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Brian Mayer: independent technology consultant.

I am based in Los Angeles and I update my blog infrequently. About me.
A Crossword Puzzle With a Theme

A Crossword Puzzle With a Theme

I took a stab at making my own crossword puzzle, complete with thematic clues and even thematic grid shapes to match. Have fun, and if you want the solution, drop a note in the comments.

C6 Grid

Across

1. Battleship, for example
5. Like hydrochloric and nitric
9. Chit chat
12. Madison and Park, e.g.
13. Paradise dweller
14. Lounge
15. Has notoriety, for a herpetologist?
20. “Things Fall Apart” author Chinua
21. Castles may have them
22. Name in waffles
25. Narrow cut
26. Game play, to a subway hooligan?
32. Support group introduction
33. “Cool!”
34. Many Canada-residing First Nations
36. Nuisance pest
37. Dutch town
38. Some cereals
39. One may be viral
40. Insufficient
42. Assault vehicle of Star Wars fame
43. The wealthy elite, for a statistician?
46. Botswana’s House of Chiefs: _______ ya Dikgosi
47. Rocket Craig
48. Activewear brand
49. City in Argentina
54. Police command, for an interior decorator?
57. Lot of mine
58. Mon follower
59. Ones in a casino
60. Put on a swim cap, perhaps
61. Home of “Woodstock for Capitalists”
62. “Aw, ______!”

Down

1. Lady born Stefani
2. May be part of a café order
3. Controlled crystal
4. Elementary Latin verb
6. Roadside threat: abbr.
7. TiVo, e.g.
8. Looks like it does
9. Film set
10. Troubles
11. Meet for a spell
16. Settle ________
17. Started
18. College dept.: ____ Sci
19. Jacket style
23. Country that writes a 26-down
24. Rashly, perhaps
26. Letter from the people of 23-down
27. Big ring name
28. Periodic lamentation of “Arrested Development”‘s Buster
29. Trademark lawyer admonition
30. Odor
31. Where Cortés sailed
35. List ender: abbr.
40. Expected to, à la Ricky Ricardo
41. AT&T, e.g.
44. Moose, to Bach
45. Film style
48. With a draft
50. State of Zion
51. “No _______.”
52. Actor Baldwin
53. Student’s turf
54. In
55. Giant word
56. Open land

July 31, 20168 commentsRead More
Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

I went for a walk to the beach today (not something I do often), and ended up at the end of Pico Street near dusk, right on the Santa Monica beach boardwalk. I was surprised to find not swarms of beachgoers coming home from a hot day in the sun, but instead, swarms of Pokémon Go players trying to snag a CP 875 Aerodactyl.

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (2)FullSizeRender (1)

I, for one, am at Level 15 (go Team Mystic!) and hip to the game that reminds me of my youth playing Pokémon Gold on the Game Boy Color in the back seat of the family SUV on the way to grandpa’s. And I knew lots of people were playing it, and that the Shutters on the Beach Hotel just happened to be a lured PokéStop at the time.

But even I was taken aback by what appeared to be living proof of a digital obsession so widespread we should seriously consider integrating voting functionality into the app for the upcoming election.

There are two different ways to view what I saw today, and both perhaps speak to a distinct vision of humanity. Like a wave unlike the ones tip-toeing to the sand at the beach today, both views came crashing over me at once.

In the first, humanity is more united than we appear, and not as divided as our politicians and media would have us believe. The power of technology to bring together people of all races, ages, and backgrounds towards a common goal. The fact that kids are going outside again and breathing fresh air, that adults who have severe social phobias can connect with each other over their mutual Pokédexes. I marvel at the optimism of free association and expression, the sweet air of voluntary and uncoerced engagement, the triumph of innovation, the cross-cultural barriers being smashed, free trade and the free exchange of ideas, art, technology and progress across ethnicities and languages creating a better world one Poké Ball at a time.

In the other, a technology obsession to the point of addiction, a culture starved for real art and craving bytes as a substitute for cosmopolitan nourishment. A megacorporation (or two) slurping up billions of data points from all citizens of the world to be used to create even more addicting and useless games with an even broader appeal. The best minds of our generation sucked into a hamster wheel of so-called technological progress while ignoring the real problems facing society and the world. The talking heads of the media catching Pikachu on air instead of holding our politicians accountable. To think of the children wasting away in fictional worlds instead of engaging with their peers and learning how to forge real connections in lieu of digital ones. And of course I could not help but think of this episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
the-game-hd-293

What hath the PokéGods wrought?

It all, I suppose, depends on your perspective. But whatever you do out there, look both ways before you cross the street to catch that Caterpie. Happy hunting.

July 24, 20167 commentsRead More
July 4, 2016

July 4, 2016

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of AMERICA.

WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another; and to assume, among the Powers Of The Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them and formidable to Tyranny only.

HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the people.

HE has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, Incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the mean Time, exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.

HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.

HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance.

HE has kept among us, in times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures.

HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

FOR depriving us in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:

FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection, and waging War against us.

HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

HE has constrained our fellow Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas, to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.

IN every Stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every Act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

NOR have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be,FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.

July 4, 2016Comments are DisabledRead More
ZipRecruiter is Hiring!

ZipRecruiter is Hiring!

We’re always hiring at ZipRecruiter in sunny Santa Monica, CA (and even sunnier Tempe, AZ). If you or someone you know is looking to work in a dynamic, fast-paced, hyper-growing tech startup, let me know and I can hook you up.

Get a job at ZipRecruiter in the following positions:

Jobs Provided by ZipRecruiter

February 26, 2016Comments are DisabledRead More
July 4, 2015

July 4, 2015

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of AMERICA.

WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another; and to assume, among the Powers Of The Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them and formidable to Tyranny only.

HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the people.

HE has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, Incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the mean Time, exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.

HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.

HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance.

HE has kept among us, in times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures.

HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

FOR depriving us in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:

FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection, and waging War against us.

HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

HE has constrained our fellow Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas, to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.

IN every Stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every Act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

NOR have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be,FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.

Comments are DisabledRead More
Marriage Equality

Marriage Equality

Today was a monumental victory for all Americans, even those who believed (and continue to believe) that marriage equality somehow erodes the sanctity of that union. The fact is, extending the right to marry to all couples nationwide is a vindication of that union. And our Union today is stronger for it.

americaFrom Justice Kennedy, what will surely become some of the most enduring words in the history of the Supreme Court:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

I haven’t posted in a long time because I’ve been busy. Busy with work, busy with life. Being busy sometimes tricks you into believing there are no bigger causes to care about than your own petty concerns. This is one of them. As someone who has advocated for marriage equality for a very long time, I am very proud to be an American today.

To my gay friends, family, and neighbors: congratulations. This is your day. But this is also a day for America. Today was one of those rare days in American history that we will look back upon and say: “that day, we all became more free.”

June 26, 2015Comments are DisabledRead More
Foreign-Born Uber Drivers Recommend their Favorite Home Cuisines (in the Bay Area)

Foreign-Born Uber Drivers Recommend their Favorite Home Cuisines (in the Bay Area)

If you love travel and food, as I do, you would have spent nearly every Uber ride in the last year talking with drivers about where they come from (an overwhelming number of them are immigrants) and, amongst other things, where they go to get a taste of home when they’re away from home.

What follows is my compiled list of restaurant recommendations from countless Uber drivers. Every establishment here was recommended by someone from the country of origin of that cuisine who regularly patronizes the business.

Korean

Han IL Kwan, 1802 Balboa St (at 19th), San Francisco
(415) 752-4447

Arang, 1506 Fillmore St (at Geary), San Francisco
(415) 775-9095

Turkish

A La Turca, 869 Geary St (at Larkin), San Francisco
(415) 345-1011

Pera, 1457 18th St, San Francisco (at Connecticut), San Francisco
(415) 796-3812

Moroccan

El Mansour, 3119 Clement St (at 32nd), San Francisco
(415) 751-2312

Cafe Zitouna, 1201 Sutter St (at Polk), San Francisco
(415) 673-2622

Yemenese

Saha, Hotel Carlton, 1075 Sutter St (at Larkin), San Francisco
(415) 345-9547

Indian

Mehfil, 2301 Fillmore St (at Clay), San Francisco
(415) 614-1010

Golden Gate Indian Cuisine & Pizza, 1388 46th Ave (at Judah), San Francisco
(415) 564-5514

Cafe Chaat, 320 3rd St (at Folsom), San Francisco
(415) 979-9946

Amber, 25 Yerba Buena Ln (at Market), San Francisco
(415) 777-0500

Japanese

Kirala, 2100 Ward St (at Shattuck), Berkeley
(510) 549-3486

Tibetan

Potala Organic Cafe, 1045 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA
(510) 528-2375

Scandinavian

Plaj, 333 Fulton St (at Franklin), San Francisco
(415) 294-8925

Ethiopian

Addis Ethiopian Restaurant, 6100 Telegraph Ave (at 61st), Oakland
(510) 653-3456

Sheba Piano Lounge, 1419 Fillmore St (at Ellis), San Francisco
(415) 440-7414

Asmara, 5020 Telegraph Ave (at 51st), Oakland
(510) 547-5100

Café Eritrea D’Afrique, 4069 Telegraph Ave (at 41st), Oakland
(510) 547-4520

Nicaraguan

Las Tinajas, 2338 Mission St (at 19th), San Francisco
(415) 695-9933

Brazilian

Espetus Churrascaria, 710 S B St (at 7th), San Mateo, CA
(650) 342-8700

Minas Brazilian Restaurant & Cachaçaria (formerly Canto do Brasil), 41 Franklin St (at Market), San Francisco
(415) 626-8727

Cleo’s Steak House, 446 San Mateo Ave, San Bruno, CA
(650) 615-9120

Puerto Rican

Sol Food, 903 Lincoln Ave (at 3rd), San Rafael, CA
(415) 451-4765

Pakistani

Chutney, 511 Jones St (at O’Farrell), San Francisco
(415) 931-5541

Armenian

Royal Market Food & Bakery, 5335 Geary Blvd (at 17th), San Francisco
(415) 221-5550

Cantonese

R&G Lounge, 631 Kearny St (at Clay), San Francisco
(415) 982-7877

Peruvian

Limón Rotisserie, 1001 S. Van Ness Ave (at 21st), San Francisco
(415) 821-2134

Fresca, 24 W. Portal Ave (at Ulloa), San Francisco
(415) 759-8087

Palestinian

Old Jerusalem, 2976 Mission St (at 26th), San Francisco
(415) 642-5958

Nepalese

I was told about a food truck, Everest, that frequents Off the Grid at Fort Mason, but couldn’t find anything about it online.

I was also told about Curry Without Worry, a nonprofit founded by Nepalese chef Shrawan Nepali that runs a food truck, free of charge, for the poor in downtown San Francisco and Kathmandu, Nepal. The organization and its mission certainly qualify for an honorable mention.

March 15, 2015Comments are DisabledRead More
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

I rarely gush about a book, but The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein is an exception. I, like the author, was raised in an orthodox “green” environment where everything I’ve ever been taught and every person I’ve ever known has been unequivocal: climate change is dangerous, humans are causing it, and anything but immediate action against the use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions will damage the future of humanity. I never fully bought the mania around climate change, out of a gut feeling that we weren’t being told the complete story, but didn’t take the time to sit down and figure out why, until I picked up this book.

BN-FU581_bkrvfo_FR_20141201135820Epstein’s book makes the exact opposite case, and it’s worth listening to: that to stop the productive harnessing of fossil fuel energy would be devastating to today’s and future humans, and moreover, if we want healthier lives, cleaner air, and a safer environment now and in the future, we should be encouraging more fossil fuel use and supporting the industry that develops these resources.

(In case you were wondering, Epstein adamantly denies taking any money from the fossil fuel industry).

The book starts by focusing on reframing the cultural debate around climate change. The author emphasizes using a human standard of value instead of an environmental (nature first) standard of value, and he provides plenty of support for why, to humans, the benefits of cheap, plentiful and reliable energy in the form of fossil fuels far outweigh the risks.

In short, humans mostly benefit from impacting our environment: nature and climate are inherently dangerous to our species and we make it safer. The mechanism by which we make our environment safer and more productive for human life is cheap, plentiful and reliable energy, that right now only exists in fossil fuels. Epstein looks at supposedly renewable alternatives like wind and solar and how uneconomical they are, not to mention unreliable. He addresses arguments about the costs of fossil fuel consumption, from pollution to ecosystem impact to climate change, essentially in the same way: that cheap energy makes our lives safer, our environment cleaner, and allows us to control out climate for our own flourishing and comfort. He takes us to remote parts of the world where electricity is not commonplace, where premature babies die from lack of incubation, where labs can’t use microscopes to study disease and create cures, where farms can’t get irrigated and crops can’t get to market, all because of a lack of cheap, plentiful and reliable energy.

Far from being the global warming-denying screed I expected, he actually spends very little time talking about climate change at all. He does address the fact that there is little consensus among scientists about how much climate change humanity should expect to see in the next couple centuries, and looks at the dubious historical record of such predictive models (including that of Paul Ehrlich, about whom I recently read in The Bet). He acknowledges that carbon emissions probably do have a minor impact on global temperatures–but that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter compared to the immense wealth to be gained by humanity because of it. The ability of humans to innovate and adapt to their changing environments is made possible by fossil fuels, and our continuing progress as a civilization–including the rise out of poverty for billions around the globe–requires cheap, plentiful and reliable fossil fuel energy. Plus–and this is a case he made plenty of times–fossil fuel usage is linked to cleaner and healthier environments as technology and innovation advances (made possible again by you guessed it, fossil fuels).

One thing I wish he had addressed was the issue of energy export. One of the reasons America’s air and water has gotten so much cleaner, despite using more and more fossil fuels over the last half century, is because we have exported so much of our energy-intensive activities to China and elsewhere, where fossil fuel pollution is a serious problem. I have no doubt that the Chinese, like us, can develop technologies to limit pollution as well, and in any event, it wouldn’t be a reason not to burn fossil fuels as much as a reason to regulate their emissions, but it would have been a good point to make as the third world industrializes and starts to reap the benefits of fossil fuel energy.

He does make a good case against pollution (for the strict purpose of preventing negative externalities, not dissuading fossil fuel use). However, he doesn’t reconcile his support for antipollution regulation with his general support of carbon-burning industries. He could say, without hurting his argument, that there’s nothing wrong with risk managing (potentially) catastrophic global warming by taxing or capping CO2 emissions as a matter of policy. Though regressive, that would be a fair tax priced into everything as the cost of civilization, and would have little impact on encouraging new energy development. I think this oversight is due only to the fact that that’s not really the point of his book. He wrote this book not to lobby for individual policy, but to fight back against cultural anti-fossil fuel prejudice advocated by environmentalists and progressives who prioritize nature over human life. At this task he did an laudable and astounding job. I would not be surprised to see Epstein quickly emerge as a leading spokesperson for an alternative environmental discourse in the future.

January 13, 2015Comments are DisabledRead More
From Boston to Ferguson: A Lesson in Passion and Prejudice

From Boston to Ferguson: A Lesson in Passion and Prejudice

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog piece expressing my outrage at the confrontational and militarized nature of the police that faced the Ferguson protestors. That piece had nothing to do with the case itself that sparked those protests, because I preferred not to speculate, saying: “we are always too quick to jump to conclusions about things we don’t know based on what the media has told us.”

I’ve been thinking about the way that the media tends to exasperate tensions and flare up passions in the wake of headline-grabbing stories like the tragic Michael Brown shooting. It’s not a new phenomenon of course. We all remember this Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre from American history:

Boston Massacre

As it turns out, this depiction which ran in major press at the time was completely inaccurate, and served to enflame the passions of colonists whose true outrage about the injustices of the British tax regime were squarely focused on the actions of a few British infantrymen who had fired into a rowdy crowd on that fateful night. The colonists’ anger was not wrong, and it would later by catalyzed on a grander scale into a full-on revolution against the British Crown. But when John Adams defended the soldiers against charges of murder, he was not appointed to be a defender of the colonial system. His job, despite being a colonial sympathizer himself, was to defend the action of the officers in this one case. His job was to convince a jury to look at only the facts, and to adjudicate based on the evidence and not on the politics of the moment. In a surprise decision, the jury found the soldiers not guilty. It is worth noting that several months had passed between the events of the shooting and the trial, which probably served to calm the passions of the court in reaching a fairer verdict on the case.

In Ferguson, the historical parallels to Boston are hard to ignore. An officer of the law, acting in what he claims was self defense, shot and killed a young man under circumstances clouded by politics, passion and widespread injustice. It is a national tragedy, as it should be when an American citizen is killed by an officer sworn to protect and defend him. There is a simmering and rightful hatred of the police for widespread injustice against black Americans and other minorities, shared by white Americans (including myself). There is a widespread distrust of police and federal agents for abusing their power in general, for stretching the limits of the law and outright breaking it, shared by many Americans (including myself). There is no doubt that the shooting of Michael Brown was an avoidable tragedy, and the chain of events leading up to his untimely death was started long before Darren Wilson went on patrol that day. For black Americans, Ferguson is only one chapter in a long history of police violence against them, and the media attention focused on Ferguson is a rare spotlight on the injustices they face every single day in cities and towns across America. Such a case demanded swift action, yet today that action happened in the form of a no true bill delivered by the grand jury.

No one knows what happened that day, except for the officer himself. The tapes and transcripts that have come out about the grand jury have revealed a cacophony of contradictory eye-witness testimony (and we know about the unreliability of eye-witness testimony especially when influenced by the media) and physical evidence that more or less supports Darren Wilson’s self-defense claim, but doesn’t necessarily support his justification of deadly force. In this case, the grand jury seems to have caught the responsibility that would normally be reserved for a trial jury: to review all the available evidence and return a judgment. (In a grand jury proceeding, 9 out of 12 men and women needed to vote for an indictment on a charge, whereas in a criminal trial, all 12 out of 12 jurors need to vote for conviction.) Ultimately, in our innocent-until-proven-guilty justice system, more than 1/3 of the grand jury that heard the case wasn’t convinced that even probable cause existed to bring charges against Darren Wilson, even without the defense presenting its own case. Personally, I would have preferred an indictment so a proper trial could have been conducted, but given that the bar for the indictment was even lower than that for conviction, it seems fair to say that Darren Wilson will never be seriously punished for killing Michael Brown.

It’s really hard to accept this, because I don’t believe it’s right for someone to get away with killing someone else, except in the most clear-cut cases of self defense. Moreover, it is hard to watch the due process afforded to Darren Wilson unfold, when Michael Brown received no such treatment under the law. Something is clearly broken in our justice system when an unarmed teenager can be shot and killed by the police in the first place. Darren Wilson himself is only an agent of a larger justice system which incentivizes stop-and-frisk tactics contrary to the Fourth Amendment, racial profiling contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and shoot-to-kill policing contrary to the Fifth Amendment. As far as I am concerned, the entire police state should be on trial because, as I wrote in that post about Ferguson a couple weeks ago, the police have been mobilized beyond their actual necessity and even their mandate.

Which is what makes it so much harder to accept the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson as nothing more than it actually is: one verdict on one case. Like the jury in John Adams’ day, this jury is not there to put the system on trial. It is only there to decide if in this one case, this one time, this one officer is guilty of a crime. I’m sure a lot will be said in the coming days about the racial biases of the jury itself, about the lack of vigor with which the prosecutor pursued this case, and much else. There are a lot of angry people that would like to see Darren Wilson severely punished for what he did to Michael Brown. And I believe that prosecutors should be tougher on police in general, a point succinctly made by Jay Smooth on Twitter: “The fundamental danger of a non-indictment is not more riots, it is more Darren Wilsons.”

But the fact that no indictment was returned against Darren Wilson, despite media and popular pressure to do so, and despite the overwhelming tendency of grand juries to return indictments, should tell us something.

I’m not saying that I’m not angry about the police brutality that led to the death of Michael Brown, and the system writ large. I am vocally discontent with the police state and have expressed my frustrations about it in much of my public and private writings (and this coming from the perspective of someone who is not a target of the police state).

I am only asking myself if I am fairly separating my passions and prejudice about the justice system from the facts of this individual case. The grand jury, as with the history of the Boston Massacre, has given me pause about jumping to conclusions before their time. Only Darren Wilson knows whether he is guilty of a heinous act beyond simple self-defense–and if I may confess, I believe he probably is–but our justice system is not, and should not, be built on innuendo and prejudice. It is built to withstand the skewing effects of anger and revenge. We should not imprison people for politics or to satiate primal desires. The time will come to have our new American revolution founded on constitutional principles that this country has lost, but it is not today.

Darren Wilson’s due process is a sobering reminder of what our justice system is capable of. Michael Brown’s tragic death is a chilling reminder of how far our justice system needs to go.

Edit: 14 hours after I posted this, I see that (overwhelmingly peaceful) protests have erupted all over the country in response to the grand jury decision. I really do hope that these protests, and the spotlight on police violence, lead to meaningful change in how America polices its police. Maybe Ferguson will be the catalyst of true reform. We can only hope.

Edit #2: Several months later the Justice Department report is out on Ferguson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates has an excellent piece about how much justice has failed Ferguson (and of course, many other towns and cities across America), despite Darren Wilson’s innocence. He concludes: “the focus on the deeds of alleged individual perpetrators, on perceived bad actors, obscures the broad systemic corruption which is really at the root. Darren Wilson is not the first gang member to be publicly accused of a crime he did not commit. But Darren Wilson was given the kind of due process that those of us who are often presumed to be gang members rarely enjoy. I do not favor lowering the standard of justice offered Officer Wilson. I favor raising the standard of justice offered to the rest of us.” I wish I had his eloquence!

November 25, 2014Comments are DisabledRead More