The U.S. Blues
Sunday, January 21, 2001 by Dave Winer.
I'm listening to Jerry singing The U.S. Blues. "Red and white, blue suede shoes, I'm Uncle Sam. How do you do?" So many great lines. I can listen to it 80 times. Hey I've already listened to it 78 times. It's still rockin me.
Hey we have a new President in the United States.
Yesterday the music from The Capitol was incredibly moving. America The Beautiful. The Star Spangled Banner. I found that I still love my country, but along the way I lost faith in it. This actually happened in the 60s. We accepted something that we shouldn't have -- that our country is based on hypocrisy, money always rules, we stand for nothing. Please keep the power on, the gasoline flowing, the TV shows numbing, and don't bother us with thinking or being creative or whatever. Keep us fed, that's all you have to do. Ooops.
Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. "What a joke," my generation said. So we tuned out and some of us (like me) went to Silicon Valley to make software, figuring that was far enough away from Washington that we were safe.
"I'm Uncle Sam, that's who I am. Been hidin' out in a rock and roll band."
Then came Dot-Com mania, and GoreTech and the total discounting of thought and vision in the heart of the technology industry. Like all systems built on nothing it collapsed. But don't worry, it gets worse. ;->
You're going to be hearing a lot more about The Bust, as its impact becomes clearer and deeper and the misery spreads. Why? Because it created a group of fat-cats who are losing, big-time. Before they go they're going to leave bomb craters where there once were bright eyes and optimism. And get this -- the U.S. government is helping them do this!
I'm speaking of the mess created by software and business process patents, of course, which are hard to explain to non-techies. The hype was that software patents are good for innovation. "They protect the little guy from big predators," say the advocates. Wrong. The little guys don't have time to file patents. A little guy is worried about making payroll at the end of the month, not the three-plus years it takes from filing to approval of a patent.
Patents are tools for the big guys. Check out who's filing the patents, and listen to them when they tell you how they're going to use them. Used the wrong way, which they will be, they don't foster innovation, they kill it.
"Son of a gun, better change your act."
In my experience, little guys generally have more integrity than the big boys. There's a reason an entrepreneur takes such huge financial and personal risks. Usually it's because they believe in something. At least when it's done right.
The patent hypers have no shortage of stories about lovely little guys with high ideals and strong principles. But a software guy who puts up gates that keep people out doesn't really understand software, imho. Software is about communication and sharing and working together. At least if you use computers, you'd better hope so.
Software is not totally about money, any more than music is totally about money. I think you either get this or you don't. People who have never toiled to create something they believe in can't understand why someone else would do that, but believe me, there are people who do.
"Wave that flag, wave it wide and high."
Check out this quote from David Weatherell, the top guy at CMGI, a very rich man already, about to get a lot richer if we don't stop the madness soon. CMGI owns AltaVista, the famous search engine, and AltaVista also owns 38 freshly-approved patents, with 30 more in the pipe.
"We believe that virtually everyone out there who indexes the Web is in violation of at least several of those key patents," says Weatherell.
More juicy quotes here:
A landmark and a warning. Weatherell thinks he owns search engines. All of them. And the U.S. government agrees.
"You could call this song The United States Blues."