Skype notes 4/27/18

Skype meeting notes 4/27/18, Blaser, Milner, Serrano

Mission of The Lakeside Commons (working title)

Lake Chapala area Mexicans and Expats can fix U.S. Immigration law by updating the NewGov Foundation’s IP portfolio and GEOvoter API 2.0, to be developed by, Guadalajara. When completed, the tools can be branded and offered as a powerful onboarding workflow, especially for new members.

The pre-meeting writeup, The Lakeside Commons, describes methods for Democrats Abroad to offer members instant prestige based on their disproportionately high influence over specific issues:

“Good news! Your voting address in Somerville, NJ gives you a LOT of power to help Stephen Colbert and John Oliver in their battle to save the Internet, so you’re kind of a big deal: Less than 1% of Americans have the power you have to save the Internet from big cable companies. Certify now as a Verified Voter, a free upgrade. Just click-to-Tweet so everybody knows how much you matter.”

Screenshot 2018-08-26 14.19.36

NewGov Foundation <=> Democrats Abroad Relationship via the GEOvoter API.

  1. Democrats Abroad: Perfect “Alpha” client to describe its ideal app & infrastructure.
  2. WizeLine is a motivated, world-class outsourcing firm, 75 minutes from Lakeside.
  3. Democrats Abroad’s voter data can credential its members as Verified Constituents.

Materials discussed

Clay Shirky, TED, 2012: How the Internet will (one day) transform government
NewGov insight: Code developers and lawmakers do the same work: draft, negotiate, edit and manipulate blocks of arcane text which, when committed to a code base, have specific effects on the culture and economy. Developers use Git and lawmakers use 18th century methods based on 15th century technology. + the GEOvoter API can process the jurisdictions of the friends of each Democrats Abroad member, based on her Gmail contacts (with permission).

The GEOvoter API

Screenshot 2018-08-27 16.30.26

Miguel Serrano’s initial assessment of the GEOvoter API


iMconfused. iOS & MacOS for Real People

Screenshot 2018-08-23 08.37.45

  • Computer programmers are kids who don’t have a life.
    • So we’re “stupid”!
    • A real life gets in the way of narrow, rigidly enforced expertise.
    • We manage multi-generational, multi-variate, relationships.
    • Most coders have never managed anything as complex.
      in fact, most coders have never managed anything
  • We have a life.
  • We’re smart, BUT…

Smart = Busy = Distracted = “Stupid”

Password management

Photo management

Regular People Have No Idea How To Manage Photos On Their iPhone*

*”I’m serious, they don’t. They don’t know that they don’t, but they don’t.”

Son of a son of an Admiral

Less than a month into his tour of duty off the coast of Vietnam, Lieutenant John McCain was shot down about 3,500 feet above Hanoi on a bombing run. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war; he was held in solitary confinement, tortured, beaten until he could not stand. An admiral’s son and a Navy pilot, he came to believe, like many pilots, that the war had been winnable, if only it had been fought right. Which he still believes about Iraq.

McCain never had a chance to deal with the reality of it all. As a fighter jock sleeping on an aircraft carrier every night, he was unlikely to grasp the big picture in a full one-year tour but there was no way he *got* it in his first month.

Any one of us aviators who had been shot down so early and tested so rigorously would never have been able to perceive the absurdity of it all. Now that I know that John McCain was such a neophyte upon capture, I cannot take his views on Vietnam—or Iraq—seriously. I respect his experience: one that I may not have met as well. Interestingly, US Vet Dispatch, a rabid pro-war site supporting veterans, says that the Admiral’s son was not particularly skilled at being a pilot or being a prisoner of war, at least according to their report, which reads like something in Rolling Stone.

[In 1965-66,] McCain was in flight training and having different troubles. Surviving a crash unscathed in Corpus Christi Bay, he managed to later collide another training plane into power lines in Spain.

Despite the crashes, he was allowed to continue flying as a Navy aviator. Luck, or maybe it was the admiral, had smiled on him…

On Oct. 26, 1967, the admiral’s son while flying his 23rd mission over North Vietnam, once again fell from the sky, this time landing in the hands of a brutal enemy. He was beaten and bayoneted. His shoulder was smashed and his right calf was nearly perpendicular to his knee.

The severely wounded McCain was finally thrown on the back of a truck and hauled to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp. Immediately, his captors began to interrogate him using sadistic methods they had perfected on hundreds of captured U.S. servicemen before him.

His interrogators demanded military information. When he refused, his guards kicked and pounded him mercilessly.

McCain admits that three to four days after he was captured, he promised the Vietnamese, “I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.”

McCain also admits that the Vietnamese rushed him to a hospital, but denies he was given “special medical treatment” because of his promise.

He claims he was given medical care normally unavailable to captured Americans only because the Vietnamese learned he was the son of Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., the soon-to-be commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific including those fighting in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese figured that because POW McCain’s father was of such high military rank that he was of royalty or the governing circle in the United States. Thereafter the communists bragged that they had captured “the crown prince”and treated him as a “special prisoner.”

Less than two weeks after McCain was taken to a hospital, Hanoi’s press began quoting him giving specific military information, including the name of the aircraft carrier on which he was based, numbers of U.S. pilots that had been lost, the number of aircraft in his flight, information about location of rescue ships and the order of which his attack was supposed to take place.

There is also evidence that McCain received “special” medical treatment from a Soviet physician.

After he was out of the hospital, McCain continued cooperating with the North Vietnamese for a period of three years. He made radio broadcasts for the communists and met with foreign delegations, including the Cubans. He was interviewed by at least two North Vietnamese generals one of whom was Vietnam’s national hero, General Vo Nguyen Giap.

On June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service story headlined “PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral,” reported one of McCain’s radio broadcasts: “Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of the United States commander in the Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner.

“The broadcast was beamed to American servicemen in South Vietnam as a part of a propaganda series attempting to counter charges by U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird that American prisoners are being mistreated in North Vietnam.”

McCain says he violated the Code of Conduct only when the North Vietnamese brutally tortured him. He further claims that he was so distraught afterwards that he tried to commit suicide. He has never explained why his “aid to the enemy” continued for more than three years.

Even though there are no reports in the public record from other POWs who witnessed McCain’s claims of torture and heroics or his attempted suicide, the American media has accepted his version of events word for word, no questions asked.

John McCain is an expert on what it’s like to be captured after a few weeks of a cameo role as a Navy fighter pilot. but he’s no expert on the Vietnam experience. Though I never experienced a fraction of the pain imposed on Senator McCain, I am, relatively speaking, an expert on the reality of the South Vietnamese experience which was, I assert, the point of the entire sordid exercise.

And that’s the point of all this. We haven’t lost in Iraq. Like Vietnam, we’ve simply taken on a project that we never could have won. That truth brings on board a more important truth: If you’ve never experienced combat, yet you still embrace the undefined Victory-in-Iraq notion, you are a fool.

There are a lot of heroes pecking at keyboards.

Hooray, Hooray, The First of May!

Twenty-one years ago, I helped my friend Bill Sperber create a trust company from scratch. One of our clients was in his late 80s, and terminally ill. It was hard to look at the left side of his neck, caved in from a cancer operation.

He spent the last spring of his life fine-tuning an already well-crafted estate plan. It seemed like a terrible set of priorities to me. I didn’t appreciate that he did it for for the woman and children he loved.

On May 1, 1993, he shuffled into the office, stooped over as always from osteoporosis. with a gleam in his eye and an all-conquering  grin. He asked all of us, rhetorically,

Do you know what we can say today?

He grinned at our cluelessness:

Hooray! Hooray!

The first of May,

Outdoor screwing starts today!

He was dead by fall. But not vanquished.

(Posted a decade later by request and by reverence in 2013)

Coping with the awesome pressures

I’m proud to have served as a a KC-135Q tanker pilot supporting the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane at Beale AFB, CA. The tanker’s the one in front, sporting the prodigious member. This appears to be toward the end of the refueling track, at FL 250 and 350 KIAS, because the tanker is nose down and the SR is in slow flight, cracking a burner occasionally to hang on to the boom at this agonizingly slow speed, carrying 70,000 pounds of JP-7 fuel acquired in the last 10 minutes.
Since there were so few of each, I flew that specific tanker and refueled that specific Blackbird, but surely not in this picture, which was probably taken by the co-pilot of one of the other 2(!) tankers required to refuel a single Habu.
Few realized how demanding our role was, and the great pressures which we coped with by any means available…

Making a difference

re-published from 1/22/2003

Is there any urge more basic than for your life to be of consequence? No matter how we define consequence, most of our instincts and actions seem aimed towards it.

Forging a Confederation

I used to live in Philadelphia and I’d walk around Old Town and I got it that the Founding Brothers were technologists in many ways. They too were dealing with an interesting bandwidth accident exhibiting unintended outcomes. England’s purpose for the Colonies, of course, was to get more stuff as cheaply as possible and to tax the colonists as much as possible. But bandwidth got in the way.

This was such a wild land that, for the better part of a century, the colonies were more isolated from each other than from Mother England. Gradually though, wagon trails were built and it became more convenient for the Carolinas to deal with Pennsylvania than with England. The other virtue was that the colonists, though profoundly different north-to-south, related to each other far better than to the Court of St. James and the East India Company. By the 1770’s, the differences could no longer be ignored. Like any network, the colonies paid closest attention to the highest fidelity signal.

What’s interesting is how few people set the direction for the American Experiment. Only the 56 white guys in Carpenter’s Hall understood what a leap they were taking with the Declaration of Independence. It’s not like they were being closely controlled by their state legislatures which were several days’ ride away. It was never a certainty that Tom Jefferson’s stirring Enlightenment-era declarations of individual freedom would set the stage for their conclusions. He did it because he could and he wanted to be of consequence.

Eleven years later, the 39 signers of the Constitution acted just as independently in setting down the rules of engagement for the people and their rulers. No one paid much attention to their secret work until they were surprised by the many changes the Constitution proposed. The fight over the document was fierce and the debate thoughtful, but they didn’t revise what the standards body had hammered out. So the twig was bent and that was the direction our nation inclined. In October 1788, the old Congress disbanded quietly to make way for an entirely new form of governance.

That was some serious standard-setting. Today, we’re the delegates setting the standards for the world that will follow us. Relatively speaking, we’re even fewer than the four score or so men who did the real work of putting symbols on parchment. Some of the symbols we’re using are pretty arcane, but they set standards anyway, which will mold society as surely as did the Federalist papers.

Writing the Human Code

“Humanity [is on] a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics is simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons” Tom Robbins

So a few will debate nuances no one else comprehends. Even fewer will lay down the words that free our progeny. What works will grow and the rest will wither, as it always has. Someday we’ll see that the Toms, Jefferson and Robbins, were right in seeing that as long as there are willing followers there will be exploitive leaders.

We’re learning how to follow our collective gut, add what we can, use what works and leave something better behind. Maybe this isn’t an apocalypse but a parenthesis and the age of hierarchy is an interruption in organic evolution as it’s always gone on.

Doing sensible things is what makes us consequential.

The Winter of our Discontents

Last month, Doc riffed about a conference held at Georgetown yesterday, Digital Power and Its Discontents:

The title and description raised a number of questions for me. Is power always a sum of something? Does disruption always subtract power from whatever it disrupts? What is “digital power” and how is it applied? What makes private and public “sectors”? Are they really that separate? Why does the possessive pronoun “their” apply to citizens?

The word balance calls to mind something like the image on the left. You have a sum of X in one place, and it’s balanced by a sum of Y in another. For many subjects involving power the metaphor applies. There is a given sum of gold in the world, for example. But does power always pile up in ways that a scale suggests? Does it pile at all?…

…For that conference, and for the rest of us in the meantime, I invite considering this: The entity with the most power to gain is the individual…Giving individuals more power is the job ProjectVRM and its development communities have taken up. But it will happen anyway.

It’s tempting to focus on what Big Bad Government and Big Bad Companies are doing. They hog spotlights they deserve in any case. But digital technology makes many other places no less deserving of spotlights. Our ability to learn, to inform and to act, will only grow. If we’re busy being discontented with others who have more power at the moment, we’ll get less done. And we’ll miss out on a lot of the fun.

Doc and I agree that what’s most fun is ‘building shit’. That means web applications that have a reasonable shot at routing around our most vexing economic and societal constraints. And we agree that if you’re discontented, you’re less likely to build something with that magic route-around power. Lots of work has been done, on projects with a good purpose, but they all seem to be focused on politics rather than government.

Doc’s ProjectVRM seeks to invert the power balance between customers and vendors, while my personal project is to invert the power balance between lawmakers and voters. I had no interest in attending the Georgetown event because I’m a guilty instigator of the Tragedy of the Netroots I described last month. Following the Howard Dean half-time celebration-cum-meltdown in 2003-4, we Internet utopians just knew that We-the-People were about to wrest control of the political power levers from the political hacks. The fact that nothing even close to this happened should cause We-the-Netroots to reconsider our assumptions. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, people convene meetings like the one at Georgetown to opine where all this is going.

The mechanisms behind We-the-Netroots’ collective failure were a mystery to me until I came across Kevin Kelly citing The Shirky Principle, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” Kelly asserts that “complex solutions (like a company, or an industry) can become so dedicated to the problem they are the solution to, that often they inadvertently perpetuate the problem”. Kelly notes the tension between institutions’ business as usual and edge phenomena:

In his brilliant, classic book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen demonstrates how disruptive technologies almost always arise from the margins of an industry, where they start out as insignificant, or toy, solutions. Honda’s hobbyist electric bicycles were no threat to the big four automobile companies, until electric bikes become motorcycles and motorcycles became small efficient cars. Cheap crumby dot matrix printers were no threat to big offset printing companies until dot matrix became inkjet printers and inkjects became the HP Indigo 5000 on-demand printers. In each case, the solutions were marginal, barely working, at first, and therefore ignored.

And therefore huge.

The Tragedy of the Netroots

As a volunteer for the Howard Dean campaign, I guess I helped start the “Netroots” – the net-savvy people who put grassroots campaigning online, leading to Obama’s success. I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, the netroots is old wine in new bottles. It’s hard to know if it has had any greater effect, proportionately, than direct mail politics in the 1950s. A similar “revolution”, direct mail was the first way that campaigns could reach voters directly without the media filter. Both used new media to elect the same politicians, who then operate the same obsolete way.

Among those obsolescent patterns is politicians’ willful disregard of their constituents’ preferences. Every day we are urged to “tell your representative to …………….” But our pleas, if we even make them, never match a cause with a voter who matters to an Olivia Snowe or Max Baucus. These messages are as futile as yelling at the support tech that their web site sucks.

If you don’t feel impotent about effecting change, you don’t understand the real game in politics as well as Matt Taibbi does.

The iVote4U system is fundamentally different. It’s about governance, not politics. Using iVote4U, you don’t care much who your politician is. Instead, you “push” your interests to him/her and make it clear that how the politician votes in Congress will affect how you will vote in the next primary election.

The most valuable resource in politics is a voter who shows up at a primary election. Like diamonds, they’re valuable because they’re scarce. Primary voters matter so much because most elections are safely Democrat or Republican. All the nuttiness we see in Congress is about primary elections, not the general. iVote4U gives certified constituents a way to use their primary vote pledges to give political cover to politicians who act on principle, so they don’t have to pander to the zealots who show up for the primary.

Like those zealots, iVote4U primary voters are loyal to a cause but not a party, but their loyalty stems from rational curating of a politician’s actions for years, with real consequences for the incumbent or challenger in the next primary election.

Called “Super Voters,” they are 3rd-party certified constituents, pledged to vote in the next primary, who are watching the politician’s actions, and will vote accordingly.

There is no greater threat or benefit to a politician’s career.

Size 18 Shoe in your front door. Comcast conflating content & broadband.

A couple of days ago, Susan Crawford alerted us to the Congressional hearing held today in Washington, examining what she calls the “Comcast transaction”, Comcast’s bid to purchase NBC Universal.

(FWIW, calling it the “Comcast transaction” without explanation, Susan reveals how far we insiders have distanced ourselves from the real people – voters – who might have an interest in an issue and might exert real political power on an acquisition that affects our ability to use broadband and to be free to deploy the Internet on our own behalf without interference from our Internet provider’s vested interest in the content they want us to “consume”. Out here in the nocluesphere, we have no idea what the “Comcast transaction” might be.)

Susan is rightly exercised:

  1. The transaction would give Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, control of one of the five large US content providers and about 30% control of  If the transaction is approved, Comcast will be behind about one out of every five viewing hours in the U.S.  We are a nation of living-room watchers, and Comcast will be there.
  2. Comcast is smart to be using control over content to guarantee dominance in broadband.  There are fewer competitors in broadband – usually two in any locality, a cable company and a telco – than there are in video.  Cable is already doing better than VZ/AT&T, and prices for high-speed Internet access are staying high and bundled.  NCTA says that cable modem service is “available” to 92% of homes.  We won’t be seeing VZ or AT&T fiber reaching more than 40% of households over the next few years.  Cable has a bright future.
  3. Comcast says that this is a vertical transaction that should not trigger competition concerns.  They point out that both the Comcast and NBCU cable networks together will add up to just 12% of national cable advertising and affiliate revenue.  (Comcast wants the NBCU cable networks (CNBC, Bravo, Oxygen), which generate 60% of NBCU’s earnings.)  They also say that online video content is so wildly competitive that this deal will have no impact.

And Susan suggests the questions that might come up on Thursday:

  • What power will Comcast have to shape the future of online video (or “Internet TV”)?  This transaction may make it less likely that people will cut the cord and disintermediate their cable provider, moving their online video-watching from their PCs to their large living room screens.  Comcast will have no incentive to make its content available online to non-subscribers.
  • Online video/Internet TV is a new market.  Right now, it’s relatively small and confined to PC-viewing.  Comcast says we shouldn’t consider potential harms to a future market.  Is that right?
  • What effect will this transaction have on the prices consumers pay for cable subscriptions and high speed Internet access?

But there is NO structural mechanism to ensure that those questions actually come up. Sure, on Thursday, under the currently trusted guidance of FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, the right questions might be heard. But would they have been heard under Dubya’s appointed tool, Genachowski’s predecessor, Kevin Martin? As citizens, can we afford to place our trust in the hope that the regulators will always have our interests in mind? How might we ensure that knowledgeable questions are asked in these crucial committee meetings? Since lobbyists can’t guarantee what questions are raised in a hearing, how might we?

“We” being, you know, actual voters. Maybe even *certified voters*, proven to be constituents of the representatives asking the questions and guiding the trajectory of the hearing. i.e., voters getting their democracy on.

Those are the kind of voters who drive politicians’ actions: the questions, comments and votes they express in committee hearings and on the floor of the Congress.

If there were a zoning hearing affecting your home, you’d damn well find out who’s on the Zoning Board and what their biases are. Likewise, if you want to affect a Congressional Committee Hearing, you need to know who’s on the committee. In this case, the committee is the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, reporting to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. So here’s the playing field of this particular subcommittee:

Rick Boucher, Virginia, Chairman

Edward J. Markey, MA Cliff Stearns, FL, Ranking Member
Bart Gordon, TN Fred Upton, MI
Bobby L. Rush, IL Nathan Deal, GA
Anna G. Eshoo, CA John Shimkus, IL
Bart Stupak, MI John B. Shadegg, AZ
Diana DeGette, CO Roy Blunt, MO
Mike Doyle, PA Steve Buyer, IN
Jay Inslee, WA George Radanovich, CA
Anthony D. Weiner, NY, Vice Chair Mary Bono Mack, CA
G. K. Butterfield, NC Greg Walden, OR
Charlie Melancon, LA Lee Terry, NE
Baron P. Hill, IN Mike Rogers, MI
Doris O. Matsui, CA Marsha Blackburn, TN
Donna M. Christensen, VI Joe Barton, TX (ex officio)
Kathy Castor, FL
Christopher S. Murphy, CT
Zachary T. Space, OH
Jerry McNerney, CA
Peter Welch, VT
John D. Dingell, MI
Henry A. Waxman, CA (ex officio)

There they are, 34 Congresspeople, concerned mostly about being re-elected in nine months, jonesing for $3,000 per day so they can buy as many ads as needed to convince voters (whoever they are!) that they are listening to their voters. I can’t find the quote, but $3,000 per day is what I remember from Larry Lessig and that’s good enough for me. On any given day next fall, these representatives will drive 45 minutes out of their way to meet a dozen or so of their (presumed) constituents in a gym or diner to demonstrate how well they listen.

Given those imperatives, how hard can it be for a few third-party-certified* constituents to get a question asked in a hearing, the asking of which costs the representative nothing and which may line him up for grassroots campaign contributions that the lobbyists can’t promise and, amazingly, might explicitly pledged votes? Those being votes that no lobbyist would even suggest they could corral for you. They’re not in the Get-Out-The-Vote business. “GOTV” is the essence of “retail politics”, and that’s what political campaigns spend lobbyist money on. But what if we voters got into the GOTV business? Hmmm.

Welcome to the new math of citizen engagement. In the bargain, voters’ questions might actually make the representative look well informed. But wouldn’t that reduce the contributions they might get from the interested corporations? How much would it matter? According to a 2006 report from

Between 1991 and 2006 major cable industry interests and their trade groups spent more than $105 million on campaign contributions to federal candidates and on lobbying in Washington. The five members of Congress who currently hold key positions on the crucial House and Senate Commerce Committees alone have received more than half a million dollars in contributions from major cable interests since 1991. Contributions went both to members’ candidate committees and their leadership political action committees (PACs).

It’s a lot of money, but how much might those fifteen years of contributions sway each representative? According to the FreePress report, Comcast has contributed $2,516,528 to Federal candidate committees and leadership PACs from 1991 to 2006. That amounts to $167,769 to ALL politicians through the period. Freepress notes that, in 2006, when Fred Upton, R-MI, was chair of the House subcommittee, he had received $118,997 from Comcast since 1991. Of course, it stinks, but it amounts to $7,933 per year.

Perspective: We hate the fact that our congresscritters, on average, must raise $3,000 per day to conduct a serious campaign. But shouldn’t we acknowledge that, for their apparent champion on the subcommittee, Comcast was only willing to provide 2.6 days of fundraising? Do we really believe that Fred Upton is willing to pervert his entire agenda for that mild level of support?

And Fred’s just the most highly compensated supporter of the Comcast devil. In fact, the other 33 committee members must be far less impressed, financially, with Comcast’s agenda. And you can bet that they also have broadband that sucks, and they know it.

So what’s the point here? American households, not corporations, have most of the money and all of the votes. Given the tools becoming available, we might be equipped to use them.