ways Christians make the best communists, and life is going to get really interesting when that conversation starts among evangelicals.

Update (2018-09-03)

Six and a half years later, we have a large patriarchal (even fascist) counter-movement, but there’s no question that the wave of feminism in the intervening time, with #YesAllWomen and #MeToo, has been and continues to be massive.