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Hal Plotkin: GeekPAC needs bloodlust

By kmself in Technology
Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 03:44:59 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

From Hal Plotkin at SF Gate comes a suggestion that GeekPAC get blood in its eyes. While political organization is great, the bake-sale and fire-circle gatherings suggested are all wrong:

GeekPAC, or some other similar organization, needs to make an example out of someone in Congress, and to it quick. When the National Rifle Association ...want action on an issue, [they]... pick a smart fight with one or more of their key opponents....Rather than give 200 politicians $1,000 each, the savviest PACs instead will spend $200,000 or more kicking the bejesus out of just one single office holder.

GeekPAC -- the Geek Political Action Committee -- is a response by several prominant Free Software activists to counter political initiatives counter to the goals of free software. Founders include The Linux Show's Jeff Gehrhart and Kevin Hill, and the inimitable ESR. But looking at GeekPAC's stated objectives, Plotkin is dubious:

Current plans call for the group to raise $200,000 to support lobbying efforts, as well as a related public-education group they're calling the American Open Technology Consortium. According to the group's working paper, the money will be used to create a "dream team" of "geek spokespeople" who will "travel across the country on a whistle-stop campaign" to educate government leaders about the dangers of choking off technical innovation. Most of the group's money, they say, will be spent on lobbying staff.

Yup. You heard that right. Frequent-flying geeks to the rescue.

Hal's not suggesting that might be less than successful, is he?

Let's look at the current political climate: Republican president, Republican majority (9 seats) in the House, and an evenly split Senate now held by the Democrats after one Republican went Independent. As a friend wrote me earlier today, "When the government is so evenly split as it is now, coalition-style politics come into play. Determined and properly focused minorities can gain a lot of power." Amen.

Senate terms (six years) and the CBDTPA sponsors don't make for much action this year. Next campaigns for sponsors are:

  • Fritz Hollings (D-SC): 2004
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): 2006
  • Ted Stevens (R-AK): 2002
  • Daniel Inouye (D-HI): 2004
  • John Breaux (D-LA): 2004
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL): 2006

Source: OpenSecrets.org.

More likely would be finding swing supporters in key states, in both the House and the Senate. Five seats could swing the House, a single seat the Senate. Indeed, why the Democrats seem to have adopted this anti-populist initiative at this time seems odd. This isn't free money, and our task is to make this message clear.

Plotkin's suggested ad campaign is a good one:

Did you know that Senator Bumblehead wants to get inside your house and make it illegal for you to copy movies, TV or radio programs? If he wins, you lose. You'll lose the right to control what takes place in your own living room and in your office. The economy will lose, too, because technology will be permanently frozen in place so a handful of big entertainment firms can preserve their profits and their antiquated ways of doing business. There is an alternative, though. You can join together with other consumers and entrepreneurs to make sure that this time, Senator Bumblehead is the loser.

Geeks with votes.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What should GeekPAC's focus be?
o General fundraising, education, and support. 10%
o Targeted electoral actions to support/defeat candidates. 47%
o Source for articles and OpEd features. 4%
o None. Politics is politics, business is business, never the twain shall meet. 10%
o Inoshiro 13%

Votes: 46
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o SF Gate
o suggestion that GeekPAC get blood in its eyes
o GeekPAC
o OpenSecret s.org
o Also by kmself

Display: Sort:
Hal Plotkin: GeekPAC needs bloodlust | 46 comments (26 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
bleh, not "Geeks" again (3.42 / 14) (#2)
by tarsand on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 07:59:07 PM EST

I wish people would stop using that word. It is, and always has been a bad thing. While it does give the impression of having at least some marginal technical skills, it also smacks of having zero social skills. I don't know about you, but just because I can program a computer, I don't want to be associated with a bunch of socially inept losers with a unfounded superiority complex.

"Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" -- trhurler
not in my mind (3.85 / 7) (#11)
by infinitera on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 09:51:32 PM EST

In my experience, a geek is a non-conforming person who is an expert in some sort of field that they have fun in. Band geeks, computer geeks, etc. To me, this is a goodness. Also, geeks generally are not lacking in social skills per se, but lacking in what could best be called hierarchy awareness. They don't know who they must be nice to, and who they must shun, etc.. and again, I claim this is good.

[ Parent ]
Social Skills (none / 0) (#46)
by Korimyr the Rat on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:35:12 PM EST

That's very much a part of "social skills".

Not to mention, people in these groups often have a very difficult time interacting with people outside of them. Sounds familiar?

"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

You do realise the irony in posting that comment (4.60 / 5) (#16)
by terpy on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 10:17:53 PM EST

in a blog right? On K5 nontheless.

Funny that as I am posting a comment about the irony of yours, I noticed the terribly laughable irony in the second half of your last sentence. IHBT. Ha - good show, good show!

-- It's like wearing steak panties in a lion cage.-- 'Nista
[ Parent ]
Hehe (5.00 / 2) (#34)
by trhurler on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 04:37:26 PM EST

Often, I get "oh, no, I agree with trhurler!" comments - and I've gotten one from tarsand. Today, I say, "Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" The "geek" label is just plain stupid, and all the moreso for those of us whose "social lives" do not consist in staring at Usenet porn while beating off.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Buy-a-Politician[TM] (4.46 / 15) (#5)
by Eloquence on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 08:28:07 PM EST

It's typical libertarian reasoning to conclude that, because politicians are corrupt to the bone, the best thing "we" can do is to do some bribing of our own. Grass-roots lobbying efforts are unlikely to be more successful than those by multi-billion dollar industries. (According to the proposal, they've already received $300 -- not even a Senator from Alaska is that cheap.) Leave the bribery to those with the big pockets: Rest assured that the tech industry is already doing its part in trying to get politicians to support their views.

By using the same lobbying methods as, say, the fossil industry in its attempts to discredit global warming theory, the credibility of the "community" is diminished and grass-roots groups are increasingly perceived as mere lobbying organizations. "Why should we listen to <foo>, that's just a front for the tech industry!"

What is needed are true grass-roots efforts of political action. Yes, educating (not paying) politicians is part of such efforts, but so are real life demonstrations (and actual participation in political parties). Remember the Sklyarov protests? Those received fairly big coverage even in print media, in spite of their complete lack of any funding (to my knowledge). A well-organized and community funded focus point for political activism would be much more valuable than the "PAC" described by Searls & Co.

Slashdot could be such a site, but they have decided not to get involved in activism, in spite of their clear and admitted bias in favor of open source / against tech regulation. K5 is also unsuitable, since most people come here for discussions, not action opportunities. The site would also need special scheduling / collaboration tools (calendars, wikis, co-travel databases etc.) to allow effective organization. It could get funding from the tech industry, but only as part of a larger pool of sponsors. Actually, the EFF should be doing it, but while they do a good job, I get the feeling that they are mostly reacting.
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!

Scaring not buying (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by mlinksva on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 11:36:08 PM EST

Plotkin's proposal does not involve buying politicians, rather scaring them. He points out that sending checks to ("buying") ostensibly friendly politicians won't have an impact. Targeting one particularly unfriendly congressperson each election cycle OTOH would get noticed.

All sorts of action is needed, from protests to lobbying. Different activists are good at different sorts of activism. One sort shouldn't preculde any others.
imagoodbitizen adobe unisys badcitizens
[ Parent ]

Sklyarov protests? Coverage? Hah. (2.00 / 1) (#43)
by valency on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 06:23:41 PM EST

Remember the Sklyarov protests?

Sure, I was there. I saw about three journalists, no cameras. Crappy coverage.

If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.
[ Parent ]
Sklyarov -- Hi, Mom! (none / 0) (#45)
by kmself on Wed Apr 24, 2002 at 12:11:19 AM EST

I was there. I was on TV. Talked to reporters. Called others. Listened to the radio reports. Got a bunch of people to give sound coverage to SF's KQED producer who showed too late for the main protest -- and heard that set of chants in coverage on Marketplace Radio and other franchises afterward (hey, it's street theater).

And guess what. Dmitry got to go home. Elcom Soft's still on the hook, but we're working on that.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

But aren't geeks assholes? (3.40 / 15) (#9)
by elenchos on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 09:07:52 PM EST

Oops! I meant to say "But don't geeks 'lack social skills'". Whether you say it in a politically correct way or not, isn't the most fundamental component of being a geek that you don't work well with others? And that non-geeks don't want you around because of your being an assh-- I mean, your 'lack of social skills'?

I mean, when you think politics you think of people who know how to get different groups to work together, how to persuade, how to understand human needs and wants, not only rationally, but on an emotional level too. Is it any accident that lawyers and business leaders end up in politics? It's because they understand humans, both other humans and themselves.

But geeks? They have a profound lack of self knowledge, and read others even worse. What on earth do they think they can accomplish in politics?

Seriously. How the hell are you going to get the body politic to cooperate with a bunch of assholes? Yes, I know many geeks make $100,000 per year. Some even make $200,000. Wooo! Lawyers and MBAs make that much too, and they get along with other people.

So what chance have you got?


Oh yeah (3.42 / 7) (#15)
by zonker on Sun Apr 21, 2002 at 10:15:23 PM EST

Gun owners and NRA members are known for their warmth and social skills. Their PAC is known for getting along well with all the other groups in Washington.

Puh-leeeze. Gun members get out and vote. That's all that matters. If geeks are a recognized voting force, it doesn't matter if they give people warm fuzzies or not. Most dedicated voters are not your genial twits that everyone loves - they're people with agendas. Since, on average, most elections only draw around 45% of the qualified voters a dedicated "geek vote" can be just as important as the gun vote. Most PACs work by scaring the hell out of their target audience and convincing them to get to the polls on election day. Most people don't get out to vote for candidates - they get out to vote against the guy they really don't want in office.
I will not get very far with this attitude.
[ Parent ]

Well that's better than trying to be popular. (2.66 / 3) (#19)
by elenchos on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 01:24:16 AM EST

Although I would bet that most people would prefer to have a typical representative of one of America's 80,000,000 gun owners over for dinner over a typical geek. I know I find Charleton Heston more charming than Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, or Rob Malda. Who wouldn't?

But your plan would be to get geeks to spend their money on PACs that would use lobby and make bribes, er, campaign contributions to, politicians to get them to give goodies for geeks. While more realistic than trying the grassroots approach, this means you will be competing dollar for dollar with the AMA, Trial Lawyers, and Micro-Soft.

And the cash will be collected from a group of human beings who are far more selfish and greedy than the AMA, Trial Lawyers, and Micro-Soft put together. Well, good luck to you.

[ Parent ]

But what about... (3.50 / 2) (#36)
by enry on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 05:18:06 PM EST

What about Robert X. Cringley? Linus Torvalds?

They're both soft spoken and don't appear to be raving loons, at least in comparison to Chucky Heston or ESR.

[ Parent ]
GeekPAC? Goodness. (4.40 / 22) (#18)
by rebelcool on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 12:13:38 AM EST

That's going to get taken about as seriously as if the NAACP changed its name to 'NiggerPAC'.

Yeah, Geek might be acceptable in some circles, but the general public doesn't associate any kind of good with the word Geek.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Well (4.83 / 6) (#27)
by wiredog on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 08:27:42 AM EST

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

For modern african americans, "colored people" seems almost as insulting as "nigger".

Although, for some reason, "people of color" is acceptable.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]

Attention getter (none / 0) (#38)
by Ben Welsh on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 08:07:10 PM EST

I think it's obviously seen as a funnier, more 'cutesy' word than nigger. It's the kind of name for a PAC that might actually attract media attention, or the attention of a legislator who is trying to figure out what the hell a hard drive is. That said, I wish it weren't in existence and I wish it weren't purporting to represent people like me for some of the same reasons Eloquence points out below. I still think you make a good point, though. Just because most people won't be offended by it doesn't mean they shouldn't, when the word is used to simplify and categorize a very large group of people in the political arena.

Christianity Meme
[ Parent ]
Agreed. (none / 0) (#44)
by Kasreyn on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 10:16:13 PM EST

One place I worked, after I admitted to being a geek, my co-workers tried amongst themselves to figure out what a real life geek IS.

The best they could come up with was: a person in a freak show (ie., carnivals) who bites the heads off chickens.

So there's your political image for you, fellow geeks.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
A good idea (4.60 / 5) (#23)
by 8ctavIan on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 04:12:59 AM EST

This is a good idea. Politics is essentially about rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies, for however much we like to put a veneer of civil behavior on top of it. We'd all like to live in a 'nice' world, but unfortunately it's not only necessary to show that your ideas are sound and will be good for society if implemented, but that opposing them will be costly politically. That's the essence of politics and that's how things get done in the political arena.

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice. -- H.L. Mencken

Oh dear... (4.00 / 5) (#26)
by Tezcatlipoca on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 07:39:02 AM EST

With their allusions to Socialist propaganda ("Geeks of the world Unite!") and stupid choice of name (GeekPAC, really, did not they read ever a newspaper showing how stupid names can affect your objectives? There are examples every week, and that name is this week's one).

Good intentions, good idea (it is time somebody exposes those "legislators" and what they are trying to impose) but the beginning of the implementation is pretty dismal.

For the people whining about US centrism: there are issues, that wheter we like it or not, affect all of us.

If companies in the US can get away with murder they will have a very strong position to impose similar legislation in other places and in any case, once the bigest market in the world follows a certain path the rest of the world most probably will just follow suit because the companies servicing that maerket will not feel any need to provide goods and services out of the US that could circumvent their bought laws back home.

To be, or not to be,--that is the question:-- Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take a
Streetlawyer summmary service (4.33 / 12) (#28)
by streetlawyer on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 09:19:07 AM EST

the money will be used to create a "dream team" of "geek spokespeople" who will "travel across the country on a whistle-stop campaign"

Summary: Eric Raymond's VA Research ... Linux ... Software stock options aren't as valuable as he thought they were, plus the market for blowhards willing to lecture profitable companies about how they are dinosaurs who don't "get it" unless they start giving away products has kind of fallen through. But ESR has got addicted to the chocolated mints provided in the better class of business hotel, plus he still hasn't got on the twelve-step program to wean him off the sound of his own voice. So it's time to pass round the begging bowl so that the world is still able to hear the economic and social insights of a man with no qualifications in either field, just by turning on CPSAN.

And this from the man who dared to write "Show Them The Code!". Sheesh.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

I love you, streetlawyer. (2.75 / 8) (#30)
by BinaryTree on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 09:30:39 AM EST

Will you please marry me?

[ Parent ]
We keep ESR around... (4.00 / 2) (#35)
by enry on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 05:03:38 PM EST

because he, RMS, and Bruce Perens show what extremism in any form can do.

RMS is a loon, but at least the man sticks by his principles, no matter how strange they are. Unlike "how rich I am/how rich I am/nobody knows/how rich I am" ESR, and Carly's whipping boy.

One would hope that the GeekPAC lobbyists aren't raving morons who try to throw in side issues (guns for everyone!) that wind up confusing the main issue, or sets the wrong impression of the people you're trying to represent (Geeks==NRA)

[ Parent ]
this whole thing is going to fail (2.50 / 2) (#37)
by Altus on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 05:36:23 PM EST

And that is because "Geeks" are not even close to a coherent enough group to pull off any kind of lobbying

we dont agree on anything... Sure, if this orginization is only for linux using open source types the atleast the members have one coherent goal but frankly, there arent nearly as many of thoes as there are of just plain old garden vaiety geeks...

then again, some generic windows programmer might not want his lobying money to to towards pushing opensource software on the government. Perhaps they are more concerned with some other issue.

The question is, if this group is going to represent a large group of "technology professionals" then exactly what are its goals, and how will it prioritize thoes goals without loosing the support of some part of its membership.

we are not the NRA, we do not have a huge number of people who are all focused on one single goal. Until that changes I dont think geeks are going to be a major force in politics.
"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the money, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
I guarantee (5.00 / 2) (#39)
by zonker on Mon Apr 22, 2002 at 08:47:22 PM EST

That on the big issues - such as fighting the CBDTPA - Free Software / Open Source folks and proprietary software folks and the hardware manufacturers can see eye to eye. Anyway, it's worth a try - if it fails, we're no worse off than we started. If it succeeds we're a lot better off. If we do nothing, we'll just continue to get screwed.

I will not get very far with this attitude.
[ Parent ]

hey Im all for trying (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by Altus on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 11:18:18 AM EST

But I think its important for people to be realistic about their expectaions for this new orginization.

still, it would be nice if this took off and had some serious infulence.

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the money, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
[ Parent ]
He's right. (5.00 / 3) (#41)
by sulli on Tue Apr 23, 2002 at 02:20:12 AM EST

A couple things, from a somewhat experienced advocate in San Francisco:

The name doesn't matter. But if it really is to be called GeekPAC, and I think GeekPAC is fine, then it should be called that in fact, and not just by those critics who want to bash the "geek" name. I say keep it, to get the donations and inspire the faithful.

Blood lust is crucial. We need to crush some enemies of freedom. Since Senator Feinstein (co-sponsor of CBDTPA) isn't up until 2006, there is a need to find some congressmembers up this year who co-sponsored it, and fight them hard. Plotkin is absolutely correct that this can put the fear of God into other members of Congress.

Also: where is the alarmist direct mail? I get tons of DM from various causes, all saying that if I don't give money RIGHT NOW the whales will die and the abortion protesters will repeal the 19th Amendment. Surely GeekPac can come up with this. Digitalconsumer.org did pretty well (20K faxes?) for being ad hoc.

Hal Plotkin: GeekPAC needs bloodlust | 46 comments (26 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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