The language of faith cries to be free

In the open-source software world, advocates make a distinction between "free as in beer" and "free as in freedom." While free (of cost) beer is nice, the freedom to share, modify, extract and even profit from (depending on the license) is truly precious, and has allowed an ecosystem to develop around not only software but cultural and (a favorite) other projects. Even beer.

But Christians I've read, looking towards the same phenomenon have used another similie: "free as in grace." This suggests an alternative to free in economic, practical, intellectual or utilitarian terms. If something is compellingly true, and has its origins apart from human initiative -- let me put that out there tentatively -- then that truth demands cooperation of those who hear it to liberate it for the sake of liberation. So, I think of evangelistic tracts which long before free culture movements have been distributed "free as the Lord provides." (Free here being largely financial, but the fact the sponsor comes from the Free Churches isn't lost on me.)

But see also of the Jewish liturgical Open Siddur movement. Or the DVD I picked up yesterday at a Chinese grocery -- and is the proximate reason for this blog post -- from a Buddhist mission. (Alas, the videos seem to be of a monk speaking one language I don't understand, and subtitled with a different language I don't understand.)

There's not much English on the case. But I can read "For Free Distribution -- No Copyright."  And that's a good enough reason for me to take it back so someone else can profit by it.

I've written on this subject several times, please consider reading

Liberate your documents by choosing a better format

Microsoft owns the ideas around word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. "I want it in a .doc" "Put it Excel" "Look, another PowerPoint!" But it need not and should not be that way.

I'll cut to the chase: if you create content in proprietary format, you will always depend upon the company that supplies the company to access your work. And as the saying goes, "if you can't fix it, you don't own it." So much more for simply opening what you've created.

Or inherited. I'm thinking about documents in the long game. Proprietary document formats are a dead end. I have files from the 1980s and 1990s I can't open; what the chance that a church archivist will open your membership list in a hundred years?

You can (and should) use plain text and comma-separated values for simple documents. I have a fun, easy and public-domain resource for presentations that I'll write up in about a week. Perhaps some will use (La)TeX for graduate theses and dissertations. (Right, mathematicians?)

And for more complex, but everyday tasks of word processing, spreadsheet and presentations, please use the Open Document Format. The world of open format advocates are celebrating Document Freedom Day today.

You can participate by considering how your casual document format choices have limited your access -- like sending or having been sent one of those .docx files -- and considering your options. The Open Document Format (ODF) is used in Google Docs, and the mature and free (both in licencing and cost) office suites and its continuing spin-off LibreOffice. (These can also read the proprietary formats, so I'm not setting you adrift.)

Use those formats, please -- and I'll make the pledge. If I need to put a word processing document or spreadsheet on my blog, I'll make it available in ODF.

And learn more at the Document Freedom Day site.

Later. Jeremy Carbaugh, a colleague in the Sunlight Foundation Sunlight Labs team, was the one who told me about Document Freedom Day, and he also wrote about it. Sunlight makes a similar pledge about publishing these kinds of documents additionally in ODF.

Even later. Another member of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere has gotten in the act: The Prayerful Sceptic, linking to another self-written blogpost at Intuitionistically Uncertain.

How to make a radical Christian

A fair point, with the fearmongering about radical Muslims in full tilt.

You could start by reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You. (text, Project Gutenberg) It stands in a thread of radical Christian discipleship that reaches before Tolstoy to Universalist minister Adin Ballou -- a point of pride -- and afterwards to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who each made non-violent resistance a household word. (Well, a household compound word.)

And it takes some cool, deliberate, principled and sacrificial action when you think of what went on in Congress today. Millions of American Muslims are pilloried for actions of a tiny handful. Such grim attention --  a cultivated double-standard -- persons of other faiths don't have to suffer.

Pilloried by Representative Peter King, a man who has defended terrorist organizations when it suited him. For shame.

Good Muslim friends: others can see through this cruel folly.

Your rights as an e-book reader

I'm interested in the back and forth between the Boston Unitarian and Southern "Universalist Church" History blogs about what Universalist works are available for the former's Nook, the book reader released by Barnes and Noble.

I confess, that if pressed to own a book reader, I'd probably get the Nook: it's a better value than its competitors, and is fundamentally an Android device, like my phone. As such, developers have found ways to add additional software to it, like a media player or a web browser. (But I'm not in the market and I can read books on my phone, if pressed.)

I'll get to the titles later; indeed, I hope to dust off some old work and republish it in a format most book readers can accept. And so the biggest reason I'd choose the Nook (or Sony's Reader) over an Amazon Kindle is over what files it accepts. I'm becoming more fond of the EPUB standard. (If the subject interests you, also read Joe Clark's breakdown of the HTML-ness of EPUB.)

If you care about books, should consider your rights as a reader, since "Digital Rights Management" -- now perishing in recorded music -- is booming in electronic books. An encumbered electronic book does not give you the same rights to share or store as you have with one made of paper. This is not inconsequential for those who hold on to books for decades.

For background on the matters, see the Electronic Frontiers Foundation's Digital Books and Your Rights. (Also available there as a PDF: some book readers take that!) Or, if you like something with more punch, check out the Free Software Foundation's Defective by Design site. (This page about the Kindle.)

Standing for GLBT people living under dire oppression

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office claims to be the only religious voice at the United Nations advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, or in their lingo, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) work. I believe them and wish there were more sharing in their labor. (Anyone? Please. Or correct me if I'm wrong or misunderstood the claim.)

I'm a member, joining when I was last in New York and impressed by the hard-working staffers in their tightly packed UN-adjacent digs. I think you should join, too. Give generously. The UU-UNO is surely the highest value organization most Unitarian Universalist don't know about.

But I'm sure there are other vital organizations that support, encourage and defend BGLT/SOGI people, particularly in the Caribbean and the African continent, where so much bad news has recently come.

Do you have a favorite, and if so, what makes them so valuable?

World's Fair Use Day

The concept of fair use of copyrighted intellectual property is probably under more strain now than ever before. The long term effects on a free, creative people are not known, but I can't think it'll be anything good.

Public Knowledge is producing World's Fair Use Day tomorrow, January 12, to draw attention to this issue. A good idea worth examining (and I like them, plus they're Day Job's upstairs neighbors.)

Not in D.C.? You can download a DIY guide from the World's Fair Use site.

Stonewall forty years on

On this day, in 1969, the public phase of the gay liberation movement began with a much-storied Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Viilage. Tons and tons has been written about it. And that's why most annual gay and lesbian events are usually in stifling hot weather.

It was also the day I due to be born -- I was late, and turn forty later this week -- so when I think of this movement, I plot it against my own lifetime.

So the public, loud, organizing, sacrificing, activist face of gay liberation has been around longer than I have been. As biblical scholars know, forty is a number that shows everything has changed: forty days of rain, the forty years in Sinai, Jesus' forty days in the wilderness.

And life, especially related to civil rights, has improved in the last forty years. But for most GLBT people in the United States, there aren't any protections, especially where it matters most: in housing and employment discrimination, in adoption and immigration, in retirement and survivorship matters, in taxation and -- far too often -- in personal safety.

It is still possible to build a (Republican) political career in the United States by attacking GLBT people, both because of public bias and pathetic (Democratic) opposing response. For what other group can you do that?

So when gay people, like myself, try to hold President Obama accountable for pushing reforms

  • we're not "stepping out of line"
  • we're not "distracting the President from more important things"
  • we're not "brats"
  • we're not "co-opting [someone else's] civil rights movement."
  • we're not going to fund those who won't help us
  • we do expect the repeal of disciminatory laws
  • we do expect our families to be respected -- at least before the law -- on par with other families

Enough is enough. I'm not going to wait until I'm eighty.

Stay ready for the fight.

Download Firefox 3, break record

The Mozilla Foundation is try to break a 24-hour software download world record -- or rather, establish a mark -- with its release of the newest version of its browser: Firefox 3. Having used it a while, I really like it.

Ubuntu Linux users have been getting updates of the preliminary versions (release candidates) and these have been available for other operating systems, so perhaps this is not news. (I've read that the only version that's changed from the most recent release candidate is for Mac OS X.) But for those of you who have been using a Firefox 2.x version, you'll note some great features, including being able to browse by title and bookmarking from the address bar. (So if you were looking for this blog, you could just type "bands" and it would come up. Then click the star to bookmark.) It also seems faster, which is a welcome improvement. And for Internet Explorers, don't even look back. . . .

Either way, start your leap into Firefox 3 here.

The Republic of Nepal: what other change?

There's been a bit of news about how Nepalese parliament disestablished the monarchy and erected a federal, democratic republic in its place. I expect the new republic will have birthing pains and I wish them well, but I don't want the day to pass without noting that there was one other change. In its path to becoming a republic, in 2006 Nepal became a secular state. Given the monarch's role in state religion the end of the monarchy underscores the transition.

Or as the Unitarian Toast goes: "To Civil and Religious Liberty, the world over."

Boston NPR station streams in free format

Good news from the Free Software Foundation: Boston National Public Radio broadcaster WBUR has begin streaming its content in the free Ogg format. The importance?

Unlike MP3, Windows Media, Real Audio or Quicktime, Ogg Vorbis is not restricted by software patents. The threat of these patent lawsuits chills independent development of multimedia software tools. The use of unencumbered formats like Ogg Vorbis is necessary for providing access to publicly funded news and other programming without dependence on the patent-holding corporations and proprietary software vendors.

Patent-encumbered formats owned by companies like Microsoft and Apple require listeners to use non-free software; controlled by them, not by the users. They design their software to restrict the users and spy on their activities. If users choose Ogg Vorbis for audio and Ogg Theora for video, they can use many different media players, including free software designed to respect their freedom and privacy. (Full press release at FSF)

In short, you shouldn't have to go through a proprietary gate to get to content supported by the public purse. For more background, I wrote about the Ogg format twice last year here and here.

Good for WBUR. You can listen to the stream (in a number of different formats) here.