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Declan McCullagh On Geek Activism 303

Posted by chrisd
from the declan-v-lessig dept.
die_jack_die writes "Declan McCullagh, formerly of Wired News, lately at News.com, has written an insightful piece about the realities of geek activism. Short version: spend your time coding, not lobbying. (You might also want to check out Politech , his mailing list for this sort of stuff.)" This in contrast to Lessigs call for more lobbying.
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Declan McCullagh On Geek Activism

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2002 @11:45PM (#4059260)
    1. Code
    2. Start your own company
    3. Get rich
    4. Buy your own Congressmen, Senators or even a President!
    • true, what if we were to buy some politicians? only problem I see is that they would all only know FORTRAN or some wierd LISP variant
    • 5) Realize your company isn't making money, hire Arthur Anderson to be your accountant. 6) Declare bankruptcy, get subpeonad by Congress. 7) Use said Congressman as get out of jail free card, move to Bermuda.
    • The sad part is that this isn't funny since its all too close to the truth. Look at the RIAA/MPAA flacks like Rep. Howard Berman who are willing to sell out any of our rights to get a campaign contribution from Hollyweird. What's the old maxim from the detective/police shows (appropriate quote)? In any crime, follow the money. Most politicians would gladly sell their own soul, their mother's, their grandmother's and yours and mine at the drop of a campaign contribution. They make all sorts of nice noises when there's a demonstration or a petition or something that seems to indicate that we, the public, have an opinion but they'll vote with the people who give them money.

      The bottom line is the bottom line. The way to get things to change is to make enough money that the people who make the laws listen to you (and your money).
      • McCullagh says that our elected officials will not listen to us, so it is a waste to try lobbying them. He points out that the DMCA passed the Senate unanimously as evidence. If our current congress won't listen to us, we can vote against them in the next election. Don't vote for your current Senator. Vote for his or her challenger. Throw the bums out! That goes for the House, too , except for Rick Boucher of Virginia. Throw the bums out Don't vote for any incumbent. If we could start over with fresh new Congressmen and Senators, maybe they would listen to us.
        • I suspect the truth is that Declan is just peeved that the GOP never gave him credit for starting the whole 'Gore invented Internet smear'.

          What he did was he published a piece in wired on Gore's CNN interview, then he got a comment on that piece from his girlfriend at the Cato institute. Then he reported on the comment from the Cato institute and the article was circulated by Newt Gingrich's office. Of course the smear would have died instantly if the media ever bothered to check sources.

          Declan also has a pretty sordid history.

          After the election Declan was real pissed that the Bushies didn't even invite him to the inauguration and published nasty stories about their Web site. So now he is persona-non-grata in both the Republican and Democrat camps.

  • Does this mean watching more Star Trek or something? Geek Activism... I'm trying to equate this with Gay Rights or Pro Abortion, but it just isn't happening for some reason...
  • My comment to Declan (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jamie (78724)
    I emailed this response to Declan this morning:

    You're still fighting the last war. We aren't going to win the next one by staring at our medals.

    • Correction... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DoctorFrog (556179)
      Apparently he's decided not to fight any war at all. This was flat out just a remarkably naive and stupid article. Why settle for only keeping coders unaware and docile? Why don't we all, coders and non-coders alike, just ignore everything the politicians are doing and get on with our respective jobs?

      BTW, Mr. Declan, that was a voice vote for the DMCA. It doesn't mean the bill had 100% support, only that the actual tally wasn't enumerated. Maybe you should pay closer attention.

      • Re:Correction... (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Skyshadow (508)
        It took me a couple of readings to convince myself that McCullagh's article wasn't parody.

        This stupid fuck apparently thinks that things worth fighting for should be easy to get, or that rights aren't won and secured on the backs and with the blood of people willing to fight for what they know is right.

        This guy is an embarressment to the profession of "web journalist", which is saying a lot in a world of Matt Drudges. I wonder if Declan would ever protect a source. Would he refuse a request from police? Would he refuse a subpoena? Would he go to prison to protect a source?

        I doubt it. Why? Because he's a coward.

        • Re:Correction... (Score:4, Informative)

          by kyras (472503) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:39AM (#4059684) Homepage
          This guy is an embarressment to the profession of "web journalist", which is saying a lot in a world of Matt Drudges. I wonder if Declan would ever protect a source. Would he refuse a request from police? Would he refuse a subpoena? Would he go to prison to protect a source?

          I doubt it. Why? Because he's a coward.


          Actually, au contraire, he has answered to a subpoena before (last year) and then gone on the stand to protect a source, being treated as a hostile witness in the process (though luckily for him, not jailed). Check out his website, the whole story is there [mccullagh.org]. Better check the facts before you next try to make an ad hominem attack.
        • Re:Correction... (Score:2, Informative)

          by crapulent (598941)
          I wonder if Declan would ever protect a source. Would he refuse a request from police? Would he refuse a subpoena? Would he go to prison to protect a source?

          I doubt it. Why? Because he's a coward.


          Uhh, he did refuse a subpoena when he was called to testify in the Jim Bell case a year ago or so. They wanted him to verify statements that Bell had made to him in his coverage of the story, but he refused because it would give too much leeway to potentially enter things into the record that were spoken to him in confidence. A direct quote:

          "I talk to a lot of people who don't trust the government, and I don't want my sources to wonder who I'm working for -- Wired News or the government."


          How 'boutcha get a clue before calling people cowards, mm'kay?
      • Did you actually read the article? He's saying that geeks should switch the battlefield to the one where they have the advantage--to technology rather than to the legal system. Personally, I like a two-pronged attack myself, the technological and legal simultaneously. The legal system is a lumbering colossus that can destroy individuals it actually gets its hands on, but isn't nimble enough to catch everyone. (Think of the scene in Jason and the Argonauts where the giant statue is chasing the argonauts around.) Remember how distracted the legal system was by Napster, while dozens of other file sharing programs proliferated? If you want to download a song now can you? Easily, and it's because geeks write code.

        • Yes, I actually read the article, and if he were advocating a two-pronged attack I'd be fully with him. He isn't. He's saying not to bother being politically involved, just stick to writing code.

          That, to me, is a stupid and short-sighted attitude. You can write all the easy file-sharing code you want to, and that's a good and worthwhile activity, but if a law gets passed making it illegal to transmit files then all you've done is make it easy to be a criminal.

          Yes, geeks write code better than lawyers, so there's a very superficial level of plausibility there - but lawyers can stop geeks from legally writing code, and if geeks aren't involved in the process that's exactly what they'll do.

          I want to be able to write and use cool programs. I'd rather not be forced to break a stupid law to do that when a little effort can help prevent the stupid law, and McLellan is being should not be discouraging us from making that effort.

          • Sorry, brainfart. I think I elided his first and last names, or something.

            BTW, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not calling McCullagh himself an idiot here. I don't know his larger body of work well enough to make that judgement. This is a boneheaded article, though.

      • Apparently he's decided not to fight any war at all. This was flat out just a remarkably naive and stupid article. Why settle for only keeping coders unaware and docile?

        You missed the point. What does "coders fighting a war" mean? Usually it means they rant and rave and send a lot of emails and post hotheaded articles to osopinion.com. This doesn't help anything. Most geeks don't realize it, but their rants often come across as shallow and misguided. I mean, we're talking about people who write long, rambling pieces about AMD vs. Intel (case in point [emulators.com]).

        If you want to rant, fine, but get a non-techie to proofread your stuff, and try to keep it low key. Make sure you're not just echoing the same sentiments you read on Slashdot or some other geek-news site. Don't write unless you have some good insight, and have some broad experiences that keep you from looking like someone who doesn't get out much (hint, and I mean this in all sincerity: if you're 18, and just want to get free music because you don't have a job, then you're the wrong person to be writing on the subject).
        • NO, dad-blast it, I did not miss the point, because that is your point, not McCullagh's! And I agree with it, too, but it does not appear in the article. If you want to make a further point by all means do, and it's a good point you're making, but don't tell me I missed it. I've re-read the blamed article several times, just to be sure, I've parsed it most carefully, and I still see the same thing; he is saying do not bother getting involved in the political process at all, if you are a coder; just write cool and groundbreaking code, instead.

          He is not suggesting a two-pronged attack of both coding and being politically active, nor is he suggesting that geeks make more of an effort to ensure that their political activism is effective. I would approve of both those stances. It's two leaps across a chasm to get from there to "geeks should just code, they shouldn't bother getting involved in the process." Maybe he exhibits a more intelligent and comprehensive approach elsewhere in his body of work, but I'm responding to this article. Here, his point is that political activism by coders is wasted effort. I strongly disagree.

          To answer your point; YES, absolutely, you should always write clear, concise letters that precisely articulate your concerns, rather than rambling rants. That's obvious, or should be, and certainly there are inarticulate 18 year olds with shallow views among us, just as there are in most demographics. (Ours also includes a hell of a lot of well-educated, highly paid and articulate professionals in positions of business influence.)

          Politicians pay attention to two things: first, they pay attention to the articulate and well expressed letters of people who are likely to be able to influence others. This includes people like ministers in churches, and it includes people like system administrators in successful companies. The second thing they pay attention to, Mr. McCullagh to the contrary, is large volumes of letters which express identical views, no matter how badly written, as long as they are written by voters. Do you suppose politicians dismiss the concerns of deeply religious Christians as a group because some proportion of them write badly reasoned and uninformed screeds in crayon? Hell no, and especially not if very large numbers of them do so in unison on a clearly defined issue.

          Geeks need to be more, not less, politically involved and aware. Coding is a powerful hammer in affecting the world, but not every problem is a nail, and we need a bigger toolbox if we are to handle the social and political problems we're increasingly facing.

    • There was a war? And medals were given out? I missed it. Someone should have called me. Because, see, I like wars. You know what I say to wars? "I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL." Imagine me starting to jump up and down, and yelling, "KILL, KILL." Why, you'd be jumpin up and down with me and we'd both jumping up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL."

      At least, that's what I'd do if there was a War. Where can I sign up for the next one, 'cuz I really want some of them medals.

      But, see, there's this whole pile of garbage in the back of my red VW Microbus I gotta get rid of before I have time for all this war stuff. Do you suppose the dump is open on Thanksgiving?

  • by WhyDoubt (472635)
    Pretty soon, there will be little room for innovation. We are already seeing chilling effects from DMCA. If we don't fight, we are just digging our own graves.
  • The main reason for this opinion is that marketing and public awareness are more powerful that coding; although coding is more important. Look at all the excellent products that have been coded and not marketed very well, which have died out because of a lack of market awareness (OS/2, BeOS, Amiga, and many others).

    Microsoft is proof that lobbying is more important. Windows doesn't come close to the power, security and stability of nearly every other OS popular today; yet it remains solidly on top in marketshare.

    Don't get me wrong, more coding is always a good thing, however, to do it at the detriment of lobbying is a sure fire plan to navigate your project into oblivion.
  • nice recipie (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:08AM (#4059359)

    ye gods.

    look, ever lived in a condo or worked in a union? the people who don't have lives gravitate to the elected positions. very few people with a homelife of any detail will contribute their extra time unless they feel immediately threatened. and the bit rot begins. the committees get controlled by the cranks and the con-men.

    _do_ code like the man is suggesting, but then turn off your tv for part of your down time and do something about your social environment. yes, geeks make poor lobbyists. but they're good educators and agitators of other lobby groups and sectors of the population. you're not alone, regardless of how well you simulate that around your monitor. talk to people.

    "hey, computer joe, what's that dmca shit they're talking about?"

    "dude, i don't worry about it. making a way around it with my l33t skillz."

    and dude goes off believing the archtype few honest men will protect him like hollywood says, and no longer worries about it himself either. great.

    political activism doesn't work? man, jack. half of what we call history is records of revolutions, and political evolution.

    sorry, this kid's feel-good nilhism may be hip, but it's a personal delusionism of someone who had to justify to himself wanting to say "don't put off today what you can put off tomorrow".

  • by m0nkyman (7101) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:09AM (#4059362) Homepage Journal
    Declan seems to have fallen for the fallacy that politicians are dumb, and the hubris that geeks can outpace them.

    Politicians are just as good at what they do as geeks are at what they do. If we ignore the politicians, they *will* win. They can shut down the things we love to all but those who are willing to break the law. Don't kid yourselves.

    Geeks have to fight the lobbying fight to protect the technology fight.
    • by G-funk (22712) <josh@gfunk007.com> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @02:26AM (#4059838) Homepage Journal
      Declan seems to have fallen for the fallacy that politicians are dumb, and the hubris that geeks can outpace them.


      That's not even the biggest problem. His general idea is this:

      "By participating in the lobby process, you're effectively giving money to the political system," Back says. "It's effectively a favor-trading system where the politician wins and the geek loses...You're better of spending time writing code and influencing Internet protocols to work towards making the politicians irrelevant in the future." (emphasis mine)

      Doesn't he realise, that this will simply be made illegal? If you invent something that stops the politicians controlling what you see/download on the net, this program is illegal, and you are now a criminal. That's the whole point of the DMCA, and the reason we're all pissed... Because it makes it a crime to defeat greedy companies' desires on our freedoms with technology.
    • by chorder (177607) <ajordan@nosPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @03:20AM (#4059992) Homepage
      I completely agree with the above post, but I also see the point of Declan's article. As an aside I'm sure that Lessig, contrary to what chrisd may believe, would definately see Declan's point as well.

      I am not a coder, and if anything I'm more suited to politics than science. But through my associations with coders, and through reading books by Lessig and Stephenson and following discussions on /. and beyond (not to mention seeing Tron during my formative years), I've come to be very concerned with digital and cultural freedom. Its these facts that would make me better suited to do lobbying than any of /.'s coder majority.

      Basically what Declan was saying was that it comes down to specialization. Coder's don't sew their own clothes because there are people and machines that do that for them better than they could. Same goes for lobbying and public influence of any kind. Coders have more power in the creation of subversive and revolutionary technologies than they do in their socio-polical skills.

      And here I agree with Declan, but he also should have pointed out the need for a greater link between coders and skilled lobbyists and culturally minded individuals. The most active and revolutionary figures on the digital rights boat may not be coders, but they wouldn't be where they are if it weren't for Coders telling them what was up. Its that communication between people of differing skill sets, but similar value systems, that causes communal change.

      In summary, the greatest challenges that coders can meet are those of coding (as Lessig himself would say) an architecture that is more free than Washington (or Hollywood) would want, and at the same time making sure that the people they converse with outside the tech community understand the battles that are being waged over the internet and technology (and the stakes that are involved). Its up to everyone, coders and everyone else, to talk about the things that are most important to them at all times, and to forge an understanding between those that are most affected by these new laws, and those that are most effective at fighting them in every arena.

      We need more coders speaking up about their rights to a wider audience, but more than that we need more coders wispering into the ears of those who already have an audience. Lessig is such an important asset to the community precisely because he is outside of it. He is the voice of the coder (not to mention musician, user, free thinking individual) in the world of the law, because he devoted his life to law and legal discourse. If he had gotten a BS and a .com job instead, he wouldn't be as eloquent, well thought, or influential for the movement as he is. But by the same token, if it weren't for coders that hadn't gone to law school telling him of the importance of the issues affecting them, he would be working for Jack Valenti at this point, and not us.

      Therein lies the ultimate goal. Accessing the greatest potential of your abilities in the name of freedom, while understanding the need of other individuals of different abilities in the same name. Helping those individuals do their jobs with a greater understanding of the dilemmas that face your specific community.
  • by Verteiron (224042) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:09AM (#4059363) Homepage
    ...to make our voices heard, then writing all the code in the world isn't going to make any difference; even assuming it will be legal to write (in the US, anyway) code without a license or certificate of some kind, there won't be any hardware that can run code not produced by a multi-billion-dollar company. We have to find some way to stop this BEFORE it happens, because after the fact it will just be too damn late. If lobbying isn't going to help, what will? And why aren't we doing it yet?
    • And besides, the politicians will only take us seriously if we play their game. It is not when lobbying and putting political pressure that they think we are just those "anoying hackers". It is when we break their laws by writing illigal code. Of course sometimes we have no choice, actions have to be taken. But, democraty works based on the fact that different groups put pressure to get something and we end up getting something balanced in between what everybody wants. Now if a group stops putting pressure then it will get nothing and the other groups will get everything.

      Maybe lobbying looks like it doesn't work because it will nerver give you all of what you want, but realy it serves to get more of what you want, not all of it.

      We do have some national parks and politics that are good for the environment. We owe them to people who put pressure on the goverment and to people who acted by making scientific studies promoting those policies.

      Of course democraty dosn't always work, but it has a better chance of working if you try it than if you just try to work around it.

      gnein

  • longer form of the short version:

    Spend your time coding, not lobbying. Stay in your place. Don't bother having an opinion on anything other than the design of your software- just leave it to the politicians to know what is good for you. Stay in your place- there's no way a coder could know anything about politics, nor should she be able to have an opinion.

    Which is utter bullshit. I'm not going to listen to some schmuck tell me to hold back my ideas just because I'm paid to do something other than be a politician. Just because I get paid to code, it doesn't mean that's all I'm capable of. A lame attempt at putting these socially aware "geeks" "in their place." when you classify you divide.

    I don't know about you, but I'm not eating the bullshit-burger with a side order of lies. RISE MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, take back the freedoms which we have a birthright to uphold- the world would be better run by geeks than layers (the profesion from which most politicians come) anyway.
    • One thing I have learned about politics is that, like any area, what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.

      Take the Airline Bailout. Initally, I thought it was stupid to give my money to a poorly-run buisness. But then I thought about the damage the economy would suffer if Delta stopped flying.

      Many things are this way. You see DRM as an assault on free software and hacking. Your congressman sees DRM as a way to ensure that Microsoft will continue to employ thousands of people and ship millions of units to Europe and Asia. Yes, the hobyist gets screwed, but the economy as a whole stays strong.

      Another thing to keep in mind is political backscratching. Your state needs to keep a military base open for economic reasons and another state needs a study on snail migrating habits. The two senators help each other out.
      • Keep going.. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Kwil (53679)
        Think it through even farther..

        If Delta stopped flying, would demand for flights lower? Hardly. Which means one of two things would happen, one of the other companies would expand to take up the slack, or a number of other smaller companies would rise to fill the niche.

        Since all the larger companies are having enough trouble on their own, my bet is on the number of smaller companies.

        Now, what if part of the money given to Delta was instead placed in a fund to help out small start-ups? Instead of a few CEO's of a poorly run company being able to claim bonus stock options, you'd have multiple people working to compete with each other, lowering the price of airline service for everybody, while simultaneously putting pressure on to better the service.

        The only time a failing company should be bailed out is when that company is governmentally owned to begin with - and the only reason a company should be governmentally owned is to provide a basic service to people that private enterprise wouldn't bother with because it's a losing money option (such as telephone/power service into the boonies - or medical service for people too poor to afford insurance)

        • Would you rather gamble your economy on how many people a start-up MIGHT employ, or on how many people Delta DOES employ? What about all the buisness travelers needing to move while the system is in flux? A few months ago, a major European Telco went under. A lot of people were worried how they'd surf the internet when the servers went dark. Loosing a major airline in the USA would be MUCH worse.

          You need to keep as many big buisnesses going as possible. If that means the government stepping in and saying they need new accounting practices, then good.

          My point is that big buisness is a big part of American life.
  • Pretty weak. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:10AM (#4059368)
    Sorry, this piece didn't phase me a whole lot. The DMCA may have won, but the SSSCA hasn't. I remember one comment along the lines of "we got tons and tons of messages expressing their disgust at the SSSCA, but not a single message in favor of it." Sitting quitely and 'writing code' is not the answer. If anything, what he's suggesting will cause bs like the SSSCA to make greater claims for the need to tightly control how computers work.

    It wasn't that long ago that somebody mentioned that the best way to protect our rights was to do something like the NRA does. Gather our resources and blow away a single person. (I mean that metaphorically, I dont mean shoot anybody. Normally I wouldn't need to clarify this, but there's always one dumbshit...) We may not be able to gather enough money to sway political opinion, but it is possible to make one person in particular suffer some sort of consequences, whether it's financially or public opinion.

    This doesn't seem like a big deal unless people like Senator Dis^H^H^H^HHollings realize that if they piss off a community like Slashdot, they could end up getting targetted. As I said, that's how the NRA's been able to hang around this long. If anything, we should be looking in their direction. They obviously have a better idea about how to go about maintaining rights than suggesting that people just stay home and clean their guns.
    • Blcokquoth the poster:

      We may not be able to gather enough money to sway political opinion, but it is possible to make one person in particular suffer some sort of consequences, whether it's financially or public opinion.

      I for one would be willing to donate time or money toward defeating Hollings, "the Senator from Disney" -- and I'm not from his state.
      • The question is, who would make a good target? Senators are more expensive to defeat, but whoever you get in will last 6 years, and you'll make a big impression to boot, especially if you knock out someone with senority - that removes them from the committees that they chair (ie intelligence, intellectual property, etc.), and weakens their party's control over major legislative decisions.

        On the other hand, we could spend that money on a handful of Representatives who could draft legislation favorable to our cause, and send a message that people on the take from the corporations better get lost.

        The most important this is to spend money where it counts - trying to unseat Diane Feinstein (no matter how much I would love that) would probably not be a good use of money. I don't know Holling's situation, but if it takes less than 3.6 mil to get him reelected, and he's got a good challenger in the next election, then maybe.

        Don't forget, state representatives/senators, state attorney generals, and state governors can be powerful allies as well, the DOJ has given up on Microsoft - it's the state attorney generals who are keeping the fight alive. Besides, local contests are cheaper to influence.
        • "On the other hand, we could spend that money on a handful of Representatives who could draft legislation favorable to our cause, and send a message that people on the take from the corporations better get lost."

          I doubt we could ever buy more reps than Disney could.
      • Hell yeah. I've always thought negative campaigning was underrated (not just effectiveness, but in terms of legitimacy). People who want "positive" campaigns are mostly politicians who are bad, and don't want to get called out on their political and personal decisions. Or people who have an inflated opinion of the current system, and want to keep it all as an inside job. And I think personal attacks are fair game too -- people who are dishonest and immoral in their personal lives usually act similarly in their political lives. (Though I'd draw the line at relationships and family)

        So, a few dollars (not even that many) and a will to tear up a politician can go a long way. I'd give to a anti-Hollings fund. (And hell yes that's free speach, not "soft money" -- if defaming public figures isn't a free speach issue, I don't know what is)

        We could also put the low price of online ads to our advantage. I think a "Hollings: corporate shill" ads would probably attract more attention than the low ad prices would imply.

        • Re:Pretty weak. (Score:2, Insightful)

          by abreauj (49848)
          Hell yeah. I've always thought negative campaigning was underrated (not just effectiveness, but in terms of legitimacy). People who want "positive" campaigns are mostly politicians who are bad, and don't want to get called out on their political and personal decisions.

          I've always disliked the negative ads. When I see one of them, I'm reminded of all the nasty stuff that gets passed as riders on other bills. For instance, a couple years back the RIAA slipped in a change to copright law that made music a "work-for-hire" by default, as a rider on a bill to support some sort of holiday to commemorate firemen, or something like that. Anyone voting against the RIAA rider gets targetted in the next election as being "against firemen".

          When I see a negative ad slamming a candidate over their voting record, I can't help but suspect that it's a similar situation being twisted around. I have no respect for mudslinging ads.


  • To be honest, when I first read the piece, my reaction was "What have they done with the REAL Declan"?

    Declan, did you get bought out or something?
    • He's a libertarian, of the Cato Institute variety. He expressed a through and through libertarian position.
  • A quick summary of the article: The politicians in Washington don't care what you think, they only care about what their campaign contributors tells them to care about. The sad part is, it's more or less true. Maybe some day the USA will join the free world and become a democracy, one can only hope.
  • What, exactly, is a cyberpunk? The very name sounds like "adolescent geeks" in my mind. Is there any way they can try to seem at least a little more legitamate?
  • Yes and No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gilroy (155262) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:16AM (#4059399) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure why this is presented as an either/or thing. Lots of people are politically active who also hold down regular jobs and (gasp) have lives. Why should geeks be the only class that can only focus on one task at a time? I rather expect we multitask pretty well.


    It's important to keep writing the software that forces changes in the culture. But it's equally vital to educate people about those changes, to help ensure that the changes that come are positive. McCullagh's argument reads far too much like "Gee, this politics thing is hard. Let's go back to coding and pizza. I'm sure it will all work out" (or, for the more cynical, "Nothing I do will matter anyway.")


    If these issues matter to you, then get out there and educate the less tech-savvy. That includes Congresscritters. It also includes family members, coworkers, etc. Don't surrender just because it looks hard. Or to put it another way: Yes, geeks organizing politically might fail to stop this headlong rush into technological totalitatianism. Even if we speak up, the worst might happen. But if we don't speak up, then the worst is guaranteed to happen.


    I applaud people creating the disruptive technologies, but they aren't enough. It's interesting to offer up Shawn Fanning (Napster) as a shining example. How, exactly, is Napster doing right now? Yes, he helped usher in an era of peer-to-peer filesharing (ironically through the failure of the Napster model). But now we face increasingly aggressive legal attempts to legislate away computer security, privacy, and fair use rights to counter the things he's unleashed. Maybe unleashing it needed to be done -- but don't you think that maybe, just maybe, things would be in a better state if someone had clearly and forcefully articulated why these things are good, instead of leaving the field uncontested, to be defined by the PR flacks of the *AA groups?


    The DMCA passed unamiously because the geeks were silent, by and large. Congresscritters had no white hats telling them what was at stake; and there wasn't even a nascent organized lobbying effort. And of course Rep. Coble would say the law is "performing the way we hoped." -- he helped write and pass the thing! Why not a quote from, say, Rep. Boucher [com.com]:


    But in the end, Congress agreed to a fundamentally flawed bill... To counter this emerging threat to traditionally accepted fair-use values, Congress must rewrite the law.

    We as geeks have failed to make clear to Joe Sixpack and Jane Q. Public why they care. If we do that, then we're halfway to a victory. Anyone who says that Congress votes for their corporate sponsors over the vocal deamnds of their constituents must have been under a rock in July, when senators and representatives were falling over each other trying to be the first to fix the issues of corporate responsibility that they were shocked -- shocked! -- to discover in American capitalism.


    The big lobbiess don't win because Senator Bob votes against his constituents and ignores their please. The big lobbies win because no one else is speaking .


    So go ahead. Code the next generation of encryption software. Write the next secure anonymous emailer. Protect privacy at the router level. But, while you saving the world in codepsace, take a minute or two to write your senator or explain to your mom what's going wrong, why we're on the wrong track.


    Only a multi-pronged approach holds any chance of success.

    • Re:Yes and No (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Theaetetus (590071)
      Excellent point, gilroy...
      If I may add a little bit to your last paragraph - the largest voting blocks out there are the baby-boomers and senior citizens. Our disaffected generation just doesn't seem to muster up the willpower to get out and vote.

      However, those baby-boomers and seniors know next to nothing about tech issues... and in some cases less than nothing (staring at monitor causes cancer, using cellphones cause cancer, having a hacker in your neighborhood causes cancer, etc.) More important than getting the message out to your representatives (who, even though it doesn't seem like it, do have aides who research this stuff), get the message out to your parents, their sewing circles and bridge clubs, the local rotary club, the local VA, the Moose Lodge, etc. Those are the people who make the senators sit up and listen.

      -T

    • The approach you describe is basically, more of the same stuff that didn't work last time around. The educational lobbying approach EFF, etc. uses has been taken as far as it can go, i.e. we've discovered it fails against a well-financed and organized opposition. Declan is right in saying that approach is doomed to failure.

      Look, if the NRA or AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) were opposing us instead of Hollywood, we'd STILL be getting our asses kicked.

      The NRA / AARP have lots of people ready to give money in $10 and $50 and $100 contributions, put in time, point and click their way to contacting their Congresscritters.

      I'll let you figure out what the lesson is for us in terms of what it takes to get taken serious ly in DC.

      • Blockquoth the poster:

        The NRA / AARP have lots of people ready to give money in $10 and $50 and $100 contributions, put in time, point and click their way to contacting their Congresscritters.

        My goodness, you're right. I feel like I've been blind. What we need to counter the NRA, AARP, or more realistically, the RIAA and MPAA, comes down to

        donations, even on the small scale

        time put into contacting Congress

        energy to organize and rally
        Oh, wait. That is activism, the thing McCullagh recommended we stop wasting our time on. Instead, because we haven't won yet, we should simply accept that we'll never win.


        Ask the NRA or AARP how easy it was in their first half-decade of activism. Ask the NAACP, too. This fight is still young -- it's hardly time to declare defeat and move on.

  • Sadly, I think he is right about the ineffectiveness, but I don't think the author is right about our ability to out pace new legislation. What happens when controls are embedded in the hardware, legally required to be there, and you can't make your computer run 'unauthorized' software like PGP (unauthorized, or forced into key escarow by the gov.) and DeCSS? This isn't that far fetched, I'd call it a step or two away from the CBDTPA. How do you hack that? It has to be stopped before it gets to that point.One can't do much once computers are legislated into glorified DVD players.
  • "short version: spend your time coding, not lobbying."

    Its easy to say sdo, but when those laws actually take away your right to code and create new technologies.. where do you go.
    The current decade is like dark ages. Then you could be put do Jail for preaching that Earth is not center of universe, and now you are put to jail for preaching that Hollywood is not center of universe, isnt it ironic now history repeats itself...
    What next... Newton?
  • by Naikrovek (667) <jjohnson@[ ].com ['psg' in gap]> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:31AM (#4059467)
    there is only one answer to the question of corrupt or immoral politicians: EDUCATION

    Politicians can get away with what they do because no one is watching. not enough people to make a difference, anyway. few people care, because few people pay attention. few people pay attention because few people understand what's really happening.

    If you want to stop (or at least curb) this crazy behavior, you need to educate yourself and others about what is going on. Find facts, and spread them to everyone you know. Education such as this will help people make up their own minds (don't do their thinking for them, you may be wrong).

    EDUCATION is the ONLY way you'll ever get the numbers you need to get people moving in the right direction.

    Educate yourself on every aspect of politics, and you'll soon see that it is the only way to get people to move. People go into fits when their favorite ball player is traded because they understand what's going on. Do the world a favor. Be a political reference for your friends. Make things known to people who otherwise would not know about these things. It will help more than you expect.
    • Right. If you and others are willing to pay for that education to be delivered in the form of 30 second commercials and by lobbyists hired by an organization that represents us who can write Hollywood sized checks.

      What you're describing does not work. Declan apparently thinks that's all we're capable of doing and therefore we should give up.

      If we as a community can't get it together that far, start practicing the phrase "You want fries with that?"

      Our option? Find or create a NRA/AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) that represents us. The average member of NRA or AARP has a lower income than the average one of us does. Politicians take the organizations and the interersts they represent seriously.

      We are NOT taken seriously. You know what the fix is.

  • Geek Activism?
    How about Geektivism!
  • Declan McCullagh spent several years on Essential Information's AM-Info (Appraising Microsoft) e-mail list basically just lurking and stirring up trouble he could use in news reports. He finally had to be banned from the list, to the great relief of most of us who live there. Beware the wolf in journalist's clothing.
  • I don't know about Deacon, but I sure as hell hope some of those geeks whose "efforts are mostly a waste of time" are there to help all the productive, coding geeks who create such egregious attacks on capitalism like DeCSS (and me, who has probably commited several million dollars in DMCA violations this month, none of which have lead to piracy of any sort). We need to work on both aspects, coding and "activism", otherwise, the the coders activities will become (more) illegal without the efforts of those, like the EFF, who combat a corrupt legal/congressional system and suffocating laws. Geeks have many varied strengths, and we should all fight this battle in the best way we can. With no code, there's nothing to fight for, with no one fighting, there will be no code.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @12:54AM (#4059552) Homepage
    We're in an election season. This a great time to help out with the campaigns of politicians you like. Often, tney need computer help. You'll meet their staff, and the candidate briefly. So you'll know who to talk to when the time comes.
  • The sad facts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RWarrior(fobw) (448405) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:01AM (#4059576)
    There are some sad facts that technogeeks either need to grok and live with, or grok and change. And we can't change all of them. Here are some of these facts:

    1) They have more money than we do. In Washington, money buys access, and money buys influence. Unless Bill Gates suddenly sees the light on the issues that are important to the average /. geek, this will continue to be the case. The new campaign finance law will not change this fundamental truth of Washington.

    2) Geeks and hackers are Bad, and there are no White Hats. Technologically savvy people have been demonized in the press and in the political system as "hackers." While we would apply the term "cracker" to the people our politicans are really talking about, the average American isn't capable of understanding the difference between a "hacker" and a "cracker." Until Joe Average is able to tell the difference, we will remain outsiders.

    3) People like Shawn Fanning, Kevin Mitnick, and the publishers of 2600 give us a bad name. It doesn't matter that Fanning or Mitnick or 2600 have or haven't broken the law. As an old math teacher once told me on a totally unrelated issue, "It is not only impropriety we must avoid, but also the appearance of impropriety." Fanning and Mitnick look, to Joe Average, like criminals. See Fact #2.

    4) They are better organized than we are. This is closely related to Fact #1, because money brings organization. The EFF, as well as we respect it here on /., doesn't have the organization to be an effective grass roots organization (Christian Coalition) or enough money to be a monied interest (RIAA). That won't change until enough people get interested enough to either do the grass roots education or spend the money. I for one do't have the time to do the former, or the money to do the latter. I'm sure I'm not alone.

    5) Joe Average doesn't care about civil liberties. Joe Average cares about a fuel-loaded MD-11 flying into [insert large building he works in here]. Joe Average sees in his little mind, and is frightened of, millions of towelheads screaming "Allah akbar!" and shooting their Kalashnikov's and Uzi's into the air. He agrees with Trent Lott that questioning the government is unpatriotic; he believes that by giving up his freedom, the government can catch all the towelheads before they fly those planes. He also believes that "hackers" (see Fact #2) are at least partly responsible for the government's failures, and that restricting their ability to hack things is essential to stopping the towelheads. Since it's not him secretly locked up with the towelheads without access to an attorney or a court, he doesn't care. [Editorial comment: "... And when they came for me, there was no one left to complain."]

    6) Joe Average wouldn't know what to do with the ability to copy something if it jumped up and bit him. He sees no need to copy CDs, and wouldn't understand what to do with a ripped DVD if someone told him. He doesn't understand the point of backing up software, and doesn't reinstall his operating system or upgrade his machine (if he even owns one) frequently, so antipiracy codes like the one in WinXP doesn't make any difference to him. He's not blind, so using a screen reader on an Acrobat file is something that would never enter his mind. DRM technology isn't even a buzzword for him; entering that screen of data to get the program to work is just like filling out a form at the local bank -- you do it because they won't do their thing if you don't. "Fair use" is a foreign concept, and since he's so busy trying to hang onto his job, pay for his kids' education and food, keep a roof over his and his family's head, make the car payment, and worrying about the towelheads, he doesn't care to be educated about fair use and why it's good for him. He also doesn't care who looks up his library records because he doesn't even have a library card and hasn't been to a library since he was in grade school.

    These are the facts. Whining on /. about it will not change it. We here on /. are not normal people. We are above Joe Average in intelligence and education on these kinds of issues, because we pay attention to them and they are important to us. They are not important to Joe Average, and they will not become important to Joe Average until he can see them directly affecting his pocketbook or his job. And we can not change that, at least not now.

    It may in fact be that the only way we can change the law and influence the system is to obsolete it. It sure wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

    • Re:The sad facts (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Invictus2.0 (570276)
      So what are you recomending, that we let things get so bad to the point of "directly affecting his pocketbook or his job"? By the time that happens, it might be far too to late to fight back.

      Then again, I remember, for example, how in A Tale of Two Cities how Madame Defarge would quell impatient revolutionists by telling them that the time to fight had not come yet, and the the rage of the people takes time to build force, like a volcano before eruption. Otherwise, a premature attack would fail, and put the whole movement even further behind. Perhaps that's what we need, to let things get bad enough for the average American Joe to not only give a shit, but become enraged about.

      Either way, we shouldn't completely ingore the problem. Groundwork for the revolution must be laid now, even if the real fighting has yet to begin.
    • Re:The sad facts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Robo210 (548438) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:28AM (#4059660)
      Your editoral comment brought this to mind:
      "First they came for the hackers. But I never did anything illegal with my computer, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the pornographers. But I thought there was too much smut on the Internet anyway, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the anonymous remailers. But a lot of nasty stuff gets sent from anon.penet.fi, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the encryption users. But I could never figure out how to work pgp5 anyway, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for me. And by that time there was no one left to speak up." ~Alara Rogers (Aleph Press)
    • As much as I believe persons exists that fit into your broad description, I don't think the majority of people are like this. That you are intelligent does not mean everyone else is dumb.
  • You've got to be kidding me.

    The idea that a few setbacks spells everlasting defeat has to be the most absurd thing I've ever heard. Geeks aren't necessarily political animals. What we are, however, is a group of intelligent people with impressive earning potential and a widely-felt purpose.

    Fuck this guy. Support the EFF.

    • Right! And when we declared independance from Russia, we had to back up our claims with actions! Geeks everywhere have to get down to business. Just like the Mexicans did when declaring independance from Prussia.

      We need to get to it. We've got our intelligence, and more importantly, our knowledge of history behind us. We're more prepared than the Canadians were when they broke off from the Klingon Empire.

      Time to go do some good.
  • If technology politics is of concern to you (and it should be) and you don't feel up to the job of kicking political butt yourself...

    Make yourself useful to someone who can kick butt and take names.

    If this happened across the board we would be very orginized and dangerous. There are a few out there, and they are looking for your help. If you really look and find nobody to follow then you should lead. Don't just assume there is sombody better for the job, if you can't think of their name and can't drop them an email, it's you.

    Sorry buddy, I didn't mean to make more work for you.

  • by akb (39826) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:23AM (#4059644)
    I think it was quite canny of chrisd to contrast Declan w/ Lessig, it brings out a crucial idealogical theme that runs through the tech community.

    Declan is a libertarian, as such, he is in favor of small government and on priniple doesn't like using the government as an agent in shaping society. Lessig on the other hand is a democrat (note the small "d"). As such he holds out hope that masses of people can express a collective set of values that does not cede rights or nonmaterial values to corporate interests.

    Generally I dislike libertarianism as it is often used as what I perceive as cover for the rich to get richer at everyone else's expense. I read the WSJ, the Economist and Cato stuff pretty regularly and find that that doesn't generally get addressed. I think the reaction so far here points to the lack of that in Declan's piece.

    The story that we get taught in school is that democracy is supposed to be this thing that "the people" participate in, Declan says don't bother. Is this story a myth or not? History tells us that its very hard for democracy to work like in that story, ie, the civil rights struggle or the pitched battles for the 8 hour day early in 1900's.

    A more modern example that we can look at is the environmental movement. Environmentalism has made politcal headway because of hard work by millions working hard over decades. It hasn't "won" by any means, but it does have impact.

    Are geektivists up to this kind of organization and campaigning? Well we have the ability to be far more organized that any political movement ever. This can't be underestimated. Anyway, I think Declan has thrown down the gauntlet.
    • as what I perceive as cover for the rich to get richer at everyone else's expense
      This just shows your warped sense of what the world is like. If I get rich, its not at your expense. Economics are not zero-sum.

      Getting rich is great, its part of the American dream.

      I dont know what people have against getting rich. Finincial indepdence is an important goal.

      But your analysis of the larger debate is spot on. The battle between socialism and liberty and interventionism and isolationism is coming to head in many sectors of life - the Internet being a big one.
      • by akb (39826)
        Frankly, being referred to as warped is offensive. I'm going to respond to you to give you the opportunity to apologize.

        If you get rich, it doesn't have to be at my expense, but it is possible to do so. I think you'd agree that the spate of scandals we've seen lately involves a very few rich people get rich at others' expense. That's just an existence proof, but I think its not warped.

        One could go into the current round of scandals and the bubble burst as evidence of manipulation by the rich and that the media is only noticing because they got too greedy but do that all the time etc. I think there's good evidence there, but as a line of arguement its easy to get bogged down in details so I'll make a more general point.

        I don't have the stats at my finger tips, but over the last 30 years, the top 1/4 of society has seen an enormous increase in wealth, getting more disproportionate as you go up the scale. Everyone else has been pretty flat. Is it really the case that that those people at the top are exclusively responsible for adding wealth to our society? Its certainly the case that the working class have made great increases in productivity, one would think they would benefit too. Could it instead be possible that wealth for workers has been flat because labor unions have had a severe decline in power over that period?

        Power is at the heart of the Marxist critique. Those in power will make the rules to continue their power, seems pretty self evident to me. Democracy involves the idea that this doesn't have to be the case, that some expressions of power should be made without regard to wealth. One of the prime occupations of libertarians, as far as i can tell, is to attempt to place limits on where democratic power can be exercised, like the example before us. They appear to be much less interested in placing limits on the power exercised by the rich.
        • One of the prime occupations of libertarians, as far as i can tell, is to attempt to place limits on where democratic power can be exercised, like the example before us. They appear to be much less interested in placing limits on the power exercised by the rich.
          You equate democracy with government. That's not true. Democracy is "of the people". Libertarians believe in the ultimate democracy - freedom, while socialists such as yourself believe in the ultimate facism - government.

          Their is a persistent myth that the "poor get poorer" while the "rich get richer".

          There is no proof of your dead-horse beaten claim that is both independent and verifiable.

          Well let me make it clear to you. The number of millionares in this country gets bigger almost every year. The number of impoverished people gets smaller, and has gotten smaller, almost every year. The middle class is much larger than "the middle" of the country statistically speaking - it's gigantic.

          But the biggest problem is that the middle class lose anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of their income to the government. How democratic and freedom loving can you be when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel to support deadbeats, crack addicts, and welfare moms?

          But none of that matters. The whole debate can be boiled down to one central point: socialists want a guaranteed outcome - all people will have X, everyone will get at least Y. Libertarians do not want a guaranteed outcome, all we want is a fair shot.

          • Well let me make it clear to you. The number of millionares in this country gets bigger almost every year. The number of impoverished people gets smaller, and has gotten smaller, almost every year. The middle class is much larger than "the middle" of the country statistically speaking - it's gigantic.


            That's just silly, by any measure I can think of we have the smallest middle class in the industrialized world. Maybe you're only comparing us to 3rd world countries?

            I don't think having the smallest middle class means we're bad, on the contrary I think it's because we've been more liberal in our approach to imigration between 67-2001 than most of Europe, we're a microcosm of the whole world, from deep poverty to great wealth. It's because the US isn't a real country but the world writ small that makes it great.
            • Yes, our middle class is smaller compared to other nations, but also look at we consider to be "poverty". My next door neighboors live below the povery line, complete with cable tv, a decent car, and plenty to eat.

              Also consider that our "wealthy class" is friggin gigantic.

              Good point about our trends towards immigration. It will be interesting to see how Europe copes with the flood of immigration that will have to let in over the next decades (if they dont internal population levels will see dramatic drop offs - Europe is aging rapidly). I suspect you will see that Europe will have severe problems and their lovely socialist democratic system is going to be bursting at the seams.

          • Well let me make it clear to you.

            Still the patronizing tone. If you were speaking with someone about this in real life would you use it? *sigh*

            ... socialists such as yourself ...

            I wouldn't characterize myself as a socialist. I think everything I've said so far fits comfortably within the notion of being a democrat (small "d").

            You equate democracy with government. That's not true. Democracy is "of the people".

            I associate wealth with disproportionate power, government is a mechanism for correcting this.

            The number of impoverished people gets smaller, and has gotten smaller, almost every year.

            Actually, in the 1970 census 12.6 percent lived below the poverty line, in the 2000 census it was 12.7 percent.

            ... socialists want a guaranteed outcome ...

            Unfettered power by the wealthy guarantees an outcome. Most economists agree that monopolies are bad and support regulation of them. Whose freedom do you choose in this case?

            • Unfettered power by the wealthy guarantees an outcome. Most economists agree that monopolies are bad and support regulation of them. Whose freedom do you choose in this case?
              Regulation of monopolies is a legitimate use of federal power. I have never claimed elsewise.

              Yes, I would and do make the claim.

              Second, you should look at the poverty line differneces between 1970 and 2000. It will make it clearer to you.

              Finally, wealth does not equal unfettered power, this is a myth designed by socialists.

              Everything you have said so far points to you being a socialist. That's fine - this isn't the 1960's and I am not going to burn you at the stake. Also, 'little d' democracy has failed time and time again. Luckily we don't do that here, in this country.

    • Generally I dislike libertarianism as it is often used as what I perceive as cover for the rich to get richer at everyone else's expense.

      As a Libertarian, I have to vigorously disagree. If that were the case, why is it that Cato and the LP do not attract the super huge sums of money from the wealthy that other organizations do? (The Economist and WSJ are certainly free market oriented, but that is not necessarily Libertarian to me.)

      Indeed, at the most recent Libertarian convention, Otto Guevara [libertario.org], head of the Movimiento Libertario came to speak. Based in Costa Rica, with the help of proportional reprsentation, Movimiento Libertario holds 10% of the seats in the Costa Rican National Assembly (most any Libertarian movement has had anywhere anytime.) (Note: not only am i very involved in the LP, i also happen to be Costa Rican as well.)

      Anyway, he said that when he was getting started, he thought that Libertarianism would most appeal to business people and the wealthy. He found out that they simply weren't interested--because often their wealth stemmed from government regulations, or at least government regulations today protected their wealth/livelyhoods from competition.

      Instead, he appealed to the common man...the taxi drivers, the street lottery sellers, the ice cream vendors who walk through the neighborhoods of San Jose. They saw the opportunities that Libertarianism offered, because often it was government regulations which were preventing them from advancing (regulations promulgated by an unsympathetic bureaucracy.) . I don't believe that there could ever be too many Taxis in the Metropolitan region of San Jose, but regulations make it difficult for drivers to get taxi medallions. Pirate taxi drivers (those unlicensed but do it anyway) know that it's not a safety issue, it simply is a revenue maker for the government and it keeps competition out.

      Even though my grandmother said it would be heresy to vote for any other party than Liberacion, one of the two main parties, I know many in my family were attracted to the ML message. My uncle runs a gas station/car fix it place, and the ML message hit him pretty strongly--these are not wealthy people, they are simply trying to make their lives better through their own capabilities and blessings.

      When you live in a small nation, it is so much easier to see what the results are of any one law.

  • Lessons from History (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:24AM (#4059645)
    That article reminded me of the Manhatten Project scientists. During the war, they mostly chose to focus on their work, and leave the politics to the politicians. Dropping the bomb ended the war, of course, and yet over time most major scientists who had been involved came to regret their silence. That regret is what led, among other things, to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with its famous clock on the cover. Each issue's clock was set a certain number of minutes to midnight. The closer to midnight, the greater the danger, in their consensus opinion of atomic war.

    If you're too young to remember it, you probably won't believe it, but when those clock hands moved, the world noticed and attention was paid. It may be that by creating that symbol and using it to give voice to their concerns, those scientist may have helped to saved us all.

    The bad patents and bad laws that have come out now aren't atom bombs, of course, but they should still be opposed for the good of us all. Like the atomic scientists, Geeks have the knowledge, authority, and responsibility to speak out - the trick is to come up with a good clock, if I may coin a phrase. Some mechanism to explain what's a risk - one that people can respect and understand.

    And no, I don't know what that mechanism ought to be. :)

    • by alizard (107678)
      This isn't the sort of philosophical issue that we can afford to be noble losers about.

      It's our jobs, or what's left of them.

      Or if you aren't working, whether there will ever again be a wave of high-tech company expansion that'll get you a job.

      CDTBPA, BPWG recommendations, and we don't know what next mean that the cost of US high-tech R&D go through the roof, and the brain-damaged technology Hollywood is likely to approve will reduce the functionality of hardware, software, the Internet itself in a way even or especially noticeable by Joe Sixpack *and* his PHM. What does this economy look like for a high-tech worker?

      The example for us to follow is the NRA, not the Federation of Atomic Scientists. We have to learn how to play hardball politics in the big leagues. NOW.

      This isn't about taking a noble stand. It's about kicking asses and taking names. It's about raising enough money to tell politicians "Our way or the highway. Your choice." Our chunk of the economy is 10x that of the entertainment industry. If we can't figure out a way enough money given this to make guys like Hollings go away, we deserve what we are getting.

      This is also about the future of whether there is going to be any human freedom or not in this part of the 20th century.

      However, I think the motivation that's going to get us to open our wallets and checkbooks and get up early some morning to walk a precinct for a candidate our organization's political analysts say is our friend is or point-and-click faxes to our elected officials every other week is... a few rich, greedy assholes want to protect a dying business model that is publically denounced by their own employees in a manner which will probably end the IT or other high tech careers of a whole lot of us.

      So they can inflict a few more boy bands or Britney Spears soundalike on us before they retire.

  • ... individual tech people are probably better off spending their energy writing code than being part of the political process.
    This really gets me. Advocating that individuals should not be part of the political process? And instead the important thing is to do our work. This sounds like a perfect Creed for Slaves.

    The real solution is for geeks to become better at getting their voices heard. How many geeks have sent out a polite clear e-mail explaining to their friends/family/colleagues what DRM, say, could do to them? And how many of those e-mails ended with a line like "If you found this message interesting, please forward it on."? If enough people eventually get the message, the political system will too.

  • I'm a member of Melbourne Wireless [wireless.org.au], which is trying to build a citywide wireless community network. Australian regulations make it unclear whether what the group was doing was legal, and even if it was there were several groups associated with the telcos who seemed to have an agenda to make it illegal.

    To cut a long story short, the group wrote a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on broadband technologies, and then spoke to that submission. The politicians (from both major parties) asked reasonable questions, and once they got their answers their comments were highly positive, saying that they believed what the group is doing was legal, and they would support continued free access to the requisite spectrum.

    Now, I'm not saying that all the group's potential legal pitfalls were solved with one enquiry submission, but the basic point is that politicians will listen, if you talk to them the right way.

  • by zaffir (546764) on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @01:26AM (#4059658)
    I think that sites like anti-dmca.org are a step in the right direction, but (and i'm just gonna pick on anti-dmca.org right now) it's pretty difficult to figure out what is so bad about the DMCA. I think the home page needs a very clear message about HOW the DMCA is squashing innovation, and exactly what is BAD about it. Hell, i searched the site for half an hour and couldn't find a real reason for it! Sure, it's illegal to crack encryption (doesn't the DMCA allow for fair use, though? I'm no lawyer so anyone care to interpret the legalize for me?) and it's illegal to publicly report security holes. I don't see how that relates directly to innovation. Concerning the latter, there are free speech issues, and it just hurts security in general, but innovation? I don't see it.

    If someone asks me why they should care about the DMCA, i want to be able to give them some basic facts, or point them in the right direction. But to someone with only a casual interest, activism sites that don't come out and say, in plain english, what's bad about the bill will just get overlooked.

    Yeah, it's late, mod me for stupidity or whatever you want. That's what karma's for, right?
    • We do have a secret weapon that I think could be effective at educating even "joe sixpack" about the evils of DMCA and other proposed laws. I've thought all round this, and I see lots of upside, and no downside. Consider how fast an emailed joke gets from one end of the country to the other, just by being passed along friend to friend. Why can't we all send a clear concise email message to all our friends, explaining just why people should know about DMCA and care about fair use. Urge them to send it along to all *their* friends. I'm sure you are all aware how such messages take on a life of their own. If a small number of us do this, I suspect that most people that have email accounts would see at least one of them within a week.

      Now, many will no doubt ignore it, but a lot of people won't. Many who didn't know much about DMCA would at least start to recognize the issue in the newspapers and other media. Some people might be moved to write their Congresscritters about what's going on. This would be no bad thing, for in spite of what Declan says, Congresscritters *DO* pay attention to what their constituents think. If enough of us tell them how mad and frightened we are of the direction things are heading, they will be forced to consider our concerns.

      If you want an example of this, consider the Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association, of which I'm a member. AOPA has just over a half a million members, which doesn't seem like much compared to the 280 million in the country. Yet regularly, when issues of concern to pilots are in consideration in Congress, AOPA's letter writing campaigns do affect the votes of members of Congress. All the money Disney hands to Berman and others won't matter a fig if Berman ever gets it in his head that he could lose the next election. It wouldn't take many of his constituents writing him to get that message to penetrate.

      What should a message like this say? Something along these lines: "Do you know that rights you now take for granted could be taken away by law?" Then a simple explanation of what DMCA is, and how it has already led to one person being jailed for simply giving an academic talk, while other researchers have cancelled talks rather than risk jail. Then: "well, why should we care about a bunch of professors and scientists, anyway?" Because they were simply exercising their free-speech and fair use rights. Then go on to explain that fair use means that it's OK to rip CD's and make MP3 tracks to play on your computer (providing you bought the CD, of course). Fair use means that you can sell a CD or a book after you buy it and are done with it. Fair use means you can go to a library or music store and listen to a CD to see if you like it before you buy it. And all of these fair use rights are in jeopardy because of DMCA and other proposed laws.

      If done right, I think this kind of grassroots campaign can be very effective. Can someone see why it wouldn't at least help? I can't think of any reason myself. It won't solve everything, but it would be a step in the right direction.

  • ...won't change a thing once the politicians start messing around with what hardware we can and cannot use. There are more than enough clue-full software engineers to help these people box the rest of us (no matter how smart we are) into a world where creativity is assumed to be the sole preserve of Sony, Disney, Microsoft, and others like them.

    Don't give up on politicians, some of them - perhaps even most of them are good well-intentioned people, their flaw is often little-more than ignorance, and you can change that, provided you are good at explaining geeky issues to non-geeks (and, despite the stereotype portrayed in this article, I think many geeks are) in a clear and non-patronising way.

  • This is the wrong outlook on politics, at least in my opinion. One should not refrain from lobbying, that's the only way to get opinions heard in the first place. Just because they might not fully understand the exact impact their policies may have, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to educate them.

    "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."
    ~ Plato
  • As a former (!!) american citizen, I was suprised at how outraged I got reading this.
    Point is: If there is anything that makes up the 'political' side of the US majority, it's the fact that a sense for liberty or even anarchy is burried deep into the still persitant 'pioneer' spirit of US citizens.
    If political decisions are to be conducted by the people of the US, getting active is the only way for them (you) to get things moving back in the right direction.
    To be percise: Were this guy a konservative citizen of Switzerland, I could cope with his opinion. Lot's of high educated people crammed in a tight, overculturized place ought to find out for themselves when they do things wrong. Overreacting and jumping to blind activisim could be somewhat counterproductive in such an enviroment
    Or said otherwise: In larger parts of europe we've got the media for effective, in depth critical comments on politics. The US simply lacks a conform common level of education for political correction to work that way - kinda 'automatically', if you know what I mean. That's where it boils down to the real people and what they feel about their liberty.
    Let's face it folks: The last thing we all want is an USA 'going Orwell' - which it actually is doing in leaps and bounds at the time. The foremost thing that makes me think we can avoid that isn't a common political sense in the US, mind you, but the all-american peoples utter lack of humor when it finally gets to them that the fate of their hard earned liberty is at their hands.
    Bottom line: Don't listen to this 'wanna be' pseudo-european-cosmopolitan BS, get 'on the street' and tell John Doe what actually happening with this SSSCA, 'Patriot' and DMCA stuff, and kick some serious political butt before it's to late.
  • by alizard (107678) <alizard@noSpAM.ecis.com> on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @04:52AM (#4060184) Homepage
    Declan is RIGHT in that the traditional educational approach is not working and it isn't going to.

    His analysis of the current political situation is right, but only as far as it goes. What he's missed is that o1ur jobs are at stake. High tech R&D will have to move out of the USA if Hollywood gets everything it wants and at the moment, MPAA/RIAA have NO meaningful opposition.

    He is WRONG about the options being to keep doing futile educational attempts or go home.

    Lessig is RIGHT in that we have to stay engaged in the political process. He is WRONG in saying we have to do the same old things, only bigger and better.

    BOTH are wrong in thinking there are no other options.

    The third choice is ORGANIZE in a clueful way.

    Is the average member of the National Rifle Association a major record label suit making $1M a year?

    Is the average retiree member of the American Association of Retired Persons a VP of Universal making $2M a year?

    I think you know that the answer to both questions are NO.

    Does Congress listen to the NRA or the AARP? Not always, not all the time, but in general, the answer is "YES!". The "not always" simply means that nobody gets everything they want all the time.

    Is the income of the average member of either group that much greater than ours? Of course not, our average incomes are far higher than theirs. Is the average intelligence or wisdom of the average member of each group so much greater than that of the average "geek" that they deserve political influence and we don't?

    What does the NRA/AARP do?

    • They collect money from members and contribute to the politicians who are their friends and to the opponents of their enemies.
    • They have a full time lobbyist staff in DC to keep track of the issues connected to their members and disburse campaign money and give advice to politicians which gets listened to.
    • When quiet words in back rooms don't make the point, they contact their membership, tell them that they need to contact their Congressperson and why, and make it easy for their members to contact Congress via Web > fax gateway servers (snailmail to Congresspeople is obsolete) and by other means.
    • When they really want to make a point, they target politicians and not only support their opponents, but actively campaign, i.e. buy their own ads, make their own commercials, and put their own people into precincts to rid the world of the presence of their political enemy.

    The high-tech part of the US economy is $500B, the entertainment sector about $50B. They are the tail, WE are the dog. Who's getting wagged?

    There seems to be an assumption that just because we work with computers, there's a collective cluelessness that will make it impossible for us to combine as a whole to save our own asses, that we are too stupid to understand what our own self-interest is and too selfish to give our own money and time to do anything about it.

    Declan has offended us because he's the first geek public figure to make the assumptions that our opposition makes about is explicit.

    Our options are:

    1. Do what the NRA/AARP does. Band together, open our wallets, donate our own time to make sure our friends get elected and our enemies get retired. One $100 contribution to a Congresscritter can be ignored. 100,000 such contributions aggregated by a "geek" organization means that when the Department of Commerce sets up a DRM conference, our people will be invited VIP guests and maybe Hollywood doesn't get invited.
    2. watch corporate high-tech R&D move to places where Hollywood doesn't 0wn the government to escape the drastically increased costs of compliance and slower development cycles with the legislation passed or in progress will mandate.

      The individual geek option in this case is to move out of the US when this happens to wherever the most interesting companies are going or learn how to love flipping burgers. Do you want to say "Would you like fries with that?" on the job?

    3. bet on every government in the world adopting the same shackles on its own high-tech that the US entertainment industry wants. I think this a sucker bet.
    Get ready to open your checkbooks to buy insurance against having to move out of the USA to practice any high-tech profession via the political process. Or start saving up for relocation and startup money in a new country. Or see what kind of fast-food uniforms you look best in.

    People, it's "Join or Die" time.

    We can find something to join or invent something, but we WILL stand up and be counted or we WILL be rolled over.

    You have run out of time to decide. What's it going to be?

  • There will never be a peaceful resolution, no matter how much you yak about changing the system. The politicians, while most certainly a lower form of life, aren't exactly stupid; they'll simply outlaw any attempt to horn in on their power base. It's that simple.

    Lobby all you like, for all the good it'll do you. And code all you like, in the naive belief that Congress won't just declare your code illegal if they perceive it as a threat. Either way you're fucked.

    Innocence is for Catholic schoolgirls. Whether you think 'the code uber all' or 'lobbying works', it won't matter for shit in the real world. What it boils down to, and has always boiled down to, is: who has the power.

    They do, and you don't. The only way to change anything is to change *that* equation. Until then you're just engaging in a simplistic act of mental masturbation to make yourself feel better about the shithole this country is becoming.

    If you want that power, you'll have to *seize* it. Because they sure as hell aren't going to give it to you of their own free will.

    Max
    • 2 things:

      1. We need to address "of the people, by the people, for the people." However out of whack we are or are becoming from that ideal, there is some potential for it 'snapping back'. The whole entire U.S. government exists upon a foundation of well thought out principles. I still hope that the extent to which those priniciples can be bent or broken is limited.

      2. Remember, that even if this country is becoming a shithole, it's still the best shithole there is. You have to admit that life in the USA is pretty darned comfy compared to almost everywhere else. Shithole or not, we have it pretty good.

      Vortran out
  • Predicated on the premise that

    The House of Representatives voted 385-3 last month to approve life prison sentences for malicious computer hackers.

    Declan presumes that the Congress ignores geek wisdom, concluding that resistance is futile:

    Trust me, a few--even a few thousand--peeved e-mail messages won't change vote totals that lopsided.

    His defeatism is misplaced.

    First, he overstates the argument -- Congress required far more than malice to earn a life sentence, you have to take or seriously risk lives in the process of your hackery. Indeed, in the Slashdot debate, only a few obvious ideas were floated HOW one could actually do such a thing.

    Second, I have found to the contrary that the legislative process can be worked to the benefit of hackers, and precisely because of techno-lobbying. Many horrific and just plain stupid bills were floated this year and just as quickly dumped precisely because of sound, intelligent and organized lobbying by geek activist organizations. Other bills were neutralized or rendered harmless.

    Lobbying does not equate to whining through email -- which appears to be Declan's only, quite blunt and ineffective, tool. But it is a straw man for his rather simple-minded argument. Others, using traditional processes and traditional means, seem to be doing much better.
  • Hey, I'd love to code, but I'm not a programmer. I'm a geek just the same.

    If I was a programmer, I'd probably be saying that I'd love to code, but I'm deeply afraid of being sent to prison for coding!

    You can't code if the politicians make it illegal to code so many of the basic tools we take for granted. You need to secure and safeguard your right to do that now.

    Actually, yesterday would have been better. There was a time of innocense when that wasn't necessary, but that time is sadly past us now.

    Coding and being politically active aren't mutually exclusive, so choosing one OR the other is a false dichotomy. Both are important, and both need to be done right. Declan's point might make sense if we understand it as "ineffective lobbying is a waste" but the lesson to take from that is "don't bother lobbying", it's "Grok lobbying and do it right."

  • GEEK ACTIVISM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 13, 2002 @08:21AM (#4060576)

    Re: Geek Activism [com.com]

    I was moved to reply to your recent article on Geek Activism on CNET due to what I consider to be the dangerous political naivety of the piece. Advocating that people should step back from challenging the political and legal system in favour of computer programming is the most ignorant and ineffectual suggestion I can possibly imagine. Allowing the decisions of others to be made without debate or contestation in a political arena results in poor decisions being made, unrepresentative political systems and at worst the danger of a minority imposing their views on the rest of us. Do you really believe that people programming at computer keyboards can change the world? That is the simplistic utopian belief that technology can somehow free us without recourse to the political system. I would suggest you look carefully at the recent case of the prosecution of the Norwegian teenager Jon Johansen for his role in creating DeCSS software (and under the pressure of the US government no less), see digitalagora.com [digitalagora.com] for more info.

    Black Civil Rights activists, the Women's movement, Anti-war protesters, and even geeks have to actually get up (and well away from the computer keyboard) to force change and fight for a more equitable political system. I agree that email on its own may be ineffectual, but creating lobbying websites, educating people and writing to political leaders, lobbying companies, newspapers and magazines all contribute to a debate that can have profound effect on the decisions of politicians.

    The ability of individuals to obtain and read facts free from licenses, coercive copyright restrictions, corporate censorship (maintained by the use of copyright law) and other attempts to control information, reduces people's ability to obtain information and make up their own mind. The space where people can read and communicate with others, which includes the Internet but is not limited to it, is a public sphere, a space of public deliberation, it is vital to the maintenance of a modern democratic state and this is being slowly eroded.

    We should be encouraging people to take part in this political debate to set policy with regard to technology and fight to widen access to information and indeed to technology itself.

    Regards

    David Berry david@locarecords.com

    Home Page [locarecords.com]

  • by tve (95573)
    What's this talk about coders not being suitable for lobbying? Did I miss character generation where you had to pick either coding skills or social graces? Sorry, words like "cultural tendency" are just meaningless generalizations to me.
  • Articles like this one by Declan McCullough make me sick. Our economy is currently in the dumpster because politicians went around doing the wrong things. How many of us lost jobs in the tech bubble?

    If your job is working with computers, then the stuff coming out of Washington should terrify you. They could severely limit the amount of growth in the computer field with some of these proposals. Eventually, that means it will be likely that you will have to find a new career doing something other than coding. I mean, we all have to eat. Even if you don't love working with computers for their own sake, you should at least consider the monetary aspect. (I know, we are all supposed to live on our love of coding and manufacture things like food and clothes out of our good intentions.)

    Technology and politics always go together. New technology always shakes things up and creates chaos. In authoritarian societies, this chaos can lead to revolution and counter revolution, to bloodshed and mayhem. In democratic societies, the change is still unpleasant. Politics is never easy, it's never quick. What this article is saying is, "let's just stay in our ivory towers and wait for the storm to blow over?" Maybe he believs that technological revolutions can't be stifled by a concerted effort of politicians. How many time do I have to cite this article, UNNATURAL MONOPOLY: CRITICAL MOMENTS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BELL SYSTEM MONOPOLY [cato.org], on the telephone monopoly before people like Declan McCullough get it?

    Recently I have been reading a great book about politics. It's called Means of Ascent and it is about a ruthless, brilliant politician named Lyndon Baines Johnson (and to a lesser extent, to his opponent in the first Senate race LBJ ever won, Coke Stevenson).

    Johnson was brilliant at using money and technology to get his message out to the voters (his message mostly being about destroying Coke Stevenson's reputation in the State of Texas). How did Johnson use technology? Well, he used the radio much more effectively than previous Texas politicians. He also used the helicopter to go from speech to speech. The book makes a point that this kind of campaigning was extremely effective. (Of course, Johnson still had to turn to what I will euphemistically call "machine politics" in the end, but even that wouldn't have been effective without using the gains he had gotten with his effective use of technology. Even with the machine politics, wiretaps were very helpful to the Johnson campaign.)

    However, the main thing that the story of Johnson and Stevenson impressed on me was that Stevenson's problem was that he refused to "sink to Johnson's level." He refused to defend himself against Johnson's charges (some of which, like suggesting Stevenson was a Commie stooge, were clearly absurd if people thought about them), and point out problems with Johnson's own record himself. He felt he was above all that.

    Well, in the end Johnson went to the Senate and Stevenson didn't. That's what happens when you give up a political fight before you've really lost it.

  • In fact, a great many can't or don't write any meaningful code at all. But there's a lot more to be done that churning out code (or circuits, for some of us :)

    Trying out the very latest CVS versions and entering meaningful bug reports and writing "howto" and other types of documentation are really valuable efforts. These are the places where hard-core coders deeply involved in their projects won't see bugs because they "know" how to use their programs, and of course don't write newbie oriented documentation.

    Failing that, I rather see interested geeks lobbying that doing nothing constructive at all. Even writing one email or fax is better than going to watch TV or play the latest massively multiplayer game.

"If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?" -- Lily Tomlin

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