January 12, 2013 23:46 +0000  |  Activism Self Reflection 0

I never knew Aaron Swartz. We'd never met in person, or even traded emails. In fact, I didn't even know his name until I read about his death today on Reddit.

You know that site that pushes billions of pages per month out to the entire world? The one that lead the charge in the fight against SOPA, and other toxic legislation like it? Yeah Reddit. He co-founded it.

But Reddit wasn't the end, it wasn't even the beginning. His first world-changing achievement came when he was only 14 years old and helped write the spec for RSS 1.0 -- You know how you can keep tabs on dozens of news sites and blogs with Google Reader? Aaron Swartz did that. RSS was an enabling technology that helped build the collaborative web we know today.

He co-authored Markdown, a markup engine that, among other things, powers this site and millions of others, and he developed a Python-based web framework whose code has made its way into projects everywhere... including many of the ones I've developed.

He also founded Demand Progress an organisation dedicated to the pursuit of civil rights, civil liberties, and government reform, and staged an act of epic civil disobedience in his uh, liberation of gigabytes of data locked up by academia. All of this before he was 26.

And that's all we'll ever see from him now, because on January 11th, he hanged himself.

Now I don't want to comment on his suicide or the tragedy of it all. That's between him and whatever gods he worshiped. But I do want to suggest that we all think about this for a second: In the span of 12 years, Aaron contributed more to the betterment of the world than most people do in a lifetime. He built useful tools that made communication easier, and fought the Good fight, enlisting literally millions of people to join him. It's his work that we all stand on when we attempt to do things both great and simple. What have the rest of us done in the last 12 years? The last 24?

Reading about Aaron today hit me harder than I thought something like this would. It's made me think back to the conscious decision I made a few years ago about being more selfish... at least for a while. I opted to do the things I wanted to do, rather than the things I felt needed doing, and honestly, the time between that decision and today has evaporated from my memory. It's the selfish days that blur together, while the hours of conflict and doing right are burned into you. I need to do better, be better.

Aaron was just a kid, and yet he managed so much. His life, while short, should be a lesson to all of us regarding our vast potential.


July 11, 2012 20:54 +0000  |  Activism Economy Environment 0

This is going to be a ranting post, so you may want to skip it if that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea.

I went to a meetup tonight called CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Amsterdam, a new group started here making efforts to build a community to encourage social responsibility here in the city. The guest speaker was Kumi Naidoo, executive director and "chief troublemaker" of Greenpeace International, and his talk was, for the most part, both informative and interesting -- but something rubbed me the wrong way, and I need to rant about it.

Naidoo claims that the world is suffering from a great imbalance: the rich European countries, he said, spend more on feeding their pets in a week than is required to feed an African family for a month. Here in the Netherlands, we subsidise cows to the tune of something like €2/person/month, and yet such a large portion of the world still doesn't have access to electricity. Both of these statements are true, but they're both completely irrelevant to the cause of environmentalism and only serve to alienate rational people from it.

This isn't just about the fact that the world is not going to be fixed by making people feel guilty for feeding their pets. It's about Greenpeace painting the entire environmental movement as a bunch of out of touch hippies driven by irrational guilt to redistribute wealth from stable, richer nations to less stable, poorer ones. Statements like these imply that there are simple answers to the complex problems of militarism, corruption, unstable regimes, and corporate influence, instead framing everything as if we should all feel guilty for having pets.

There's nothing wrong with managing the welfare of your citizens by using their collective wealth to secure a supply of meat and dairy. Having pets and buying frivolous things, while not exactly constructive for the betterment of humanity, isn't the source of the problem. If Greenpeace really wanted to go after this imbalance, they'd do better to go after corporations (and those who buy from them) that pillage poorer nations, like precious metal mining companies in South America and Africa, but now that he's already blamed pet owners and milk drinkers for the ills of the world, he's lost half the room.

Seriously people, stop it. It's hard enough being an environmentalist in this world, I don't need help like this.

April 11, 2011 21:26 +0000  |  Activism Art Democracy 0

This has been going around and I thought it worth preserving here for my friends and family who don't do the whole Twitter/Facebook thing. The author apparently loves to do this sort of thing, and obviously has a stake in the outcome of the upcoming election. Please visit the original page for more information and feel free to pass the link around. The way I see it, every Canadian considering support for the Conservatives really needs to see this.

As an added bonus, the site also includes a bunch of links I'll be able to use for my site.

March 28, 2011 22:39 +0000  |  Activism Canada Conservatives 4

I may be living in Amsterdam, but I'm still Canadian.

There's an election coming up and Stephen Harper has to lose it. He's been actively working against democracy in the House, and using the power of the PMO to cut taxes on the rich, spend money on prisons we don't need and pollute the biosphere... to name a few of many transgressions. The man has got to go, and I'm hoping you can help me push him out.

I've combined forces with Dianna and her awesome graphical/UX talents to build a new simple website: It's not up yet, and that's where you come in. This site will be a collection of Stephen Harper's record on a series of issues ranging from democracy, to the environment, to women's rights, to international affairs. Whatever the topic, I need information regarding his actions on it.

Here's what I need from you: I need facts of what he's done sent to my email in the following format:

  • What he did/said
  • Why this is bad (if it's not obvious)
  • Any number of links (at least one) that corroborates this fact.

Once I have a good bunch of data, I'll load it into the code I wrote just now and launch the site. Hopefully, it'll make a big splash. I've already contacted the other parties asking for help from them as well.

One last note, it's important to point out that the purpose of this site is to oppose Harper, and not the Conservative Party. It will also not be promoting any other party as I want this to be non-partisan. The key message I want to share is that Harper has proven himself to be Bad for Canada and that he has to go.

So lets see those emails! (me at danielquinn dot org)

December 01, 2010 00:06 +0000  |  Activism Politics The United States 1

Has anyone else got the feeling that world governments haven't learnt the right lesson from the latest series of cables released by Wikileaks?

Here's a newsflash guys, the key isn't to be sorry that you got caught, it's to be sorry that you committed the acts for which you (should be) ashamed in the first place.

Wikileaks should be commended for their dedication to promoting openness in our relations with our neighbours, rather than vilified for distributing to the truth to the world.

November 26, 2010 07:30 +0000  |  Activism Anarchy Democracy Police Politics Protests Violence 10

It's an ugly phrase. Often overused and misunderstood, it's important to know that despite what you may have heard, Canada is not such a place. It is however equally important to accept that we are closer to it now than we have ever been, and each day I read more and more about us losing the Canada we want for ourselves. Whether we believe it or not, we're closer to a police state than most of us want to admit.

Our police officers in every jurisdiction are out of control. Responsible to the public only in the minds of people who haven't been paying attention, we've seen officers commit murder in Vancouver, sexual assault in Ottawa, and beat non-violent protesters in Toronto. There have even been claims of subverting federal elections. The consequences for these actions have been made clear: there aren't any. In Ontario, officers aren't even compelled to speak to the SIU, the supposedly impartial body designed to look into police assaults against civilians.

This is our Canada, glorious and free.

To those of you who would still defend these people, I say that these acts are indefencible. In the G20 case, the SIU has found that no one may be charged because no one can be identified. The appropriate response to this then is to argue that any officer refusing to identify themselves is in fact a criminal -- at best, a thuggish terrorist at worst. Is it safe then to assume that self-defence can be invoked when assaulting an unidentified officer committing acts of brutatlity? And what, if anything will become of the officers higher up in the chain of command after this incident? Who gave the orders to arrest non-violent protesters, and who allowed the city to burn while our freedoms were crushed beneath combat boots and riot shields?

There is anger brewing in this country... at least, I hope there is.

For my part, I honestly don't know what to do. I feel like I'm abandonning my country when it needs me, that I could do something to fight this if I stayed. But I don't know what that something is. To those reading this, I ask you: what, outside of violent revolution can we do? How do you fight thugs and Fingermen without resorting to bloodshed?

November 11, 2010 18:18 +0000  |  Activism Anarchy Canada Civil Rights Toronto 0

Today is the day that we reserve for Remembrance, a day when each of us are expected to take a moment to acknowledge and remember the bravery and devotion to duty of the millions of men and women who fought and often died "for King and Country" in dozens of wars past. It's also a day when we must remember that it's not only soldiers who die in war, but civilians as well. Often it is the case that for every one soldier killed in the line of duty, ten, or even one hundred civilians are killed.

As a society, we tell ourselves that war is a terrible, but sometimes necessary Last Line of Defence against those who would attack our Freedoms. It is therefore with bitter irony that I must point out that today the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Union of Public and General Employees are co-hosting public hearings to examine police activity during the recent G20 Summit in Toronto.

Every Canadian owes it to themselves to read these testimonies. Canadian citizens, rounded up, arrested, and held for upwards of 32hours in squalid cells, or tagged with bogus charges like possession of tools for burglary (door keys). Unarmed, non-violent citizens punched and kicked, by police not wearing name tags or badge numbers. In one holding cell case, a woman apparently asked for a tampon and was told that she "should have thought about it before", after which he threw his sock into her cell.

In a Free country, citizens must be allowed to peacefully assemble, and to criticise the government openly, and they must be able to do this without fear of persecution from the state. What we saw in Toronto was not what Canada should be, but whether we like it or not, it was our Canada. Unless we stand up and fight those responsible for abridging our freedoms that day, claims that our military "defends our freedoms" will become even more hollow than they already are.

Please take a moment to read one of the following:

October 26, 2010 08:31 +0000  |  Activism Democracy Politics Toronto 3

Toronto's flag, inverted

I remember the day I heard that Rob Ford would be running for Mayor in Toronto. I figured this to be great news. Ford, a blustering idiot councillor from the suburbs needed a good smack down, and there was no way that a racist bigot like him could ever win in a city as beautifully diverse as Toronto. He would be ejected from politics, outed for who he was, an ignorant blowhard who couldn't possibly hope to represnet the most multicultural city in Canada.

Oh how it hurts to be so wrong.

Not only did Rob Ford win, he won with 47% of the vote. That means that 47% of Torontonians either voted for a bigot or didn't bother to do the research themselves to find out that that they were going to vote for a bigot. On top of that, 50% didn't even show up to vote at all. We're past a question of "who stole votes from whom" here, this is problem is systemic.

Dave Meslin had part of it right when he talked about Toronto's invisible primaries, an ugly byproduct of our antiquated first-past-the-post voting system is that we exclude voices from the debate because they aren't loud enough to win. Remember that 50% that didn't even show up to vote? Well knowing that your vote actually counts for something is a great way to energise interest in politics.

But there's a second element that we don't hear discussed enough and that's interest by virtue of time and energy. Ford won because he ran a great campaign. It painted him as a straight-talking, no-nonsense guy who's going to "clean up City Hall" while somehow obscuring the fact that he himself was a millionaire, bent on destroying everything most Torontonians hold in high regard. All anyone had to do was Google his name to find out who he really was, but too few people did -- 380,201 people actually, and now we have four years to find out just how much this man can do, both to the city itself, and to its reputation on the world stage.

For political devotees like myself, it's easy to dismiss 47% of the voting public as either ignorant or crazy, but it's just not true. I honestly believe that people want to understand the politics of their city, province and country, but they simply don't have time. For those of us for whom politics is a hobby or interest, it's hard to accept that someone wouldn't want to burn a few hours a day reading up on local events, or watching a news show, but for most of us, a few hours is all we have, and many of us would rather spend that time on something that makes us happy, whether that be painting, reading, hockey, or just socialising. Democracy is work for many of us, and it's a commitment that some of us can't make without sacrificing our sanity.

Now I'm not excusing political apathy, far from it. For the next four years, every one of the 380,201 people who voted for Ford and the million or so who didn't vote should be reminded that the state of things is in fact their fault. No, I'm trying to point out that any society that doesn't allow for enough time to both do what we personally need for our sanity as well as take part in our own governance isn't really a Democracy. In a real Democracy, a blustering fool like Ford couldn't hope to succeed because the public would actually know what kind of person he is. His comments about cyclists being at fault when they're hit by trucks and his tirades in council would be lunch counter conversation in every home in a real Democracy, his archaic views on homosexuality, a joke told over dinner.

We need to slow down, decompress and work less, engage more... with each other and with our community. Activist groups are great, but they're not much good if they only include people between the ages of 18 and 28, or those over 65. Too many people are just too busy paying rent and feeding their kids to worry about more than the 30second spot they saw on TV and that is the real problem here.

I've attached some Youtube videos to this post along the side to give you a taste for what kind of man is sitting in the Big Chair now. Know that Toronto is not unique in this, in fact I'd argue that such misfortune is just as likely to happen anywhere where the public is sufficiently overburdened and disenfranchised. I can only hope that he angers enough people in these next four years that it inspires others to re-engage with their Democracy.

October 02, 2010 00:50 +0000  |  Activism Anarchy Copyright Technology TED 4

Q: How long will this attack go on for?

A: There is no time frame. We will keep going until we stop being angry.

Something really fascinating is happening right now. Thousands of people, pissed off at law firms and media conglomerates for persecuting individuals with multi-million dollar file sharing lawsuits are fighting back. They're using their combined efforts to attack and take down the websites of the media bullies and their proxies (their law firms) and they're succeeding at every turn.

The tactic being used is called DDoS, which in layman's terms is essentially hammering a website from multiple targets as to render it unable to communicate properly with legitimate visitors. The result is that the site will slow to a crawl, and in some cases go completely offline as the server buckles under the load. In one of the more advanced cases, the attackers grabbed 350MB of email from one unscrupulous law firm in the UK and published it on the Pirate Bay for all the world to see.

And who are the perpetrators of these attacks? Nobody knows. They are "Anonymous", the horde of pissed-off people, tired of being persecuted for participating in our Shared Culture. More importantly though, they've gone on the offencive against those who have gotten used to treating the public like an ATM.

This is just the beginning, but it's an exciting first step. The Internet has allowed groups to collectively organise, and to do things no individual or big city law firm could ever hope to accomplish on their own. Now that the tools are becoming more ubiquitous, it's inevitable that these sorts of actions will increase both in popularity and in scale.

Imagine being able to download a tiny program to anonymously contribute the computational power of your desktop, and the bandwidth of your internet connection to help destroy Royal Dutch Shell's communication network, or hack the RIAA's VPN. The possibilities are both awesome and terrifying, but I'm confident that the anarchy it produces will lead to a more egalitarian world.

It's interesting then, that on the evening I'd set aside to write about this phenomenon, I discovered this excellent TED talk about the differences between institutional organisations and collaborative ones. The talk is about five years old, but couldn't be more relevant:

June 29, 2010 08:05 +0000  |  Activism Anarchy Canada Police Politics Toronto Violence 2

I'd like you to take 30seconds to watch something for me:

Violence has its place, and that place is when words are no longer enough. Anyone paying attention to what's going on in the world can tell you that the gap between the rich and the poor is dangerously wide and that the priorities of the rich minority are not in the best interests of the poor majority. Ecological disasters like the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico and the recent world-wide economic collapse are symptoms of a greater problem, one the "civil" protesters are campaigning for... if only someone were listening.

But no one is listening... at least no one with any measurable power. Instead, our leaders erect fences and spend billions dollars on making sure that the voices of the people aren't heard at these events. They take our money and construct elaborate indoor lakes to placate the media, while they conduct the business of governance behind closed doors. This is not democracy, and people insisting that standing in a street and waving a sign is the best response to such injustice just don't get it: we should be angry! Those are our streets, our spaces, and our leaders, talking about issues that relate directly to our lives and they shut us out with wire fences, concrete walls, and thousands of violent police? Where's the rage?

Martin Luther King had it right when he said that "a riot is the language of the unheard". The overwhelming majority of Canadians want action on things like the environment, peace, the economy, and poverty, but rather than moving on these issues, our leaders consistently work against our interests. Chants and sign-waving clearly aren't getting it done, and so a few among us have started smashing things. It's not intelligent, it's not tactical, it doesn't even have to make sense. It's rage, and it's not only justified in such a situation, but called for.

That video clip is about oppression:

  1. Convince the majority that opposition isn't worthwhile.
  2. Beat the remainder into submission.
  3. Simultaneously encourage and incite violence from the reactionary minority, so that the press sides against them. This returns us to #1.

I'll be the first to concede that violence is not the answer here, but the time for chanting and sign-waving is through. I don't want to hear any more of this "if the violent people would just stop, then maybe they'd listen" business because sadly, that's just not true. Something has got to be done, or soon it might not just be a Starbucks and a few police cars that get smashed.