Taxing is Crowdfunding (Sorta)

I have to stop by the library to drop off books on my way to pick up Misty from the train station tonight. Unless you’re a student, it’s unlikely you hear that statement very often nowadays. I mentioned getting my library card a couple of weeks ago. I’ve checked out a number of books since then — this will be my third trip, at least — and returned them. The library building is quite new, and it is well-enough-used. My mom sometimes tutors there. I’ve seen others studying there. They don’t seem to lack in patrons (or “customers,” if you like).

I also mentioned at the time that the library was small and mostly devoted to kids’ books and a hefty large-print edition collection. I’m not finding much to quench my thirst for tech and design and economic works — or even fiction. They have a couple of copies of Bradbury, but not his entire works. No autobiography of Andrew Jackson. Their new-to-us section can be more interesting than their recently released shelf. Libraries like these make me want to donate my collection to them. (Though I’m afraid it would just be locked away in a storage unit gathering dust until a remainder sale, if lucky.)

We’ve allowed our libraries to fall into disrepair. They may be housed in new buildings, but their collections are being degraded and depleted.

Astra Taylor notes in her recent book The People’s Platform that taxes are a form of crowdfunding. So true! I hadn’t thought of taxes that way — neither had the technolibertarians, I’ll bet. They’ll argue that because it’s coerced, it isn’t the same thing. That may be so (and I don’t intend to get into an argument about it here), but it can also be put to good use, including funding libraries where they can find Hayek and von Mises.

Brian Chesky explains the sharing economy to Stephen Colbert. [At the end of the interview, Misty immediately turned to me for my opinion. Ha!] Continue reading

Executive Immigration

I’m going to make this short because my opinion on the issue is quite easy to understand.

Yes, there are a lot of children crossing the border, especially here in Texas. We’ve spent the past while arguing on the state and national level over what to do about it. Unfortunately, members of Congress decided it would be better to go home and work on their reelections than accomplish something on the issue (aside from put out inflammatory press statements). Something still must be done, though, while they hang out at diners meeting voters. President Obama has offered to do that — via executive order.

I’m in agreement with Ross Douthat (it scares me a little, too) that the executive should not usurp the legislative branch’s role in government. Continue reading

Facebook & International Aid

Evgeny Morozov had a column in yesterday’s Sunday Review of The New York Times that was immediately responded to by Tim Worstall over at Forbes. Morozov is criticizing the supposedly altruistic efforts of Facebook and other technology companies (under the auspices of to offer mobile Internet service throughout the unconnected world. At heart, Morozov complains that maybe — just maybe — profit-seeking companies shouldn’t be the ones we rely upon to provide such services. Mainly because of, well, the profit motive. Worstall is in favor of market forces determining when/how/if those without Internet access obtain it (that is, if no company wants to run high-speed Internet cable out to your house, you’re screwed).

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Government’s Innovation & Tech Problems

I spend a lot of time knocking tech companies and those who think technology will solve the world’s problems, but government doesn’t lack for my ire (see my post on Texas’ online job portals).

I’ve also spent a lot of my career in the nonprofit, political and governmental worlds. If there is one commonality among them when it comes to tech and change, it would be that they are slow to adopt and — sometimes — go backward more often than they make significant progress. I’ve worked in offices where people uninstalled the newest version of Word and replaced it with an older version — until they couldn’t anymore — because they wouldn’t adapt to a changed user interface. The Texas judicial system was still using WordPerfect until not all that long ago. Seriously.

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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 [Updated]

[UPDATE: This was published in the 31 JUL 2014 issue of the Hill Country News.]

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.

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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