that havoc, he’s such a nice young man. John McCain, not so much.

HP: very nice post. The version in my drafts folder since Friday night is… hrm. Very similar in content, but, well, less polite. One might say ‘angrier’.

I had a lot of respect for John McCain (probably would have voted for him over Gore in 2000) but over the past couple of weeks that respect has gone- I’m just sick of the constant stream of lies, distortions, distractions. To paraphrase Obama, the distortions and the distractions don’t hurt Democrats or Republicans, they hurt America, not just for one media cycle, but permanently, because they prevent us from actually talking about the issues facing the country.

If we want to have a serious conversation about the very serious problems our country faces- if we want to actually solve problems instead of just win campaigns- this sort of behavior must have consequences. I can’t scold McCain (or the media, who share responsibility) to their faces, so I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve written the biggest check to Obama that I can, and time permitting I’m going to take action myself by phonebanking. In other words, I’m trying to help McCain and his handlers face the ultimate political penalty. They deserve nothing better. (I have no illusions that Obama can magically fix the problem by himself, but if Rovians continue to win, they will continue to behave this way. So their loss is where the solution must start.)

(It is worth noting that this issue of distractions and lies should be non-partisan. Honest Republicans who actually support America as an ongoing concern, and not just a place for their party to ‘win’ more scorched-earth victories, should want a discussion of the issues rather than a discussion of lipstick. Admittedly, it might cost you this election, but punishing the Rovians now will make your party stronger in the long run. So think about it supporting Obama, or at least withholding your support from McCain and Steve Schmidt.)

To bring this back slightly to my typical topics, this is a terrific chart (using the best Tufte-ian approach) explaining who would and wouldn’t get their taxes raised and lowered under the Obama and McCain tax plans. It puts the lie to McCain’s claim that Obama would raise taxes for most Americans. Given what lawyers earn, I’d probably be better off under McCain, but I don’t need it. Chart via the awesome ben fry.

considering Lessig

So Lessig isn’t saying no to Congress quite yet. This really should excite me; to call Lessig one of my heroes is not a stretch at all.

Lawrence Lessig 1 by Mario Carvajal. License:

My initial response was, I think, pretty solid: Lessig would make a very good Congressman. He’s proven in his Creative Commons work that he can build coalitions, work multiple sides of an issue, and (perhaps most importantly) build a winning staff. He’d have a better grasp than almost anyone in Congress on the critical issues of technology and the Constitution. And he’s right that imbalanced influence is one of the core problems in American political life, and that this is clearly a change election where issues like this can be discussed in ways they normally can’t.

But watching the video, I can’t help but think that this is not yet the right time for Lessig’s version of this message. He spent years refining the framing around free culture and Creative Commons, and it paid off. With his finely tuned message he was able to persuade not just tech geeks in the US but creators, lawyers, and policymakers around the world. In contrast, by the time of these elections, he’ll have spent only about a year working publicly on the ‘corruption’ issue. And this lack of time shows- the message is too unpolished, and the substance isn’t there yet. I badly want his latest video to inspire me- but it doesn’t.

First, the message. If you’ve got one key word you’ve chosen to discuss the issue at hand (corruption), it doesn’t bode well when you have to redefine it almost immediately when you use it. To paraphrase, the video says basically ‘well, there is corruption, but I don’t mean corruption like that.’ The maddening ineffectiveness of this tactic will be familar to anyone who has had to explain the difference between free and free over the years. It may be that I’m just too sensitive, but to me this and similar linguistic/framing/messaging problems make the quasi announcement possibly the least persuasive Lessig video I’ve ever watched- there may some day be a polished message there, but it isn’t here yet.

I’m not incredibly inspired by the substance either. The solutions (no PAC/lobbyist money, no earmarks, public financing) are good as far as they go, but they are not terribly new, and they are very top down- focusing on what should be prevented rather than what should be enabled. Part of the genius of Creative Commons was the bottom-up approach- using the motivations of large numbers of individals to counter systemic problems. Similarly, Obama refuses PAC/lobbyist money, but his campaign puts even bigger emphasis on bringing nearly a million people into the system. I’d love to see Lessig (and/or ChangeCongress.org) put emphasis on bottom-up factors like transparency, so that people outside of DC can analyze, diagnose, and mobilize to highlight and resolve problems, or perhaps on issues like broadband access, so that a greater number of people can become not just speakers but also publishers. These aren’t necessarily great suggestions, but Lessig’s don’t seem to be either right now- I’d like to see him apply his talent to improving them before he puts them so forcefully to the public. Even the great ones need time to solve difficult problems like this.

So what’s the bottom line? I’d support Lessig if he decides to run, and if he’s elected, I’ll be thrilled that he’ll be my representative when I arrive in California in ’09.1  But I really hope that he reconsiders and instead spends more time refining and strengthening his critically important message. It would be great to see, in two or four years, dozens or hundreds of candidates powerfully wielding the sharpened, focused message I know he can produce, instead of having him rush out alone this year, wielding the more blunt tool he’s created to date.

  1. Ed. later: I though the district covered all of southern San Francisco, but it actually covers only southwest San Francisco, and because of the location of the train station I’ll probably be in southeast San Fran when I move there. So he won’t be my rep. Oh well. []

Lessig for Congress?

Wowza. As I just submitted to /.:

With the unfortunate passing of Congressman Tom Lantos parts of Silicon Valley and San Francisco will be having a special election in June to send a replacement to Congress. Given the area, it would be great to have someone who is both tech and policy-aware fill the seat- and it looks like that just might happen, with a ‘Draft Lessig’ group forming on facebook, featuring some of Lessig’s old co-workers at Harvard and Jimmy Wales, among others, and Lessig apparently buying ‘change-congress.com’. No word from the man himself yet, but he’s been increasingly vocal about politics of late. If it happens, it would be a huge step forward for the representation of technology in Washington.

‘Huge step forward’ is a massive understatement, of course, but /. seems to like it that way.1 Lessig is not always right, and he’s not himself a technologist, but compared to the current state of things in Congress, he’d be a revelation for the software industry and for users of technology.

  1. Yes, I miss the early /., back when it was a college student and a blog instead of An Industry. []

another better writer captures what I’m thinking perfectly

Via Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden explains why he voted for Obama in the primary, capturing my critical thought perfectly:

I’m for Obama knowing perfectly well that, as Bill Clinton suggested, it’s a “roll of the dice”. A roll of the dice for Democrats, for progressives, for those of us who’ve fought so hard against the right-wing frames that Obama sometimes (sometimes craftily, sometimes naively) deploys. Because I think a Hillary Clinton candidacy will be another game of inches, yielding—at best—another four or eight years of knifework in the dark. Because I think an Obama candidacy might actually shake up the whole gameboard, energize good people, create room and space for real change.

Because he seems to know something extraordinarily important, something so frequently missing from progressive politics in this country, in this time: how to hearten people. Because when I watch him speak, I see fearful people becoming brave.

Read the whole thing; he goes into a lot of other things as well, like what he might do in red states, and why he’s far from perfect but worth voting for anyway. Also a good, substantive piece by James Fallows. Not a single mention of hope anywhere in there. ;)

[And yes, after a successful and very productive month of not reading blogs after 9am, I’ve totally broken down today. Ah well.]

Yes, we can.

Hope – Obama (Shepard Fairey poster) by Steve Rhodes. License:

Today is a unique day in my lifetime; a primary day where almost 1/2 of states are voting, but where the outcome is still very much in doubt. If you’re in one of those states, whether or not you agree with me about Obama, find your polling place and go vote. In all Democratic primaries, and many Republican primaries, the vote is not winner take all, so your vote matters even if your candidate is behind in the polls and will not get a majority. Go! Vote!

Today is also unique because for the first time in my life I’m really excited about a candidate, not because I dislike the other candidate, but because I think that the country deeply needs change – to move past the 50% + 1 politics of the past decade – and that one of the candidates sincerely wants to make that change happen in a positive, constructive way, and might even be able to do it.

There are a lot of reasons I think Obama is the candidate to do this. These are a short handful of my many personal reasons, some very abstract, some very concrete. If you want to know where I stand, read these; if you want to actually be persuaded, read Lessig’s reasons :)

  • after years of alternately fearing and being world weary of our politicians, I want to hope again. Perhaps my hope is misplaced; perhaps it is naive; but I don’t think it is. To quote a much better writer than me:

To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe … as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world… It is part of the world’s nature and of our own to break, ruin and destroy; but it is also our nature and the world’s to find ways to mend what has been broken. We can do that. Come on. Don’t be afraid. (Michael Chabon, emphasis mine.)

I stand before you as someone not opposed to all war in all circumstances. I don’t oppose all wars. What I’m opposed to is a dumb war, what I am opposed to is a rash war. A war based not on reason, but on passion; not on principle, but on politics.

I don’t think Obama is a savior; he’ll get attacked and savaged and lied about, as was done to Kerry and Gore (and McCain) and to Clinton before that. And that will take its toll. And he’ll certainly tack more left on some things than I’d like, and probably more right on others. But dammit… I want someone to try to lead more than 50% +1 of the country. I want someone who aspires, instead of trudges, but who also tells hard truths even when they might cost him votes. I want someone who can dream of America doing great things and fixing our great problems, instead of just aiming to secure power.
Maybe he’s naive and I’m naive too. But after the past 10 years I would prefer to try for something better, and fail, than not to try at all.

(Sadly… I’m registered independent in NY and can’t vote today… :/ Sign of how apathetic primary candidates on both sides have made me. So please… go vote in my stead!)

a vast flood of random web/legal curiosities

  • Hello ABA Journal readers. Welcome to my blog! You may want to look at the copyright license this blog is under, and my explanation of Why I Blog. You may also want to subscribe only to the law feed, since much of what I write about is technology or personal. Law feed posts are guaranteed to have at least some legal content :)
  • I’m very curious how Dell is shipping DVD playing Linux boxes, legally-speaking. Anyone have any pointers?
  • Tim: the law says nothing about sports bars, but I seem to recall (can’t find it right now) that it has regulations on number of screens in a location and size of the location, which would cover sports bars pretty well.
  • Mostly, I think my curriculum this semester is completely, gobstoppingly awesome, and something I could probably get only at Columbia. But I am slightly jealous of this. Also possibly this.
  • purpose driven voluntary sector.‘ Wordy, but I like it.
  • The QA version of Yin and Yang. No one in FLOSS does this well yet, but I do believe that with the right (fairly small) investment it could be done. I offered to build it for Canonical, they turned me down, and I’m very glad they did, given that I ended up in a much better position. Still, would have been interesting to try.
  • Best post on the weird cease and desist copyright ruling.
  • HP’s new FLOSS stuff is interesting, especially the ‘FOSSBazaar’ where policies and whitepapers on implementation are exchanged. Is there the critical mass to really make it a functional community? I don’t know, but it will be very interesting to see.
  • There are now recordings available of the ‘Computing in the Cloud’ workshop I attended one day of last month. I’m not sure there was a whole lot new said there, but probably very interesting for those catching up on the issue.
  • Great Eben Moglen quote on why free software and capitalism can be very cozy buddies, from a good (though poorly formatted) LinuxWorld interview:
    • “The primary desire that businesses have is for control over their own destinies, for avoidance of autonomy bottlenecks which put the fate of their business into the hands of someone else. The difficulty that they experience — that they call vendor lock-in, or noninteroperability — is a difficulty which is really a businessman’s equivalent of [Free Software Foundation President Richard] Stallman’s frustration at unfreedom. They are essentially the same recognition: In a world of complex, interdependent technology, if I don’t control my technology, it will control me. Stallman’s understanding of that proposition and Goldman Sachs’ understanding [for example] needn’t be as far apart as one might think. The desire to maintain autonomy — the desire to avoid control of destiny by outside parties — is as fierce in both cases as it can get.”
  • Seven stunning facts about Microsoft’s profits. Not-so-stunning fact number eight. :) Some people still don’t get it, though; they don’t seem to realize that part of the reason for the modern explosion in innovation on the web and elsewhere is in large part because Microsoft has felt legally constrained in the kinds of threats they can now make against competitors. Do you really think Office for Mac would exist now if not for the DOJ case? And if Office for Mac didn’t exist, do you really think OSX would be a viable competitor? If the answer to either of those is ‘yes’, you’re on some very good drugs and I’d like to know where you got them. :)
  • thoughtfix: Creating a new category of device is all well and good, but I’m still waiting to hear anyone say ‘you know what I’d like? a device with all the functionality of an iPhone, but without a permanent internet connection.’ That is, for most people, what this ‘new category’ is- tablet (check) with lots of internet-enabled features (check) with an internet connection (check) that isn’t always on and I can’t call my friends on (FAIL.) It is certainly true that the N810 has slightly more functionality, since it isn’t crippled by the cell carriers (e.g., the iChat that isn’t really iChat on the iPhone) and since it has an open SDK. But for most people the core functionality they want is phone, email, and web, and iPhone does those much better than N810 because of its always on cell connection. So again… yes, maybe N* is a new category. But it isn’t a category anyone actually wants, sadly- the subtly increased functionality does not make up for the substantially reduced convenience for all but a very small, very unusual group of consumers. (Even when WiMax covers major cities, it’ll still be unreliable in other places- and iPhones will be good for that and the current generation of N-tablets will be bad.)
  • [Politics warning]: Danah Boyd finds Davos to be… pro-Obama? Weird. Good, but weird. Andrew Sullivan summarizes why gay people should be squarely in the Obama camp– he actually has the guts to tell churches things they don’t like to hear. And also links to Obama’s consistent position on the war, and how that impacts electability. Less Obama-specific: “On why it matters when candidates treat voters like fools.

morning link bits