Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lunduke vs Stallman

A few weeks ago was The Linux Action Show's 200th episode, and I've been a big fan of the show since at least January 2011. For the big 2-0-0, they actually got one of the biggest names in the Linux community (somewhat ironically) to be a guest on the show. No, not Torvalds. Not Shuttleworth. Stallman. Richard Stallman.

To be honest, I've never really been a fan of rms, but then I've never actually paid attention in detail to what he's said. The most I've ever heard was snippets here and there that are so outrageous that they make it in the news, most of which are grossly paraphrased or quoted out of context. ("I'm glad Steve Jobs is dead.") So this was actually an exciting experience for me.

That being said, I never had high hopes for this episode. Why? Well, because Bryan is....well, let's just say, enthusiastic, and rms is definitely known for sticking to his convictions. Mix two people who aren't afraid to say what they think, and sometimes the result can be explosive. But all things considered, the episode went a lot better than I thought it would. It really only fell apart near the end.

First, a few thoughts on Mr. Stallman. To my great surprise, I found myself agreeing with 99% of what Stallman said, but I think rms is honestly just a horrible interviewee. Throughout the entire interview, from the very first question, he sounded annoyed and defensive, and not just in his tone. Every single one of his answers was worded like he was trying to defend his viewpoints as if they were being attacked, even when Chris asked harmless questions that were meant to give Stallman the opportunity to expound on a point. Honestly, (and I could be 110% wrong with this assumption), I think it probably stems from Stallman making the same points for over 2 decades, points that are largely unpopular. He is probably used to people interviewing him just to try to disagree with him, especially when he is on the "Linux Action Show" and rms is not exactly thrilled with Linux as a whole. It's certainly not an excuse, but it at least helps to know that it didn't just spring out of nowhere.

I enjoyed listening to Stallman quite a bit, although it seems like interviewing him is a bit like pulling teeth. As I said, he always seems on the defensive, so you have to carefully pick the questions you are going to ask him. And when him and Chris or Bryan started a sentence at the same time, rms never backed off and let the other person speak. He just kept talking, which I found kind of annoying. Chris and Bryan obviously had respect for Stallman throughout the interview, but he didn't seem to return the gesture. It doesn't matter if he didn't know who they were before the interview, to an extent, it's just manners, especially in an interview.

(On a really quick side-note, Richard, I get that the GNU utils are important. I do. But demanding that people call it "GNU Slash Linux" or "GNU Plus Linux" is cute at first, but really gets annoying. It's nothing at all anything against GNU, it's because it's freaking 5 syllables long. No other OS or anything is that long, and it's just a mouthful. Maybe it would be better to change the name to "GNUlux", but unfortunately, "Linux" is just too established to change now. Yeah, it might suck, but sometimes you just have to accept it and move on.)

Moving on, the interview really went well until Bryan asked Stallman what he was supposed to do to move from closed-source proprietary application to an open-source application, while still being able to maintain food for his family. And from there, it just completely derailed. I recommend watching the episode, starting at 55:00 for a good grasp on what went down.

As much as I hate to say it, Bryan totally and completely missed the entire point that Stallman was trying to make. Bryan brought up his kid because it is a very real factor for him, personally, because Bryan thinks of software freedom in a view that is very tangible: how can I make software that provides for me and my family. It makes sense and is a valid viewpoint. Stallman, however, is going for something extremely and vastly different. His point is not tangible, it's philosophical. He is saying that it is ethically wrong to deprive people of freedom and proprietary software does just that. That is the point that Bryan missed. I'm not saying that he has to agree with it, but to have a discussion, you at least have to understand where the other person is coming from, and Bryan frankly didn't. He interpreted Stallman's statement as an attack on children, but that's not at all what rms was trying to say. Stallman was merely responding to Bryan's example of a real world motivation for someone wanting to make proprietary software. To be fair, rms didn't try to understand where Bryan was coming from either (as a father & breadwinner), but if I were there to mediate, here's how I would have 'translated' Stallman's words to Bryan:
"Look, I understand the desire and need to put bread on the table, especially for a family. But even with that need, you are compelled to act ethically, first and foremost. For example, stealing to feed your family should not be done because stealing is wrong. I believe that making proprietary software is ethically wrong, so even if it has the opportunity of providing for your family, you shouldn't do it. You must examine the ethics first."
 Let me reiterate: I'm not saying that Stallman is right, or that Bryan has to agree with him, or even that I agree with him, but that is the point that I think Stallman was trying to make. But Bryan completely missed it. And I thought, maybe it was just in the heat of the moment, but then I went on to Bryan's blog and read a post that reiterated the point. At one point he explicitly calls Stallman "anti-children" and that he "attacked [my] children."

It doesn't help that Stallman completely veered off course and brought up the discussion of overpopulation. Is overpopulation a problem? Most definitely. But it's an entirely different discussion that this one. Responding to "How should you feed my child?" with "Don't have a child to begin with" is a horrible retort and really only fueld Bryan's misguided attempt to grasp Stallman's point.

 But what's done is done, and up until this point I wasn't going to post about it. The folks at Jupiter Broadcasting obviously weren't thrilled about the interview, and likewise the show's fans aren't exactly in agreement either. But then today I noticed that Bryan tweeted
Whoah. Bryan apologizes for Stallman interview.
 Again: normally a huge Bryan fan. But this apology was really half-assed. It really ended out just being an attempt to get the last word in, but trying not to be a dick about it. For example:
  • "I find his views to be deeply unethical and frightening."
  • "When I see, what I feel is, harmful extremism."
  • "When that extremism is directed towards children, I get doubly-cranky."
  • "How many of us really care what Stallman thinks of children?"
He continued to not only misinterpret what Stallman said, but took the opportunity in his 'apology' to attack Stallman's views one last time.

In their follow-up episode, even Chris seems to understand what Stallman is saying:
"Richard Stallman is being incredible thoughtful and logical, but it's all based around a flawed premise. But if that flawed premise is accepted, then everything he is saying...makes sense to me."
 But Bryan seems to miss it again, saying that "Richard is trying to redefine words as he uses them." He then goes on to talk about "the value of human life," following up a quote by rms with "What a dick" and calling him "anti-people." Bryan basically uses the rest of the interview to slander him, calling him "a jerk", "extremely anti-children", and even "anti-human". The rest of the episode is basically mis-quoting, mis-interpreting, and general slander against Richard. That is what made me write this post.
Bryan entire viewpoint is just completely flawed throughout the whole ordeal, at least when it comes to a discussion. He continually tries to appeal to people's emotions, such as saying that developing proprietary software "gives a positive contribution to my daughter", or that he is good at working on software, but that's really not an excuse. Someone could be good at pickpocketing or, heck, even good at coding malicious software. Ethics comes first. The end does not justify the means. And it doesn't matter if proprietary software is better from a technical standpoint, if it is ethically wrong (and that's a big 'if'), it is a big no-no. Ethics. Comes. First.

I realize that there were many faults on both sides, but the fact that Bryan has had several chances now to make it right and failed and even made it worse has caused me to lose some of the respect I had for him.

As for myself, I understood where Stallman is coming from, but I'm just not so sure that (as many people say about rms) everything is so black and white. I don't exactly understand where he gets that proprietary software is always less free than open-source software, or that "people should be able to share the copies of any published work". And when he mentioned ebooks, he said that DRM strips of us the right to lend the book to another person and again, I don't understand what divine intervention is telling him this "right" we have. The ability to lend a book came from its physical form, and you owned its physical form, so you own the ability to do whatever you want with it. An ebook has no physical form. The 1's and 0's? The electricity? No, it's abstract. A "book" is not the story or the idea in the language, it is the paper and the ink and the binding. An ebook is just that abstraction extracted. For the first time ever, we can deal with the abstraction without the tangible. And that is different. A different discussion.



  1. I agree with most of what you have written, and I thank you for taking the time to write it.

    What Bryan did to Stallman in episode 200 was unforgivable. Bryan has been anti-Stallman for a number of years now (plenty of his blogs/G+ posts prove this), so why on earth they invited him onto the show is anyone's guess (probably because they couldn't afford Linus, who knows).

    I think Bryan is angry - angry because he hasn't accumulated wealth beyond his wildest dreams from Illumination Software Creator. A post on one of his blogs sums up my sentiments about this: "those who want fame and fortune by writing proprietary apps for app stores are similar to budding musicians who want to become rock stars with fame and fortune. There are more who fail that those who succeed" (it was something like that, can't remember the wording verbatim).

    Personally, I think Bryan is trying to break away from the open source community (as noted by others in this TechBroil article:, and personally I believe the community would be much better off without him. He's too opinionated and egotistical, and expects someone else (RMS of all people!) to provide a magical solution to him for monetizing his Illumination Software Creation product so he can feed his family.

    I'm also calling him out as a liar. I saw him explain the situation with the Apple App Store - he forgot to pay his annual App Store subscription fee! Now he's claiming it's a technical glitch on Apple's part and Apple's fault?!?

    Also dishonest - he still has the "save my house from Apple" page up asking for donations ( I checked today, and as far as I can see, his Illumination Software Creator is available on the App Store: (although the only review/rating is not very encouraging). So he's a firm supporter and believer that the App Store is the best source of income for selling proprietary apps, but he's also appealing to those who (for whatever reason) do not like Apple.

    I've had enough. No more Jupiter Broadcasting for me until Bryan is replaced.

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