Changing management won’t fix an unethical system

The BBC brings us the latest essay from Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, with “It’s not the Gates, it’s the bars“. Stallman explains why it’s a mistake to focus on any particular proprietor (individual or organization) rather than focusing on the unethical system of proprietary software.

Recently the One Laptop per Child project announced they will switch to using Microsoft Windows on the XO laptop. I understand the plan will be gradual: New XOs will offer either the current Fedora GNU/Linux-based system or Microsoft Windows XP. Later only Microsoft Windows XP will be offered by default. This is a remarkably bad move for anyone who took the OLPC’s initial educational mission seriously—even if the Microsoft Windows-based XO has some free software running on it, the switch is a net reduction in user’s freedoms. Users running the current GNU/Linux system have are free to fully inspect, run, share, and modify their system (with the exception of one non-free program to control the wireless device). These freedoms are why the software is referred to as “free”, the use of the word free in this context is not a reference to price. By contrast, under Microsoft Windows far more of the operating system will remain off-limits to users. No proprietor would reject an opportunity to hook anyone, even the poorest people in the world, into dependency.

Users would prefer to not be spied on without their consent. But some proprietary software programs spy on their users (including KaZaA, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, and Microsoft Windows) reporting back to its owner. Users shouldn’t have to sacrifice their privacy to talk to one another. But Skype, a popular proprietary program which lets users make telephone calls over the Internet, routes all calls through a central switchboard run by the proprietor thus allowing the proprietor to record the calls. Because Skype is proprietary, users cannot improve the program to include free software encryption which would render such recordings useless, or use a different switchboard server to bypass Skype’s switchboard entirely. Users would also prefer not to get a downgrade when they believe they are upgrading to the latest version of a program. Yet Apple did just that with iTunes effectively reducing the usefulness of the program. One so-called upgrade resulted in users losing music they purchased through the iTunes music service. No iTunes user, even skilled programmers, had the option of improving the program and publishing their improved iTunes so other users could avoid losing their purchased tracks.

As Stallman told the Boston Review:

The remedy is to give the users more control, not less. We must insist on free/libre software, software that the users are free to change and redistribute. Free/libre software develops under the control of its users: if they don’t like its features, for whatever reason, they can change them. If you’re not a programmer, you still get the benefit of control by the users. A programmer can make the improvements you would like, and publish the changed version. Then you can use it too.

The free software movement presents the only principled challenge to proprietary software. Society must ensure that users are free to organize to help themselves and one another according to their own goals—social solidarity.

Cindy Sheehan connects the dots: progressives should vote for those who support their values.

Cindy Sheehan writes clearly and without reservation—if you truly oppose war, you don’t vote for more war. The Democrats have a strong history of starting war, and there’s no reason to vote for them when they’re willing to help enable the Republicans continue occupation and kill. Sheehan is also continuing to stand by her promise not to support pro-war politicians.

First of all, we allow “anti-war” groups like to set the dialogue and discourse. is not so much “anti-war” as they are “pro-Democrat.” Tactics that found outrageous under the Republican Congress, they find “frustrating” but understandable under Democratic leadership.

The “anti-war” issue is non-partisan in its scope by the very name “anti-war.” The Democrats are responsible for every war in the last 108 years, excluding the two Bush wars and the Reagan Grenada farce. Democrats are responsible for dropping, not one, but two atomic bombs on the innocent citizens of Japan. Democrats deserve no slack, and should be given none.

Secondly, during elections the “anti-war” movement loses its focus and works for candidates that promise peace or change, but previous actions, votes, or rhetoric do not match the campaign rhetoric. From Obliteration to Redeployment to Hundred Years, none of the duopoly candidates are promising anything different than BushCo.

After almost eight years of two-party collaboration that has undermined freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity, one would think that the US electorate would have developed some kind of sophistication regarding the throttlehold of sameness that the Republicrats or Demopublicans offer.

And then she names two clearly anti-war candidates:

We have a clear choice instead of the “lesser of two evils” politics. There are at least two candidates for President that present a clear alternative to violence and corporate oppression: Cynthia McKinney (Green Party and Power to the People Party) and Ralph Nader (Ind.).

Do you want someone who is a smidgeon less evil at the helm of our country, or do you want someone who is committed to true peace and true mastery over the corporations and true environmental integrity?

In 2004 we were told that we were seeing the most important election—the Democrat-supporting (pro-war, even if they didn’t want to admit it) Left wanted George W. Bush out of office and thought that it was wise and proper to join a candidate who merely offered better war management. No major anti-war protests were held in which one could present any organized opportunity to challenge Democratic Sen. John Kerry on the issues of continued war, no single-payer universal health care, and increasing separation between the richest and the poorest.

In 2008 there are more dead from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, more poverty, more displacement, more homelessness, and more uninsured and under-insured (with no real universal single-payer health care in sight). Yet where’s the outrage, the cries of how critical the 2008 election is? By these standards, we ought to understand what folly it is to call any US Presidential election the most important because as things get worse every election is more important than the last.

One would hope more people could come to connect policy and politics in the way Sheehan has without suffering Sheehan’s loss. One would hope that things don’t have to get worse before the folks who call themselves “progressive” dare to support politicians who agree with their take on the issues of the day.

Big Buck Bunny is out

The folks behind “Elephant’s Dream” have released “Big Buck Bunny“, a 10 minute animated short. According to the BBB website, everything on the 2-DVD set is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 so you can share and build upon anything you find on the discs.

The movie is very well done and the outtakes are quite funny. You can also get a copy of the latest Blender animation software and all the art used in the movie so you can build on it and make something else. This 2-disc set is well worth the money. As soon as they start collecting for the next movie, I’m on board to buy early and get an entry in the credits.

Download the complete DVD containing the movie and lots of extras

NTSC DVD ISO (MD5SUM: 966758b02da2c5c183ab7de2e0a5e96b)—If you watch this in the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, or Taiwan, you probably want the NTSC DVD image file.
Get it from the Internet Archive
PAL DVD ISO (MD5SUM: cb67e9bc8e97b9d625e7cd7ee0d85e08)—If you watch this in Europe, China, or Australia, you probably want the PAL DVD image file.
Get it from the Internet Archive

Download the movie for your computer

Which DVD image file should I download?

See a map of which countries use which television broadcast standard:
Map of the world highlighting which regions use which video encoding standard.

How do I burn the DVD image file to a DVD so I can watch it on my TV?

You can read Ubuntu GNU/Linux’s handy reference on how to burn a DVD then watch your DVD on any DVD player. The way you burn the movie file with most graphical burning programs is substantially similar to how you burn data DVD discs.

You can also watch the movie without burning a DVD using mplayer, VideoLAN Client, and some other movie players. VideoLAN Client will read any of the files above, whether it’s a DVD image file or an Ogg Vorbis+Theora movie file. VideoLAN Client comes with the DVD image file and runs on most modern operating systems.

All corporate presidential candidates enable more war

Whether passively or actively, all three of the US presidential candidates (the only candidates the mainstream media will let you hear) pay for more war. From the way people talk about Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), you might be surprised to know that this is merely more of the same—an unbroken line of war support for him.

From today’s Democracy Now! (headline, small audio, high-quality audio, video): (emphasis mine)

The Senate has approved a new war funding bill allocating $165 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In a challenge to President Bush, the measure also includes billions in domestic spending, including $51 billion dollars for veterans’ education. Republican presidential candidate John McCain had opposed the domestic provisions, but did not interrupt his campaign schedule to return to Capitol Hill for the vote. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both voted in favor of the measure.

How long until a signing statement takes away any funding not directly aimed at continuing occupation and oppression?

How long until the public votes to say no more war?

How many more people have to die before you’ll decide that the Democrats aren’t the way to justice?

Critically important viewing: The World According to Monsanto

Marie-Monique Robin’s “The World According to Monsanto” is one of the most important recent documentaries because it exposes one of the most well-organized and dangerous corporations and because of Robin’s clearly conveyed research.

This documentary aired in France on 11 March 2008 but I doubt it will show up in the US. Monsanto advertises widely so they have the ear of a lot of media corporations which control the vast majority of what shows up on American television and movie theaters.

Viewers of another favorite documentary, “The Corporation”, will recognize a few of the faces and names in “The World According to Monsanto”.

“The World According to Monsanto” impresses upon you (and expertly defends) that this is a fight for control of the world’s population through controlling its food. As Vandana Shiva says, Monsanto’s effort is more powerful than bombs. Farmers around the world see a future where they can’t afford the patent licensing bill because they can’t avoid the GMO seed. The public (whether unknowingly or with no other viable option) eats the GMO food that raises one’s risk of a host of health problems including cancer.

Monsanto refused Robin an interview but their framing of the issue is heard clearly throughout the film. Robin uses Monsanto’s website to explain what things are, illustrates her points with citations from Monsanto’s internal documents (liberated by court order), and does the investigative reporting legwork to clearly explain to us how world domination through patent law and genomic manipulation is not at all far-fetched. The stakes are enormously high. I highly recommend seeing this documentary.

Wall Street Journal on the value of ethical business

The Wall Street Journal conducted a test in which three groups of consumers were shown coffee and in a separate test they were shown t-shirts. In each test the group was told the products were “ethically produced”, a second group was told the products were made under unethical conditions, and a third group (the control group) was told nothing about the products.

The Wall Street Journal concluded that “consumers were willing to pay a slight premium for the ethically made goods. But they went much further in the other direction: They would buy unethically made products only at a steep discount.”. In the test involving coffee beans: the consumers given unethical information about the production of coffee beans were described as demanding to pay $2.42 below the control group, while the consumers given ethical information $1.40 over the control group’s price. WSJ also suggested a go-slow approach to maximize income for the effort noting that “companies don’t necessarily need to go all-out with social responsibility to win over consumers. If a company invests in even a small degree of ethical production, buyers will reward it just as much as a company that goes much further in its efforts.”.

So decades of trying to separate business from ethics are paying off for modern businesses; perhaps not as much as their owners would like, but still the climate is such that a token show of ethical behavior pays off as much as genuine pursuit of ethical behavior in earnest.

The frame for the debate with these tests and their results is clear: fitting ethics into the market is right and proper so long as there’s no room to critique the heartless market for its lack of ethics. No amount of death, dismemberment, starvation, birth defect, wage slavery, or suffering in any form can possibly compete with the pursuit of money and power. Doing right by other people is not valued for its own sake. This is the system people have created, maintained, and defended as a reasonable way to do business with one another. It’s okay to behave this way at work no matter who is adversely affected. Remember this extract of Mark Achbar’s commentary track from the excellent movie “The Corporation” (website) (Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Speex) where he talks about how people can compartmentalize their wickedness?

For businesses, ethical responsibility is merely a market tactic—an ad campaign which will go away when ethical behavior becomes an unsaleable commodity (or perhaps not producing enough sales to justify the effort). The market must remain dominant, not asking the most important question one can ask: How should we treat other people? Hence even for the corporate “hero” of the “The Corporation”, Ray Anderson, there are strongly enforced limits on what he can say on the record without betraying his role as a corporate CEO. Anderson worked within those limits, perhaps struggling to do so.

Update (2011-08-13): Ray Anderson died August 8, 2011. Ralph Nader gave him high praise in an article celebrating Anderson’s effort to decrease Interface carpet’s ecological impact and Anderson’s work in sharing what he learned. Wikipedia has a summary of his endeavors.

How does DRM hurt me, a casual user of computer-based media?

Microsoft announced that they will no longer support former MSN Music customers who want to play their DRM disabled music on new computers. For Microsoft, apparently it’s digital restrictions management (DRM) or nothing.

Jennifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization based in San Francisco, wrote about how Microsoft’s announcement is right in line with their end-user license agreement or EULA.

When active, MSN Music’s webpage touted that customers could “choose their device and know its going to work”.

Windows DRM 'Plays for Sure': Choose your music.  Choose your device.  Know it's going to work.

But when customers went to purchase songs, they were shown legalese that stated the download service and the content provided were sold without warrantee. In other words, Microsoft doesn’t promise you that the service or the music will work, or that you will always have access to music you bought. The flashy advertising promised your music, your way, but the fine print said, our way or the highway.

Granick explains how Microsoft, and other publishers, use licensing terms that leave customers vulnerable to discontinued service for whatever reason the publisher deems necessary.

Has this happened before? What’s going on with DRM? What are the dangers to users?
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Richard Stallman: Free Software in Ethics and Practice

In 1984, Richard Stallman founded a social movement known as the free software movement. The free software movement fights for the ability to control our computers as a cooperative community (as opposed to being under the rule of software proprietors where users have only as much control over their computers as the proprietor allows).

On May 1, 2008, Stallman gave a talk in Manchester, England on “Free Software in Ethics and Practice” and the newly formed Manchester Free Software group recorded this talk and released it under a license that allows sharing.

This talk is quite engaging; Stallman gets into why schools must run exclusively free software, touches on international politics, and addresses the secondary issue of why free software matters for business (secondary in importance, that is, as society shouldn’t organize around business interests).

Download the talk

“Making available” is not copyright infringement

At Fordham Law School’s annual so-called “Intellectual Property” Law Conference on March 28, 2008, Ray Beckerman of Recording Industry vs. The People debated Kenneth Doroshow, a Senior Vice President of the Recording Industry Association of America, a corporate label lobbying group.

An interesting point of contention was whether it ought to be considered copyright infringement to make copies of copyrighted works available when one doesn’t have license to distribute that work. The RIAA says “making available” is copyright infringement, as this reduces the work the RIAA has to do to successfully sue ordinary people who allegedly infringe RIAA’s client’s copyrights. Beckerman contends “making available” isn’t infringement; copyright holders should have to prove that an illicit copy of their copyrighted work was made, not merely offered. The moderator of the debate, Professor Hugh C. Hansen, the keynote speaker, Michael Schlesinger, and a lot of the lawyer-filled audience apparently believed that “making available” constituted copyright infringement.

They were wrong.

Beckerman explains:

[T]his panel discussion took place on the business day before Elektra v. Barker and London-Sire v. Doe 1 came down, both rejecting a making available right. And of course a month later Atlantic v. Howell was handed down, rejecting the ‘making available’ theory from pillar to post.

Read the transcript of the event. Unfortunately this transcript doesn’t include Schlesinger’s remarks but Beckerman summarizes those remarks just before the transcript.

Who benefits from Adobe releasing Flash-related documentation?


Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a proprietary program probably best known these days for two things: showing people videos (YouTube) and making animated interactive graphics on the web (many ads are require Flash). Flash documentation was also, until recently, only available if one agreed to rather onerous non-disclosure terms which restricted how many people could write their own Flash player.

The most widely used Flash implementation is proprietary and not available for all kinds of computers and operating systems. A free software Flash player program was needed so that people could use their computer in freedom without having to forgo visiting a number of popular websites.

One free software Flash player, Swfdec (pronounced “swiff deck”), has been in active development for some time, and generally becoming more capable. Another free software Flash player, Gnash (the GNU Flash player), offers considerable capability to play Flash websites. Gnash has also been in active development.

What’s happening now

Today Adobe announced that they have released documents which describe the structure of Flash files one finds online. These documents are restrictively licensed—sharing the document files is not allowed, not even verbatim non-commercial sharing—but the information is available without agreeing to the non-disclosure terms. There’s no clear indication that Adobe holds patents on the ideas one needs to implement their own Flash software and no clear license granted for such patents.

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