Voting Methods in The Perl Journal

tpj-vol1-3-coverBack in 1996, I wrote an article for The Perl Journal, which they published in the Volume 1, Issue 3 in Autumn 1996. There are several alternatives available for the article:

For years, I’ve wanted to have stable redistribution of this article, and a stable URL that I could refer to.  There have been many URLs over the years to refer to this, but nothing too stable.  Well, as of right now, there is a stable URL:

https://robla.net/1996/TPJ

….which, as of this writing, just redirects right back to this blog post.  That’s probably the URL I’ll redistribute from now on.

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Debating Oprah

I managed to get into some wordy discussions with MikeMC over on Medium.  Here’s how it played out from my perspective:

I don’t think either of us has convinced one another of anything, but still, that’s where we left things.  I still think Oprah would be a perfectly acceptable choice by Democrats in 2020.  Not my favorite choice, but still, a powerful strategic move.  MikeMC still thinks its a terrible idea.

I’m offering this summary only because I have something vaguely related that I’d like to share, and I’d like to refer back to this discussion.  I hope you enjoyed this summary.

 

Jimmy Carter, populism and Donald Trump

Jimmy and Rosilyn Carter, surprising the crowd by walking instead of riding in a limo (image from Carter Library via National Archives)

Last year, in the early buildup to the election (January 2016), I posted an article on Daily Kos titled “What Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter have in common”. At that time, the Republicans hadn’t settled on Trump yet. Only a contrarian (like me) would suggest that Trump might not merely win the primary, but he might even be able to win the general election. That filled me with dread, but took comfort in the conventional wisdom of the day that Trump couldn’t win.

The comparison of Carter to Trump in 2016 still holds true today in 2017. Though that gave me dread in 2016, it gives me hope in 2017. Let’s revisit the topic, because the subsequent election of 1980 holds lessons about 2020 that feel less dreadful IF we learn from history.

The comparison:

  1. Departed deity that was in charge in the receding party’s glory days
    1976 : FDR (Democratic President: 1933–1945)
    2016 : Reagan (Republican President: 1981–1989)
  2. Party with receding wave
    1976 : Democrats (New Deal)
    2016 : Republicans (supply-side economics)
  3. Party with rising wave
    1976 : Republicans (“government is the problem”)
    2016 : Democrats (“we are the 99%”)
  4. “Obvious” safe choice for party
    1976: Gerald Ford (the White House incumbent)
    2016: Hillary Clinton (“realist” choice)
  5. Candidate riding rising wave
    1976: Reagan (narrowly lost 1976 nomination)
    2016: Sanders (narrowly lost 2016 nomination)
  6. Unlikely party outsider for receding party
    1976: Jimmy Carter
    2016: Trump

Continue reading “Jimmy Carter, populism and Donald Trump”

Western accent?

There’s a fantastic discussion of red state politics on the wellRED podcast interview of Sarah Smarsh by the three hosts of the show. At the 46:00 point in the podcast, the group discusses how they all deliberately chose not to lose their respective accents. Smarsh says as part of journalism school, she needed to learn how to make her voice more “neutral” (a.k.a. “General American” as it’s referred to on Wikipedia). For the three guys (Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester), I can understand the handwringing. Listening to them, even though I find myself agreeing with much of what they say, I have to be mindful of potential bias when I hear their accents.

With Smarsh, it’s different. She grew up in Kansas, which is culturally/linguistically not much different from where I grew up (all over the U.S. west), where my mom grew up (midway between Omaha and Kansas City), and where much of my extended family still is (Kansas City area). As my mom would point out, modern newscasters (of the day) treated the Nebraska accent as a “neutral” accent — and many TV celebrities like Johnny Carson and David Letterman benefited from their upbringing in neutral accent territory.

It may be that my western upbringing is the reason why I don’t detect an appreciable accent, but others would. The only regional aspects of my younger accent that I’m aware of dropping is referring to carbonated beverage as “pop” (I say “soda” now) and treating “pen” and “pin” as homophones (not anymore). Given how minor the changes to my speech have been since moving to the west coast (living in either Seattle or San Francisco since 1993), I haven’t considered my accent to have changed much since I was young.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable speaking warmly of my humble-ish upbringing. Further more, I’ve happily adopted “y’all” in spite of not growing up using the phrase. Some of my fondest memories of my dad were of his cowboy-culture way of talking, which wasn’t that different than the cattle cop highlighted on Planet Money a few years ago. Whenever something would splash all over the place, Dad frequently said it “splattered like a cow pissing on a rock”. He implored me to be more mindful by telling me to “get your head out of your ass”. He frequently claimed that many politicians were “crookeder than a dog’s hind leg”. I’ve carried some of his cowboy-isms forward, but I don’t have the same cowboy cred that he did. Plus, I’m prouder of the fact that I was occasionally able to beat Mom at Scrabble in her prime, and pretty sure that anyone reading this would have had about as tough of a time doing it as I did, no matter how much of a smartypants you think you are.

Listening to Smarsh talk about the assumptions that people seemed to make about her that she ascribed to her accent, it makes me wonder: am I deaf to her accent because of my similar upbringing? Do I have a “western” or “midwestern” accent that might have caused the kinds of discrimination they discuss in this show? Have I just been luckier than Smarsh, or am I just blind to being treated like I just fell off the turnip truck?

2017 update

I’ve neglected this blog for a really long time, but it’s not like I haven’t been writing publicly.  A few links to my post 2010 writing:

I’m thinking of importing a few choice bits that I’ve written elsewhere, and put them in the history of this blog.  One of these days, I may even update <http://robla.net>

New gig: Wikimedia Foundation

As of last week, I’m officially an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. Here’s the the official announcement of WMF hiring me. I’ve been working there as a contractor for the past couple of months, and it’s been a great experience so far. I’m working with a lot of really smart people that I stand to learn a great deal from. I’m pretty used to being the “open source guy” at the companies I’ve worked at in the past, so it’s going to be an interesting twist to work somewhere where publishing the source code (and most everything else, for that matter) is just a given.

On Diaspora

diaspora flyer from 2010
The anti-Facebook

There’s been a lot of hubbub about Facebook’s ongoing tone-deafness regarding privacy. As a result, there has also been a lot of hubbub about the Diaspora project, with both wildly optimistic projections of their success, as well as more skeptical assessments.

I’m skeptical about Diaspora specifically, because it reminds me a lot of an effort to take RealNetworks down a peg more than a decade ago. In 1999, the Free Expression Project was started to “help people distribute their content to other people without being beholden to any corporation”. A laudable goal, and one that earned them a fawning writeup on CNet News, which claimed that Real was under siege by these folks. The project never seemed to make it much further than a website with a few diagrams, and nothing that came even close to challenging the streaming media hegemony we enjoyed at the time. (I was at Real from 1996-2005)

However, that’s not really the whole story. What the fawning press coverage indicated was that there were a lot of people who wanted Real to be taken down a peg or two. I imagine that the CNet reporter was as skeptical as anyone about the ability of the Free Expression Project to deliver, but he wrote the story anyway because he knew that people would eat it up. He knew that story would generate traffic because people would see his headline, think “Thank GOD!”, and click through to read the story. He was probably right.

It ultimately wasn’t a ragtag band of open source developers that toppled Real’s dominant position, but rather a one-two punch from Microsoft then Macromedia/Adobe. Still, their job was made a lot easier by the prevailing mood. When we tried to rally the open source community a few years later, despite our success in landing deals with hardware vendors (which it appears they are still successful with), we didn’t get a lot of organic contribution. By then, MPlayer, GStreamer, Xine, VLC and other efforts were already underway, and contributors to those projects had little incentive to join forces with us at that point. The developers on those projects thought: “we can do this better, and why would we want to help Real anyway?”

Facebook has a pretty solid network lock-in going for them, so its not as though we’re about to witness a sudden collapse of their market position. However, they’ve got a serious problem with their brand, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zuckerberg is in complete denial about it, preferring to think about the privacy controversy as a storm that will blow over soon enough. It’d be easy for the Facebook crew to believe that no one is going to be able to pull together all of the elements needed for head-to-head competition. I’m betting that’s not how it plays out. My guess is that someone like Twitter or Google figures out how to add just enough functionality that many more people feel comfortable giving up on Facebook. Moreover, if I were going into competition with Facebook, I think I’d try to turn their strength into a weakness. For example, for many younger people, a network not overrun with parents, grandparents and extended relatives might just be a selling point.

I’m not deleting my Facebook account anytime soon, but I know I don’t need everything Facebook currently offers.