Post Politics

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.

Proprietary profitability as a key metric for open access and open source

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Glyn Moody in Beyond Open Standards and Open Access:

Like open source, open access is definitely winning, even if there is some desperate rearguard action by the publishers, who are trying to protect their astonishing profit margins – typically 30-40%.

No doubt open source and open access have progressed, but the competition maintaining astonishing profit margins contradicts “definitely winning.” For publishing, see Elsevier, £0.8b profit on £2.1b revenue, and others. For software most pertinent to Moody’s post (concerning Open Document Format), see Microsoft’s business division, $16b profit on $24b revenue.

These profits coupled with the slow relative progress of open source and open access give proprietary vendors huge range to not only take “desperate rearguard action” but also to create new products and forms of lock-in with which the commons is continually playing catch-up.

We know what the commons “definitely winning” looks like — Linux (server software) and Wikipedia (encyclopedias) — and it includes proprietary vendor profit margins being crushed, most going out of business, and those remaining transitioning to service lines of business less predicated on privatized censorship.

When libraries begin mass cancellation of toll access journal subscriptions and organizations of all sorts cancel Microsoft, Adobe, and similar software subscriptions, then we can consider whether open access and open source are definitely winning. Until then the answer is definitely no.

As for what’s next for open standards and open access (Moody suggests further ODF mandates, which would be fine), the obvious answer is open source. It’s what allows realization of the promise of open standards, and the cancellation of Microsoft subscriptions. It’s also what’s next for academic publishing and everything else — what is not software will be obsolete — though cancellation of those toll access subscriptions is going to require going back to basics.

Free/open/commons advocates should consider destruction of proprietary competition profitability a key aim and metric of success or lack thereof, for both open products and policy. This metric has several benefits:

  • Indicates relative progress. Any non-moribund project/movement can make seeming progress, blind to different and potentially much greater progress by competition.
  • Implicates role of knowledge economy and policy in increasing or decreasing equality (of income and wealth, not just access).
  • Hard numbers, data readily available.
  • It’s reasonable to multiply destruction of proprietary profits when characterizing gains (so as to include decrease in deadweight loss).

LegacyOffice?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

LibreOffice 4.3 announcement, release notes with new feature screenshots, developer perspective. Perhaps most useful, a feature comparison of LibreOffice 4.3 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Overall a great six month release. Coming early next year: 4.4.

Steady progress is also being made on policy. “The default format for saving [UK] government documents must be Open Document Format (ODF)” — the genuinely open standard used by LibreOffice; Glyn Moody has a good writeup. I occasionally see news of large organizations migrating to LibreOffice, most recently the city of Tolouse. Hopefully many more will manage to escape “effective captivity” to a single vendor (Glyn Moody for that story too).

(My take on the broad importance of open policy and software adoption.)

Also, recent news of work on a version of LibreOffice for Android. But nothing on LibreOffice Online (in a web browser) which as far as I can tell remains a prototype. WebODF is an independent implementation of ODF viewing and editing in browser. Any of these probably require lots of work to be as effective of a collaboration solution as Google Docs — much of the work outside the editing software, e.g. integration with “sharing” mechanisms (e.g., WebODF and ownCloud) and ready availability of deployments of those mechanisms (Sandstorm is promising recent work on deployment, especially security).

From what I observe, Google Docs has largely displaced (except for large or heavily formatted for print or facsimile) Microsoft Office, though I guess that’s not the case in large organizations with internal sharing mechanisms. I suspect Google Docs (especially spreadsheets) has also expanded the use of “office” software, in part replacing wiki use cases. Is there any reason to think that free/open source software isn’t as far behind now as it was in 2000 before the open source release of OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice’s predecessor?

Still, I consider LibreOffice one of the most important free software projects. I expect it will continue to be developed and used on millions of “legacy” desktops for decades after captivity to Microsoft is long past, indeed after desktop versions of Microsoft Office long EoL’d. Hopefully LibreOffice’s strong community, development, governance, and momentum (all vastly improved over OpenOffice.org) in combination with open policy work (almost non-existent in 2000) and other projects will obtain much better than even this valuable result.

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.