The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

Inertia: Chains You Can Believe In

Things don’t need to change overnight. But we do need change, not chains, and if Obama wants to be that leader, he needs to start standing up for the cause and be honest about it, not just spit another can’t in the face of the world.

President Obama recently said, in discussing the alleged leaking of marked-protected documents by Pfc. Bradley Manning:

People can have philosophical views about [these things].  But look, I can’t conduct diplomacy on an Open Source [basis].  That’s not how, you know, the world works.

He went on to discuss more directly the law with regard to such disclosures.  But I’m not writing today about the law or the allegations against Manning or his treatment while in detention.

This post is about the inertia that Barack Obama has chained himself to in the time since he took office.  It hasn’t been wholesale.  Progress has been made on some fronts.  But on major fronts, the status quo keeps on pulling us down.

The biggest areas are the following:

  1. Foreign policy
  2. Energy policy
  3. Fiscal policy
  4. Social Health policy

In these four key areas (though there are others that are less obvious, and all of these have overlap too) we haven’t seen the change that’s needed.  In these areas there are entrenched interests that preclude the change that’s needed.

Obama says, rightly, that diplomacy isn’t conducted in the light of day.  But he gets it wrong saying that he can’t change that.  He can’t change it by not changing it, but if he moves to change it, it will change.

All systems seek equilibrium, and by changing any aspect of any system you introduce further changes toward that equilibrium.  If you can’t swim, and you’re alone in deep water, you’ll drown.  But if you introduce a floatation device, like a life preserver, then the equilibrium shifts, and you won’t drown.

What should happen in this situation, if Obama does want change, is to speak up about that.  “I would like to have a higher burden of the health care system be carried by Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and the like, to lower costs and increase access, but the current system’s inertia makes that hard to enact.”  And then he would have those classes of workers (RNs and NPs) on his side to help push for the change.  He would have patients that want better care and better pricing saying, “Yes, I know a few nurses and they could handle more responsibility.”

Open Source Diplomacy would mean that everyone has the same information, and therefore, there’s no strategic advantage to lying or subterfuge.  It would mean that if a Middle East leader can’t stomach telling his people what he’s doing, he shouldn’t be doing it.  It would mean that we wouldn’t find ourselves in wars without a cause.  If the world can’t work that way, then I don’t see why the hell we’d bother at all.  But of course it can work that way.

It works that way all the time.  Just not in the circles that Presidents and Congresscritters run in.  Every day the software that powers the internet is developed in that way.  The stack that the likes of Obama and all of these other chained leaders are depending on to improve their productivity isn’t created in secret, behind closed doors.  Their own computers may be running the equivalent of a closed door, but the servers are overwhelmingly running software that anyone in the world can download, compile, and hack on.

People that go to school aren’t told, “you aren’t allowed to apply this knowledge without prior written permission,” and then forced to get their Algebra teacher to sign off when they need to do a calculation.  Learning in such an environment would be impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a right and wrong way to handle the open sourcing of diplomacy, and as I’ve indicated with the nursing example, there’s a good way to mitigate inertial effects when seeking change.  Things don’t need to change overnight.  But we do need change, not chains, and if Obama wants to be that leader, he needs to start standing up for the cause and be honest about it, not just spit another can’t in the face of the world.

Wish It Away

What do Republicans and anti-Free Software zealots have in common?

Reading Planet Debian before bed and the top two posts happen to have a relation in my mind (and my mind only?):

Adam Rosi-Kessel wrote about an experiment in cognitive dissonance where certain groups were given information and then more information which refuted; the result was that they believed the first information even more strongly.  To wit:

Thirty-four percent […] told only about the […] claims thought […] had […], but 64 percent […] who heard both claim and refutation thought […]. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

And then under that (though, before temporally), Jeff Licquia wrote about the Ubuntu-Firefox-EULA issue.  Again:

[…] a situation where you always have to ask permission […], and have to be constantly reminded of the rules, you don’t feel comfortable.

That’s the connection I’m seeing between them: the people who are afraid or skeptical or dismissive of free software are of the same mindset as the group from the aforementioned study.  They hear about free software from those who are against it foremost, and so they are already skeptical.  Then the good folks as FSF or other orgs refute the FUD and yet… backfires.  The skeptics are somehow reinforced by the refutation.

Open Voting Solution

The Open Voting Consortium wants to provide open source voting solutions for the world. The tech is there, all that’s needed is the awareness and adoption.

Via a Slashdot story about evidence of voting machine errorsOpen Voting Consortium:

(1) a prototype of open-source software for voting machines (2) an electronic voting machine that prints a paper ballot, (3) a ballot verification station that scans the paper ballot and lets a voter hear the selections, and (4) stations with functions to aid visually impaired people so they can vote without assistance. Open source means that anyone can see how the machines are programmed and how they work.

Very cool stuff. You can even try a ballot via this web-based demonstration. The demonstration allows you to cast a fictional ballot and then generate a printable document. The document is approximately what you would get out of the real system if this were actually used.

This is the thread in the Slashdot article about Open Voting Consortium.

You can read the  comments on Slashdot that discuss the OVC.

A few points worth mentioning:

  1. The actual hardware can be cheap, commodity systems.
  2. The actual ballots are printed, submitted ballots that are readable by both computers and humans.
  3. Ballots that have not been submitted are of no risk to anyone.

The nice part about this is you don’t necessarily have to vote anywhere. You could vote on your cell phone, print it, and submit it. Some jurisdictions in the USA already allow (and encourage) voting by mail.

The goal of the new voting movements (some of which aren’t so new) are generally to increase turnout, simplify the process, increase integrity of the process, and enhance the results of voting. I’m all for it.