Archive for January, 2015

Dear Libby Schaaf,

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Downtown Oakland viewed from my neighborhood.

Congratulations on your election and Monday’s inauguration as Oakland mayor.

Following is largely an update of my letter to Jean Quan four years ago. Big differences: I voted for you, and both my and general expectations for your term are high.

Crime and policing are still where Oakland does worst relative to other cities, and where it can improve the most through action by city government. (It’s easy to make the case other problems are bigger, e.g., poverty, infrastructure, housing, finances, education, corruption…but many cities are worse off than Oakland on multiple of these, there’s less any city government can do on its own to turn these around, and few if any cities have staged big turnarounds in these areas…but many cities have on crime and policing.)

In order to avoid a strong challenge from the left during your term and in the next election, you must prioritize policing quality (both in terms of solving crimes and zero tolerance for cops who commit crimes and their supervisors) above quantity of cops. In order to avoid a strong challenge from the right, crime must go down. I suspect these two necessities are compatible, and suspect you might think so too (or I wouldn’t have voted for you). But now you have to act.

A sure signal of failure to me will be if you blame criminals, drugs, federal oversight, guns, or protesters — these elements are not under your control — and the best way to address them is — fix the OPD. Nearby and substantially poorer Richmond seems to be setting a fine example. If chief Sean Whent isn’t up to the job of fixing the OPD (I hope he is), how about hiring Richmond police chief Chris Magnus? On addressing protesters, Oakland could even take a lesson from Nashville, which as far as I know has vastly less experience with large protests.

I suspect that short-term city finances do not look as bad as they did four years ago due to the regional economy, but long-term (or even next recession) they are dire. I have very low expectation of any substantial improvement in long-term outlook, but good decisions on development and transportation would help. In general the Strong Towns approach favoring narrow streets and incremental, financially sustainable development over big roads and heavily subsidized big begs seems applicable to infill development, even though that site’s main target seems to be jurisdictions still doing green field development. Don’t bet on retail or sports teams. Do eliminate gratis parking, remove 980, and otherwise prepare Oakland to exploit rather than be exploited by the great urban reconfiguration of the 21st century — self-driving vehicles (LA’s mayor is at least talking about this).

On the city council you’ve been the internal champion for transparency and open government. Please continue on that path, rather than pivoting away from real open government, as some do when they move to the executive. Even better would be to make Oakland city government a leader in open source software procurement. Cities are terribly ill-coordinated on software procurement and development, which presently makes them subject to vendor lock-in and high costs, but as more infrastructure is mediated by software, will make their citizens less free.

Finally, do everything in your power and more to welcome, protect, and empower non-U.S. citizen residents, visitors, and workers in Oakland, and to frustrate the institutions of international apartheid and inflame their apologists, from the purely practical such as running the city well (as Jane Jacobs pointed out long ago, working cities are where strangers add to rather than threaten each other’s lives) to the largely expressive such as encouraging non-citizens to vote.

Here’s to great outcomes for Oakland, and your incredible success as mayor!

Mike Linksvayer
Golden Gate District, Oakland

Happy GNU Year & Public Domains Day

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

This Public Domain Day I recommend watching a 2005 lecture or corresponding 2006 journal article Enriching Discourse on Public Domains (summary) by Pamela Samuleson.

The video was only published by Duke Law (which also hosts the main U.S.-centric public domain day page) to their YouTube channel a month ago. Based on the first version (2013-01-02) of my attempted summary, I read the paper the day after my public domain day post 2 years ago, Public Domains Day, which riffed on dictionary definitions.

Samuelson outlines 13 meanings found in law review articles (see the summary for a quick listing) and points out some benefits and one cost of accepting multiple definitions:

+ avoid disputes about “the” correct or one true definition
+ broadened awareness of public domains and public domain values
+ facilitation of context-sensitive discussion
+ enable nuanced answers to questions about various public domains (eg shrinking or not?)
+ possibility of gaining insight into public domain values through consideration of different public domains (deemed most important by author)
– possible confusion concerning what a communicator means by “public domain”

In the lecture Samuelson says it took a long time for her to accept multiple definitions, in part after realizing that other fields such as property law successfully use multiple context-dependent definitions. I’d like to add a plus to the list:

+ language is fun, play with it!

Hectoring people for not using the deemed-by-you to be the one true definitions of the correct words is the opposite of fun. I do tend to use nonstandard words and phrases such as “copyrestriction”, “inequality promotion”, “intellectual freedom infringement”, “intellectual parasite”, and “intellectual protectionism” in order to make a point and have fun, but have descended to hectoring at times (and probably have been perceived as having done so more). I will from now make more of an effort to use terms other people use, or when not, give a fun and non-hectoring rationale. In the meantime, I will say that though I agree with many individual points made concerning word avoidance, I find such neither fun nor welcoming nor helpful in convincing anyone that freedom and equality need to be the dominant objectives of information policy.

At the beginning of the lecture Samuelson is given an introduction lauding her work, initially lonely but presented in 2005 as central, toward making intellectual property scholarship discourse consider the value of the various public domains and costs of expanding (scope, duration, protections) intellectual property rights. I have long been a fan of Samuelson’s work, but the introduction served to remind me of how unsatisfied I am with what still constitutes the liberalizing reform (which itself is possibly central, but I am too ignorant of the breadth of IP scholarship, which surely includes much so-called “maximalism”, to say) line:

  • acknowledgement that we can say little about the net benefits of IP
  • but it is surely “unbalanced” toward protection now
  • so it needs balancing and tuning
  • but of course IP is crucial so genuflect to drugs and movies
  • (largely through omission) commons are a band-aid and not central to reform
  • (largely through omission) freedom and equality not the central objectives

Of course not, as then we would have commons scholarship, not IP scholarship. I contend that pro-commons policy and products are the most feasible, sustainable, and overall best reforms and that freedom and equality should be the dominant objectives — I want the innovations and entertainment produced by a freedom respecting regime — surely meaning substantially less monopoly, hopefully a bit less embarrassing spectacle.

Image from last year, with ‘s’ added to ‘domain’; I’ve written enough recently about ‘GNU’ (signifying software freedom, not the GNU project strictly speaking).

Happy GNU Year & Public Domain Days