I just listened to a This American Life episode about the working conditions in which all of our electronic crap is made in China. It is really quite eye-opening, and it is amazing yet totally predictable that pieces like this are not more common.

Our economic model (capitalism) guarantees that these atrocious working conditions will exist. Capitalism turns everything, including people, into mere objects. When you have an iPhone, it is just an iPhone. It is not this particular unique piece that contains aluminum from a particular mine and made by a particular person with their own unique feelings, wants, needs, fears, and passions.

The person that made your iPhone in fact does not have time or space to express themselves as a unique human. During their 12 to 16-hour working day, they aren’t even allowed to talk to their coworkers while on the assembly line. They then go “home” to a 12′ x 12′ dormitory containing 15 beds. There are even cameras in their dormitories.

One Foxconn (the actual manufacturer of Apple crap) worker died after working for 34 hours straight. Other workers are poisoned from hexane, losing use of their hands in their 20s, or even dying from it. If they complain to the official government agency about working conditions, they get put on an official government blacklist. With nowhere to turn, many workers choose to end their life.

And of course Apple and Foxconn did not want to talk to Ira Glass. They, like all of us, see what they want to see. Apple complains a certain amount about the working conditions, but clearly not enough to prevent all of the above from happening consistently year after year.

The New York Times “liberal” Paul Krugman and “conservative” Nicholas Kristof actually speak highly of the current economic phase that China is in. Kristof actually has an article titled Two Cheers for Sweatshops. Sure, there may be problems with sweatshops, they say, but the lives of the workers are better than they were when living in their hovels. At least Kristof is honest enough to call them sweatshops. Steve Jobs wouldn’t even admit that Foxconn was a sweatshop.

You’re officially allowed to stop celebrating the life of Steve Jobs. Certainly, we’re all guilty in this globalized system. It’s complex. But the level of guilt is on a continuum from “just trying to get by” to “massively profiting from the misery of others and the destruction of our planet.” Steve Jobs was on the latter end of this spectrum.

It always amazes me that these people, people like Jobs, Kristof, Krugman, and almost any economist, are actually taken seriously. How poor are our critical thinking skills that we accept their dichotomy of abject poverty on the one hand and sweatshops on the other? Why should the lives of people in third world countries be reduced to these two choices? And how little respect we must have for these people to never realize that it is not up to us to decide what is best for them? It is our responsibility, in fact, to instead model our world around giving people their due human rights and then letting them decide what is best for themselves.

Props to my friend Greg for linking to the This American Life episode that inspired this post. This post was tapped out on an Apple Macbook Pro 15″.

This is a great quote from Karl Poyani, in The Great Transformation:

The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social assets.

This idea is central to the concept of an anarchist gift economy, and it is great to see a non-anarchist historian talk about it. I’d love to read more about research on this idea.

Of course, there are other reasons, but this is probably the biggest one. It is nicely summed up in two paragraphs in the article Whirlpools and Turbulent Flows by Geoff Olson in the September/October issue of Adbusters:

David Suzuki is another skeptic and he offers a great anecdote about economic thinking. While at the University of British Columbia, Suzuki figured it would be a good idea to supplement his academic background in biology with an understanding of economics. During the first class, Suzuki’s instructor stood at the blackboard drawing lines in chalk to show the flow from the resource base into the market, with subsidiary industries adding value and creating wealth for investors.

Suzuki pointed to the side of the blackboard that was empty of equations, the resource base, and asked whether the calculations took into account the effect of human activity on the environment, the diminishing reserves and growing waste that Suzuki reasonably regarded as a cost mortgaged into the future. “That’s an externality,” the instructor responded drily. In other words, the environment is something external to the grand human workings of the market and not worth factoring in. Suzuki left the class on the spot.

For the first time in my life, really, I am being smart with my money. There are many factors contributing to this, but I think the key recently has been frequent and small transfers to pay off debt and into savings.

What I have been doing is every few days I’ll log into my credit union’s website and look at my checking account balance. If I notice that I have breathing room, which I almost always have, then I’ll make a transfer into my savings or pay off some debt. Previously I would get paid and be overly ambitious on putting money into savings or paying off debt, and only do it once per month. So what would happen is I would run out of money in my checking and either have to put money on a credit card or empty out my savings again. Now what I have been doing is when I get paid, I still put in a larger amount of money. But this time it might be $125 to pay off debt and $125 in savings. Three days later I might log back in and put another $50 in savings. Getting close to the next paycheck I’ll see that I have plenty of money left in savings and maybe transfer out another $100 or $200.

This gives me a better idea at all times of how much I have. I also am good at thinking of the next several days of expenses but not good at thinking of a whole month’s expenses at once.

Also to prevent taking money out of savings I try to keep at least $200 in my checking account at all times. The only time when it should get this low, anyway, is right before my next paycheck. And anything that needs more money than this can easily wait an extra couple of days.

I’ve also made it much harder for myself to borrow money. Probably about a year ago I canceled my two credit cards, having paid them and another loan off with a debt consolidation loan. So I haven’t borrowed any new money in this time. I only have this and one other loan to pay off currently, the smaller of which should be paid off in the next two or three months.

By the time I get this smaller loan paid off, I should also be pretty close to having three months of living expenses in savings, which is my short-term goal. In this case, any extra money I have will be able to go into my debt consolidation loan, which will make it easy to pay this off very quickly.

I should make a small point. As personal preference, and after seeing it suggested in at least two places, I’ve decided that a good strategy is to pay off smaller loans first even when they have slightly smaller interest rates. Certainly if it was 12% vs 19%, I’d pay off the 19% first. But in my case, twice now I’ve chosen to pay off a loan that was .5% to 1% lower interest rate first. The reason for this is this makes it less to worry about, less to manage, and less chance for late fees and such. Better for my peace of mind 🙂

I’m very excited to be debt-free. But I also get excited each time I pay off more of a loan or put more money into my savings. It feels really good. Once I am debt-free (hopefully in about a year), all of my extra money will go into savings. I don’t intend on working eight hours a day, five days per week my whole life (at least, not for someone else), and being able to consistently save money while I am working will allow me to live off of these savings for months or years at a time while doing something that isn’t making me a ton of money. Like school full-time. Or going on a cross-country bicycle trip. Or traveling the world (frugally, of course). Or spending my days reading and writing (self education). Or finally starting to write that video game that I’ve wanted to write. The possibilities are endless, and the decisions that I made today, and day-to-day will help me realize any number of these things more fully and for longer periods of time.

You might be asking yourself why I would choose to not have any credit cards. Having a small number of credit cards in good standing and with a balance of about 40% (I think) of its limit can help your credit score. Well, I try to think of things in terms of risk/reward. In my case, the risk of having a credit card was higher than the reward of a higher credit score. After I am completely debt-free, I will worry more about improving my credit score. As it stands, my credit score is good and landlords in Mags and my recent apartment search have been eager to have us as tenants due to our credit scores. So it isn’t a huge concern right now.

Of course, you can’t save or pay off debt unless your expenditures are much less than your earnings. I am comfortable with my earnings. Comfortable enough that I have recently turned down an opportunity to greatly increase my earnings (because I love my current job). As far as expenditures, I have cut down on them significantly since I moved to the city. When I first moved here, I had a one-bedroom apartment in Russian Hill. I had a car, too. I didn’t really think about how much I was spending and why. Now, I am splitting my studio apartment with Mags (in the Tenderloin), I don’t have a car, and in many other ways I am spending less just by constantly being aware of how much I am spending, if I could get the same thing for less somehow, and if I really even want or need what I am buying. It certainly helps that I enjoy my more frugal lifestyle more than my more extravagant one, even if you were to ignore the money aspect. I avoid driving as much as I can as it tends to stress me out and make me depressed. The driving, suburban lifestyle was, after all, the primary reason why I escaped the Maryland suburbs. I also enjoy communal living, and too much space equals too much stuff and too much clutter, which also depresses me. So it all works out well in this case.

Of course, it has taken me too long to get smart with money, but it could have taken a lot longer or never happened, as happens with a lot of people, so I feel fortunate of where I now stand.

I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit lately. I’ve basically been busy as hell lately, and I suppose the blog has taken a back seat. So this post will be a rambling one bordering on stream of consciousness. So grab a cup of your favorite hot, cold or lukewarm beverage, get someone to rub your feet, and read on.

The fitness side of things has been going very well. It has been mostly bicycling (more on that soon!) but I have also been doing some calisthenics, push ups, basketball and pilates. However I guess I am drinking enough beer and soda to negate any exercise progress I am making. I am still holding steady at my (healthy) weight but I’ve still got that blasted belly fat. I think at some point I may abstain from alcohol for a month just for caloric reasons.

Now onto bicycling. I am surely becoming better at it. My legs are getting stronger and I am becoming more confident in riding. I let myself go faster down hills and don’t mind small bumps as much. I am actually surprised that I have not gotten a flat from some of the huge goddamn pot holes I have unintentionally gone over. I have also somehow managed to not pierce my tube on all the glass I have seen on the street. Also, yesterday I participated in my second Critical Mass. It is quite an empowering experience. After spending all month being a second-class citizen on the roads and being scared out of my wits several times by inattentive or malicious motorists, it is nice to have the bicyclists own the roads for a change. Yesterday I especially had fun stopping for a few seconds directly in front of some cars in a couple of intersections to let the mass go through. I did have to break off rather early, however, to meet some friends in the Sunset for dinner. On my way there I kept running into break-off massers. I am not sure what you call it, but I went through a group of bikers who were using an intersection as their own personal traffic circle, stopping traffic in all directions. Beautiful thing. After passing through that I had all four one-way lanes of Fell Street to myself. I love Critical Mass. I wish it were two times per month, every week, twice a week, every day. Maybe some day…

By the way, a quick “shout out” to my friend Peter’s excellent San Francisco bike blog.

School has been going well, although I probably need to start working harder at it. Last semester I worked too hard at school; I probably worked twice as hard as I needed to to actually get an ‘A’ and ended up with super duper A’s. Right now I am probably working hard enough for everything to be borderline A/B and I would really like to get straight A’s again. Unfortunately this semester there are no term papers like last semester where we get to pick our own topic. I really enjoyed writing my paper Anarchism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War last semester and I wish I had the opportunity to do something like that again. Unfortunately it is mostly book reviews, midterms, and one term paper on which our topic is rather narrow. School has been rather tiring, for sure. 11 out of my 12 weekly class hours are packed between Monday at 4pm and Wednesday at 10am. With bicycling to/from school most of the time I am pretty exhausted by the time I get out of work on Wednesday. But I keep on truckin’. I think I can wait until December and January for a decent vacation.

In December I will be going to Maryland for about a week. I’d like to be back in San Francisco for New Year’s Eve, and then I’ll be off to Hawaii to visit Kelly, Conor and Caleb. Hopefully Tim will be home by then. I’m very much looking forward to this vacation. But the real doozy will be next summer when I plan to go to Europe for a month, couch surfing as much as possible. I should probably get on getting that passport…

Talking about Couch Surfing, I have been hosting a LOT. The vast majority of the days I will have one or more (sometimes as many as four) couch surfers staying with me in my studio. I am taking a several day break from it right now but I really enjoy hosting people. I have met so many people and I’ve stopped counting how many I’ve hosted. Besides the obvious social benefits of it, I am looking at it from an anarchist perspective. It is essentially a gift economy; the apartment is theirs to stay in with no strings attached. They also get to avoid spending money at a hotel and I get the joy of knowing they kept money out of the hands of the big hotel owners. And to be selfish, I am racking up a huge list of people than can host me in the future!

To change gears here, work is also going well. We are trying to spin off a separate company. I won’t go into the details right now, but it’s involved setting aside a few weekend days to get some work done on our project that we are trying to launch. I don’t mind so much; the solitude while I work is nice and it is what I was looking for when I volunteered all of us to work on the weekends. The regular during-the-week stuff is going fine but I am looking forward to this new company getting launched and hopefully working in that line a lot more.

Now onto the “having fun” part of this post. As I posted before, I have recently launched a San Francisco drum and bass blog where I am keeping track of the different drum and bass events upcoming in the city, posting pictures and writing event reviews. I had a tremendous time last Sunday at Compression at The Cellar. I hope to go to more drum and bass events now that I am keeping track of all of them for the new blog.

A few fun things that are upcoming for me: Next weekend I am going to Monterrey for a night with a few friends for a birthday. I’ve been to Monterrey a few times but never spent the night. I think I won’t go to the aquarium again, even though it was great last time. I want to check out other parts of Monterrey, whatever they may be. The weekend after that I’ll be in LA visiting Alyssa. I haven’t been to LA for a while and I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

Now just some comments on our current political atmosphere. I become more and more turned off by mainstream politics every day. I am especially jaded by the Obama campaign. I can’t stand to see Obamamania going on here in San Francisco. If I had more time (how many times have I said this?) I’d challenge the Obamamania. I want to put up posters that say “Obama is a warmonger.” I want to make t-shirts to the same effect. I want to challenge the Obama street table volunteers to an impromptu debate.

What, you didn’t know that Obama was a warmonger? He has voted to fund the war in Iraq. The same war that has killed an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis, many more than you may know who have been killed directly by American soldiers. The same war that has made five million Iraqis flee their homes, internally and externally. Well, surely, you might think, Obama will change all of that when he takes office. Think again. He plans to keep thousands of troops in Iraq, including in the Green Zone, thus completely ignoring the will of the Iraqi people and destroying any hope of Iraqi sovereignty. Obama also seems to think the Iraqi people should be paying us money for our war that is essentially no more than mass murder. Should someone with this mentality be our president?

But it doesn’t stop with Iraq, of course. Obama’s effort to be “tough on terror” includes sending more troops to Afghanistan. Send them there for what? What are more troops going to do over there? It doesn’t take tens of thousands of troops to combat Al Qaeda, who are evidently holed up in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. I’ll tell you what more troops will accomplish however. They will, intentionally or not, murder more Afghan people, like the close to 100 that were killed a couple weeks ago by an American bomb. Is this who you want to be president?

This is the same man who thinks it is wise to leave “all options on the table” with regards to Iran. The same Iran that several years ago agreed to stop all nuclear activity if we would only promise to not attack them. We reprimanded the third party diplomat for delivering the message. Are we really going to consider bombing Iran, too? Or maybe we’ll just starve them out like Bill Clinton did to Iraq. 1 million dead Iraqis thank Clinton for that, and the rest of the Iraqis thank Clinton for making them more dependent on their dictator, making it extremely difficult to overthrow him. And this is who the San Francisco “liberals” are so excited about?

This is the same man that actually wants to increase the size of our military. Our military expenditures are already higher than the rest of the world combined. This is our idea of a presidential candidate that stands for peace, that wants to use diplomacy to settle our differences with the world? Diplomacy at the barrel of a gun, maybe. Change, my ass.

And just a bit on the economy here. I am actually kind of excited about the state of the economy. I think economic collapse would certainly be painful in many ways but it would also be a time of opportunity. An opportunity to make a change in our lives on an individual level and also an opportunity to replace what we have on a systemic level with something at least slightly better. We’ll see what happens, but my opinion is that the current bailout plan will make the decline of the American economy happen slowly rather than suddenly. Either way it’s going down the tubes.

Lastly, a quick comment on some stuff I am reading right now. I am reading Living My Life by Emma Goldman, an autobiography if the title didn’t give that away. An excellent book so far, talking about all of her travels, lectures, romance and more. I certainly like Emma Goldman much more than Lenin after reading his biography. Lenin was essentially a mass murdering elitist who did it all in the name of the working class. One thing I am getting out of all of this, however, is that I think I would admire someone much more for their actions rather than their words. Emma Goldman, until this point in the book at least (I think she’s about 30) has mostly done lecture tours. Anarchist lectures are generally meant to agitate the working class so they take action. Seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. But I still like Emma Goldman.

I also started reading a journal I subscribed to, Anarchist Studies. An article in the current issue discusses Leo Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism, which is something I had never heard of until now. There’s a lot about laws, slavery and non-violence in the article. I am skeptical of some of Tolstoy’s arguments, especially the one that declares that laws are slavery. I think the term slavery is cheapened when it is used so broadly like this. Having said this, I’d like to read some of Tolstoy’s books and articles that this journal article mentions.

Until next time, faithful readers…

Holy crap, oil is $138/barrel? Times, they are a-changin’. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they or someone they know is now taking public transportation where they would previously drive. And GM may stop making Hummers. The high price of oil, while painful in the short term for many, will have a positive effect in the long run.

I wonder, if oil prices stay high and people continue to take public transit, if many people who previously were on the other side of the argument will now argue in favor of expanded public transportation. I would love to see that happen.

$431,660.69

That is what the salary of every Exxon employee would be if they split the profits evenly. Is that not enough for everyone?

OK, let’s suppose that the top 1,000 employees just have to be better than everyone else. So let’s lower the salary of 82,700 of the employees to $300,000/year. That leaves the top 1,000 employees making $11,319,999.75 per year. Really, is that not enough?

No, it isn’t, evidently. You can be damn sure that there are plenty of people working for Exxon that make $20,000-$30,000/year. I don’t even know what else to say about this.

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re paying for nothing?

Software and data in general is an artificial product created by our laws. We can sit here and argue about whether these laws benefit or harm society. But I’m not going to do that.

What is a valid product is the service of creating data. You can surely pay someone to create data that does or says what you want it to. But why is it that it is against the law to transmit this data to some unauthorized party? Something just seems inherently unnatural about this. Support is also a valid product. You create software for someone and then charge them to support it.

I think this is partly the basis for the free software movement.

Hell, I don’t even know if I agree with all of this myself. I have recently shelled out $189 for VMWare, when I could have easily just pirated it. I guess it is because I feel like they deserve my money. It is a good product. But at the same time, I see this as a donation in the sense that it doesn’t make sense that it should cost money once it is already written. I mean, other than the negligible cost of their bandwidth, it cost them nothing extra to “allow” me to download their software. In other words, I wouldn’t have felt particularly bad if I had pirated the software. I only would have felt as bad as, say, listening to free Internet radio without donating any money.

Of course, the software and entertainment industry wants us to believe that each time you illegally download software, music, movies, or some other sort of data, they are somehow losing money. Sure, some of the people that did it illegally would have otherwise paid for what they downloaded. But they would have you believe that a college student, had they not been able to download $250 Photoshop and $10,000 worth of music, would have paid for it.

Give me a break. More on free software to come (free as in speech, and free as in beer).