Not much distance between Progressives and Liberals, then.

David Sirota’s latest essay neglects to mention that many Progressives also voted for a pro-war, pro-CAFTA, pro-NAFTA, pro-corporate campaign funding John Kerry in 2004. Progressives “are not fully comfortable with progressivism” and have fully behaved in such a way that it is clear they “are simply not comfortable taking a more confrontational posture towards large economic institutions” when many of these institutions fund Democratic Party campaigns.

I will continue to not take progressivism seriously so long as they buckle every 4 years for a series of candidates that collude with Republicans to keep competition out of their simultaneous press conferences masquerading as “debates”.

The Democrats in Congress right now can agree with the pro-war Republicans because it will cost them nothing. They know that they have no real challengers awaiting them either in the form of alternative candidates (who are easily dispatched because they’re either from a third party or are independent and can’t raise the funds to compete) or organized opposition to, as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) put it, “a flexible timetable not a drop-dead date, not a deadline, not cut and run” in which the US can leisurely “finish the mission, achieve our goals and bring the troops home”. These are not the words or the sentiment which places tough demands on the pro-war Republicans like demanding to bring the troops home now. Yet these are the representatives that get votes in gerrymandered Democrat districts. Just look at the eminently disappointing junior senator from Illinois—Sen. Barack Obama.

A good interview with Robert Fisk.

Today’s Democracy Now! features a recording of an interview with reporter Robert Fisk (transcript). As per usual, Fisk has great insights to offer. His experienced retelling of what happens on the ground make up the majority of his talk. But one red meat line in this interview raises a question: (emphasis mine)

“If you go to war, you realize it is not primarily about victory or defeat, it is about death and the infliction of death and suffering on as large a scale as you can make it. It is about the total failure of the human spirit. We don’t show that because we don’t want to. And in this sense journalists, television reporting, television cameras are lethal. They collude with governments to allow to you have more wars because if they showed you the truth, you wouldn’t allow any more wars.”

If the last part is true, how did millions organized in the streets against the invasion of Iraq in the US, England, and around the world, fail to stop the Iraq war before it began? Perhaps, given the answer to the last question, Fisk doesn’t believe the public really has this power:

Amy Goodman: [Y]ou’ve covered the Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Gulf war, wars in Algeria, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the invasion and occupation of Iraq—

Robert Fisk: Enough, enough, enough.

Amy Goodman: What gives you hope? What gives you hope?

Robert Fisk: Nothing. I’m sorry. Nothing. I’m sorry. Nothing at the moment. Ordinary people, I guess. Ordinary people who speak out. People in the Arab world as well. But in terms of governments, nothing much. I may be wrong. I may be too much of a pessimist because I’ve seen too much.

Playing identity politics to stifle same.

Good to read Cindy Sheehan rejecting Sen. Hillary Clinton if Clinton runs for President because she’s saying something that would be dismissed as sexism if it came from any anti-war man:

“I will not make the mistake of supporting another pro-war Democrat for president again: As I won’t support a pro-war Republican.”

Most Progressives and most of the Left don’t have the guts to stand behind this statement when it counts—at the polls. They will vote for whatever Democrat comes along.

If a man rejects voting for Sen. Clinton the immediate reaction will be a charge of sexism. But, and this is my main objection to Sheehan’s criticism of Sen. Clinton’s possible Presidential campaign, there are plenty of reasons for Progressives to reject her: she’s pro-Iraq war, pro-NAFTA, pro-CAFTA, her political history includes caving into HMOs when she managed the health care reform under President Clinton and recently rejecting universal health care out of hand, and Sen. Clinton supported many Republican nominees who had lied to help bring us the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Where will you stand if she’s the Democratic Party nominee for President in 2008? If you’re in her district now, will you re-elect her to the Senate?

You’ll choose the foolish option again.

An unnamed “politically active producer” allegedly told Arianna Huffington:

“The old ‘say one thing and do another’ bit isn’t going to fly this time,” a politically active producer told me. “We’re not ready to go through another experience where we back a candidate not ready to speak the truth. We kept our mouths shut and fell behind Kerry but, to quote the Who, ‘We won’t get fooled again.'”

First, unnamed sources aren’t convincing. So, until it’s clear who said what, I’ll just take this to be someone fictional Huffington is telling a story through.

Second, consider the similarity of this message to Hillary Clinton’s message about universal single-payer health care (it isn’t “politically viable”, according to Sen. Clinton):

“One major party donor, who is supporting Hillary even though he is against the war, told me that Clinton had assured him that she, too, was “against the war” but believed that there was no way a woman could ever be elected president while being against the war. “She is convinced,” the donor told me, “that she’d be attacked as soft on defense and unable to deal with national security and the war on terror. And I think she’s right. I’d rather she be anti-war, but I can’t argue with her reasoning.”

I can and do argue with her reasoning and the reasoning of this anonymous character, but not along the thin lines Huffington defends. Political viability is circular reasoning. Arguing viability in this way is just a matter of perception without acknowleding the will of the electorate, not a deep investigation of what actually happened (illegal and unethical invasion and occupation based on lies), who’s responsible (most Democrats and Republicans), and what we can do now (get out of Iraq immediately). Good speechwriters understand the mechanics of manufacturing opinion: say that “reasonable people” believe this or that and you’ll simultaneously create the opinion you want to support while placing that belief in the mouths of people who seem credible to the lazyminded. The Democrats are largely pro-war not because they’re secretly anti-war and think anti-war talk has no traction, nor are they (as Huffington later says) just saying pro-war things “for the yokels”; Democrats are largely pro-war because they know that their corporate backers are pro-war. As the country expresses increasing sentiment against the war in Iraq, talking pro-war “for the yokels” makes no sense; these “yokels” aren’t for the war.

The businesses that back political campaigns are organizations that lobby 24-7 and expect something in return for their financial support. They have the guts to withdraw support that isn’t working. People aren’t spoken to by the Left in such a way that encourages similar lobbying and return on their support. The Left loves to bring up big issues that individuals can’t hope to do anything about alone, issues that even large groups can barely adequately address (like millions in the streets being unable to stop the invasion and occupation of Iraq). And most coverage of these big issues leaves the audience with no practical message—here’s 5 things you can do in the next week to help end the occupation of Iraq, 3 bills you can write your Congressional representatives about, and so on. But I digress.

Getting back to Huffington’s article: since when is Al Gore anti-war? Let me remind you that Clinton/Gore oversaw US military action against Iraq that was far more lethal than this occupation has been so far: 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of those sanctions. The bombings+sanctions killed over a million Iraqis. The Clinton/Gore regime bombed water treatment plants and medicine manufacturing facilities, further harming the people who depended on those facilities. The lack of chlorine to clean the water caused lethal disentary and diahrrea.

Al Gore is no anti-war candidate. I can still remember watching President of the Senate Al Gore gavel black Congressional representatives off the podium for daring to mention that there was a problem in the election that needed to be addressed immediately. Gore, or his former running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman, could have provided the signature needed to allow those representatives to be heard, but neither signed. Where was anything on this in Huffington’s essay?

So, yes, proper Leftists across the country will vote Democrat even though there’s plenty of reason not to. It won’t really matter what the Democrats stand for, and we’ll again be thrust into the argument of “At least they’re not Republicans!”. Least-worst strikes again, saddling us with a diminishing duopoly.

If Gore is what the Democrats offer up, it will further confirm that the Democrats are no opposition party and that they need to be replaced with an individual or party that truly supports what the public wants (which polls consistently show is not what either business party offers). But this won’t happen if a real contender shows up because the Democrats and Republicans will again collude to make sure that this opponent doesn’t get anywhere near the ballot. The two major business parties get along when they see a mutual threat even if that means one party helping out the other just like Microsoft helping Apple during Microsoft’s antitrust case. An opponent you can control is very valuable.

Another pro-war Democrat asks for your vote. Will you remember what he backs at election time?

On today’s Democracy Now! (audio, high quality audio, video, high resolution video), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) was interviewed and he is up for re-election. Contrary to what Amy Goodman says repeatedly on her show, transcripts of DN! segments are not always available online (some, like this interview, are only partially there and some are missing entirely). I’ve transcribed the following from the audio recording available on

Gov. Richardson won’t criticize the invasion in any substantive way, and he supports the Iraqi sanctions that killed millions of Iraqis; he joins former Secretary Madeleine Albright that the death of half a million children was “worth it”:

Leslie Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

Gov. Richardson’s interview starts at 47 minutes 32 seconds into the show:

Amy Goodman: Cindy Sheehan has been going around the country speaking out, she lost her son Casey in the war. You are the first Governor to have your state, New Mexico, provide life insurance for national guardsmen on active duty. But I didn’t want to ask about that. I wanted to ask: as she travels leading up to the big anti-war protest that will take place in Washington D.C. on Saturday, on the 24th, she came through New York. And there she was fiercely critical of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her authorization of war, standing with the President to authorize the invasion. What are your thoughts about that? She’s saying Democrats enabled this as well as Republicans, it was not just President Bush.

Gov. Bill Richardson: Well, look, I believe that Senator Clinton has a sound policy on Iraq, I believe that she is calling for an exit strategy, for a sensible policy. You know, I want to tell you that in those days when there was information about weapons of mass destruction, when there was information about Saddam Hussein and his very tortuous activities with his own people, I could have seen a senator taking the vote that he or she did. Right now, there is no link to Al-Qaida, there are no weapons of mass destruction, so in retrospect I believe that those votes taken but without the proper information may have not been the correct votes. I believe that the President should have met with Cindy Sheehan. She is somebody that lost a child, lost a son. This is why I provided health insurance—$250,000—because the death benefit was shameful. It’s $11,000. And I said our state is gonna step up and we’re gonna do $250,000 life insurance for every one of the New Mexico national guardsmen. But again, in retrospect, when you had bad intelligence, I can see how those senators voted the way they did.

Amy Goodman: But many say that although President Bush led this invasion, that President Clinton laid the groundwork with the sanctions and with the previous bombing of Iraq. You were President Clinton’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Gov. Richardson: Well, I stand behind that. I think the strikes that we made, the efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein, there were weapons of mass destruction, the sanctions were the correct policy. Was the correct policy to invade? That’s probably another question. But to think that Saddam Hussein was benevolent dictator in the best thing to do would be to ignore him, I think that would have been very very bad foreign policy because what we have in the area is potential threats to Israel, we’ve got Saddam Hussein who acknowledged that one of his objectives was to threaten not just U.S. interests but the surrounding countries. He went to war with Iran, he greviously violated human rights of thousands of people.

Amy Goodman: But the U.N. sanctions, for example, the sanctions led to the deaths of more than a half a million children, not to mention more a million of Iraqis.

Gov. Richardson: Well, I stand behind the sanctions. I believe that they successfully contained Saddam Hussein. I believe the sanctions were an instrument of our policy.

Amy Goodman: To ask a question that was asked of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright: Do you think the price was worth it? 500,000 children dead?

Gov. Richardson: Well, I believe our policy was correct. Yes.

A critique of one confused view of free software.

From its first paragraph, the article fails to describe reality:

“The OSS vision is of a world in which there are no greedy corporations run by megalomaniac billionaires intent on screwing users out of their hard-earned cash in return for bloated, unstable, insecure software which only operates properly with other products from the same manufacturer and has laughable customer support. Instead, there are communities of gentle, altruistic individuals working together voluntarily for the good of mankind. Unsullied by the sordid world of commerce, the code that they produce is somehow purer and more ethical than proprietary software.”

Actually, the thinly veiled reference to Microsoft is wrong. Microsoft has long distributed software which is licensed by OSI-approved licenses. Microsoft’s Services for Unix package has long included GCC, the GNU Compiler Collection which is licensed under the GNU GPL, a free software license which is also approved of by the OSI.

Commerce is very much a part of this software, many FLOSS programs are developed for business and/or distributed for a fee. In fact, the “open source” term was coined in part because the OSI founders wanted a term that would not convey the idea that the software must only be distributed gratis (despite that the GNU Project was using the word “free” to convey freedoms users have with the software, not a price one must pay to get a copy of the software). The ethics of the situation are not considered by the open source movement; that movement does not say that some licenses respect your freedom to share and modify and other licenses trample those freedoms and are wrong. The open source movement’s philosophy centers on a practical developmental methodology and is chiefly aimed at a business audience. That anyone would conflate ethics as a part of the open source movement’s message is a tip that Stephen J Marshall doesn’t clearly understand the differences between the philosophies he’s talking about. We see this more clearly when Marshall argues that:

This utopian vision of technology is championed by high-profile pressure groups such as the Free Software Foundation […]

The FSF does not argue anything in terms of “OSS” or “Open Source Software”. They explicitly disclaim such points in their essay “Why Free Software is better than Open Source“:

We are not against the Open Source movement, but we don’t want to be lumped in with them. We acknowledge that they have contributed to our community, but we created this community, and we want people to know this. We want people to associate our achievements with our values and our philosophy, not with theirs. We want to be heard, not obscured behind a group with different views. To prevent people from thinking we are part of them, we take pains to avoid using the word “open” to describe free software, or its contrary, “closed”, in talking about non-free software.

To put a fine point on this, consider a hypothetical situation Richard Stallman laid out in a recent interview with the newly renamed GNU/Linux Show where the user is faced with a proprietary program that works well and a free software program that is unreliable (about 44 minutes and 54 seconds into the program). The open source philosophy advocates for high-quality technical achievement, and thus is likely to endorse the former program despite its license having no chance of being OSI-approved. Free software advocates, on the other hand, would endorse the latter program pointing out that the technical quality of a program can be improved, while the proprietary program’s license is probably very hard to change. No free software advocate will complain about having a reliable program. But they will complain and work to reimplement non-free software. Free software advocates won’t push aside their freedom to share and modify software for immediate practical gains.

Marshall writes:

“Despite the overt counterculture and anti-globalization agendas displayed by certain sections of the open source movement, many governments are now also turning towards OSS in their quest for an information society for every citizen.”

Don’t confuse the philosophy of the movement with some of its participants. Stallman holds political views which don’t express the opinion of the GNU Project or the FSF. Neither the GNU Project nor the FSF have opinions on corporate globalization except where this intersects with computer software, as Stallman pointed out in a 2003 interview where he explains that: (starting at 3 minutes 17 seconds)

Free software shows how globalization can be a good thing. The free software movement has been global since the Eighties when we had developers and users on four continents, and now it’s six continents I believe. Free software doesn’t tend to concentrate wealth, it provides ways for some people to make a living, so we can see the contrast between globalization of power versus globalization of voluntary cooperation.

Both the free and open source software movements are pro-business; neither has a problem with the software they endorse being used for business purposes. The FSF tells people to distribute free software for a fee and get as much money as one can doing so, and to alter free software for a fee. Some people take this message to heart: Brad Kuhn, the FSF’s former executive director (now Chief Technology Officer of the Software Freedom Law Center) has gone on record talking about the high hourly fees commercial GCC hackers charge and the long waiting lists these firms have.

On the categorized complaints Marshall raises, his complaint about so-called “IP” (intellectual property) is that many employees of various organizations are under contract such that “[a]ny software that they write, irrespective of whether it is during or outside normal working hours, legally belongs to their employer” and therefore much of the software they wrote and distributed is not actually theirs to license, but instead their employers’. No specific examples are presented to support this claim and Marshall does not approach this topic from the perspective of recommending to workers that they closely examine their employment contracts so that they will not fall into the trap of giving everything they do to their employer, even if what they’re working on is completely unconnected to their job. Thus this claim comes off as unhelpful as well as unsupported. Marshall’s conclusion that “[a]nyone else contributing to OSS projects may be unwittingly engaged in illegal activity by stealing their employer’s IP.” takes the term “intellectual property” at face value without ever critiquing it (which is, ironically, something that members of both the free and open source software movements are likely to do). One of the reasons the term “intellectual property” is so problematic is because it is prejudicial. We are left to believe that copyright, trademark, patent, and other disparate laws ought to be thought of as property; not that framing these issues as property is unnatural and merely one choice of many. Spirited debate of this issue is so much a part of the free and open source movements, it is appalling that any examination of how the free software community works would leave out this debate.

“Conceptual integrity” is Marshall’s call for adhering to “good design and tight specifications to minimize bugs” and that community development doesn’t achieve this. This is a developmental methodology and does not address the more important issue of software freedom and how people ought to treat one another, but one can see significant counterexamples. The GNU Project, started in 1984, is one such community-based project that has come up with a lot of useful software that many individuals and organizations rely on (directly by running the programs or indirectly by hiring the services of an Internet service provider which directly runs the programs). The Mozilla programs offer another set of counterexamples, as more people discover how well Firefox and Thunderbird work. It seems like a number of developers choose the Bugzilla bug-tracking software to use in their own projects. I think Marshall reveals the most in his call for “professionalism” where he essentially chastises “bedroom programmers” for being insufficiently professional. I wonder how the judgement is being made without actually hiring someone to do work under contract, as a professional would.

Innovation is the last of Marshall’s bulletted points and here he claims that “[t]he open source community has so far tended to create facsimiles of proprietary packages rather than the next killer application.”. Marshall’s example here, the GNU/Linux operating system, inaccurately referred to as “Linux“, fails to acknowledge certain other factors involved here:

  • “Killer apps” are hard to come up with which explains why non-free software developers don’t often come up with them either.
  • Some “killer apps” were free software first but go unacknowledged as such. Internet email that we use today (as opposed to email systems used chiefly on BBSes and email systems that require use of a certain client program) and the World Wide Web were free software and are still two big reasons that people want to get on the Internet. Beagle predates Apple’s Spotlight desktop search program, but since most reviewers are biased in favor of reviewing non-free software, they have no idea Beagle exists. Beagle is, for all its faults, more trustworthy than Spotlight or the Google desktop search software for Microsoft Windows because Beagle can be free software and the others are not. Thus, if you are concerned about what Beagle does—perhaps you suspect that your index data or your search queries are being distributed without your approval—you can inspect Beagle and change it to meet your needs, or you can hire someone to do this work for you. These are simply not options for non-free programs because the only people who have the source code and the legal permission to share and modify the improved software are the organizations you shouldn’t trust by default in the first place.
  • Innovation is commonly overvalued, even to the point of giving up freedom in exchange for innovation. I don’t believe that most people need programs that are radically new. I believe that most people use a computer for just a few things and they need those programs to work well. I don’t need an innovative email client, I need one that is easy to set up and use for my most frequently used functions. I use a web browser to see content published by someone else. Most of what I would like to see are ways of doing the right thing by default, not giving me a lot of options to do things I’ll rarely want to do: automatically configuring a reasonable setup so that I don’t have to spend time configuring things myself, updates that never leave my computer in an unusable state, an easy way to do recommended things like making periodic backups, encrypting email, storing only encrypted data on my media, and seeing what services are available to me on my network. And I want to do all of this without giving up my software freedom. I believe that these are non-trivial requests which require a great deal of coordination, but I doubt users will widely refer to them as something akin to “killer applications”.

The natural questions from reading “In theory, an OSS license doesn’t actually prevent anyone from selling the software but in practice no one will buy it if the source code is freely available, unless the seller is also providing some kind of added value.” goes unasked: why is it our job to support bad business models? Why are business concerns so prominent? Why can’t they switch to a consulting model and try to get work? Also, one notices how many failed businesses distribute proprietary software at no fee, allowing people to use the program, but disallowing users from understanding or changing what the program does. But it’s clear in Marshall’s essay that tending to user’s individual needs is not considered “innovative” and probably won’t be until it becomes the mainstay of large multinational corporations that get a lot of press attention (like Microsoft). IBM, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, and others doing this apparently aren’t interesting. Exclusivity is not needed when the business is based on talented and attentive consulting, in fact one should be glad that this is not exclusive to anyone or any organization in case one consultant doesn’t work out.

But what’s more important is the effect on society, not framing every question in terms of how it will affect business. As RMS explains in the aforementioned GNU/Linux Show interview: (about 1 hour and 2 minutes into the show)

Businesses should have free software just as every computer user should have free software. But we [at the FSF] don’t focus our concerns on business. And that’s a matter of a basic philosophical decision: we don’t want to make business the measure of all things. The world is plagued today by a philosophy which is called businessism. Just as humanism meant measuring things in human terms, businessism measures everything in business terms. I’m not a businessist. When I think about how to promote free software, I don’t think “above all: business”, I think “above all: schools”. Schools must switch to free software because they should not be teaching their students to be addicts to proprietary software; to develop a dependency that will be hard for them to get out of.

KPFA and identity politics.

On KPFA‘s coverage of the Judge Roberts confirmation hearings, host Larry Bensky identified Senator Chuck Schumer’s second round questioning as “filibustering”. This is an interesting choice of words for a reason Bensky showed no sign of being aware of—Schumer might want to come off as asking tough questions but by filibustering he is actually keeping Judge Roberts from answering the questions Schumer posed or responding to the points Schumer raised, thus helping Roberts.

Throughout the KPFA coverage yesterday and today, you can hear Bensky, Deepa Fernandez, and their co-hosts point out how there’s only one woman on the Judiciary Committee and how there are no African-Americans on the Committee. This is essentially asking for more African-American people and more women on the Judiciary Committee. The problem here is the problem of identity politics—assuming that more women or more blacks would ask different or better questions on issues of importance that have gone unaddressed. There’s an underlying assumption that women and blacks will naturally ask the questions the Left would like to hear asked.

But such a request is easily trumped. What would happen if someone with Condoleezza Rice’s sentiments or political leanings were on the Commmittee? She’s a black woman, therefore she fills KPFA’s implicit request yet it’s reasonable to assume that she would not ask the tough questions the Left long to hear.

With such low criteria for what the Left would rather see or hear, it’s easy to get past the request in a way that maintains the imbalance of power. Better to admit that one’s request is problematic (stuffing the Court with like-minded Justices?) and get around to asking for questions on particular matters of interest and analyzing in terms of the questions posed, not the skin color or sex of the questioner.

Reconsider making a video show. Really.

A number of early filmmakers don’t justify their use of the visual medium. Some of these gratis downloadable shows are like this (only some of these are available in formats one can watch with free software. I hope you’ll join me in writing to the others to make their shows available in free software formats like Ogg Vorbis+Theora; if they raise the problem of hosting more files, introduce them to The Internet Archive which will host their files gratis. They’ve already done the tough part—obtaining a website and domain name).

Watching a talking head is dull TV. The money put into shooting and editing video could have been put into recording and editing audio instead, with considerable money left over (audio productions are considerably easier to edit and significantly cheaper). The show becomes an obvious commercial or personal advertisement when unnecessary video is included.

I recently saw The Smartest Men in the Room, a documentary about the rise and fall of Enron, and it too fell into this trap. The subject matter is compelling and people should realize how Enron bilked so many out of their paychecks, investments, and retirement funds. But the story simply isn’t one that lends itself to a visual medium. On a smaller scale, a movie that is probably more familiar to a /. audience, Revolution OS, was similar in that it too didn’t lend itself to be told in pictures. But that movie had so many more things wrong with it (technical and in accurately conveying a cohesive point), that this almost pales in comparison.

Democracy Now! is similar because the vast majority of what is interesting and important about the show is not visually compelling. The vast majority of the video program involves watching Amy Goodman and her guests talk to one another. Try listening to the radio show and notice how little you actually need the images. DN! features well-spoken informative people with much to tell. Many people find the show interesting to listen to on a daily basis. But I doubt people would miss the show if it wasn’t on TV in their area. DN! makes a better radio show than a TV show.

In all of these instances, the money spent on video production for the show would be better spent doing a radio show for a longer period of time per episode or doing more episodes.

For a movie that works the other way, consider The Corporation. This movie uses visual elements and pictures to great effect, including discussion of material that is inherently visual (seeing a picture of a child working in a sweatshop, hobbling because of the ill effects of multinational chemical corporations, or born without eyes because of exposure to a Du Pont chemical, and all of the apropos public domain footage from Prelinger’s collection at The Internet Archive.). Seeing people’s gestures as they are interviewed is important work which can only be properly conveyed visually.