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Editor's Note: Linux/FOSS and Politics Go Together Like Cheese and Crackers

Nov 08, 2008, 00:05 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Any political discussion can turn dangerous in a heartbeat, and they usually do, with foaming and fireworks more usual than relaxed give-and-take. So a lot of folks avoid any kind of political discussion entirely just to keep the peace. And this makes sense-- why pick unnecessary fights? Among my little social circle is a sub-group I call the Contentious Old Codgers. These old coots enjoy arguing for the sake of argument, and getting people riled up. They're not interested in discussion or finding common ground because they live for the thrill of combat. When they get started I excuse myself and go find someone calm to talk to, because it's not fun for me.

Then there are the Dogmatic Bores who live under the delusion that their well-worn, oft-expressed, unfounded, and never-changing opinions are golden pearls, and everyone they meet is dying to receive their wisdom. (Actually, no, we're not.) My favorites are the Passionate Tormented Activists. The world is in constant crisis, and it wears on these poor souls. They have no lightheartedness and do not enjoy themselves very much.

So avoiding unproductive arguments is wise, I think. But we shouldn't ignore politics entirely. It often seems that our (US) government is this strange alien entity that has nothing to with real people; that it's a strange, dishonest world where normal folks don't want to go because they don't want to get contaminated. And that's not entirely untrue. But ignoring it has bad consequences.

Free/Libre software itself is political. The GPL is called a copyleft license, which is wordplay on copyright. It is a clever use of existing copyright laws to protect software freedom, and copyleft has expanded to include a number of creative works, such as books, articles, photos and other images, movies, and music. Which is in direct opposition to the fierce attacks on existing copyright law, especially the insanely over-the-top attempts at exterminating fair use, and turning minor copyright violations into crimes of the century.

Then there are the larger issues of what keeps a democracy alive and free: transparency, unrestricted access to public information, and accountability. Which are pretty much the same as Free software values. Closed, proprietary document formats and data warehousing are backdoor methods of keeping citizens locked out. In my little county they still have books of handwritten records going well back into the 18th century, and anyone can read them. Do you think any digital data today from today is going to survive that long? Lots of luck.

Electronic voting? It is to laugh. It is astonishing how incompetent Diebold has been with building electronic voting machines. (Though now that they have changed the name of their voting machine division to Sequioa I'm sure they are much better.) (That was sarcasm.) Whether it's deliberate or not, I have my own suspicions. It's just simple counting, for goshsakes. This is the same company that makes ATMs-- are you sure you want to trust them?

The security and personal control of our personal data isn't even on our government's radar-- and it's no surprise, when there is so much money in buying and selling us without our knowledge or consent.

An unfiltered, non-government controlled Internet means the truth will always be out there somewhere, and not hidden away, or sanitized and re-packaged beyond recognition.

So there are a few examples of important political issues that Linux/FOSS users can address and influence knowledgably. It doesn't matter who is in whatever elected office, or what party they belong to, because these issues affect everyone. Our elected persons are hearing mostly one side of the story, and that is the side that gets rich off corruption and abuse. They need to hear from the good guys, too.


Electronic Frontier Foundation
GNU Project
Lawrence Lessig's Blog
More Touch-Screen Machines Malfunction(Nov 07, 2008)
Presidential Election Voting Machines Violate Ghostscript Copyrights, Suit Claims(Nov 05, 2008)
The Most Important Open Source System: Voting(Sep 29, 2008)
Editor's Note: It Is A War(Sep 12, 2008)
Vote-Dropping Software Bug Could Gum Up Elections(Aug 25, 2008)
States Throw Out Costly Electronic Voting Machines(Aug 20, 2008)