So, I'm sitting on this beach on Ko Samet in Thailand today, drinking a Big Chang beer and picking up some rays. Yay for Thailand! Yay for beer! But I made a crucial mistake that has fucked up my mental equilibrium and forced me into the nearest thatched Internet hut (no shit -- it's really a hut): I bought a copy of the Bangkok Post, and now I'm all hopping mad.
Serious! I'm really in Thailand. It's great. You can buy all kinds of shit on the beach here. They have guys with great big baskets on yokes that walk around carrying fruit and beer and sticky rice in bamboo tubes. They give you massages or they can cook you a crab over a little hibachi fire. They even have newspapers, albeit a couple of days old. Which is what I read.
So, here's the deal: an assload of government ministerial officials from all over Asia are meeting in Tokyo this week to discuss the future of the Internet at the Information Society Regional Conference and gar gar gar. I know, I know: BORING ASS SHIT. I swear, I only started reading this article after I'd read everything else in the paper. Even all the local stories I didn't understand. Something about the words "regional conference" made me drift off and start looking for someone selling papayas.
Oh, hey, but, back to the problem at hand: as you can read in the Infoworld article at the end of this story (sorry, the Bangkok Post hasn't updated their Web site yet with the article I read), the Regional Conference came up with one of those declarations that big governmental conferences always do: lots of words about bridging the digital divide and closer cooperation and free ice cream for everyone. But they also had a declaration to "support" Open Source software development and deployment in their governments and regions.
Beaujolais for them, I have to say. After all, governments around the world, like Germany, France, and India, are hopping on the Open Source bandwagon, as it makes a lot of sense for government use: saves money, allows customization, insures information security in the face of a brutal tech market, etc., etc. Hell, man, you can read about it yourself at EGovOS.org, an excellent Open-Source-for-governments advocacy site.
BUT, you see, BUT, there was a little hitch in the plan for everyone to put out their declaration and head back to their swanky hotels for a night of high-priced Japanese food-sex hookers. The hitch was that the US delegation -- delegates from the US Department of State, folks, people paid using our tax money -- demanded the removal of the clause for support of Open Source software. Apparently, the US government is OFFICIALLY AGAINST Free Software, and intends to block international efforts to support its use.
A compromise came about where the clause was left in, and the wording was changed from "support" to "encourage", but that's not really the point, here. Why the hell is the US Government OPPOSED to Free Software? Free Software is AMERICAN software. The idea STARTED here. We are the HOME and MORAL COMPASS POINT for the Free Software movement around the world. We are the fucking LEADERS of the FREE WORLD, dammit!
Thousands of American businesses and government organizations run, at least partly, on Free Software. Millions of Americans use it, directly or indirectly. Since when are we all against Free Software? When did we decide to try to discourage its use and development overseas?
The answer is, unfortunately, all too obvious: even delegates at the conference suspected that the government is trying to protect the business model of proprietary software companies such as Microsoft in the face of a newer, better model for using and making software. Since when is the STATE DEPARTMENT'S job to preserve faulty business models? Isn't that what the COMMERCE DEPARTMENT is all about? [All right, all right, that's a low blow. But still!]
The next question becomes this: how did this get to be policy for international relations? Who gave State Department factotums marching orders to STOP FREE SOFTWARE AT ALL COSTS? And, most important, why aren't organizations like the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative holding the government's feet to the fire on this issue? Actually, why aren't those groups already participating in the World Summit on the Information Society? What the hell is going on here?
Maybe somebody needs to straighten out our nation's diplomatic community that they are acting against the interests of thousands of businesses and millions of individuals here at home. That international development of Free Software helps all of us have better software, better computers, and consequently better lives. If American businesses that depend on proprietary business models are to compete with that, they should do it in the market, providing convincing incentives to the consumer and IT managers, rather than trying to squelch the idea of Free Software with shady backroom deals.
Anyways, these rent-a-computers are exorbitant. I've already spent the equivalent of FOUR papayas, just typing out this screed. So read this article yourself! Time to bust some heads! Let's sic Richard Stallman on those apparatchiks and see if they keep trying to downplay Freedom!