Post Politics

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?

What is the attribution revolution?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Elog.io suggested tweet:

I believe in giving and receiving credit for photographs online. Do you? Join the #attributionrevolution – http://elog.io/40m/

Down with the romance of authorship and the ideas that credit is due (as suggested at the link) and that information propertization and the legal system are appropriate mechanisms for encouraging credit (as suggested by licenses mentioned in the campaign which condition free speech on providing attribution).

But I support elog.io despite a bit of ugly rhetoric in its messaging because the technology is fundamentally about making provenance available on demand — undermining the rationale for consciously giving credit or making lack of explicit credit a cause for legal action.

The real attribution revolution has nothing to do with believing that credit is due anyone, and everything to do with attribution (in multiple senses, but including work-creator relationship identification) becoming inescapable, at least not without great and very careful effort. Elog.io is the tip of the top of the iceberg of image and other huge databases (in a sense literally: elog.io apparently is an open database, while others millions of times larger are opaque, submerged beneath corporate and government seawater) and techniques like deep learning and stylometry make universal attribution not only feasible but seemingly inevitable. I don’t know whether this is on net a good or bad thing — but it is the real attribution revolution.

14 months ago I railed against the attribution condition of some open and semi-open licenses (emphasis added):

Do not take part in the debasement of attribution, and more broadly, provenance, already useful to readers, communities of practice, and publishers, by making them seem mere objects of copyright license compliance. If attribution is useful, it will be provided. If not, robots will find out. Rarely does anyone comply with the exact legal requirements of the attribution term anyway, and as a licensor, you probably won’t provide the information needed by licensees to easily comply. Plus, the corresponding icon looks like a men’s bathroom sign.

The elog.io campaign page for example: it does not “include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform” nor does it provide “the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work” — in other words, it names the works it uses and the licenses it uses them under, but does not link to those works and licenses (quotes from CC-BY-3.0).

The other reason I support elog.io (yes visit that campaign page, give, and ignore the utter triviality of attribution license non-compliance) is that it is focused on provenance for open works (freely licensed or in the public domain — with caveat that I haven’t checked whether it includes semi-open works) and is itself an open source/open data project — provenance for the commons, and commons for the provenance.

Much more work in this area is needed, especially with a focus on high value open works (e.g. premium video) and creating high value open works — I mean by creating network effects around open works, not creating the works themselves. But even a still image focused project could help a bit — every frame of every open premium video could be included in the database, and any use metrics that can be extracted can be used to document and thus abet popularity.

Libre Graphics World has a long interview with elog.io founder Jonas Öberg that is well worth reading. Separately, there is big news not about but very pertinent to elog.io (which also perhaps explains why the elog.io campaign is only attempting to raise $6,000): Öberg is returning to work at the Free Software Foundation Europe (of which he is a co-founder and will be executive director; I had the pleasure of working with him a bit in between at Creative Commons, where he was European coordinator).

I don’t know the FSFE that well, but my impression is very positive, in particular its engagement in politics as public policy, not only the petite politics of individual developers choosing particular licenses and individual users rejecting proprietary software. Congratulations to Jonas on both the elog.io campaign and the FSFE position, and hoping for great success in both. Especially the latter could have an important role in making the real attribution revolution relatively beneficent.

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

prioritize(projects, freedom_for_all_computer_users)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Last week the Free Software Foundation published its annual appeal, which includes the following:

In another 30 years, we believe that we can achieve our goal. We believe that free software can be everywhere, and that proprietary software can go the way of the dinosaur. With the experience we’ve gained, and our community surrounding us, we can win this.

My immediate reaction: I’d love to see the last sentence expanded. How exactly?

Sadly I do not live in a world that laughs at any fundraising appeal lacking an explicit theory of change and only esteems those that one can bet on. At least the FSF has a goal. Perhaps its surrounding community can figure out what it will take to achieve that goal.

Helping “the FSF stay strong for 30 more years” is plainly insufficient, though of course I hope the FSF does stay strong for decades and encourage helping financially. The entire free software movement on its current trajectory is insufficient; some of its staunchest advocates predict a “dark ages” of software freedom (e.g., Bradley Kuhn, Stefano Zacchiroli).

Since 2005 the FSF has published a list of high priority free software projects in order “to foster work on projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software and free software operating systems.”

Today the FSF announced a review of this list. Excerpt:

Undoubtedly there are thousands of free software projects that are high priority, each having potential to displace non-free programs for many users, substantially increasing the freedom of those users. But the potential value of a list of High Priority Free Software Projects maintained by the Free Software Foundation is its ability to bring attention to a relatively small number of projects of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users.

[…]

Keep in mind that not every project of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users will be a software development project. If you believe other forms of activism, internal or external (e.g., making free software communities safe for diverse participants, mandating use of free software in the public sector), are most crucial, please make the case and suggest such a project!

I hope the announcement text indicates the possibility of exploiting the review and list to encourage debate about how to achieve the FSF’s goal of software freedom for all over the next decades, and that the how might (must, in my view) go far beyond hacking of code (and secondarily, copyright). How can demand for software freedom be both increased and made more effective? Same for supply, inclusive of distribution and marketing?

Send your suggestions to hpp-feedback@gnu.org or better yet post publicly. (I’m on the review committee.)

Because it is undoubtedly out of scope for above activity, I’ll note here a project I consider necessary for FSF’s goal to become plausible: question software freedom.

The “dark ages” links above largely concern “the cloud”, the topic of the other FSF-related committee I’ve participated in, over 6 years ago, correctly implying that effort was not very influential. I hope to post an assessment and summary of my current take on the topic in the near future.

Friends of Software Freedom, Conservationists, Rangers: Support!

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Software Freedom Conservancy, a nonprofit I serve on the board of, today announced a supporter program.

There’s plenty of info at the previous links, so I’ll just add four notes:

  1. Since Karen Sandler started as executive director earlier this year, Conservancy has been doing especially great work for its member projects (and some exciting new ones will be coming on board in the next months; if you lead a free software project, look at info on becoming a member) and is becoming even more the thought leader in both reactionary and progressive (I’m not using those terms to mark ideology here) strategies for software freedom (the italicized modifiers are there because Conservancy was already doing great work, and Sandler had been involved from the very beginning has a volunteer).
  2. Conservancy’s free software non-profit accounting project did not meet its funding goal last year, so progress this year has been slow. It’s still an important project and a successful supporters program will help free up and add resources to move it forward.
  3. Because this is the time of year end appeals (I’ll probably mention a few others in passing shortly), it’s worth noting that Bradley Kuhn (Conservancy’s president and distinguished technologist, but this is one of his many volunteer efforts) is the primary maintainer of a repository of tax filings and other data for free/open organizations. Most of this information can be found somewhere on the web, but not conveniently. Patches welcome (I’d enjoy a dedicated website, and worldwide coverage). Conservancy itself has a page with its filings and a couple explanatory posts.
  4. Didn’t I just a few days ago promote a sort of meta service for free/libre/open projects, Snowdrift.coop? Yes, but it and Conservancy are rather different on multiple dimensions. Snowdrift.coop is a crazy speculative crowdfunding platform. Conservancy is a fiscal sponsor (plus), an old and well understood model that emphasizes administration and stewardship rather than (confusingly to many people, given “fiscal” and “sponsor”) fundraising. Conservancy is able to process donations for member projects (taking a very reasonable 10% cut). If Snowdrift.coop were to become a well-established mechanism for collecting donations to free/libre/open projects such that Conservancy member projects demanded to use the Snowdrift.coop mechanism, I imagine it would be natural for Conservancy to process such funds for its projects. But, this is speculative.

Christopher Allan Webber also says that donating to Conservancy is a real bang for your buck.

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).

Non-citizens should decide elections

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Do non-citizens vote in U.S. elections? (tax funded but $19.95 to read; how can that be good for democratic discourse?) and Washington Post post by two of the paper’s authors Could non-citizens decide the November election? Yes and yes — assuming pertinent elections are very close and we take citizen votes as a given. Most interesting:

Unlike other populations, including naturalized citizens, education is not associated with higher participation among non-citizens. In 2008, non-citizens with less than a college degree were significantly more likely to cast a validated vote, and no non-citizens with a college degree or higher cast a validated vote. This hints at a link between non-citizen voting and lack of awareness about legal barriers.

The authors suggest raising awareness of legal barriers might further reduce non-citizen voting. But non-citizen voting is not the problem that ought be addressed. Instead the problem is non-voting by educated non-citizens, whose input is lost. If we can begin to disentangle nationalism and democracy, clearly the former ought be discarded (it is after all the modern distillation of the worst tendencies of humanity) and franchise further expanded — a win whether treating democracy as a collective intelligence system (more diverse, more disinterested input) or as a collective representation/legitimacy system (non-citizens are also taxed, regulated, and killed).

Further expanding franchise presents challenges (I went over some of them previously in a post on extra-jurisdictional voting), but so does enforcing the status quo. Anyone not in the grip of nationalism or with a commitment to democracy ought want to meet any challenges faced by expanded franchise, not help enforce the status quo, even by means of “soft” informational campaigns.

Global Columbus/Columbia/Colombia/Colón rename

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Today is not World IP Day (nor that one), which is August 9. Some celebrate today as IP Day counter to Columbus Day, but that puts too much emphasis on Columbus as a singular actor/great man/abominable person with respect to all pre-1492 western hemisphere populations. Had Columbus never been born, or his first voyage swallowed by the Atlantic before reaching land, it is hard to imagine the result for said populations over the next centuries being any different — merciless conquest by eastern hemisphere humans and microbes. So celebrate World IP Day on August 9, and rub out Columbus Day because he was a murderer and slaver. Criminal procedures, not clash of civilizations ones, are to be recommended for Columbus, as they are for any modern day terrorist.


What should this city and county in Ohio be renamed to? Photo: Derek Jensen, Public Domain

But one day is only a beginning. Wikipedia:

Veneration of Columbus in America dates back to colonial times. The name Columbia for “America” first appeared in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament. The use of Columbus as a founding figure of New World nations and the use of the word “Columbia”, or simply the name “Columbus”, spread rapidly after the American Revolution. Columbus’ name was given to the federal capital of the United States (District of Columbia), the capital cities of two U.S. states (Ohio and South Carolina), and the Columbia River. Outside the United States the name was used in 1819 for the Gran Colombia, a precursor of the modern Republic of Colombia. Numerous cities, towns, counties, streets, and plazas (called Plaza Colón or Plaza de Colón throughout Latin America and Spain) have been named after him. A candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, celebration of Columbus’ legacy perhaps reached a zenith in 1892 with the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas. Monuments to Columbus like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Columbus Circle in New York City were erected throughout the United States and Latin America extolling him.

There should be no veneration or extolling of slave owners. Everything named after Columbus (fun fact: Colombo, the city in Sri Lanka, is not) should be renamed, along with everything named after Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, Grant, Penn, Franklin, Houston, Austin, and many more.

Do not pay copyright holders, for a good future

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

The Unrepentant Bootlegger profiles Hana Beshara, a founder of NinjaVideo, who spent 16 months in prison for defying censorship. Cut to the logic of censorship (emphasis added):

People watch more paid, legal content than ever, but they also continue to download huge amounts of illegal content. “Piracy is putting pressure on antiquated business models, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Brett Danaher, an economics professor at Wellesley College who studies Internet piracy. “But the prevalence of piracy shows that people are growing up in a culture of free, and that is not good for the future of entertainment, either.”

That we should be concerned for the future of entertainment, at all, is itself bizarre. Freedom and equality should absolutely trump incentivizing a surfeit of entertainment. If we must choose between spectacle and communications, spectacle should be destroyed. We do not need to choose. We can destroy the censorship regime, but entertainment, including for better or worse some of the spectacle variety, will continue to exist and be produced in vastly greater quantities and quality than it is feasible for anyone to even begin to fully appreciate in a lifetime. If the spectacle portion does not include projects with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, that is OK — we will love what culture does get produced, as that love and cultural relevance is largely based on being immersed in the culture that exists — we love the culture we’re in. If that culture is less dominated by U.S.-based high investment productions, so much the better for the U.S. and the world.

Another policy significant quote from the article:

Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation […] said the law should shift its focus to making sure that copyright holders are paid for their work, rather than trying to stymie how people gain access to it. […] He suggested a legal framework to retire the “exclusive rights” aspect of copyright law that requires permission to publish — and that allows copyright holders to seek exorbitant damages from infringers — and move toward a system that requires sites and people who make money from another’s work to share any profits. Solutions like these, Mr. Eckersley says, would create different priorities that go beyond chasing small-time pirates like Ms. Beshara and her colleagues.

No, copyright holders should not be paid. Any payment by virtue of holding copyright only makes the censorship regime self-perpetuating. Funding of entertainment should be completely decoupled from the censorship regime of copyright. I understand the appeal of paid speech over permissioned speech (of course a tax is usually better than a prohibition, and that applies to privatized regimes as well), but neither is free speech. The paid speech approach would indeed create priorities that go beyond chasing small-time pirates (note Beshara earned $210k over 3 years; note also existing paid speech regimes which involve monitoring and shakedown of small-time restaurants) — it would invite further pervasive and destructive surveillance of communications in the interest of ensuring copyright holders get paid. It is appalling that EFF is still willing to invite sacrifice of everything they fight for at the alter of paying copyright holders. I don’t blame the EFF specifically; this just shows how deeply intellectual parasitism has burrowed in general. Intellectual parasites (which includes most reformers, including me often) need to fully shift to being commons policy advocates (and scholars).

Regarding people and projects like Hana Beshara and NinjaVideo, I’m ambivalent. Performing unpaid marketing and price discrimination services for the censorship industry is distasteful and harmful. But sharing culture (putting the regime aside) is tasteful and helpful. There is too little known about informal circulations and their effects, this lack of knowledge itself a collateral damage of the regime (compare being able to study cultural flows and surveillance required for paid speech; they are of different orders) and far, far, far too little direct competition for the regime.

The jobs case for a police state

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Partly to make up for not blogging on the issue in awhile (category), I recommend the Vox story/interview on the case for open borders. If a prediction can be sterile, sanguine, and desperate at one time, this is it:

My longer-run prediction is the world will have open borders once it doesn’t make much difference anymore. Once development has happened almost everywhere, and there are virtually no desperate backwaters left, that’s when countries will finally relent and say, “Fine. You can come here if you want,” and then they’ll open the borders, and then there will be very little migration. To me, a big point of open borders is just to fast forward to the world of the future where everyone can enjoy a First-World standard of living rather than making people wait 100 years.

I agree with the desperate part (waiting condemns billions to poverty and tyranny). But a big point of the international apartheid system to to ensure that there will always be desperate backwaters. Even if virtually everyone reaches a level of wealth at which migration declines, there will be disasters. Another big point of restrictions on movement, work, and living, particularly at borders but increasingly everywhere, is to impose on everyone (especially but not only migrants) police state controls/thug checkpoints.

My prediction (in US-centric terms, but applicable elsewhere) is that in 100 years ICE will be evaluated to have had far greater negative impact than the NSA, if they aren’t running things wholly that is. I predict this metastasizing apartheid enforcement apparatus will make justice impossible, even in the face of a massive shift in elite opinion (note mini-refutation) — like the drug war, not like marriage equality.

Regarding the title of this post: seriously, what could be politically better than creating jobs for citizens that protect jobs for citizens! It is surprising we don’t already have an ICE dictatorship. We don’t because the cost of regulation is too high. But it is coming down. Monitoring of all movement and required third party (ICE) approval of all economic arrangements are both getting cheaper every day.