The Map

The Map, Vimeo

New York City has a new “live” digital subway map, designed by Work & Co.

The new map attempts to combine the style of the classic Vignelli map with the Tauranac/Hertz map that replaced it, becoming more geographically accurate as you zoom in; revealing the real-time location of trains, the actual location of lines in relation to above ground streets, as well as station entrances and exits. Pretty slick.

See also: Coverage in The New York Times, Fast Company, Kottke, and the Work & Co case study.

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life – official US trailer, YouTube

A month after receiving a fatal diagnosis in January 2015, Oliver Sacks sat down for a series of filmed interviews in his apartment in New York City. For eighty hours, surrounded by family, friends, and notebooks from six decades of thinking and writing about the brain, he talked about his life and work, his abiding sense of wonder at the natural world, and the place of human beings within it.

Very excited to watch this. You can rent the film online for $12 through Kino Marquee virtual cinemas, with proceeds going to a theatre of your choosing.

Bad Bridges

According to a new study conducted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 1 in 3 of America’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Teddy Roosevelt bridge in D.C., and the San Mateo-Hayward bridge—the longest bridge in California.

ARTBA also estimates the cost of the necessary repairs at $164 billion, and estimates that it would take at least 50 years to carry out all necessary repairs. (45 campaigned on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that includes fixing the nation’s bridges, but, of course, nothing about that has materialized.)

Related: Wondering how many terrible bridges are near you? This Washington Post map allows you to search by county (nb: paywall).

Wheeler Is Illegally Financing His Reelection, And The City Auditor Is Clearing The Way

Yesterday, it was revealed that Portland mayor Ted Wheeler had made an illegal $150,000 personal contribution to his reelection campaign last month, in violation of Portland campaign finance law.

On discovering this, I emailed the City Auditor’s office to file a complaint, and received the following reply:

The City Auditor’s Office is not currently enforcing the limit on self-financed campaigns. Accordingly, no further action will be taken on your email.

Confused, I replied and asked for further clarification:

The Auditor’s Office is not currently enforcing the limit on self-financed campaigns because the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently and soundly rejected any limit on a candidate’s expenditure of his or her own funds to finance a campaign. For example, see Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) and Davis v. Federal Election Com’n, 554 U.S. 724 (2008).

If I’m reading this right, the City Auditor’s office is refusing to enforce the law just in case it’s challenged by the U.S. Supreme Court in the future. Which, uh, isn’t how the law works.

So, I took some time and dug into this a little deeper.

During the 2018 midterm elections, Portlanders successfully voted to amend the City of Portland Charter with new rules and restrictions on how local candidates should manage election campaigns. The central tenets of which were significant campaign finance reforms, including limiting campaign contributions and requiring candidates to make public financial disclosures.

When these amendments were first introduced, they were, unsurprisingly, immediately challenged in court by Portland business interests. Their main argument was that they conflicted with previous Oregon Supreme Court rulings. Well, long story short, the trial court decisions were challenged, went through the appeals process, and the courts vacated the rulings. The campaign finance law we voted for was ultimately upheld.

However, according to the reply to my complaint yesterday, the City Auditor is now saying that she won’t enforce the personal campaign loan part of the law (which she refers to as a “self-funding limit”, or Charter Section 3-301 (b) (3) for those of you following along at home). Her justification is that although it wasn’t specifically challenged in the aforementioned legal action, that it may be challenged in court in the future.

This is why the second reply I received from the City Auditor’s office references U.S. Supreme Court cases. It’s her opinion that if this law was challenged at that level, it would likely be struck down.

Only, that is not how the law works. It is not the City Auditor’s job to anticipate future U.S. Supreme Court rulings. It is the City Auditor’s job to enforce the law as it stands.

Okay, well. It doesn’t end there.

I discovered this morning that the City Auditor is in the process of adding to and changing some of their internal rules specific to campaign finance reform, which will change the law in the following ways:

  • Any campaign finance violations that occurred before May 4th, 2020 won’t be investigated. No reason was given for choosing this seemingly arbitrary date. (Wheeler’s $150,000 contribution happened well into September, but this May 4th cutoff would allow him to get away with an estimated $170,000 in additional contributions that also potentially broke the law.)
  • The definition of “election term” is being changed, specifically for an incumbent, to mean the date of certification rather than the actual election date. (This would allow Wheeler time to seek to have his personal contribution repaid by donors if it appeared he had won reelection, but before his victory has been officially certified by the City Auditor.)
  • The Auditor’s office is also changing the rules on how violations are punished, allowing them, in certain circumstances, to issue a written warning instead of a fine. (The law the voters approved in 2018 defines a 2x—20x fine as punishment for breaking the law. This change could potentially free Wheeler of well over $6 million in fines.)

These rule changes do not make objective sense. They’re changes that have been specifically engineered to allow Wheeler to fund his reelection campaign from his own personal wealth, in violation of campaign finance reform that 87% of Portlanders voted for, to allow him to steal the 2020 mayoral election, and to escape punishment for doing so.

The City Auditor is responsible for executing the law, not rewriting it. Their office is supposedly independent, but in reading about these proposed changes, it’s hard to believe that this entire process isn’t being specifically engineered to personally benefit Ted Wheeler.

Okay, so, now what?

Well, first off: The City Auditor’s proposed rule change is open to public comment until 5pm this evening. (Update: looks like they took the page down after 5pm.)

I’ve submitted the following comment in writing to the City Auditor’s office, and, if you’re able, I would encourage you to do the same.

To whom it may concern,

With respect to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, I submit the following comments.

I disagree that the definition of complaint should be limited to an arbitrary period. It is the City Auditor’s responsibility to investigate violations of the law you’re aware of and that have been reported to you, regardless of when they took place.

I disagree with the change in definition of “election cycle” to be centered for an incumbent around the certification of the election. The definition is already unambiguous. Changing the definition allows you to allow loopholes that benefit specific candidates. You’re rewriting the law.

I disagree with you giving yourself the discretion to not fine violations and instead issue written warnings. Portland voters chose what the punishment would be when they voted for these reforms in 2018.

I oppose these changes to the law, in opposition to the specific campaign finance reform that 87% of Portlanders voted for in 2018. The City Auditor’s job is to execute the law, not misinterpret or redefine it as they see fit.

This is everything I was able to uncover today. As a disclaimer, I’d like to remind you that I am just a person, not a journalist or a lawyer. This is my interpretation from what I was unable to uncover from searching through Portland.gov, public records, and speaking with friends. I encourage you to review the links I shared, and delve into this more yourselves.

More to follow.

Update, 6/10/20: Iannarone’s campaign is taking the City Auditor’s office to court to enforce self funding limits.

Duocon 2020

It’s been a little quiet around here the last few weeks—and for good reason.

Since last Fall, I’ve been working with the team at Duolingo and leading production on their annual conference, Duocon.

Our original plan to fill a warehouse in Brooklyn full of speakers, performers, and attendees … suddenly fell out of vogue earlier this year.

Instead, next Saturday, September 26th, we’ll be live-streaming a completely reimagined version of Duocon. We’ll be hosting presentations from the Duolingo team—sharing a peak behind the scenes at Duolingo as well as announcing product updates and new features.

We’ll also have guest speakers, including Dr. Anne Charity Hudley, Dr. Nicole Holliday, and David Peterson, joining us to present talks on languages of the Black diaspora, sociolinguistic competence, and constructed language.

Duocon will be broadcast live on Saturday, September 26th beginning 11am ET (8am PT). You can register to attend for free (over 70,000 people have registered already!), and watch live next weekend on Duolingo.com.

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn

Earlier this year, MoMA released film shot in 1902 from a suspended railway system in the German city of Wuppertal. The footage has since been color corrected and upscaled to 4K by YouTube user Denis Shiryaev, making it look like it was shot in present day.

The Wuppertal Schwebebahn is the oldest electric elevated monorail in the world, and, remarkably, is still in daily operation.

Related: the story of Tuffi the elephant, who leapt out of the Schwebebahn into the river below in 1950 after a publicity stunt went wrong. (Don’t worry, she survived!)

How US Public Transit is Like the Postal Service

From transit planner Jarrett Walker, Public Transit and the Postal Service Have the Same Problem.

Postal and transit services have the same problem. We want them to attract high usage and we want them to go everywhere, but those goals imply opposite kinds of service. Pursuing either goal will cause outcomes that look like failure when judged by the other goal’s measures of success. It’s like we’re telling our taxi driver to turn right and left at the same time. When they can’t do that, we just yell louder and call them incompetent. Is that taking us where we want to go?

Public Transit and the Postal Service Have the Same Problem, CityLab