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01.06.20

Apologies in Advance

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 11:40 pm by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Apology letter and rose

Summary: “In late 2018 and early 2019, I thought it was dangerous that the FSF had no plans for Stallman retiring or otherwise leaving, dangerous that he had no protégé to take his stead.”

Though Roy works as an official part of Techrights, and I work separately from that, we have in common a Mulder-like desire to find the truth about what’s going on. Some might assume that we are simply being critical of the FSF, though Roy is far more diplomatic (he is simply better at it and leans farther in that direction) and I am happy that I’ve been thanked, even recently, for holding people accountable and keeping pressure on those who would betray the FSF’s mission.

My primary interest is in the mission of Free software, and I make no secret of the fact that I consider free culture and Free hardware intrinsic to software freedom in this century. Acting President Alex Oliva and I have debated this at times politely and many times, heatedly though recently he said:

“I’ve often said that our first step has to be installing Free software not in people’s computers, but in their minds.”

That probably means something different to him than what it means to me; my reply was:

“As with Oliva, I take the connection between software and “mindware” very seriously and I think the FSF should not be so dismissive about this connection as it was in the past.”“Though I’m the one who has said for years that such software should be under a Free software license.”

In other words, I never bought into Stallman’s “works of opinion” shtick and have long thought the Defective by Design website would further its mission if it opened their work up to remix and the same free culture standards as Open Educational Resources. The father of free culture, Lawrence Lessig, used to be on the FSF board and won the Free Software Award. Unfortunately, just as Mike Linksvayer (someone I do not respect, but who did a decent job nonetheless as Vice President of Creative Commons) was unable to get CC to deprecate non-free licenses with clauses like -NC- and -ND-, Lessig was unable to get the FSF to champion free culture as a philosophical relative of Free software.

They have slowly (at a glacial pace) improved in this regard, and I’m happy that Shoetool is under a free culture license. In the past, they probably would have licensed it with No-derivs.

I don’t consider this kind of freedom unrelated to software freedom. As with Oliva, I take the connection between software and “mindware” very seriously and I think the FSF should not be so dismissive about this connection as it was in the past.

“In late 2018 and early 2019, I thought it was dangerous that the FSF had no plans for Stallman retiring or otherwise leaving, dangerous that he had no protégé to take his stead.”So when I felt the FSF was stagnating in 2019, I didn’t think it necessarily had anything to do with a corporate-backed coup. I published several articles on how to improve the FSF, which were written under the assumption that the FSF was simply low on inspiration and painted into a boring philosophical corner. In late 2018 and early 2019, I thought it was dangerous that the FSF had no plans for Stallman retiring or otherwise leaving, dangerous that he had no protégé to take his stead. Even earlier than late 2018 I had considered who would be ideal for the position — Ben Mako Hill and Oliva were at the top of the list.

Since then we have found quotes from the “inside” to the effect of Stallman having no replacement, so it wasn’t just us, but also evidence that Oliva was indeed a possible replacement. As in the person Stallman might choose if it were up to him. This is context and important background, but the point of this article isn’t about Oliva. It’s about the present state of the FSF in general.

I figured if the FSF was stagnating, that Stallman ought to step down and let a protégé (preferably someone Stallman trusted) take over some of the job of running the FSF. I did not consider Sullivan good for the position, and I don’t know. I don’t think he has any passion or charisma, and despite the occasional protest I think it’s clear that Stallman has much more than he’s sometimes given credit for.

“…the official narrative aside, what remains of the FSF is still the aftermath of a coup, even if Stallman did step down.”Once again, I feel it’s necessary to point out that my “let someone else be your protégé and have a clean transition” plan would have likely shielded him during the coup. He would still be on the board, he would have an ally in his position — it would be the closest the FSF could get to two Stallmans for the price of one, but Stallman would be less of a target (and harder to get rid of if he was only on the board, not the president.)

The official narrative — of which there is practically none, since the FSF has never commented on anything, even to say they were sad for him to go — Stallman himself has said he left to protect the FSF, but what’s left at the moment is hard to justify protecting, except “for the future” when it becomes hopefully a useful organisation again)… the official narrative aside, what remains of the FSF is still the aftermath of a coup, even if Stallman did step down.

And the one opportunity for members to weigh in — please note, that Stallman himself asked people to help by joining and ensuring Free software remained an important part of what the FSF stands for — the one opportunity members had to weigh in was blown when they extended the fundraiser. That’s the thing that still has me reeling a week later. So when the FSF said today:

“I’m very angry at the spin and the injustice coming out of the FSF.”“The day-in, day-out work of defending software freedom and maintaining the GNU Project depends on the generosity of donors like Dominic Walden, Donald Craig, and Etienne Grossmann. #ThankGNU so much!”

I fired back:

“They probably gave up trying to be heard and gave you people the money anyway.

The one opportunity members had to force you swindlers to listen, and you just extended the fundraiser instead. Seriously, f- — you guys. you’re not the FSF- you’re the people occupying the FSF office.”

Anybody who thinks this is some kind of turn towards nastiness hasn’t followed the other things I’ve said for the past several weeks. I’m very angry at the spin and the injustice coming out of the FSF.

The real point of this article, however, is to say that yes — I realise there are still good people at the FSF. And no, my comments are definitely not directed at them. I think enough people probably know that by now, and I still hear from Stallman now and then and from others who will remain nameless, even when I don’t expect to hear from them.

“…until Stallman is back the FSF is more of an office under corporate occupation than a Free software organisation.”I feel very strongly that any “ugliness” from me is nothing compared to the lies and injustice coming from the people who were party to this very real and increasingly understood coup, and that until Stallman is back the FSF is more of an office under corporate occupation than a Free software organisation.

It is now known, thanks to the IRC logs, that Stallman does not consider it useful (not yet) to try to get back on the board with things the way they are. I won’t elaborate on “things the way they are” at this time, but the bottom line is there is more to this story than we have still managed to get all the details of.

A side effect of the fact that we are still getting to the whole story, the rest of the truth, is that occasionally, some innocent and well-meaning person is going to get branded with the wrong team logo when they’re actually one of the good guys. Like I said, Roy is more diplomatic, though it is necessary to keep the pressure on those who are responsible beyond the shadow of a doubt.

In other words, it is necessary (in my opinion) to be somewhat ruthless with the people “occupying” the FSF until they themselves are ousted. A more ideal situation, where the “good guys” really did have everything under control, would be to treat each individual with the utmost care and presumed innocence. Unfortunately, that isn’t how you stop a coup.

“What I can’t (or anyway, won’t) do is let the people destroying the FSF simply continue unabated.”So yes, I may end up being unfair to someone, or a couple people. I really am sorry for that. What I can’t (or anyway, won’t) do is let the people destroying the FSF simply continue unabated. Many of us are trying extremely hard to piece together the big picture. We aren’t merely double checking the things we report, we backtrack and double-check and correct anything we know to be a mistake.

It’s absolutely horrific how often we turn out to be on the right track, most of the things we are discovering simply should never be as they are now. We don’t want to be right. Unfortunately, many of the things we worried about a year ago are not only confirmed — they’re worse.

So no, I firmly believe playing “nice” with the current regime is not the answer. The apology to anyone under suspicions without deserving it is sincere. I feel and I hope in the long run, that as with Stallman, those wrongly accused will be vetted by time and the continuing quest for truth and justice. So many people are trying to throw us off, but we have lots of information to work with. I still invite people who know more to let Techrights know, as Techrights is clearly the name people trust with their information about what’s really happening behind the scenes.

“As to what’s worth keeping the pressure on the FSF about — everything has shown that the right thing to about Stallman is apologise and reinstate him.”I’m also grateful to Daniel Pocock, to the debian.community team, and to everyone doing the right thing when others are simply playing along.

As to what’s worth keeping the pressure on the FSF about — everything has shown that the right thing to about Stallman is apologise and reinstate him. He should still have a protégé available to take over for him, and we now know who that would be.

Members still have no real say in what the FSF does, except hypothetically. I have always thought the mission of the FSF should outweigh the members, though the truth is that the members have no weight — they are as massless as a photon. The one opportunity members had to change the course of the FSF was during this fundraiser, and instead of responding to the failure with accountability and a learned lesson, the FSF simply decided “screw you guys, we will just keep running the fundraiser until we get our money!”

“Today, the future of Linux is also in doubt.”Well, it’s not really “your” money, FSF — that money is in the hopes that you will represent our freedom. And you aren’t doing that. You’re still caving to whatever outside interests would willingly destroy Free software.

Hurd is not ready, and that was never a problem when Linux was a suitable kernel. Hurd is simply too complicated to (maybe ever) serve the everyday purposes of a widely-distributed free operating system kernel. If there were enough coders to make it happen, perhaps it would work. The entire worldwide history of kernel development, Hurd’s own development included, would suggest otherwise. That doesn’t mean it is worthless, but it is subject to the politics and practicality that moved most kernel developers to Linux.

Today, the future of Linux is also in doubt. Despite my insisting (perhaps too optimistically) that people involved with linux-libre could probably extend the project to remove problems like DRM in the kernel and other dubious acts of possible sabotage like removing support for floppy drives (couldn’t you just make it a module, and make it so that support isn’t enabled by default?) the future of Linux looks problematic not only from the point of the software, but the point of the license. When Microsoft takes over GPL compliance for the Linux foundation, the result will ultimately be that Linux is “permissively-licensed under the GPL.”

Microsoft will have their own kernel, and Linux development will suffer further.

Hyperbola (an FSF-approved distro) has already decided to drop Linux in the future and switch to the BSD kernel. If they maintain their ties with the FSF, they will have the first FSF-approved operating system that is based on a BSD kernel. (I made Stallman aware of LibertyBSD a year ago, but at the time it looked like it could be a dead project. There are scripts on notabug that hint to the contrary, and I wish LibertyBSD the very best in the present and future.)

“Of course they should damn well apologise to Stallman, first.”It sickens me at times how blasé the FSF can be about devastating events in the Free software like this — and if it doesn’t sicken you, then you should consider that they were never more blasé about anything than the day that Stallman resigned.

It’s not that I have any problem with Hyperbola’s decision — it is bold and pioneering, in my opinion. But even though I have no respect for Torvalds as a person (it’s his numerous acts of dishonesty and betrayal, not his colourful language or personality that cost him my respect) I know he was screwed over by Jim Zemlin and, as a result, so were we. This has cost Free software significantly, and is has cost everyone who ever used GNU/Linux, and the least the FSF can do is have a moment of silence for the Kernel that made a fully-free OS possible and practical for many years.

“My primary concern for the future of the FSF, apart from ruining the work of everyone who made it what it is at its peak so far — is that it will become just another semi-retired 501c3 more concerned with fundraising than real goals, more concerned with “awareness” than what it was — a force for actually defending Free software and making development increasingly possible for everyone.”Of course they should damn well apologise to Stallman, first.

I’ve also defended certain people at the FSF, most notably the campaigns team. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe it’s possible for them to be among the traitors. Based on what I’m told, which could also be untrue (but I believe it) I don’t even believe the dumbest comments they’ve made were their own.

Someone is putting words in their mouths, and I believe these are practically kids who came in to volunteer, and have no way of knowing what they’re getting into. Being caught in the middle like that, I can’t blame the campaigns team without the hardest evidence of guilt, and I won’t let the occupying party make patsies of them. That includes Zoe, though I will critique some of the phrasing — I don’t blame her personally. This defense of the team doesn’t mean I will ignore evidence to the contrary.

“Much unlike how I feel about Stallman, I don’t admire Linus in the least. But he is undoubtedly better for the job than anybody likely to replace him, as the Linux Foundation has seen to.”My primary concern for the future of the FSF, apart from ruining the work of everyone who made it what it is at its peak so far — is that it will become just another semi-retired 501c3 more concerned with fundraising than real goals, more concerned with “awareness” than what it was — a force for actually defending Free software and making development increasingly possible for everyone.

When I say “for everyone”, I mean it literally; this isn’t the now commonly coded-language for fighting implicit exclusion with explicit exclusion — I consider that a scourge and as we suspected as far back as a year ago, I consider that sort of Orwellian gymnastics to be connected with the ousting of Stallman and Torvalds.

No, I do not like Torvalds as a person. Much unlike how I feel about Stallman, I don’t admire Linus in the least. But he is undoubtedly better for the job than anybody likely to replace him, as the Linux Foundation has seen to. The good candidates are out of the picture, and the bastards are poised to carry it forward, which is precisely the opposite of what we want for the Linux kernel or for the future of the FSF.

“The good candidates are out of the picture, and the bastards are poised to carry it forward, which is precisely the opposite of what we want for the Linux kernel or for the future of the FSF.”The FSF says they want to defend your freedom. Stallman says that he wants you to be part of the FSF so you can keep them on course. But we have shown repeatedly that members have no power, no say, and no influence — in practice. In theory, yes — members matter. In practice, they have never changed a thing. Even when they held the purse strings in December, they had no ability to change anything happening. Not Yet at least.

When members can’t sabotage the mission of the FSF, that’s a good thing. The mission should always come before donors. Sadly, I think the larger sponsors will have greater say than the community (individual) members who supposedly hold the real purse strings. (Which I don’t believe, by the way — the members-hold-the-real-purse-strings theory has a large hole in it. It’s like saying that everyday taxpayers have the real power in the United States, not corporate lobbyists, because put together they pay more taxes than companies like Amazon who pay none)

When members are powerless to right any wrongs, and Stallman asks them to join and remain so that they can somehow “represent” software freedom, the very least the FSF can offer in exchange is honest answers.

“When members are powerless to right any wrongs, and Stallman asks them to join and remain so that they can somehow “represent” software freedom, the very least the FSF can offer in exchange is honest answers.”During a coup powered by corporations, not citizens — during astroturfing that has nothing at all to do with grassroots volunteers or the people the FSF CLAIMS to “defend” the freedom of, the most the FSF can do is lie and steamroll people with glib messaging about the usual talking points.

That sort of messaging doesn’t prove that anybody is still working for you, any more than getting a voicemail greeting proves that someone is home or has their phone with them. And unfortunately, that sort of “You’ve reached the offices of the Free Software Foundation” messaging is the sort your dollars are most likely to earn you. You can also get a thermos, a backpack, and a bootable membership card that boots an operating system with a kernel co-opted by Microsoft and Jim Zemlin, a userspace controlled by IBM (developed on Microsoft’s servers) and since it’s a USB storage device, that membership card might even earn Microsoft a small royalty in the process. That money would be used to further co-opt GNU, Linux and hurt more people like Stallman.

Back when I had one, it came with a fully-free operating system and a DVD containing all the source code. Do you think you can get that with Devuan? Nope. I’ve waited five years for Devuan to get on that (I donated to them as well. Unfortunately Devuan has a perfect weapon for ensuring that support for Devuan remains minimal.) Do you think Debian is a free operating system? Not even when the FSF removes the links to the non-free repos. Debian is also occupied. As is FSFE. Trisquel is nothing but IBM/GNU/Linux. You will never be fully free with that mess.

“The only question is, who is really in charge at the FSF?”The FSF is NOT defending your freedom. The people in charge at the FSF continue their attacks.

The only question is, who is really in charge at the FSF?

It certainly isn’t the members. What a shame. And it isn’t Stallman, either — that’s a crime.

“Don’t be fooled though, they have corporate sponsorship on tap — they can effectively keep lying for free.”The FSF really can’t say it defends your freedom until it ousts this coup, ends the corruption and overthrows the occupation.

Until then, maybe YOU should tell the FSF to donate, so you can defend software freedom for them!

The FSF won’t stand for you or your freedom, as long as they’re like this. They can barely even stand up. With help from your donation, they can lie to you a little more. Don’t be fooled though, they have corporate sponsorship on tap — they can effectively keep lying for free.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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