Archive for August, 2012

Oakland residents insulted by council and attorney candidates

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I read the websites of candidates for Oakland City Council District 1 (North Oakland), City Council At-Large, and City Attorney. With only a few exceptions, each can be compressed with no loss of information to “I ♥ Oakland. Crime sucks.” That does capture the sentiments expressed on t-shirts worn by hipsters and voiced by people who attend neighborhood meetings. But why bother running for office without additional substance? I’m insulted by the vacuity of most of the candidates.

Among the sorry lot, there’s a clear winner for each office. Vote for Len Raphael (District 1), Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large), and Barbara Parker (Attorney). Below I rank and make fun of the candidates for each of the offices.

District 1 (North Oakland)

1st) Len Raphael has the most extensive issues pages of any candidate, and he’s left at least hundreds of comments on various news sites (e.g., East Bay Express). Raphael wants more and better city government and has a sadly novel (it shouldn’t be novel) plan to pay for it — pay new city employees less. Also, while it isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I’m happy to see Raphael write “Spending money on economic development consultants and staff and promotion is mostly a waste.”

2nd) Don Macleay, a Green, is the only other district 1 candidate that has taken the time to state his position on any issues of substance. It seems he’s not part of the establishment, and from the headlines I’ve scanned Green officeholders are doing a decent job of running the nearby city of Richmond.

3rd) Dan Kalb has an issues page and promises position papers. Yes, it’s a low bar.

Honorable mention to Craig Brandt, who writes about substantial issues on his site, but sadly his proposals are rather empty, e.g., on police: “I am proposing that we begin lobbying the State to pay for the training of police officers.” Even before taking office a program reliant on (and thus able to place blame on) higher levels of government is distinctly worrying. Besides, Oakland’s two previous mayors were relative political superpowers, and their lobbying for state and federal assistance led to long term improvements in governance, right? Sure.

The following candidates should be disqualified for having nothing to say.

Richard Raya:

Richard believes the city is two or three projects away from becoming a world-class center of commerce.

Richard’s campaign is about saving lives and helping our city become all that it can be. In order to get there, the city’s government has to become more responsive to local business—and more accountable to residents. Only working together can Oakland create more jobs, better schools, and less crime.

Richard’s personal experience and his years of leadership in local government have given him the tools to help Oakland achieve this historic transformation. Running for City Council is a chance to stand up for what he believes in—and to help usher in a new generation of leadership to the city…one that’s focused on bringing people together to solve Oakland’s problems.

Don Link:

Don has a vision for Oakland, a vision with quiet, safe neighborhoods, vibrant, exciting commercial districts and an education system that keeps our kids in school, prepares them for college or for good jobs when they graduate.

Oakland already has the location, the climate, the people, and the potential to be a phenomenal city. The NY Times recognized this; those of us who live and work here also know this to be true. There are challenges that hold our city back, as Council member for District 1, Don will make sure we can solve those challenges, bring real solutions to the table and move Oakland forward.

Amy Lemley:

North Oakland is a wonderful place to live.
There is so much to love, from our vibrant neighborhoods and fantastic neighbors to our unique local merchants and award-winning restaurants.

Yet I know there is so much that could be improved.
Like you, I want the basics: safe, clean streets, good schools, and a healthy economy that benefits all Oaklanders. All of these things are within our grasp. I know, working together, we can reach them.

As your Councilmember, I will focus on the core responsibilities of city government and tackle our challenges with creativity, persistence and pragmatism. I value collaboration and civility working with colleagues, and transparency and participation when working with the public.


1st) Rebecca Kaplan, the incumbent, has an OK issues page and I rank her first for the same reason I ranked her first for mayor: the other candidates are embarrassments.

2nd) Carol Lee Tolbert doesn’t really say anything of substance, for example: “Allowing Oakland to be the most dangerous city in California is unacceptable.” I rank her on the basis of her statement “I have served the citizens of Oakland on the Oakland School Board. I took the District out of State Receivership, left it with a $10 million surplus in 1997, and created quality neighborhood schools.” If this is an accurate description of her contribution as a school board member, it seems like highly relevant experience.

3rd) Mick Storm at least realizes that something is amiss, but he really ought to have an inkling beyond that before running:

As I look at the statements and positions of the incumbent council, I find little I disagree with. My only question is, why has so little been accomplished?

Theresa Anderson-Downs is another Green candidate, who doesn’t seem to have a website. I found an announcement of her candidacy which doesn’t say much.

Ignacio De La Fuente is incumbent in District 5, a seat he is not defending in order to run for At-large. He has a web site that doesn’t mention the current race. He’s a political dinosaur that should have been run out of town long ago for saddling Oakland with millions and decades of debt to lure the owners of the Raiders football team back to Oakland.


Incumbent Barbara Parker has an OK issues page. Jane Brunner (incumbent District 1 city councilperson) would be at home with most of the candidates for her seat: she loves Oakland. I agree with Make Oakland Better Now’s endorsement of Parker. Seeing them debate recently reinforced my impression of each: Parker is a professional, Brunner a politician, with competence and capriciousness allocated between them as one would expect.

Zheng Armstrong

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

The space race was much like the voyages of Zheng He — expensive displays of imperial supremacy without discernible long-term consequence.

Knowledge of Zheng He’s voyages were suppressed by emperors following his sponsor (the Yongle Emperor) while the moon landings are celebrated by contemporary media (moonwalker Neil Armstrong died recently; this post a synthesis of comments on two posts about Armstrong) but this has everything to do with the vast differences in host contexts and little to nothing with the rationale and impact of the respective explorations.

To all who overly credit the space race for the environmental movement or mid-late 20th century technical advances, you egregiously underestimate how and why people care about and for the environment and contribute to progress. To all inspired by totems, for shame. Totems are a barrier to calm thinking and acting for more good and against bad.

(None of this is to deny the astounding performances of Armstrong, Zheng, or other great explorers; their tenacity, intelligence, practicality, and such are qualities that nearly all humans could use more of. Zheng probably and certainly many great European explorers not long after were also mass murderers, and many astronauts and cosmonauts participated in the military of their respective murderous imperial regimes, but that’s another topic.)

Demand quality before quantity (re Oakland police)

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Another SF Chronicle article about crime and police staffing in Oakland includes but does not discuss a chart of violent crimes/population and violent crimes/officer for 10 California cities.

Crimes/officer screams out to me as the statistic for which Oakland is most anomalous. This could support the assertion that I incessantly hear and read from neighbors and commenters that Oakland needs more police — each officer has a large number of crimes to deal with — often in the form of “Oakland has half the police, in ratio to population, that most major cities have.” (This seems to be true relative to some U.S. cities, but is an exaggeration relative to other California cities; I have no idea why California cities seem to all have lower police/population levels than elsewhere in the U.S.) But it could also support an assertion that Oakland’s police department is spectacularly inefficient.

Crimes/officer is a facile measure of police department efficiency in the sense that it could be improved by hiring more officers and having them do nothing. Much better would be a measure of crime reduction per officer, a much more difficult and speculative number. But given the large range of crime rate outcomes given a relatively narrow range of staffing/population among California cities, I suggest policing efficiency must be a major determinant of those outcomes.

I calculated the number of officers per 1000 population for the cities included in the Chronicle chart, and included per capita income to throw out another frequent assertion, that Oakland has lots of crime because it is poor. Below is a screen capture from my spreadsheet.

A part of me is deeply annoyed each time I hear someone complaining about lack of police staffing or supporting for-appearances measures (gang injunctions probably an example of such) or claiming that such must be expressed because something must be done because there’s a crisis. Crime has been at a high level in Oakland relative to other U.S. cities for a long time. Furthermore, many Oakland residents see the police as the enemy, and not without reason.

It seems to me that even if one has a singular goal of increasing staffing levels, it makes sense to first demand and scrutinize department effectiveness. Adding officers to an ineffective department seems like a for-appearances measure, and not a good strategy for building long-term support for increased staffing and increased resident cooperation with police (and vice versa). Admittedly this kind of fix-what-you-advocate-to-increase-its-long-term-success is a satisfying position for me, but perhaps not for many others.

Happily, it seems there is at least one organization, Make Oakland Better Now that is advocating for both more and more effective police (I’d only reverse the order). MOBN’s reporting on the OPD’s nearly decade-long non-compliance with a police misconduct settlement and how the LAPD improved drastically under a similar settlement seems like required reading for anyone who wants better policing in Oakland. This includes those expressing a desire for increased public safety, and those who hate the police — I’m extremely dubious that goading constitutes either side’s best strategy.

Ride- and car-sharing and computers

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Underemployed vehicles and land at Fruitvale BART parking lot, the 5th of 11 stations between me and Fremont.

Tuesday I attended Silicon Valley Automotive Open Source presentations on Car- and Ride-sharing. I heard of the group via its organizer, Alison Chaiken, who I noted in February gave the most important talk at LibrePlanet: Why Cars need Free Software.

The talks were non-technical, unlike I gather most previous SVAOS talks (this was the first event in Fremont, which is much more convenient for me than Santa Clara, where most previous talks have been held), but very interesting.

I did not realize how many car- and ride-sharing startups and other initiatives exist. Dozens (in Germany alone?) or hundreds of startups, and all manufacturers, rental companies, and other entities with fleets are at least thinking about planning something. That seems good on its own, and will provide good experience to take advantage of further more intensive/efficient use of vehicles to be enabled by robocars.

Carpooling and other forms of ride-sharing has gone up and down with fuel rationing and prices. Carsharing seems to go back to 1948 at least, but with slow growth, only recently becoming a somewhat mainstream product and practice. Ride- and car-sharing ought be complements. Sharing a taxi, shared vans, and even mass transit, could in some ways been seen as primitive examples of this complementarity.

Rationing is not in effect now, and real prices aren’t that high, so I imagine current activity must be mostly be a result of computers and communications making coordination more efficient. This is highlighted by the reliance and hope of startups and other initiatives on the web and mobile applications and in-car computers and communications for access, control, coordination, reputation, and tracking.

But none of this seems to be open source at the end-user service/product level. Certainly much or even most of it is built on open source components (web as usual, auto internals moving that way). These seem like important arenas to argue against security-through-obscurity in vehicles and their communications systems, and to demand auditability and public benefit for public systems in various senses (one of the startups suggested marketing their platform to municipal governments; if reputation systems are to eventually mediate day-to-day activities, they need scrutiny).

2004 August 90% dicey

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

8 years ago August the blog-haystack was filled with turds (a broken haystack?) that we want to toss out at the very first opportunity.

Moth : Flame :: Human : Religion cf Fly : Excrement :: Blogger : Analogy.

Sturgeon’s Architecture buys the assumption that modern buildings are relatively ugly and spins a theory as to why what remains from this time period will be considered beautiful in the future (the ugly will be culled). Why buy the first assumption? Modern buildings are marvels and we should appreciate them at the height of their beauty, right now, for buildings of the future will be far more beautiful.

I Hate Nationalism oh really? The 2004 me could express agreement with someone else who had expressed agreement with someone else who expressed an opinion on the Internet and call it profound. How trite. Expanding concepts of “us” is a thing of popular culture since the 1960s and surely for centuries and perhaps millennia prior; I am merely ignorant of the specifics. How trite!

Porn Restriction Management to the Future wishfully speculates that porn publishers may not use DRM, perhaps implicitly criticizing non-porn publishers. But comments provided some examples of porn publishers using DRM. Others continue to promote statements from porn executives about DRM-free downloads, but this demonstrates nothing: one can find many non-porn publisher executrons saying the same thing. DRM probably continues to be used by porn and non-porn alike, and there’s nothing to learn, no criticism of publishers to make, that is anything but boring, scummy, raw assertion.

A pin maybe found in a haystack and spreading rumors about things I don’t understand marks me as a foolish charlatan. Play traders seemed to briefly put the probability of the rumor at 50%, but were quickly disillusioned. Similarly in early 2007 and almost no appetite for guessing lately.

At a Seybold DRM Roundtable I argued that DRM and rights description are opposites. But in effect, they’re very similar: fantasies. My guess is the “tech law” enthusiasts providing some of the narrative for each would be providing spin for the other’s vapor if they had gotten up on a different side of bed on some day.