Breaking Political Silence

I’ve been hesitant to discuss politics here, if only because the impending election has consumed all the available political attention, and most of that attention has been inane and nasty. I’ve also tried to avoid being too strident too early. I don’t think now–the eve of the first Presidential debate, two days after the Indiana governor’s debate, and little more than a month before Election Day–is “too early”.

For the record, this election is leaning heavily Republican for me. In particular, my vote for George W. Bush as President is pretty much sewn up. I’m also leaning Republican in the Indiana governor’s race, and I have little doubt that my U. S. Representative (Dan Burton) will be reelected whatever my vote (though I still plan to research that one).

Still, I pride myself on my independence, and plan to explain my position in future posts. Neither party has distinguished itself recently in my opinion, and I certainly do not despise those whose political calculus leans more towards the Democratic party. But I do not lean that way. And given the amount of misinformation blowing around, I feel that defending my position may help to clarify things for others.

Being Debian

Benjamin Mako Hill comments on, among other things, my recent post on the advent of Ubuntu.

For the record, he gets my intent exactly right. I do not consider “fork” or “outside-ness” to be perjorative in any way, or any kind of excuse to avoid cooperating. So the sense in which he disagrees about Ubuntu being a fork–the sense which sees Ubuntu as dissociating from Debian–is certainly not the sense of “fork” I intended.

Mako also brings up a good point. What does it mean to “be” Debian? And how can we avoid making existential questions like this into excuses not to cooperate?

At a fundamental level, Debian is about an engineering philosophy: the process that creates such great individual pieces of free software as Linux and Apache can also create an integrated system built entirely out of those pieces. This was the motivation behind Debian’s founding, at least. Since then, it seems to me that Debian has also encompassed the importance of community, as well as a more decentralized cooperative model (as opposed to the more command-hierarchy-based model most companies use) which tends to emphasizes consensus and best practices instead of expediency.

I would submit that “outside” projects and organizations can participate in this as well as anyone else, as long as they agree to the ground rules. This would, perhaps, distinguish between companies like Progeny and companies like Corel used to be: do they really believe in the essence of what makes Debian great, or do they merely see Debian’s product as a nice basis for their own efforts? Further, I see a bigger divide between these two groups than I see between “inside” groups (like CDD, Debian-Jr, etc.) and “outside” groups (like Progeny and Ubuntu) who all embrace the former philosophy.

And if that’s so, I think it’s entirely appropriate. There’s nothing wrong with using Debian to meet your own goals, but it is a little odd to respect Debian the product without respecting the process that created it. And to the extent that projects participate in the process, they become more a part of the community. That, I think, is what should determine the “Debian-ness” of a particular project: to what extent that project acts in the Debian spirit, which includes cooperating without regard to affiliations that might be divisive.

(Alas, Mako also reminds me of promises unfulfilled. I really need to get my lazy butt over to CDD and participate.)

Ubuntu and Progeny

When I was at DebConf in Brazil recently, I learned that Mark Shuttleworth (the founder of Thawte who also became the second space tourist on the International Space Station) was getting involved in Debian development by funding a bunch of Debian people. At the time, it wasn’t clear how things would shake out, but they just announced their future direction: a new Linux distribution, based on Debian and focused on the user. Scott James Remnant, one of the Canonical people, posted a little blurb on his blog about the future of Ubuntu and Canonical’s game plan.

Many of their future plans involve things Progeny has been wrestling with for some time now: relationships with Debian and the wider community. So, here follows some advice for the Canonical people, for what it’s worth. (Nothing?)

  • Recognize your differences. It’s a fact that Ubuntu is a fork. It’s also a fact that Canonical will have different priorities and opinions than the Debian project. If these weren’t true, Canonical could just use straight Debian. It’s important to not expect otherwise, both for Canonical and for Debian; otherwise, frustration tends to come up when things don’t mesh like you want them to. Being a fork isn’t good or bad; it’s how you handle the fork that makes the difference.
  • Be aware of your limitations. Debian has a lot of needs, and many of these will align strategically with Canonical’s needs. That doesn’t make those needs the right ones for Canonical to solve, unless Canonical truly has the resources to take them all on at once. It’s too easy to bite off more than you can chew. Don’t be afraid to make resource decisions that might differ from those the Project might make.
  • Be careful when expecting things from the community. Often, things happen at their own pace, and there isn’t a whole lot a company can do to force things that doesn’t also make the company look like a bully. It’s best to expect that you’ll have to do all the work, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised. The pleasant surprises do happen, and frequently, but it’s not wise to take them for granted.
  • Don’t rule out cooperation with “competitors”. So far, most of the Linux world has taken the attitude that cooperation is a good thing, even among competitors. I have experience in this through working with Red Hat on Anaconda, who have been very helpful with our efforts despite being competitors with us in several ways.

I suppose one more Debian company makes for competition for Progeny, but I do hope we all can find niches to prosper in. So, good luck to Ubuntu and Canonical. Progeny looks forward to taking advantage of your good work (heh heh).

(ObDisclaimer: I am speaking for myself here, not Progeny.)

Fallen Leadership

Eugene Volokh has some harsh words for Jimmy Swaggart. As usual, Swaggart deserves the criticism he gets.

Volokh also seems to be under the impression that Swaggart is a “Christian leader” in some meaningful sense, even after his defrocking in the late ’80s by the Assemblies of God over his defiant attitude and his dalliances with prostitutes. In E-mail, he counsels me that “it’s not hard” to simply repudiate him.

Well, so be it. Everyone who remembers my denunciations of Swaggart over the past 17 years can rest easy; I really meant all of them. And the next time Swaggart says something stupid, I will still have the same opinion of him.

Southerners today are not expected to monitor and disclaim all the rants of the Klan, because we’ve all moved on; we’d like it to be the same with Christians and Swaggart. Thus, we don’t disclaim most of what he says because we’ve stopped paying attention; we’ve stopped paying attention because we’ve moved on, and we hope everyone else has, too.

But I could be out of touch. Can anyone find a religious organization, other than his own, which recognizes his authority today?

UPDATE: Volokh has posted again on the situation, where he explains a bit further. Apropos of that, it’s interesting that a search of the cable service in my area shows no hits for “Swaggart”, which seems to indicate that Swaggart does not, in fact have any TV presence worth speaking of.

UPDATE 2: Volokh notes Christianity Today’s own denunciation of Swaggart, and engages in a little hermeneutics of his own regarding Leviticus 20:13. Christians researching the homosexuality issue should focus on New Testament references, if only because Jesus warned against a strict, legalistic adherence to the Mosaic Law; none of these references give believers the right to kill the immoral.

UPDATE 3: Looks like this is getting some traction. See Joe Carter, Winds of Change, and Rob Vischer, among others. Confusion still seems to reign regarding his status as a recognized minister. Oh, and Swaggart himself sort of apologizes, for what it’s worth (not much, IMHO).


I’m hosting the Web site of my good friend Kurt Saban. We just recently went live, which was a good thing, as he and his family have just moved to Nagoya, Japan, to start a new life as “tent-making” missionaries. (The “tent-making” refers to Paul’s making of tents to support himself during portions of his ministry. Kurt will be teaching English to support his own efforts.)

Besides the usual weblog text updates, he has a photo gallery set up (using this software). So check it out, and pray for him and his family.

CompUSA’s Customer Service Problems

Via Instapundit, we learn of two recent horror stories, here and here, involving CompUSA.

As Donald Sensing points out, this is sometimes as much an individual store thing as anything else. On the other hand, I’ve had my own share of problems with them. Mine, however, involve something worse–upselling, with accompanying defamation in some cases.

On one occasion, a neighbor asked me for my opinion on what to buy for a memory upgrade. I examined the memory in the computer and wrote down the exact quantity and speed to ask for. A few days later, I saw him again; he gave me a funny look and told me that he bought something different on the advice of the sales clerk. Upon questioning, it turned out that the sales clerk had taken my recommendation, told my neighbor that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and sold him some dual-speed memory at twice the price. I told my neighbor that he had been tricked, but he decided to stick with what he had, since it seemed to work.

Later, I had opportunity to buy memory for myself, and decided to check out the situation. The back shelf had all their memory laid out, with prices; after an exhaustive search, I located the memory I needed (on a bottom shelf, somewhat well-hidden), and asked the clerk to give it to me. He replied that I should probably buy something else that should work much better: yup, dual-speed memory, at nearly twice the price. I literally had to argue with the young punk behind the counter to get what I wanted, and nearly walked out on him; he gave me the dire warning that the memory was likely not to work as he handed me the package. As of this writing, that memory has been working perfectly for over a year.

Some people have mentioned Best Buy. I’ve had mixed results from them. Their habit of rebating everything is irritating, and I’ve had one rebate refused for missing some portion of the magic pixie dust ritual they make you go through. On the other hand, I bought my current laptop from them; the first model was busted out of the box (probably a short in the sound card circuitry) and they just exchanged it with very little hassle. When they heard I was planning to run Linux on it, they even found a resident Linux tech expert to consult with me, which was far more respect for Linux than I’m used to.

Between these and Circuit City (who completely melted down in the face of an exclusive distribution agreement to sell a white-hot item, something most retailers would kill for), I’m not sure what to do about the current sorry state of electronics vendors.

UPDATE (2007-12-09): Commenter JD wrote, “I am amazed every day that they are able to stay in business.”  Well, wonder no more.