Post Oakland

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Ideas for limiting civic extortion, one in US 2016 federal budget proposal?

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

How to Stop the Stadium Wars (2015-03-17):

Or better yet: The next time the Cobb County Braves decide they’re ready to spin the Wheel of Taxpayer Subsidy, we should all hope the whole practice has become illegal.

That’s what the Obama administration proposed in its budget last month: to end the issuance of tax-free government bonds for professional sports facilities, a practice that has, according to research by Bloomberg, siphoned $17 billion of public money into arenas for NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL franchises over the last 30 years and cost Americans $4 billion in forgone federal taxes on top of that. It’s too late for residents of Cobb County, but Congress might yet save the rest of us some dough.

After an initial attempt in the 1960s to steer government bonds toward true public works, Congress placed a provision in the 1986 Tax Reform Act that seemed sure to kill tax-free, no-limit stadium deals. It had exactly the opposite effect. Essentially, qualifying projects now need either to serve public uses or to rely on public funding. With pro sports facilities, the former is obviously impossible, so the latter, though politically improbable, has become the way billionaire team owners retain access to cheap government financing. Cities and counties wound up borrowing more for their teams than ever before.

It’s been clear for decades that new stadiums don’t bring the business they promise, let alone enough economic activity to justify the investment. It’s a ruse, but it works because public officials are more worried about being blamed for the loss of a team in the short run than, say, for failing public schools in the long run. And it works because the country has more big cities and rich counties than sports teams in each league, so that even if Cincinnati taxpayers wise up, their counterparts in Austin will step in.

Obama’s budget isn’t the first national political effort to impose federal taxes on stadium deals. New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan proposed ending the loophole in 1996, and it’s been kicked around in committee since. But with groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity now opposing stadium deals at the local level, Obama’s idea has a chance of gaining bipartisan support.

Additional sources mentioned the proposal in February and March. I do not see more recent mentions. Is it surviving? The linked article mentions some lower status proposals (I’ve bolded the proposals, also above):

One solution, instead, could be to change the way teams operate, either by bringing antitrust suits against the leagues (which sports economist Andrew Zimbalist has suggested) or by allowing cities to exert greater control over their brands (as law professor Mitchell Nathanson has imagined). Should names like the Irving Cowboys, the East Rutherford Giants, and the Orchard Park Bills be forced upon suburban squads? In his 2000 book Leveling the Playing Field, Harvard Law professor Paul Weiler fantasizes about a nationwide union of cities that could lock out pro sports teams to obtain a league-imposed “stadium cap” on taxpayer subsidies, which would effectively end bidding wars.

The article also links to Should we ban states and cities from offering big tax breaks for jobs? (2014-09-15) which includes more general ideas:

Unilateral disarmament is a tough political proposition. As a systemic solution, Funkhouser advocates instead some kind of national law, what he loosely envisions as a domestic equivalent of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes of foreign officials to obtain business. At the very least, he says, we should hold accountable officials and chief executives who promise jobs and economic gain — for which a community has paid dearly — that never materialize.

LeRoy doesn’t realistically expect any federal law any time soon. But he suggests a more modest alternative. In the mid 1980s, the federal government threatened to withhold a share of federal highway funds from any state that didn’t enforce a legal drinking age of 21. We should do the same today around economic development incentives, LeRoy says: withhold 10 percent of some coveted federal funding stream — maybe Community Development Block Grants — from states that actively poach jobs from each other.

Add these to my preferred limitations on civic extortion for stadiums (no copyright for events in subsidized venues) and generally (ban based on a modern conception of the U.S. constitution’s import-export clause).

Apparently it is looking more likely that more than one professional sports team will leave Oakland for locations willing to give billionaires greater subsidies. Good riddance! Though I am a little bit sad that the people of other cities that I like (e.g., Los Angeles) will lose out, tempting as it is to blame their politicians and publics.

Speaking of Los Angeles, film location/movie production subsidies are another high visibility extortion that ought be vulnerable to a similar range of targeted or general limitations.

Bike San Pablo

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 30) there is again an open streets event in my neighborhood, Love Our Neighborhood Day (coverage 1, 2, 3, 4). San Pablo Avenue (California Route 123) will be closed to cars for a stretch going through North Oakland and Southwest Berkeley. Last year, looking toward downtown Oakland:

Love Our Neighborhood Day 2014 San Pablo Avenue

Flyer for this year:

In the 6.5 years I’ve lived half a block from San Pablo Avenue, it seems to me that bicycle traffic has multiplied. I suspect many of the people I see in the morning and afternoon are commuting. I very occasionally ride on San Pablo because it’s much more direct to many places than safer routes. There are no accommodations for bicyclists on San Pablo in Emeryville, North Oakland, and Berkeley.

Emeryville’s plan calls for a “corridor redesign” that does not officially designate San Pablo Avenue as a bicycle route but does suggest “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs and painting shared lane markings. Berkeley is updating its bike plan but I don’t know if San Pablo Avenue is yet on its agenda. It does not seem to be for Oakland.

To the north, El Cerrito and Albany are apparently planning protected bike lanes on San Pablo Avenue. Hopefully tomorrow’s event will get people in Oakland and Berkeley thinking likewise.

Much of the Oakland stretches of San Pablo Avenue (there’s another to the south between Emeryville and downtown Oakland, passing under 980) has substantial and poorly maintained medians (weed control cloth which is exposed, tattered, and does not control weeds is ugly-tacky several times over; plus dead trees) that could be removed to make room.

At the same time, because people cruising for parking are dangerous to bicyclists, some parking spots would probably be lost to bike accommodations, and the neighborhood is booming, parking on San Pablo Avenue and nearby should become paid, preferably as part of a community parking benefit district as recently implemented in the Montclair neighborhood of Oakland.

Annual thematic doubt 2

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

My second annual thematic doubt post, expressing doubts I have about themes I blogged about during 2014.

commons ⇄ freedom, equality ⇄ good future

Same as last year, my main topic has been “protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top.”

Rather than repeating the three doubts I expressed last year under the heading “intellectual freedom” (my evaluation of these has not much changed), I will take the subject from a different angle: the “theory of change” I have been espousing. This theory is not new to me. Essentially it is what attracted me to following the free software movement circa 1990 — its potential of extensive, pro-freedom socio-economic reform from the bottom up. That and wanting to run a unix-like on my computer — a want satisfied without respect to freedom as soon as I could use a Sun workstation at work, and for many years now would have been satisfied by OS X. I never cared very much about being able to read, modify, and share all of the software on my computer — the socio-economic implications of those capabilities make them interesting, to me. The claimed ends of the theory are in the ‘for a good future’ slogan I’ve occasionally used at least since 1998. I occasionally included the theory in blog posts (2006) and presentations (2008). Much of my ‘critical cheering’ last year (doubt) and before has largely been about my perhaps unreasonable wish that ‘free/open’ organizations and movements would take the theory I do and act as I think follows. I could easily be wrong on the theory or best actions it implies. Accordingly, I ratcheted down critical cheering in 2014; hopefully most but not all of what remained was relatively fun or novel. Instead I focused more sharply on the theory, e.g., in Sleepwalking past Freedom’s Commons, or how peer production could increase democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation, all of them!

The theory could be attacked from a number of angles — I’d love to see that done and learn of new vulnerabilities. For example, commons might not significantly affect freedom and equality, these may not be the right values, and one might consider a ‘good future’ to be one with maximum hierarchy, spectacle, even war (I repeatedly argue that future tech and culture will be marvels in most plausible futures, and that is a reason to reject ones that do not have freedom and equality as top values, but also something that makes it hard to see how a future — or present — could be different or better with more knowledge economy/policy-driven freedom and equality). But this isn’t a cheap refutation post (see below) and I don’t have very practical doubts about those values and what they imply constitutes a good future.

But I do have practical doubts about the first leg of the theory. Summary of that leg before getting to doubts: Commons-based knowledge production simultaneously destroys rents dependent on freedom infringing regimes, diminishing the constituency for those regimes, grows the constituency and policy imagination for freedom respecting regimes, and not least, directly increases freedom and equality.

Doubts:

  • Effects could be too small to matter, or properly attributed to generational or other competition among firms, not commons-based production. Consider Wikipedia, a success of commons-based production if there is one. Such success may not be possible in other sectors, especially ones that command top policy attention (drugs and movies) — policy imagination has not been increased. The traditional encyclopedia industry was already mostly destroyed by Microsoft Encarta when Wikipedia came along. The encyclopedia industry was not a significant constituency for freedom infringing regimes, so its destruction matters not for future policy. Encyclopedias were readily accessible at libraries, vastly more useful info of the sort found in encyclopedias is accessible online now, excluding Wikipedia, and ‘freedoms’ to modify and distribute are just not relevant nearly all humans.
  • I claim that the best knowledge policy reform is that which favors commons and that the reforms traditionally proposed by copyright and patent reformers are relatively futile because such proposals if implemented would not significantly change the knowledge economy to produce freedom and equality nor grow the constituencies for such changes — rather they are just about who, how, and for how much the outputs of production under freedom infringing regimes may be used — so-called balance, not the tilt I demand. But perhaps the usual set of reform proposals is the best that can be hoped for, especially given decades of discourse and organization-building around those proposals, and almost none about commons-favoring reform. Further, perhaps the usual set of reform proposals is best without qualification — commons-based production is a culturally marginal (in software; wholly irrelevant in most other sectors) arrangement that ought be totally ignored by policy.
  • Various (sometimes semi-) free/open movements within various sectors (e.g., software, education, research publication) are having some policy successes, without (as far as I know) usually considering themselves to be as or more central to shaping knowledge policy as usual things fitting under ‘copyright reform’ and ‘patent reform’ but this could be just what needs to happen. The important thing is that commons-based knowledge production entities act to further their interests with minimal distance from current policy discourse, not that they have any distracting and possibly discrediting theory about doing so relative to overall knowledge policy.

Only the first of these gives me serious pause, though my discounting the last two might be a matter of (dis)taste — my feeling is that most of the people involved thoroughly identify with the trivia of copyright, patent, and similar law, even if they think those laws need serious reform, and act as if commons-based production is something to be protected from reform in the bad direction, but not at all central. Sadly if my feeling is accurate, the second and third doubts probably ought give me more pause than they do.

Despite these doubts, the potential huge win-win (freedom and equality, without conflict) of reorienting the knowledge economy and policy around commons-based production makes robust discourse (at the least) on this possibility urgent, even if tilt probability is low. One of the things that makes me favor this approach is that reform can be very incremental — indeed, it is by far the most feasible reform of any proposed — we just need a lot more of it. Push-roll towards tilt!

The most damning observation is perhaps that I’m only talking, and mostly on this very blog. I should change my ways, but again, this is not a cheap refutation post.

Software Freedom/Futurism/Science Fantasy

I recently wrote that “it’s much easier to take software freedom as a serious issue of top importance if one has a ‘futurist’ bent. This will also figure in a forthcoming post from me casting doubt on everything in this post and the rest from 2014.”

How important are computers to human arrangements, and how large is the range of plausible computer-involved arrangements, and how much can those realized be changed? Should anyone besides programmers and enthusiasts care about software specifically, any more or less than they care about the conditions under which any tool is created and distributed? (Contrast with other tools would be good here, but I’ll leave for another time.)

The vast majority of people seem to treat software as any other tool — they want it to work as well as possible, and to be as cheap as possible, the only difference being that their intuitions about quality and cost of software may be worse than their intuitions for the quality and cost of, for example, bridges. Arguably nearly everyone has been and perhaps still is correct.

But one doesn’t need to be much of a futurist to see software getting much more important — organizations good at using software ‘eating’ the lunches of those less good at using software, software embedded in everything or designing everything (and anything else being obsolete), regulating and mediating every sort of arrangement — with lots of plausible variation as to how this happens.

Now the doubt: does future-motivated interest in software freedom share more with interest in science fiction (i.e., moralistic fantasy) or with interest in future studies and the many parts of various social sciences that aim to improve systems going forward in addition to understanding current and past ones? If the latter, why is software freedom ignored by all of these fields? Possibly most people who do think software is becoming very important are not convinced that software freedom is an important dimension to consider. If so (I would love to see some kind of a review on the matter) it would be most reasonable to follow the academic consensus (even if it is one of omission; that consensus being of software freedom not interesting or important enough to investigate) and if one cares about the ethical dimensions of software, focus instead on the ones the consensus says are important.

Two additional posts last year in which I claim software freedom is of outsized and underappreciated importance (of course I don’t usually restrict myself to only software, but consider software a large and growing part of knowledge embodying cumulative innovation, and of the knowledge economy leading to more such accumulation) and some of many from years past (2006, 2006, 2007, 2007). The first from 2006 highlights the most obvious problem with the future. I had forgotten about that post when mentioning displacement of movies by some other form as the height of culture in 2013 — one has to squint to see such displacement even beginning yet. The second isn’t about the future but is closely related: alternative history.

Uncritical Cheering

I feared that many of my posts last year were uncritical cheering (see critical cheering above and last year). Looking back at posts where I’m promoting something, I have usually included or at least hinted at some amount of criticism (e.g., 1 2). I don’t feel too bad. But know that most of the things I promote on my blog are very likely to fail or otherwise be inconsequential — if they were sufficiently mainstream and established they’d be sufficiently covered elsewhere, and I likely wouldn’t bother blogging about them.

One followup: I cheered the publication of the first formally peer-reviewed and edited Wikipedia article in Open Medicine — a journal which has since ceased publishing.

Freeway 980

I continue to blog about removing freeway 980, which cuts through the oldest parts of Oakland. Doubt: I don’t know whether full removal would be better (at least when considering feasibility) than capping the portion of 980 which is below grade. I intended to read about freeway capping, come to some informed opinion, and blog about it. I have not, but supposedly Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf has mentioned removing 980. Hopefully that will spur much more qualified people to publish analyses of various options for my reading pleasure. ConnectOakland is a website dedicated to one removal/fill scenario.

Politics

I’m satisfied enough with the doubt in my two posts about Mozilla’s leadership debacle, but I’ll note apparent tension between fostering ideological diversity and shunning people who would deny some people basic freedoms. I don’t think this one was fairly clear cut, but there are doubtless far more difficult cases in the world.

Instead of doubt, I’d like to clarify my intention with two other posts: thought experiment/provocation, serious demand.

Refutation

I fell further behind, producing no new dedicated collections of refutations of my 8+ year old posts. My very next post will be one, but as with previous such posts, the refutations will be cheap — flippant rather than drilling down on doubts I may have gained over the years. Again these observations (late, cheap) are what led me last year to initiate a thematic doubt post covering the immediately previous year. How was this one?

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

Libby for Oakland mayor, Len for auditor

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

How I’m voting Tuesday for Oakland Mayor: #1 Libby Schaaf, #2 Rebecca Kaplan; Oakland Auditor: Len Raphael; California proposition 46: No, 47: Yes.

Mayor

In 2010 I ranked Kaplan first among a very weak field. Jean Quan won; my recommendations/predictions for her tenure still seem pretty reasonable.

I hope Schaaf wins this time for roughly four reasons:

  • Schaaf’s position on public safety seems nearest to my plea: more quality and quantity, with priority to former. That seems approximately the position of the other two likely winners (Kaplan and Quan); the real question is delivery. Progess has been way too slow under Quan, starting with many mistakes. With Kaplan I can’t tell where bluster about “leadership” ends and effectiveness begins, but I suspect it is mostly bluster. The other candidates with a nonzero chance of winning strike me as prioritizing quantity (Bryan Parker, Courtney Ruby, and especially Joe Tuman) or quality exclusively (Dan Siegel).
  • Schaaf’s approved plan for adjustable/benefit parking pricing in Montclair. Flexible pricing for parking is always a tough sell, but absolutely the right thing to do, and one of the most impactful and beneficial things a city can implement. I hope that Oakland catches up to and preferably leapfrogs SFPark and suspect that is most likely if Schaaf wins. Tuman is the worst on this issue, wanting to increase gratis parking.
  • Schaaf has done more work on ‘open’ government than any of the other candidates; my expectations for progress in that area would also be higher if Schaaf wins.
  • The other candidates have a tendency to come off as blowhards (especially Kaplan), incoherent (especially Quan), or some combination. For the field, Schaaf is on the low end of both of these negative characteristics. I expect fewer cringe-inducing moments from a Schaaf mayorship, a slightly good thing even if it has no correlation with effectiveness.

There is one issue that Kaplan, Quan, and Schaaf seem to approximately have the same position on, but Kaplan might be better: building a substantial amount of new housing. Kaplan has said that Oakland could have 100k more people. Not nearly enough, but a large number that I’m pleasantly surprised I have not seen criticism of.

I don’t think any of the candidates take a reasonable (kick them out) position on the embarrasment of professional sports teams in Oakland. I have not investigated their positions closely to avoid triggering disgust reaction, but my gloss: Parker and Tuman most likely to beggar the city to sports team owners, Kaplan extremely eager to claim credit for keeping sports teams, city hall plastered with cheesy corporate sports team banners under Quan, Siegel possibly least likely to totally sell-out to team owners.

Lots more about the Oakland mayor contest at OaklandWiki.


An issue I don’t think any candidate has addressed.

Auditor


Now for city auditor.

There are only two candidates for Oakland auditor. I’ll vote for Len Raphael, as I did when he ran for councilor in my district in 2012. Raphael would do politically unconfortable audits. Brenda Roberts would be business as usual. Especially for a city as poorly governed as Oakland, the former is necessary.

There hasn’t been much coverage of this contest, but a recent article in the East Bay Express seems like a neutral summary. Read more at OaklandWiki.

California Propositions

Ending the insane drug war continues to be the sure thing most governments could do to increase local and global peace and justice. There’s one California state proposition that would expand the drug war: 46: Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing of Doctors (vote against), and one that would mitigate it 47: Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative (vote for).

Edit Oakland wiki events

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Saturday, July 12, there’s a big open streets event in my obscure flats neighborhood where Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley meet. A small stretch of San Pablo Avenue will be closed to cars (sadly not only human-driven cars, which would momentarily meet my suggestion). E’ville Eye has a comprehensive post about the event and its origins.

There will be an Oakland Urban Paths walk in the neighborhood during the event, during which obscurities will be related. Usually these walks are in locations with more obvious scenery (hills/stairs) and historical landmarks; I’m looking forward to seeing how they address Golden Gate. Last month they walked between West Oakland and downtown, a historic and potentially beautiful route that currently crosses 980 twice — edit it out!

Monday, July 14 18:00-19:30 there’s a follow-on event at the Golden Gate Branch Library — an OaklandWiki edit party. I haven’t edited Oakland Wiki much yet, but I like the concept. It is one of many LocalWikis, which relative to MediaWiki and Wikipedia have very few features or rules. This ought greatly lower the barrier to many more people contributing information pertinent to their local situation; perhaps someone is researching that? I’ve used the OaklandWiki to look up sources for Wikipedia articles related to Oakland and have noticed several free images uploaded to OaklandWiki that would be useful on Wikipedia.

Saturday, July 19 11:00-16:00 there’s a Wikipedia edit event at Impact Hub in Oakland and online: WikiProject Open Barn Raising 2014 which aims to improve Wikipedia articles about open education — a very broad and somewhat recursive (Wikipedia is an “open educational resource”, though singular doesn’t do it justice, unless perhaps made singular the open educational resource, but that would be an overstatement). If you’re interested in OER, Open Access, open policy and related tools and organizations, or would like to learn about those things and about editing Wikipedia, please participate!

Tangentially, OpenHatch (my endorsement) got a nice writeup of its Open Source Comes to Campus events at WIRED. I view these as conceptually similar to introduction to Wiki[pedia] editing events — all aim to create a welcoming space for newcomers to dive into participating in commons-based peer production — good for learning, careers, communities, and society.

Hyperlocal Optimum

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

I recently wanted to accuse some people of pursuing a hyperlocal optimum. In this case, a heightened perception of the strength of their position, sensed only by themselves. I thought better of it as there were more charitable interpretations of their actions, and a similar pejorative exists for this use case: reality distortion field.

But, I thought, what a great term! Google search/scholar/books shows it being used exactly once so far, 41 days ago by user pholling in a forum about Manchester, England (emphasis added):

To fix all of this is not a trivial bit of work, it will require that city regions and broader regions work together to aim for the overall optimum and not their hyperlocal optimum. London does this to a large extent, but no other place in the England does.

I have no assessment of the quote as I know next to nothing about urban policy in England, but urban policy is surely a field in which the term hyperlocal optimum could be heavily applied. I’m not going to claim any particular urban policy constitutes pursuit of hyperlocal optima (note locality geographic and temporal), and I’ll admit there exist charitable interpretations of many such unnamed policies. But consider that:

  • In the next few decades, over 2 billion more people will live in cities. Simple calculation based on projected ~2050 population (now: 7 billion, 2050: 9 billion) and urbanization (now: .5, 2050: .7) gives 2.8 billion more (now: 3.5 billion, 2050: 6.3 billion).
  • Robots (most obviously in transportation and construction) will reshape cities as profoundly this century as autos did in the last, beginning now.
  • There will be calamities. Hopefully fewer than in the last century, but planning ahead for cities’ role in preventing and surviving such is better than hoping.

Hyperlocal action is fine, but please think globally and long-term always, and modify actions accordingly to break out of pursuit of mere hyperlocal optima.

I’ve not explicitly defined what makes a local optimum a hyperlocal optimum. Perhaps the difficulty of doing so explains why they term has until now only been used once before in the subset of the universe Google has indexed. My first use above implies that “hyper” indicates the local optimum is perceived, but perhaps not really even the local optimum. My second use above implies “hyper” denotes something about either relative scale (the global optimum is much, much better) or qualitative difference (the global optimum considers totally different parameters from the ones considered for the hyperlocal optimum). Probably the term hyperlocal optimum has no good use. I may still use it again when I fail to avoid stooping to the pejorative.

Many problems of the dominant topic of this blog can be seen as ones of escaping local optima. Joining with the cities topic, individual cities and other entities’ ongoing lock-in to proprietary software is an example of a local optimum that might be escaped through coordination with other cities. I’m not sure when (assuming against the above, that the term has some value) to apply the hyper prefix to such situations (another such is library lock-in to proprietary journal subscription and groveling for proprietary book purchases). Suggestions?

I might avoid commenting on this years’ mayoral election for my locality, Oakland. If any of the candidates seriously talk about any of the above macro challenges and opportunities, I will be pleasantly surprised. I think that my handwaving predictions after the last (2011) election held up pretty well, mostly unfortunately.

Gov[ernance]Lab impressions

Friday, March 7th, 2014

First, two excerpts of my previous posts to explain my rationale for this one. 10 months ago:

I wonder the extent to which reform of any institution, dominant or otherwise, away from capture and enclosure, toward the benefit and participation of all its constituents, might be characterized as commoning?

Whatever the scope of commoning, we don’t know how to do it very well. How to provision and govern resources, even knowledge, without exclusivity and control, can boggle the mind. I suspect there is tremendous room to increase the freedom and equality of all humans through learning-by-doing (and researching) more activities in a commons-orientated way. One might say our lack of knowledge about the commons is a tragedy.

26:

Other than envious destruction of power (the relevant definition and causes of which being tenuous, making effective action much harder) and gradual construction of alternatives, how can one be a democrat? I suspect more accurate information and more randomness are important — I’ll sometimes express this very specifically as enthusiasm for futarchy and sortition — but I’m also interested in whatever small increases in accurate information and randomness might be feasible, at every scale and granularity — global governance to small organizations, event probabilities to empirically validated practices.

I read about the Governance Lab @ NYU (GovLab) in a forward of a press release:

Combining empirical research with real-world experiments, the Research Network will study what happens when governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and seek input and expertise from a range of people.

That sounded interesting, perhaps not deceivingly — as I browsed the site, open tabs accumulated. Notes on some of those follow.

GovLab’s hypothesis:

When institutions open themselves to diverse participation and collaborative problem solving, they become more effective and the decisions they make are more legitimate.

I like this coupling of effectiveness and legitimacy. Another way of saying politics isn’t about policy is that governance isn’t about effectiveness, but about legitimizing power. I used to scoff at the concept of legitimacy, and my mind still boggles at arrangements passing as “legitimate” that enable mass murder, torture, and incarceration. But our arrangements are incredibly path dependent and hard to improve; now I try to charitably consider legitimacy a very useful shorthand for arrangements that have some widely understood and accepted level of effectiveness. Somewhat less charitably: at least they’ve survived, and one can do a lot worse than copying survivors. Arrangements based on open and diverse participation and collaborative problem solving are hard to legitimate: not only do they undermine what legitimacy is often really about, it is hard to see how they can work in theory or practice, relative to hierarchical command and control. Explicitly tackling effectiveness and legitimacy separately and together might be more useful than assuming one implies the other, or ignoring one of them. Refutation of the hypothesis would also be useful: many people could refocus on increasing the effectiveness and legitimacy of hierarchical, closed systems.

If We Only Knew:

What are the essential questions that if answered could help accelerate the transformation of how we solve public problems and provide for public goods?

The list of questions isn’t that impressive, but not bad either. The idea that such a list should be articulated is great. Every project ought maintain such a list of essential questions pertinent to the project’s ends!

Proposal 13 for ICANN: Provide an Adjudication Function by Establishing “Citizen” Juries (emphasis in original):

As one means to enhance accountability – through greater engagement with the global public during decision-making and through increased oversight of ICANN officials after the fact – ICANN could pilot the use of randomly assigned small public groups of individuals to whom staff and volunteer officials would be required to report over a given time period (i.e. “citizen” juries). The Panel proposes citizen juries rather than a court system, namely because these juries are lightweight, highly democratic and require limited bureaucracy. It is not to the exclusion of other proposals for adjudicatory mechanisms.

Anyone interested in random selection and juries has to be at least a little interesting, and on the right track. Or so I’ve thought since hearing about the idea of science courts and whatever my first encounter with sortition advocacy was (forgotten, but see most recent), both long ago.

Quote in a quote:

“The largest factor in predicting group intelligence was the equality of conversational turn-taking.”

What does that say about:

  • Mailing lists and similar fora used by projects and organizations, often dominated by loudmouths (to say nothing of meetings dominated by high-status talkers);
  • Mass media, including social media dominated by power law winners?

Surely it isn’t pretty for the intelligence of relevant groups. But perhaps impetus to actually implement measures often discussed when a forum gets out of control (e.g., volume or flamewars) such as automated throttling, among many other things. On the bright side, there could be lots of low hanging fruit. On the dim side, I’m surely making extrapolations (second bullet especially) unsupported by research I haven’t read!

Coordinating the Commons: Diversity & Dynamics in Open Collaborations, excerpt from a dissertation:

Learning from Wikipedia’s successes and failures can help researchers and designers understand how to support open collaborations in other domains — such as Free/Libre Open Source Software, Citizen Science, and Citizen Journalism. […] To inquire further, I have designed a new editor peer support space, the Wikipedia Teahouse, based on the findings from my empirical studies. The Teahouse is a volunteer-driven project that provides a welcoming and engaging environment in which new editors can learn how to be productive members of the Wikipedia community, with the goal of increasing the number and diversity of newcomers who go on to make substantial contributions to Wikipedia.

Interesting for a few reasons:

  • I like the title, cf. commons coordination (though I was primarily thinking of inter-project/movement coordination);
  • OpenHatchy;
  • I like the further inquiry’s usefulness for research and the researched community;
  • Improving the effectiveness of mass collaboration is important, including for its policy effects.

Back to the press release:

Support for the Network from Google.org will be used to build technology platforms to solve problems more openly and to run agile, real-world, empirical experiments with institutional partners such as governments and NGOs to discover what can enhance collaboration and decision-making in the public interest.

I hope those technology platforms will be open to audit and improvement by the public, i.e., free/open source software. GovLab’s site being under an open license (CC-BY-SA) could be a small positive indicator (perhaps not rising to the level of an essential question for anyone, but I do wonder how release and use of “content” or “data” under an open license correlates with release and use of open source software, if there’s causality in either direction, and if there could be interventions that would usefully reinforce any such).

I’m glad that NGOs are a target. Seems it ought be easier to adopt and spread governance innovation among NGOs (and businesses) than among governments, if only because there’s more turnover. But I’m not impressed. I imagine this could be due, among other things, to my ignorance: perhaps over a reasonable time period non-state governance has improved more rapidly than state governance, or to non-state governance being even less about effectiveness and more about power than is state governance, or to governance being really unimportant for survival, thus a random walk.

Something related I’ll never get around to blogging separately: the 2 year old New Ambiguity of ‘Open Government’ (summary), concerning the danger of allowing term to denote a government that publishes data, even merely politically insensitive data around service provision, rather than politically sensitive transparency and ability to demand accountability. I agree about the danger. The authors recommend maintaining distinctions between accountability, service provision, and adaptability of data. I find these distinctions aren’t often made explicit, and perhaps they shouldn’t be: it’d be a pain. But on the activist side, I think most really are pushing for politically sensitive transparency (and some focused on data about service provision might fairly argue such is often deeply political); certainly none want open data to be a means of openwashing. For one data point, I recommend the Oakland chapter of Beyond Transparency. Finally, Stop Secret Contracts seems like a new campaign entirely oriented toward politically sensitive transparency and accountability rather than data release. I hope they get beyond petitions, but I signed.

NFL IP

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers by Gregg Easterbrook is a fine article, adding to the not nearly large enough pile of articles criticizing the U.S. professional sports civic extortion racket. With a bonus explicit connection with copy regulation. I’ll quote just the directly relevant paragraphs:

Too often, NFL owners can, in fact, get away with anything. In financial terms, the most important way they do so is by creating game images in publicly funded stadiums, broadcasting the images over public airwaves, and then keeping all the money they receive as a result. Football fans know the warning intoned during each NFL contest: that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property.

When, for example, Fox broadcasts a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game from Raymond James Stadium, built entirely at the public’s expense, it has purchased the right to do so from the NFL. In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.

Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and other sports also benefit from this same process. But the fact that others take advantage of the public too is no justification. The NFL’s sweetheart deal is by far the most valuable: This year, CBS, DirecTV, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and Verizon will pay the NFL about $4 billion for the rights to broadcast its games. Next year, that figure will rise to more than $6 billion. Because football is so popular, its broadcast fees would be high no matter how the financial details were structured. The fact that game images created in places built and operated at public expense can be privatized by the NFL inflates the amounts kept by NFL owners, executives, coaches, and players, while driving up the cable fees paid by people who may not even care to watch the games.

Easterbrook’s idea for reform also involves copy regulation (emphasis added):

The NFL’s nonprofit status should be revoked. And lawmakers—ideally in Congress, to level the national playing field, as it were—should require that television images created in publicly funded sports facilities cannot be privatized. The devil would be in the details of any such action. But Congress regulates health care, airspace, and other far-more-complex aspects of contemporary life; it can crack the whip on the NFL.

If football images created in places funded by taxpayers became public domain, the league would respond by paying the true cost of future stadiums—while negotiating to repay construction subsidies already received. To do otherwise would mean the loss of billions in television-rights fees. Pro football would remain just as exciting and popular, but would no longer take advantage of average people.

This idea would have many loopholes (team owners are excellent at extracting public subsidies even for “privately financed” stadiums), but would be a step forward. It is good to see the principle of public funding means public domain applied in new domains (it is as yet a mostly unrealized, but accepted by many activists, goal for domains such as public sector information, cultural heritage, and academic publication).

While on the topic, another mostly good recent article is Death of a sports town: What does a city lose when its pro teams leave? Oakland just might find out. Two caveats. A questionable story about a kid who sees a football player turned police officer as a role model. Any reliance on such a coincidence for role models shows just how badly Oakland and many other cities are policed — residents should be demanding performance and compliance from police such that most officers are obvious role models for youth. The article also repeats the specious claim that “pro sports are the city’s plumb line, cutting across class and race and elevation.”

While on that claim, Doug Whitfield republished my article, (original) with commentary on top:

I’m going to try something new today. Over at his blog, Mike Linksvayer dedicates his posts to the public domain. That means I don’t have to give attribution to his work, but obviously I’m doing so. I think he’s wrong that art brings all classes and cultures together. How many “red necks” or “thugs” do you see at the opera? How many women wearing Prada do you see enjoying the finer arts of graffiti or break-dancing? I also think he’s wrong about groceries. There are plenty of people that can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods (or choose not to because of their anti-union policies).

But that’s not the point. The point is that we as sports-enthusiasts need to highlight amateur athletics and player-owned and supporter-owned clubs to combat these stereotypes about athletics. Not all athletics are bad.

It is worth thinking about how sports can destroy communities and relationships though, even if you don’t think it’s happening in your life or even if the positives outweigh the negatives. Either way, please enjoy what is probably a different view than your own.

Whitfield is wrong about art and groceries. Yes, various forms and genres have fans concentrated with various demographics. But there are also huge and increasing crossovers, especially when it comes to popular art. It’s acceptable and unsurpriing for anyone to be a fan of anything. With regard to groceries, I know plenty of wealthy people who shop at Wal-Mart (or locally, Grocery Outlet) and plenty of poor people who shop at Whole Foods (or Berkeley Bowl), and even more who shop at all. Note the trend in both culture and shopping is exactly the opposite of stadium attendance — increased mixing vs increased stratification.

Whitfield is right about the point. Athletics is good. How can arrangements which do not destroy communities and increase inequality compete with the extortion racket?

Whitfield also republished a shorter article on pro sports civic extortion (original) of mine, and on another of his blogs, on post on the federated social web (original). I appreciate the experiment, which the latter is tiny bit relevant to, mentioning that blog technology (and culture) failed to compete with “social” silos, or failed to form the basis of the “social web”, depending on whether your glass is 90% empty or 10% full. One of the things blogs generally failed to compete on is “sharing” links, sometimes with brief commentary. One can do that with a blog of course, and people do, but it isn’t central to blogging.

Detroyalty

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Crown Jewels
Crown jewels.

I’ve never been to Detroit, nor Michigan, unless you count transferring at the airport in the suburbs a couple times.

That surely qualifies me to come up with bandages for Detroit’s woes.

Establish a hereditary monarchy. It’ll boost tourism and non-crime media coverage. Whow? A lottery. Ticket sales will salve financial problems. There are some castle-like buildings available.

But a royal family is just the band. For the ages, turn the whole city into a museum. The top floor of the City Museum in Saint Louis has an intriguing collection of building adornments saved from demolitions in that city (which by the way lost 63% of its population from 1950-2010; Detroit lost only 61%). Detroit could improve on that by making the whole city a museum, with the royal castle and other estates and jewels as the main attractions. I expected to eventually immodestly propose that at least Jerusalem, probably all of Israel-Palestine, possibly a greater Holy Land encompassing the sites of major monotheistic religions (Utah would have to be an exclave/branch) be designated a museum to the worship of vengeful conceptions of god and the achievement of relative world peace, but hey, Detroit won.

I’ve already provided a complete set of bandages for Detroit, but in the spirit of folks proposing various regulatory holidays for Detroit, here’s a complimentary bonus that complements the above: prospectively eliminate all professional sports team liability for player injuries, suicides, and any other outcome, for 99 years. This will establish a sustainable revenue stream for the royal city/family/museum for a few generations as visitors pay handsomely to witness the NFL®-style American football they remember before it was driven to bankruptcy and banned.

Off with the crowns on their heads!