Archive for the 'Richard Stallman' Category

Uri Avnery and the Israeli Haredim

Uri Avnery is one of the main voices of the Israeli political left. Especially for people abroad – his English blog is frequently quoted in foreign blogs by people who are interested in Israel.

The opinions that Avnery expresses are strong and often unpleasant, but they are legitimate and they are usually have at least some basis in fact.

His latest column, Israeli Mustard, is about the ultra-orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim. It was quoted in Richard Stallman’s blog, for example. And it’s problematic. It’s mostly factual, but it has some imprecisions in details. They may seem unimportant, but they may be quoted and they may form people’s opinions, so I want to correct them. I don’t really care whether it’s intentional disinformation or neglect on Avnery’s side; I just want the corrections to be written down somewhere.

“Haredim […] are not part of the Israeli state. They don’t want to be.” – Well, not quite. It’s very open to interpretation, of course, but the situation goes more or less like this: There are Haredi leaders and ideologists, who express strong opposition to the existence of a Jewish Zionist state. What is important, however, is what people do and not what ideologists say.

For most purposes they are a part of the Israeli state and that’s how they want it. They mostly speak the same language (more on that later), they mostly vote in the same elections, they mostly have the same identity cards, they mostly ride the same buses. Despite the common rumors, many of them work in the same workplaces, although it’s true that many don’t work and instead spend all of their life in religious studies, earning much of their living from donations and from working Israelis’ taxes.

The Haredim are somewhat comparable in this regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses, although for many reasons they would, of course, hate the comparison. The Witnesses’ ideology is opposed to the modern idea of states, elections, conscription and so on, but in practice they are mostly integrated in the civil life of the states in which they live. From what I heard, the Witnesses don’t vote, and the Haredim actually do. And as far as I know, the Witnesses’ are not funded by taxpayers’ money, and the Haredim are.

“Actually, the Orthodox will never allow their children to join the army, because of the justified fear that they will be contaminated by ordinary Israelis” – again, not quite. Many Orthodox serve already. Patriotism is human, Haredim are human, serving in an army is an expression of patriotism – hence, some of them simply want to serve. Some do this not so much because of patriotism, but because they think that it is a good career move. Some do this with their parents’ agreement and some without. That’s fact. As for my opinion on the matter – well, my feeling is that their number is likely to grow, because it’s simply impossible for them to avoid this completely.

“The separation between the Orthodox and others – between Jews and Israelis, so to speak – is almost complete” – no. It exists, because at least some of them want it, or are pressured into it by their communal leadership. The separation is strongest in the education system: They definitely study in very different schools, and very few of them study in Israeli universities. But elsewhere the separation is weak: They often shop in different stores, but not exclusively. They often live in Haredim-only neighborhoods, but again, not exclusively. There is some separation in transportation, but despite the buzz that this topic generates, it’s actually quite small.

“The orthodox speak another language (Yiddish, meaning “Jewish”)” – no, and this is very important. Some Israeli Haredim speak Yiddish in some social contexts, but all of them know Hebrew. Not just the Hebrew of religious books, but the spoken Hebrew of the streets, the government, the newspapers and the shopping malls. They write with pretty much the same spelling inconsistencies that are characteristic to all Israelis. Of course, being a special and tightly-knit social group, they use some unique expression in their Hebrew, but you could say the same about computer programmers, too. For the most part, the Hebrew of Israeli Haredim is the same language as the Hebrew of the other Israelis. (I’m actually happy that Haredim keep Yiddish alive, but that’s a topic for a different post.)

The last paragraph of Avnery’s post made me particularly angry:

BY THE WAY: when an Israeli Jew is asked by a stranger anywhere in the world “what are you?” he always answers: “I am an Israeli”. He will never, ever, say: “I am a Jew”. Except the Orthodox

Well, this is not even wrong. “What are you”? What kind of a question is that? People don’t ask each other “what are you”, people ask “where are you from”. The answer to that is “Israel”, of course; both religious and secular Israelis say that. In the rare case that I’m asked what is my ethnicity, I say that I am a Jew, even though I’m not religious. So that’s definitely not a “never, ever” situation, as Avnery claims.

This is not to say that there is no discussion about the existence of an Israeli ethnic identity. It exists, and it’s old and passionate. Avnery just describes it very badly. I even agree that an Israeli ethnic identity exists, or, more precisely, co-exists with a Jewish ethnic identity. And despite their lifestyle and the claims of their leadership, the Haredim definitely belong to it. Israeli Haredim are Israeli, much like American Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are definitely American – whether they like it or not.

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Fairness

People want to make money, which is why a lot of folks fail to understand how Free Software can be good for business. Richard M. Stallman works hard to explain why is it perfectly reasonable to make money out of Free Software, but still, a lot of people fail to grasp this idea.

Companies such as Red Hat, Sun and Zend invest a lot of money and effort into software which freely redistributable – both in the sense of Freedom and price. They make money from selling services with their brand (in the case of Sun it’s also hardware). So, for example, you can use CentOS, a product which is virtually identical to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but with a different logo and a slightly different automatic updates mechanism and you don’t have to pay Red Hat a dime, and Red Hat doesn’t mind, because there are enough customers who willingly pay Red Hat for licenses and service contracts.

And it is perfectly fair. You know why?

Because of the “willingly” part. People can get the same product for nothing, but they buy a (pretty expensive) license anyway. It’s probably a matter of brand recognition, and that probably happens because in this business model marketing people need to work really hard. And they are probably great marketing people, too – it’s as close as it gets to “selling ice to Eskimos”.

Isn’t it great?

Changing my life with a wave of her hand

Lately i’ve been reading the printed version of Richard Stallman’s book Free Software, Free Society.

Reading and thinking to myself – here i am, reading a book, which is revolutionary to a certain degree. Which is naïvely (?) written and edited in a way that is supposed to be understood by people who are not computer geeks. I am sure that it fails. I even think that there’s a slight possibility that someone who doesn’t understand computers will actually read it, misunderstand it, and start some extremist group.

It makes me think – is it revolutionary like The Kapital? No, it is not. The Kapital is rather scientific, with historical and economical research behind it. Stallman is not so good with providing references for his claims. Some company did that, some guy did this, someone sued somebody else – almost without any reference. (It doesn’t mean that the whole Free Software movement sucks at reference – Lawrence Lessig’s excellent book Free Culture is very well referenced.) Yet the tone is convincing. I read it and i like to imagine Stallman speaking. This part is particularly powerful – he is talking about the first time he tried to get the source code for something and was refused:

See, he had promised to refuse to cooperate with us — his colleagues at MIT. He had betrayed us. But he didn’t just do it to us. Chances are he did it to you too. [Pointing at member of audience.] And I think, mostly likely, he did it to you too. [Pointing at another member of audience.] [Laughter] And he probably did it to you as well. [Pointing to third member of audience.] He probably did it to most of the people here in this room — except a few, maybe, who weren’t born yet in 1980. Because he had promised to refuse to cooperate with just about the entire population of the Planet Earth. He had signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Now, this was my first, direct encounter with a non-disclosure agreement, and it taught me an important lesson — a lesson that’s important because most programmers never learn it. You see, this was my first encounter with a non-disclosure agreement, and I was the victim. I, and my whole lab, were the victims. And the lesson it taught me was that non-disclosure agreements have victims.

Transcript of Richard M. Stallman’s speech, “Free Software: Freedom and Cooperation”, New York University in New York, New York, on 29 May 2001.

I may not agree with every word, but i deeply respect this kind of universal radicalism – to see society and humanity beyond the dry legal texts.

I like to amuse myself with the idea that this book is revolutionary; that i am a revolutionary; that i read the right revolutionary books of the generation. And then i think that i am not sure that i would be very proud if as a young person a hundred years ago i would read Marx. Well, i am quite sure that had i lived then, i wouldn’t think that Marx is my kind of revolutionary, anyway, although i don’t know who would it be.

But guess what makes Stallman a little like Marx after all, even though it is probably not important to him?

They are both Jews.

I didn’t know it until today. Look at this: R. Poynder interviews R. M. Stallman (PDF).

Gmar khatima tova, everyone.


Oh (edit): H.L.A., thanks for the corrections.

It’s decreed the people rule

What do you know – my little campaign for free-as-in-freedom hardware bears its first fruits.

I sent a few messages similar to the one that i posted here recently to forums concerning Linux, gNewSense, Ubuntu etc. I have also posted a few comments* to the post on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog, where he announces the first developer release of Gobuntu, the “radically free” version of Ubuntu.

Surprisingly Mark himself replied to me in the comments of Bug #1. That’s nice, but not too notable on a global level.

But today something bigger happened: Mark announced that he sets up an initiative to pressure laptop manufacturers into building the perfect free-as-in-freedom GNU/Linux latpop – one that can be used with only purely Free Software drivers. He didn’t mention me by name, but i really don’t need this.

So there you go: One of the good things about Free Software projects is the openness of the development and the project management.

Most Free Software projects have open access to their mailing lists and bug tracking tools. Every user of the program can, nearly anonymously, enter a bug or a feature request into the database (Bugzilla, RT, Launchpad, SF.net etc.) and then track its investigation and fix.

It is not a requirement of any license; it just makes sense! For most users this is even more important than being able to read or modify the source code. Even a reply like “Duplicate bug” or “Works for me” is far better than nothing.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the proprietary software world.

Sure – you can send an email with a bug report to Microsoft, Oracle, CA, HP etc., but it is unlikely that you will know where did it go, unless you have a personal service agreement. It’s just “fire and forget”. And you surely won’t get a personal reply from Mr. Gates.

Yet in the Free Software community the user has the full power to influence the project planning of the core development team.

So – thank you, Mark, for this initiative.


* Some people that read them badly misundestood what i was trying to say. I have made some mistakes too; i really should have known that being sarcastic in writing is much harder and more dangerous than when speaking in person. Joshua Gay, Andrew Fenn, if you are reading this – please accept my apologies again for any misunderstandings.

An open letter to Richard M. Stallman

Hello,

I am shopping for a laptop computer and i would like to buy one that is truly free – one that is able to run GNU/Linux without any restricted drivers, binary blobs and proprietary firmware.

I’ve been looking for such a laptop for almost a week now, and unfortunately couldn’t find it. I’ve tried asking about it on Ubuntu and gNewSense forums and local (Israeli) forums of GNU/Linux and Free Software experts, but the best reply i could get was that finding a perfectly Free laptop is just too hard and that at this time i should just give up! That is what Mark Shuttleworth himself said, even though he claims that he is also concerned about the issue of “radical” hardware freedom (see discussion at the bottom of Bug #1).

Why is it so hard?

For example: The hardware database at the FSF website has a list of network cards that support Free Software; This is informative, but in practice i couldn’t find anywhere on the Internet a way to search for laptops that have these cards. A lot of laptop vendors don’t even bother to list the manufacturer and model of the network card in the details of their laptops’ components, because in Windows they all just work and Ubuntu makes it relatively easy to install restricted drivers.

The above is also correct for video cards, DVD burners, etc.

So, apparently, most people – even Linux users! – don’t care about free firmware. I do care, and i tried my best to do something about it, but my wife urgently needs a laptop to write her thesis, so unfortunately it seems that i’ll have to buy a (partially) restricted system after all.

I thought that you would like to know that there are people that care about this issue, but find it hard to do something about it in practice.

If you do know about a laptop that is fully usable with purely free drivers, please tell me.

Thanks!


N.B.: I have great respect towards Mark Shuttleworth and i believe that he is doing his best to help and fix this issue. I regret using the word “claim”, but i already sent the letter to RMS and wanted to post it here without changes.


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