Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Definition of "Open"

Before I climb up on my soapbox, I probably should make a couple of disclaimers to put what follows in perspective.
  • I am a heavy user of open source software, and in particular of products from the Mozilla Project. My primary email client is Thunderbird. My first web browser was Netscape Navigator (which predates the Mozilla Project), which eventually morphed into Mozilla and, most recently, Firefox. I've used other browsers, depending on the platform, but Firefox remains my primary choice (although I may have to rethink that based on what follows). In fact, I'm typing this entry into Firefox.
  • I am in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. For that matter, I'm in favor of legalizing polygyny and polyandry. I'm not saying that I want to try any of them; I just don't see any reason that the government (at any level) has a compelling interest in forbidding any of them, and doing so clearly creates inequality in the treatment of citizens. (Actually, while I don't want to get into the subject in detail, my personal preference would be to take the government out of the marriage business entirely. Religions should be free to define "marriage" any way they want; the government should let any adults of legal age file paperwork somewhere designating individuals to fill the "marital" roles for which the government has a legitimate interest, such as parenting, advanced health care decisions, mingling and division of assets, etc.)
Wondering what brought all that up? I was sitting in a coffee shop this afternoon, catching up on some reading, when I came across a story that nearly caused me to do a spit take: Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigns amid controversy. Here's a short summary of the events it describes:
  1. The Mozilla Foundation, in need of a new CEO, hires Brendan Eich (their CTO).
  2. The fact that Eich donated $1,000 (presumably of his own money) in 2008 to support California's Proposition 8 (a bill to ban gay marriage) resurfaces.
  3. Mozilla's corner of the universe reacts (sample here), or possibly overreacts, to the hiring. As best I can tell from reading a few articles, the reaction is largely if not entirely negative.
  4. Three members of the Mozilla Foundation board resign, but allegedly due to a disagreement on hiring an internal candidate and not due to the donation. (This is reported to be half the board, raising the question of how Eich got hired if half the board was so opposed to him that they would resign in protest.)
  5. Eich resigns (possibly under pressure) and Mozilla issues a statement about it (which reads like a mea culpa for having hired him in the first place).
I have never met Mr. Eich, I have no idea whether he was a good pick for the CEO position, and I'm massively confused about how he would be selected with so much apparent board opposition. As noted above, I don't agree with Eich's position on Prop. 8. What caused me to choke on my coffee, though, is nicely illustrated by this line from the Mozilla blog post:
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
So I think they've figured the "hard" part out. You start out by appointing yourself the arbiter of "equality", and then you define "free speech" to mean "you're free to make speeches agreeing with us". Somewhere on the AfterLifeNet, Voltaire and Evelyn B. Hall are probably installing new browsers. I may need to join them (with the browsers, not the after life, just to be clear).

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