Archive for September, 2012

Oakland city council district 1 debate Thursday: voters, please demonstrate you are not stupid, lazy, delusional

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

I encourage Oakland residents to come to my neighborhood Thursday evening for a District 1 city council debate featuring all 7 candidates (my review of the field). The somewhat notable Actual Cafe is across the street from the venue.

The East Bay Express this week includes two highly relevant articles. The People’s Police Department: Why federal consent decrees are working in Detroit, but not in Oakland, further subtracting from Oakland excuses and blaming on external factors (also see the Los Angeles Police Department improving under a similar settlement). The city and department leadership must be fully committed to change in word and deed. Oakland’s are not, as further evidenced by Deanna Santana Tried to Alter Damning Report: Emails show that Oakland’s city administrator sought to redact portions of the Frazier Report that included strong criticisms of the police department and its handling of Occupy Oakland (an example of a police department and administration aping national military and government, in disinformation as well as physical equipment and tactics).

A continued plea to both those who just want more cops and for them to crack down hard on crime, and those who just see the cops as criminals and non-cop crime due to other oppression. Both positions lead to severe dysfunction (so does the in between position of seeing police as necessary evil and therefore not worthy of support or effective management; to the extent the police are evil it is due to bad management and bad law, all the fault of a stupid, lazy, delusional electorate). The need for law enforcement is not going away, period, and the only way effective policing is going to get the support needed is for police to behave, as a matter of course. Los Angeles and Detroit show that a quick turnaround is possible. If Oakland residents on all sides do not constructively demand and obtain such, we have only ourselves to blame for continued out of control crime and police misconduct.

Sizing Pentagon propaganda: $4.7b, 27k people

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The Return of ‘The Runaway General’ (full article subscriber-only; read at library):

Hastings gives a telling account of the Pentagon’s media operation, which tried to “make over” McChrystal. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year on public relations and has 27,000 people working on them. Every general has his own team of media handlers–all too evident to any journalist who has interviewed senior US brass in Iraq or Afghanistan. On a regular trip General Petraeus would have a staff of fifty walking before and after him. In contrast, a senior State Department official would have less than five staff members, including his security detail.

Apparently this is old (2009) news, though I missed it. Spinning Us to Death (2011):

While American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seeks to provide the illusion of progress, systematically misrepresenting realities on the ground to bide more time, gain more troops, and acquire more funding. It’s bad enough that the American media uncritically relays statements from U.S. officials portraying “success” on the ground. Now the Pentagon is using its massive propaganda budget to blur the line between informing the public and spinning it to death. In fact, several years ago the Associated Press found that the Pentagon had spent $4.7 billion on public relations in 2009 alone, and employs 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, nearly as many as the 30,000-person State Department. Essentially the Pentagon is trying to influence public policy and lobby civilian officials to shift policies toward their own ends while dispersing the costs onto the American taxpayer.

Military propaganda is nothing new, in the U.S. or elsewhere. Many people have written about how thoroughly militaries and militarists have subverted journalism, and civic discourse in general. Still, $4.7 billion and 27,000 people (and presumably more in other departments) paid to do this, while tiny portions of federal expenditure and staffing, disgusts anew — the object of disgust being the USian people for being willing fools.

Too many times I’ve heard in conversation people talk about 280,000 astroturfers employed by the Chinese government (and doubtless a similarly huge number of more traditional propagandists and censors) accompanied by adjectives like “craaazy”. “Our” militaries are running crazy amok (and are or will be happy to astroturf), and we’re to blame. Fix that, then gasp at the greater-by-degree insanities of more authoritarian regimes.

The Return linked above draws on a number of Afghanistan books, and begins more or less predicting a similar US occupation aftermath to the USSR occupation aftermath; wouldn’t surprise me, at the least there’s a grave risk of ongoing war and/or an even more extremely brutal regime over the next few years, meaning that many thousands, maybe millions of innocent Afghans will be “displaced”, tortured, slaughtered, etc. The U.S. owes every Afghan who wants it immediate U.S. citizenship. Anything less, it bears, I mean we bear, even more responsibility for future mass murder than we already do.

Exit tweet loyalty

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Someday I will read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) and comment on pertinence to things I write about here (cf my almost due for 8 year refutation notes on The Logic of Collective Action (1965)), but I have long found the concept intuitive.

The Declaration of Twitter Independence has been quickly ridiculed. In addition to its over the top language, one way to think about why is that it seems an almost certainly futile and maybe inappropriate (Twitter won’t listen, and perhaps shouldn’t; Twitter can do whatever they want with their services) attempt at voice, accompanied with a halfhearted at best exit plan (“explore alternate platforms, giving precedence to those who do support such [muddled] principles [until Twitter adopts a more developer friendly policy]“).

“Doing it right” per the crowd I’m most familiar with (including me) is almost all exit: start developing your apps for StatusNet/OStatus and other federated and open source social web software/protocols; any voice should demand support for federation, ie facilitate exit. Twitter apologists would say Twitter is doing the right thing for the Twitter ecosystem, the complainers should deal. Twitter loyal oppositionists would say Twitter is doing its greatness a disservice with its policies and should change. I’m not sure what people who care but are in neither the federated nor Twitter apologist/loyalist camps might think, but I’d like to know.

The Declaration doesn’t lend itself to a charitable reading, I think it is worth giving it one. Regarding its futile and perhaps inappropriate attempt at voice: it is OK for customers to complain; smart companies often even listen and adjust; Twitter is now a large organization, parts of it very smart; worth a try. Regarding exit, they don’t want to, and there isn’t anyplace completely obvious for them to go, much as I’d like that to be StatusNet/OStatus; “explore alternate platforms” and wanting no limits on how data can be used and shared, and data available in standard formats all support exit, with the right amount of tentativeness. Although that charitable reading is possible, the Declaration could’ve been written much more strongly regarding all of the points discussed above. Low probability that I’ll fork it to do so.

Collaborative Futures mentions exit, voice, and loyalty in the context of free collaboration projects. It appears from the history that I didn’t write that bit, though it covers a pet concept and uses a pet phrase (configurations). That chapter is way too short, but I’m pleased in retrospect with its nuance, or rather, with the charitable readings I’m able to give it.

When I eventually return to this topic, I will probably complain that software freedom and nearby advocates are overly focused on exit, with lots of untapped potential for the movements in voice and loyalty, possibly the same for political libertarians, and that it difficult to keep in mind more than two of exit, voice, and loyalty, and the frequency of their pairings.

In the meantime a post last year by Xavier Marquez on Exit, Voice, and Legitimacy: Responses to Domination in Political Thought seems pretty reasonable to me.

Innocence of _ sharing, remix, and annotation contest

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The term Streisand effect to denote “an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely” rubs me the wrong way (perhaps because I sense homage in critique, in this case perhaps to pop culture fame) but it seems an apt description of reactions to Innocence of Muslims.

I watched (see above) the trailer. If I didn’t know that lots of people were upset about it, I’d class it as camp. I have a hard time not viewing it as such. People claiming it is disgusting and with no artistic merit are expressing some kind of tiresome responsibility and solidarity. Artistically, the trailer seems so comically bad that’s it’s good.

Because it is so bad/good, and now famous, I’m guessing that Innocence will spark lots of “remix culture” (another dreadful term, oh well). Some obvious things to watch for:

  1. Sharing the trailer many places besides YouTube, the centrality of which warps discussions of free speech.
  2. Leaking of the whole (apparently 74 minute) film.
  3. The 74 minute film may not exist, but this doesn’t mean a 74 minute Innocence can’t be created. An early attempt to do so seems to simply loop the trailer and perhaps add in some news footage.
  4. It seems that the trailer is constantly making reference to historic events or religious text passages, but lacking detailed knowledge of the relevant history and books, they all go over my head. Annotations indicating the events and passages referred to, and further material supporting or refuting their interpretations in the film, would be very helpful.
  5. Given the generic campy-actors-hanging-out-in-a-desert scenes that dominate the trailer, and suggested by the use of overdubbing in the original, it shouldn’t be too hard to repurpose the material for films supporting (or opposing) every desert-origin religion (there are many; bonus for any of the vast majority without current adherents) or merely for depicting family feuds and other soap operatic themes set in a desert.
  6. The most currently valuable and pertinent remix would be a historical allegory, in which the marauder/murderer/rapist/torturer figures represent the current U.S.-led terror war.
  7. There are many bad, bad/good, and perhaps some good, desert-religion films which could be used to supplement material from Innocence for any of the above. The ethnicity of the actors is aligned with lots of USian portrayals, especially older ones.
  8. There’s once scene of a man bound to a pole that could be plausibly reinterpreted as the Christ (ignoring that implausibility) and added to The Mashin’ of.

Contest? Winners, should any appear, may receive a gratis link from this post.

Falsifiable PR, science courts, legal prediction markets, web truth

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Point of Inquiry podcast host Chris Mooney recently interviewed Rick Hayes-Roth of TruthMarket.com.

The site allows one to crowdfund a bounty for proving or disproving a claim that the sponsors believe to be a bogus or true statement respectively. If the sponsors’ claim is falsified, the falsifying party (challenger) gets the bounty, otherwise the initiating sponsor (campaign creator) gets 20% of the bounty, and other sponsors get about 80% of their contributions back. TruthMarket runs the site, adjudicates claims, and collects fees. See their FAQ and quickstart guide.

It seems fairly clear from the podcast that TruthMarket is largely a publicity mechanism. A big bounty for a controversial (as played out in the media anyway) claim could be newsworthy, and the spin would favor the side of truth. The claims currently on the site seem to be in this vein, e.g., Obama’s birth certificate and climate change. As far as I can tell there’s almost no activity on the site, the birth certificate claim, started by Hayes-Roth, being the only one funded.

The concept is fairly interesting though, reminding me of three things:

Many interesting combinations of these ideas are yet to be tried. Additionally, TruthMarket apparently started as TruthSeal, an effort to get web publishers to vouch monetarily for claims they make.

Question Software Freedom Day‽

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

If software freedom is important, it must be attacked, lest it die from the unremitting bludgeoning of obscurity and triviality. While necessary, I don’t particularly mean trivial attacks on overblown cleverness, offensive advocates, terminological nitpicking, obscurantism, fragmentation, poor marketing, lack of success, lack of diversity, and more. Those are all welcome, but mostly (excepting the first, my own gratuitously obscure, nitpicking and probably offensive partial rant against subversive heroic one-wayism) need corrective action such as Software Freedom Day and particularly regarding the last, OpenHatch.

I mostly mean attacking the broad ethical, moral, political, and utilitarian assumptions, claims, and predictions of software freedom. This may mean starting with delineating such claims, which are very closely coupled, righteous expressions notwithstanding. So far, software freedom has been wholly ignored by ethicists, moral philosophers, political theorists and activists, economists and other social scientists. Software freedom people who happen to also be one of the aforementioned constitute a rounding error.

But you don’t have to be an academic, activist, software developer, or even a computer user to have some understanding of and begin to critique software freedom, any more than one needs to be an academic, activist, businessperson, or voter to have some understanding of and begin to critique the theory and practice of business, democracy, and other such institutional and other social arrangements.

Computation does and will ever moreso underlay and sometimes dominate our arrangements. Should freedom be a part of such arrangements? Does “software freedom” as roughly promoted by the rounding error above bear any relation to the freedom (and other desirables; perhaps start with equality and security) you want, or wish to express alignment with?

If you want to read, a place to start are the seminal Philosophy of the GNU Project essays, many ripe for beginning criticism (as are many classic texts; consider the handful of well known works of the handful of philosophers of popular repute; the failure of humanity to move on is deeply troubling).

If you want to listen and maybe watch, presentations this year from Jacob Appelbaum, Cory Doctorow (about, mp3), Eben Moglen (1, 2), and Karen Sandler (short, long).

Law of headlines ending in a question mark is self-refuting in multiple ways. The interrobang ending signifies an excited fallibility, if the headline can possibly be interpreted charitably given the insufferable preaching that follows, this sentence included.

Try some free software that is new to you today. You ought to have LibreOffice installed even if you rarely use it in order to import and export formats whatever else you may be using probably can’t. I finally got around to starting a MediaGoblin instance (not much to see yet).

If you’re into software freedom insiderism, listen to MediaGoblin lead developer Chris Webber on the most recent Free as in Freedom podcast. I did not roll my eyes, except at the tangential mention of my ranting on topics like the above in a previous episode.

Migration is Natural

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

'Migration is Natural' Mural
The mural pictured above is around the corner from where I live. I’m happy to find out that it means what I hoped — though I’d be surprised if the muralists didn’t arrive via some very different considerations. The Community Rejuvenation Project commissioned the mural and yesterday posted a photo of it with the following caption:

This piece on San Pablo by 60th st. is a collaboration between Pancho Pescador and Mike 360. The goal of this piece is to support natural migration and eliminate imaginary human borders.

Proud to have this in my neighborhood. Another visual advocating intellectual freedom nearby would make a tiny part of me feel complete.

I had not heard of before and have no opinion at this time concerning Wirikuta. Apparently some people view it as a holy site while others want to mine it. The atheist in me wants to disingenuously urge the full separation of the existing and non-existing universes, rendering any complaint about despoiling a holy site because it is holy as preposterous as believing in things that don’t exist. But I’m sure there are other, entirely naturalistic, concerns from both sides.

Opus!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Opus is now an open source, royalty-free IETF standard. See Mozilla and Xiph announcements and congratulations to all involved.

This is a pretty big deal. It seems that Opus is superior to all existing audio codecs in quality and latency for any given bitrate. I will guess that for some large number of years it will be the no-brainer audio codec to use in any embedded application.

Will it replace the ancient (almost ancient enough for relevant patents to expire) but ubiquitous MP3 for non-embedded uses (i.e., where users can interact with files via multiple applications, such as on-disk music libraries)? If I were betting I’d have to bet no, but surely long-term it has a better chance than any free audio codec since Vorbis in the late 1990s. Vorbis never gained wide use outside some classes of embedded applications and free software advocates, but it surely played a big role in suppressing licensing demands from MP3 patent holders. Opus puts a stake through the heart of future audio codec licensing demands, unless some other monopoly can be leveraged (by Apple) to make another codec competitive.

Also, Opus is a great brand. Which doesn’t include an exclamation point. The title of this post merely expresses excitement.

I published an Opus-encoded file July 30. Firefox ≥15 supports Opus, which meant beta at the time, and now means general release.

To publish your own Opus encoded audio files, use opus-tools for encoding, and add a line like the below to your web server’s .htaccess file (or equivalent configuration):

AddType audio/ogg .opus

Hopefully the obvious large community sites (Wikimedia Commons and Internet Archive) will accept and support Opus uploads as soon as possible. Unlike their slow action on WebM. Speaking of which the Mozilla announcement mentions “working on the same thing for video”. I can’t tell whether this means submitting WebM (probably more specifically the VP8 codec) to the IETF or something else, but good luck and thank you in all cases. [Update: The proposed video codec charter starts from some requirements not mentioning any particular code; my wholly uniformed wild guess is that it will be another venue for VP8 and H.264 camps to argue.] [Update 20120913: Or maybe "same thing for video" means Daala.] [Update 20120914: Greg Maxwell comments with a precise answer below.]

Copyright mitigation, not balance

Monday, September 10th, 2012

EU Commission VP Neelie Kroes gave a speech on copyright reform that while surely among the best on the subject from a high level politician (Techdirt coverage) is fundamentally broken.

Kroes argues that a lot has changed in the last 14 years about how information is consumed, distributed, produced, and used in research and that copyright needs to adapt to these changes. If that argument eventually obtains significant mitigation of copyright, great, but it’s mostly wrong, and I suspect questions far too little and gives away way too much to all invested in the current regime. For example:

And now let’s remind ourselves what our objectives as policymakers should be for the creative sector.

We should help artists live from their art. Stimulate creativity and innovation. Improve consumer choice. Promote our cultural heritage. And help the sector drive economic growth.

We can’t look at copyright in isolation: you have to look at how it fits into the real world. So let’s ask ourselves: how well is the current system achieving those objectives, in the world we live in today?

What about freedom? Equality?

Regarding new technologies in the last 14 years, there have been some (and Kroes was not so bold as to even hint at Napster and successors, nor broad offenses against these and the web), but those are not at all what makes copyright mitigation interesting, except down in the weeds of how specific regulations interact with specific technologies and practices — the view of the universe from the vantage of administrators and agitators of the current regime — understandably, as this is where most day to day battles are fought.

Instead, mitigation of anti-commons information policy is interesting and desirable, and has been especially pertinent at various times (eg 1800s) throughout human history, because free speech is always desirable and under threat by the embarrassments of control, corruption, and rent seeking. These are not qualities to be “balanced”, but diseases to be mitigated as much and for as long as possible.

The objectives Kroes says policymakers should have are fine, if secondary. Copyright (and patents, and sadly more) simply should not be seen as relevant to any of them, except as a barrier to be mitigated, not balanced nor adapted.

Wikitravels

Monday, September 10th, 2012

The morbidity of Wikitravel (owned by Internet Brands) and possible consolidation of ex-Wikitravel communities in a new Wikimedia project (I support the latter and have no opinion on squabbles somewhere in between) makes this a good time to revisit themes of three old blog posts.

In 2004 I wrote about copying text across World66 and Wikitravel, two then-independent sites, quasi-wiki and wiki respectively, under then-compatible licenses. I already gave this post its 8 year refutation, noting that I didn’t fully comply with the licenses and people don’t care about licenses anyway.

If people did care, it would be worth noting that the two are no longer under compatible licenses. World66 has stayed at Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0 which had overlooked compatibility with future versions, while Wikitravel migrated to Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 (a process I cheered) Curiously the Wikitravel license upgrade page claims World66 used Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0, which was never the case. The morbidity of World66 (another data point: I seem to have made the last edit to the World66 article on Austin, in 2004) since and maybe prior to its Internet Brands acquisition perhaps says something about IB management, but first, the acquisition.

World66 and Wikitravel were both announced to have been acquired by IB in 2006 (document below says the acquisition happened in 2005). I don’t know that the terms for either were disclosed, despite a joking request to add them to a wiki page. But now one figure is included in an IB legal document (backstory on that document): $1.7m for Wikitravel.

Later in 2006 I claimed that community is the new IP (yes I hate the term IP when expanded to “Intellectual Property” too, but I didn’t expand it; in any case I meant that a community and its location/identifier is a barrier to competitive entrants, which is also one effect of copyright, patent, trademark, etc.) and cited the acquisitions of Wikitravel and YouTube (for almost 1000x as much — that is not to denigrate Wikitravel — $1.7m may be wholly uninteresting to venture investors, but sounds very nice for what I imagine required very little capital other than sweat). The idea that a large community, or “community”, or loyal userbase, or at least lots of users that would find it difficult to move, is valuable, has been shown many times subsequently (e.g., Facebook and Twitter valuations) and isn’t even interesting. My ulterior motive in claiming that “community is the new IP” was to say that copyright in particular is irrelevant for web startups and that as such these should allow users to contribute such that all have equal rights. Well, copyright probably is mostly irrelevant (consider Twitter and Facebook; though a few people have gotten worked up over whether one could “copyright a tweet”, legal risk from copying tweets must be far down any list of Twitter lock-in mechanisms; same for Facebook, even moreso, as much of the stuff people visit that site for is never public, and use of many of the photos would run into personality/privacy/publicity rights even if copyright did not exist), but so it would seem are equal copyright permissions for users — precious few startups have offered such and I don’t know of any that are huge successes.

Wikitravel co-founder Evan Prodromou’s current StatusNet is one of those, but that’s another story which I hope will be huge one day. Pre-StatusNet, Prodromou was working on additional commercial wikis, and in 2007 I was impressed with his guidelines for such. From a business perspective community may be an excludable resource, but like any advantage a business might have, it can be squandered. I’d love it if someone more knowledgeable about IB and Wikitravel over the past few years could say whether Prodromou’s guidelines capture what IB hasn’t done right — and whether the guidelines could be usefully amended and expanded based on several more years of commercial wikis, not only those run by IB.

IB’s current troubles with Wikitravel will probably serve as a minor negative case for future statups, but in which sense? To avoid free licensing altogether, in order to make it more difficult for users to leave in the event of your mismanagement? Or to follow something like Prodromou’s guidelines in spirit and practice for a healthy, happy community and long-term business success? And will a more substantial proportion of users ever care?

All of the above aside, I still find Wikitravel one of the ever better stories for free public licenses, the travel guide materials having now been hosted by a small startup, acquired by IB, forked to community sites (Wikivoyage), small bits copied into Wikipedia articles, and perhaps soon, some form of mass copying into a new Wikimedia-hosted travel project, all with no copyright barriers.

Finally, it has been noted that with volunteer administrators gone, Wikitravel is being buried in spam. This (and general frustration with spam on small wikis and nearby over the years) is what prompted me last week to microblog that archeologists of the future will dig through layers of spam as contemporary ones dig through layers of dirt. 10 years (did anyone note it?) must be far beyond the half-life of websites.