It’s a constant struggle to remember not to smoke. I work at this co-working space where it’s goddamn impossible to get any work done and I’m always hungry, and there’s not anywhere good to go for a walk because it’s in a bullshit part of town. So I get bored, and I want to go do something but there’s nothing to do. This is what I normally use cigarettes for. I’m drowning this impulse in coffee, which will do for now, I guess.

The violence we deserve

I was cruising by a condo construction site on 40th Street in Oakland recently and noticed it was burned out, the metal scaffolding and rebar twisted and bent in on itself.

I immediately assumed arson, and when I got home I looked it up and discovered the police determined the same thing.

It wasn’t surprising — the idea of using terrorism to drive out “luxury housing” is sort of out there in the zeitgeist in Oakland right now.

When Ghostship burned down, Oakland’s illegally and precariously housed people barely had a moment to breathe before the government and property developers instrumentalized the tragedy to start cracking down on illegal living spaces. The government did it to cover its own ass, and property developers smelled blood in the water, a way to pick up underutilized properties for cheap.

When the supportive housing on San Pablo street burned down it was immediately obvious that it was an arson, an attempt by the property owner to drive out the poor people who’ve been using it as grey-area housing of last resort.

There have also been fires at Oakland’s growing homeless encampments, one on Wood Street that broke out likely because of a combination of a kitchen accident and the deleriously dangerous makeshift construction techniques used there, but also some other recent ones that were apparently started by drive-by arsonists trying to drive the camps out.

If you read through the backlog of complaints on SeeClickFix for Oakland it becomes very obvious that housed Oakland residents are fed up with the camps and angry at Oakland’s government for halfway sanctioning them. So it honestly doesn’t surprise me that someone would try to burn one down. Just as it didn’t surprise me to discover someone had burned down the condo site.

It also didn’t surprise me that Greg Gianforte won the special election in Montana after beating the shit out of a reporter and getting charged with misdemeanor assault. He’ll probably get convicted for it. It won’t matter.

It won’t matter because of the tension simmering beneath the surface. People want this stuff to happen. People want to see their enemies destroyed. “Live and let live” is being strained to its limits, and the thin veneer of civility that normally keeps this kind of thing from happening has been stripped away. It only takes one person to act on these impulses for people to admit they’re not actually mad about any of it, that in their heart of hearts this is what they wanted to happen all along.

I also suspect that people who voted for Trump aren’t mad that he congratulated Duterte on his ongoing mass murder of drug addicts, or that bodyguards for Erdogan kicked the shit out of protesters on U.S. soil. Because that kind of extremity is exactly what they want, and all the safeguards that made people take a step back and say “…but that’s probably not really a good idea” are being eliminated one at a time.

I’m guilty too. I’ve been in riots and behind burning street blockades cheering on the fight with the cops or with the Nazis at the Milo event in Berkeley. The only reason I haven’t gone to more of these antifa callouts is that deep down, I want to see these fucking idiot internet anime fascists catch a beating, and I’m afraid of what I’d do if I were actually there.

And I’m afraid that what’s happening in this country is ultimately a reflection of what people really want.

I remember the moment I stopped even making jokes about “the Rev”, when I broke with insurrectionist politics that want to see a complete rupture and breakdown of society. It was the day twelve people were assassinated at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the following week where all my friends on the radical left were either ambivalent about it at best, or cheering about it at worst. Because Charlie Hebdo wasn’t on our team, it was problematic, and apparently nobody should shed tears for the victims of a vicious assassination if they’re guilty of punching down.

I realized that’s what revolutionary violence would actually look like, and it stopped being romantic.

Now there’s revolutionary violence breaking out everywhere, much of it not only sanctioned by the state but sanctioned by the legitimacy of the vote. And I realize there is actually a very good reason to universally condemn this kind of violence in all of its forms.

The world is getting scarier, and it seems like it’s happening because that’s what we’re all secretly hoping for.

Eternal War On All Bike Thieves

Today I got my trusty Bridgestone MB5 back from the toothless scumbag who stole it.


My baby, that I rebuilt with my own hands, using parts and shop time I earned with my San Francisco Bike Kitchen digging rights. Rights that I earned with 12 hours of volunteer labor, that included three hours of fixing a bike for an old drunk who, laughing in my face, his breath smelling like stale beer and hot garbage, told me I was using the tools wrong, which he couldn’t use himself because he couldn’t get his hands to stop shaking long enough.

I labored for four months to rebuild this bike. I literally spilled blood for this bike. Once it was finished, I took it on a 300-plus mile trek down the coast on Highway 1, and it performed beautifully. I’ve never been more proud of something I created with my own hands. I rode it hard, and I was very happy with it. And then one morning, I woke up to my front gate wide open, swaying in the breeze, my bike missing from its regular parking spot.

Everyone I told about it said it was my fault for keeping it in the front yard, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

I found it today on my way home from the grocery store. I had just been running through the scenario in my head, for the thousandth time, of just how much of a badass motherfucker I would turn in to if I ever tracked down the son of a bitch who stole it. How I would make them cower in fear, or worse, just how damaged I would leave them, physically and psychologically, if they didn’t part with the bike willingly.

But after all those fantasies of ultraviolence, the thief turned out to be a helpless old man in a collapsing house a few blocks from mine who said he “bought it three months ago from some guy named Gimli, or Gemini”, stuttering as he either made up or tried to remember the name, and then offered to sell it to me for $50.

In the version of this story that played so many times in my head, this was the part where I take my bike, tell the dude to go fuck himself, and tell him to go get his $50 from Gimli, or Gemini, or whoever. But in the moment, I couldn’t do it.

Another important detail of this story is that I live in West Oakland, and I’m a young, able-bodied white dude who moved here about a year ago. The guy with my bike was black, and was the owner of just about the only house on my block that hasn’t been completely remodeled in the last few years.

When it came down to it, my actual options looked a lot worse than they did in my head. Calling the cops was out. So was any kind of violence against a dude with a crooked back and two teeth. That left, basically, yelling at this guy to give me my bike back, “or else”. Imagine for a moment the optics of me losing my shit at this guy, over a bike I already replaced.

Besides, this is the Bay Area — there could easily be a guy named Gimli, or Gemini, or whatever. Stranger things have happened.

I inspected the damage. He (or Gimli, or Gemini) had obviously tried to remove the stickers, but couldn’t get any of them all the way off, and only even tried to remove half before they gave up, scraping off the decals and the paint in the process. In only 2 months, he managed to scuff and rip my saddle more than I did by putting thousands of miles on it. He tore apart my brakes, ripped apart the hoods on my brake levers, and for some reason, removed the leather straps on the toe clips.

There’s a version of this story where the thief is like Robin Hood, and I’m just a naive dilletante, basically at fault because I left my bike in the front yard. In this story, the thief needed my bike more than I did, or it was a crime of survival. There’s some amount of nobility in the theft. And it’s the story I was telling myself, because it somehow made the loss easier to deal with.

Instead, it was just some asshole who felt like taking my bike, who already had two other bikes. He brought them out to show me, to demonstrate that he “buys” bikes. “See?” he said, “I buy bikes!”, like that gave his story more credibility. And instead of trying to make some money out of my bike, he just rode it around, poorly, treating it like trash.

I took a hard look at the guy, at his guard dog that didn’t even bark at me when I came up to the fence, at the steps of his porch that were splintered and missing in some places, and then at the sign on his chain link fence that says “WORK HARD”, among other encouragements.

Here was a guy who managed to deserve both sympathy and a punch in the dick. And because I’m a sucker, I chose sympathy. I offered him $40 for the bike, and he agreed.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying — I have an extra bike for sale. Lovingly restored vintage Bridgestone. Brooks saddle. Make me an offer.

Re: Donald Trump: The Republic Cannot Withstand Democracy

There’s an extremely maudlin, hand-wringy op-ed in the Washington Post today sounding the alarm about the now very real possibility of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States.

If that happens, I don’t think it’s going to be because of a rigged vote. The GOP machinery is as horrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency as any of us, and frankly, if he were nominated it might suddenly become much easier to get Republican state legislatures to relent in their campaign to prevent young people and minorities from voting.

If he wins, it’s going to be because America — the actual America, the ugly, ignorant one we like to pretend doesn’t exist, but that we have all been helping to create — wanted him.

The elites at the helm of our politics, our media, our education system, and so on have spent the last thirty or so years exhorting people to be more like the myth Donald Trump projects — a wealthy, “self-made” businessman. He is literally the template for what a good citizen is supposed to look like. When you put all of the energy of your society into promoting individualism and accumulating property as the meaning of life, to the exclusion of everything else, this is what you end up with.

And the media has actually been doing a great job of pointing out that Donald Trump is not actually self-made, that most of his policy ideas are totally unworkable fantasy bullshit, and that his supporters are violent racists. It’s just that the American right wing has trained its more rabid supporters that the media are all liars, so it doesn’t matter what they say. And I hope it feels great for those right wing strategists to lie in that bed they made.

If we end up with Donald Trump as President, it won’t be because anything has “failed”. It will be a predictable consequence of the choices we’ve all made as a society. And we need to stop pretending that this is a “threat to our democracy”, because Trump isn’t actually threatening our democracy. He’s threatening to use our democracy to try out some monumentally bad ideas, but that is entirely within the rules.

The op-ed author is right in one sense — I’m not going to lift a finger to do anything about it. The last time I went door to door to get somebody elected, dude ended up murdering people with remote-controlled missiles and selling America out to the insurance industry for next to nothing. I’m not going to be a part of that again, under any circumstances.

One thing I would do, though, is help establish a fund for people to obtain passports that don’t already have them, because it’s easy enough for me to leave the country, but I don’t want to leave anyone behind.

Anyway. Good luck and God help us all.

My computer is not property, it is a prosthetic brain

In the United States, anyone can invoke the 5th amendment and refuse to give tesimony that incriminates themselves.

Another way to think of this is that our Constitution privileges information that is contained in personal, physical memory. It is subject to protections that memories stored in, say, a notebook, or physical photographs, are not.

The debate over encryption hinges on thinking of a computer or a phone as “property”, but a 2014 Supreme Court ruling (more details) acknowledges that the intimacy of the knowledge that is contained on cell phones makes them subject to special consideration:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, was keenly alert to the central role that cellphones play in contemporary life. They are, he said, “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

“An important feature of human anatomy” is a key sentence there. As the interface for the computer moves closer and closer to the physical body, and people argue that always-on access to the internet actually functions as an extension of our brains, maybe it’s time to start thinking of computers as a prosthetic, privileged in the same way information in my mind is, and not as property.

We can think of this in reverse — let’s say that neuroscience discovers a way to “decrypt” memories in the brain. Can the government compel you to undergo that procedure with a subpoena? Would the 5th amendment apply in that case? Because I’m not “giving testimony”, but the memory that the 5th Amendment generally bars access to is available without my testimony. So do those memories just become property, subject to a warrant?

This is what’s actually at stake with respect to encryption of digital devices. The court has already recognized that intimacy of information creates a special category of consideration. So if it’s not established that when I’m using something as an auxilary memory, it deserves the same protection as my regular memory, the contents of my regular memory also eventually become fair game.

This isn’t a well-developed thought but it’s worth thinking about. We already use computers as prosthetics, and we should start acting like it.

Hillary Clinton isn’t going to do fuck-all about campaign finance reform

Hillary Clinton is navigating the post-Citizens United campaign finance world more deftly than anybody else. Her entire campaign is a constellation of the types of “Super PACs” enabled by the court ruling.

So when Hillary Clinton gets up and says “nobody is more committed to campaign finance reform than I am”, keep in mind that no currently viable candidate is benefitting more from the current state of campaign finance than she is.

It’s also obviously a flat lie. Lawrence Lessig has spent years doing nothing but trying to get Citizens United rolled back, dedicating 100% of his energy and his celebrity to a movement to amend the constitution to get rid of it. Bernie Sanders is also obviously more committed to fixing campaign finance reform, evidenced by the fact that he’s running a regular-ass presidential campaign, with its boring, pedestrian $2,300 contribution limits.

So you don’t even have to try that hard to find people who have already done more to fix campaign finance reform than she has, and who will likely continue to do more than she will.

I understand her argument, that Citizens United happened because of a court ruling on a right-wing attack on her campaign. I’ve written before how it’s frequently forgotten that Hillary: the Movie was more or less a litany of made-up garbage, which is a shame because it’s pretty easy to go after Hillary for her actual record.

But by structuring her entire campaign to take advantage of the ability to raise large, anonymous contributions that Citizens United created, she’s giving up any moral authority she would have otherwise had to speak on the issue.

And any argument that she’s just doing the prudent thing, given that she has to compete with the Republicans, for whom campaign finance reform isn’t even a blip on the radar, well, luckily, we have an example of how you can run a succesful national campaign without Super PACs — Bernie Sanders.

This feels stupid to write about, because of course she’s lying. It’s what politicians do. I guess what bothers me is to see people applauding like they actually believe what she’s saying, like they can’t see what’s right in front of them. Is it because they’re not looking? Is it because they don’t want to see?

This actually gets to the reason I have problems engaging in political debate generally. There’s an entire category of political debate based on back-and-forth sniping, rhetorical game-playing, and people trying to “win” a debate by “proving” some trivial point with a collection of bullet points, like arguing about the shadows on the cave wall. Where the debate totally departs the realm of reason and enters the realm of gut-level tribal affiliations, where perception of the real world is shaped to fit the emotional investment in your tribe.

This is where we’re at, already, and it’s only February.