The Jewish faith places a certain emphasis on duty and obligation. It’s at the heart of the way the Torah writes God: the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah go by, are discussed in terms of righteousness and obedience, of knowledge and ignorance. But it’s not until the story of Abraham that any Jews actually come into the narrative: the first Jew is Abraham, because God comes to him and says, “I am going to make a covenant with you.”

The word covenant means agreement; it carries the connotation of contract, of alliance, of bargain. The Jewish people’s bargain is this: they will be God’s people, and in return, God will be their god. God will give them a way of life, and in return, they will live it; they will choose God, and in return, God will choose them.

As I’ve said, I don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in Judaism. In this case, what that means is that I believe in bargains. I believe in debts. I believe that law is not just rules for rules’ sake; instead, law is duty, obligation, an action you owe to another person in exchange for what they have done for you. Duty is a debt to be repaid.

For that reason I think about this photo:


Continue reading

Students Against Surveillance

So the Students Against Surveillance campaign has started up again, with promotions from Restore the Fourth and @AnonyOps (one of the largest Twitter accounts run by Anonymous), more signatures from around the country (and the world), and a brand-new website design!

I’m very, very happy to be working on Students Against Surveillance again; it was the first actual work I did on cypherpunk issues (all right, I can’t actually say the word “cypherpunk” with a straight face, but it’s the only word I know that describes the activism on digital issues – whether they’re mass surveillance, net neutrality, the freedom of the press in the age of the Internet, encryption, you name it – that I love to do. The fact that it’s a ridiculous word doesn’t mean it’s not a great word. Look, can we just have a movement to bring back terrible ’90s slang? Yes? Radical.)

Continue reading

This Week Has Been Full of Torture, Police Brutality, and Snow

The CIA torture report was released on Wednesday.

I remember, in high school, taking a class on American history with a boy who planned to join the Army. He was incredibly, painfully patriotic, in the kind of way our little liberal Bay Area town rarely saw – he defended the Iraq War, he called America the greatest country in the world completely without irony, he wore an American flag to school the morning after Osama bin Laden was killed. I must have gotten in a hundred different arguments with him over my high school career; they were, ultimately, the best arguments I’ve ever had, and I certainly think we both learned a lot from each other.

The moment I’m thinking of- it was January, I think. We were slogging through the nineteenth century; we had just finished with the Civil War, and everything was railroads and robber barons, financial panics and forgettable presidents.

And the United States’ policy towards Native Americans.

And I don’t remember what it was; I don’t remember what we were reading or why we were reading it. I just remember this boy in my class looking at me from over his textbook and saying, slowly and sort of painfully, “This is the first time I’ve ever been ashamed of America.”

Continue reading

The United States of America

I don’t have anything to say that’ll make this horrific week make sense. I can’t tell you that riots are justified, or that riots are evil, or that the testimony is true, or that the testimony is false. I can’t tell you anything besides that a kid is dead.

I’m back in Oakland for Thanksgiving, which I’m spending with my family. On Monday and Tuesday nights, before I left, I went to the protests in New York; I marched with the protesters up Seventh Avenue to Times Square, and down Broadway to City Hall and the World Trade Center and, finally, to the highway that runs up along the west side of Manhattan.

Out of all of those, it was the march along the highway that struck me the most. People driving home, people trying to get places- I thought they’d be angry at us. They weren’t. The drivers were smiling; some of them honked along in rhythm to our chanting.

Show me what democracy looks like, someone shouted; this is what democracy looks like, we called back.

Continue reading

A Room of Our Own

The thing is, it’s not just the nudes.

It’s not just the pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, splashed across my screen when I clicked her name on my Twitter sidebar to find out what the hell was going on, splashed across everyone’s screen without her permission, without her consent. It’s not just the men who stole them, on the run from the FBI, loudly and confusedly contesting that they’ve done nothing wrong, not really. It’s not just the nickname– “the Fappening”, a joke, a way to laugh about the whole thing, a reminder of what the theft of the photos was ultimately about.

It’s not just Anita Sarkeesian– though it is Anita Sarkeesian, in a much bigger way than it is Jennifer Lawrence. It’s Anita Sarkeesian receiving daily death threats, being driven out of her house because of how serious they had become, it’s Anita Sarkeesian’s being harassed and bullied and going through things no one should have to go through just because she’d said sexism is real. It’s Kelly Weill, too, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago, a girl my age who I might know– who I might be– getting gory, sexual pictures, and yes, death threats, because she’d written an article about a damn Facebook page–

Look: let me tell you what it was like to grow up on the Internet.

Continue reading

HOPE Is Where The Heart Is

So I’m back in Oakland! And, a brief panic where my parents drove to the wrong airport, I am safely installed at home. The weather is stunning as usual, all my high school friends are local, and the Giants are winning; it’s good to be back.

But what’s on my mind is HOPE X, the hacker conference I went to over the weekend (and yes, I did tell all my friends that I was going to a hacker conference—and that everyone would indeed dress in black, type inhumanly fast, and own guinea pigs. This is why I’m not allowed to be a real hacker.)

Actually, point of fact, there are a lot of reasons why I’m not allowed to be a real hacker—the first being that, embarrassingly, I can’t even code. I know enough HTML and CSS to, like, be a person on the Internet, and I made an honest effort to learn JavaScript back in April, but when it comes to actually trying to make things happen on a computer I’m more or less entirely dependent on my more technologically able friends.

So why a hacker conference?

Continue reading

My Mother is the Republic

It’s spring today.

It’s been a strange few months. Tuesday the 20th will mark the end of my freshman year of college — an exciting one, and a thought-provoking one, and ultimately, I think, a good one. There’ll be time for reflections and memoirs. I don’t want to do that now.

For now, it’s spring. Washington Square Park is a riot of greenery. The sun is lighting up the edges of the world, turning my notebook into gold and bringing the leaves’ shadows dancing along the grass towards my hands, and I feel — as I usually feel, when the seasons change in New York —  as if I have been granted an incredible privilege, to witness something enormously and unspeakably good.

Continue reading