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Worker-owner at Agaric web development collective, co-author of the Definitive Guide to Drupal 7, and person who gives a damn about justice, liberty, and gaining the most power possible for all people over our own lives.

benjamin melançon

Don't quote someone as an expert just because they are in power

1 min read

Gov. Rick Scott said Irma's wrath is unprecedented. "We have never had anything like this before," he said Sunday.

Going to someone with political power or even someone who is merely famous for factual information is a surprisingly common failing of journalists, but it's outright ridiculous to imply expertise in extreme weather with quoting a governor who has literally banned the phrases global warming and climate change from all reports of Florida's government.

(This quotation is from a CNN article.)

benjamin melançon

up to a certain point misery enlists our best affections; but beyond that point it does not

1 min read

Melville on generosity:

So true it is, and so terrible, too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul be rid of it.


But thus it often is, that the constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the best resolves of the more generous.

Herman Melville (1819–1891), Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street. 1853.

benjamin melançon

For what it's worth... please stop using the word worth to describe how much money and property someone has

3 min read

Because Anthea Butler told me to i'll be reading Sarah Posner on Joel Osteen.

But i had to stop for a bit after the first paragraph and the use of the very common phrasing "he is worth" $40M.

I don't think he could trade in his life for that (although Trump might be able to command his claimed net assets as donations from people in return for his voluntary death). People might not even put up that much in ransom for Joel. And i'm pretty sure his organs aren't worth that much more on illegal markets than any other persons. Point is that "worth" in dollar terms is a ridiculous way to think about a human being.

Using the word "worth" implies a positive value judgement which just doesn't fit the facts. It's more obvious how awful a way of thinking this is if we say someone with $500, a 2012 Honda Civic, and a $10,000 medical debt is worth negative four thousand five hundred dollars. Which is why the same reporters who will write about a rich person being "worth" millions will not write about regular and poor people in terms of monetary "worth". But people aren't stupid. Constant use of describing a person as worth the value of their property sinks in, and tells the majority that they are worth literally nothing.

We're talking about how much money and other property easily denominated in currency which a person possesses. Use of a term which only makes sense in this usage when applied to property, and which has implicit positive values when applied to humans and ideas, is a lazy and harmful shorthand.

A more accurate phrasing, especially when we are talking about millions of dollars of wealth, would be:

"has hoarded"

Or if we want to eschew value connotations positive or negative:

"has amassed"

As an aside, the more general veneration of people based on their wealth is really messed up, even by capitalistic or at least market economy standards. Even buying into all the discredited claptrap about how our economy perfectly aligns private interest with public through the power of the market, and so the theory that those who have received the most money have done the most for society, we would want to celebrate people who have earned the most money, so wealth people have plus money they've given away minus wealth inherited.


And a thread on what we really need to be paying attention to right now, the success of fascists gaining support from large segments of society:

benjamin melançon

How 'big ideas' in education work or not work

1 min read

Drawn from

What worked:

  • academies of around 90 students
  • advanced students at desks next to kids with learning disabilities
  • four years of staff and teachers planning changes together before they were implemented
  • classes below 25 students
  • 90 minute periods
  • school began 90 minutes later one day per week—time specifically set aside for teachers in each academy to discuss how their students were performing, to plan common lessons, plan college-application workshops, and identify the kids who need extra help like a book being read out loud to them
  • teacher peer review: "critical friends groups" to sit in on other classes and provide critiques afterward
  • school control over budget

What wrecked this, even while structure stays in place:

  • loss of control of budget / not enough money / increasing class size
  • too many special-needs children without major increases in teachers and support staff
  • top-down instead of peer evaluation
  • not enough money, did we mention that?

benjamin melançon

Starting to read "Yours for Industrial Freedom" The Industrial Workers of the World from the Inside"

3 min read

A book by Eric Thomas Chester, which i just bought from Levellers Press, an imprint of Collective Copies.

I'm excited to read it, but just reading the introduction there are a couple of warning signs.

First, the contention that "Wobblies liked to portray themselves as carefree, wandering troubadours." I have not read extensively their public materials of the day, but certainly my impression is committed organizers seeking the overthrow of capitalism ("The working class and the employing class have nothing in common ... Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.") The Preamble to the IWW Constitution isn't subtle.

Second, the book is based on (heretofore hidden from public view) "documents seized from IWW halls that were presented as evidence by the prosecution" in a 1918 trial, it is implied that this makes it possible to "provide a complete, balanced picture of the union." Certainly it can help provide a more well-rounded view, and Chester is very clear about the provenance of his source material and i'm not doubting the history will be accurate, but i'm surprised there is not up-front recognition that the documents he will be drawing on were selected by the prosecution to show the IWW in the worst light possible.

Given the scope of the Bureau of Investigation's abhorrent raids across the country in 1917, it's a bit analogous to what the government can mine today for incriminating evidence from almost anyone's private e-mail and social media activity. While the IWW's public documents would one hopes present the union as it wants to be seen, it does not follow that what the government presented for evidence reveals "the union as it really was", even a glimpse.

Especially since the government chose to destroy all the material stolen from the IWW, so that all that survives is the trial transcript, we should be skeptical of what the surely biased hand-picked evidence portrays.

I hope there is or will be found correspondence not seized by the government and kept by radical groups or passed down in families, which could help round out the story further, but given that any such materials were shown to literally be used as evidence against people, it's not surprising that it might have been destroyed too.

Such is history under government repression.

benjamin melançon

Recycling cooking oil in Minneapolis

2 min read

There does not seem to be any current, readily available, way to dispose of home cooking oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Minneapolis has a handful of companies such as GreaseHauler that will go to restaurants and pay them for their oil and grease, but there are no cooking oil collection points for residential sources of cooking oil that would let non-commercial kitchens get in on free removal of vegetable oils, let alone get paid for it. The official recommendation from Hennepin County is to put it in the trash.

Minnesota even has a requirement that diesel fuel include biodiesel, but i guess most of this is coming directly from crops grown for this purpose.

Regardless, residential cooking oil recycling is commonly available and aught to be something we can get in the Twin Cities.

My present case is a long-term, now-departed houseguest's oil which has gone very stale if not rancid; so completely clean but not recommended for human consumption. But i would also like to occasionally deep-fry something, felafel or fries or tempura vegetables, and know i'd have somewhere to bring the oil after a couple uses.

Anyone else interested in this, particularly in the Near North neighborhood? Perhaps Breaking Bread / Kindred Kitchen could serve as collection points, or maybe Wirth Cooperative Grocery would be better suited for aggregating and vetting oil for recycling, and then further donating to a local restaurant, which presumably would be paid for it.

In the meantime, WikiHow has a perhaps an overly comprehensive list of options.




benjamin melançon

On putting in effort under conditions of equality

6 min read

It's nice to find a rather definitive answer to some of the sillier questions routinely gotten about worker cooperatives, such as 'how do you deal with people not doing their share of the work?', or 'what's the incentive to put in the effort?' Now, a worker cooperative could use any incentive structure it wants for pay, from hourly wages to piecework to salary, so long as each worker has a vote in deciding things and any surplus that is defined as patronage is distributed to each worker, though even that is based on 'economic participation', that is, work put in, but at Agaric and most worker cooperatives we pay ourselves mostly the same, because it works, for reasons John Stuart Mill explained in 1848:

The objection ordinarily made to a system of community of property and equal distribution of the produce, that each person would be incessantly occupied in evading his fair share of the work, points, undoubtedly, to a real difficulty. But those who urge this objection, forget to how great an extent the same difficulty exists under the system on which nine-tenths of the business of society is now conducted. The objection supposes, that honest and efficient labour is only to be had from those who are themselves individually to reap the benefit of their own exertions. But how small a part of all the labour performed in England, from the lowest-paid to the highest, is done by persons working for their own benefit. From the Irish reaper or hodman to the chief justice or the minister of state, nearly all the work of society is remunerated by day wages or fixed salaries. A factory operative has less personal interest in his work than a member of a Communist association, since he is not, like him, working for a partnership of which he is himself a member. It will no doubt be said, that though the labourers themselves have not, in most cases, a personal interest in their work, they are watched and superintended, and their labour directed, and the mental part of the labour performed, by persons who have. Even this, however, is far from being universally the fact. In all public, and many of the largest and most successful private undertakings, not only the labours of detail but the control and superintendence are entrusted to salaried officers. And though the “master’s eye,” when the master is vigilant and intelligent, is of proverbial value, it must be remembered that in a Socialist farm or manufactory, each labourer would be under the eye not of one master, but of the whole community. In the extreme case of obstinate perseverance in not performing the due share of work, the community would have the same resources which society now has for compelling conformity to the necessary conditions of the association. Dismissal, the only remedy at present, is no remedy when any other labourer who may be engaged does no better than his predecessor: the power of dismissal only enables an employer to obtain from his workmen the customary amount of labour, but that customary labour may be of any degree of inefficiency. Even the labourer who loses his employment by idleness or negligence, has nothing worse to suffer, in the most unfavourable case, than the discipline of a workhouse, and if the desire to avoid this be a sufficient motive in the one system, it would be sufficient in the other. I am not undervaluing the strength of the incitement given to labour when the whole or a large share of the benefit of extra exertion belongs to the labourer. But under the present system of industry this incitement, in the great majority of cases, does not exist. If Communistic labour might be less vigorous than that of a peasant proprietor, or a workman labouring on his own account, it would probably be more energetic than that of a labourer for hire, who has no personal interest in the matter at all. The neglect by the uneducated classes of labourers for hire, of the duties which they engage to perform, is in the present state of society most flagrant. Now it is an admitted condition of the Communist scheme that all shall be educated: and this being supposed, the duties of the members of the association would doubtless be as diligently performed as those of the generality of salaried officers in the middle or higher classes; who are not supposed to be necessarily unfaithful to their trust, because so long as they are not dismissed, their pay is the same in however lax a manner their duty is fulfilled. Undoubtedly, as a general rule, remuneration by fixed salaries does not in any class of functionaries produce the maximum of zeal: and this is as much as can be reasonably alleged against Communistic labour. That even this inferiority would necessarily exist, is by no means so certain as is assumed by those who are little used carry to their minds beyond the state of things with which they are familiar. Mankind are capable of a far greater amount of public spirit than the present age is accustomed to suppose possible. History bears witness to the success with which large bodies of human beings may be trained to feel the public interest their own. And no soil could be more favourable to the growth of such a feeling, than a Communist association, since all the ambition, and the bodily and mental activity, which are now exerted in the pursuit of separate and self-regarding interests, would require another sphere of employment, and would naturally find it in the pursuit of the general benefit of the community. The same cause, so often assigned in explanation of the devotion of the Catholic priest or monk to the interest of his order — that he has no interest apart from it — would, under Communism, attach the citizen to the community. And independently of the public motive, every member of the association would be amenable to the most universal, and one of the strongest, of personal motives, that of public opinion. The force of this motive in deterring from any act or omission positively reproved by the community, no one is likely to deny; but the power also of emulation, in exciting to the most strenuous exertions for the sake of the approbation and admiration of others, is borne witness to by experience in every situation in which human beings publicly compete with one another, even if it be in things frivolous, or from which the public derive no benefit. A contest, who can do most for the common good, is not the kind of competition which Socialists repudiate. To what extent, therefore, the energy of labour would be diminished by Communism, or whether in the long run it would be diminished at all, must be considered for the present an undecided question.


benjamin melançon

Modern Monopolies: What it Takes to Dominate the 21st-Century Economy

1 min read

by Alex Moazed & Nicholas L. Johnson

Picked up at the Spry Group HQ. Only read a few pages. It would be well worth reading with in general and specifically in mind.

The more commoditiized a service or profit offering — more commoditized means it "has only a limited number of relevant characteristics that consumers care about" — the less complexity purchasers should have to deal with.

"The hard part is determining how commoditized or noncommoditized a platform really is"

benjamin melançon

You get no bread with one meatball

1 min read

My girlfriend cooked spaghetti and veggie meatballs and i sang "You get no bread with fake meatballs" and of course she had no idea what i was referencing.

When i thought about it, i didn't have anything but that one line that my Dad would sing or say frequently.

Here's the full song:

benjamin melançon

Drupal Contributor Community Survey, Drupal 8 look-back edition

4 min read

... with my answers.

How many hours per week do you spend contributing to the Drupal project, on average? * 1-4 hours

How did you contribute most to Drupal 8? * YES: I helped write code for Drupal core YES: I helped write code for a Drupal contributed module or theme NO: I helped with Drupal information architecture, design, and/or user experience YES: I helped write and/or edit Drupal documentation NO: I helped provide Drupal community support (project management, organizing sprints, and other events, training, mentoring, etc.) NO: I did not contribute to Drupal 8 in any way Other: Project Application Review

If you contributed to Drupal 8, how likely are you to contribute to future versions of Drupal based on your experience? (1 Not at all likely - 5 Very likely) 4

Do you feel like you experienced burn-out during the development of Drupal 8? No

Do you think you would have taken advantage of a formal non-technical support program if one had existed during the Drupal 8 development cycle?

My involvement during the release cycle was very minimal. And it is much more rewarding and easier to self-pace to be involved in the additions to point releases.

Do you feel that there are non-technical barriers to communication in the Drupal contributor community? * Yes

If you answered "Yes", what do you think those barriers to communication are?

Still not enough people empowered / motivated to approve things. Issues stay in Needs Review for long periods of time. There are perceived bottlenecks to various ways of contributing - something is implicitly or formally someone's turf, and the actual bottlenecks - only project maintainers can bring your change to others, only the core committers can get it into core, only the mysterious select group of privileged project application reviewers (i'm one) can give you the ability to share a full module with the world - reinforces the sense of lack of agency even if the bigger problem is getting earlier reviews that technically anyone can do. Or equally demotivating, it's not clear by whom or by what process changes are approved.

The other big, big thing is 'aggregating needs', so changes in fact desired by many, many low-resource organizations and individuals (i'm thinking Drupal's end-users here) can get the level of resources one large organization can put into their needs.

If you answered "Yes", what organizational changes do you think would improve the Drupal contributor experience?

Make clearer how both code and non-code decisions are made, regarding everything, and widen the group of people both actually and ... mentally? ... empowered to approve changes.

What is the number one non-technical change that you feel should be made to improve the Drupal contributor experience?

Whatever we do, we must treat new contributors substantially the same as existing contributors. This refers to the Project Application Review process. If no other contributors in this survey are talking about the Project Application Review process, that is the most damning evidence about how broken and ghetto-ized the process is for crucial new contributors.

We need a whole new system that treats old-timers the same way as newbies, or else whatever system we come up with will be inadequate and won't be fixed. If it affects everyone, it will be fixed.

The new system: Anyone who wants to promote a project to full project status needs one other person with two promoted projects to review and endorse the project. This person approves knowing that their reputation and permission to approve projects is on the line:

A related way to contribute with fewer gatekeepers is forking on d.o; your non-official module is namespaced to your username but it still has the full project name and can be referenced through composer. But this is a technical change.

c: 2016 June 3, Friday, 8:55 AM