Letters for the Week of December 3, 2014 

Readers sound off on Pandora, Ranked Choice Voting, and the true meaning of progressivism.


"The Tyranny of Free," Feature, 11/19

Pandora Is a Symptom

Sam Lefebvre's article on Pandora's dubious practices is an excellent primer on the webcaster's history of suppressing artist royalties in the name of "parity." As a local musician who arrived on the scene in 1998, I feel like my timing was rotten in terms of the cost-free entitlements that listeners were suddenly demanding in the internet era. And I certainly suffer from the same fatalistic attitude that defeats many of us — an attitude that, in some ways, Pandora seeks to perpetuate. 

I appreciate that Lefebvre ended on the note of listener responsibility. Music lovers — who are quite often musicians themselves — should question this ease of access that has devalued what they enjoy.

One aspect of [Pandora CEO Tim] Westergren's game that could have had more emphasis is the notion of "airplay," or the idea that a play on radio equals a stream on Pandora, in terms of audience exposure — which is patently ridiculous, although I have read that Pandorians argue for this false equivalency. Tens of thousands of people potentially listen to a play on terrestrial and satellite radio, whereas the algorithmic nature of Pandora's custom-fitted playlists typically yields one listener, or a handful of listeners, at best, if Pandora is playing in a cafe. In other words, this represents another Procrustean semantic maneuver that Westergren clings to so he can justify his campaign for "parity" with traditional radio.

The quaint idea that one person's desires and tastes are being satisfied through the Genome Project unfortunately undermines any notion that Pandora is offering an equivalent audience. Of course, as Lefebvre notes toward the end of his article, Pandora simply chooses to relinquish what made it unique in the first place, rather than pay higher royalties, becoming just another payola-reaping "radio station," serving label-signed artists only incidentally through the deals their glorified pimps make directly with the webcaster (as per the Merlin anecdote). Unattached, independent artists lose again.

Related to this, and what could have also used more emphasis in Lefebvre's article, is the fact that Pandora is merely practicing what the music industry has always practiced — egregiously low royalty rates for radio airplay are practically coeval with radio's inception, and Pandora simply aspires to and depends on the continuity and perpetuity of this historical injustice. Granted, bemoaning the industry on the whole would make Pandora a symptom rather than a distinct problem, perhaps contributing to my aforementioned fatalism and diminishing the impact of Lefebvre's article. Nonetheless, while attacking Pandora is important for setting an example in this brave new world of webcasting, it should not occur at the expense of ignoring the broader exploitative industry that, from the very beginning, has kept the majority of musicians impoverished.

Greg Giles, Oakland, formerly of 20 Minute Loop


"Oaklanders Understood RCV," News, 11/19

RCV Disenfranchises Voters

In the recent Oakland election, voters' understanding of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) cannot be inferred just from how many people "filled out their ballots correctly." There are a few other indicators that everyone needs to understand. In addition, claims that there was a "landslide" victory for [Libby] Schaaf are rather misleading. Election by RCV arguably disenfranchised many voters from selecting the next mayor.

1. RCV is not a majority vote system when voters are allowed only three choices and there are five or more candidates in the race.

2. The majority (51.4%) of voters for mayor selected someone other than Schaaf ([Rebecca] Kaplan's votes plus exhausted ballots divided by total ballots minus undervotes).

3. 24,405 ballots were "exhausted" before the final round, which means they listed neither of the two finalists.

4. The final results of the election only represent the will of the people if you assume that the 24,405 people whose ballots were exhausted had no preference between the two finalists, Schaaf and Kaplan.  

If voters knew they had a choice of only Schaaf or Kaplan, such as in a runoff election, there's a good chance most would have a preference. Could that have changed the outcome? Perhaps.

Jan Malvin, Oakland

RCV Is Not a Good Idea

Robert Gammon asserts that 99.2 percent of Oakland voters must have understood ranked choice voting (RCV) because only 0.8 percent cast invalid votes by giving multiple candidates the same rank. But that's only one form of incorrect voting. Voting for the same person first, second, and third (or voting in reverse order) would not be invalid.

Even if voters do understand RCV, that doesn't make it a good idea, particularly for a unitary executive office. We were lucky the mayor's race wasn't close. Had Schaaf been less dominant, it's quite possible that Kaplan could have finished third in first choice votes with less than 25 percent support and still won the election, given the vote distribution.

In voting theory, it's easy to construct examples with perverse outcomes in which voters prefer A to B and B to C and C to A so a shift a support from C to B makes B less likely to win. In a three-way race, the outcome is indeterminate when preferences are intransitive. This is called Condorcet's paradox. At a practical level, the second-choice votes of the survivors (in this case Schaaf and Kaplan) are never counted so we don't have a complete picture of voter preferences. RCV is a bad idea in this context because a mayor needs broad support to be effective. RCV makes it possible to win in a crowded field with a narrow base. That didn't happen this time, but it could.  

Robert Denham, Oakland


"East Bay Progressives Dominated the Election," News, 11/12

Liberal Centrists Won

I take exception to Robert Gammon calling Berkeley's election a progressive victory. It was mainly a win for Mayor Tom Bates, Sam Zell, The Lakireddy Family, Hill Realty, Hudson/McDowell, and numerous other developers and landlords.

The Alameda County Green Party, Berkeley Citizens Action, and our next mayor, Jesse Arreguin, endorsed Andres Soto-Vigil rather than Linda Maio; Jacquelyn McCormick rather than Lori Droste; yes on Measure R rather than no; no on Measure S rather than yes on S (this one also had former mayors Shirley Dean and Gus Newport saying no. Measure S was written to gerrymander Kriss Worthington out of his seat.

As Berkeley's mayor, the Downtown Business Association, the chamber of commerce, and the donors mentioned in my first paragraph move to create a downtown like Walnut Creek or San Jose there are consequences. The Landmark Shattuck Cinemas may be forced to close and may not be able to afford to come back at doubled rent. More of the new building will have low-income set-asides for condos rather than apartments, leaving the Section 8 poor with no options.

The 2016 election will decide if Berkeley will still be a special place or just part of an urban sprawl.  If all the developers and realtors could be aggregated into a group called "Chevron," there may have been a different outcome.  Centrist liberals won Berkeley, not progressives.

John Iversen, Berkeley

Stop Spreading Propaganda

I don't know how you can say that around here we had a progressive result in the last election. Proposition 1, the most important thing on the ballot by far, won. This means that Jerry Brown's pet project, Peripheral Canal II, will probably be built, along with more dams, all of which are very environmentally and ecologically destructive. A new study showed that the delta no longer functions as a delta because of human-caused harms, mainly due to sucking water out of it to ship to agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California. Prop 1 is an environmental disaster — nothing progressive about that.

Regarding local issues, I fully get that the Express supports what you call infill development near public transit rather than supporting lowering of human population by birth control. But to say that this is a progressive position is a lie. For example, Berkeley's Measure R was supported by the Alameda Green Party, which is far more progressive than any version of the Democratic Party and apparently than the Express, at least on this issue. Measure R would not have stopped development downtown, it would just have forced developers and city government to live up to their promises in making new buildings less environmentally harmful and providing more affordable housing, the latter of which is the only housing problem around here. Building places to live for rich people with only a small fraction of the housing being affordable does little or nothing to solve this problem. Your opposition to Measure R is the conservative, pro-developer position, not the progressive one.

Measure S was a gerrymandering of a city council district in order to get rid of Kriss Worthington, who is the most progressive member of our city council. By cutting out the more progressive student co-ops, the more conservative elements that run Berkeley – Mayor Tom Bates and the majority on the city council – hoped to make the district conservative enough that the voters would dump Worthington. Again, nothing progressive about this at all. Fortunately, the joke's on them, because Worthington won reelection and the more progressive students in the co-ops are now part of another district that they can make more progressive.

Please stop acting like the corporate propaganda media when it comes to development and developers. Saying that development that you like is progressive does not make it so, and, in fact, it is not. As I've written to you before, only development near public transit that is in character with the neighborhood is progressive, and even then only if it does not include parking. Being a shill for developers is not progressive, and your saying that it is is just like the lies and propaganda that the corporate media spew when it wants to convince people that black is white.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

Corrections

Our November 26 Holiday Guide story, "Stocking Stuffers for the Food-Obsessed," listed the incorrect address for Diving Dog Brewhouse. The correct address is 1802 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland. We also incorrectly listed the wine shop Bay Grape as The Bay Grape. Also, our November 26 Culture Spy, "Questioning Color-Blind America," erroneously stated that author Ronald Takaki's first name was Roy. It also incorrectly stated that author Ishmael Reed once lived in the same neighborhood as Jeff Chang. He did not. And our November 26 news story, "Saving the Homeowner Bill of Rights," misstated Danny Barak's professional affiliation. He is an attorney in the United Law Firm — not a partner.

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