Monday, May 04, 2015

Justice from Transparency

A tsunami of light... In a cameras - everywhere culture, science fiction becomes reality, The Los Angeles Times ran an excellent run-down on this year’s status of camera and surveillance tech, showing how the trend is accelerating. Oh... and this front page article features yours truly, in the first sentence and last...

...and on radio, I was a panelist about the trend of turning the cameras back on the police.  The latest? The ACLU offers a new cell phone app. One tap and your video-phone turns on while uploading the event directly to YouTube, in case the device itself gets “damaged”.  In Turning the Cameras Back on Police, I discussed this on NPR with an ACLU representative… along with a representative of the Los Angeles County police officers’ union and an organizer for Black Lives Matter.

Of course, all this media comes after 25 years predicting and opining on this inevitable trend. With this posting -- and this one -- among the most recent examples. 

== Are some folks starting to get it? ==

As that L.A. lieutenant typifies, the mature pros in our constabularies are already ahead of the curve, emphasizing that the 2013 rulings are fully accepted. "Citizens have a perfect right to record us, so long as they stand back and do not interfere."  Ah, but this will be a process (as I described in EARTH and The Transparent Society.) A process in which good cops will learn how to cull their own ranks of thugs...

... while the rest of us learn the subtleties of citizen power.  Take this article: 

What to say when the police tell you to stop filming them.

'First of all, they shouldn’t ask! “As a basic principle, we can’t tell you to stop recording,” says Delroy Burton, chairman of D.C.’s metropolitan police union. “If you’re standing across the street videotaping, and I’m in a public place, carrying out my public functions, [then] I’m subject to recording, and there’s nothing legally the police officer can do to stop you from recording.”  

Yet still some officers do. Last week, an amateur video appeared to show a U.S. Marshal confiscating and destroying a woman’s camera as she filmed him.'

'Most officers, says Sanchez, now know that bystanders have a legal right to film police. Now, instead of hearing assertions that they can’t record at all, he says that Copwatch volunteers are accused of interfering with police activity. “What we hear is, you can’t film here, you need to back up,” he told me. At which point, says Sanchez, the volunteer complies—by taking one step back.'

Me? Mr. Transparency is much less confrontational, when it comes to the small details. Hey, my aim is not to be an asshole, but to assert citizen oversight. I would instead say: 

“Out of respectful citizenship, officer, I am taking five steps backward.  Any further will impede my right – as your employer – to supervise you. But I am willing to listen, if you explain why you need even more space than that.  Oh, and meanwhile this interaction is uploading live.”

So, what if the fellow seems angrily about to lose it, and do something regrettable? Then I would speak loudly:

“Are you getting this Larry?  Well keep your camera aimed at me while staying out of sight!  We’ll see what this officer with badge number 68643 is about to do.”  

Whether or not “Larry” exists, by now they are starting to grasp this. That it is not the camera you see that will ultimately hold you accountable.

It's the one you don't see....

== And more on cop cams == 

Now this article from Gizmodo - How Police Body Cameras Were Designed to Get Cops Off the Hook -- yet again provides a feast of in-depth information about the cop-cam trend... while the author maintains the most amazing obduracy and inability to step back or ask even the simplest question.  Like "what might be next?" 

Not one year ahead, did he look, nor even try to extrapolate.  Or ask "What might happen when the plummeting price of body cams and instant cloud storage, puts these tools onto the lapels of every ghetto youth?"

Picture every kid, every harassed pedestrian or driver, with a little box and winking red light, and every frame going straight to online storage. Are you actually... actually telling us that won't change things?

(Note: I was talking this over with design guru Don Norman, and we realized that there are two innovations badly needed, right now, beyond the ACLU's instant-upload app.  In the SHORT term we have to come up with some kind of velco or hanging lanyard thing that will let ghetto youths get out of their car with their cell phones hanging free from their necks... so that they can raise their hands open and bare! Hands free is absolutely essential and you know why. These innovations are needed right now, this very moment... plus some millionaire to fund a very rapid deployment of thousands of cheap, hanging-phone-holders.

(Over the longer run, of course, we need small, blue-tooth detachable cams that any person can leave as a dash cam, but snatch up and pin to his lapel, before getting out of the car... and the very act of pinning it sets the upload going. Again, to complete the process, and NOT in order to be offensive to the majority of decent men and women who heroically patrol our streets. No aspersions, just moving on to complete this transition to a world of accountability and light.)

I portrayed this happening around the year 2020, in my novel EARTH.  In my nonfiction book, The Transparent Society, there is a section describing exactly this transformation, as citizens become empowered with both the right to look-back at authority and the tools to enable it.

No, getting back to the detailed and yet myopic Gizmodo piece, the issue here is one of journalism.  How on Earth does a fellow who cannot even squint at how the simplest tech trends might affect tomorrow get to opine and tell us what's going on? 

== Bright fools ==

How Transparency Will Change the World: In a pair of TED-style talks, Daniel Dennett, the Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist, and Deb Roy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and Twitter’s chief media scientist, talk about the spread of digital technology and the advent of social media has made it much more difficult to keep secrets. This new transparency will profoundly influence the evolution of our institutions, the authors argue. “When these organizations suddenly find themselves exposed to daylight, they quickly discover that they can no longer rely on old methods; they must respond to the new transparency or go extinct,” they write.

Dennett’s talk at a skeptic’s conference in 2014 is “Can churches survive the new transparency?  Starts rather interesting, by comparing our new transparent society to the sudden transition that life on Earth underwent, when (according to one theory) the oceans suddenly became clear or transparent. “Transform and adapt to a new, transparent society, or die,” he tells all organizations.  Alas, though, the second half of his talk slows down and devolves into another atheism rant, much too akin to the structured belief systems that he (with some good reason) disdains.  

Alas, as we saw in an earlier blog, most of the punditsphere is filled with bright fools yammering about Big Brother’s eyes, without offering a single suggestion what we might do to effectively hide from them.  Meanwhile ignoring the truly important matter, Big Brother's hands.

== Transparency blips ==

An ex-girlfriend of the co-pilot who deliberately crashed a Germanwings plane into the alps, killing all 150 on board, has told how he vowed to "do something" history would remember him by. Creepy … and totally to be expected.  Indeed. I told you all to expect more and more guys like this.  Call it the Erastratos Syndrome.” See my longstanding proposal for how to deal with it: Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety they seek.

Twitter trolls getting their come-uppance when a vigorous (and empowered) dad hunts them down and names them?  Sure, it's straight from The Transparent Society​, but even earlier Vernor Vinge's story "True Names."  In fact this is a good thing. We need a society that forgives (in wary stages) youthful indiscretions.  But these guys have shown us they are the sorts of fellows who might be bullies, if not held accountable.  Most of us aren't.  We deserve better lifelong credibility than you do, putz. And accountability will flow.

More and more eyes are looking down on our planet: As both satellites and UAVs grow cheaper, smaller, and more ubiquitous, researchers and agencies such as SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch are using increasingly pervasive sky images to catch cheaters and destroyers, tracking down environmental violations ranging from oil spills to wetland destruction, from illegal landfills to fracking to illicit fishing activity. Skytruth's motto: If you can see it, you can change it.... 

It all begins with shining light into the shadows.

Alas, the deepest shadows might bring about our worst nightmares. The money now spent on developing “artificial intelligence” or AI for finance, equities or commodities trading etc vastly exceeds the AI research budgets at the top 100 universities, combined.  And nearly all of it is done in secret, to develop programs whose ferocious drives are predatory, parasitical and all-devouring insatiable

That’s some combination!  As I have said repeatedly, “Skynet” won’t come out of the military.  It will come out of the portions of our economy that win every political battle and every tax break.  Indeed, what better clue that our AI overlords have already… come awake?

== Finally...politics ==

 "A Florida statute governing the preservation of public records requires elected officials, including the governor, to turn over records pertaining to official business “at the expiration of his or her term of office.”

Let's just take this law, in principle, and: (1) extend it to the period during term of office, and (2) to any communications not with close family members, and (3) require that such official uses only communications devices publicly certified to be reliably be recording all.

Oh, but an interesting aside: it took Jeb Bush 7 years to comply fully with a Florida law requiring him to turn over his emails. So much for yer dubble standard, boys.


Paul451 said...

The problem with your advice on how to behave around police is that you assume it's a negotiation. That if you can out-reason the situation, the cop will accept the reality of the situation.

Modern police training is not about negotiation, it is about compliance. If you do not have compliance, you escalate; if that does not result in compliance, you escalate further. There are companies which produce video training tools (set up like FPSes) where your performance is based solely on how well you forced compliance.

That training, combined with the poor impulse control that results from the brain damage caused by constant hypervigilance, is the reason for the incidents you see. And it is not countered by reasoned negotiation. Certainly not by fake threats of co-conspirators.

Paul451 said...

And the mob twitter-justice you celebrate turns just as quickly to mob bullying. The cause is irrelevant, only the popularity, the mob doesn't care about the justice, only the gratification of being in the mob.

In your novels, you've needed to assume tools exist to rank and sort the credibility of the voices; in reality, none have arisen beyond volume.

Paul451 said...

<sigh> I'm having a snit today. Ignore me.

Duncan Cairncross said...

The police state in the USA is caused by three things


Racism - less than 1 generation from any form of equality

The Second Amendment

Each could be toxic - with the three together you have a society where the cops kill over 100 times as many people as other western democracies

A wonderful example of unintended consequences
You have your "Second Amendment" - to prevent a "Police State"
Having the "Second Amendment" then causes a "Police State"

Acacia H. said...

The irony is that a recent article in "The Economist" included an anonymous U.S. police officer complaining that the reason police are more hostile and abusing their power is fear because the American Populace is arming itself. Thus they are afraid constantly that they will find a gun pointed at them.

When you ask people why they are arming themselves, one reason? The abuses of government and the need to protect themselves from rogue cops and government takeover.

So either you have to eliminate all guns in the U.S. so to make cops feel "safe" or you have to alter how cops treat the people they are here to protect and serve. Hmm, you have to wonder which is the easier course... ;)

Rob H., missing Tacitus and ready already to hand the reins back

locumranch said...

Reciprocity is well and good,
but some exceptions come to mind,
Moralities thought well and just,
May not be what we look and find.

Routine blood types on nursery babes,
Belied paternities that mothers (often) claimed,
And sexual mores thought best and sure,
the Kinsey Report revealed as false and lame.

So when surveillance hovers all around,
And observes humanity with cloudless eyes,
Either the rule of law will be proven fair,
Or be betrayed by (due) process as specious lies.

Within God's Law, slavery is large, confirmed and writ,
Making Amendment Two of special note,
Of justice human God cares not a wit,
Meaning that 'Equality' comes to us from Samuel Colt.


Alfred Differ said...

Who needs a gun to point at them?
Rocks apparently draw the media well enough to get cameras and round-the-clock coverage.

@Paul451: A motivated group and a kickstarter project can get some of those tools started. For the simpler ones, they can start with a group of one person.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

For those who haven't been following the copyright saga of the Wanderers film by Erik Wernquist on Vimeo:

Wernquist had to remove Carl Sagan's narration from the film for the past several months because of copyright problems. Erik Wernquist created the Sagan narration for Wanderers by pulling audio snippets here and there from Sagan's reading of his book Pale Blue Dot. Wernquist did this in a very clever way that did not change Sagan's original meaning.

Erik Wernquist finally secured official permission from Ann Druyan to put his version of the Sagan narration back on the Wanderers film. (I'm sure that this wasn't easy because of the publishers involved.)

The film, with the original narration, is also now available for download from Vimeo.

Jumper said...

"As Clinton aides have noted, Colin Powell did regularly use a personal e-mail account while Secretary of State.

"A Powell aide confirmed that information, saying, 'General Powell used a personal email account during his tenure as Secretary of State. He was not aware of any restrictions nor does he recall being made aware of any over the four years he served at State.'"

Alex Tolley said...

From Today's Hullabaloo:

A lousy way to Die Hard

by Tom Sullivan

Adopted in the early 1980s, the “21-foot rule” in policing originated from "a rudimentary series of tests" and an article in SWAT magazine. Yet it has since become "dogma" that an armed attacker within 21 feet represents a deadly threat, and could charge and attack before most officers could draw and fire their weapons. Such dogmas die hard. In the aftermath of recent shootings by police, trainers may be beginning to rethink how police use deadly force according to the New York Times:

Like the 21-foot rule, many current police practices were adopted when officers faced violent street gangs. Crime rates soared, as did the number of officers killed. Today, crime is at historic lows and most cities are safer than they have been in generations, for residents and officers alike. This should be a moment of high confidence in the police, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group. Instead, he said, policing is in crisis.

“People aren’t buying our brand. If it was a product, we’d take it out of the marketplace and re-engineer it,” Mr. Wexler said. “We’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”

It's not as if it is not dangerous out there. A 25 year-old NYPD officer, Brian Moore, died Monday after being shot in the face while attempting to question a suspect. A lousy way to die. Still:

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said at a policing conference in February: “Sometimes it seems like our young officers want to get into an athletic event with people they want to arrest. They have a ‘don’t retreat’ mentality. They feel like they’re warriors and they can’t back down when someone is running from them, no matter how minor the underlying crime is.”

For Walter Scott, who ran after being stopped by a North Charleston police officer over a broken tail light, that warrior mindest may have been the lousy reason he lost his life. And 12-year-old Tamir Rice's in Cleveland, and John Crawford's at an Ohio Walmart, and Seattle woodcarver John T. Williams' life as well. While no charges were filed in the Williams case, investigators believed the shooting was unjustified. By approaching to within 21 feet instead of backing off, the officer had unnecessarily escalated the confrontation. Per the Times:

“Officer Birk created the situation which he claims he had to use deadly force to get out of,” a police review board concluded. The officer resigned.

Except the shooter only lost his job.

So this is another possible problem for DB's approach. Reasoning isn't necessarily going to work. In some ways this is like trying to reason with bullies or thugs. This isn't the game they are playing. Given the cops have the guns and courts behind them, we are back to power asymmetries as an important factor beyond transparency. And we know video recording didn't help in the Eric Garner case as one blatant example. Video will help, but I see it as necessary, but insufficient for effective sousveillance.

Jumper said...

Don't forget a well-intentioned cop understands things others don't often think about regarding what could happen at any moment, including danger to the person recording their actions. If I was taking video, I'd stand back. People who try to get in the cops' faces with their cameras are often in the wrong, as far as I can see when I view their videos. I totally support the right to tape anything from behind a certain distance, and if it's 21 feet, so be it.

Alfred Differ said...

With a little bit of help from a crafter, one can improvise a lanyard card holder to support a cell phone at chest level while allowing someone to keep their hands up. Mine is an improvisation off of this one...

Just look for travel assist items that hold something the size of a passport if your phone is bigger. 8)

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Twitter trolls getting their come-uppance when a vigorous (and empowered) dad hunts them down and names them?"

That reminds me: there's currently a debate in France about outing powerful men's abusive behavior: 40 women journalists publicly denounced the fact that way too many french politicians still treat female journalists like available courtesans, going as far as literally groping them when they come to interview them (Yep: Strauss-Khan wasn't an outlier, alas)...
Buuuuut they didn't reveal the guilty politicians names... yet.

Alfred Differ said...

Protestors have closed the oil pipeline leading to the coastal town of Zueitina in Libya. There isn't much oil getting out of the country anymore, so this is probably about choking off a cash supply.

It's a slow, economic way to fight a war that leaves stakeholders with little option but to turn to criminal enterprises to raise money. The number of refugees should be increasing through the year.


Alex Tolley said...

ACLU app and alternative - Techdirt

Jumper said...
A relativity calculator. I am playing with futuristic rocket exhaust velocities. If you can expel ions at 1-(.1x10 to the 15th)C you have decent impulse.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper - so how would you get that exhaust velocity? A massive, accelerator? Perhaps one of these?

Alfred Differ said...

Side note about competence at the grass roots level:

Anyone notice the shootings in Garland, TX where two jihadists showed up with Kalishnikovs to shoot up an event? They ran into hired security because event organizers were competent enough to do what members of our civilization do. They didn't expect our governments to think about all the threats we face and defend us against them in detail. Security got hurt, but the gunmen were killed before they could create an American version of the Charlie Hebdo event.

Paul SB said...

This is completely off-topic, but I just got an email from Cal-Earth, the people who invented the superadobe building system. A company from the UK used their system to build an orphanage in Nepal, which survived the earthquake with only superficial damage while many of the surrounding buildings were destroyed. This system, which we discussed briefly several months ago, falls into the TWODA category, though it isn't sexy high-tech so it doesn't get as much attention. The orphans are sleeping soundly while their neighbors are under tarps. Something like 80% of the human race lives in earthquake-prone areas where this would save lives.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB - thanks for the reminder about the Stress video. Very interesting, especially the change in the baboon troop after the TB outbreak.

Paul SB said...

Alex, yeah, if a bunch of baboons can do it, what's our excuse?

David Brin said...

Alex what utter myopia. You seem think I am prescribing an overnight shift from black to white. When in fact, things will just get better, as the best cops realize they need to help eliminate the worst ones, for their own sake. That won’t end bad cops! But it shifts the average of professionalism. And that average keeps shifting, along with the notions of what is acceptable or forgivable. Your thinking in terms of “21 foot rules” is so old-fashioned. Knowing they are being watched will shift the averages. Period. You know this.

Alfred. Just because the assholes in Texas get freedom of speech and the shooters were bastards who deserved what they got. That doesn’t make the original assholes NOT assholes.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - So how many innocent people have to die before that slowly improving average professionalism prevents those deaths? Also explain how the videoing is going to change the bias of grand juries not finding cops guilty despite wrongdoing, not to mention politically motivated DA's supporting the police defendants?

I'm afraid your white privilege is showing, and you are getting perilously close to saying the equivalent of "let them eat cake!".

David Brin said...

What a crock of outrageously diarrhea-level bull venerial puss. I don't have to take such utter crap, Alex. I have done more to make a better world in any one month than you have in years.

Because I see that the world's improvements tend to be incremental, that makes me a bad guy? Fine. YOU tell us what will transform us overnight into a land of lollipops and race-free unicorns (that fly!).

I (for one) await your simple, pragmatic prescription with eagerness, ready to be your acolyte! Though without much expectation it will happen. Still, monkeys MIGHT (just might) fly out of my ass and deliver to everyone fresh Haagen Dasz bars!

Alex Tolley said...

Back to contentless ad hominem attacks, as well as putting words in mouth earlier (which you hate being done to you).

I've stated it very clearly, numerous times. There must be power symmetry, not asymmetry. In this case there must be a legally enforceable level playing field that cannot be side stepped. One simple example is that any system cannot regulate itself. For example complaints about the police conduct cannot be investigated by police. Period.

There can not be seen to be bias in how the police are viewed vs civilians as is evident to almost anyone who has been to even a traffic court. Therefore a few simple suggestions:

1. Any death caused by another person is automatically presumed a homicide until shown otherwise and applies equally to law enforcement and civilians.
2. Any violation of the law in the treatment of civilians will incur automatic investigation and possible punishment.
3. Use of SWAT teams to be be rolled back to cases involving hostages and/or multiple shooters only.
4. Any pattern of behavior by law enforcement that shows bias is automatically investigated and perpetrators prosecuted. E.g. Stop and Frisk, DWB, etc, etc.

In addition to reset the balance for civilians:
All civilians are granted competent lawyers. Bail is abolished for all but extreme flight risks. Prisons revert to state control and are run as cost centers, not private profit centers to remove conflicts of interest.
Law enforcement use to collect fines to feed the local bureaucracy is made illegal. Asset forfeiture is used only in cases of racketeering.
Enforcement of the rules is maintained by civilian oversight based on selections from the population (like jury duty with proper pay) with the same powers as the judicial state.

I also think that we should set a limit on incarcerations as some maximum fraction of the population to prevent the use of incarceration for political ends. States should set incentives to minimize incarceration rather maximize.

And while I'm asking for a pony for everyone, I would abolish the death penalty like every other civilized country.

Laurent Weppe said...

*"So how many innocent people have to die before that slowly improving average professionalism prevents those deaths?"

Way too many

*"Also explain how the videoing is going to change the bias of grand juries not finding cops guilty despite wrongdoing, not to mention politically motivated DA's supporting the police defendants?"

They won't: what's going to happen is that riots caused by filmed abuses will keep happening, eventually pushing the smart magistrates to clash with their arrogantly incompetent pro-bullies colleagues.
Then, two things can happen: either the inept ones remain the dominant faction and eventually a successful american Robespierre appears and forces judges and attorney to watch their own children being roasted alive, or the smart magistrates subscribing to the modern "law enforcement is not meant to bully the plebs into submission but to serve the public as a whole" principle eventually gain the upper hand and future youth studying History in high school will scratch their heads wondering why it took so many decades for the colder heads to prevail.

Tim H. said...

Alex, I like your list. I don't expect to live long enough to see it in effect. I also fear that some Officers perceive the current small beginnings of reform to be excessive and they'll be eager to throw those by the wayside at earliest opportunity. Remember that the toxic Nixonian "Get tough on crime" was the reactionary response to earlier attempts at reforming law enforcement. WTH kind of reactionary response will a new attempt at reform provoke?

Paul SB said...

Hey look, specific proposals! And they all sound like good ones: real, incremental changes can happen this way. Having the cameras will facilitate exactly these kinds of changes as the proliferation of evidence make sit harder for Bad Cop to get away with murder. Without the body cams these changes are unlikely to happen, but with them our standards start to rise as more and more people talk about it. This looks like a recursive effect - a feedback loop or 'virtuous cycle.' It also looks like I'm a real waffle, because I am in effect agreeing with both parties here. Or does that make me a fence sitter?

What worries me now is that people are falling into the spotlight fallacy, assuming that all police are Bad Cop. While the hostile climate increases the pressure on Bad Cop, it also acts as a major disincentive for Good Cop, who gets stereotyped and lumped in with the baddies.

I can think of another place where body cams would be an even better idea. Let's have them surgically attached to all members of Congress, and how about those French politicians Laurent was talking about, too. No more behind-closed-doors contract negotiations, secret meetings and abusive asymmetrical power arrangements for the duration of their political careers. We'll see who is willing to make this sacrifice for their people, and who is just in it for the power, redistribution of taxpayer money to wealthy contractors and private perversion sessions!

"It's no good you trying to sit on the fence and hope that the trouble will pass,
"Cause sitting on fences can make you a pain in the ass"
- Alan Parsons

locumranch said...

News Flash

Following the implementation of 'Alex's Law', 3% of national law enforcement personnel are under investigation for attempted murder, 10% for excessive use of force, 17% for menancing and 37% are awaiting arraignment for various traffic & civil offenses. In one particularly egregious case, one over-zealous officer bludgeoned himself to death after the inadvertent use of a racial slur. Of the 33% of officers remaining, 32.5% have placed themselves under summary house-arrest, citing "a systemic occupation-based pattern of criminal behaviour", and 0.5% are restricted to desk duty. Reactions were mixed, but one disadvantaged youth was heard to exclaim that those "Effing Pigs are failures at protecting us from ourselves".

In other news, all Public Schools remain closed following the implementation of the new 'Absolutely No Child Left Behind' standards that apply 'Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) principles' to continued educator employment, student test scores and student graduation rates. Says one concerned parent, "Graduation rates remain stagnant at 102% and more than HALF of our students received LESS THAN perfect scores on the last standardized exam". No competent educators could be reached for comment.

Despite spontaneous rioting and general disorder, President Brin states that he remains 'optimistic', having introduced a slew of progressive legislation that promises universal social perfection by incremental improvement:

First, a Medical Reform Act that prosecutes physicians if ANY of their patients fail to make a full recovery.

Second, a Farm Bill guaranteed to eliminate world hunger by forbidding the production of non-organic, GMO or blemished food products.

And, third, the 'Rape No More' restraining order that requires that all males yield at least 50 yards of safety space to all females until such time that those males can be rendered "surgically incapable of rape".

Always a pragmatist, President Brin remains a staunch advocate for Incrementalism, believing that all such small improvements must be NECESSARILY additive, and he concludes that his new legislation will EVENTUALLY "transform us into a land of lollipops and race-free (flying) unicorns" but, sadly, only through the serial process of small progressive steps and "not overnight".

Soon, we'll all be drinking that Three Bubble-Up and eating that rainbow stew.


Paul451 said...

You are doing what a lot of people on the left do. You have an ideological wish-list of how things would be better. And that would serve well as a long term goal; but when it comes to getting there, you turn your contempt towards someone trying to create movement towards your goal because it doesn't instantly reach it.

Anything less than 100% implementation is treated as 100% failure. And anyone who advocates anything less than 100% change immediately, is an enemy who is undermining the cause.

How many innocents will be killed while incrementally improving things? Many. So we should probably make a start, yes?

Because how many will be killed if we wait instead for enough support to achieve 100% victory in one go?

raito said...

Ah yes, back to transparency.

I'm not going to ignore Paul, because he has a couple points. Among them the idea that any tool used for good can also be used for evil.

At some point, it must become institutional that 'to protect and to serve' applies to all police dealings, even with the bad guys. Yes, that's harder. It's always harder to be the good guy because the good guys have rules.

And another amusing transparency anecdote. The local school board named its new superintendent. About a week after telling the community that their search had failed. The new guy was never on any candidate list, and no one knew he was in the running except the school board. Then the board had the gall to say that they weren't intentionally non-transparent -- after explaining just how they decided to not say anything 'because of confidentiality concerns'. And I think I made some of them uncomfortable asking if the candidate's confidentiality was more important that their constituency knowing who was in the running for the job, and why.

No, no one lost their life, but it does point out how severe the problem is at all levels. Remember that here in WI, the gerrymandering took place in a lawyer's office, specifically so they could claim client privilege in order to foil FOIA.

David Brin said...

Are we done with the transition to full police accountability? Not at all. The process is just underway. Take this disturbing (and of course one-sided) anecdote: “Take, for instance, the individual who filmed the choking of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta. Orta has been in and out of Rikers since that tragic day. Speaking with VICE, Orta, who was friendly with Garner, decided to start documenting police misconduct in the summer of 2014 around his heavily-policed neighborhood of Staten Island. But since Garner’s death, Orta and his family allege that police have zeroed in on him, following close family members as well as his girlfriend. Police charged Orta with gun and drug possession as well as armed robbery. On April 6, the Free Thought Project wrote about Orta’s imprisonment. His case went viral, and soon a GoFundMe campaign had collected over $54,000 to free him. Orta was released on April 10.”

Let’s bear in mind that Orta was already very much operating in shady-side activities. The balance in all of this can only come out when juries are exposed to all facts, vigorously and adversarially investigated. But news reports like this one are part of that back and forth tug. And police supervisors are going to have to think carefully. As will we all.

As for locum's strawman? Snort?The things he claims to be "satirizing" would only occur inside a mind like his.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 You have an ideological wish-list of how things would be better.
but when it comes to getting there, you turn your contempt towards someone trying to create movement towards your goal because it doesn't instantly reach it.
False. I am not contemptuous, in so far as other parties are willing to discuss alternatives.
Anything less than 100% implementation is treated as 100% failure.
Patently false. I don't think that way at all, and I would ask you to show me any statement that I have ever made that would suggest this. What I do think is that there are better ways of speeding up the attainment of the ideological goal, if that goal is the desired one.
How many innocents will be killed while incrementally improving things? Many. So we should probably make a start, yes?
I would have thought the fewer the better. Therefore the faster we get to the goal the better. Why would this be worse?

If you read historical accounts of how goals are reached, you will note that there are always those who advocate slow, incremental change for various reasons. Sometimes this is so egregious that it results in outright rebellion.

As I've argued enough times, transparency via technology alone is a part of, but not whole of, the solution. David has argued that this is true and has recommended IGs and other options to support it in other contexts. I don't thik that is enough and I've tried to support my case many times.

However, as anyone who isn't living under a rock knows, the policing problem is much more systemic than the immediate issue of police accountability. Fixing one part of the problem will not be sufficient to make changes (except as incrementally slow). Multiple fronts need to be addressed. I don't even think my proposed solutions will necessarily work, and I certainly haven't thought through the nth order effects. I even accept that my options may be too authoritarian and need much more nuance. But that doesn't mean that I should accept some techno-optimist solution as the whole solution. I want to see a more fully developed solution that addresses the problem.

What is clear however is that:
1. Policing in the West has become far more authoritarian than it was in my youth in Britain. We can see this reflected in popular culture.
2. Socially we have become more authoritarian as a society, which is coincident.
3. Policing in the US in particular has become very militarized.
4. Attempts to criticize the police just causes the police to push back (e.g. The police attitude to the mayor of NY). This should be raising red flags.

Military technologies being bought and considered deploying by local police forces should be very worrying to anyone with a desire to live in a just society. And as we saw in Baltimore, reporters were just rounded up and held with suspended Habeus Corpus like everyone else. This is not uncommon.

Who dies is important. As we saw in Vietnam, it wasn't the legislators' sons. Had it been, the "war" might well have ended earlier. Why must the cost fall disproportionately on some sections of society?

David Brin said...

As for ad hominem. More bull-puckey. I was implicitly but very clearly called a white-privileged racist. That scurrilous nastiness calls for an explicit apology. Explicit.

Hey fellah. What high school did you go to? Let's see the senior year book photos. I'll show you mine.

Anonymous said...

Alex and others, have you noticed that the increased authoritarianism and police state tactics have increased as the “diversity” and “multiculturalism” of the West has increased? Have you considered that when a society has no shared culture, religion or ethos, and must rely on law to maintain order, that police states are what you get? My parents and grandparents grew up in a world where they trusted their neighbors and didn’t have to lock their doors at night – that world is long gone, thanks to “progress”.

I’ve travelled the world, and nowhere is the social fabric more f'd up and fearful than in our gloriously diverse far Western societies, that value money and abstract notions of progress and equality over cohesion, stability and sanity. This is where true conservatives are wise, in understanding that organic societies which shared values are going to be freer, saner, more stable, less policed and conflicted societies, and the “diverse and equal” societies are going to tend toward anarcho-tyrannical police states, culture wars, riots and revolution.

I would so love to see people like Alex spend a week in the shoes of a big city American cop, or live in a city where the cops all went on strike; what a reality check that would be for their ivory tower schemes and ideological fantasies. The problems run deeper than the police, racism or techno-fixes -- the entire societal model and values are the problem.

David Brin said...

anon, you are the one who's "'d up." That you cannot see the Perception Effect at work. in my youth, ghetto males were in vastly worse shape than today. They just had no where to turn. We perceive problems better. You think that makes us worse. Duuuuuuuh.

Anonymous said...

Of course I'm basing it on my perceptions, what is the alternative? For me, and many people I speak to, they do not see this "progress". They don't want to live in police states, nor do they want to live in fear of neighbors who aren't like them and don't share their values. This is normal, intelligent human behavior. The pathology is a society that makes it difficult for people to exclude those who threaten them, or to create a social fabric that increases their sense of security, order and peace of mind, without having to rely on aggressive policing and lawyering. Statists and "progressives" have worked hard to unravel these informal systems of social order, so it's not surprising that the result is often disorder, over-zealous policing and crime -- especially in the places they control.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: I hear you on the original assholes. Every time I hear someone wanting to make more of those cartoons, I think of it as baiting a hook to catch a very stupid fish. That the fish is human bothers me. Those same people would be very upset if I baited a hook with an atheist rant against their Christian beliefs. Uncivilized behavior.

Still, one of the gunmen was known to the FBI as someone who wanted to travel overseas to fight for jihadists. His travel arrangements were stopped. It was regular people who stopped him permanently and that’s sort of the point you make in your complaint about idiot plots. The regular people don’t have to be nice about what they do to be competent at what they do.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: Nice wish list. It gives me the shivers. Some of what you want sounds nice, but I can’t think of a way to bring it about absent ubiquitous law enforcement (ULE). Look at your views regarding perceptions and bias and ask HOW we can make it happen. David’s incremental approach won’t bring about the perfection you describe, but it will get us as close as possible absent ULE.

matthew said...

Well, Transparency wins some and looses some. Here is a loss.

The 11th Circuit Court has ruled that your GPS data from your phone belongs to the carrier and as such does not require a warrant for the police to use.

We will see this in the Supreme Court as other Circuits have ruled the other way on this issue. This ruling differs from the from what a 3-judge panel from the same 11th Circuit ruled last year, a ruling celebrated here by our host.

Requiring a warrant to access tracking data needs to be the law of the land in order for transparency to be served. But we are taking two steps backwards on this one.

matthew said...

@Alfred, what on Alex's list gives you the shivers? Honestly asking as I only see common-sense in it. Please be specific in your answers.

Anon - I can see that you and I would have a problem if we ever met. Hiding your identity is probably wise, given your stated racism. Of course, if you really believed what you are saying, you'd not hide. Coward.

Anonymous said...

No Matthew, I offered a serious dissent from the progressive project, based on things I have experienced with my own eyes here and around the world. Dismissing it as the heretical thoughts of an evil racist says more about you than me, as far as I’m concerned.

I agree that there’s no particular reason for me to be anonymous; nor is there any need to share my identity with strangers. However, if the new puritans got their way, it probably would make it necessary. In fact, I suspect that transparency is to some degree an attempt by elites to lure people who disagree with them out in the open, then shame/prosecute them, which one reason I am suspicious of this techno-Orwellian “progressive” agenda.

A.F. Rey said...

I’ve travelled the world, and nowhere is the social fabric more f'd up and fearful than in our gloriously diverse far Western societies, that value money and abstract notions of progress and equality over cohesion, stability and sanity. This is where true conservatives are wise, in understanding that organic societies which shared values are going to be freer, saner, more stable, less policed and conflicted societies, and the “diverse and equal” societies are going to tend toward anarcho-tyrannical police states, culture wars, riots and revolution.

What you're missing here, anon, is how those societies maintain their "shared values." From what I've seen, they do so by intimidating, persecuting, expelling, or simply killing those who do not have those "shared values."

And then, after a while, a different group takes over and imposes a different set of "shared values" which the population must adhere to, or face the consequences.

Perhaps you should name the countries with "shared values" that are less policed and less conflicted so we can see how shared values are maintained. I suspect that few of them are countries any of us would prefer to live in.

David Brin said...

anon claims to perceive the perception effect... yet in his words makes clear he does not even have a glimmer of an idea what it means.

It means, old boy, that it is precisely a society that frets about injustice that will simultaneously:

1) cause injustice to decline and
2) never notice that fact and indeed perceive injustice rising. Adjusting standards so that any advances can be discounted.

Add to this the standard modern plague of sanctimonious indignant insistence that "I invented suspicion of authority and I am surrounded by bleating sheep!" and you get a syndrome that can either moderately propel reform forward...

...or metastasize into indignantly puerile and futile fury.
To tell which? look at anon's insistence that "progressive" measures are responsible for our high incarceration rates, when "zero tolerance" and "three strikes" were entirely right wing and Confederate initiatives.

Indeed, except for anomalously libertarian Alaska, it is 100% red states who are resisting the decriminalization of Marijuana and the equalization of standards between crack and cocaine.... among many other examples of towering hypocrisy.

Alfred Differ said...

@matthew: An honest question deserves an honest answer. 8)

There must be power symmetry, not asymmetry. In this case there must be a legally enforceable level playing field that cannot be side stepped. One simple example is that any system cannot regulate itself.

The moment you try to enforce something, you have an enforcer, thus an asymmetry. The police can legally point a gun at me. I cannot return the favor except in the very limited case where they are guilty of performing an illegal arrest. In a liberal democracy, the social contract states that general citizens surrender all claims to the right to coerce everyone except their own children. We place that coercive power with our rule enforcers instead and then divide them, watch them, and occasionally retire them. Symmetry is not possible unless we rake back our ability to claim a right to coerce our neighbors.

There cannot be seen to be bias in how the police are viewed vs civilians…

Lovely idea, but the police are enforcers and are authorized to do much of what they do. Limiting this to the perception of bias once they are accused of a crime is also a lovely idea, but jury members DO make a distinction. Since juries are populated by the People, we can’t reasonably enforce limits on how they pass judgment without creating a layer of enforcers over them. Those enforcers would naturally be part of the State, thus juries would be stripped of some of the power they are supposed to reserve. We have already gone too far in this direction with judges giving instructions to juries on what they may and may not consider in a case.

1. Any death caused by another person is automatically presumed a homicide until shown otherwise and applies equally to law enforcement and civilians.

2. Any violation of the law in the treatment of civilians will incur automatic investigation and possible punishment

These are big steps toward ULE. They also break with the ‘assumed innocent until proven guilty’ concept. No thanks.

All civilians are granted competent lawyers.

Lovely idea, but there is no way we can afford it. It will be an unfulfilled promise and make a joke of the system that claimed it to be true. The underlying issue is a power imbalance between prosecutor and defendant. We want defendants to have competent representation to defend the presumption of innocence from someone whose job description requires them to presume guilt. An affordable approach is to strip DA’s power down to a reasonable level instead of propping up the defendant. Admit that we can’t prosecute every single possible crime and move on. Admit that we don’t want ULE.

Alfred Differ said...

@Anonymous: I never quite comprehended the desire to hide behind anonymity. Maybe it’s because no one has assaulted me (successfully) for being who I am, but I prefer to believe it’s because I’m such a charming guy. 8)

I think you might be overly worried about the puritans. If they know who you are, they might be able to target you better, but the rest of us would be able to defend you better too. Bullies don’t pick on soft targets for long if those soft targets collect friends who will help them fight back. Softness is a function of isolation, so I invite you shed the illusion you think protects you and adopt a real shield.

LarryHart said...


’ve travelled the world, and nowhere is the social fabric more f'd up and fearful than in our gloriously diverse far Western societies, that value money and abstract notions of progress and equality over cohesion, stability and sanity. This is where true conservatives are wise, in understanding that organic societies which shared values are going to be freer, saner, more stable, less policed and conflicted societies,

The pro-corporatists who value money over feel-good values are, or at least portray themselves as, "conservatives". You've got valid complaints about values, but it seems to me you're blaming the wrong faction.

David Brin said...

I would love to see romantics like anonymous actually live is the stratified and bullied feudal societies he so (abstractly) admires. There are plenty still out there! Have a nice trip! Report back in 5 years.

Duncan Cairncross said...

1. Any death caused by another person is automatically presumed a homicide until shown otherwise and applies equally to law enforcement and civilians.

2. Any violation of the law in the treatment of civilians will incur automatic investigation and possible punishment

These are big steps toward ULE. They also break with the ‘assumed innocent until proven guilty’ concept. No thanks.

I disagree totally
That is not breaking the "assumed innocent"
But simply acknowledging that a crime has probably occurred (there is a dead body after all)
And investigating from that initial assumption

Incidentally that is how accidents at work are treated (NZ)
The fact that an accident has occurred means that - "something has gone wrong" - and the company has to show that it took "all reasonable steps" to prevent it

I don't see a substantial increase in "police problems" anywhere except the USA
All other western democracies appear to be moving to a gentler more accountable policing

IMHO the Second Amendment as currently applied is causing (or at least part of the cause) the escalation in the USA

Our host's "Jefferson Rifle" interpretation would go a long way to fixing that cause

Anonymous said...

Hey, self-centered, ya know it's possible on the internet for two anonymous's to show up at the same time. You can always sign at the bottom. Duh.

Jumper said...

Incrementalism can win the race. Compared with many alternatives.

I worked in manufacturing and the guys who routinely came up with a 1% improvement, year after year, and working with other guys who also came up with a 1% improvement - and I mean improvement, not a cost saving, because there are too many idiots who can't tell the difference - and sometimes it turned out to be 4%, or 0.7%, but add 'em up. It beat the arm wavers, that's for sure. They'd blow millions on their own grandiose non-working schemes.
So yeah, incrementalism. It takes the pot over the course of the poker game.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: If you assume the death of a person is caused by another person, you've assumed the homicide using #1. There are other interactions that lead to one person causing another's death that aren't homicide. There is the prickly but important self-defense explanation along with accidents. There is also the presumption of causation.

I recognize Alex's good intent, but the devil is in the details as is always the case on these things. I certainly don't mind investigating deaths, but I'm leery of assuming homicide. Assuming a crime has occurred is the step toward ULE.

David Brin said...

The ultimate aim of Marxists, and Smithian libertarians (also called "liberals") and Randian libertarians is the same... a withering away of all coercive authority, to a condition wherein all humans start adulthood equipped, confident, unafraid, with all the knowledge and skills they need, in order to make alliances and trades to their best, positive sum advantage.

The fact that Randians and Marxists and liberals never note this commonly shared end point is weird. .

The three groups differ over HOW to get there.

Marxists claim all we need is to complete the "formation" of society's full capital stock of factories and infrastructure and "means of production." At which point there is no further need for capitalists to steal labor value to invest in capitalization. A fully skilled and educated and enlightened proletariat can then rebel against labor theft and eliminated capitalists. And coercive government. Perhaps after a brief socialist phase.

Marxists are complete loonies. If that were the necessary and sufficient condition, we'd have entered Marxist paradise already. It turns out that in the modern world, the capital - or means of production - gets obsolete FASTER than ever. "Capitalists" who manage the re-investment in factories etc are more necessary than ever...

...though it works fine to redefine "capitalist" in liberal and limited ways, getting the reinvestment vigor without the proto-feudalist oligarchic cheating. Marx simplistically never imagined that possible. But it is.

Randians are even crazier. They think the no-coersion promised land is BLOCKED by a conspiracy called liberal government. Just toss that monster out and AUTOMATICALLY we will enter a future free of any cheating, just freedom-induced creative productivity forever yippee!

Marx knew nothing of science, but at least he glanced at history. Randians ignore history absolutely, along with science and every other inconvenience.

Which leaves the Smithians. The original branch of liberalism that admits we are competitive beings, but also that positive sum games only happen when regulated carefully to prevent cheating. That those skilled and confident adults won't happen by themselves, but by incrementally improving all childhoods and ratchetting up the confident potency of citizenship.

In other words... what we've been doing. Only a whole lot more-so.

The ultimate solution to "police oppression" is to NEED fewer police! NRA gun nuts would do this by having everyone sashy around armed to the teeth. Idiotic. But replace those pistolas with cameras and the principle is not totally insane.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB I do not want a repeat of our argument results of last fall.

@All Thank you for those of you trying to head off a repeat of that debacle.

1. I most emphatically did not call you a racist. White privilege is not about that. If you do not understand this, instead of lashing out based on some preconception, read and understand the nuances. So you get no apologies from me.

2. Regarding the challenge and relevance of your high school background. How many times do I have to tell you I was educated in Britain. You have stated you lived in Britain. How can you not know Britain does not have High Schools. How can you not know that British schools do not have year books (at least until I graduated)? But more importantly, why do you even think this has relevance? My schooling was in an almost all white, CofE Grammar School. Non-whites in the school were but a handful, mostly sons of seconded ambassadors. My first wife and her family convinced me that British attitudes and understanding of Eire were wrong. Subsequent conversations with Indians and historical economic study convinced me that British rule in India was at best a mixed benefit, and possibly net detrimental, especially to industry. Living in non-white areas of England gave me a very different perspective on how England treated non-whites. Today I am ashamed at the virulent strain of anti-immigrant sentiment in my country of birth and its importance in the elections this week. How many of my attitudes today are based on the composition of my class mates? Almost none.

At bottom, my strongest allegiance to to the principles of the Englightenment, in particular the processes of science to discover the truth. I care very little about argument, in this regard, other than to suggest approaches (hypo6theses). But empirical evidence is all I care about. Paradoxically, despite my beliefs, I think that the various difference approaches to solving policing problems is best met by different jurisdictions doing different things, as that may be the best way to discover the better solutions. The methodology is similar to using sparse Latin Squares and analyzing the results, even though with hindsight we may lose more lives than a correct, but authoritarian, approach. I accept that I am conflicted between methodology and loss of life.

@Alfred - I don't disagree with you that my solutions may be poor, and I have already admitted that their authoritarian nature unsettles me. Call them proposals to be debated or argued against. Again, it is empirical evidence we need, not rhetoric or fine debating points. But let's not forget that innocent civilians are dying while this experiment is conducted. As locum and Tacitus 2, both presumed physicians, know well, drug trials with placebos must be stopped when efficacy is proved, rather than continuation to completion in violation of ethical standards. You do not withhold therapeutically important drugs from the sick. The better trials always use the best current therapy as the control. Social experiments should be ethical too.

So yes, I have ideals for a society I want to live in. I don't accept that there is an "American Way" that suggests dissenters should leave the country and go elsewhere rather than change society. I want results as quickly as possible, especially in regard to social justice and the prevention of unnecessary death and injustice. In that regard, it is more like winning a war quickly to minimize casualties. Given the numerous historical examples of abuse of authority, I want effective solutions to curb that abuse, as quickly as possible, and preferably peaceful and without a rebellion or revolution (no tumbrels please). Jurisdictional experiments are my preferred way to reach the best solution we can find before making that solution federal.

Paul SB said...

If I might make a wee suggestion, we might avoid future spats if we try something simple. My suggestion won't do much to stop those who don't think about consequences before they type, but it could help when we misinterpret each other's words. We all have unspoken assumptions that guide our thoughts, but they don't always translate to others.

If someone writes something that you find personally offensive, before you go off on them, try paraphrasing their words back to them and asking if this is what they really mean. And I don't mean copy and paste. Copying and pasting takes all of 2 seconds, and in that time epinephrine cascades through your synapses, adrenaline dribbles out of your glands and races through your bloodstream and cortisol starts to mess with your hippocampus and do untold damage in other systems. Instead actually paraphrase what they wrote in your own words, and wait to see how they explain themselves. If their response is brazenly unrepentant, then by all means cut loose. But if they reconsider their words and/or explain their position in some way that shows they did not mean to offend, they may have just chosen their words unwisely, then we have more conversation and less animosity.

It's an old technique, which doesn't mean it always works, but it can sometimes be helpful.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: I was already operating under the assumption you were in the empiricist camp along with many of us. When we run up against each other, it is mostly about how best to approach something and not about whether it is worth trying.

The usual complaint I get from some of my friends on other sites is that I pick too much at suggestions leaving the impression I don't want to change anything and will tolerate human suffering as a result. I have to take time off occasionally to be positive in front of them to avoid this. Around here I haven't had the need as much as most everyone here is well intentioned. Still I will say it. I assume folks around here are well intentioned... until they prove otherwise.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: Neat dissection of the Marxists and Randians, but even Smith is showing signs of age. Hayek showed that the regulations that prevent cheating are formed in another kind of market that also works through a form of competition. When you say 'regulated carefully' many will read that as 'designed carefully' and think you mean it even though you talk elsewhere about the other markets (justice, democracy, and science).

I'm not suggesting you expand too much on what you mean there. If you do, your text could be just as unreadable as Hayek's is. That would be a shame. I'm hoping you find a creative way to avoid the mental connection to 'designed' markets.

Alfred Differ said...

Detective work that brings out a smile for me. FRB source found.

locumranch said...

Jumper and David both believe in incrementalism: David assumes that baby steps will lead him to perfection; Jumper assumes that sequential 2% gains will eventually add up to more than 150%; and both suffer from a perspective bias wherein perfection is either thought attainable or cumulative percentages can somehow exceed 100%. Whereas Jumper merely demonstrates poor math skills, David exhibits irrationality by confusing an abstraction (perfection) with an obtainable reality.

Likewise, the ultimate solution to "police oppression" is FEWER police because the idea of NEEDING police is a patriarchal assumption. Surrogate Parents (aka 'Police') are only NEEDED when adults are absent, and our womb-like society NEEDS more police because society has become increasingly womb-like, requiring an ever-increasing amount of surrogate (police) parenting, the solution being fewer police, more maturing social consequences, an end to our extended childhood, and a lessening NEED for an autocratic police (and/or parenting) presence.

In a way, a Police State is a self-perpetuating circular argument: A mature society creates a police force to minimize risk, but maturity is fostered by risk and consequence, so a well-protected populace becomes much less mature, increasing its dependence on a protective police force that serves to inhibit the development of social maturity, requiring more police, and so on and so forth.

If we are building for the ages, then an IMPERFECT society is most desirable because a perfect society contains the seeds of its own destruction by infantilizing its populace through the use of protective risk-modulation.


Alfred Differ said...


Another revelation about a feedback loop. Such wisdom.

Sorry dude. The correct analogy for the police is that of a sheep dog protecting sheep. Talk to a few LE officers and you'll hear the analogy directly from them. Serve and protect. Your womb analogy fails because kids eventually grow up. Sheep don't.

As for feedback, the better description is the classic fight between our urge to be free and our urge to be secure. You can't have both, but you can try to balance them. Just don't expect to find a stable solution. The geometry there is hyperbolic.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Incrementalism can win the race. Compared with many alternatives."

The problem is not incrementalism per se: the problem is how often it is invoked by impostors: when the status quo becomes indefensible, those who benefit from it start pretending that they want incremental change, that they merely want to avoid rocking the boat too much while steering it in a new direction while in fact they oppose any and every reform.

A perfect recent example is Obamacare's psychodrama: the GOP leadership wanted to keep the parasitic unregulated rent-seeking system that existed, but knew they couldn't candidly admit it, so for decades they claimed that they really wanted to reform the US' healthcare, just not with a single payer system... Except that when Obama ended up enacting the very incremental change the american right-wing had feigned to want, they dropped the mask and fought it tooth and nail

Jumper said...

You're right, locum, about the math and how five 1% improvements don't add up to 5%. But I knew that. And I used low percentages in my argument because in actual life that's what was happening. Obviously bigger breakthroughs occur, and every so often an entire product line can become defunct. Basically I was arguing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and leads to either do-nothing-ism (I regularly read arguments against a carbon tax based on "it's too small, won't solve the problem, and is therefore far too expensive!" which is a bit stupid) or wild loose cannons who would rather do something big and wrong than small and right.
Or look at raising the minimum wage. We regularly phase this in slowly so business is not too shocked by sudden 50% increases. So in the first year, yes, it's too small to make a difference. But over time it's incremental yet the right thing to do, in my view.

Jumper said...

To clarify what I meant by the difference between an improvement and a cost savings, to me, at least, all improvements are by definition cost savings, although often it's a fungible abstract factor, true, such as massive customer good will, for example, but that sort of thing is easily assigned to the "advertising budget." But all cost savings are not necessarily improvements, as many a failed restaurant can show us.

locumranch said...

Did Alfred just invoke the Sheeple Argument by claiming that "The correct analogy for the police is that of a sheep dog protecting sheep"?

Is that why our culture needs omni-surveillance, too? So we may remain in nursery school forever?

Smile for the Nanny Cam, everyone.

The Sheeple have spoken.


raito said...


I work in software, where enough of those 1% increments back you into a corner from which there is no escape but to start over. I'm not saying that's the case here, but there is another side.

As for anonymous and his 'shared culture', I agree to a point. Which is why I'm against 'diversity' as currently defined in the US (not that there couldn't be a definition I'd agree with), and for the 'melting pot', which people seem to have forgotten.

Jumper said...

No, I can't reduce all human problems to zero, so I suppose I should recommend, like locumranch, tearing all down and starting from scratch. This time we can get to zero, for sure!


Jumper said...

raito. Give me an example? Are you talking about "features" making software unreadable to other programmers?

Jumper said...

No one here has even hinted at a belief in the attainment of any sort of human perfection, yet locumranch is the one who most often hints that that's what he's after. By scoffing at incremental improvement, what else can we surmise?
Are you a flip-flop?

A.F. Rey said...

When you say 'regulated carefully' many will read that as 'designed carefully' and think you mean it even though you talk elsewhere about the other markets (justice, democracy, and science).

From what I've seen, regulation doesn't come from "design." It comes from "reaction." People notice various forms of cheating, i.e. unfairly swaying the market, and counteract those forms of cheating by making them illegal. So "carefully regulated" would mean keeping a close eye on the market to prevent known forms of cheating, and to detect new forms.

There really is no "design" in such an implementation. Design implies foresight, and there is little to none in the actual way that regulations are formed. I suspect those who hear "designed carefully" are hearing what they want to hear, rather than what is actually being said. :)

Alex Tolley said...

An example of why I believe transparency is insufficient, or at least too incremental.

What Two Programmers Have Revealed So Far About Seattle Police Officers Who Are Still in Uniform.

They cleverly used the Seattle PD's open policy to follow disciplinary actions and found that all the officers were still employed. So either one can say that the charges were insufficient to fire officers, or that the police investigation was to supportive of its own institution's behavior.

What they did is what I would classify as transparency - in their case make records into information that can be used to make decisions. What they don't have is any power beyond that, leaving the police department to regulate its own affairs.

The money line for me is:

Rachner believes that the big problem with policing right now "is that police misconduct is evaluated from the standard of the police, and not the standards of the community."

I don't think my proposals are that outrageous, just not thought through. Here is another article that makes some overlapping proposals. Make of them what you will, I think they reflect a general liberal sensibility about this issue. It also reflects my contention that the policing issue is just a part of a wider system problem and cannot be solved in isolation.

From Rage to Reform.

raito said...


No, that's not what I'm talking about. Look up 'technical debt' for some idea of what I mean.

Moving 1% by 1% only works if you have the 100% goal in mind. But even then, it may not be possible to get from here to there in 1% increments. It may require leaps.

Every 1% change adds baggage. At some point, it can happen that all the effort is now centered on the baggage rather than the goal. In those cases, 1% changes can't get you where you want to be.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: The sheeple analogy is the one many cops use. I despise it and say so to their faces when they make the mistake of using it in front of me.

I don't object to them wanting to protect us, but they must do so while treating us as people if they do it at all.

Alfred Differ said...

Raito has a good point when it comes to software designs, but I don't think it extends by analogy to social institutions. We don't design our institutions. We evolve them. Incremental steps of 1% toward a goal won't complete after 100 of them because each step will introduce other things that have to be fixed. Along the way, though, it is likely the goal will change much like the scope of a software project does when it goes on too long.

Still... I'll trust an evolutionary approach over a designed one for a social institutions. No one is smart enough to offer a good design that works as more than a starting point. Most of the time they aren't even good enough for that. Our traditions ARE our experiences instantiated as evolved rules even when we don't understand how they came to be.

Jumper said...

Well, there's design and then there's design. I am a bit perturbed that in discussions of how to improve government, practically no one understands the miracle of random sampling, and I don't mean taking opinion polls. I mean in things such as audits. If you pick a few things to audit, ensure your pick is actually random, (not easy, but do-able!) you gain a whole lot of knowledge and can adjust enforcement/improvement budget accordingly.

If someone suggested a design whereby everything is checked one thing at a time, I would probably recommend starting over from scratch too! Seriously, more likely I would tell them to learn about William Deming - or Nate Silver. But that second "design" would not be a good one.

Jumper said...

Ah, thanks, raito!

Dave said...

quoting Rey:

"I suspect those who hear "designed carefully" [when someone says "regulation"] are hearing what they want to hear, rather than what is actually being said."

I don't always know how to interpret such statements. Some people use "market" as if it was a magic word, other people use "regulation" similarly, as if obvious and simple steps would lead immediately to success, if not for the interference from minions of satan. I guess I need some context before I can judge their sophistication and nuance.

A.F. Rey said...

Re: climate change and the GOP, this comic says it all...

Alex Tolley said...

@A F Rey.

But this one is his one for this thread.

David Brin said...

AF Rey, Adam Smith never said the process has to be entirely “blind.” Naturally, human intelligence should play some role in “designing” the feedback loops that empower markets and science, democracy, sports and courts to be positive sum systems, minimizing cheating and maximizing synergies. Sure, reactive tweaking is the main method, since all designs fail or prove delusional to some degree. So? It is a mix! And calm reactive correction has to trump design, sure. But as we learn more, we design better! Duh?

Locum should just assume that when he is interpreting what someone else means, that he’ll simply be wrong. But at least now he’s TRYING to paraphrase.

Social evolution goes in stages. Even Randian libertarians admit that the purpose of the state is to monopolize the use of coercive force, so that violent lateral bullying (typical in 99% of societies) can be eliminated and people can then compete fairly and safely. That eliminates (reduces) one major problem…

…but it raises another. The state itself can become the bully. Also a syndrome seen all across the past. So the Randians prescribe limiting the state to defense and enforcing contracts, period. Weakening it to the point where oligarchic cheaters will return to private bullying.

Locum will never understand – but the rest of you will - that the way to evolve beyond that quandary is to empower citizens with the power to hold each other accountable for bullying MOSTLY on their own, in ways that cannot escalate into violence. While violence remains restricted to the state, it is also tightly constrained by citizen supervision. And that supervision becomes more pervasive, the incidents of govt actually having to use violent coercion declines.

Imperfect? Yeah, so far. So show me an example of a method that ever worked better.

I started reading Alex’s contribution and was typing a response about how this very article is an example of corrective light…

… when I recalled that I am not going to read anything by him, for a month. He is a smart and valued member of our community, so the rest of you have fun. But I am totally justified to be steamed.

Alfred Differ said...

@A.F. Rey: I would qualify things and say the best regulation comes from reaction. If we stick to what you’ve described (observation of cheating -> regulations against cheating) I am all for it. What I worry about is people hearing the wrong message because their backgrounds convince them we can design such things.

David’s a smart guy. It probably only requires one adjective to prevent people from reading him the wrong way. Hayek wrote whole books trying to explain this and few people read him as a result. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

From the Stratfor folks:

A U.S. federal appeals court in New York ruled that the National Security Agency program that systematically collects Americans' phone records is illegal, The New York Times reported May 7. A panel of three judges said that the provision of the USA Patriot Act that had been used to justify the data collection program cannot be legally interpreted to support the program. Debate in Congress has been ongoing over whether to extend the provision, which expires in June. The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill next week that if approved could end the NSA program. Two similar cases reviewing the program are pending in separate appeals courts.

Jumper said...

raito, if a 1% improvement adds baggage you subtract that baggage and your improvement is not really 1%. It's (1-x)%.
This reminds me of a friend who says, in essence, that there are no good ideas, yet if you told him that's what he was saying, he'd deny it. He says "good ideas are a dime a dozen" and I say, no, that would be an "average idea" not a "good idea."

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper - "good ideas are a dime a dozen"

Isn't the context (in Silicon Valley at least) that good ideas are easy to generate, but execution to make them work as a profitable business is hard.

Average ideas might be $0.02 as dozen :)

Jumper said...

Heh, yes Alex I do believe that if a seemingly good idea also has within it seeds for its own execution, I rate that as an actual good one. Evolution uses off-the-shelf parts too.

Alfred Differ said...

Frame dragging observed.

Yah. This civilization can do this too.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred. Very impressive. The technology alone...

Does this have any implications about the quest for a theory of quantum gravity?

Paul SB said...

On incrementalism vs. drastic change, I think there are good points and deep fears on both sides. Laurent's point about incrementalism becoming a cover for maintaining the status quo is right on the mark in many cases. But then, anyone who grew up in the Cold War is likely to have a deeply ingrained fear of large-scale, top down experimentation. That is, after all, how Communism was billed, and it was a pretty spectacular failure.

It reminds me of the old debate over gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium. What you saw depended a lot on how long a time scale you were looking at. If you move between scales it becomes clear that both are happening. You get slow, incremental change punctuated by some huge, earth-shaking events, after which incremental changes resumes.

Social evolution happens the same way. Every generation represents slow, incremental change from the previous, but sometimes huge historical events cause much faster, more consequential changes. Of course I am only being descriptive here, not prescriptive. There are real dilemmas when you try to deliberately direct changes. I was volunteered a few years ago for a committee to help my school district steer instruction in ways that would match the new "Common Core" standards. (It wasn't much of a committee, as Admin made all the decisions and just told us what to pass along to everyone else.) One problem we discussed was whether we should implement the new standards across the board or start with Kindergarden and add grades as we went. It was clear that if we imposed the higher standards on students in the upper grades who had been coasting for a decade under NCLB the failure/drop out rate would skyrocket, but then, we wanted even these kids to get what benefit they could out of the better system. In ten more years, if the politicians don't fuck the whole thing up again, the schools should be chugging along better than ever, but during those ten years a whole lot of kids are going to have huge problems because they have spent years of nothing but rote memorization and are now being asked to actually be able to think.

Likewise if we try to reform our police departments and justice system too suddenly we could find ourselves without any police on the beat or judges on the bench. Students are required to attend school, but employees can walk away from a job if they feel that there is too much pressure (of course there are some we want to leave the job - that's the point of reform - but we don't want to toss out the proverbial baby with the bath water). All these cameras are creating some badly needed pressure, and will hopefully lead to some serious reform. Bad cops will resist, but if the momentum is kept up, those ones will be driven out. But we have to be careful we don't take it too far. If too many people come to assume that all police are bad and they are treated with too much suspicion, we could find ourselves in a much worse position.

Change in nature is often saltational, and sometimes nature makes a useful model.

Paul SB said...

I spent a good half hour watching "Shawn the Sheep" with my son, so does that make me one of the Sheeple?

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: I don't know. I've been out of the field for a long time. I was never much of a believer in the big string theories, though. They struck me as being too similar to Aether concepts. Lots of wiggle room in the parameter space leaves one unable to disprove a theory. Maybe I'm just too much of a conservative, but I strongly suspect there is a viable theory of gravity that doesn't use curvature. I'm not biased against curvature, but I don't think it is necessary until after we've looked at our options using geometric algebras properly.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB Bad cops will resist, but if the momentum is kept up, those ones will be driven out. But we have to be careful we don't take it too far.

Much of the commentary concerning Baltimore is that the bad police are not a minority at all. Game theorist Robert Axelrod showed that "cheaters" could only be kept in check if they were a minority. At a critical level, everyone opted to cheat. If this has in fact happened in Baltimore, we may need a sweeping change, rather than incremental. It would be useful to get some data, perhaps using police complaints records as a proxy? (and civilian cameras in future).

re: evolution by creeps or jerks. There is an argument that this is an illusion. That the rate of change is due to a power law like distribution of changes, with few large changes (punctuated) and many small (gradualism). This is similar to Raup's modeling of extinctions as random processes (although we think we have external events to associate with the major extinction events). Underlying the distribution function evolutionary rate of change may be a scale free type network of gene interactions where a mutation in a highly connected gene will have a large effect due to cascades, whilst mutations in genes with few connections will result in little change.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I find the debate between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium to be unhelpful when it comes to social issues. From what I can see, both occur at the same time. For example, the knowledge we acquired for what became Common Core accumulated gradually. Adopting what we've learned isn't so gradual, but that's because we can't shift incrementally from asking kids to do rote memorization to asking them to think. I'm certain they would notice the dissonance. 8)

The better debate is between evolution and design. The French tried to design a society after their Revolution. Didn't work so well. We didn't and neither did the English. That's why our brand of the Enlightenment (empirical) survives and the other gave way to socialism. To use the Common Core example again, we've discovered through experiments on our own children that rote learning has limits that aren't meeting our education goals. Switching to a new approach could be mistaken for 'design' if there was no evidence behind another set of experiments. Proposing a new approach is a little bit of design, but we can continue with our tests and see if education goals are met. In doing this we are right back to being empiricists.

The biggest complaints I've seen regarding Common Core are from people who think the rest of us are treating it like dogma. If we were guilty of trying to design an education system, they would be right. If we are trying to evolve one, though, they are guilty of mapping their preference for dogma/tradition onto us.

A.F. Rey said...

I spent a good half hour watching "Shawn the Sheep" with my son, so does that make me one of the Sheeple?

No, I believe those who do the voices for "Shawn the Sheep" would be the Sheeple. ;)

raito said...


You're correct, but you're also missing something. Timing.

The baggage is long-term, the improvement is short-term.

The problem is that for a 1% short-term gain, you pay >1% in the long term.

Which is why US politicians are as bad a public corporations in making decisions. One has a horizon of the next election, the other on the next quarter. And both hope they'll be gone/forgotten before the extent of their damage becomes apparent.

The basics of design are pretty simple. What do you have now? What do you want later? How will you get from here to there?

But not every path can be done incrementally. And there's the problem of local maxima (or minima). That's the problem where it's relatively good now, but could be a lot better. But it will never get to be a lot better because it's got to get worse to get better.

For an example, take autonomous vehicles. While I can certainly appreciate the technology, I think it's completely the wrong way to go. It's pretty wasteful. But it's an incremental improvement based on the fact that we have paved roads. Let say (as I suspect may be true), that we'd be very much less wasteful by replacing roads with rails (ignoring the startup cost, so don't complain about that. But controlling rail traffic is a pretty well solved problem). If that's true, then autonomous vehicles on paved roads moves us further from something better, and makes it harder to get there.

That's a better example of what I mean when I say that incremental improvement isn't always good.


I didn't exactly mean to imply that 100 1% steps get you a good result, only to a goal (if you have one). You seem to prefer to not have a goal, and instead have a search tree so shallow that you can only see the incremental improvement. Personally, I'd prefer a bigger goal.

matthew said...

WRT to the ruling by the Second Circuit on mass surveillance, I think it is important to address the part that Ed Snowden played in the decision. Absent his revelations, no standing could be granted. After his revelations, standing was granted and the program declared unlawful. Snowden is directly responsible for this unlawful classified interpretation coming before the courts.

David has stated before that Snowden did not reveal anything unlawful. That assertion is now shown to be untrue, unless the Supremes ride in to overturn the 2nd Circuit.

Furthermore, this ruling is timed such that the Patriot Act was about to expire, which was the basis of the legal defense of mass collection that just got overturned. So now the pressure is on Congress to define just how our intelligence agencies can collect data on US citizens. Now is probably our last best chance to try and legislate in some concrete oversight to the problem. I suggest that everyone here that cares about government accountability and oversight contact their representation to voice their interest in effective oversight that does not involve a rubber stamp. Ok, our overseas contingent here will need to take a slightly different path, but the point still remains. Right now the US laws that will govern our privacy are being codified. If we want to "watch the watchers," public pressure on the legislators writing the new rules must be at its highest, or we will end up with the more of the same non-existent oversight that we have had up to now.

Put up or shut up time on this issue.

Jumper said...

I like your example of roads; that's good, and I very much agree with you. My best design theory ideas come from power transformer design. There, improvements were pretty much in perpetuity from their implementation. I can't think of any short-term fixes that weren't reversed that happened while I was in the field. Improvements were defined by lowering cost of lifetime ownership, costs which could be diced up either by profit taking or more sales (lower price to customer). Improvements were knowledge-driven for the most part. Prices for raw materials were recalculated when they changed. (Copper, etc.) The design program was regularly tweaked by hand to gain knowledge of "trapping" by local minima, so global minima were known fairly well by the design team.
We didn't have access to superconductors and the industry still can't use them because of price. That may be in the future or not, no one knows. I predict a day will come when we do know, but it's not here yet.
I'll close by re-stating what I said above: improvements were known quantities except for black swan events. (Such as the price of Nomex suddenly going sky high, and even then, the design program would optimize for it.)
The reasons I'm using all this as an example of the value of incrementalism are several: the unknowable effects of future knowledge, and the direct experience I had with engineers who operated by ego and screwed things up by attempting larger improvements which underestimated or deliberately hid effects which you are correct in naming.

David Brin said...

To be clear, I never said incrementalism is the only approach. Sometimes you do need to come is with a broom and fire everybody, as happened in Mexico when an entire federal constabulary was sacked in one day.

Indeed, one of the points I make in EXISTENCE is that today’s conniving proto-feudal lords are displaying massive stupidity by ignoring the very real likelihood of revolution, if they push toward a simplistic return to the old pyramid of privilege. In my novel, I portray uber-rich folks analyzing where past feudal orders went wrong. The resulting innovations are vile, in my book, but at least they wouldn’t be stoopid.

But that’s the point! There have been many radical peasant revolts, across history. And all but a few ended badly, either by collapsing or overshooting into radical maelstroms that only led to new top-aristocracies, under a different, radical-sounding priesthood that still justified pyramids of power. The French and Russian revolutions, for example.

Only moderate, incrementalist revolutions have had sticking power, when it came to outcomes that truly kept making things ever-more flat, open and fair and inclusive.

Matthew, if the NSA work revealed by Snowden in ruled to be illegal, then Snowden is slid across an important dividing line from “loud and useful but noisome social T Cell” over to “obnoxiously indignant actual whistle blower.”

That still leaves real territory before he gets off, scott free. e.g. proving that he truly did try to work within the system, before betraying his security clearance. But indeed, we have a sliding scale. And we are now in Daniel Ellseberg territory.

Mind you, I would fight like hell to keep any punishment minimal and symbolic. The key word is "useful." The debate he stirred is important!

Jumper said...

I'm not ignoring re-tooling costs, or proposing reductio ad absurdum situations where every month someone comes up with an idea to save $10K by a brand new $100K re-tooling. Nor am I ignoring capital investment costs. I am recommending that when new knowledge becomes available, sunk costs have to be swallowed, if painfully. That's bad luck, and bad luck exists. Incremental improvements do exist that can be paid for by extremely low numbers of units. Such as the very first new unit: that is what is known as a "good idea."

Alfred Differ said...

@raito: I do have some goals in mind. I didn’t include them earlier because I wind up sounding unrealistically optimistic when I do. There were many things I was told as a kid weren’t possible to fix, yet they were in the process of being fixed and I didn’t figure it out for many years. I want to slay the old horsemen of the apocalypse. How’s that for a bigger goal? 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Paved roads won’t be going away in the US mostly because of the psychology involved. They represent a kind of freedom for which the railroads are a poor substitute. We have a phrase here that shows this. “Being railroaded”

What should be possible are navigation rails that take the form of IR or microwave beams that guide the automation we use for driving the vehicles. They would be extensions of what we use at airports to signal when a plane is too low or two high. As long as people can’t see these new rails, many of them will ignore them and learn to appreciate their re-found freedom when they recover their commute times.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Navigation rails?
When the VR crowd are talking about using cm accuracy GPS to give data input on their display systems!

Don't need no stinking rails - not even virtual ones

David Brin said...


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