slef-reflections on Software in the Public Interest

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Elections

2007-08-08 (Permalink): Well, yesterday I asked

"WTF? There seem to be some 30 or 40 voters who really dislike me, but didn't tell me that straight, preferring to be silent then vote me down. Huh?"

Not the most polite of questions(!), but it's what I was wondering at the time.

I had some good replies in the comments and a reply by Pingback that I didn't like, but it turned out to be a very educational reply in the end.

A comment from Filipus Klutiero included:

"Sometimes, it's not really possible to explain a bad opinion of someone, because we forget the reasons for that opinion. However, if you think that voting based on reputation is a bad idea, you probably can't understand these "cowards"."

I've mentioned before that I don't seem to fit the debian developers stereotype, so I guess it's not surprising if I don't understand them sometimes.

If reputation is always going to be such a big factor, one problem I need to overcome in debian and SPI is that some other participants do make crap up about me. You can usually spot it by phrases like "seems to think" (there are not that many mind-readers out there), but eventually, mud sticks. How to overcome this? Patiently post corrections, or is that futile?

Here are posts from Andrew Pollock and Matt Palmer which I think are wrong on several points:-

First off, I haven't decided to call anyone cowards - it was a question, albeit a bit "nasty, british and short". The underlying sentiment was continued disappointment and puzzlement at why voters behave like that in a non-secret vote, not rage. It was not really an "outburst," coming a week after the results.

I'm not unhappy with the results - I've congratulated the winners by several methods, including the last post, although I mentioned my mixed feelings. Isn't that usual? I think very few non-elected candidates express unbridled joy about the experience. After all, it's not an easy decision to stand, but I did it for two main reasons: shortage of other candidates I really liked, at the time I chose to stand (as I mentioned in my platform); and for practical experience of how Condorcet behaves.

I'm not rabid - I've even written against the Rabid Right recently - and I'm not rabidly anti-Google. I had polite chats with various people from Sun, Microsoft and Google at debconf - I don't like those companies, but I don't feel a need to tell their workers that at every point. I think reasons to like and dislike Sun and Microsoft are old and well-known, but a few years ago, I got so bored of explaining why I don't agree that Google is God's Gift to our communities that I posted a FAQ-ish page about it, which I update as I look at its new developments. Let's politely disagree, until Google fix the bugs which brought me to that view.

Andrew Pollock's point about debian-legal is vague and maybe fair comment. It's not often a fun or popular thing. But "precious ego"? Ha! Yes, a guy who humiliates himself with cheap stunts for environmental protests is clearly very precious about his ego(!) (Sorry if that's rude, but I find it hilarious.)

I don't mind people having different opinions, but it would be nice if their opinions about me were mostly based on reality, instead of misunderstandings.

One fair point from Matt Palmer's post and also, I discovered eventually, from Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho's site, is that SPI's elections apparently are meant to be secret, as far as I can tell from the starts of Article Five and Article Seven of the SPI by-laws.

I tend to value practice more than theory and the current voting practice is merely confidential, not secret. I think that's part of why I didn't understand the approach taken by some voters - they were treating it as a secret ballot. That's fine and now that I realise it's meant to be secret, I've suggested making it a secret ballot.

niq commented:

"You seem to have ruffled some feathers here. I have no comment on the merits of your post or the reactions to it.

But one thing to bear in mind: ranking you low doesn't mean people dislike you. See my blog post commenting on why I ranked some candidates at the bottom in a recent election."

More possible causes. Thanks.

2007-08-07 (Permalink): I wasn't elected to SPI's board. I didn't think I would be once I saw all the other candidates (I nominated before all declared), but it looks like I would have been elected with those votes under some other common systems.

I think both first-past-the-post and alternative vote (also known as instant run-off voting, reportedly recommended by Robert's Rules for election-by-mail) would have resulted in this same board:

  1. Bdale Garbee
  2. David Graham
  3. Joshua D. Drake
  4. Martin 'Joey' Schulze
  5. Luk Claes
  6. MJ Ray

Instead, the results were:

  1. Bdale Garbee
  2. David Graham
  3. Luk Claes
  4. Joshua D. Drake
  5. Joerg Jaspert
  6. Martin Zobel-Helas

Nevertheless, well done to the new members. On one hand, I'm happier, because there's still two of my top four there and now I've less required work. On the other hand, I would have liked a crack at it myself and both boards are disappointing because there's no Ian Jackson.

An interesting thing is how many times I appear in each position in voting lists: (5, 1, 2, 1, 9, 6, 6, 3, 3, 4, 2, 9, 37), or as a bar chart for all candidates (this is a wide table with CSS bars that seem to work on the Mozilla engine, but are untested otherwise):

A

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

B

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

C

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

D

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

E

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

F

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

G

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

H

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

I

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

J

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

K

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

L

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

M

  1. pos
  2. pos
  3. pos
  4. pos
  5. pos
  6. pos
  7. pos
  8. pos
  9. pos
  10. pos
  11. pos
  12. pos
  13. pos

I'm candidate L - a fairly acceptable middle-of-road candidate for most of it, but then a huge spike at the low end. Note that a majority of voters put me in positions 11-13. There wasn't much warning of that one coming during hustings. WTF? There seem to be some 30 or 40 voters who really dislike me, but didn't tell me that straight, preferring to be silent then vote me down. Huh?

The other interesting one to me is Joey, candidate K, who wins under some systems, but wasn't elected under Condorcet-SPI. Another with a low-end spike.

More generally, is this type of Condorcet ever likely to elect someone who polarises views, or who many inexplicably dislike? What does this say for any plan to use a Condorcet for debian's social committee? Could majorities always prevent minority reps?

Update: Neil McGovern posted a few comparisons of more complex systems (I only did the easy ones) and AJ posted STV results which completes the main systems, I think. It seems Condorcet-SPI wasn't as unusual as I first thought.

Update 2: Markus Schulze posted Schulze STV results, which are the same six as Alternative Vote. Curiouser and curiouser.

Finally, as I understand it, turn-out was 25% of voting members (not the 25% of SPI members that some press reported). Why was turn-out so low?

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho writes:

"This displays such an antipathy against secret ballots (which protect voters from social pressure, not to mention coercion of various degrees of severity) that I now consider MJ Ray an unacceptable candidate in any future election where I am enfranchised."

But SPI elections are confidential, not secret! I think there are at least two attack vectors. If you are not willing to stand up for your vote in a final reckoning, I strongly advise that you do not vote it!

If anyone is being coerced or pressured (which I really hope doesn't happen in SPI), please feel free to contact me by encrypted mail.

"By the way, since the election MJ Ray discusses had no None Of The Above option, there is no way to determine if his low rankings were due to dislike or just that there were better candidates."

Not for sure. Fair comment. It continued later:

"MJR seems to have missed the subtle hint that his cowardice statement is a form of social pressure itself."

Yeah, I don't really do subtle. I also don't see "pressure" to participate in elections pre-voting as a bad thing. There's lots of that about, so please flame the others who do it.

"In fact, he continues and elevates the pressure in his response, implying that if one is afraid of him, one should not vote [...]"

I'm trying to imply that if one is afraid of anyone (after all, who would be scared of me?) discovering one's vote, one should not vote in an SPI election. It is not secret at present. For example, votes seem to be stored on an SPI webserver indefinitely.

I can see various good arguments for making SPI board elections a secret ballot, but it is not currently a secret ballot.

Finally, I did ask "or what?" but there are few answers so far. I apologise if anyone feels offended by me wondering if there are too many cowardly members or there's some other explanation, but it's what I'm wondering. SPI is not clear and straightforward at all. There's a self-described "anonymous coward" comment on Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho's site suggesting the reason is on spi-private. There are a few possibilities there, but did any of them really cause such a large tail spike?

"I'm now even more convinced that MJR belongs in the bottom of any ranked vote from me."

Well, I think he'll find any way to misread my comments and justify that mistake now. I believe electing on prejudice or reputation instead of promises is a bad idea and that's exactly what that seems to be.

Hamish Moffatt wrote:

"Personally I did not vote as SPI does not seem particularly relevant to Debian, other than as a money handler. In addition I admit to being barely aware that the vote was on; despite being a contributing member I was not subscribed to spi-announce until a few moments ago. "

Well, Joshua D. Drake was elected under "I would like to see SPI be more than a glorified PayPal", so maybe that will change.

"Perhaps SPI could benefit from a members-announce mailing list like debian-devel-announce."

Good idea. I think all members are auto-subscribed to spi-private, but I guess that's going to get ignored at busy times.

2007-08-08: Neil McGovern commented:

"For info, the list of voters is stored, and the votes, but not who voted for whom. (AFAICT anyway, the system is a bit of a mess and I'm going to be re-writing it)"

So why can I see my past votes? (Also asked on spi-general.)

Filipus Klutiero wrote:

"The fact that you seem to be disliked by many doesn't mean that the ~40 people disliking you really dislike you, just that they dislike you to some level.

As for the possible cowardness, I think you would more safely conclude instead that people dislike you on a "subjective" basis. While it's sometimes possible to explain a subjective opinion, it's often longer, because the opinion is based on a variety of facets, rather than a specific point of disagreement, which can be flamed^Wargued. Sometimes, it's not really possible to explain a bad opinion of someone, because we forget the reasons for that opinion. However, if you think that voting based on reputation is a bad idea, you probably can't understand these "cowards".

Finally, majorities do prevent minority reps in a Condorcet election like this. For example, if you have Bob 1, Bob 2, Osama 1 and Osama 2, Bob 2 remains better positioned than both Osama-s in the matrix even after taking Bob 1 out of it, and should win, even if you have 49% of minority people. (Assuming majority voting B1 B2 O2 O1 and minority voting O1 O2 B2 B1)"

I guess general "bad opinion" from DDs is the most likely reason. I'll write more on that in a new post above in a moment. Thanks.

2007-07-27 (Permalink): I'm standing in the SPI elections on a very clear platform including cooperative values and principles and reviewing SPI against the good practice standards (last done in June 2005) so please go vote for me if you're an SPI voting member. Voting closes Saturday. The last turnout I saw was a disappointing 15%.


Communications

I wrote SPI gives away opensource.org and opensource.net and Bruce Byfield wrote SPI to transfer domain names to OSI - I think it's interesting to see how differently we view the disagreement.

One possible reason for the difference is that the email discussion around this resolution happened on private lists. I saw the December meeting notice a couple of days before the meeting, sent the board a request that they fix member communications and then started a discussion about giving away the opensource domains with:

"SPI still holds the opensource domains because SPI is a membership controlled organisation and OSI was a self-perpetuating board; and OSI had not done enough to balance their bad licence proliferation work. Why isn't that mentioned in the proposal?

Why does 2006-11-18.dbg.mjs.1 not mention 2005-07-26.bp.1? Is it good to keep reposting rejected proposals until they pass? Why is the SPI board being asked again to surrender the domains while OSI is unreformed?"

The reason I started the discussion on spi-private was Josh Berkus writing

"If you think it's important that we should drag it onto spi-private, though, I suppose we should."

which rather suggested a private list was the appropriate venue.

As Neil wrote:

"Some discussion has occured on the spi-private mailing list as to how the opensource.org resolution has been handled by the board."

That's putting it mildly. I wrote about the lack of public discussion (as mentioned in my previous report):

"I still don't see how some board members reconcile their votes to give away community assets with their promises. How the devil does board expect members to oversee it when board hides its operations from our view?"

There is a report on the discussion at the next meeting, which will hopefully put the reasons on the public record at last.

Unsurprisingly, the first January 2007 meeting agenda omitted my member communications request, but board member Jimmy Kaplowitz accepted my reminder.

Even less surprisingly, my request that the Software in the Public Interest board try to repair SPI's member communications was postponed. The request was submitted before the December 2006 meeting and now won't be resolved until February at the earliest. SPI president Bdale Garbee apologised. At least the Spanish resolution was decided (referred to board 2005-11, resolved 2007-01).

Meanwhile, on the mailing lists, SPI board member Ian Jackson flamed me again and proposed a resolution which adds lots of red tape, unnecessarily links submissions to announcements and ignores SPI's email and web problems.

On the previous post, Bruce Byfield commented:

"I'm sure my bias creeps into many stories, no matter how fair I try to be, but I really don't have much of an opinion on the domain name issue. My main interest is that it's newsworthy.

Under these circumstances, I have a hard time seeing how I could have much of a different view from anyone."

I agree. It's hard to see how the newsforge article could have been much different.

Is it newsworthy that SPI's board continued voting without discussion at yesterday's (2007-01-16) meeting? No-one wants meetings to last hours, but it's essential that the board put something of their views into the official proceedings. Votes should not be totally set in advance.

Otherwise, how can SPI members oversee? How can they make a well-informed decision whether or not to re-elect a member? Now members have to hope they are on the right mailing lists (open and closed) at the right time because the public record is so incomplete.


Holding the board to account

Darling cheese head SPI was yards too greasy

SPI's February meeting (agenda) on Friday is approaching and the board seems to have gone all evasive and yeti-like.

For yet another month, I've heard nothing in response to simple questions and over on debian-vote, board members posted a bizarre claim about how SPI acts for debian and a direction back to SPI so I've asked the board to confirm SPI's view of debian but this is all yards too greasy, really.

I'm getting quite irritated with the question-avoiding and red tape from the board, as you can maybe tell from the tone of:

"In case anyone hasn't noticed, it seems very difficult to get anything like a straight answer out of most of the current SPI board lately. Try it for yourself. Fun for all the debian family. Knock one over, win a coconut and five tons of flax!"

There only seems to be one responsive sane board member at present and that's just not enough to ensure SPI members can exercise their right to oversee the board's work.

SPI seems to be going delinquent again. Please correct it before it does much damage.

Please, debian, postgresql and GNUstep developers in particular, please request your contributing membership and help get this organisation back on track.

Post title is from cult advert Me ears are alight

Jimmy Kaplowitz commented:

"The text "the board to confirm SPI's view of debian" goes to a 404 not found error page. If you are referring to this post: then I certainly had no idea what correspondence you were asking the secretary to report, and he may well not have known either if he wasn't up on the latest posts to debian-vote."

I'm not referring to that post. I sent a later message to board cc:general. I got bored waiting for it to appear, so I linked to where the next message will appear. I'm surprised it hasn't appeared yet. That's probably something to do with SPI's email-hostile server config, which I asked the board to address last month and they deferred.

"Please don't attribute a lack of response to a desire to avoid questions and add red tape when it can mostly be explained by a simple lack of understanding of the question. (Yes, if Neil had acted perfectly he would have replied to your mail asking what correspondence you meant, and if you had acted perfectly you would have included a link to the correspondence in the first place. Nobody's perfect.)"

I don't know what correspondence has been received, so how can I link it? I could link one example from me, I guess, but presumably there is more.

"I also can't find the correspondence to which you refer in any of my SPI list archives, private or not. If it was a direct mail to the secretary, then maybe Neil should have replied, but Neil is no more able to speak for the board in these matters than any other individual director. We'd need to pass a resolution if you wanted an official statement to end any confusion. Personally I think that SPI would act on a GR that overrode a DPL decision in keeping with the Debian Constitution, but as I just said, neither I nor any board member who spoke up on debian-vote can rightly express an opinion of the board on this matter in the absence of a resolution. Certainly a resolution would be reasonable."

I thought Neil is no more able to speak for the board than Joey or any other director. However, when I asked Joey to show proof that SPI only views the DPL, Neil posted. Neil's SPI secretary, so should know whether some proof exists, right? Now it seems a no-op resolution is needed to sort this out, as neither Joey or Neil agreed that SPI would follow non-DPL decisions.

In a word: argh.


eVoting

Elections, for Profit
Basic problems in the e-voting systems of Denver, Colorado, USA
German people: do you care about democracy and your right to vote? | Uwe Hermann
I wonder what happened to this petition?
The Open Rights Group : Taking the lid off e-voting
So, given that e-voting is known buggy and considered harmful, what does the UK do? Follows the other sheep into the abyss, looking ahead as little as possible. Here's ORG's explanation of the situation.
Open Voting Foundation @ SPI
Open Voting Foundation sounds like it should be a project to stop the spread of the e-voting problem, but it isn't.
European Commission endorses open source - ZDNet UK
A lengthy EC report (is there any sort besides lengthy?) summarises the benefits of free software. I think one important way that more partner organisations can help SPI-like groups is by helping to inform about this sort of local development.
LWN: The end of the Fedora Foundation
When you see that Red Hat can't/won't start a foundation around its distributions, you realise what an amazing thing SPI is.
2007-02-16
Agenda for this evening's board meeting. I seem to be having difficulty staying connected.

Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

This is copyright 2007 MJ Ray. See fuller notice on front page.