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#Resist

February resolution: do something to resist Trump every day.

Today I renewed my membership with KQED (which I had shamefully allowed to lapse after moving house) and for the first time ever subscribed to the failing, fake news New York Times.

Out of interest the signup flow for a LastPass devotee with a reasonable password policy is:

"Please provide a password that is between 5 and 15 characters in length."

Fiddle with settings...

"Passwords can contain only letters, numbers, periods, underscores, and hyphens."

Fiddle with settings...

"We're sorry, but we're having a technical issue right now. If you continue to have problems, please call Customer Care at 855-698-8545."

So my NYT password is a bit retro and easy to guess. Maybe Trump is on to something with this one...

Updated 2017-02-03 00:10:

Today I called my Senators (Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris) to oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Updated 2017-02-03 21:00:

Donated to the ACLU.

Then doubled it via donation matching at work. And tripled it via matchingdonations.us. Satisfying!

(Turns out to not be a tax deduction and not eligible for matching, so only doubled. But no regrets.)

Updated 2017-02-04 21:53:

#Resist

No Ban No Wall

Updated 2017-02-05 20:41:

Donated to IRC, doubled with work donation matching.

Updated 2017-02-06 23:38:

Donated to Planned Parenthood. Again, doubled via the magic of work matching.

Updated 2017-02-07 21:07:

Called Representatives Matt Gaetz, Thomas Massie, Steven Palazzo and Barry Loudermilk to ask them to withdraw HR 861, a bill that would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Updated 2017-02-09 00:42:

Donated the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Doubled with work matching.

Updated 2017-02-09 15:52:

Contacted my Representative (Nancy Pelosi) to oppose HR634, the Electoral Assistance Commission Termination Act. Read more here.

Updated 2017-02-10 13:56:

Today's action is a little self serving, but they might just goad Trump into impeachment: purchased season 42 of Saturday Night Live.

Updated 2017-02-11 19:49:

Resist Trump - Now!

Resist Trump - Now! at Ocean Beach.

Updated 2017-02-12 23:55:

Donated to Let America Vote.

Updated 2017-02-13 21:14:

Donated to FairVote and doubled with work matching.

Updated 2017-02-15 00:24:

Launched democracy.vision, an advocacy site for the National Popular Vote.

Updated 2017-02-15 21:13:

Via the magic of Fancy Hands called all the Republican members of the House Oversight Committee and asked them if they'd care to investigate  the circumstances leading to Michael Flynn having contact with Russia’s Ambassador and the Trump campaign’s alleged contact with Russia last year.

That's Representatives Jason Chaffetz, John Duncan, Darrell Issa, Jim Jordan, Mark Sanford, Justin Amash, Paul Gosar, Scott Desjarlais, Trey Gowdy, Blake Farenthold, Virginia Foxx, Thomas Massie, Mark Meadows, Ron Desantis, Dennis Ross, Mark Walker, Rod Blum, Jody Hice, Steve Russell, Glenn Grothman, William Hurd, Gary Palmer, James Comer and Paul Mitchell.

I was expecting and mostly got either a refusal to comment, or the party line that the Intelligence Committee should be the one to investigate. There were some more promising responses though.

Representative Rod Blum's office said "The Oversight Committee's priority is to investigate Michael Flynn. Since this is a fairly new occurrence in the last 48 hours, no statement has been released with details."

Representative Jody Hice's office said "A hearing will take place on the matter."

Representative Steve Russell's office said "It will be all over the news once it comes out."

This is my people talking to their people so third hand intel at best, but maybe something will happen.

Updated 2017-02-16 23:10:

Just donated to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And of course doubled with work matching.

Updated 2017-02-17 21:08:

Called the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to oppose the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council.

Updated 2017-02-18 21:07:

Donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is a good one as you can donate in honor of someone and have them mail a card. You might be able to guess where mine went. Also doubled via work matching.

Updated 2017-02-19 18:24:

Donated to the League of Women Voters.

Updated 2017-02-20 20:14:

Just donated to the Sierra Club.

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I didn't think I'd ever fall for fake news of Facebook

I seriously considered giving up Facebook as a New Year's resolution when it became clear that fake news was one of the many things that cost Hillary the election.

Not because of what other people might believe. The problem is me. I get my news primarily from the BBC and NPR. I cruise through RSS feeds and podcasts. I'm a savvy media consumer with a well honed bullshit filter. And then I fell for this:

I didn't think I'd ever fall for fake news of Facebook

It just continued to show up in my Facebook feed reposted from various friends and it wormed its way in as something totally Trumpian and plausible and, well, truthy. Which it isn't. I felt like I'd got as far as filling in the wire transfer form before stopping to think that the Nigerian Prince probably didn't need my personal help with expatriating his fortune. I didn't share it or quote it thankfully but it's like that study where everyone thinks they are a better than average driver. I'm vulnerable to this shit.

I keep reading articles about being a better Facebook user and always checking that the site hosting a story is reputable and written by people who have a footprint outside the site and reverse-searching any images to see if they've been used out of context etc etc etc. Which is implausible if you have more than one friend and comes across as victim blaming.

The horrible danger is that if you don't fact check every stupid quote on image meme the power of repetition lodges them somewhere in your subconscious where they become that thing that you read somewhere. Which is OK if you only read quality news but deadly if you want to catch up on old friends quickly.

What I really want is the friend part without the democracy ending bullshit part.

I tried Diaspora and App.net but they make Google Plus look lively. Facebook, I would pay you for an ad-free, brand-free experience. Also a ban on text on images.

I've been trying to block all the fake news sites that show up in my feed but for some reason that option isn't always available. Also that's probably an impossible task unless Facebook decides to offer shared block lists. Which is probably against their best interest.

I wrote this post to talk myself out of not using Facebook but I don't think I've managed to convince myself yet...

(Meme image grabbed from CNN).

(*on*)

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Recount

Recount

I'm on a donation spree. This time to the Jill Stein recount effort. I believe that this will change the outcome of the election as much as I believe that there are real questions about vaccines and autism. But this is clearly making Trump mad. And the madder he gets the sooner he is likely to get himself impeached. Why not help out?

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National Popular Vote

National Popular Vote

I just donated to the National Popular Vote campaign. The idea is that if enough states pass enabling legislation they will all throw their electoral college votes behind the popular vote winner. Electoral college neatly short-circuited without any constitutional amendment needed. California is already signed up for this. You can check your state here.

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I'm with Her

I'm with Her

This blog has never endorsed a presidential candidate before. This isn't due to hundreds of years of editorial balance, it's because I only became a US Citizen in 2010. I became rapidly disillusioned with Obama (I voted Green in 2012). I'd prefer to have seen a candidate further to the left this time. But it's clear that there is only one way to vote this November and Hillary will have my wholehearted support.

To my Republican friends: Hillary is not going to repeal the 2nd amendment (as much as I'd like to see this happen). She's a moderate and you'll hate some of what she does but America will still be standing in four or eight years and you'll get your chance again. In your heart of hearts you know that Trump would be a disaster for the country and the world. Concede this one graciously and ease off with the desperate hateful last ditch attempt to smear Hillary with a perverted reflection of your candidate's reality.

Democrats: Please vote. I know that a Trump victory is looking increasingly remote but it's really important that Hillary wins the popular vote as well as the electoral college. So no fooling around with Stein or Johnson even if you're in a safe state. Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, Indiana and North Carolina, a flip in the Senate would be great as well. I'd love Hillary to both win and be able to get something done as well.

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San Francisco November 2016 Propositions

San Francisco November 2016 Propositions

The voter guide for November 2016 reminds me of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. You've got propositions A, B and C, D, E and F, G, H and I, J, K and L, M, N and O, P, Q and R, S, T and U, V, W and X. Y is missing and so is the microscopic and invisible little proposition Z. We do get an RR for BART though.

Also missing is the Voom, the magic powder that makes all the mess go away. Really this slate of city propositions is the government failing to do it's job and punting to the voters. I'm tempted to send the Board of Supervisors a week of my work to handle while I struggle through theirs. Maybe the supervisors should be limited to whatever they feel the most important one is?

As much as I hate it I have to do the best job I can. This is shorter than my state guide because after slogging through that I'm losing my will to live. Here goes:

Proposition A: San Francisco Unified School District Bond Issue

Yes. Necessary funds to fix and build schools.

Proposition B: San Francisco Community College

Yes. We need to continue to resuscitate City College.

Proposition C: San Francisco Affordable Housing Bond Issue

Yes. Repurposes unspent seismic upgrade bonds to housing.

Proposition D: San Francisco Vacancy Appointments

No. This one is just weird - someone appointed to a vacant supervisor spot can’t then run for election? Makes no sense.

Proposition E: San Francisco City Responsibility for Street Trees and Sidewalks Amendment

No. Ring fences money for tree maintenance. This was shifted to property owners and should probably stay there. I’m also generally opposed to untouchable money in the city budget.

Proposition F: San Francisco Youth Voting in Local Elections

No. Students shouldn’t be voting for the school board.

Proposition G: San Francisco Police Oversight Amendment

Yes. SFPD clearly needs more supervision.

Proposition H: San Francisco Establishment of a Public Advocate Office Amendment

No. We don’t need to pay for someone to write reports. Seems like a recipe for pointless infighting. If we get fed up with the Mayor we can elect a new one.

Proposition I: San Francisco Funding for Seniors and Adults with Disabilities Amendment

No. Should be funded by the city without needing any special ring fencing. I don’t want to be involved in setting the right level.

Proposition J: San Francisco Homeless Services and Transportation Funds Amendment

Yes. Spends the money from Prop K on transportation and homelessness.

Proposition K: San Francisco Sales Tax Increase

Yes. I don’t love it because it’s regressive but it’s a small increase for a couple of good causes (see K above).

Proposition L: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Governance Amendment

No. Leave the Mayor in charge of the MUNI board.

Proposition M: San Francisco Housing and Development Commission Establishment Amendment

No. Doesn’t need a new body of politicians.

Proposition N: San Francisco Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections

No. Only citizens should get to vote.

Proposition O: San Francisco Office Development in Candlestick Point and Hunters Point

Yes. Allows more office space to be created in a much needed development project.

Proposition P: San Francisco Minimum Three-Proposal Requirement for Affordable Housing Projects on City Property

No. Makes it harder to get projects going. Most projects have multiple bidders already.

Proposition Q: San Francisco Prohibiting Tents on Public Sidewalks

No. Focus on more shelter space instead. Speeding up the process of kicking people into non-existent services isn’t helping anyone.

Proposition R: San Francisco Neighborhood Crime Unit Creation

No. Not that I’m a fan of graffiti or other neighborhood blight but forcing SFPD to allocate offices to it full time means that more serious crime might not get the attention it needs.

Proposition S: San Francisco Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds

No. The money should continue to go to the general fund and not be locked down for a specific purpose.

Proposition T: San Francisco Restricting Gifts and Campaign Contributions from Lobbyists

Yes. More constraints and time in the sunshine for lobbyists.

Proposition U: San Francisco Income Qualifications for Affordable Housing

No. Not enough to go around as it is so it doesn’t make sense to make it easier to apply for.

Proposition V: San Francisco Soda and Sugary Beverages Tax

No. Regressive and of dubious value. And I only just voted on this in 2014.

Proposition W: San Francisco Real Estate Transfer Tax

No. This tax is already higher than other bay area cities and the funds raised would be ring fenced.

Proposition X: San Francisco Replacement Space Requirement for Development Projects

No. Should be part of the regular planning process and not a proposition.

Measure RR: San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District

Yes. BART desperately needs the upgrades.

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California November 2016 Propositions

California November 2016 Propositions

Stopping Trump is the easy part. We have seventeen statewide propositions to decide this year (and 25 city and district measures in San Francisco). Here is my guide to the California propositions:

51 School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute.

Yes. This is around $1,125 per student to help fix up run down schools. Pretty modest impact on the state budget.

52 Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Yes. Ensures that California continues to get four billion dollars in Federal matching funds for Medicaid.

53 Revenue Bonds. Statewide Voter Approval. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

No. I’d like to see fewer propositions on the ballot. This is asking for a referendum on every medium to large project. What a nightmare. I want to elect representatives to handle this for me and then vote them out if they seem to be making a mess of it.

54 Legislature. Legislation and Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Yes. Would require advance notice of legislation and also preserve video of proceedings for twenty years. Might stop some bad bills from getting through and will certainly provide many hours of footage to the Daily Show.

55 Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Yes. I grudgingly supported Prop 30 back in 2012. I actually preferred Prop 38 back then which seemed more balanced across income brackets and I hated the regressive sales tax component. This extension keeps the tax on the wealthy while allowing the sales tax to expire.

56 Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Yes. About time California taxed tobacco more. I’d rather see the funds raised be unrestricted but this is a good cause.

57 Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute

Yes. Stops throwing away the key on some prisoners who could be rehabilitated. Our prison population is ridiculous. Also makes it harder to send kids to adult court.

58 English Proficiency. Multilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

Yes. Makes it easier for schools to establish bilingual education programs.

59 Corporations. Political Spending. Federal Constitutional Protections. Legislative Advisory Question.

Yes. Corporations are not people. This proposition will do close to nothing to reverse that Supreme Court decision but it doesn’t hurt to complain about it.

60 Adult Films. Condoms. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute.

Abstain. Don’t really know or care.

61 State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards. Initiative Statute.

Yes. It’s a tough one because there is risk that VA pricing would increase and some drugs may not be available at the discounted rate. But if that happens the answer is going to be more draconian action against the drug makers not less. The current system where Medicare is banned from negotiating prices while bad actors send costs into the stratosphere has to end. Also, they’re spending $100M to defeat this which makes me inclined to see it as a great idea.

62 Death Penalty. Initiative Statute.

Yes. I disagree with the death penalty for a bunch of reasons. Primarily that the state should only use violence in life or death situations and should not have the power to kill in cold blood. The risk that we execute the wrong person is too high. Practically the cost and complexity is a waste of time. Life without the possibility of parole should be the ultimate sanction (and can be reversed in the event of a miscarriage of justice.

63 Firearms. Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute.

Yes. The only thing that can stop a bad toddler with a gun is a good parent with no ammunition. More seriously this solidifies a ban on large capacity magazines and remove more guns from more bad guys. All for it.

64 Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute.

Yes. Make it legal and tax it already. I’d do the same for all drugs. See also #57. We could have more tax revenue and fewer people in jail.

65 Carry-Out Bags. Charges. Initiative Statute.

No, see #67.

66 Death Penalty. Procedures. Initiative Statute.

No, see #62.

67 Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags. Referendum.

Yes. Banning plastic bags has been a big success in San Francisco. Reusable bags are way more popular. This is an attempt by the disposable bag industry to fight back. Brace yourselves - other wasteful disposables must be next. Yes on 67 and no on 65.

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Scott Adams

Scott Adams

Dilbert creator Scott Adams recently endorsed Donald Trump. I could take it if this was just our daisyworld politics in action. But it's a horrible post that boils down to money and rationalization.

"I don’t know the best way to defeat ISIS. Neither do you. I don’t know the best way to negotiate trade policies. Neither do you."

The first plank of the argument is that he can't make a call on most issues and so he's not qualified to weigh in. Welcome to democracy. The job is to make the best choice that you can with imperfect information. If you can't do that then do the rest of us a favor and abstain.

"You can argue whether an estate tax is fair or unfair, but fairness is an argument for idiots and children."

The second plank is that he might be less well off if the estate law changes.

So now the lack of an opinion on any other issue makes sense. If you had to think about ISIS or trade (or walls or Muslims or women) then maybe a dent in your income would have to move down a position or two or fifty. But if, aw shucks, you're just not smart enough to make those calls then it's a conveniently self-serving single issue election.

All of this is true even if raising the estate tax is a bad policy. But at the risk of coming across as a child or idiot maybe there's something in it:

"Between 1979 and 2007, paycheck income of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners exploded by over 256 percent. Meanwhile, the bottom 90 percent of earners have seen little change in their average income, with just a 16.7 percent increase from 1979 to 2014."

I don't know the best estate tax policy. But Scott, neither do you.

Updated 2016-10-12 20:28:

So over the weekend he switched his endorsement to Gary Johnson. Maybe:

"You might enjoy my book because you’re not sure if I’m really endorsing Gary Johnson or just saying so to protect my brand."
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Save Mount Davidson

Save Mount Davidson

I just learned that San Francisco's Recreation and Parks department plans to cut down thousands of healthy trees because they are non-native. I really don't understand this nativist movement. At one point San Francisco was part of Gondwanaland. A while before that it was a sea of super-heated plasma. We need more trees even if they were originally Australian. It's a city of transplants anyway.

San Francisco Forrest Alliance seems to be the main hub to try and shut this down. If you live here and like trees please do something. 

Here's a letter I just sent to my Supervisor:

Dear Supervisor Yee,

I am writing to voice my opposition to the plan by the Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program to cut down 1,600 trees on Mount Davidson. I have lived in San Francisco for over sixteen years and in your district for a little over two. I regularly walk my dog and take my children to Mount Davidson. We greatly value this park for its views and forest.

Beyond Mount Davidson specifically I am horrified by the thought of felling thousands of healthy trees because they are considered to be non-native. The mission of Recreation and Parks should not be to return San Francisco to its original state. As a taxpayer and homeowner I expect to see a focus on the needs of residents and a management plan that preserves our forested areas rather than denuding them.

Maybe some of the NAP budget could be diverted to fixing up the dilapidated West Portal playground or to pay for maintenance of neighborhood trees rather than their current plan?

Yours faithfully,

Robert Ellison

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Bredo

Bredo

If David Cameron really cares about the future of the UK he needs to call an election instead of handing the reins over to (presumably) Boris in a few months.

A party which campaigned on a platform of ignoring the referendum and sticking with the EU would have a legitimate mandate to do just that. Especially if they bring back the good Miliband.

I can't think of anything else that works.

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California and San Francisco June 2016 Propositions

State

50: Yes - makes it harder so suspend a legislator but provides a more impactful sanction when this does happen. I don't think legislators should be suspended unless the circumstances are extreme. 

San Francisco

A: Yes - mostly hospital and fire station upgrades.

B: No - I like parks, but the city should decide how much to allocate to them. I generally don't like measures that carve out specific areas for funding.

C: I have no idea. Abstain. I don't have the time to untangle this one.

D: Yes, clearly more oversight of lethal force by SFPD is needed.

E: Yes, brings San Francisco sick leave in line with State rules.

AA: No, regressive per-parcel tax. Should be funded in a better way.

(Previously)

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GGNRA Dog Management Round 3

GGNRA Dog Management Round 3

Today is the last day to comment on the latest version of the dog management plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I've just squeaked in under the wire. My main concern is that the National Park Service is sneaking in provisions that will allow them to further restrict access over time. The specific pros and cons of the rules for each site are less important than preserving the GGNRA as a recreation resource for everyone over time. I'm not a militant dog person - I think that there should be dog free beaches for people who prefer to not have dogs around for instance. Much of what is in the plan is reasonable. I just don't trust the NPS to stop here.

If you agree check saveoffleash.com to see what you can do to help push back on this.

Here's my full response to the NPS:

Dear National Park Service

I am writing to provide my feedback on the latest version of the proposed rule changes for dog walking in the Golden Gate National Recreation area (RIN: 1024-AE16). I also commented extensively on the first and second round and so will limit myself here to a few key points.

My primary concern with the new rules is the provision for the superintendent to further limit or remove access based on the following language:

"If primary management actions do not sufficiently address the problem, the superintendent would implement secondary management actions. Examples of secondary management actions may include, but are not limited to increased buffer zones, and additional use restrictions (e.g. limiting the number of dogs off-leash at any one time with one dog walker, requiring tags or permits for accessing Voice and Sight Control Areas, or short or long-term, dog walking area closures)."

I feel that the tone of the proposed rule changes suggests that the National Park Service would just prefer to have the same set of regulations system wide and shut down off leash access to the GGNRA. Regardless of how reasonable or unreasonable the new rules are initially it feels like excuses will be found to whittle down access over time. Enforcement should be limited to individuals who violate the rules and not to shutting down access for everyone. I cannot support the rule changes while it contains this provision.

My family lives in San Francisco and we regularly visit Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Rodeo Beach and Hill 88 (Marin Headlands) with our well behaved dog. We occasionally visit Ocean Beach, Sweeney Ridge and other GGNRA locations.

Given our use of the GGNRA I feel that the plan has improved considerably compared with the previous two versions. My chief remaining concern is the Sand Ladder trail at Fort Funston. Unless you are contemplating improvements to the trail I do not feel that this is safe for on leash walking and it should be maintained as an off leash trail for the safety of dogs and walkers alike.

In the Marin Headlands we often walk the loop up the Coastal Trail to Hill 88 returning to Rodeo Beach via Wolf Ridge and the Miwok Trail. The proposed leashed access to a portion of the Coastal Trail and Old Bunker Road is much shorter. I would love to still be able to hike the Hill 88 route with our dog (preferably off leash, but on leash would be better than nothing).

Sincerely

Robert Ellison

(Tracking number 1k0-8pu0-jdnh)

(Previously, Previously)

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New Scientist on Immigration

New Scientist on Immigration

The April 6 issue of New Scientist has a special focus on immigration. All worth a read, but here's an assessment of the horrible cost:

"A meta-analysis of several independent mathematical models suggests it would increase world GDP by between 50 and 150 per cent. “There appear to be trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” if we lift restrictions on emigration, says Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington DC, who did the research."

And the uncontrollable hordes:

"Niger is next to Nigeria, Nigeria is six times richer and there are no border controls, but Niger is not depopulated. Sweden is six times richer than Romania, the EU permits free movement, but Romania is not depopulated."

Time for open immigration?

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The real reason Americans don't have passports

The real reason Americans don't have passports

Less than half of Americans have passports compared to around 75% in the UK. Brits often use this statistic to mock Americans for being uncurious provincial stay-at-homes.

I've always felt this was unfair though. As an American you might have visited all 50 states, all of the National Parks and maybe thrown in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico without having ever bothered with a fully fledged passport.

A Brit on the other hand might have spent a few days eating fish and chips at a British pub in Benidorm and is suddenly a sophisticated world traveler. I don't think so. There is simply more to see and experience in the US without needing to cross a border.

After I moved to America I realized that maybe there was another reason. Americans for some reason don't bother taking vacations. You get massively less vacation time over here and even then a huge number of people don't even manage to take off their paltry few days. There is no effective way to have a holiday overseas if you never take a holiday.

Now I realize that neither of these factors is as important as the United States Postal Service if you have a kid.

In the UK to get a passport you mail in an application and get back a passport. It's pretty easy. Even for children.

In the US you need to go to a Passport Acceptance Facility and that probably means a post office. There is a handy website that lists the 10 closest facilities together with their phone numbers so you can call to make an appointment. These phone numbers are not answered. It's less like a basic government service and more like trying to bag a ticket to Glastonbury.

I gave up and delegated to Fancy Hands (a personal assistant service). They have spent two days on the phone trying and failing to get an appointment.

I was going to do my best to vote my principles this year but at this point any presidential candidate who would force USPS to put in a web scheduling system might just get my vote.

Updated 2016-04-18 23:23:

After I posted this a friend pointed me at the United States Digital Service (via this Ted Video) and basically said why bitch and moan when you could help fix it. Which I don't have a great answer to. Except this.

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Help make London a National Park

Help make London a National Park

Feel like making London the first National Park City this weekend? If so you're in good company.

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Four Parties

The Washington Post fantasizes about a four party system:

"If we assign members of Congress to political parties based on the spending votes, we end up with four parties. The Liberals bucked the Democratic president to oppose the spending package. The Democrats voted for it. The Republicans followed Boehner and McConnell's lead. The Conservatives didn't."

It's time.

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California 2014 Propositions

California 2014 Propositions

My quick voting guide for the California 2014 Propositions:

1: Water Bond. Funding for Water Quality, Supply, Treatment, and Storage Projects.

Yes: Doesn't help with the current drought but might help with the next one.

2: State Budget. Budget Stabilization Account. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.

Yes: Should help even out funding by forcing the state to save excess capital gains revenue.

45: Healthcare Insurance. Rate Changes. Initiative Statute.

No. We have Covered California now. Not clear that this helps.

46: Drug and Alcohol Testing Of Doctors. Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute.

No. Too many issues in one confusing package.

47: Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute.

Yes. Time to stop putting everyone in prison already,

48: Indian Gaming Compacts. Referendum.

Yes. I'm not a casino fan in general and the whole compensation through casino monopolies mystifies me. But that's the system we have and this seems like it's a tribal casino on newly minted tribal land. I'm not likely to go there but I don't see a great reason to block it.

(previously)

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San Francisco 2014 Ballot Measures

San Francisco 2014 Ballot Measures

My voting guide for the San Francisco 2014 ballot measures:

A: San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement Bond

Yes: This borrows half a billion dollars to improve bike lanes, transit lanes, pedestrian crossings, etc. I walk, drive and bike around San Francisco as well as taking MUNI. We're killing too many people, especially pedestrians, and need to do a better job.

B: Adjusting Transportation Funding for Population Growth

No: More money to MUNI from population growth instead of tax base growth. These seem like they should be related and if not fix the tax base not the funding formula.

C: Fund; Public Education Enrichment Fund; Children and Families Council; Rainy Day Reserve

Yes: Continues existing universal preschool for 4-year-olds and other kids programs.

D: Retiree Health Benefits for Former Redevelopment Agency and Successor Agency Employees

Yes: This fixes a kink in benefits for a few city employees. Seems fair.

E: Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

No. I'm somewhat torn on this one. It probably would reduce sugar consumption but is that displaced spending going to broccoli? It's a regressive tax and I'd rather see more effort on education or making healthier alternatives more available and appealing.

F: Pier 70

Yes: Looks like a good development.

G: Additional Transfer Tax on Residential Property Sold Within 5 Years of Purchase

No. Covers way too many sales without many exemptions. Unfair to property owners.

H: Requiring Certain Golden Gate Park Athletic Fields To Be Kept As Grass With No Artificial Lighting

No: H and I are fight over installing artificial turf on the fields by the Beach Chalet. I've played soccer on gopher-ridden grass and it's lethal. I don't want to be responsible for twisted ankles so no on H and yes on I.

I: Renovation of Playgrounds, Walking Trails, and Athletic Fields

Yes. See H.

J: Minimum Wage Increase

Yes: It would be nice if more people who work in San Francisco could afford to live in San Francisco.

K: Affordable Housing

No: Not because it's a bad idea to add more affordable housing but it's a non-binding policy statement and doesn't actually seem to change anything.

L: Policy Regarding Transportation Priorities

No: This seeks to change policy to favor cars over other transit options. Nuts.

(previously)

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Please Stay

Please Stay

My Scottish Grandmother would always tell me off if I said I was English instead of British. She also said it was better to be moving in the wrong direction rather than standing still in the right one. That mostly applied to navigating traffic, but I think it's true for Scotland as well. Help make the UK better and don't become small and stagnant and some sort of irrelevant bland euro-region.

And if you do go then this.

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Party Limits

Party Limits

What if as well as Term Limits we had Party Limits - the same political party cannot win more than three or four times in a row?

Representative Alan Lowenthal has introduced the Let the People Draw the Lines Act which would seek to prevent gerrymandering by taking redistricting out of the hands of the politicians for the states that haven't done this already (California, Arizona, Washington and Idaho have independent commissions).

This is a good idea, but I'd go further. Let's introduce Term Limits where we don't already have them and then add Party Limits. The same politician can only hold on to their seat for two to three terms and additionally the same party can't hold the seat for more than three to four terms. We break up any kind of political monopoly and reduce the incentive to rig the system to keep the same incumbent in power.

We'd probably get more political diversity as well as fewer career politicians. It's a better solution to daisyworld.

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Boris: Make London a National Park!

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You won't believe this one crazy trick that would fix the broken patent system

You won't believe this one crazy trick that would fix the broken patent system

On Thursday The White House announced a trio of executive actions to fight patent trolls, most interestingly:

"Crowdsourcing Prior Art — To help ensure that U.S. patents are of the highest quality, the USPTO is announcing a new initiative focused on expanding ways for companies, experts, and the general public to help patent examiners, holders, and applicants find relevant “prior art”—that is, the technical information patent examiners need to make a determination of whether an invention is truly novel."

I've considered this for a few years as a for-profit business, paying a bounty to anyone who contributes prior art that helps take out a troll. But I have a way better idea: stop examining patents altogether.

(previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously)

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Lottocracy vs Legislative Service

Corrupt Legislation

Alexander Guerrero in aeon:

"There are hard questions about how exactly to structure a political system with lottery-selection at its heart. Here’s one approach, which I am in the process of developing, that I call lottocracy. The basic components are straightforward. First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care)."

It's the same concept as legislative service except randomly selected people serve a single issue for three years rather than just voting on a single bill. I think the advantage is clearly that you get to build up a greater depth of knowledge if you're spending three years learning about health care. The disadvantage is that the number of people willing to give three years of their life is going to be much lower than just asking for the few weeks or months that legislative service would require.

(previously, previously)

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I really want to just blame Boehner...

I really want to just blame Boehner...

...but if you can't keep a Government open the consequence should be an election and not a stalemate.

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Air Gap

The latest revelations about how thoroughly the NSA, GCHQ and friends have corrupted Internet security have got Bruce Schneier recommending an air gap.

Back in the late 90's I played a small role in the fight against the UK government's trusted third party / mandatory key escrow scheme on behalf of Ç-Dilla, at around the same time as the Clinton administration was pushing the Clipper Chip. It seemed that the fight was won, but apparently after being told no the spy agencies went and found a way to do it anyway.

The starting point is terrorists, because there is nothing that can't be justified by the war on terror. But all that data just wants to be used so it gets shared with the DEA, and then the IRSAnd then LOVEINT. The implications for civil liberties and the economy aren't great but they're probably not the worst fallout.

The ending point is probably terrorists as well. Because by opening up back doors and sneaking weaknesses into the algorithms that we depend on for security we've opened up holes for the bad guys to exploit. Bad enough that your local nuclear power station is hooked up to the Internet but now we know the VPN and the Firewall that should be keeping it safe have been fatally compromised.

If we really wanted to save the most possible lives then the billions being sunk into the NSA would be better spent developing self-driving cars.

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Response to updated GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

Response to updated GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

The National Park Service just released a new version of their Draft Dog Management Plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

After the response to the previous version the NPS said that they'd consider allowing dog access in additional areas and more importantly that they would reevaluate the 'poison pill' provision that enabled changing the rules in the future without further consultation. Additional access was considered and rejected. 'Compliance-Based Management Strategy' has been rebranded as 'Monitoring-Based Management Strategy' and while they've technically dropped the poison pill the language is still pretty dire up to and including year plus closures:

"When the level of compliance is deemed unacceptable based on violations and/or impacts to resources, primary management actions such as focused enforcement of regulations, education, and establishment of buffer zones, time and use restrictions, and SUP restrictions would be implemented. If noncompliance continues, secondary management actions including short-term closures (typically one year or less) would be implemented through the compendium."

That 'typically one year or less' is just such a throw away line, like it's a minor punishment and not 7 dog years or more. 

Here are my full comments on the new plan (comment ID 875407-55416/35):

Dear National Park Service,

I commented on the previous Draft Dog Management Plan/ Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (comment ID: 457979-38106/85) and as requested will focus on the changes made between then and the current draft.

My chief concern with the previous draft was the provision that allowed the NPS to degrade off-leash ‘ROLA’ areas to on-leash or banning dogs entirely without further public consultation. The latest draft has removed this language, but the new ‘Monitoring-Based Management Strategy’ doesn’t strike me as a material improvement.

The compliance section of this strategy begins with focused enforcement of regulations and education. It should stop there. Instead it goes on to mention buffer zones, time and use restrictions, and SUP restrictions and then goes on to short-term closures that are typically one-year or less.

While the previous draft was worse, the prospect of losing access to the limited off-leash areas that will remain after the implementation of this plan for a year or possubly more isn’t a material improvement.

I live in San Francisco and frequently visit the GGNRA with my family, which includes a toddler and well behaved dog. I completely support a reasonable allocation of the available space between visitors who want to bring their dog and visitors who would prefer a dog-free experience.

Given the tone of the plan and the history of the NPS seeking to ban off-leash dog access altogether I cannot help but fear that any provision in the plan to curtail dog access will end up being used.

Please remove the language around further regulating, restricting, permitting and closing the ROLA areas. Focus on enforcement and use your limited resources to handle the minority of irresponsible dog owners rather than closing down access for everyone.

Sincerely,

Robert Ellison

P.S. The sand ladder at fort funston is an unstable and dangerous trail. Introducing leashes would increase the risk of injury to people and dogs alike.

--

(previously, previously)

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BBC On Patents

Patently Absurd

"The patent system in the USA is so distorted it's now more lucrative for companies known as 'patent trolls' to sue manufacturers rather than actually make anything. The problem's so serious that President Obama has got involved -- and British companies are targeted if they do business in the US. Rory Cellan-Jones investigates and finds one of the world's biggest trolls in his lair in Dallas."

Patently Absurd is available to stream for the next six days (the BBC never took me up on the offer for a new hard drive).

(previouslypreviouslypreviouslypreviouslypreviouslypreviouslypreviouslypreviously)

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Syria

Syria

Debate military intervention in Syria on LikeDebate. This is a parallel debate to the Intelligence Squared US debate tomorrow.

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Die, Software Patents, Die

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HOWTO: Punish Banks

Barclays just got fined $453m for manipulating the electricity market in the US, following a £290m fine for fiddling Libor while HSBC is off money laundering with seeming impunity.

A $453m fine for Barclays is equivalent to $600 for the average US household, although if the average US household got caught manipulating markets they'd probably be in jail.

These relatively small fines aren't enough to really change behavior.

Unless we change how the fines are used. Put $453m in an incubator that funds banking startups and you can have 40 scrappy well funded companies trying to take the banks down. A handful of those will succeed and really do some damage. Every time a bank misbehaves it will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

Previously

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Brexit Prize

Flag of the USA after the UK becomes a state

The Institute of Economic Affairs has announced the 'Brexit Prize', a competition for the best blueprint for a UK exit from the European Union. First prize is 100,000 Euros, so it's worth a shot.

My plan: Beat Puerto Rico to becoming the 51st state.

I was just about to send this in when I read the instructions:

"At both stages, potential entrants should ask Amelia Abplanalp on [email protected] – for an entry number, preferably at least seven days before the closing date. Entrants should create two pdfs. One of those documents should only have the entry number as an identifier. The other document should have the entry number, name and contact details of the entrant on the cover page..."

It goes on like this and sounds like some EU directive relating to banana curvature. And don't you contact someone at an email address rather than on one? Must be an early April Fools' joke...

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This week in defeating Patent Trolls

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Drones and Gun Control

Drones and Gun Control

A quick question for the two thirds of Americans who see gun rights as being protection from tyranny. Your government has just refused to rule out killing you by drone in the US without due process (never mind that US citizens outside the country are already fair game). If not now, then when?

You realize that by the time ATF has seized your weapons and you're all locked up in internment camps for gun enthusiasts it will be too late, right?

If the Attorney General deciding that under circumstances he won't reveal it's OK to kill you without a trial doesn't cross the line then what does? Seems like the dictionary definition of tyranny to me. 

I've got to admit that I wouldn't like to try taking down the government via violence. They've got drones. Not to mention aircraft carriers, nukes, F-35s and whatever it is that's festering on Plum Island. Personally I'll stick with voting and blogging. 

So if you're not actually going to overthrow the government can we drop this ridiculous 'need' for guns and move on?

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NailMathAndScienceFirst.org

NailMathAndScienceFirst.org

Code.org wants every student in every school to learn how to code. The have an inspirational video of software luminaries saying how easy it is to do and then somewhat contradicting themselves by saying they can't hire enough engineers. If addition, subtraction and ten minutes on a web tutorial was enough then Facebook and Microsoft could hire just anyone. The project comes off as being just a little bit self serving. Sure, we need more skilled software engineers but we also hardware engineers and biohackers and makers not to mention doctors and lawyers and accountants.

Rather than getting everyone to code, how about just stopping Oklahoma from banning science teachers from failing students who fail to learn science: “but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories,”.

I'm not in any way against learning to code. But you can't code without a reasonable grasp of mathematics. And you're not going to be successful as a professional developer if you can't communicate. And when your code inevitably goes horribly wrong then debugging is the very essence of the scientific method. Maths, literacy and science come first, are relevant to many careers and the US isn't doing a particularly great job of delivering the goods. 

Get the basics right and plenty of students will become developers. 

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Instead of punishing bankers why not disrupt them?

Instead of punishing bankers why not disrupt them?

I'm not the biggest fan of banks. Not content with crashing the world economy my own bank took the time to personally defraud me. The EU is currently planning to cap banker bonuses and this is just nuts.

It feels like an attack on the UK, where the lions share of our economy is banking and people coming to see the Queen. 

It feels anti-capitalist - why bankers? Why not footballers or movie stars or orthodontists? 

But mostly it feels like the wrong form of revenge, too easy to circumvent and ultimately likely to be toothless. Banks may say they have to pay outlandish bonuses to attract the best talent, but really it means the industry is ripe for innovation. Regulators should figure out and then remove barriers to entry (and throw up barriers to unfair competition, and hold competitions to encourage innovation) so that startups and software can eat the financial services sector.

Too big to fail all at once, but not too big to be disrupted into irrelevance. 

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Bringing a SHIELD to a conker fight

Bringing a SHIELD to a conker fight

I've supported the SHIELD Act before, which would force patent trolls to pay legal bills for unsuccessful shakedown attempts, but a TechCrunch article today made me think this through some more. 

SHIELD would be a serious deterrent for trolls who have their eye on large companies with the means to defend themselves. But trolls eat startups first and a startup is often unable to fight through the courts and get to the point where SHIELD would help. If the troll is after something like $1,000 from every company using a scanner then not many businesses are going to risk going to court. And if the troll isn't interested in any reasonable settlement then the legal fees and management distraction can kill you

SHIELD is well intentioned and would certainly help. But we need to stop examining patents before issuing them and do the job properly for the few that ever get used in anger. 

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Bishops

Not this kind of Bishop...

I’d love to not care what the Church of England thinks about allowing women to become Bishops. But sadly it’s the established church of England and we allow Bishops to sit in the House of Lords (which needs a complete overhaul, that that’s a different blog post).

The Government’s position on the vote is to be “disappointed”:

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister thought there should be women bishops and was disappointed at the result of the vote, but that it was “a matter for the Church to decide”.

Nick Clegg is disappointing. Which Book of Prayer to use is a matter for the Church to decide. Excluding women from the upper management of the official state religion when those managers also play a role in Government is a travesty.

Unless we’re going to allow Jedi in the legislature it’s time to kick the Bishops out of the Lords. It’s also past time to disestablish the Church of England and have proper separation of Church and State in the UK.

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San Francisco 2012 Propositions

San Francisco 2012 Propositions

Following yesterday’s post on the California 2012 Propositions here’s a shorter post on how I’m planning to vote on the San Francisco (PDF) ballot initiatives:

A: City College Parcel Tax

Yes, happy to pay another $79 a year to support City College.

B: Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond

Yes, park improvements for a littler over $50 a year.

C: Housing Trust Fund

Yes, a modest amount of money to include affordable housing in a city that desperately needs it.

D: Consolidating Odd-Year Municipal Elections

Yes, because there are too many elections already.

E: Gross Receipts Tax

Yes, makes more sense than taxing payroll and doesn’t tax businesses until you’re over $1M in revenue (whereas the payroll tax hits pre-revenue startups).

F: Water and Environment Plan

No, this is a study on draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Which is just crazy. I might not support building it today but it makes no sense to look at getting rid of it now. Plus that water is really nice.

G: Policy Opposing Corporate Personhood

Yes, because a San Francisco policy will totally reverse hundreds of years of legal precedent. More seriously, corporations are not people and while a policy won’t reverse the malign influence of unlimited corporate spending on elections it doesn’t hurt to whine about it a little.

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California 2012 Propositions

My favorite proposition would be one to do away with propositions altogether. We need Legislative Service instead. But there is an election on Tuesday and a fresh slate of propositions for California and San Francisco that need to be decided. My thoughts on the statewide propositions are:

30: TEMPORARY TAXES TO FUND EDUCATION. GUARANTEED LOCAL PUBLIC SAFETY FUNDING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

Yes, grudgingly. I hate that Governor Brown has a knife to our throats on this one. If it passes then we get $6 billion of extra annual revenue, largely for education. If it fails then because the revenue is already in the budget we’re looking at further evisceration. The sales tax component is regressive, I prefer proposition 38’s more balanced income tax increases across the board. I actually like that the proposition 30 money hits the general fund – I hate measures that earmark money so specifically that there is no room for maneuver. So yes on 30 and no on 38.

The arguments against proposition 30 seem to be that it isn’t specifically earmarked (which I see as a plus) and that we shouldn’t be raising more money for education and public safety while also building out high speed rail. But as the 8th largest economy in the world California should be able to mange to improve public transport and education at the same time. Both are critical to long term growth and prosperity. There is also the argument that you can’t trust government with any money or decisions and that any problem can be handled by just reducing ‘waste’. I don’t really buy that and if you do you might be better off somewhere like Nevada.

31: STATE BUDGET. STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTION AMENDENT AND STATUTE.

No. ‘Local Action Plans’ would allow local government to circumvent state laws and this doesn’t seem like a great idea. Allowing the Governor to make budget cuts without the state legislature smells bad as well. Publishing bills in advance of a vote to help prevent pet projects and pork from being stuffed in sounds good, I wish it had been included as a separate proposition rather than lumped in here (in general Proposition 30 suffers from being too broad).

32: POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS BY PAYROLL DEDUCTION. CONTRIBUTIONS TO CANDIDATES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. It’s just a naked attempt to stiff unions and further increase the corporate money stranglehold on US politics.

33: AUTO INSURANCE COMPANIES. PRICES BASED ON DRIVER’S HISTORY OF INSURANCE COVERAGE. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. This allows insurance companies to offer a discount based on how long you’ve been insured with another company but also allows them to punish you for a lapse in coverage. If you choose to be without a car for more than a few months you can get a large increase in coverage. It doesn’t seem that the pros outweigh the cons here and the fact that the proposition is funded by the chairman of Mercury further tips me towards a no vote.

34: DEATH PENALTY. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. I don’t care about the cost of the death penalty, or particularly in it’s effectiveness. I’m fundamentally opposed to the death penalty because I don’t think the state has any business taking life in cold blood. I also don’t think you can guarantee that you’re not executing someone who is innocent.

35: HUMAN TRAFFICKING. PENALTIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. Punishment for specific offenses shouldn’t be dictated by ballot initiative. Most of these crimes are Federal anyway and so any changes in CA law would have a minor impact (KQED reports 18 offenders in CA prison for trafficking). There is a provision expanding the definition of human trafficking to include copying child pornography… sounds great but you’ll probably end up doing 15 years hard time for backing up your teenager’s phone after they’ve been sexting.

36: THREE STRIKES LAW. REPEAT FELONY OFFENDERS. PENALTIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. As the law currently stands you can get life in prison for drug possession. The US really needs to stop throwing everyone in jail. Judges should have the latitude to make the sentence fit the crime and not be automatically forced to throw away the key. This proposition makes three strikes a little more humane – I’d rather see it done away with altogether but it’s a step in the right direction.

37: GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS. LABELING. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. Personally I don’t really care about eating GM food, but a lot of people care very deeply and it seems reasonable to provide this information. The main argument against is sinister special exemptions but these boil down to alcohol (not labeled the same way as food to start with) and animals that have been fed GM food but are not GM themselves.

38: TAX TO FUND EDUCATION AND EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. See 30, above.

39: TAX TREATMENT FOR MULTISTATE BUSINESSES. CLEAN ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY FUNDING. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. I’m not really sure which way of determining how to tax multi-state businesses is best. Allowing businesses to choose which method they use doesn’t seem the right way to go. If this proposition was just about changing the tax calculation I might be in favor, but unfortunately it also funnels around half of the additional revenue to a new outfit to spend on clean energy projects over five years. As the proposition is sponsored by one hedge fund manager you’ve got to believe that there is a hedge fund posed to benefit from the extra spending.

40: REDISTRICTING. STATE SENATE DISTRICTS. REFERENDUM.

Yes. Approves the outcome of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The backers of the proposition have withdrawn support for it (Republicans trying to throw out the new districts), it’s only on the ballot because it can’t be removed – a yes vote in this case keeps things the same.

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Support SHIELD–a small measure of patent sanity

A friend pointed me at the SHIELD (PDF) act today. This bill would make unsuccessful patent trolls pay defendants’ legal bills. It’s not as good as my radical plan to fix patents, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you care, let your congressperson know. Here’s the note I just sent to mine:

Dear Rep. Pelosi,

I'm writing to let you know that I support the SHIELD act Introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). As an entrepreneur and professional software developer I have personally experienced the job destroying effects of ill founded patent litigation. Any step to reduce this drag on our industry is a welcome step.

Regards,

Rob Ellison
San Francisco 

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House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

I've mulled the idea of having an upper chamber randomly selected from the public like jury service for some time, often over a pint with a friend who prefers to remain nameless. This friend wrote an outstanding letter to Mark Harper which is included below by his kind permission. 

Mark Harper didn't manage more than a stock response, and neither did Matthew Offord and so it doesn't seem that the British Government is taking up the concept any time soon. We talked about the e-petition system but it turns out that it's limited to 1,000 characters and submissions are vetted for duplicates. There is an existing e-petition with this idea written by Simon Ferrigno which I've voted for, and if you support the legislative service idea please do the same.

Dear Mr Harper

We understand that you are working with the Deputy Prime Minister on the matter of an elected second chamber. We’re sure that many proposals and reports have crossed your desk on this topic. We’d like to share something we came up with when the issue was initially raised a few years ago. Having kept abreast of developments via media reports, we were both surprised not to hear anything similar mooted.

Our suggestion is that the second chamber be made up of ordinary members of the public drawn from across the country, randomly selected from the electoral roll, typically for up to 2 weeks of service. The system would be administered in a similar way to jury duty, albeit on a national basis. These people would be brought together, put up in decent accommodation, well fed, and otherwise made to feel as if their presence and contribution is both valued and important. They will be tutored, in an unbiased fashion, on the background of the Bill under their consideration. The syllabus could be defined by the civil servants who draw up the legislation under consideration. At this point, a multiple choice test on what they have been taught will be administered, but the results will not be revealed.

After the test, they will have the specifics of the Bill explained to them by two barristers (selected by parties for and against). The barristers will have the ability to bring in subject matter experts (perhaps drawing on the talent pool currently in place in the HOL). At the end of the evidentiary stage, the “constitutional jury” will have the opportunity to debate the issues and pose any further questions they may have to the barristers or witnesses.

Once completed, the constitutional jury will vote on the matter(s) at hand. The only votes that will actually count are those cast by people who passed the multiple choice test (as long as a quorum is reached). The results will only be reported as percentages. No one will ever be told if their vote counted, and all members of the constitutional jury are recorded as having served in deciding the matter.

Among the numerous advantages, as we see them, are:

  1. Politicians are often heard bemoaning the lack of public engagement with politics. This is an ideal way of re-engaging ordinary members of the public with the business of politics and what happens in Parliament.
  2. The primacy of the House of Commons will be ensured due to the transience of the members of the second chamber.
  3. There are no expensive elections to be paid for, nor will anyone’s voting record need to be skewed to ensure their re-election.
  4. As this chamber will be entirely made up of randomly selected members of the public, there can be no claims of cronyism.
  5. Voting along party political lines may be reduced; hence the decisions made are those that a random cross section of society deem to be right, rather than the whips.
  6. As the names of the constitutional jury are not disclosed until after the final voting, lobbying by vested interests will be reduced.
  7. The second chamber does not necessarily need to be based in London. In fact, there is no reason why it cannot become a travelling roadshow, convening on a rotating basis in major towns and cities around the UK. This may go some way towards quietening some of the accusations that Parliament is London-centric and lessening talk about the Westminster Village.
  8. Should Parliamentary time be short and the workload high, multiple constitutional juries can be assembled (perhaps in different locations), to work in parallel considering different Bills.

We realise that some members of the House of Lords serve on multiple select committees. We’ll admit to not having a plan for how these will be staffed in the future. One could assume that for now, they can be appointed by Parliament continuing to draw on the talent pool from the current HOL and augmenting any vacancies with new appointments proposed by a committee of civil servants.

We realise that all parties are currently wedded to the idea of an elected second chamber. Is there any way that this could work as a viable alternative?

Yours sincerely...

Photo credit: UK Parliament cc

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Near-plurality of idiocy

"In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population."

Depressing.

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Open Immigration

Open Immigration

I'm increasingly in favor of opening up immigration. Partly it's a general sense that a person shouldn't be tied to a country by the accident of birth. Being free to migrate seems to me like it should be a basic human right. 

Partly it's the economic benefit. I'm in the software/Internet industry and I've been lucky enough to work in Silicon Valley via visa, green card and eventually citizenship. I hope I've also been a net benefit to my adopted home. I've certainly paid plenty of tax and helped to create a fair number of jobs. Vijay Govindarajan writing on the same topic lists a few more[1] illustrious transplants:

"Consider that the co-founder of Google is Sergey Brin, a Russian. The co-founder of Sun Microsystems is Vinod Khosla, an Indian. eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, who is French. The co-founder of Juniper Networks is an Indian, Pradeep Sindhu. YouTube was co-founded by Steve Chen, who is Chinese. Yahoo! was co-founded by Jerry Yang, a Chinese immigrant. Andy Grove, a Hungarian, co-founded Intel."

Not that you need to create a billion plus dollar company to have a positive impact.

There are of course economic risks - primarily cheap labor lowering wages (albeit also lowering prices) and freeloaders benefiting from social programs without contributing back.

But cheap labor is getting those jobs anyway. It's a fundamental inequality that companies can shop around internationally for cheap employees but people can't shop around internationally for a job. And the impact of the freeloader problem can be reduced by requiring some length of residency before providing benefits. 

Of course some jobs require physical proximity and can't be outsourced and some level of freeloading will always be possible. This brings me to the third reason I support open immigration. It would bring a huge amount of focus to international development. If people are free to live and work where they want then there will be a huge motivation to improve living conditions and economic opportunity around the world. It might be the only way to make real progress in this area.

This policy could be unilateral, or it could be based on reciprocal treaty - the latter probably being more[2] practical, and hopefully fostering immigration in both directions.

[1] More in the sense of greater, not additional.

[2] More in the sense of closer to, I don't think it's actually very likely to happen.

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Go-arounds: LEGO and Legislative Service

Go-arounds: LEGO and Legislative Service

LEGO: I wrote in January about LEGO's[1] misogynistic latest LEGO for Girls campaign. Earlier this month I was excited to read Mary Elizabeth Williams reporting that 'Lego tires to get less sexist' on Salon but it turned out that rather than reversing course LEGO had just agreed to meet with SPARK. SPARK reports back on the meeting today with the news that LEGO has been conducting 'an internal audit of their minifigure count' and will generally be looking at their gender based marketing. Looking forward to seeing some actual results.

Legislative Service: I've been bothering people at parties about legislative service for around 20 years. Most people nod politely and back away. So I was pretty excited to read 'Fewer Voters, Better Elections' by Joshua Davis in the May 2012 issue of Wired. The thrust of the article is very similar to legislative service and highlight research from James Fishkin at Stanford (Deliberative Democracy, it looks like he's been bothering people at cocktail parties for longer than me) and David Chaum (Random-Sample Elections). Something like this has to be the solution to getting past the two-body problem of our current democracy.

Colophon: I pinched the title from the excellent Patrick Smith, although my aviation blogging is limited to bitching about British Airways. The picture comes from the Wikipedia article on go-arounds because it's hilarious in a Douglas Adamsian way - like you just couldn't understand the concept of not landing a plane without the illustration.

[1] Why do Americans go for LEGOS and math while the British use LEGO and maths?

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California, I can save you billions with a small and reasonably priced computer program...

California, I can save you billions with a small and reasonably priced computer program...

California just canceled a 2 billion dollar project to link 58 courts having spent over half a billion. In the UK half a billion pounds was wasted failing to develop software for the emergency services. A recent although controversial study estimates global IT failures cost 6 trillion dollars a year.

I've thought about this before but perhaps the time is right. It's a software system that analyzes the chances of success for any major IT project. In California in particular we could pass a ballot measure to mandate that this system is used accept or reject any software project that would cost the state more than, say, $50k. The core of the system has already been written and looks like this:

[code:c#]
Thread.Sleep(10000); // look like you're doing something
Console.WriteLine("No! Use Google Docs instead."); // reject proposal
[/code]

All it needs is a nice interface that allows you to upload documents and then show a progress bar while the in-depth 'analysis' takes place. I'd be willing to do this work for the state for no more than $200 million, plus costs and change orders. Shouldn't take more than a decade either. 

Governor Brown, call me.

Image Credit: Images_of_Money cc

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Goldilocks

Goldilocks

Israel just banned models with a BMI under 18.5. That's not severely underweight, it's the boundary with normal. Like banning models packing an extra pound (not that the law touches this end of the spectrum). Lawmakers have too much free time on their hands when they pass body crimes (or thought crimes). Outlawing underweight models isn't going to put a dent in eating disorders. Even if it was a reasonable law it's going after a symptom rather than any sort of root cause.

Photo Credit: clapstar cc

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GGNRA Dog Management Plan Update

GGNRA Dog Managemnet Plan Update

I love it when making some noise works. The NPS is pushing its dog management plan back a year to incorporate the feedback from the current draft. A couple of encouraging considerations mentioned in the most recent newsletter are:

Evaluating additional access for dog walking, both on leash and under voice control.

Revising the compliance based management strategy by including natural and cultural resource monitoring, removing automatic triggers and restrictions, and incorporating additional education and enforcement.

So at the very least this looks like they’re walking back the “poison pill” provision that would allow the NPS to change the rules without further consultation. Won’t know how good or bad the changes are until the new DEIS is published later this year but at least the NPS is listening.

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Has France Cracked Fixing Education?

Has France Cracked Fixing Education?

The French are close to making it illegal to deny a second genocide. I was going to write a post despairing at the increasing number of thought crimes in Europe. Bad form, maybe, however does there really need to a law?

But maybe this is part of a far grander plan. It starts with history, then maybe geography (Can't spot Finland? Six months community service!), mathematics (Don't know how to figure out the volume of a cylinder? Two years and a fine!) and science (Can't sketch the Krebs Cycle? Life without the possibility of parole!).

Once every incorrect answer is against the law maybe children will start paying more attention in schools. That must be behind then ban on headscarves as well, it's not xenophobic, just trying to make sure that the view of the blackboard isn't obstructed.

(Photo credit: stttijn)

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Carr is Wrong: Costolo is Wrong: Wikipedia’s SOPA Blackout is a Great Idea

I was very happy to see TechCrunch 2.0 launch today as Pando.

Much less happy with Paul Carr’s applause of Dick Costolo’s tweet that Wikipedia's support of Internet Blackout Day is “…just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish”.

Possibly a smart position for Twitter. It would be expensive to shut down for a day, and it’s hard to infringe copyright in 140 characters so of the many sites that depend on user generated content Twitter could very well be the least likely to fall foul of SOPA/PIPA.

Carr says:

And, you know what? He’s right. Whatever your stance on SOPA, closing down a global business to protest an American law is foolish.

It happens to be an American law that seeks to unplug foreign sites from the Internet, even if they’re not breaking any local laws. And then:

Arguing that a one-day closure reminds everyone of the importance of net freedom is like burning down one church to underscore the importance of the First Amendment for all of the others.

Really? Nobody is burning down anything. But if there was a potential law that allowed churches to be repossessed, say on the basis of claims of false scripture from other religions, without requiring a trial and say with a specific exemption that no legal challenge could be brought against any repossession made in ‘good faith’ compliance with the law then it might be worth it for a church or two to self-immolate.

And then:

The trouble with taking a political stance on one issue is that your silence on every issue becomes a stance.

There’s a difference between fighting an existential threat and throwing in the towel on neutrality. I’m very glad to see Wikipedia join the blackout.

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Yet more on breaking the Internet

January 18th is Internet blackout day to protest against SOPA and PIPA. As I'm writing this post 6,988,056,464 people still don't read ITHCWY, so I'm taking part by blacking out my software site, catfood.net, which gets substantially more traffic.  

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Misplaced Outrage

Misplaced Outrage

The video of US Marines urinating on corpses is shocking and counterproductive. But it's not the worst thing that happened to the victims that day. More shocking, and more damaging to the US is that at the same time Guantanamo marked its 10 year anniversary. While the Republican Presidential hopefuls fight over who will be the first to invade Iran. But go ahead, spin up the news cycle for the sideshow.

Photo credit: stroud4341

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More on breaking the Internet

I finally got round to actually reading SOPA and PIPA

I make my living from intellectual property, it's my hobby as well. I also used to work at Macrovision, at the time the leading anti-piracy company for Hollywood, software, music and games. I understand the sentiment behind the legislation and agree that theft of IP causes real harm. I'd love to see the pirate sites vaporized. But not at the expense of undermining the fundamental architecture of the Internet. 

The most controversial penalties are removing sites from search results and DNS combined with a shield from prosecution for sites that comply with requests voluntarily or even preemptively. 

It's an insidious infrastructure tax comparable to requiring the phone company from removing you from their directory and taxi drivers to shrug their shoulders and pretend they don't know where you live. It also inverts the DMCA approach of holding sites harmless provided that they respond to take down notices.

Worse still, the legislation would make it illegal to provide a product or service that circumvents these penalties. Because the proposed remedy to piracy is censoring the Internet this equates to making anti-censorship software illegal. 

It's not even like mucking with DNS will be effective. People who want to steal movies will still be able to find them. These are bad laws. Sign a petition and contact your congresspeople to help put the brakes on.

This brings me to a piece on KQED where Rick Cotton from NBC says: "But these new forms of distribution that all of the content providers are embracing cannot compete against stolen, cannot compete against free.

Which sounds like bad news for a company in the business of competing with free. Luckily this isn't true. People happily pay for speed, quality, convenience, features, support, kudos, reputation, collection. Yes, some people will never pay. It's not worth the decreasing returns to go after them both to your company and as with SOPA/PIPA to society as a whole. 

Instead of having Congress censor search results for you grow a pair and use some SEO. Fill the search engines with legitimate ways to access your content. Invent new windows. Treat piracy as market research for unmet needs. 

How about a streaming service for parents who can't get to the cinema that often? I'd happily pay a premium - two tickets, parking, popcorn equivalent - and it's money you're not getting now while I have to wait for a film to eventually show up on Netflix. 

Release raw footage for an episode every season and have a competition for who can cut together the best episode. Embrace the Internet rather than fighting it. 

Don't spend your time and energy and money on SOPA/PIPA and other attempts to fight a battle that can't be won. 

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Congress: instead of breaking the Internet how about fixing child identity theft?

Child Identity Theft; A Lot of Questions Need to Be Answered, But the Most Important One is

According the the Carnegie Mellon CyLab one in ten – 10% – of children in the US have had their identity stolen. Most likely this is related to the relative ease with which social security numbers can be predicted.

As a parent this makes one want to start checking credit reports, but according to a Today Show segment on the topic “Advice for concerned parents on this point is nuanced. Both the FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center say parents should not check their kids' credit reports on an annual basis.” Kids shouldn’t have credit reports, and if they do then checking them obsessively might do more harm than good by damaging their credit rating.

WTF?

It doesn’t seem that complicated to me. How about at birth or when the child’s social security number is generated placing an automatic block on it until their 18th birthday? There should also be a process to register existing children with the credit rating agencies until automatic registration kicks in. Would this for some reason be difficult or controversial?

Also, is there a great reason for social security numbers to be short and based on states and birth years? I guess there’s a Y2K level problem to update every computer system, but converting SSNs to UUIDs sounds like a great stimulus program to me.

Apparently Representative Jim Langevin has introduced legislation to try and fix the problem for foster children. Which is great, but why just for one special group? If 10% of children (or anything like this number) really are affected then this is a pressing issue that should be getting a lot more attention.

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Episode Four

President Barack Obama meets with staff to discuss ongoing efforts to find a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, in the Oval Office, July 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I became a US Citizen in 2010 so I didn’t get to vote in the last presidential election. If I had been able to vote it would absolutely have been for Obama. I was captivated by the promise of a transformational presidency. I should have known better and I was completely mistaken.

The outcome of the debt ceiling negotiation is motivating me to write about this now, but it’s really just the final straw. Well, not quite a straw, it’s unconscionable that an increase in tax revenue isn’t part of the deal. And how was the conversation boxed into subtle differences in where to cut trillions of dollars rather than why? It’s hard to think of a better way to increase unemployment and decrease growth.

Reasonable people can disagree on the budget. What really bothers me is that Obama has failed so comprehensively to rectify the damage that Bush did to America’s reputation and moral authority. If you want to spread democracy and freedom it would seem to me that the most powerful tool is providing a shining example and an inspiration. America has often played this role – never perfectly but the imperfections have historically been an embarrassment. Now, increasingly, they’re a source of pride: celebrating assassinations, brushing torture under the carpet, a war on whistleblowers and increased use of ‘state secrets’ to brush aside inconvenient due process.

On torture in particular Obama’s “…belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” kills me. It’s not a defense I feel I could use to fight a speeding ticket. It’s a complete abrogation of responsibility.

It also really bothers me that Obama can’t just come out as supporting gay Americans having he same rights as the rest of us.

All this leaves me with a large problem in 2012. Even though I live in California and therefore have a worthless vote I still take my electoral responsibility seriously. I just don’t think I can vote for this guy, even if he’s better than the alternative.

Obama: please don’t run in 2012. I need a new hope.

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High-Frequency Trading

Fibre optic cable

Algorithmic trading is getting a little out of hand:

“For high-frequency trading firms that use powerful computers to pop in and out of positions in milliseconds, so-called collocation, or "colo," is a pricey necessity. That's because trade times are approaching the speed of light, and the only way to make light reach its destination quicker is to shorten the trip.” smartmoney.com

This kind of trading accounts for an estimated 70% of US market volume. It’s completely disconnected from any kind of intrinsic value and only creates a benefit for the HFT firms and the exchanges that pocket the fees and exorbitant server hosting fees.

It’s like installing an ATM skimmer on the capital markets.

I think we need some way to enforce a hold period to discourage this business model. It could be an actual window that forces you to hold stock for a few days before selling (actually a few minutes might help), more likely a tax or fee that is prohibitively high at the millisecond turnover rate but ramps down to nothing after a week. 

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Legislative Service

congress

Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” and since then we seem to have given up trying to find a better one. Twiddling with the mechanics of voting doesn’t count.

My idea: Legislative Service. This is modeled on Jury Service only instead of judging a person you’re asked to judge a proposed bill. In your typical bicameral system of government the Legislative Service would replace the upper house. The Senate in the US, The House of Lords in the UK.

In a US version 101 citizens would be randomly drafted for each bill. The pros and cons of the bill would be presented in an adversarial environment, much like a jury trial. The citizen legislators would then vote anonymously and either pass the bill or send it back to the House of Representatives. The President would retain the right to veto a bill.

Such a system would castrate the malign influence of money and lobbyists in the political system. It would also improve engagement as more citizens take part or talk to friends and family who have served.

You would still have professional legislators who would be responsible to their constituents. They’d just have a harder time adding pork and returning favors. Each bill would need to be palatable to a majority of average citizens.

Possible objections:

People dodge jury service all the time. Wouldn’t you end up with a similar problem? I don’t think so. Legislative Jury would be far more prestigious.

Isn’t the average voter too stupid to understand complex legislation? You are the average voter. In any case, the adversarial system would give both sides a chance to both argue and explain. Expert witnesses could be called. Ballot measures that are voted on by the entire electorate suffer from this problem as money is spent to over-simplify and obfuscate. In Legislative Service you’re taking a representative sample of the electorate and giving them the time and help needed to make a serious judgment.

It’s unconstitutional! This would require a constitutional amendment.

What about knee-jerk legislation? Tyranny of the Majority? Hopefully this system would help to put a brake on hasty and ill-thought through bills. The President would retain veto power and the Supreme Court would be able to annul unconstitutional decisions and so sufficient checks and balances would remain in the system.

Of course getting rid of The Senate isn’t going to happen overnight. I can think of a couple of ways to start moving in the right direction.

Firstly, this plan is just as applicable at the state level. My state, California, is a mess and this proposal could help. There are rumblings about holding a constitutional convention and if this happens I want us to ditch ballot initiatives and replace the State Senate with Legislative Service.

Secondly, and more plausibly, what about setting up Legislative Service as a non-profit to look at each bill and vote on it but without the actual power of preventing bad bills from being enacted? A sort of non-partisan citizen think tank. If any of my billionaire readers are interested get in touch.

I’ve been mulling the idea of Legislative Service for quite some time, but especially following the atrocious reform of the British House of Lords in 1999 resulting in an upper house composed of appointed peers, a handful of hereditary peers and a few bishops. This threw the independent oversight baby out with the unelected toffs bathwater. Since 1999 I’ve lived in California and my revulsion for the US political climate keeps growing. Serious change is needed. I think Legislative Service is it.

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Thinking about the UK referendum on AV

I just got my postal ballot for the UK referendum on switching from the current first-past-the-post system to the alternative vote (AV). I’m going to think out loud about which way to go.

Each campaign has a handy top three list. The yes campaign says:

MPs working harder to earn - and keep - our support: Your next MP would have to aim to get more than 50% of the vote to be sure of winning. At present they can be handed power with just one vote in three.  They’ll need to work harder to win - and keep - your support.

I’m not sure anyone campaigns to get less than 50%. Because AV means that the candidates with the least support are the first votes to be redistributed this inevitably means campaigning to capture votes from the fringes. It’s also a bit of a misdirection. Just because you end up with 50% of the vote after x rounds of redistribution doesn’t mean that you have the wholehearted support of 50% of your constituents.

A bigger say on who your local MP is: Ranking candidates gives you more say - in who comes first and who comes last. If your favourite doesn’t win, you can still have a say. It’s as easy as 1,2,3…

It is appealing to be able to vote your conscience and then vote reality. But as you’re still ending up with a single MP you’re not getting proportional representation (that would be STV or similar schemes) and there is always going to be a winner. Maybe better to have the courage of your convictions and actually make the hard choices involved in picking a single candidate to vote for.

Let’s say that you favor green policies and so want to send a signal by voting for the Green party. Green candidate off the table you’d vote for Labor. Under FPTP your vote for Green risks dividing the Labor vote and allowing a Conservative candidate in. Under AV you can happily vote Green #1, Labor #2 safe in the knowledge that your vote is going to be redistributed. You’re sending a signal either way, but the signal that involves a candidate losing their seat because their policies were not green enough seems like the stronger one, even if it’s more painful in the short term.

Tackling the ‘jobs for life' culture: Too many MPs have their ‘safe seats’ for life. Force complacent politicians to sit up and listen, and reach out to the communities they seek to represent.

To the extent that this is a problem it would seem that term limits would be the answer. AV will still produce plenty of safe seats. Very bad choice of a third argument.

The no campaign says:

AV is costly: The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum.

Even if you take this number at face value it would be a small price to pay for better governance. Silly first argument.

AV is complex and unfair: The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected. That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter.

How I hate the ‘something culture’ and ‘whatever charter’ lingo. AV isn’t particularly complex. In fact, because you don’t narrow your choice down to one it’s actually less complex than FPTP in terms of the reasoning that goes into your ballot choice rather than the trivial mechanics of actually voting. I think it is unfair though, more on this below.

AV is a politician's fix: AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power. Under AV, the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg's. We can't afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country.

Reading the Jenkins' Commission report and looking at examples like Australia this doesn’t seem to be particularly true. The current coalition is the result of FPTP. Australia doesn’t have hung parliaments very often. In fact, AV can lead to larger swings in favor of one party.

My experience of AV in San Francisco is that I often ended up just voting for one candidate. I had a single preference and really didn’t care to rank a second choice (especially in the cases where AV was bizarrely used for two candidate races). This would be possible in the proposed UK system as well.

I think the real flaw in AV is that votes for least popular candidates are the ones that get redistributed, providing a second, third and even fourth vote. This seems fundamentally unfair and unsound. There is no perfect voting system but providing greater influence for minority views seems like a worse trade off than underrepresenting them.

Maybe instead of carving up the vote it would be better to carve up the parties?

I’ll be voting no.

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Intelligence Squared Two-Party Debate

On Tuesday Intelligence Squared US held a debate on the proposition that “The Two-Party System Is Making America Ungovernable”. David Brooks and Arianna Huffington argued for the motion, Zev Chafets and P.J. O’Rourke against. I’ve included the video of the debate at the end of this post.

I argued for the two-party system to be broken up last year - Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed.

Chafets and O’Rourke won the debate in terms of swing (scoring is based on a vote before and after the debate) but the final break down was 50% in favor, 40% against and 10% undecided.

Huffington started with a somewhat lame opening argument, claiming that we’re somehow at a unique junction in history where our problems really need fixing:

“so while the two-party system might have been okay during the ordinary times, we’re not living in ordinary times right now.”

Overall, she focused too much on current issues rather than the systematic functioning (or not) of government.

O’Rourke, as one might expect, was amusing in refuting the proposition but the thrust of his argument is that nobody could do a better job, the public isn’t that interested, the system is broken but why bother trying to fix it:

“I would simply concede the debate if I were able to imagine some other political party or independent candidate – left, right, or fanatically middle-of-the-road – who would do a better job.”

For a free market demagogue like O’Rourke this is incredible. This is like claiming in 2007 that AltaVista and Yahoo! while not perfect are as good as search is likely to get so why would we need Google?

Brooks really got to what I see as the nub of the issue. He argued that politics is full of good people who want to to the right thing being made into worse people by having to conform to brutal tribal party affiliations:

“But they’re in a tribal mentality in what – what they can achieve is severely limited by the tribal sort of Tutsi versus Hutu nature of our politics of the current two-party system.”

This brings Romney’s desperate distancing from the individual mandate to mind.

Also from Brooks:

“The University of Maryland had a very interesting study where they took Tea Party people, they took liberals, and they said, “Here’s our budget problem, you deal with it.” And the Tea Party people acknowledged that they had to raise taxes, and the people on the far left acknowledged some spending had to be cut. They could all do it. But the two-party system can’t do it.”

Finally Chafets cited the US being in the 90th percentile of the World Bank’s Index of Governability as some sort of argument in favor of the status quo. I guess it depends on your definition of governability – being able to reliably elect a government versus having that government actually represent the interests of the electorate once in office.

Here’s the video:

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Response to GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

On Friday the National Park Service published their GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan which is now open for public comment until April 14, 2011. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses over eighty thousand acres of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. In San Francisco GGNRA managed lands include Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Fort Funston and Ocean Beach. If you care one way or the other about dog access to the GGNRA please take the time to review the plan and send in your feedback. I’ve reproduced my comments in full below.

My family lives in San Francisco and owns a dog. Many of the places we regularly go for walks are in the GGNRA. I fully accept that dogs can cause trouble and even danger and that there should be areas in the park that are free of dogs. Dog owners are a large user group though and I’m concerned that the NPS is going too far. If you walk your dog in the GGNRA here’s why you should be concerned:

The plan significantly curtails off-leash dog walking. For example, Fort Funston could go from this (red shaded area is off-leash, click for larger version):

Fort Funstong - Current Dog Access

To this (yellow shaded area is off-leash):

Fort Funston - NPS Proposed Dog Access

Worse than any of the proposed immediate changes is that the new off-leash is different from the old off-leash. The plan creates ‘Regulated Off-Leash Areas’ or ROLAs. A key part of the ROLA definition (PDF) is:

“ROLA areas are subject to adaptive management as identified in each alternative. Subject to monitoring, an area can be changed from ROLA to on-leash or no dogs if compliance is not achieved.”

In other words, despite the two thousand plus page dog management plan we’re being asked to accept that the NPS can revoke access in the future without further consultation. The ‘adaptive management’ described in the plan would use NPS maintained statistics to downgrade off-leash to on-leash to no dogs at all and explicitly rules out ever moving any area in the opposite direction.

Here are the comments I’ve submitted to the NPS (comment ID: 457979-38106/85):

General Comments

My family owns a dog and lives in San Francisco. We visit the GGNRA at least once a week. The Draft Dog Management Plan would reduce our enjoyment and use of the park considerably.

In the plan the enabling legislation for the GGNRA is quoted: “In order to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco counties, California, possessing outstanding natural, historic, scenic and recreational values and in order to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is hereby established”. The plan also discusses the long history of off-leash dog access before and after the creation of the park.

Because open space is so limited in San Francisco, and because the GGNRA controls the entire coastline I strongly support continued access to provide reasonable exercise and recreation for dogs and their owners.

I’m very concerned about the tone of the plan and some of the specific provisions.

The objectives listed in the executive summary all relate to controlling, reducing and restricting dog access. Given the park’s charter to provide ‘public use and enjoyment’ and ‘needed recreation open space’ an important objective should be to preserve sufficient space for off-leash dog access.

The plan exhaustively lists real and theoretical issues related to dog access however there is no comparable section discussing issues with prohibiting or restricting dog access. These include wasting limited park resources on restricting responsible dog owners rather than cautioning the irresponsible, forcing dog owners to travel further to take their dogs for a reasonable walk and increasing the likelihood of aggression by concentrating dogs in increasingly small designated areas.     

The plan also continually discusses dog access in the context of park-wide regulations preventing any off-leash dog walking. San Francisco donated properties to the GGNRA on the proviso that traditional recreation would be maintained. The tone suggests that leash-free access was a mistake, and that the park service is begrudgingly fulfilling the park’s mission only when forced to do so. I’d have much more confidence in the process if the plan started from the position of accepting a variety of recreational activities, including off-leash dog walking, and then attempted to balance the varied needs of visitors, culture and wildlife from there.

Given this I find the adaptive management provision of the regulated off-leash areas (ROLAs) to be unacceptable. This provides the NPS with a mechanism to further erode dog access to on-leash only and even to prohibit dogs entirely without further consultation. The plan further states that under no circumstances will the reverse be true – once dogs are banned the park will never consider opening up access again. This is a far greater threat to preserving the park for future generations than any amount of dog access.

Rather than penalizing the vast majority of responsible dog owners the Dog Management Plan should focus on enforcing existing rules and regulations.

Below I discuss the proposed plan for the sites we visit regularly:

Fort Funston

The preferred alternative is far too restrictive. When the closed section of trail to the north of Fort Funston is open again there should be off-leash access for the full length of the beach and alongside trails so that a loop can be made down the sand ladder and then returning via the central or northern access trails. Of all the GGNRA sites Funston would seem to be the best candidate for Alternative A – maintaining current access – especially if the preferred alternative is selected for restricting most of Ocean Beach. We visit Fort Funston weekly, rain or shine, and given how heavily the area is used I’m surprised at how rare it is to encounter any problems.

Crissy Field

The preferred alternative is a good balance. When the east beach is busy there can be far too many dogs and people competing for space. For this reason we usually visit Crissy field when the weather is too severe to walk on an ocean facing beach and so it tends to be just dog walkers anyway.

Ocean Beach

The preferred alternative is reasonable, provided that Fort Funston is not overly restricted (see above).

Marin Headlands / Rodeo Beach

The preferred alternative massively reduces the trail available for hikers with a dog. We often complete the loop up the coastal trail to Hill 88 and then down Wolf Ridge / Miwok to return to Rodeo Beach. The trails are rarely crowded and a well behaved dog has no more impact than a person. The Hill 88 loop should be kept open to off-leash dogs. The preferred alternative for Rodeo Beach is acceptable.

--

Update January 17, 2011: KQED has a Forum segment on the dog management plan at 9am PST today. Join the discussion or access the audio archive here.

Update February 2, 2011: Sign up for this Facebook page: Save Off-Leash Dog Walking Areas in the SF Bay Area.

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We can’t fix politics without fixing 24-hour news

Take a moment to watch Brian Kilmeade and Janet Jackson below.

Brian Kilmeade

Janet Jackson

The wardrobe ‘malfunction’ resulted in the FCC attempting to impose a $550,000 fine (eventually overturned on appeal). Kilmeade’s “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”, a genuine obscenity, resulted in a half hearted apology.

We’ve learned very painfully that throwing out Glass-Steagall was a horrible mistake. We need to learn a similar lesson about the Fairness Doctrine.

The current political climate is driven by unbalanced vitriol from both the left and the right. The Fairness Doctrine was eviscerated because of a belief that there was sufficient competition in broadcast media so that all sides of an issue could get fair time. But when you watch a news network that matches your political affiliation this just isn’t the case. If you’re in the news business then there should be some standards, including fairly presenting both sides of an issue and at the very least not repeating lies and insinuations with the authority of mass media.

24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive.

The FCC should be empowered and required to levy substantial fines where news outlets engage in factually incorrect reporting, where a reasonable amount of due diligence (or the slightest familiarity with terrorism) could have a prevented the error. This would reign in some of the worst, and also benefit from generating its own news coverage. We also need to consider brining back the Fairness Doctrine for any news outlet above a threshold audience size – print, television, radio or online.

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Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed

The US political system is like daisyworld.

Flower Power Natural World

Daisyworld is a simplified model of the Gaia (Earth as organism) Hypothesis. A planet is populated by black daisies which absorb more solar radiation and white daisies which reflect it. Over time the temperature of the planet is regulated because the white daisies thrive when it’s warm. If it’s too hot the white population booms, increases the albedo of the planet and cools it down again. The black population then surges as the planet cools down and causes lower albedo and thus another round of warming.

This isn’t (directly) a post about global warming or race.

Replace the daisies with Democrats and Republicans. When Democrats are in power Republican voters are driven to the polls and vice versa. Homeostasis is guaranteed. Like daisyworld or the two-body problem it’s a toy system. It’s just never going to produce interesting results.

I think it’s time to break up the big parties (like the big parties should have broken up the big banks). Each party that achieves more than 20% of the popular vote is forced to split into two smaller parties. We have more than daisies. We have the three-body problem.

In addition to introducing some much needed chaos this could also turn the national political climate from us-vs-them to something more nuanced. Yes, there would still be left leaning and right leaning parties but they’d be forced to differentiate themselves through more than name calling and head stomping. We might have a political marketplace of ideas rather than affiliations.

Anything would be better than daisies.

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I Thought He Came With You

Robert Ellison's Blog

7,250,102,861 people still need to read this blog.

Zeno's Watermelon

Zeno's Watermelon