In January, our intrepid hero went on a quest to find wisdom. He travelled to NYC, DC, and back. In his travels, he was aided by many strong women and men, each a hero in their own right.
- Yale Spector, the air mage, floated down from the glittering crystalline heights of the towers of code he was constructing to offer counsel about big plans.
- Earth witch Kanglei Wang gave him a locket of the key to happiness:staying rooted and aware of the now and the new.
- Ned Resnikoff, the wizard of water and lore, offered him hearth and home and revealed the truth: some of that (belief) which was solid, was slowly reverting back to the mists.
- The fiery Mikey Franklin engulfed our hero in the passion of true friendship and true hospitality. Our hero Ash Ketchum was filled with renewed vigor: it was time to be a Pokemon Master re-engaged in the grand struggle to better people’s lives.
Yet, these powerful sorcerers could only help our hero cut and refine the gems of wisdom he found in DC, the heart of empire. Only one person could properly prepare our hero for that challenge: Elly Kalfus, wielder of the power of Heart.
The wisdom he found in DC, inside the very heart of the empire, is a story for another day.
Springfield, MO — Sahar Massachi is undergoing a change of identity and home base. Having left the startup he co-founded, he moved to Rochester, NY to figure out his next steps. That process led to him joining the Wikimedia foundation and moving temporarily to Springfield, MO. The effect these changes have had on his psyche are yet undetermined and still ongoing.
Springfield residents are mostly as-of-yet unconcerned and befuddled by this newcomer to their midst. “Sahara? Zoharee?” a bemused, bespectacled, bearded man was overheard muttering in a local cafe, only to have Massachi patiently repeat his refrain: “It’s like Sarah, except you switch the ‘R’ and the ‘H'”. So far he’s been seen huddled with Christian pastors, entrepreneurs, and indigenous hipsters. We’ve even spotted him with that rare species: “Missouri Jew“. What is he planning? No one seems to know.
Massachi is here, so he says, to learn and work with area enigma Zack Exley. When we asked him what that work entailed, we were treated to some undecipherable verbiage about “graphs” and “big data” and “millions of dollars”. Further enquiries resulted in the stubborn refrain of “more soon. Gotta figure out this Dutch problem first”. Clearly, he’s up to something.
Pressed about his feelings about the town that is his new temporary home, Massachi said the following:
Well, I’ve been here a bit more than two weeks. So I don’t know. People here say that Springfield is like a small town that happens to have a lot of people in it. Which I sort of see. And that’s really cool! I miss living on a campus and downtown is sort of that feeling. Except so far I don’t know most people I pass on the sidewalk. Maybe soon, though.
The people here are really interesting. I’ve met Christian Anarchists, Evangelicals, and just plain people who loooove Jesus. Trying to get to know them and see what their life is like. I’ve also met a bunch of people who don’t identify as Christian, but have had to live in this bible-belty culture. And their reaction to it is interesting too. I’m trying this new thing where I just ask everyone I meet questions. It’s cool. And random people I meet end up knowing each other, which could be cool or scary. I’m not sure yet. And I really enjoy the fact that there’s a place in town where you can play 80’s arcade games all night for a flat $5. Not because I go there often – I’m just glad something that quirky can exist. Oh man, I’m rambling, aren’t I?
This is all off the record, right?
In fact, it wasn’t.
More on this story as it develops.
I’ve known about Aaron for a long time. How could I not? I was there when he rewrote Reddit, over six years ago. I was a fan of Lawrence Lessig – Lessig was a fan (and mentor) of Aaron.
We first actually met through the PCCC – a new grassroots organizing outfit he co-founded with two others. I heard about the PCCC through my blogging life, but I decided I wanted to join up because Aaron was a co-founder. I was on the team when there were just 5 of us. I finally met Aaron at a retreat the PCCC held at the end of May. He didn’t say much at first (the night before when we were just hanging out). I mostly talked to his friend, Quinn Norton. She was full of interesting tales (the history of coffee! Breaking into buildings in San Francisco!) and just a really cool gal.
But I think I knew Aaron best through his writing. It’s how so many of us can feel a close connection to him. His blogging wasn’t self-indulgent and vain. It was red-hot but cooly-considered thought. It was brilliant tempered with empathy and wisdom.
I bet I’ll refer to his writing for years to come.
Aaron was pretty much who I aspired to be. Tech-savvy but not bound by that culture. Progressive but not captured by the professional left. A fellow-traveler to many. A generous spirit. Always trying to figure out exactly how the world worked, then sharing what he found.
I’ll miss him so much.
Aaron Swartz is dead but the world continues in its banality. Instagram photos on my feed. People pimping their articles. Don’t they know that Aaron is dead?
What the hell.
Aaron and I (and others) once hung out at Brandeis. We were watching the news reports of a petition delivery he did in Boston in support of something to do with appointing a Senator after Ted Kennedy died. Four or five of us, in a cramped dorm room at the Brandeis castle.
Aaron was also one of my bosses at the PCCC, though I only got to see him a few times in that capacity. He was obviously, well, everyone uses the world brilliant because it’s true. We’d have a discussion that was going in all different directions, and time and time again Aaron would ask a simple, insightful question that got right to the heart of the matter. It was a joy to work with him.
Aaron had reason to visit Brandeis – his brother Ben studied there as well. I’ll never forget that he was at my commencement for my MA (he was at commencement for Ben’s Bachelors’). About ten people ahead of me alphabetically didn’t up for their degrees, so I ended up hamming to the crowd and making several false starts on stage, etc. He sent me a tweet: “Very colorful. Congratulations.”
The rest I know about Aaron, I know from his public life. His wonderful blog posts. His instapaper shares. The projects he was working on. All that gave you a wonderful, oddly intimate look at the “public” Aaron. The Aaron I briefly met in person – he lived up to his legend. So sad he’s gone.
Occupy Wall Street forced everyone in the professional left to take a moment and think: “Where do I belong?”
For me, the answer went something like this:
“For a long time, I thought that issue policy / electoral politics / advocacy was the key to making progressive change. But the 2008 election didn’t stop domestic spying, it didn’t make a dent in poverty, and it only enhanced the power of the power elite. (I guess we’re calling them the 1% now. That’s cool.) Obama said he’d make Net Neutrality happen, then he put incompetents or fools in charge of the FCC. This isn’t working. The 2010 election wiped out 4 years of my emotional, physical, and financial investment in all sorts of candidates.
For a long time I’ve known that of course radicals are right about how awful the world situation is. Ever since I learned that the FBI murdered Fred Hampton (without a warrant! As if a warrant would make that okay). But I thought that their tactics for making change were silly and doomed to failure. But the professional left could simply not have created Occupy Wall Street. Maybe radicals have had some smart things to say about strategy and tactics after all.
I belong in the streets! Shit is fucked up and bullshit. Reforms are nice. Reforms make real improvements in people’s lives. Small reforms aren’t the final goal. The police really are brutal. The state really does break the law to suppress dissent. The game really is rigged, and the French Revolution meant something, goddamn it. I can use the tactics of center-left incrementalism because they work. But let’s not confuse tactics for strategy, or goals. The goal is always human freedom.”
Or something like that. Does that make sense?
That’s my background, and a large part of my identification. But the blogosphere is dead. Sure, some of the same outlets are around. They’ve even got paid staff and everything. Many bloggers are still blogging. And don’t get me wrong, I read a couple of them even more frequently than I did in the “good old days”.
But it all feels … I dunno. Stale? The moment has passed. And turns out that it was a moment. Or a movement, but it’s all over now and we can’t tell the difference anyways.
A few vignettes:
- When Occupy Wall Street really took off, I was at a conference in D.C. The attendees congratulated themselves on Occupy. They assumed that “we” were ones behind it all. Well, not us exactly, since we were at the conference. But surely “our people” were. Of course. We’re the left, after all. If something happens one of us must’ve been behind it.
- Look at the changing composition of Netroots Nation attendees. First, they were readers, writers, and commenters. Then, bloggers and journalists mostly. Then, bloggers, journalists, and online organizers. Now? It’s a reunion. With “New Media” directors of various center-left organizations hanging out throughout.
- The “progressive wonkosphere” has turned into “Matthew Yglesias presents the amazing Ezra Klein empire.” Plus the worthy academics at Crooked Timber. All whom I read every day, but they’re not part of a movement anymore.
- The last breakout star of the blogosphere was Nate Silver in 2008.
- When Change.org or MoveOn or Salsa changes its model, what happens? There’s a lot of talk, but the discussion is on private email lists. Our technology has regressed.
- Open Left is dead now. Chris has moved to the hot new online tactic du jour – online organizing. Matt’s story can’t be categorized by a sentence. The best of the best of blogging wasn’t good enough for them.
- The hot new left writing is centered around magazines.
- Mike Lux still writes smart, great stuff. His writing is aimed at an audience of fellow organizers, not an audience of bored officeworkers appalled by the House Republican bullshit of the day. But it’s published in the chaotic swirl of the Huffington Post.
Here’s why it was doomed from the start:
In the old days, opposing or replacing Bush Republicansism was The Most Important Thing. So corporate lawyers and lefties banded together to do that. They attacked Team Red using whatever ideological weapons were at hand, and papered over their difference in part by defining themselves through their tools and their enemies.
The failure of street protests against the Iraq War taught them that electoral politics was the true path to change. And if the Democrats were pretty awful, too, the failure of Team Blue was cowardice, which after all is much more excusable than malice.
Think about it. The ideas and critiques coming out of that era were contradictory at times: “We have a problem with neoconservatives running the government.” “The American empire has always been awful” “The Pentagon’s budget is too big and wasteful – so much money is being lost to corruption and waste.” “The Pentagon is awful – so much money is being spent on toppling democracies and propping up dictatorships.” “Our political system is dysfunctional and corrupted by corporate power. Our problems are systemic and entrenched. If 5% more of America votes a particular way, those problem will be fixed.”
Everything was awful. But roughly half the political elite were, broadly speaking, good guys. Looking back, the incoherence is kind of staggering.
Speaking for myself – at the time, I had only been politically conscious in the Bush era. Electing a bunch of Democrats – well, that seemed about as difficult and likely as root and branch reform to the institutions of the State. So why not blur the two in my mind?
When the “good guys” started having the power to do bad things: cue the crackup.
Turns out that the bloggers didn’t all agree, after all. For some, actions that got denunciations of dictatorship and demands for impeachment 4 years ago now brought … not indifference. Just a sort of shifty-eyed acknowledgement that “yes, it’s all bad. But our priorities right now are different.”
I’ll never forgive Obama for lying to us about his plans for FISA and the government power to wiretap. Seems like most people have already forgotten.
Now look at Online Organizing, that other great innovation that was going to save us, the other half of the Netroots Coin. A different but related story is happening there. We let our tools define us, so our conferences became more like trade shows and our friendships became business relationships.
To be sure:
I want to be really clear about this. I love the Netroots and I think there are amazing people doing great stuff. I just don’t think those great people are doing great stuff in the context of the Netroots. The Progressive Blogosphere was like college: awesome time, great friendships, but we’re done. Sure, we can hang out with old friends, and they might be working on similar stuff as they were back then. But naked bonfires in the woods just wouldn’t be the same, the former student president is working for Goldman Sachs, and one of your close friends secretly hated labor unions the whole time.
What we have now and why it matters:
When I bring this up with people, often I get a variation of “Yes, we grew up and professionalized. We’re still friends with a shared background and formative experiences, but we’ve figured out how to get shit done better now”. I believe true, but it’s also not the whole story.
The netroots meant blogging, then also email blasts/petitions/”MoveOn-style online organizing”. They worked really well together. One convinced, the other brought opportunities for action. The withering away of one means that the other has to do too much of the work.
Do you know why the MoveOns of the world didn’t do any pushes around housing justice? A large proportion of their membership have conservative views on “those people” “buying houses they can’t afford”. MoveOn is a great organization with a strong ethos of internal democracy. They can’t force their members to do anything. And blast email isn’t the best way to make a nuanced, convincing argument.
I’m very happy that there’s a new media magazine ecosystem to the left of where the old blogosphere was. Some people (myself) moved there. But a lot moved right, to the MSNBC’s and Huffington Posts of the World. Suddenly those institutions aren’t mocked by liberals — they’re counted *as* liberal. It’s sad. But when you had that shotgun marriage of “shit’s fucked up and bullshit” with “and if a few more Americans are convinced, our new rulers will fix everything”, what did you expect?
Clay Johnson wrote a small post introducing the concept of infoveganism a few years ago. I read it once. Then again. Then I talked a bunch about it with my friends. But I didn’t really take its advice.
The concept is pretty simple. If the information we consume was food, what would it be? Well, there’d be too much of it. And a lot would be crap. Instead, be picky! Reading “raw” (primary source) info, “healthy” (long-form, investigated pieces), etc. Also exercise by writing, videographing, etc.
The analogy is pretty good, as far as it goes. Not sure you can string that insight out to an entire book, but I haven’t read it, so who knows?
So, time to create! (Or, write about the intention to write. So meta-circular. Blech!)
(Most of) Tech Start!
These are all the folks I did startup stuff with these last 12 weeks. Wonderful people. Not a bad egg in the bunch.
Is that I’m currently in training on how to do a startup. Yes, me of all people.
Who would’ve figured that of all my friends I’d be the one pursuing the capitalist dream?
- Mentors frequently mention stuff like “you could make a nice little business here, and that’s okay.” if you don’t want to ask for venture capital. Their version of a nice little business – millions of dollars of profits a year.
- A culture of scalability means a culture of cutting labor costs (hiring as few people) as much as possible.
- As far as I can tell, many mentors, though old white rich men, are also Democrats. Some even contribute/fundraise for campaigns. Strange but cool!
Remember the joy of being young, the joy of discovery?
Remember rushing outside and finding everything so utterly fascinating?
The pleasure of moving your body. The smell of the outdoors. Each conversation an adventure.
I’m beginning to forget.
I’ve been spending so much time with computers lately. First for class, now for work. I keep in touch with my scattered friends through the computer. I read news through the computer. My most important organs are now my brain for thinking and my hands for typing.
Our bodies deserve to be more than just vehicles to transport our brains from meeting to meeting.
I declare independence from:
- Being so social-movement focused.
- Obsessing over news.
- Viewing the internet as a consumer rather than producer.
- Google Reader
- Smartphone notifications
- Digitally-mediated interaction
Sure, I’ll still be online. But no longer will I spend a bulk of my time on google reader and facebook. No longer will I consume much more than I create.
That means more blogging. More writing. More going outside and walking. Less reading facebook (only check it once a day!), less reading Google Reader (I’m on a week-long hiatus!), less politics. The left is interesting and all, but my dreams should be full of other topics as well. I have other interests! It’s time to activate them.
Time for each day to be an adventure again.
A conservative friend of mine asked about the Rolling Jubilee effort by Strike Debt (A project of Occupy Wall Street). Here’s what I said:
I don’t instinctively get the Rolling Jubilee, Rek. Then again, Occupy Wall Street comes from a different tradition than I come from, and my doubts about them have been proven wrong time and time again, starting from the beginning.
Here’s what I make of it:
- There’s a prefigurative element to it. You can see that from the name, even. The Jubilee is a biblical reference – and a concept that people have been talking about for a while. Just as the encampments tried to be the society of mutual aid and solidarity of the future, this is supposed to be an enticing sneak preview of a possible world to come.
- There’s a name-and-shame piece to it. There’s a narrative in American thought that has a really harsh view on debt – failure to pay debts is a moral failing for individuals. Meanwhile, there’s no stigma to corporations failing to pay debts – they just file for bankruptcy as a matter of course and keep going. This has been a theme of various strands of Occupy for a long time – see (my favorite chant) “Banks Got Bailed Out / We Got Sold Out”.
- There’s a media/promotional aspect to this: The jubilee is a project of Strike Debt, which is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street. Strike Debt does a lot of other cool stuff, most notably the Debt Resistors Manual. I’ve read the manual – it’s surprisingly and notably practical for everyday use. The Jubilee is a way of calling attention to both the issue of debt, and also Strike Debt’s other work.
- There’s a policy aspect to this. The fact that people can buy distressed debt this cheaply ties into our larger broken banking system. The banks are never going to get their full money back from these distressed debt holders. Instead of writing it down in their books, however, they’ve kept up the fiction that they’ll get 100% of their returns back. They do this for a few reasons, such as getting a better position in bargaining with the government, desire to seem well-capitalized in the wake of the financial crash, and fear of initiatives such as this. This is holding back the recovery, because we need a massive deleveraging of debt before things can get really moving again. (In other words, we have a demand-side problem because of the recession. This demand-side problem isn’t helped by families paying down debt rather than buying consumer goods).
- There’s a tie in with housing policy (which Obama has been pretty awful on). Millions and millions of homeowners are “underwater” on their mortgages. That means the amount they owe is more than the house is worth. If they were companies, they would just default on the loan, the house would get seized, and they’d get out ahead. Mortgages are non-recourse loans, so banks can’t seize anything more than the house itself. Thing is, these people can walk away from those homes as well. It’s the economically rational (and legal!) thing to do. The problem: people are sentimentally attached to their homes, and there’s this whole Tea Party movement that arose around the idea that “losers” have a duty to pay back their debt. (Again, I find this whole moralization of debt to be disturbing. Taking out loans is a business transaction, with penalties if you default. Sometimes it just makes more sense to choose to default and pay the penalties).
- Banks are acting really evil. Refinancing a mortgage is a normal thing that could and should happen if you are underwater. Right now, though, the banks are refusing to let people refinance. In fact, they will sell foreclosed homes, as is their right, in auction. However, they won’t sell those homes at any price to people/organizations who plan on re-selling those homes at the same price back to the family. Let me say that again in different terms. Family A owes $300,000 on a house that is worth $100,000. Bank B won’t let them refinance. Bank B kicks them out, and sells the house for $95,000 in auction. However, Bank B refuses to sell that house back to the family for $95,000. It demands that anyone buying the house sign a document pledging never to sell that house back to the family. It’s all just so vindictive.
- This has the potential to be awesome on its own terms. We can use this leverage (buying lots of debt for little money) to do disproportionate good in the world! And if it works, it will put into the place the deleveraging that the banks are desperately cheating and trying not to have happen. Even if the “virality” doesn’t kick in, and it fizzles out, we will have done good for the people who do get their debt forgiven.
I’m from the tradition of “electoral politics and policy are the path to victory”, so I’m not instinctively inclined to cheer this on. But cheer it on I will! This could be really cool, and if it puts attention on the malfeasance of the banks, or gets people excited about the Debt Resistance Manual, then I’m quite happy.
Hope that all makes sense, would love to hear your thoughts.
Copied from a mail I sent a friend.
I’m most excited about Elizabeth Warren. She’s one of that special breed of person who rarely get elected to anything, much less Senator.
1. She’s one of the smartest minds thinking about banking and finance policy. And now she’s a senator. This isn’t someone who can be bamboozled by lobbyists or think tanks.
2. Since she’s the expert on finance and banking, other senators will follow her lead and aks her advice.
3. The banks fear her.
4. She wants to cut all subsidies to fossil fuels. Is a strong voice for our clean energy future.
5. As an academic, she wrote this article: http://www.democracyjournal.org/5/6528.php?page=all . It was so spot on that it caused a federal agency to be born. Elizabeth Warren knows how to wield non-electoral, non-governmental power. That’s huge.
She’s the Louis Brandeis of our time and I’m so excited!
Other cool things:
* Every Marriage Equality ballot measure was a win for our team.
* Drug war might start winding down soon
* Obamacare will happen
* The Democrats in the Senate just got markedly more liberal.
* In Jan 2013, taxes go up by a lot, especially on the rich. Great leverage for team blue.
* Tammy Baldwin!
* Dems pick up many state legislatures.
* We won senate North Dakota! And Montana!
* Alan Grayson crushed and will rejoin the House
Sad that we lost close senate races in Arizona and Nevada.