April 20, 2004

Los Angeles LUG pres resigns over military Linux use

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

Clay Claiborne, founder and president of Linux Users Los Angeles (LULA), says he has resigned his position because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and the U.S. Armed Forces' use of Linux.In an email to the group's membership yesterday, Claiborne wrote:

I started Linux Users Los Angeles [Lula] eight years ago when Linux was a baby and needed all the friends it could get. I saw in Linux and its "free as in 'beer', and free as in 'speech' philosophy" a tool with vast potential for the liberation of humanity. I have been the president of LULA for all of those years and have helped it grow and strive. My one regret is that more and more it has become an insular collection of geeks that can get along just fine without me.

Later in the same email he wrote:

I once had high hopes for Linux. I felt sure it could make a real contribution to the success of humanity, now more and more I have my doubts. I have a real and growing fear that if the Mr. Smith's of Linux have their way, in the future they will look back and say: "Wasn't it nice that so many smart people worked to hard for free to forge their own chains."

I feel that Lula no longer reflects the vision I have had for it and has in fact belittled itself as an organization for change and progress. I cannot attend Tuesday night's meeting, in fact I would be ashamed to in view of what our country is doing in Iraq ...

After NewsForge received this email, we got ahold of Claiborne on IM. This is an edited transcript of the conversation:

NewsForge: Do you feel your quitting the LULA presidency will make any difference in either U.S. foreign policy or government Linux use?

Maybe if it provokes discussion among the geeks, maybe if it focuses my energy around things that matter more now.

NewsForge: Others who advocate Linux don't necessarily agree with your stance on military use, as in this article.

What about the "Free is free" thing? Isn't the idea of free software good in general?

And what about the people who are trying to start a LUG in Baghdad?

I'm glad they're starting a LUG in Baghdad and I'm glad Hussein is gone. I just don't think it had to cost maybe 20K Iraqi lives and how many Americans' so far.

I think the question of military use of Linux needs a vigorous debate in the Linux community. It is just now happening. I don't think that Linux should be used for killing and I don't really trust the Pentagon to abide by the GPL.

The question of politics and technology always comes up because that is where the rubber meets the road. Some people think technology is pure and not related to the end use, and those people will be our doom.

NSA, which is part of the Department of Defense, has released SELinux. What if that starts getting used by pacifist groups? Or anti-dictatorship rebels? Wouldn't that be a positive effect of the DoD getting involved with Linux?

Very much so. IMHO the best thing the DoD has done in the past few decades has been the GPS satellite system. Everybody won on that one, and it's a great use of our tax dollars. In the first Gulf War, even the Iraqis used American GPS to guide their missiles. Talk about your equal-opportunity technologies.

The Internet is another example of defense dollars spent well.

I like SELinux. We plan to use it in our next release of AshcroftProof Linux. It's nice to see the government making contributions to the open source community as well as protecting our privacy.

Isn't it possible that the good outweighs the bad here -- no matter what an individual's concept of "bad" might be?

On good vs. bad: Afraid there's not much chance of that right now. In any case, the goal remains the same -- to decrease the bad and increase the good.

You know I am in favor of an army and a national defense. I just think we can defend against real threats for a lot less money than it takes to conquer third-world countries for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with national defense.

But what does this have to do with a Linux Users' Group? Or do you just feel your time can be of more benefit applied elsewhere?

Nothing directly, and I will still participate in the LUG, just let new leadership come to the fore.

Do you feel that LULA (and other LUGs) are as necessary as they were five or six years ago?

I do think that the LUGS are the main places that the social and political aspects of Linux can be discussed. In a way I think the LUGs are more important than before -- or they can be.

Before it was a question of developing and introducing Linux. Now a body of work has been created. If you want to value it and you look at Microsoft for an example (of software value) you have to say that a body of work worth billions of dollars has been created and placed in the public trust.

The LUGs can and should be the trustees or guardians that trust. Who else is going to do it? IBM? Novell?

That's why I think the LUGs have to expand their outlook to take in questions of the war and the military use of Linux.


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