Tuesday, 1 April 2014

CDS News – the 20th RA Part 4

February 2014 in CDS started on a typically conflictual note. Abby Rose complained that she had seen ban lines around the property of Garnet Psaltery in Locus Amoenus, and that walking into the courtyard she was bounced. Garnet replied that she was sorry about Abby getting caught in the crossfire of Garnet’s conflict with Cleopatra Xigalia. But Delia Lake pointed out that the CDS Covenants prohibit ban lines, although they do state that: “as a land owner you are allowed to ban individual avatars from entering your land.” Garnet insisted that she had done nothing wrong, since she had only a few individual ban lines, as could be seen by anyone inspecting the land.

This conflict may have contributed to motivating Cadence Theas to propose that the RA designate a sort of “People's Park” where CDS members could put up signs with messages about what is happening in CDS. Permission would be granted to all CDS members to rez signs in that space, on the condition that the messages should avoid naming persons or using incendiary language or graphic images. Every Sunday evening one of the Estate Managers would return all of the signs, so that Monday morning would bring a new start. This idea met with a mixed reception. Cleopatra pointed out that Cadence herself had recently put up such a sign, to publicize her call for a referendum about the Locus Amoenus sim redesign. To call attention to the sign Cadence had rezzed a charred building in flames on public land without permission from anyone (follow Cleopatra's link for a large photo of the sign and the burning building).

A week later Pip Torok suggested that everyone observe a truce for Saint Valentine's Day, take down all bans and mutings, and desist from disparaging each other during a 24-hour period. And in a similar cooperative vein, Cadence Theas asked who wants to see flowers early this year?

Locus Amoenus reconstruction

The big issue in CDS during February continued to be the redesign of Locus Amoenus. Chancellor Bagheera Kristan looked into how former Chancellor Jamie Palisades had sold land when the LA sim was first opened. It seems he requested notification from people who wanted land, and first gave current citizens priority, then anyone on the list, and finally whatever was left was set for sale on the open market. Bagheera therefore posted a list of the land that would soon become available in Locus Amoenus, and invited those interested to send her a notecard inworld indicating which of the parcels they were interested in.

On 11 February Rosie Gray posted the minutes of a CDS Artisan Guild Meeting that had been held that day to discuss the list of buildings requested by the Chancellor for LA. The Guild passed the following motion: “That the CDS Artisan Guild does not endorse the Chancellor's LA redesign as presented, but individual creators will participate on the requested builds, on an individual basis.” However, it seems the transcript of this meeting was never posted to the forum, so it is unclear why this decision was made. Builders interest in building various pieces of the sim were to negotiate directly with the Chancellor.

That same day, Bagheera posted the LA building request notecard that she had sent around on 7 February, concerning: 1) Guild negotiations for compensation, and 2) List of items for the Guild to consider working on for Locus Amoenus. The second point is self-explanatory. The first point refers to a discussion Bagheera had with Lilith Ivory, who was standing in for Callipygian as head of the Scientific Council, about the proper way to negotiate compensation to the Guild for work performed on LA. Lilith thought the RA should decide this issue, but with Rosie as Guild Master abstaining from voting.

On 13 February Victor Mornington complained that Bagheera had asked him to remove the new bridge he had spent hours building, because several people disliked it. He wrote: “Someone could have told me this was building by democracy, then I wouldn’t have wasted my time."

RA Meeting of 15 January 2014

An RA Meeting was held on 15 February 2014 (here are the agenda, transcript and minutes). At first there were too few RA members to make a quorum, so Rosie Gray suggested taking citizen’s concerns. Chancellor Bagheera stated that she had been considering giving up her position as Chancellor mid-term, but had decided to stay, which was applauded. Tor Karlsvalt arrived, making a quorum, and it was decided that Rosie would conduct the meeting in the absence of Leader of RA (LRA) Shep Titian. Discussion of citizen’s concerns continued with Patroklus Murakami criticizing the Chancellor for alienating builders from working on LA (he later used the term “micromanagement”), and declaring that the actual build looks amateurish, with elements that are out of place. Bagheera replied that although the Guild voted not to endorse her work plan, individual Guild members have contacted her to work on the rebuild, and that Sudane Erato was about to begin terraforming. Lam Erin encouraged constructive dialogue, and Lia Venra made a rare appearance to support Vic’s work.

Tor had to leave, leaving the meeting again inquorate. Discussion continued anyway on the next item, which was by-elections. Callipygian Christensen as Dean of the Scientific Council stated that she had been away from SL, but promised to post a draft law to the forum.

This was followed by the sorting out of the old CDS laws. Cleopatra reported that had posted a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for the updating of the archives. But since Rose Springvale had volunteered to do this work, and since the RA had voted to accept her offer, the only relevant parts of the RFP were the scope of work, outcomes and monitoring. Cleopatra also pointed out that CDS still had no current archivist to ensure ongoing posting of RA transcripts and newly-passed laws.

There followed a brief discussion of Cadence Theas’ idea of a place for citizens to rez posters with complaints, some of those present expressing support and others opposed.

Cleopatra posed questions concerning the current land managers, and who grants them authority. It seems that Sudane Erato, as official Estate Owner (a role required by Linden Lab), is the only person who can assign these roles and powers. Cleopatra suggested setting time on the agenda of the next RA meeting to ask Sudane these questions. Patroklus Murakami suggested that everyone should simply read NL 5-6 “Estate Owner Act” on the Code of Law page of the CDS portal. And finally, there was no report about the Grievance Committee since Lam Erin had left the meeting by this time, but Rosie Gray passed along a message from Tor that he was planning citizen meetings on the topic in the next week.

Scientific Council Meetings

The CDS Scientific Council (sort of like a Supreme Court to review laws and legal issues) met on 29 January and 16 February. The transcript of the January meeting was posted too late for me to cover it in my last post, so it is described here.

The 29 January meeting (agenda and transcript here) began with a discussion of dates for upcoming elections, the problem being that in the Fall there are too many days between the date of the voter census and the deadline to declare candidacy. This leads to the final list of candidates getting announced after the start of the campaigning period. Callipygian Christensen asked Aria Perrault and Lilith Ivory to decide on a final set of dates following the law, to be approved at the next meeting.

The SC then discussed a Revised Procedure for Ordinary Scientific Council Meetings, which Callipygian had posted to the forum, with the aim of both simplifying and clarifying the procedures. The discussion was enlarged to address as well the existing unclear procedures for impeachments. Aliasi Stonebender agreed to help review the legislation and work on a new draft. Other items discussed were the procedure for moderation of flagged forum posts, which raised technical questions to be put to Gwyneth Llewellyn, and the idea of a standardized form (notecard) for petitions to the SC, to help citizens who are unfamiliar with the process. Lilith agreed to write a draft.

Another SC meeting was held on 16 February (here are the agenda and transcript). Lilith Ivory submitted the proposed elections dates, which were approved. (Lilith then posted to the forum the official dates for the election of the 21st RA and Chancellor, and for the election of the 22d and 23d RA and Chancellor.) The next item, the new SC procedures presented by Callipygian at the previous meeting, was tabled to allow everyone more time to study the draft. Then followed more discussion of the unclear impeachment procedures, but it was suggested that the SC should hold off on formulating any proposal until the RA voted on the proposed Grievance Committee, which might impact the impeachment process.

The Locus Amoenus rebuild continues

Shortly after the RA meeting of 15 February, Cadence Theas posted encouragements to Bagheera, telling her that she had read the transcript of the RA meeting and that she was really pleased: “That you are staying on and that you are reaching out to people with experience and commitment to finish LA, starting with Sudane and the terraforming.”

Bagheera herself gave an update a few days later (cross-posted to the General Discussion board) explaining: 1) that she was turning over the rebuild of Locus Amoenus to the citizens who had offered their assistance to her, and 2) that Vic’s bridge was rezzed back at the harbor entrance for citizens to view and comment on.

In parallel, Vic made an offer to residents of LA: since the SL marketplace had no buildings which will sit in the small fishing village plots, he would give his services to returning CDS residents or new residents who would buy one of the fishing village plots.

Bagheera posted a copy of her LA building request notecard outlining the work that needed to be done on LA. She also indicated which ships on the SL marketplace would be suitable for Locus Amoenus water parcels.

Cleopatra presented the results of her own research on the definition of the Tuscan Theme, which attracted a series of mostly hostile comments. Patroklus, while noting that Bagheera had improved her communication about the LA rebuild, proposed the opening of a sub-forum devoted to the LA rebuild, which would bring together all the information and help resolve issues.

More about grievances and conflicts

The final posts in February were on the recurrent theme of how to handle conflicts. Lam Erin presented the Draft Legislation for a Grievance Committee, which Cadence and himself had prepared.

And Cleopatra suggested that everyone should reread the Forum Moderation Guidelines, including the procedures by which the Scientific Council is supposed to protect all citizens from abuse and personal attacks (of which Cleopatra clearly feels herself to be a prominent victim).


Sunday, 9 March 2014

CDS News – the 20th RA Part 3

The first post on the forum of CDS in 2014 was Victor Mornington’s announcement that Linden Lab had added his Tuscan Order building in Locus Amoenus to the Destination Guide for the next few weeks.

The second post was a request from the Scientific Council to the Representative Assembly concerning two issues. Firstly, the SC asked the RA to consider making a new law to address the filling of vacant seats on the RA in a more timely fashion. Such replacements could be made by automatic appointment of a candidate from the previous election cycle, based on the voting in that election, or by specifying shorter time frames for the by-election cycle. Secondly, the SC requested that the RA consider contracting a qualified editor to review all CDS laws and the Constitution in order to identify contradictory language, and to review past RA transcripts to ensure that all laws are accurately recorded on the laws page of the portal.

The third post of 2014 was an invitation from Tor Karlsvalt, on behalf of Widget Whiteberry and the people of Virtually Speaking, to a concert by acoustic guitarist and songwriter Reggiesunset at the newly renovated Colonia Nova theater.

The RA Meeting of 4 January 2014

The first RA meeting of the year was held on 4 January 2014 (here are the agenda, transcript and minutes. The meeting began by approving an amendment to the previous Minutes, in order to correct the wording of the motion that had been passed about the new covenants for Locus Amoenus.

Callipygian Christensen, acting as a private citizen, then initiated a discussion of an incident in which a member of the RA had rezzed religious items on public land in CDS, and then ignored the Chancellor’s request to remove them. Callipygian wanted the RA to communicate to Chancellor Bagheera Kristan its support of expedient action in such cases, and that all RA members should confirm their oath to uphold the laws of CDS. From the subsequent discussion it seems that Cleopatra Xigalia had rezzed a nativity scene on public land next to her house on the Monastery sim, as a Christmas decoration, initially with the Chancellor’s approval. But when requested to remove it (public land in CDS should remain religiously neutral), she was no longer in-world. The discussion dragged on, but no specific motion was ever seconded.

Next Callipygian, acting this time as Dean of the Scientific Council presented the requests the SC had posted to the attention of the RA. Discussion began on the request that the RA consider paying a qualified person a real-life rate to review the CDS laws and to make sure that they reflect all legislative decisions as recorded in the RA transcripts (the journals of the 11th, 13th, 14th, 17th and 19th RA are incomplete). Cleopatra suggested that a Request for Proposals (RFP) be put out to all citizens. Tor noted that the problem was partly due to the current lack of an RA Archivist, which was traditionally a paid position (at SL rates). Delia Lake estimated that updating the laws would take someone at least a month. It was suggested that Delia write the specifications for the job (the RFP), but she thought she would only have time to review specifications written by someone else. Cleopatra offered to write them. A motion was made to request Cleopatra to draft an RFP based on the required content identified by Delia, and to post it to the forum for review prior to the next meeting. The motion carried, and the meeting was adjourned until the next week.

The RA Meeting of 11 January 2014

The next meeting of the RA was only a week later, on 11 January 2014 (agenda, transcript, minutes).

The first item of Old Business was an update about the Chancellor and the Guild working together on the remodeling of the Locus Amoenus sim. Shep Titian as Leader of the Representative Assembly (LRA) read (or rather pasted) a statement from Chancellor Bagheera explaining that Locus Amoenus was back on track, and that either Rosie or Tor could share with the RA the collaborative spreadsheet used to figure out parcels and tier. But the RA would have to decide on the rates to be charged. Rosie Gray brought up an issue about parcels within Neufriestadt (somewhat off-topic) and again reminded the RA that the Guild has always had a working document about the parcels for the LA redo. Rosie also noted that the plan would only require moving 2 residents who have items on the ground.

Next item of Old Business was the review and updating the of RA laws. Cleopatra had been charged with drafting a Request for Proposals to have this work done for a real-life fee. But Rose Springvale had posted on the forum that she was willing to do this work for no charge. Tor Karlsvalt motioned that the RA stop its efforts to find an editor for CDS laws, and accept Rose Springvale as the by-law editor. The motion carried.

Under New Business came a discussion of the other request that the SC had made to the RA, concerning a procedure to fill vacant seats on RA, that would be quicker than the current by-election process. Gwyneth Llewelyn had suggested on the forum that the old “faction” (party) system be revived, in which case resigning RA members would be replaced by the highest-ranking candidates of that faction in the previous elections. Tos stated that he was against reviving the factions, but that he liked the idea of naming alternate RA members from among the candidates of the most recent election. Soro Dagostino observed that the new voting system with ranking points to the next candidate as a matter of math. But Callipygian added that the system also needs to address the times when there is no next candidate in line. And Shep thought that for only one vacancy a simple one-vote-per-citizen election would work. Finally Soro stated that an alternative could be appointment by the RA, in the case where there is no runner-up. A motion was made that the by-election discussion be moved to the forum for a period of 2 weeks, and the a commission be struck to hold a meeting in-world to discuss it. This carried.

Tor brought up the Commission formed to study the Grievance Procedures that had been proposed by Cadence Theas. He reported that Lam Erin had some modifications to add, and hoped that the commission would have something available for public review by the next RA meeting.

Life on the forum

Following the 11 January RA meeting, Shep re-launched the by-election issue by re-posting it to the forum. Also, Chancellor Bagheera replied to the criticism of her "slowness" in responding to complaints. And various challenges to the Locus Amoenus update were posted, by Cleopatra and Abby Rose.

On 13 January Callipygian acting as Dean of the SC announced a strange Forum Moderation Decision, concerning a forum post dated 12 December, and flagged on 23 December as off-topic, slanderous, libelous and overly inflammatory. The writer of the flagged post received a warning to refrain in future from referring to people's Real Life activities and relationships, and to post only provable facts, or personal opinions stated clearly as such. But I was unable to find the flagged post anywhere, and so I can report little more about it.

There followed a series of posts invoking CDS history. A mysterious “lady observer” posted a curious, rambling text in praise of CDS, which brought tears to Cleopatra’s eyes. Then I announced that I was reviving my CDS Chronicles. This seems to have inspired Cadence Theas to propose a Collaborative CDS Oral History project.

Forum discussions continued about Locus Amoenus. On 15 January Rosie Gray posted a reminder that the planning regarding redevelopment of Locus Amoenus goes back a couple of years. Bagheera held a Chancellor's Town Hall Meeting on 17 January to discuss the work on Locus Amoenus. And Vic Mornington announced that he and Lia Venra had decided to put the Tuscan Order building to use as a restaurant, since it was in the SL destination guide.

On another note, Bagheera reported that a Japanese crew from SLTV had shot a live hour-long broadcast featuring CDS (the video can be seen here).

Bagheera also posted a proposed budget for the 20th Term. This budget involved a global deficit, since the projected monthly revenues were less than the Linden tier,
Bagheera she said she was optimistic that reopening of Locus Amoenus would solidify the recent upswing in positive cash flow. Cleopatra reacted to the budget by congratulating everyone for the increase in revenue monthly in December of almost $200 US dollars. Cleo than asking a series of detailed questions about the revenue situation.

Patroklus Murakami introduced two discussion topics. The first concerned a possible procedure for recall of RA Members empowering voters to remove RA members from office if they prove to be regularly absent or behave badly. The second concerned reforming Land Sales to prevent citizens from buying up plots of land whenever they become free, and then control who purchases them by only selling them to their friends and supporters.

RA Meeting of 25 January 2014

Another RA meeting was held on 25 January 2014 (here are the agenda, transcript and minutes).

The first item of Old Business was again the Chancellor and Guild working together on Locus Amoenus. Bagheera reported that there was an agreement that she would finish the parceling and the Guild would be on board for the actual doing. She presented the suggested parcel map and revenue report. If rent is paid on 80% of the private parcels, that would cover the Linden tier. Those present discussed items such as water parcels with houseboats, cliffs and beach, terraforming, an island, the fishing village, and how to sell the parcels once done – in particular, how to avoid taking parcels from current residents of the sim. It was suggested that Bagheera look at former Chancellor Jamie Palisades’s plan for selling parcels when LA opened the first time. She estimated that parceling and terraforming would take 3 to 4 days, and building 1 to 3 weeks. A motion was made to accept the Chancellor's plan for LA, including the parceling and terraforming, with the work to commence immediately. The motion carried.

The next item was the need for a new by-election procedure. Callipygian had posted a proposed solution that involved performing a census every month so that by-elections could be held rapidly whenever needed. She offered to post on the forum some suggested wording for an actual motion, which could be placed on the next RA agenda. A motion was made to have discussion about by-elections moved to the forum, with the thread following Callipygian’s proposals, and to follow up at the next RA meeting. The motion carried.

Under New Business, Chancellor Bagheera presented her proposed budget, as posted on the forum. Cleopatra asked questions, as she had done on the forum. From the ensuing discussion it appears that the income has improved over what it had been for a few years – as has the real world economy. It also seems that the advertising (promotion) funds come from reserves rather than from the operating budget. A motion was made to approve Bagheera’s budget, and this carried. Callipygian noted that financial statements on a monthly basis can be found here. The meeting was adjourned.

Last days of January 2014

On 27 January Bagheera announced a week long Arts Festival celebrating CDS Artists. This was Cleopatra’s idea, adopted by Bagheera as a government-sponsored event. Cleopatra organized a Town Hall planning meeting for the Arts Fest. (But Garnet Psaltry felt that: "This is not a Town Hall meeting, but a privately called meeting on private land.")

Callipygian as Dean convoked an Ordinary meeting of the Scientific Committee for 28 January. But it seems the transcript was posted in February, so I may cover it in the next post.

Concerning Locus Amoenus, Bagheera observed that within the Temple in the river (called Umbiliculus Mundi) is a time capsule, into which CDS citizens put personal momentos in 2008. (Danton was there!) She asked what should be done with it.

Monday, 10 February 2014

CDS News – the 20th RA Part 2

The first full meeting of the 20th Representative Assembly of CDS took place on 3 December 2012. (See the CDS forum for the proposed agenda, the transcript and the minutes .)

RA meeting of 3 December 2012

Rosie Gray suggested that approval or amendment of the previous meeting’s minutes be added as an item on every agenda. Gwyneth seconded Rosie’s suggestion, and Cleopatra Xigalia and Shep Titian joined them in voting “aye.” The minutes of the last meeting were then approved.

Bagheera Kristan gave the Chancellor’s report, mostly presenting ideas about how to remodel Locus Amoenus, which he said should be possible without requiring easements on existing parcels.

Then came a discussion of the Grievance Committee mechanism that had been proposed by Cadence Theas, with suggested amendments by Lam Erin. The RA decided to create a Committee to study this proposal and to work it into a final document for the RA to approve. The Committee was to be chaired by Tor Karlsvalt, and to present a final proposal to the last RA session in January.

Next on the agenda were two questions requested by Cleopatra: “1. What is an emergency RA meeting? 2. Who has the authority to ban citizens or visitors of CDS?” It seems that Shep, who is Leader of the RA (LRA), had wanted to call an emergency RA meeting to ban Josjoha Resident. As told in the previous installment of this narrative, Jos had provoked an outcry on the CDS forum by stating his opinion that “gayness and transgenderism is an affliction.”

Cleopatra asked who has the legal power to ban someone from CDS. Any citizen can ban intruders and griefers from their own properties, but banning someone from the community is quite another matter. With respect to the related question of meeting procedures, Callipygian Christensen pointed out that the CDS portal gives the RA operating procedures (to make them visible you have to click on the link near the bottom of the page). Gwyneth pointed out that the Executive can place a temporary ban on someone for whatever reason, but that the banned person has the right to be heard by the SC within 48 hours. However, the RA has no jurisdiction either to ban or to revert a ban. As for the forums, they are the province of the SC, which can ban people from the forums.

Lan Erin stated that since there are no written CDS laws about banning, no CDS body has the power to ban someone. Tor Karlsvalt, who was Chancellor at the time, noted that he had punished Gaius Mistwalker by removing his privileges of rezzing on public land (the incident is described in the previous installment). Gwyneth emphasized that the RA cannot override SC decisions: it can only change the laws. The meeting had run over two hours by this point, so the decision was made to adjourn.

More from Jos on “free speech”

Jos had made his controversial statement in the course of a discussion about “free speech” organized by Cleopatra Xigalia at her coffee house in Locus Amoenus. They appear to have planned the event as a sort of “test case” for freedom of speech in CDS. Since Jos’ right to make such a statement had been contested by some of the citizens, Jos now on 4 December posted a proposed free speech law for CDS. This text begins: “Everyone has the freedom to express any opinion that they want, without violating the right of other residents to enjoy the peace of their home, and be free to enjoy the peace of public order without being cursed at in open chat." Patroklus Murakami replied in a comment that such a law was unnecessary since free speech is protected by the CDS Constitution.

In-world events

Bagheera announced that a Breakfast Jazz Jam with Pancakes would be held on 10 December at the Rhenus Docks, "inspired by the real life Breakfast Blues Jam that begins at 4am in a club in San Francisco." The 20 Term Inaugural Ball was held on Sunday 8 December, though I couldn’t find any links to pictures.

RA Meetings of 14 December and 17 December 2013

The RA meetings of 14 December and 17 December are considered to be a single RA meeting, adjourned and reconvened another day. The chat log is missing for the first part of the meeting of December 14 (but here are the agenda, partial transcript, and minutes.)

The incomplete chat log begins with Gwyneth in the middle of counting votes concerning insertion of Bagheera’s proposal as a bill – but it is unclear what proposal this was, since Bagheera presented her proposal later in the same meeting. After discussion of the meeting minutes, the first main point on the agenda was the need for an archivist. Since Trebor Warcliff has previously agreed to this role, he was formally voted in (although not present at the meeting).

Cleopatra asked questions about parcels in arrears, and Sudane Erato tried to provide answers. Then Chancellor Bagheera Kristan presented her recommendations for the remodeling of Locus Amoenus. She suggested that the Guild’s proposed covenants, which had been posted by Shep the day before, could be merged with hers simply by adding the word “patio” to the list of items for the 20% of countryside parcels. (I think this means that the Guild’s sentence would then read: “20% of the plot of land will be open space, forested, pond, garden, agriculture or patios”.) For more details of Bagheera’s presentation, it seems you have to read meeting transcripts, as I haven’t found it posted anywhere else.

The session was then adjourned, and carried over to the RA meeting of 17 December (here are the agenda, Transcript Part I, Transcript Part 2 and minutes).

After discussion as usual concerning meeting minutes, Bagheera again gave her presentation about the remodeling of Locus Amoenus, but adding more details this time. Rosie Gray then gave her own presentation of the proposal the Guild had developed under the previous RA, which was a modification of Callipygian Christensen’s original plans.

Cleopatra again brought up the concerns about sim residents who would be affected by the changes. Rosie acting as LRA told Cleopatra to “shut up” since did not have floor, and when Cleo objected to those words, Guillaume (or Gaius) typed: “/me throws a rock at CLEO’s mouth”. (This was to lead to a formal request from Ceasar Xigalia to the SC asking them to ban Guillaume, as told below.) Shep suggested that Rosie and Lam for the Guild should meet with Bagheera to bring together the two proposals.

Lam Erin, who is a member of the Guild, then presented the revision of the covenants for the remodeled Locus Amoenus. Lam noted that disturbance to current occupants could be minimal, as almost half of the land of LA is currently controlled by CDS, expressed his concern that such projects should be designed and executed by consensus. He also linked to the Tuscany reference images posted here.

After some discussion, Gwyneth Llewelyn initiated a motion, which in its final form was: “to approve the covenants as proposed by Lam in public chat, subject to Lam’s considerations that there should be no zone changes, even if we don’t have the final plan yet,” with the following additional words attached: ‘plan will identify [current ]use, current owners may be grandfathered if they request it, and use reverts to the plan when the parcel is sold.’” This motion was approved. Apparently the only place you will find Lam's specific proposals is in the transcripts of the 17 December meeting (see above).

Just before the meeting adjourned, Tor Karlsvalt gave a brief update on the Grievance Commission, explaining that Lam and Cadence had been working on a plan, and would hold public meetings to discuss it.

The last days of 2013 in CDS

After the RA meeting of 17 December, later the same day, the Scientific Committee examined a petition received from Ceasar Xigalia, asking that Guillaume Mistwalker be sanctioned for having written in chat that he was throwing a rock at Cleopatra. But the SC ruled that such petitions should come from the injured party, and since Ceasar was a third party petitioner, the petition would not be heard.

On 20 December Cleopatra posted a call for safe forums, stating that “there are citizens who read the forums but are afraid to post here because they might be attacked if they do” (perhaps refering to Jos?), and suggesting that the Scientific Council was failing to protect citizens on the forums. This plea only succeeded in producing angry reactions from other citizens who accused Cleo herself of disrupting the community.

On 21 December a Christmas Skating Party was held on Monastery Lake. And on 24 December Callipygian posted a greeting card that showed Alpine Meadow at night in the snow. And so the year 2013 came to a – momentarily – tranquil end in CDS

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

CDS News – the 20th RA Part 1

On 25 September 2013 Callipygian Christensen, acting as Dean of the Scientific Council, posted the official dates for the election of the Representative Assembly (RA) and Chancellor of CDS. Since this RA will be in office from 1 December 2013 to 31 May 2014, the electoral process began in October 2013 and the election was held in November 2013.

Determining candidates and voters

A first census of active CDS citizens (landowners who are up-to-date with their tier) was generated on 1 October by Sudane Erato, to identify those qualified to run for office. On 7 October Callipygian posted the call for candidates, noting that the 20th RA would have 5 seats and that the position of Chancellor was also on the ballot. The deadline for declarations of candidacy was the 1st of November at 12 noon SLT. Declarations were to be sent by in-world by notecard to Callipygian - although most candidates seem to have posted their declaration on the forum.

The second census of active CDS citizens was generated on 11 October by Sudane, to determine who was eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Sudane’s list included 75 citizens qualified to vote.

At the expiration of the deadline for declarations to run, on the 1st of November, Callipygian posted the official list of candidates. The 11 candidates for the 5 seats on the 20th RA were (in order of first names): Cadence Theas, Ceasar Xigalia, Cleopatra Xigalia, Gwyneth Llewelyn, Kaz Loordes, Moonrise Azalee, Rosie Gray, Shep Titian, Stephen Xootfly, Tor Karlsvalt and Ranma Tardis. The two candidates for Chancellor were Bagheera Kristan and Jamie Palisades.

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

During the month of October 2013, while the candidates and voters were being identified, life went on as tumultuously as usual in CDS. Since this post is about the 20th RA, only passing mention will be made of some of these events during the final months of the 19th RA.

On 16 October Josjoha Resident posted a report about a recent abnormal rezzing spree in CDS. The items rezzed in public areas in Neufreistadt and Colonia Nova, some on and against private homes not owned by the attacker, included a poster of a nude women with the word 'pornography' over it, and a fire with a sign in it reading 'CLEO'. The rezzing seems to have been the work of Guillaume Mistwalker, to protest about complaints from certain citizens who had found the "pagan” posters he had put on his properties to be “pornographic,” which obliged him to remove them.

The final RA Meeting of the 19th RA was held on 26 October (the transcript is here). The main item of new business was“Redevelopment of LA.” Evidence of turbulence at that meeting was posted the next day by Ranma Tardis, indicating that Alexia Carnell had left the community following the vote to redevelop Locus Amoenus in a way which was against her desires (and she took with her “Time Machine” – whatever that is).

On a more positive note, a Halloween Party was held on 31 October on Schloss Keller.

The electoral campaign and the vote

On 01 November Callipygian posted Rules and Guidelines for Campaigning, and on 4 November the campaign officially began. Callipygian also announced the creation of a new section of the on-line forum, about the Campaign for Chancellor and the 20th RA, Nov 2013.

In early November a series of in-world candidates’ debates were organized. The debates among RA members were held on 03 November, 06 November and 07 November. Gwyneth Llewelyn held her own informal debate on 06 November. The Chancellor Debate, with Bagheera Kristan and Jamie Palisades, was held on 04 November. (I haven’t read these debate transcripts to see what the candidates said - but I've read the subsequent RA meeting transcripts to see what those elected have done. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.)

As announced by Callipygian, the polls opened at 12 noon SLT on 9 November for a period of one week. In the middle of the voting period, on 13 November, Jamie Palisades withdrew his candidacy for Chancellor, explaining that unexpected commitments were going to prevent his being able to spend significant time in-world for a few months (and that he had put forward his candidacy before realizing that Bagheera was also ready to serve in that role).

The polls closed at 12 noon SLT on 16 November. Later that same day, Callipygian as Dean of the SC officially announced the names of the new RA members. (However, I don’t find evidence that this was done at an in-world election results party, as is often the case.) The new RA members were (again in order of first names): Cleopatra Xigalia, Gwyneth Llewelyn, Rosie Gray, Shep Titian and Tor Karlsvalt. The new Chancellor was Bagheera Kristan (which was a foregone conclusion, as Jamie had withdrawn from the race).

The Inaugural RA Meeting on 23 November 2013

The 20th RA officially began on the 1st of December 2013. But an Inaugural Meeting had to be held before that date, to swear in the new RA members so that they could elect the Leader of the Representative Assembly (LRA). Under the old faction system, in force until early 2010, the main vote-getter of the leading faction automatically became LRA, but ever since then a special-meeting has been necessary.

The first meeting of the 20th RA was thus held on 23 November 2013. (Here are: the transcript part 1, the transcript part 2, and the Minutes.)

Callipygian as member of the SC chaired the meeting until the LRA could be elected and take the gavel. The new Chancellor and RA members were sworn in. Cleopatra nominated Gwyneth Llewelyn as LRA, but Gwyneth declined due to other heavy commitments. Tor Karlsvalt nominated Shep Titian, seconded by Rosie Gray, and as there were no further nominations, the vote for Shep was unanimous.

Rosie Gray then made a motion that formal Minutes should be prepared for each RA meeting. After some discussion Rosie’s motion was amended as follows: “Motion to have regular formal Minutes of meetings posted of the RA meetings, and to include a separate posting of the chat as well. All to be posted onto the CDS forum. The Minutes will be approved or amended at the following RA meeting.” This motion carried, and the meeting was adjourned.

More conflicts and a proposed grievance committee

Between the swearing in of the new RA, and the first full RA meeting on 3 December, CDS residents produced a few more instances of the habitual drama. Full of enthusiasm, the new Chancellor Bagheera Kristan stated on 25 November her intention to push energetically the planned transformation of the Locus Amoenus sim from a Greek theme to a Tuscan theme. While the basic thrust of this post was to request the RA to provide a solid set of covenants to go with the already-decided Tuscan theme, Bagheera in her excitement wrote: “I, as Chancellor, determine the use to which any and all land in CDS shall be put, which I interpret as it being incumbent on me to make the final decisions about the layout and divisions of parcels in Locus Amoenus."

This irritated Cadence Theas, who quickly posted a reply telling Bagheera: “you seem to forget that you were NOT voted in. On the ballot, the option to not vote for you did not appear, so this means that although you have a constitutional mandate, you have yet to earn your legitimacy and personal authority in the eyes of the citizens of CDS….”

Both of these posts generated a long string of replies. Happliy, much of this discussion seems to be a constructive exchange of ideas about Locus Amoenus and the covenants.

The other conflict that broke out on the same day was more polarizing. On 25 November Victor Mornington wrote: "I refuse to be part of ANY community which allows homophobic hate speech like Jos was sprouting in Cleo's little meeting.... I'm not gay, im not transgendered, im an everyday bloke, but i was sickened that the ‘Government’ allows this kind of crap to go on WITHIN their own regions, let alone in these forums."

In a comment further down in this thread, Cleopatra revealed that the day before she had held one of her usual discussion groups at the Higher Ground Coffee House in Locus Amoenus, with “Freedom of Speech” among the discussion points. Since only a few people arrived she put a message in CDS chat inviting people to her personal event held on private land in CDS, and several came. However, on the forum Cleo insisted that no one in the room gave anyone permission to share the local chat, noting that shared chat can violate privacy and is subject to fraud.

However, still further down in this thread, Jos himself posted a copy of part of the chat log. One of those who came to the meeting was Guillaume Mistwalker, and Jos accused him of having overstepped the bounds of free speech by rezzing posters over other people’s homes, which Jos felt should be punished. Then returning to what seems to have been a prior discussion with Victor, Jos said: “as a matter of fact i do belief that gayness and transgenderism is an affliction -- however out of generosity i also added ‘choice’ for the over-sensibility of some people here. Question: can i express that opinion, or is there no such freedom?”

Patroklus Murakami reacted by opening a separate thread called Homophobia in the CDS. Pat deplored that CDS had “at least one intolerant homophobic bigot making ill-informed and offensive comments about LGBT people,” but emphasizing that he saw this “as an opportunity to educate the ignorant rather than drive out people who hold such stupid views." Shep went further on her own thread called To ban or not to ban?, stating outright: “I think he should be banned.” But it is unclear whether any member of the community has ever actually been banned from CDS.

This seems to have been the latest emergence of deep-lying conflicts which had already provoked a search for mediation. On 27 November Cadence Theas posted a Preliminary proposal for a grievance committee. During the election process, she had made a sort of campaign promise regarding a proposal for a grievance committee, so she now lay out a preliminary vision of how it might work.

The proposed grievance committee would have a purely advisory relationship to government. Since scheduling is difficult in CDS, the committee could adopt the method of the circulating document. Affected parties would present their case before a majority of members, who would create the base document, accompanied by documented evidence. The document would then circulate through the committee, with comments and addenda, and within a few weeks, a majority of the committee would convene with the different parties to offer its suggestions and recommendations. The parties would then either reach an agreement that would be formalized before the committee, or they would agree to have the case reviewed by the SC, where the decision would be binding.

The first full meeting of the 20th RA took place a few days after these developments, on 3 December 2013. But this first post has already covered enough ground, so the RA meeting of 3 December will be left for the next installment.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

CDS History - the 13th RA Part 1

The following account covers the first part of the 13th Representative Assembly of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), from April to July 2010. During these few months, I was still active in CDS. It is thus fairly easy for me to reconstitute the main events.

The May 2010 elections

On 22 April 2010 Delia Lake, acting in the name of the CDS Scientific Council (the Judiciary Branch), declared that the deadline for announcing candidacy for the next RA elections was 30 April 2010.

The atmosphere in CDS at that time was particularly tense. The conflict between one group of long-time CDS members and another group of long-time Al Andalus members was heating to the boiling point. I think I first realized that the merger might fall apart when I read the 30 April forum post “We need to talk” by Patroklus Murakami, in which he compared the merger to a failed love affair. Part of the divergence was in different approaches to democratic discussion. CDS has always operated as a very formal democracy with its Representative Assembly, where only the elected representative can vote, and which names various Commissions to discuss current issues. Al Andalus preferred informal consensus decision making, where all interested citizens were invited to discuss the issues at “Town Hall Meetings.” It is instructive to scroll down this list of meeting transcripts from 2010 posted to the CDS forum in the first half of 2010, in which there are nearly as many Town Hall Meetings as RA meetings. The last Town Hall Meeting on this list is dated 2 May 2010 – and I can’t find evidence that there were any others after that.

On 01 May Sonja Strom called for the traditional Candidates Debate for the May Elections. She noted that up until then CDS elections were held on a party system, where voters chose a party or “faction,” rather than individual candidates. Each party named one of its candidates to represent the faction, and the debates were held between the faction representatives. But the electoral law had just been changed, and for the first time citizens would vote for individual candidates rather than for parties. The 15 candidates were listed here. The “debate” seems finally to have been organized as a Meet the Candidates Pajama Party on 16 May 2010 – although I was unable to find any transcript of it.

The last meeting of the 12th RA seems to have been that of 9 May 2010 (the transcript was posted in three in three parts, which can all be found here).

On 10 May Delia Lake, as member of the Scientific Council, flagged the referendum question concerning the merger, which the RA had decided on 9 May 2010 to put on the ballot. The referendum question was: "Do you want the merger between the CDS and Al Andalus to become permanent?" (A member of the SC may flag legislation by posting a notice to the effect that an SC review is desired, with a brief justification.) The SC apparently reviewed the question and decided that it could indeed go on the ballot.

On 11 May Delia Lake posted the New Rules for Election Campaigning. I can’t find on the forums the announcement of when the polls would open and close, but on 23 May 23 Delia posted the Election Results. The winners were: Arria Perrault, Cindy Eksol, Gwynneth Llewelyn, Kasiedo Quandry, Lilith Ivory, Muhammedyussif Wikinger, Patrolkus Murikami, Pip Torok, Rose Springvale, Solomon Mosely, Stuichicanne Darkstone, Timo Gufler and Tor Karlsvalt. The results for the referendum question were: 23 votes for, 17 votes against, and 16 unanswered. Thus according to the referendum, the merger was to be permanent.

From the Election Result Announcement to the first meeting of the 13th RA

A few hours after the election results were announced, Cindy Ecksol summarized a question (which had already been raised by Arria Perreault), concerning the procedure for selection of the Leader of the Representative Assembly (LRA). In the past, the top vote-getter in the winning “faction” was automatically named LRA. This meant that the LRA was appointed before the first RA meeting was held (and the other new representative sworn), and could begin immediately get to work setting the date of the RA meeting, preparing the agenda, and soliciting candidates for Chancellor. But under the new voting system, there was no LRA until the new representative could meet to select one. Could the new RA “meet” informally before being sworn for the purpose of organizing itself? This question (an example of the type of arcane topic that can be endlessly discussed on the CDS forums) was apparently resolved by holding the first RA on 01 June, which date was pre-set by the legislation (but which fell on a weekday, which was inconvenient for some new representatives).

On May 31, the day before the first RA meeting of the new term, Cindy Ecksol announced her candidacy for the role of Chancellor, joining Sonja Strom who had apparently already announced her own candidacy for Chancellor.

From the first meeting of the 13th RA to the breakup of the merger

The first RA meeting of the 13th RA was held on 01 June 2010, as per the official schedule. Since there was no LRA yet, the meeting was opened by Delia Lake, who proceeded to the swearing in of the new RA members. Once this was done, the discussion turned to the selection of the LRA. The RA members nominated two candidates: Arria Perreault and Rose Springvale. The assembly immediately split into two groups, which could be called the anti-merger group supporting Arria, and the pro-merger group supporting Rose. Or rather, one group contested the neutrality of Rose, as Estate Owner for Al Andalus and the founder of the non-profit corporation VDI which owns the AA sims, and the other group contested the neutrality of Arria, who had campaigned on a platform specifically opposing the merger. The underlying conflict seems to have been about whether CDS could be converted into a non-profit organization in order to take over the AA sims, which benefitted from lower tier as belonging to a non-profit. The tone got so aggressive that a vote was taken to stop discussing and vote for LRA. Arria received 6 votes and Rose received 7.

On 01 June 2010, the same day as the first RA meeting, Kaseido Quandry submitted a Request to the SC to investigate the election. The issue raised by Kaseido was that Sonia Strom, in her role as Chancellor, had given certain candidates the power to send official group announcements concerning their candidacies. This issue was reviewed by the Scientific Council at its 9 June Meeting. The SC decided that Sonia as Chancellor had the right to give new candidates access to the group announcements, since candidates who were already members of the RA already had this access – and in a couple of cases had posted messages concerning their own candidacies. At this meeting the SC also nominated Callipygian Christensen as a new member of the SC.

The next few weeks were deceptively calm. The new RA set to work on practical matters, seeming almost to forget the conflict about the merger. At the the RA meeting of 12 June (see the Summary of Actions posted here) Callipygian Christensen was given the RA vote of confidence to serve on the SC. A Communications Commission was created to explore communications options and recommend legislation, and a Finance Commission was created to explore financial needs of the sims and recommend legislation. The vote for Chancellor was inconclusive: Sonja Strom and Cindy Ecksol both received 4 votes, with several “7 day votes” (requested by RA members who could not make the meeting). When the 7-day votes were counted later, Cindy and Sonja both had 6 votes (with 1 abstention), so there was still no Chancellor.

At the RA meeting of 17 June (see the Summary of Actions posted here another attempt was made to elect the Chancellor: Sonja and Cindy were again tied at 4 votes each, with several 7-day votes outstanding. Several more Commissions were created: an Election Commission to clarify procedures, a Commerce Commission to address issues of businesses in CDS sims, and a Citizenship Commission to review the rules of citizenship and make recommendations. Jamie Palisades volunteered to write a proposal for a Covenant Review Committee (no motion at this time), and steps were taken towards the creation of a Committee on Ethics and Conflicts of Interest. Jamie Palisades initiated a discussion regarding an operating agreement for the Al Andalus sims, which ended with a suggestion to have three representatives from CDS meet with the VDI board.

This last suggestion led to the Special Meeting of RA and Board of VDIheld on 21 June 2010 (the transcript is here. At this meeting Rose Springvale, Delia Lake and Micael Khander, the three members of the Board of the non-profit organization VDI, tried to explain the formal mechanisms underlying the merger. Linden Lab recognizes only two kinds of sim owners: the first is a single avatar who owns a private sim, which is the case for the 5 original CDS sims, owned by Sudane Erato. The second is a real-world nonprofit corporation, which is the case for Al Andalus, owner by VDI. According to LL, the Estate Owner (EO) of a private sim is an avatar who has the right to sell the sim, but the owner of a non-profit sim is the non-profit organization, and no individual avatar has the right to sell it. Arria Perreault pointed out that CDS law fails to recognize the second type of Estate Owner (EO), and Rose replied that the SC was reviewing whether the CDS Estate Owner law could be changed. Rose explained that Sudane could keep owning the five original sims while VDI owned the 6 AA sims, with a contract between the legal representative of CDS (the Chancellor) and the Executive Director of VDI - unless CDS created its own non-profit. (The initial merger agreement in fact foresaw that a new non-profit would be created to own all the sims.) Arria replied that many people are opposed to having VDI play the role of EO for the whole of CDS. Others present at the meeting worried what would happen if VDI broke the contract, or suggested that a non-profit would mean a loss of control, with suspicion of Rose’s motives. But if one reads to the end of this transcript, one gets the impression that Rose wanted Al Andalus to be integrated into CDS as the only way to save the 6 AA sims. And perhaps all the various objections of the CDS core group were basically a rejection of this additional responsibility. (Al Andalus finally closed on 6 June 2012).

Business as usual went on. At the RA Meeting of 11 July 2010 (see the Summary of Actions posted here) Sonya continued to act as Chancellor, since a new Chancellor had still not been elected. Sonya therefore gave the Chancellor’s report, announcing that Anna Toussaint had been named the new Public Information Officer (it is unclear how this happened), and presenting the budget. The various Commissions reported on their status. The Elections, Commerce, Citizenship and Finance Commissions were all at various stages of progress, but only the Communications Commission had come up with a specific proposal. This was a new Public Information Act, which the RA passed into law. (See Arria’s earlier post on CDS Communication for background. However, I’m still looking for a link to the law as passed.)

And then came the surprise. On 22 July 2010 Micael Khandr posted on the forum an Announcement of Decision to Separate AA from CDS. Micael reported that the Al Andalus community had held two separate meetings on 21 July 2010, attended by approximately 30 individuals from both AA and CDS. The majority had decided to separate the sims. VDI as owner of Al Andalus therefore officially notified the government of CDS that it had elected to separate from CDS, and that AA would work with CDS to assure a smooth transition.

So that was it: the merger had failed. Looking back now on that one-year period of the attempted merger, I am struck by how rich it was in innovations for CDS.

Life in CDS went on. But I personally was stunned, and my participation dwindled. A few months later I expressed my disillusionment in a post on The Limits of Virtual Democracy. I stopped participating in CDS. For the past few years I have come in-world once a month, just long enough to pay my CDS tier. But the wheel turns, and I’m back.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Picking up the Thread

Now that I’ve decided to come back into Second Life a bit, I should catch up on events in the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), which has been my SL home ever since my avatar moved there in late 2007. To know more about what has happened in CDS during the past few years, I plan to take up again my project of writing the CDS Chronicles.

There are several difficulties. What method can I use to accomplish this task quickly? And what moment in the past should I go back to in order to pick up the thread? In this post I will briefly present my solution to these two problems, and then discuss the wider implications of this writing project.

The Method

It would be easy to catch up on CDS if I had unlimited time. A vast amount of information is available on the CDS forums: meeting minutes, event announcements, official acts, discussions, disputes, rants…. But it would take very, very long to read through it all. My attempted series of posts reporting on RA meetings fell further and further behind, because it takes hours just to read the lengthy transcripts (which are just SL logs of everything said at each meeting) - let alone write up summaries of them. But the problem is that often you have to read the entire RA meetings to know what was decided at them - it was rare than anyone posted a summary of the decisions. (I see that recently there has been an effort to post short minutes of each RA meeting, which is a big step forward.)

Knowing by experience how long it takes to read the old RA transcripts and to digest the information on the forums, I am going to try a differen method. Rather than study forum posts in depth, I will just glance at the beginning of what seem to be the most important threads, to get a rough idea of what they are about. It should thus be possible to piece together a sketchy outline of the principle events and issues during past RA semesters.

I plan to write one article (or at most two) for each RA semester, giving an outline of the main events. I will post the rough draft, leaving possibility to fill in gaps later as comments and in-world discussions improve my understanding of what occurred. I hope that some of those who were active will provide feedback with which I can fill out the posts in the future.

Another lesson from my past experience is that I should report on current events in CDS in parallel with catching up on the past history. I therefore hope to provide posts about “CDS News,” as well as posts about “CDS History,” in order to avoid falling further and further behind as I did on prior attempts.

Where to pick up the thread?

My last post before becoming inactive was in May 2011. But my last account of a Representative Assembly (RA) meeting covered the RA of 23 August 2009, since I had fallen more than a year behind in my reporting. That meeting was the first RA meeting after the merger of CDS with-Al Andalus, which fell apart in July 2010, only a year later.

The failure of the merger was one of the reasons I lost interest in CDS. At the time I was disappointed with the CDS leadership for their role in breaking up the merger. But with hindsight I see that they may have had a point: the conflict between two different conceptions of how to run a community may have been impossible to resolve in any other way.

So where do pick up the thread? From August 2009, the time of the last RA meeting that I reported on? Or from July 2010, when the merger failed? Or from May 2011, when I wrote my last post before becoming inactive?

I was participating in CDS in July 2010 when the merger fell apart. I thus know pretty well what happened up to that point, and can easily pick up the thread from there. But since the rhythm of CDS life follows the RA semesters, I should back up a bit further, to start with the elections for the 13th RA in May 2010. I can then cover the entire 13th RA, from the swearing in of the new representatives on June 1st 2010, to the elections for the 14th RA, in November 2010.

The wider implications of this project

The main reason I want to write these summaries is to learn myself what has been happening in CDS. But there are also wider implications of this project of writing up CDS history and news.

A fundamental part of any democracy is the free circulation of information. Citizens must have the freedom to produce, distribute and consume information as they want. However, freedom of information is an empty formula if the information fails to circulate in a such way that citizens can have effective access to it.

The information concerning the life of CDS is available to anyone on the publicly-accessible forums. But this information is in fact difficult to access, because it takes too much time to dig it out of all of the scattered and lengthy posts and comments. Making the news about CDS more readily accessible could thus be a significant contribution to the democratic process.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Less is More

I think I might get a bit involved in Second Life again.

Internet engagement tends to be cyclic, as I already observed back in 2008 in a post entitled Boom and Bust. It now appears that one’s level of participation can go through both short cycles and long cycles.

My first long cycle of engagement in Second Life lasted, with a few minor interruptions, from my avatar’s birth in late 2007 to the time of my last prior post in May 2011. Since then I have been “away” from Second Life for several years, doing other things.

During that first period of engagement I had great plans for my Second Life. I was going to learn to build and create content, to write scripts, perhaps to start an in-world business. But my goals were overly-ambitious, and out of phase with my real level of in-world knowledge. I failed to master even the most rudimentary tasks, such as shopping and improving my appearance. I put on some new clothes once in 2008, and have never changed them since! And I never put on any skin different from the one I was born with. (In fact, I am rather proud of Danton’s old-style avatar, because it shows how long he’s been around.)

So I should face the facts. I will probably never take the time to learn how to use Second Life well - let alone write a Second Life User Guide! (Actually I had a lot of fun capturing images of the in-world interface to use as illustrations for that User Guide website – until a new version of the viewer rendered them all obsolete.)

This time around my plans will be more modest. My main goal will be just to maintain some sort of Second Life presence. Maybe I could start by learning how to buy a new set of clothes.

In general, it seems that the higher you plan to fly on the upswing (the “boom”), the flatter you fall on the downswing (the “bust”). Thus the first principle of sustainability: less is more.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Limits of Virtual Democracy

I joined the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS) in December 2007, when my Avatar was just a few weeks old. I participated actively in CDS until the failure of the merger with Al Andalus in the summer of 2010. At that point I pretty much dropped out of any involvement in CDS, though it took me a while to announce officially my withdrawal from certain functions. In August 2010 I quit CSDF, the political party (or “faction”) within CDS which I had belonged to. But I only resigned from my position on the Scientific Council (the CDS equivalent of a Supreme Court) in April 2011. However, I’m still a voting member of CDS, and my Second Life home is still on the Colonia Nova sim.

The time has come for me to assess my experience of virtual democracy in CDS. As explained above, I’m totally out of touch with what has happened there in the past 8 months. I would however be surprised if anything has drastically changed in that time.

The democratic apparatus of CDS

First, the positive points. The democratic apparatus constructed by CDS seems to me to be essentially authentic. There is clear identification of which avatars are citizens of CDS, based on the verifiable criteria of land ownership. (The only requirement for being a voting citizen is that you must own land in CDS. This is clear in principle, but in practice it can be hard to verify land ownership, as will be explained below.) Every 6 months the citizens vote for elected representatives, via an electronic voting system, on the basis of one vote per citizen. The elected Representative Assembly (RA) then meets regularly (generally every two weeks) in sessions that are open to the public. The RA discusses and votes on legislative measures, including possible constitutional amendments, in a disciplined manner and following clearly established procedures.

The elected representatives generally belong to one of the several political parties (“factions”) within CDS (although they are no longer strictly required to have any party affiliation). CDS thus functions as a true multi-party system with authentic government alternation (the process by which one party ousts another, for example in the U.S. when a Republican president replaces a democratic one, or vice-versa).

During my participation in CDS politics I’ve witnessed several government alternations. While the dominate political party has generally been CSDF, some notable overthrows were when the governmental majority passed over to NuCare in early 2008 (due it is true to the resignation of several CSDF members in protest over the behavior of their opponents) and the electoral victory of Rose Springvale’s group (which nonetheless refused to recognize itself as a "faction") in the Summer of 2009.

The power elite

Thus the democratic apparatus of CDS would seem to make it truly democratic. But I feel that there are serious short-comings in the way this community actually implements democracy. Before I go on I might observe that something similar can be said of any democratic system: democracy is an ideal which is only approximately approached in any real life situation. The question is whether a given community comes close enough to the democratic ideal to satisfy its members. In the last resort this is an individual judgement.

A common defect of supposedly democratic systems is the formation of a Power Elite. This term (coined by sociologist C.Wright Mills in his 1956 book of the same name) refers to a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, or access to decision-making.

The Power Elite within CDS is made up of avatars who have more time to devote than others. It is said that time is money, but within communities time is above all power, because influence is exercised by maintaining an active presence. Thus an "inner core" (borrowing the term from Prokofy Neva) has gradually formed over time in CDS. This is a relatively small group of avatars who have intimate knowledge of Second Life, of CDS and of each other, and who generally manage to steer the community in the direction that they want.

One could argue that this hidden exercise of power provides CDS with needed stability. CDS is an ungated community, since any avatar in Second Life can become a citizen simply by purchasing land there. As such CDS is susceptible to being taken over by a concerted influx of new residents, which was a fear that I expressed in this post. At the time I was puzzled at how certain pillars of CDS could remain calm when the Representative Assembly fell into the hands of their worrisome enemies the NuCare group. But I gradually realized that NuCare could wreak all the havok they liked in the CDS legislation without ever really putting CDS in danger, because the power elite would always find ways to bring things back under their own control.

While it provides a form of stability, however, the unchecked sway of a power elite generally means neglect of the less active members. This is a rule that applies across all social formations. Participation by the rank-and-file never "just happens": it must be actively promoted by providing encouragement, occasions and information. The slow building of a culture of inclusion requires deliberate, focused efforts in this direction over the long run. This perspective is missing in CDS.

The opaque citizen

Another major shortcoming of CDS democracy is the weak control of citizen identity.

A basic principle in democracy is that each citizen gets one vote. In CDS one avatar gets one vote, but in virtual worlds one real-life person can create several avatars. Each Second Life resident generally has a main identity and then one or more alts. Short of implementing strict identity control, this problem will remain inherent to virtual worlds. However, there are ways to limit the extent of abuse.

The main way CDS limits the proliferation of alts is by requiring each citizen to own land in CDS. While the monthly cost of a minimal plot is low, it is a real cost, both in terms of Linden Dollars, and in terms of the effort that must be made to come inworld and visit the payment box once a month. Unfortunately, CDS allows land ownership by informal groups, and then recognizes any member of such a group as a valid citizen. Thus there is no way to directly establish the list of citizens by looking at the list of landowners: one must also contact the representatives of land-owning groups to ask which avatars they count as paying land-owners. This renders the citizen groups opaque and makes it easier to commit voter fraud.

In search of participatory democracy

The democratic system in CDS thus suffers from definite short-comings. But as I implied above, any real democratic system is going to deviate from the unattainable ideal. It is up to each individual to decide how much democracy they require. I personally have been willing to compromise up until now, in order to participate in an at least partially democratic system.

But today I’m becoming more bold in my pursuit of the ideal of participatory democracy. I’ll have to devote a separate post to explaining what I mean by participatory democracy, but I might just say here that it involves taking deliberate steps to help all members of the community to participate more fully, taking into account their personal constraints. The primary constraint holding members back is of course time. If one has unlimited time it is easy to participate in any system. With enough time one’s avatar could serve on the CDS Representative Assembly, participate in the planning and building activities of New Guild, and contribute extensively to the forum and website. But the average citizen who has time constraints finds it difficult just to keep up with CDS news. This was why I tried to offer short summaries of the RA meetings, to help less-active members keep abreast of RA decisions. But of course that project succumbed to my own personal time constraints.

I see several possible courses of action for my own pursuit of a more participatory virtual democracy. I could try to push for reform within CDS. That might mean creating a reform party and trying to convince CDS members to support better information sharing and
greater participation by all members, rather than just by those who have the most available time. The reform efforts could likewise extend to improvements in the verification of citizen identity.

Or I could to try find, or help start, another virtual democracy that would function in a more truly participatory manner. (Wider sharing of power would probably be easier within a community that is at least partially gated, such as by limiting entry to candidates using some sort of reputation system.) But I doubt that I would find the time or energy for such a project. So the most feasible solution
for me will probably just be to keep going on as before - now that I’ve had my say.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Danton's Real Life User Guide

It seems that I've given up on my series of posts about the meetings of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators. My disappointment at the failure of the merger of CDS with Al Andalus obviously has something to do with it. For the moment I've turned my attention to another project: Danton's Real Life User Guide.

In fact, Danton's Real Life User Guide has been online for a while - but until recently it contained only a single article. Before that, I used that same website, with its bizarre URL "vwiki.ouvaton.org," for various experimental projects, which I subsequently moved to other Mediawiki websites with more appropriate URLs. At the moment I'm too buzy to make another site with a better URL, so Danton's Real Life User Guide will stay at http://vwiki.ouvaton.org.

One of the previous projects developed at that URL and then moved elsewhere was Danton's Second Life User Guide. I had lots of fun fleshing out that site, but that Second Life User Guide was overly ambitious, and I stopped working on it when it was less than half-baked.

A mental toolkit

With "vwiki.ouvaton.org" standing empty, I came up with a new experiment for it. For years I've been turning over the idea of developing some sort of mental toolkit for popular consumption. As I explain on the website: "A mental toolkit is a collection of conceptual schemes which, by reflecting how the world works, help the person carry out individual and collective projects." The mental toolkit project is closely related to my interest in convivial tools - but it would take us off the track if I tried to explain that now.

The political dimension

The mental toolkit includes pages containing various practical tips on subjects that seem to me to be particularly important or useful. But it quickly became evident that there is a political dimension to this project. The very idea of disseminating a mental toolkit is rooted in a larger project of trying to distribute personal power more equally to all members of society.

So this website has also become the place where Danton explains his politics. Danton, who was more radical in his youth, now espouses moderate socialism, meaning: "limited socialism under a democratic political regime with a free market economy." This is explained in more detail on the website.

I find it a relief to be able to set out my political position, for the record. I've always been a bit of an anarchist, but at the same time some sort of socialist. In the years since the fall of communism (which I refer to as the "failure of Marxist governments"), the principal form of socialism has become social democracy. This just means a certain dose of distributive socialism within a democratic regime: all developed nations are in fact already social-democratic, including Western Europe of course, but also including the United States itself (progressive income tax, social security and welfare are "socialist" mechanisms).

This explanation of my view of socialism might also serve as a reply to John Carter McNight, who in a comment on his own blog, described "social democracy, Marxism and the US Democratic Party, all … as being sides in a war long over, products of a world that hasn’t existed since the fall of Reagan, Thatcher and the Berlin Wall." I understand his preference for a "techno-libertarian/anarcho-capitalist" viewpoint, but I think he's wrong to consider that social-democracy is a thing of the past. I would say instead that moderate socialism is the most favorable framework for the development of a techno-libertarian and anarcho-capitalist lifestyle.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


I'm going to take a break from my series of posts about the Representative Assembly of CDS to comment on the demerging of CDS and Al Andalus.

I'm still a full year behind in writing my summaries of CDS Representative Assembly meetings. My post-before-last was about the very first meeting of the merged entity. And before I could even recapitulate that year of merger, this experiment in inter-community cooperation has ended – in failure.

How I Learned the news

The way I learned the news about the demerger was odd. It had been announced on the CDS forum, but I missed it. I was on vacation at the time. When I checked in on the forum, the announcement had already dropped too far down in the list to catch my eye.

So I only realized that something had happened when I read the Transcript of the July 24 RA Meeting. A few minutes into the meeting there was the following exchange:

[9:07] Ranma Tardis: so now what? AA has left the CDS
[9:07] Rose Springvale: smiles
[9:08] Rose Springvale: we move forward Ranma. and that's what the RA will be addressing this term, how CDS will move forward. I hope you'll stick around to see

A bit later in that meeting, Rose Springvale explained that Al Andalus had announced its withdrawal from the merger on the previous Thursday. What had happened?

There had been little warning of the possibility of such an outcome at the previous RA meeting on July 11. Consider for example this Summary of Actions posted after the July 11 RA Meeting. There is not so much as a mention of the upcoming decisions concerning the merger.

And if one digs into the detailed discussion at the July 11 RA Meeting, one gets the impression that opposition to the merger was coming mostly from the CDS side. There was notably the following exchange between Patroklus Murakami and Rose Springvale:

[9:10] Patroklus Murakami: has the RA meeting to consider the merger been set yet?
[9:10] Rose Springvale: it isn't on the agenda, but the time for it is between july 22 and july 29

When asked why he brought this up, Pat explained: "it may well be a foregone conclusion but.... we still need to hold the vote." The period indicated by Rose marked the one year anniversary of the merger, at which time either party could decide to pull out, according the merger agreement (see point 8).

Thus Patroklus, who appeared as the informal head of the CDS group opposed to the merger, was sceptical as to whether the merger could be overturned. Pat seems unaware that there was a strong possibility that Al Andalus might themselves decide to pull out. But that is what they did.


A few days after I learned the news, I read Rose's blog post dated July 27, entitled Sometimes, it is just time to move on. Apparently Rose herself had come to the decision to demerge, even before the Al Andalus community meetings which were held on July 21.

After I had read Rose's post I discovered that a CDS forum thread I started had become "colonized" (as Jamie Palisades put it) by a discussion of the demerger. So I took advantage of that opportunity to express my own reaction to this sad development, calling it a "fiasco."

And then I came across a post by Kaseido Quandry about The CDS as Modernist Bastion . I replied to Kaseido with a comment in which I argued that the blame is to be shared on both sides. I concluded: "there was a failure of the collective leadership of the merged entity."

So what now? Rose Springvale seems to think both entities can continue to carry on their separate business as usual. The CDS stalwarts seem to have quickly adapted to the new situation, promptly erasing all traces of Al Andalus from the CDS portal.

But what about those of us who were counting on the success of the merger? I for one went out on a limb, seeing that CDS was in the process of opening up and changing. For example, I had written this comment on an earlier post by Kaseido, in which I refer to "covert control by a self-perpetuating elite." My dreams were that CDS would initiate a whole new group of members to structured democratic process (which I prefer to the Al Andalus ad hoc consensus process), and that this new group would in turn help CDS to evolve. Now both of these dreams have simultaneously collapsed. A great opportunity has been missed. Perhaps there will be others.

Monday, 28 June 2010

RA Register Part 2

I'll try to stick to the new short format in the following summaries of the Representative Assembly (RA) meetings of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS). The short format aims to present just a bare register of topics discussed and decisions taken at each meeting. I will allow myself to digress if I find it necessary to add explanations or comments, but the goal is to keep everything as short as possible, in order to try to catch up to the present. (I'm still a year behind.)

The first Representative Assembly meeting of the Fall semester of 2009 was held on 2 August 2009, as told in my previous post. This had also been the first RA meeting following the merger of CDS with Al Andalus (AA), and thus the first one with representatives from AA.

Representative Assembly meeting of 16 August 2009

The agenda for the Representative Assembly meeting of 16 August 2009 was posted here, and the transcript can be found here. During the opening discussion of administrative items, the Leader of the Representative Assembly (LRA) Cindy Ecksol noted that there was not a quorum of members present, so no binding decisions could be made. Naftali Torok, who had been absent at the previous meeting, was sworn in as member of the RA.

Jamie Palisades gave a brief Chancellor's report. He mentioned that he had posted the term's civil service appointments on the forum, and reminded everyone that he planned to implement decentralized events programming, as proposed in a previous Chancellor's report. Then Joaquin Gustav, who had arrived late, was also sworn in as RA member. Carolyn Saarinen was not there to report on the in-world status board, nor was Claude Desmoulins there to present outstanding items from the Scientific Council. Some discussion of the CDS census followed (about gathering more information than just the name), and preparations for the Oktoberfest were mentioned, and the meeting adjourned.

Representative Assembly meeting of 23 August 2009

The agenda for the 23 August 2009 RA meeting was posted here and the transcript can be found here. The transcript begins with a link to a Google Docs attendance poll posted by LRA Cindy Ecksol.

The first item of business was the swearing in of RA member StuiChicanne Darkstone. (This marks the beginning of the era of Stui, who set a distinctive new tone for the RA meetings.) Then Jamie Palisades asked if a Deputy LRA had been named. Cindy Ecksol nominated her fellow faction-member Soro Dagostino as Deputy LRA (who directs the meetings when the LRA is absent). The nomination was voted on and passed unanimously. Carolyn Saarinen reported on her investigations concerning a status board to show when RA members are in-world. An off-the-shelf system could be had for L$1000. The purchase was voted on and approved.

The next item was a presentation by Jamie Palisades of the Chancellor's plans for regional event expenditures. During the previous term the events spending was well below the budget, so Jamie had proposed to set aside portions of an expanded events budget for four citizen-led volunteer panels, as follows: a cultural and arts commission (CDS-wide), an Alpine region commission (for the Neufriestadt and Alpine Meadows sims), and Andalusian region commission, and a Roman region commission (for the Colonia Nova and Locus Amoenus sims – though this latter is supposed to be Greek). The Chancellor would however require that commission members who are seeking funding abstain from any vote on their own proposals. Debate about this item went over the time allotted for it, and Jamie suggested the topic should be posted for discussion on the forums. A motion to postpone the item was presented and passed.

Naftali Torok presented a bill to change election dates, since the existing election schedule put campaigning into the middle of highly distracting periods of the year (Christmas season and summer vacations). Her simple proposal was to amend Article I, Section 2 of the CDS Constitution to read: "New RAs shall take office on 1 June and 1 December." Sonja Strom linked to a poll and discussion of this topic on the CDS forum. Discussion dragged on, and it was voted to defer this item also to the next meeting.

Under "concerns of RA members," Naftali Torok brought up the subject of new building and terraforming in the sims, mentioning that builders should keep in mind the landscape themes. Carolyn Saarinen asked about education classes (building courses organized by the Guild). Rose Springvale made a few announcements related to events, notably about the one-year anniversary of the Locus Amoenus ceremony, and floats for the Oktoberfest parade. The meeting was adjourned. (LRA Cindy Ecksol posted a summary of the 23 August meeting here.)

Representative Assembly meeting of 6 September 2009

The agenda for the 6 September 2009 RA does not seem to have been posted on the forum, but the transcript can be found here. Soro Dagostino, who served as Deputy LRA in the pre-announced absence of LRA Cindy Ecksol, began with adjustments to the agenda. He then had the modified agenda voted upon, in his usual procedural manner, and passed the floor to Jamie Palisades for the Chancellor's report.

Jamie mentioned subjects such as bringing more parcels in CN online as commercial properties, possible rent reductions, ongoing terraforming on the Monastery sim and in the joining sims between Al Andalus and Colonia Nova, the hard-to-use portal website, and a study of public buildings in CDS. Pip Torok mentioned that the 79AD exhibit by Symo Kurka in Locus Amoenus, which was intended to aid the sale of LA plots, had served its purpose and could be dismantled. Pip was also concerned about out-of-theme buildings appearing in the Roman sim. Jamie then discussed the regional cultural commissions, which he was hoping would take over event programming in the regions. Micael Khandr asked if the neighborhoods could also decide building issues (to keep buildings in-theme). StuiChicanne Darkstone observed that in AA there was no effective lower level authority to decide a building plan. Jamie replied that land covenant compliance was generally a responsibility of the Chancellor, who would attempt mediation in case of a complaint, rather than threaten land confiscation. He thought there might be an opportunity to develop more local responsibility in this process.

The next item was the change of election dates, which had been proposed by Naftali Torok at the previous RA meeting. Sonja Strom suggested holding a referendum on the subject. As this referendum proposal was in fact a new item to consider, there was a motion to defer it to the next meeting, which passed. Carolyn Saarinen made two announcements, one about an upcoming course in building, and another on her initial contacts with the maker of the online indicator system. The meeting was adjourned.