Category: Rebellion

“I can’t help but wonder how rich our lives could be if we focused a little more on creating conditions that enable all humans to exercise their creativity as much as we would like robots to be able to.”

Late last summer,

I watched Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a documentary about Studio Ghibli. It was filmed there in 2012 and 2013 while Hayao Miyazaki made his final feature film, and it had an extraordinary impact on me.

"Not just the government, even the private sector."
"Pushing us back to the far right."
I haven’t stopped thinking about the documentary, or about that specific exchange, ever since. Tonight I finally watched the feature film itself.

"The wind rises, and we must try to live."

The warning “does not relate to an imminent or specific threat.”

Confirmation bias at work

It’s nice to finally see a little backlash to TSA securititis coming from inside the airline industry. If the sheer annoyance of half a billion people couldn’t change the way Security Theater is conducted, maybe pissy pilots and CEOs will.

Pedagogues and Mountebanks

This is pretty spectacular.

“I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave.

That’s an excerpt from Erica Goldson’s valedictory address, which she wrote and issued earlier this year. Read the whole thing: it’s brief but convincing.

I wasn’t first in my class, but I was close, and I was aware of many of the issues Goldson raises even then–though less concerned, at a more self-centered time in my life, and mostly just happy that they were working in my favor. (Another thing we had in common: the textbook inspirational English teacher.) I’m less complacent these days, less willing to accept the cruel theater of fear and shame that we expect smart young people to suffer with piety. Our schools are bad, and their splash damage is everywhere.

I’m not sure what use I can be to education reform right now. It’s one of those issues that is never urgent but always important, and I need to figure out a path to involving myself in the cause. Erica Goldson’s example seems like a good start.


Whoa, uh, remember that entry I wrote the other day about a 500% tax on corporate political contributions and campaign spending? Apparently Alan Grayson had the same idea. Like, exactly the same idea.

I sort of don’t think it will pass, especially with a figure as junior and divisive as Grayson sponsoring it, but hey! That’s pretty cool! There’s petition from Credo out there to show support for that and some others of his bills, which, y’know, is an Internet petition, but still.

I have been sick all week about this

So the Supreme Court made a very bad decision and now we have to deal with the consequences of this inexplicable belief that corporations have a pulse. This gives very rich people the ability to exercise unlimited political influence through partial human beings, using other people’s money. One would think we would have learned that lesson, but no! The right to free speech must be defended, where by “defended” I mean “contorted into hideous shapes.”

This is a nonpartisan issue, kids. No actual human beings are well served by infinite money being poured into politics, which is why even the people who get that money kept trying to make laws against it. If that’s like 535 heroin addicts trying to collectively decide whether to accept, y’know, a bunch of free heroin, then the Citizens United decision is effectively a mandatory heroin prescription that comes with an IV bag and drip stand. Except they’re not ruining their own lives with their addiction; they’re ruining ours.

The only way to legislatively overturn a Supreme Court decision is with a constitutional amendment. I’ve seen that proposed as one route forward, but not very convincingly. I think I have a better one, and what’s more, it’s one that the party (sort of) in power should be familiar with.

Tax campaign contributions and political spending. Tax the living fuck out of them. I’m talking five hundred, six hundred percent. Not on everything–just contributions from corporate general treasury funds, and just the ones that exceed the old McCain-Feingold limits. There’s plenty of precedent: we already do this to discourage behavior we consider legal but harmful, like smoking or self-employment. And one couldn’t very well argue that it restricts “free” “speech,” given that the production and purchase of political news or entertainment are already taxed in all kinds of ways. Want to make it popular? Promise to throw the money raised at the deficit or Social Security or tax breaks for plumbers. You don’t even have to actually do that, guys! Nobody will ever contribute enough to pay the tax unless they get caught cheating.

This is called an economic disincentive. Disincentives are about 80% of the reason government exists. It’s really, really past time we remembered how to create those and use them for good.


Sumana has managed to combine almost all the reasons I read her blog–inspiration, clarity, critical appraisal of systems and examination of self–into one spectacular post. You should read it.

There’s a quote from Count Zero about being taken up from a low place, rotated through “invisible stresses,” and emerging changed. It’s actually kind of negative in context so I’m not going to reproduce it here. But at some point I have to write about how my interaction with propelled and propulsive people has changed me: how my internship at Dixon Design, followed by meeting Leonard and Sumana, followed by living with Kevan and Holly, reshaped me into someone who no longer fits anywhere outside the self-determined life.

I would have to actually achieve that life first, so I’m not writing it yet. But Sumana’s post brings up another connected point: work that matters for its own sake is superior to work that matters by fiat, which is to say that academic work is worthless in the short or long term, which is to say that I think the lecture-test educational system used in the United States (and, in my understanding, most of the rest of the world) is a sham, a wreck and a hindrance. I graduated with awards and honors from a large public high school and an elite private college, and I still say the system failed me. The intersection of what I learned in classes and my work, play and continuing interests is almost nonexistent; meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the fear and shame endemic to those institutions, and the ways they damaged me.

Under all that I continue to grow more absorbed with the idea of having children someday. I’m starting to consider my life choices in terms of where they’ll grow up, how I’ll support them and how they will learn. (How I’ll actually go about having them is almost secondary.) Could I in good conscience send them down the path less traveled, without having checked it for perils myself? Could I ever prepare them enough for the perils of the path I did take? Sumana again: isn’t it possible to sidestep the bad parts, with enough planning? Well, no, Brendan. Don’t deny the imaginary kids their own invisible stresses.

But if I start seriously working on my own propulsion, maybe my example can reshape someone else.

A DRM Story

“How is that a number?” asks Val, squinting at it. “There are letters in the middle of it.”


“The fourth digit is an F, tenth one is a D, thirteenth is an E…”

“I don’t know, must be a computer… something.” Glick shrugs. “Look, it starts with an oh-nine… then another nine after the F. And before the D. Hey, maybe it’s like that thing from Lost?

“The Lost numbers didn’t have an 11. Or an 02.” Val turns the monitor toward him. “See, the third and fourth pairs.”

“Maybe some of that Nine Inch Nails stuff, then. Gimme a pencil. 74, a 3 after the E… 5B…”

“I’ll read them off, you write. D8, forty-one, fifty-six. C5. Isn’t that like a kind of bomb?”

“I bet it’s a substitution code!” says Glick excitedly. “Like, next, 63 would be… uh, FC…”

Val scrunches his nose. “But then what about the C0 at the end? There’s no zeroth letter.”

“No, and the part before would have been EFHH anyway.” Glick looks glum. “I was never any good at these things.”

Val chuckles. “Leave it to the kids, man.”

“Yeah,” sighs Glick, “they left us behind a long time ago.”