Design & Tech Overthrow U.S. Government [Updated]

APOLOGIA: 1 AUG 14 @ 0338 hrs:

I don’t know Dominic Campbell. I didn’t research him prior to writing and publishing this post.  I should have or I wouldn’t have made basic mistakes, like intimating he has no experience with policymaking. I also undermined my argument by being as strident or more as I claim he is in his piece. My reaction to his post was, to a degree, knee-jerk because I find parts of it similar to others I see elsewhere — by those with less (or, worse, no) experience in government — professing tech’s ability to automatically solve public policy issues. As I hope is otherwise clear, I only seek to add nuance to discussions I think veer toward “technological solutionism/determinism” or “algorithmic regulation” and their like. Not clutter it with misinformation. His piece is far more nuanced than most. His politics? I have no idea. So, if my last lines are bothersome, they are my (American) interpretation of his policy prescriptions, or, at least, the words he uses to describe them (austerity?). Aside from his successes, Dominic Campbell and I seem to share similar backgrounds (a foot in politics/policy and the other in tech and design). Over coffee or in letters, we’d probably have much to agree and disagree upon — civilly.

The reason I responded to his article is because I find it thought-provoking.

Dominic (and readers),

My sincere apologies.

My unedited original post from  30 JUL 14 @ 16:07:

On FutureGov, Dominic Campbell writes about design and tech taking over government:

For the nervous and the newly initiated, there is a role for design as ‘risk management’ in creating a future that is yet to exist, using prototyping and small steps to avoid high risk moves and big mistakes. We need to provide replicable guidance to open innovation; to see design as a source of great creativity; to focus on outcomes not process. We need to build a government that truly orbits around us, rather than expect us, your citizens, to do all the hard graft and understand our way around you.

I agree with him that design thinking needs to go into improving government, but it’s just this sort of strident attitude that gets us nowhere. There will always be entrenched interests. What do you think Google is? Are they going to disrupt the energy industry that provides the power to run their iProducts? Continue reading

Tech Fails At Lobbying

Mark Albertson notes in a new column that in a tech industry “that’s always been about ‘getting results,’” not a single of their trade groups can point to “any specific, enacted legislation that was successfully passed in support of their cause” this year. He wonders if this is because Silicon Valley isn’t lobbying enough or just isn’t lobbying effectively.

He makes a good case that quantity isn’t the problem. Tech companies have hundreds (thousands?) of lawyers and lobbyists, and that’s not to mention other organizations they use to influence politics. And, within that cohort, there’s likely some quality talent. So maybe it isn’t necessarily that they aren’t lobbying enough or effectively. Maybe the core people in tech — not the lobbyists and lawyers but the owners and supposed visionaries — aren’t engaged enough to achieve their goals. Continue reading

(Robot) Technology and Policy

We’re used to hearing about bioethics panels and other organizations looking at the implications of robots, artificial intelligence, cloning and other areas of technological advancement. These are obviously areas with which humans must be concerned as we move forward. But, as I’ve argued here for a while now, I think it’s important that we not save that reflection only for The Big Things — the ones that nearly make us look like gods — and apply it to new technologies that come into our lives everyday.

Lacking much of that (though it definitely exists, and I spend much of my time teasing out those pieces among all the tech/design/culture writing in print and on the Web), I did find a good report, How Humans Respond to Robots: Building Public Policy Through Good Design out today by Heather Knight from the Brookings Institution, looking at the policy implications of robotics. It’s a good read. I just want to pull out a couple of quotes that I think reinforce what I’m trying to do by writing about technological solutionism and keeping our skepticism frosty. I’m no Luddite (said every tech critic ever), I just want us to think and consider our technology before we make it a part of ourselves, our daily lives and our ecosystems. Continue reading

Letter to the Editor: Leander TOD

I’ve sent to following to a local paper(s) regarding zoning and code changes in the massive acreage around CapMetro’s MetroRail Leander Station. Developers are telling them that a high-density, walkable, transit-oriented development can’t be accomplished — there must be big-box retail and acres of parking. I think we can do better. So, I fired off this short message.


I find it sad — and indicative of Leander shooting itself in the foot — that at the same time Cedar Park is beginning to consider adding mixed-use, transit-oriented development (which Austin is already pursuing), our city council is lowering expectations and building standards around Leander Station. Cedar Park doesn’t even have — or pay for — a rail station.

Growth is coming to Leander. Let’s do it attractively and correctly. Let’s make Leander a true destination.


Warren Chisum & Bitcoin

A couple of things about money.

First, an amazing story from What Money Can’t Buy:

One viatical investor was Warren Chisum, a conservative Texas state legislator and “well-known crusader against homosexuality.” He led a successful effort to reinstate criminal penalties for sodomy in Texas, opposed sex education, and voted against programs to help AIDS victims. In 1994, Chisum proudly proclaimed that he had invested $200,000 to buy the life insurance policies of six AIDS victims. “My gamble is that it’ll make not less than 17 percent and sometimes considerably better,” he told The Houston Post. “If they die in one month, you know, they [the investments] do really good.”

Some accused the Texas lawmaker of voting for policies from which he stood to profit personally. But this charge was misdirected; his money was following his convictions, not the other way around. This was no classic conflict of interest. It was actually something worse — a morally twisted version of socially conscious investing.

Continue reading

Like Hannibal Lecter, Economists Eat Brains

Shitloads of Money by Liz Phair on Grooveshark
I stopped by the Leander Public Library after dropping Misty off at work this morning. I actually went inside, got a library card (you only need photo ID now! not photo ID and mail), browsed, looked up some books and ended up checking out three.

I’ve had a library card for every city I’ve ever lived in — unless it was a base library card instead of the local town’s. Air Force bases tend to have really good libraries.

It was disappointing at how small this new, white stone building was. There are actually two wings, but one is dedicated to conference rooms, according to the librarian with whom I spoke. The kids’ area was huge. It could have passed for a daycare, without the unattended kids running everywhere (only a couple). The Austin Public Library often seemed to be a daytime homeless shelter. That wouldn’t fly long in Leander.

With most of my books in storage, and my new medications waking me up as early as 3:30 in the morning now, I’ve been desiring a non-e-book to satisfy my brain tickling. (Seriously, it sort of feels that way — as if my brain were tingling with desire to start reading or writing and a then a wash of pleasure — tickling — comes over it during the act.) I’d read all the printed literature (newspapers, books, magazines, journals, etc.) in the house. I needed something I could run my finger down the margin, follow the words with my finger, generally ensure I mess up all the doors in the house. I just love the feeling of books. And the smell. Misty makes fun of me for smelling books. I make fun of her for not. Continue reading

THE Mental Illness Song

Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger on Grooveshark

I can’t remember if I’ve written this before, but I think “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger is the mental illness song, if only for the following lyrics:

Put me in the hospital for nerves
And then they had to commit me
You told them all I was crazy
They cut off my legs, now I’m an amputee, God damn you

. . .

Paranoia, paranoia
Everybody’s coming to get me
Just say you never met me
I’m running underground with the moles (digging holes)
Hear the voices in my head
I swear to God it sounds like they’re snoring;
But if you’re bored, then you’re boring.
The agony and the irony: they’re killing me (whoa).

I’m not sick but I’m not well
And I’m so hot ’cause I’m in Hell
I’m not sick but I’m not well

People can’t see mental illness. It can’t be amputated. But it’s there.

The OCD Inside

Most people know when they call a friend “OCD” for keeping his or her files in order or intimate that they may be “a little OCD” because they’re never quite sure if they closed the hell is heregarage door, they’re not really talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder. They’re talking about a very superficial representation shown of it on TV. Hopefully, when we say such things, it’s with the awareness that in no way are those things representative of the whole of true OCD. There’s far more to it than just organizing one’s shoes in a specific way. I can tell you that from personal experience. Continue reading

Helping is Happiness (Even at the Border)

Over 10 million refugees find themselves in centers and camps all over the world (or worse, on their own). But not here. We demand other countries and the United Nations provide safe haven for those fleeing violence – as long as it isn’t to our country. At best, refugees fleeing to the U.S. can hope they’re granted asylum before they’re slaughtered in their home countries. I’m sure that’s a pretty anxious wait. Continue reading