Post Politics

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.

A day to remember our fallen predators

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Last year I decried sad and tacky memorials for gang members and advised to take the advice of lower status memorials (street gang rather than military gang) and “stop violence” before robots take it over.

This year I’m embracing the future. Below, a heroic predator defending the freedom of U.S. citizens by killing Afghanis. Not pictured: similar heroic service over Bosnia, Kosovo, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Philippines, and elsewhere.

MQ-1 Lethal Presence

Apparently 4 of your brothers have been shot down and 11 died in accidents while on combat missions. Hundreds more brothers and cousins have fallen in other accidents.

Sorry if it was all for lies, delusion, and lack of a non-bullshit peace movement.

The Killing of Abu Sayyaf (according to unreliable, one-sided, and conflicted sources)

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Read The Killing of Osama bin Laden or a summary on the English Wikipedia entry for Seymour Hersh.

Then read Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS Leader, Killed in Syria by Special Forces, U.S. Says. The part after the last comma is backed up by the article:

Pentagon officials said
One American military official described
the Pentagon’s description
A Defense Department official said
The official said
(The accounts of the raid came from military and government officials and could not be immediately verified through independent sources.)
officials said
American officials said
The White House rejected initial reports
said Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said
Officials said
Defense Department officials said
a Defense Department official said
the official said
the official said
the Defense Department official said
Defense Department officials said
officials acknowledged
officials said
Mr. Carter said
the senior United States official said

Why bother to publish this story? Why is the disclaimer of verifiability buried in a parenthetical instead of a banner at the top of the article highlighting multiple issues, a la Wikipedia?

The article closes with a conjecture from a former C.I.A. analyst that anyone could have made.

I’m not complaining about anything new; recently reading the Hersh article made me want to skim the article on the apparent killing of Abu Sayyaf, and the opportunity to update the title of Hersh’s article made me want to write this blog post.

Jackson Removal Act

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

I just learned of and support a campaign called Women on 20s to put the face of a woman on the US$20 bill. The campaign is in the news today because it announced the winner of a poll to select an individual: Harriet Tubman won.

Why the US$20 bill, that is, why remove Andrew Jackson:

Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the “Indian Removal Act of 1830″ that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration. Not okay.

An unrelated call last year to Kick Andrew Jackson Off the $20 Bill! The seventh president engineered genocide. He should be vilified, not honored notes:

Jackson climbed the American socioeconomic ladder. Jackson was the only president who worked as a slave trader, and he accumulated much of his fortune that way. In fact, Jackson later pursued his “Indian Removal” policies specifically so that the stolen lands could be used to expand cotton farming and slavery.

Jackson ought be removed from the US$20 bill, and all other memorializations. Jackson should only be first, with many others to follow, as I wrote last July 4:

After 238 years, isn’t it about time to renew US Independence Day? I suggest terminating all honoring of slave owners, including the so-called discoverer of the Americas, all pre-Civil War presidents except John and John Quincy Adams, the first two post-Civil War presidents, the most famous non-president “founding father”, and a real estate entrepreneur whose name graces a commonwealth. Currency, the names of said commonwealth and one state, many counties and municipalities, thousands of streets, buildings and other public places, statues, and two faces on Mount Rushmore, all should change.

Hello World Intellectual Freedom Organization

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Today I’m soft launching an initiative that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, obtained a domain name for in 1998, blogged about once in 2004, and the last few years have been exploring on this blog without naming it. See the first items in my annual thematic doubt posts for 2013 and 2014: “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.”

I call it the World Intellectual Freedom Organization (WIFO).

Read about its theory, why a new organization, proposed activities, and how you can help/get involved.

Why today? Because April 26 is World Intellectual Freedom Day, occupying and displacing World Intellectual Property Day, just as intellectual freedom must occupy and displace intellectual property for a good future. Consider this 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day another small step forward, following last year’s Without Intellectual Property Day.

Why a soft launch? Because I’m eager to be public about WIFO, but there’s tons of work to do before it can properly be considered launched. I’ve been getting feedback from a handful of people on a quasi-open fellowship proposal for WIFO (that’s where the activities link above points to) and apologize to the many other people I should’ve reached out to. Well, now I’m doing that. I want your help in this project of world liberation!

Video version of my proposal at the Internet Archive or YouTube. My eyes do not lie, I am reading in an attempt to fit too much material in 5 minutes.

I’ll probably blog much less here about “IP” and commons/free/libre/open issues here from now on, especially after opening a WIFO blog (for now there’s a Discourse forum; most of the links above point there). Not to worry, I am overflowing with idiosyncratic takes on everything else, and will continue to post accordingly here, as much as time permits. ☻

Be sure to celebrate the 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day, even if only momentarily and with your lizard brain.

Great Crimes, Again and Again

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Title refers to Medz Yeghern (Armenian: Մեծ Եղեռն, “Great Crime”), a name for the Armenian Genocide (April 24 is remembrance day), and the empty slogan never again.

I recommend the English Wikipedia article on the Armenian Genocide. It’s a good long read; I learned a fair bit from it that should stick with me. I did not realize that the vast majority of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire lived a helot existence (I only knew that there were prominent Armenian elites in the Empire; indeed the remembrance day is the anniversary of rounding up of 250 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople), that there was a mass expulsion of Muslims from the Balkans in the years prior to the genocide, that the genocide was widely reported in the West as it was in progress, and that it was witnessed directly by many (Central Power allies) Germans, possibly creating a direct line to some elements of the Holocaust.

I’ve only done naive searches for and skimming of genocide prevention material but my general impression is that it all takes an international perspective. That’s necessary and fine, but given how abysmal and nationalistic international governance is (including with regard to remembering genocides), I’d love to read more about how potential perpetrator and victim groups within jurisdictions have attempted to prevent genocide or its direct preconditions. I know when they have failed (documented genocides), but am almost completely ignorant of what attempts have been made, including any that have been successful, and how such attempts might inform the actions of people under threat today. I’m not talking about simplistic hypotheticals (e.g., what if someone killed Hitler before the war), nor heroic actions to save some people during a genocide. I’m wondering for example the extent of Turk liberal and Armenian elite efforts toward equal rights for all, Armenian elite efforts to protect Armenian helots, Armenian helot efforts to organize, and how such efforts could have been made more effective.

Previously regarding the Armenian-Assyrian-Greek genocide.

“Within jurisdictions” implies “improve yours” (in my case, the U.S.), which indeed I take as highly effective and necessary. A few past posts: Stop Killing Them and Invasion Ethics (present), Robot Gang Memorial Day (future), and Independence′ Day (remembrance).

Addendum 20150501: The English Wikipedia Signpost’s traffic report for April 19-25:

And much more sobering, but also in the Report for the first time, is the Armenian Genocide (#10 added: 631,960 views), which commenced 100 years ago this week. Farther down the list on the Top 25, it is worth noting that Adolf Hitler (#23), who famously asked who remembered the Armenian Genocide, also appears in the Top 25 for the first time. While World War II related topics often make the charts, for some reason Hitler himself has not since the Top 25’s debut in January 2013.

Apple watch

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Apple Watch official logoApple epitomizes the future we’re choosing by way of treating knowledge as property: gross inequality and hierarchical control, but amazing, such that it is hard to imagine a different arrangement. (I argue very different arrangements concerning knowledge are possible and some would produce much better outcomes — freedom and equality — and some would produce much worse, but still be considered amazing, as they would be relative to the past — knowledge policy is a point of incredible leverage in either direction.)

I don’t watch Apple closely at all, but occasionally a headline catches my eye, as two have recently.

  • Android share of smartphone profits plummets to 11 percent. 89% of smartphone profits go to Apple, despite shipping only 19.7% of smartphones. Of course there are other contributing factors, but these numbers suggest to me something about the surplus obtained by producers and consumers in the case of proprietary (iOS) and open source (Android) operating systems, and the resulting concentration of wealth toward owners of the former.
  • Apple Is Now More Than Double the Size of Exxon—And Everyone Else. That’s by market capitalization, around $750 billion. As the article notes, IBM in 1983-1985 had more than double the market cap of any other company. Knowledge as property driven wealth concentration is not at all new, but I suspect it is increasing as knowledge becomes unambiguously the commanding heights and we shift from an industrial to a knowledge economy (transition captured in pithy phrases such as “data is the new oil” and “software is eating the world”) and knowledge is increasingly subject to various freedom infringing (intellectual property) regimes, and I suspect that more people are recognizing this.

In the more people department, I’ve noticed in the last day:

Now these two are largely making stereotypical contemporary political points for or against state activity respectively (the latter by proxy of claiming Democrats don’t really care about inequality) and not demanding a fundamental shift away from property as the regime governing knowledge (the former demands a ‘golden share’ of intellectual property derived profits for the state). But I’d be very happy to see both “sides” embrace such a shift. Demanding that government and government-funded knowledge not be treated as property is a good start.


My ironic edit of 5 reasons you should never buy an Apple Watch, pointing out that control and inequality appear to be marvelous.

6 reasons for GPL lovers, haters, exploiters, and others to enjoy and support GPL enforcement

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Linux kernel developer Christoph Hellwig today filed a lawsuit against VMware (NYSE:VMW; US$36 billion market cap) due to their long time refusal to observe the terms of the GPL when incorporating code by Hellwig into their kernel, which remains proprietary. If VMware observed the GPL’s terms, their kernel including all source would be released under the GPL. This is a significant case, in part due to the rarity of GPL enforcement lawsuits. Details on the website of Software Freedom Conservancy, which is coordinating and funding (you can help) this action.

If the GPL is rarely enforced, its differentiation from non-copyleft licenses such as MIT, BSD, and Apache is muted. Why should you support license differentiation and thus GPL enforcement?

  1. You think copyleft is a wonderful hack, a productive and even necessary strategy for protecting and expanding the software commons. No enforcement makes the hack buggy: rarely executing and easily circumvented. So of course you want enforcement.
  2. You think copyleft curtails freedom, and ironically hampers the software commons — intractable incompatibility means software can’t be freely mixed, and the attempt to prevent capture by proprietary software interests only abets capture of the field by intellectual parasite lawyer interests. Your efforts to persuade developers and companies that they should avoid GPL software at all costs (up to reimplementation) in preference to permissive and public domain instruments can only be enhanced by prominent GPL enforcement by lawsuit.
  3. You think copyleft is great for software business, as one can acquire users by offering GPL software, then acquire customers by shaking down users who could conceivably not be observing the GPL to the letter. Public GPL enforcement makes your salespeople more compelling.

Among people who have any opinion about copyleft, I’m pretty sure there are very few who accept more than one of the above thoughts. I enjoy all three (the third looks like a sin tax to me). My point here is that people who completely disagree on the purpose and efficacy of copyleft ought all be excited and supportive of copyleft enforcement. But there are additional, less commonly discussed reasons:

  1. You think strong copyleft encourages more people to release free software, people who would not be comfortable with releasing under a non-copyleft license, whether because they fear piracyproprietarization more than obscurity (some overlap with 1 above), or because they want to make wealthy entities pay (lots of overlap with 3 above). Strong copyleft serves as the NonCommercial of the software world (without being fundamentally broken like NC, though the most radical believers in 2 above might disagree) in that it increases the range of licensing options to meet the preferences of both those who fear exploitation by business, and those who want to exploit business. Strong copyleft isn’t so strong without enforcement, so anyone who understands the value of this differentiation should want it to be strengthened by enforcement actions.
  2. You think copyleft-for-x is needed for some non-software field (or hear such thoughts expressed; e.g., for seeds or hardware designs, even real property), but the details of how copyleft works are a bit fuzzy. Enforcement by lawsuit is where the rubber meets the road, so you should enjoy the demystification provided by such actions and support them. Also, successful copyleft enforcement will stoke more people to have desires for copyleft-for-x, thus increasing your community of people intent on figuring out the “for-x” part.
  3. You think copyleft is most usefully considered as a prototype for and test of rules that ought be enforced by more effective regulatory mechanisms. Whether you think software provided without source and permissions should be totally banned, not regulated at all, or only regulated for particular uses or in particular fields (e.g., products and services already subject to other safety, disclosure, and pro-competition or consumer protection requirements), it is absurd to think that developer whim and resources in applying and enforcing the GPL regulates and regulates effectively an optimal set of software. It is time to move beyond debate of a hack of state-deputized private censorship as central to software freedom politics and policy, and on to debating directly state vs. market regulation of software (with all the usual arguments about (in)adequacy of market provision and harm/help of state intervention) as in any field of importance, preferably with very strong commons-favoring bias from both sides (e.g., software freedom market-skeptics and state-skeptics ought agree that regulation by private censorship, which serves proprietary interests almost exclusively, be wound down, and that state entities self-regulate by mandating software freedom for everything they acquire and fund). Unenforced copyleft means the rules prototyped are untested, reducing salience of the prototype, so you also should enjoy GPL enforcement actions.

I enjoy these latter 3 reasons especially, perhaps especially because few other people seem to (I’m eager to be or become wrong about this).

Go help Software Freedom Conservancy support Hellwig’s enforcement against VMware, or tell me why I’m wrong. Note I’m on Software Freedom Conservancy’s board and endorse all of their work, but as usual, this blog post represents only my opinion. Of the reasons to support enforcement above, they’d agree with 1; probably find 2 and 3 and maybe 4 objectionable; 5 and 6 perhaps curious but distant from work in today’s trenches. Again, my point is that many more people than those who agree with 1 (copyleft for good), even those who totally disagree with 1, should enjoy and support GPL enforcement.

The lawsuit will probably be heavily covered in the technology press, but you can read some early discussions now at LWN.net, Hacker News, and reddit. You can also read about copyleft in general at copyleft.org (another Software Freedom Conservancy project; my take).

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?