by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XXI

This Week's Clue: Barriers to Entry

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This Week's Clue: Toward an Open Source Politics
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of May 22, 2006

The conservative movement has a big advantage on today's open source politics.

They knew where they stood from the beginning.

By 1966, which is analogous to our time, modern conservatism had the Sharon Statement (written at William F. Buckley's place) as well as the Goldwater experience, and his book "The Conscience of a Conservative." They knew what they were about, knew what they wanted.

Open source does not know what it wants, politically. Oh, it has some policy goals, but these are mainly elite goals, goals that ordinary voters don't care much about. An open Internet, a software commons, and open spectrum don't make the heart of the average voter go pitter-pat, but that's about as far as most open source people have gotten on policy.

In fact, most people in the open source movement still reject politics. They think it doesn't matter to them. Issues like the current net neutrality battle, a WIPO treaty that destroys fair use, and a "big bang" spectrum auction process are slowly energizing them. But only slowly.

What would an open source politics look like, and stand for?

  1. Consensus. Rather than fight like dogs to win narrow majorities, open source people know that only consensus moves us forward. Let's find where we agree and go there first, and if we must fork, then be open to it.
  2. Practicality. An open source politics is not didactic. It doesn't set forth policy solutions, but a process toward finding them. In this it borrows directly from FDR's original New Deal.
  3. Science. The scientific method is at the heart of an open source politics. This puts it in direct opposition to the "faith-based" approach of the current excess.
  4. Commons. Open source, open spectrum, and open intellectual property regimes have at their heart the idea of a commons. You grow knowledge not by walling it off and making money off yesterday, but by freely building it toward tomorrow.

How might this work in setting some policies for the problems that currently bedevil us?

  • Iraq - Negotiate with everyone, holding the carrot of a big cash pay-out once a consensus emerges among all parties, and I do mean all. Then get out. Military might is over-rated.
  • Energy - A floor price and a reversal of today's incentives in favor of oil and gas.
  • Social Issues - Tone down the rhetoric. Change policy only where a consensus emerges.
  • Budget Issues - Constant experimentation. We can't turn this boat around all at once. Inflation will rise, the dollar will fall, even if we start balancing our budgets. Move slowly and transparently.
  • Foreign Policy - Encourage international organizations. The UN, the WTO, all treaties. Including the International Criminal Court.

In the above, note that I didn't look at the "open source policies" those currently in the open source movement take to be important. I take them to be a given:

  • A greater knowledge commons rather than the current proprietary copyright and patent regime.
  • Real, open competition in provisioning networks, which must be defined at the edges rather than at the center.
  • Open up more spectrum for services like 802.11. Space between existing TV channels, yes. Require build-outs of spectrum already sold or demand the chance to buy it back, and put that into the commons as well. More UWB.

This is a big, ambitious agenda. It's pure idealism, and does not reflect current political realities. Netroots Democrats may even disagree (in part) with what I've written here. Certainly neither Washington party would consider this anything other than Esperanto.

There is some irony here. In terms of raw political power, the "out" party is practically much closer to power than was the case 40 years ago. The 1964 election had been a complete disaster for Goldwater Republicans, and their enormous gains of 1966 still left them in a minority position, even within their party. That party was divided ideologically, between "Rockefeller" Republicans and "Reagan" Republicans. And in 1966 Ronald Reagan was just an old TV show host who had given a speech, his political career having barely begun.

But in terms of philosophy, we are way behind where the Goldwater Republicans were 40 years ago. And this is what I'm speaking to here. If we don't know where we stand, if we can't agree on where we're going, we're not going to get anywhere.

I'm not talking here of a programmatic agreement, but a philosophical one. A consensus. The great division of our time is not Republican vs. Democrat. It's proprietary vs. open source. It's a division which began among elites, which is barely understood by most voters. But it's something they will respond to, because it's right in their guts, when it's put to them.

Let's put it to them.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

Open Source Publishing

Open source publishing happens when a non-publishing company producesa book (or similar product) which is aimed at the market.

Advertising vs. Editorial

It takes courage to stand up against the interests of an advertiser, and always has.

Batshit Crazy

There are always lunatics among us. But at a time of political excess, when a political Thesis has exceeded its reach in time, those who are batshit crazy can gain enormous imfluence.

The Plan

John McCain wants to be Teddy Roosevelt.

Steady State vs. the Big Bang of Open Source

A "steady state universe" assumption remains standard issue in all areas of analysis. This despite abundant evidence that change happens, that it is continuous, and that the only thing certain about tomorrow is it will be different from today.

Astroturf and the Light of Day

The whole idea of Astroturfing is to fly under the radar, to appear to be spontaneous. Once a campaign is identified as Astroturf, it becomes useless for measuring public opinion.



Few Paying Attention to Governor's Race...Yet

What Happens in 2003, Stays in 2003

There is Still Bush Country Here

Pigs May Fly

Netroots Challenge Athens

Reed-Cagle to be Grassroots Affair

An Intriguing Race in Georgia's 6th CD

Elbows Out in Governor's Race

Schrenko Plea Reads like Lifetime Movie

Kos Says, Think Cellular

ZDNet Open Source

Where Open Source Leads

New Alliance Seeks Mass Market System Management

The New Commons is Right Here

Open Logic Building Freelance Bug-Fixing Market

Libraries Pull Down the Tower of Knowledge


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Markos Moulitsas. No one yet matches his combination of political and tech savvy.

Clueless is Microsoft Windows. More on that next week.

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