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First POST: Kludgeocracy

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, October 17 2013


  • With the government shutdown over (for a few months at least), will attention shift to the broken portal? Two weeks after its launch, the site is "still broken," reports Politico.

  • CGI Federal, the prime government contractor at the center of the meltdown, is a big government porker, and a big internal mess, reports WonkBlog.

  • Before the shutdown fades from memory (i.e. before next week), stop and read this breathtaking statement from Chamath Palihapitaya, a Facebookillionaire (he joined the company in its first year) who now invests in disruptive start-ups. Is it possible that some in Silicon Valley think the Washington shutdown crisis was irrelevant? That's the takeaway from this tidbit spotted by Kevin Roose at New York Magazine. Palihapitaya was talking with longtime entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, on his show "This Week in Start-ups":
    Palihapitiya: The government, they're completely useless.
    Calacanis: The government got shut down today and the stock market went up 1 percent.
    Palihapitiya: We're in this really interesting shift. The center of power is here, make no mistake. I think we've known it now for probably four or five years. But it's becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York, it's no longer in Washington, it's no longer in LA. It's in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And when you look at sort of, like, how markets react to things like that, and when there's no reaction, it should be taken as a very subtle signal that the power dynamics have changed. Because markets value meaningful events, markets discount meaningless events. And so the functional value of the government is effectively discounted to zero ...
    Companies are transcending power now. We are becoming the eminent vehicles for change and influence, and capital structures that matter. If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn't matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid. They just sit there and they just kind of, you know ...
    It would be fun to see Roose and Palihapitiya in a face-to-face debate. Roose's response is worth reading in full, but his short take on Palihapitaiya's remarks is this: "a certain strain of influential Silicon Valley thought has moved past passive political apathy and into a kind of anarchist cheerleading."

  • Pierre Omidyar on his "next adventure" in journalism:

    Right now, I’m in the very early stages of creating a new mass media organization. I don’t yet know how or when it will be rolled out, or what it will look like.
    What I can tell you is that the endeavor will be independent of my other organizations, and that it will cover general interest news, with a core mission around supporting and empowering independent journalists across many sectors and beats. The team will build a media platform that elevates and supports these journalists and allows them to pursue the truth in their fields. This doesn’t just mean investigative reporting, but all news.

  • Also, see Jay Rosen's Pressthink post on his conversations with Omidyar about the new venture. "Omidyar believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power."

  • Longtime TV journalist Dave Marash makes a great comment on Rosen's post: One word is missing here: video….The presence of Laura Poitras, one of the world’s great video journalists, on the “NewCo” team implies what should be made explicit: that video will be a major component of this project.

  • Omidyar is indicating that he may commit somewhere in the range of $250 million to this as-yet unnamed media endeavor, and that it will be digital-only.

  • Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, two of the catalysts behind the successful movement to block the SOPA and PIPA bills in 2012, have launched a new video explaining the NSA's surveillance programs, aimed at spurring turnout in October 26's rally in DC. The video is narrated and executive produced by Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit).

  • NSA Director Keith Alexander and his deputy John Inglis are stepping down in the coming months, Reuters reports.

  • Nick Bilton's story on the early days of Twitter, at least as excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, left out the crucial role of the TXTmob and RNC 2004 Text Alert Service, two real-time tools for sharing alerts by mobile phone that were built and used by activists in NYC protesting the Republican National Convention in 2004. Tad Hirsch, one of the developers of TXTMob, fleshes out the story. We covered the radical origins of Twitter in those RNC protest back in August 2012. Hirsch says:

    Jack Dorsey clearly needs to believe that he’s not just clever (and lucky), but that he’s a rare breed of genius. It’s also probably important to Twitter’s employees and investors to believe this too. The problem with Dorsey’s story, for the rest of us, is that it describes a world where the market is the sole site of technical and social innovation, and where we are wholly dependent on a handful of extraordinarily gifted entrepreneurs to lead us out of the dark ages. This is a myth.

  • In tandem with this week's Code for America Summit, check out their new book Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation, edited by Brett Goldstein, the former chief data officer of Chicago). It's free online as a .pdf or available in print from Amazon; and the whole text is also up on GitHub where anyone can suggest an edit.

  • Chicago has launched a single, comprehensive data catalog containing detailed information "on every data set held by City agencies and departments, how and if it may be accessed, and in which formats it may be accessed." This raises the bar on every other city (are you listening, New York?) that wants to claim the mantle of leadership in the municipal open government movement.

  • Micah White, who touts himself as the "American creator of the #OccupyWallStreet meme," wants to bring Beppe Grillo's 5 Star Movement to America. "We must become the government and not just protest against it," he writes in a post whose url is "how-the-5-star-movement-in-america-will-occupy-the-2014-election." He envisions "the spontaneous election of write-in candidates nationwide" in 2014. You heard it here first.

  • David Robinson and Harlan Yu have launched Equal Future, a weekly newsletter and website focused on social justice and technology.

  • Goldman Sachs "consists of more than 4000 separate corporate entities all over the world, some of which are around ten layers of control below the New York HQ," reports OpenCorporates, which is collecting and visualizing some amazing data about the world's most powerful entities.

  • Media startup accelerator Matter, which is backed by KQED, the Knight Foundation and PRX, just announced its next class of seven startups. Notable among them: The Creative Action Network, a marketplace where artists and causes collaborate "by creating, buying and sharing original crowdsourced creative content."

  • *If you haven't seen the term "kludgeocracy" before, I'm borrowing it from Steven Teles, whose Fall 2013 essay in National Affairs, "Kludgeocracy in America," explains, "A 'kludge; is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem.' The term comes out of the world of computer programming, where a kludge is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system. When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes." He adds, "'Clumsy but temporarily effective' also describes much of American public policy today."