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[liberationtech] The Future of CPSR

Jim Youll jyoull at alum.mit.edu
Wed Jan 26 09:19:24 PST 2011


tl;dr: skip to the bottom

-----

There is so much important traffic on this last about current world events that I 
hate to add to the CPSR discussion.

I thought I might never have to say another word about it, but now I feel obligated.
I will try to keep it brief.

I realize this may cement some non-friendships for the rest of my life. I'm sorry.
Mostly I'm sorry to myself.

Writing about CPSR in full view of some of my lifelong heroes and CPSR creators, including 
the owner of this list, hurts like hell. So please just give me a minute of your time 
and then i will shut up.

When I was a kid in college in Ohio, CPSR changed my life and opened my eyes
to the kind of critical thinking about human-technology interaction that is
apparently hard-coded into me. All i had was a paper CPSR newsletter
that appeared once in a while in the mail. And I read every word. I was in the wrong
state with no money to fly over for meetings... but somehow those little paper
newsletters were enough to keep me going.

CPSR changed my life and many others' lives, I am sure. Early CPSR legitimized
professional concern about the push-pull of technology on human lives before
there was much awareness that this would even matter. And now, of course,
everyone knows it matters.

But then CPSR became very broken. A period of celebrity worship, a too-long
period of mis-management, hiding deficits, spending when there was no money
to spend, membership decline, and total loss of focus on anything. CPSR
became a grant-handler for others, and lost its vision to bickering and,
frankly, irresponsible "hey, we're just academics so don't ask us to run it
well."

I'm NOT writing about the founders. By the time that happened, the founders
had become "life donors" - and by that time, their lifetime membership
monies - that should have been endowed - had been spent, wastefully at times.

How do I know this?

For a brief time - a very damned brief time - i was an elected member of the
CPSR board.

I first realized how bad things were when I attended my first board meeting
in Raleigh, NC as an observer.

Board members approached me between discussion periods to "make deals."
I'm not kidding.

There was no damned money in the bank, and a trajectory toward zero
even then.

At that point, I had run a couple of small but successful companies, and sat
on boards handling much larger budgets than CPSR. I saw how bad things
were and where the organization was headed.

I tried to fix things, tried to find ANY way to fix things. But there was nothing
but opposition, arm waving, and spending... too much spending of a budget
that had a few months to run before hitting zero.
.
The board then pressed ahead to hold an annual meeting with a forecast
budget that would LOSE MONEY.

Around that time, on the advice of my personal and business attorneys, 
close friends, and business and nonprofit advisors whom I trusted greatly, I left. 
The remaining board, in a parting blow, wrote in the CPSR newsletter that it
was "pleased to announce" that I had resigned.

That still hurts.

Seeing how the organization has pretty much gone to hell since then,
I was right. So it hurts more. Mostly it hurt to get kicked out of an 
organization I first joined as a college kid in the mid 1980s.


BOTTOM LINE

The CPSR organization has more liabilities and piled-up history
on its back than anyone reading this could ever fully comprehend
(including me and anyone who's been on the board - there is just
too much going back too far).

IF there is going to be a CPSR in 2011 or 2012 and going forward,
then it MUST NOT be built on the existing CPSR corporation or
using the existing charter or the existing people/leadership.

Close the damned thing down. It's dead. It was killed by a 
succession of boards and management that messed up. It doesn't
matter why, how, or who. We have before us the evidence in the form
of the organization's present fallen-apart state.

Tear it down.

If the world needs a CPSR 2.0, build it anew without the baggage,
either in policy, or infighting, or financials.

Please.

If anyone cares to discuss this further with me, take it offlist.


-JEY


On Jan 25, 2011, at 8:41 PM, Douglas Schuler wrote:

> 
> The issue of computers in weapons was indeed CPSR's first issue
> and it's still an important issue whether it's perceived that way or not.
> (It's what got me interested in CPSR also.) One could argue that
> *militarization* is at the heart of many of our current problems.
> 
> In my view, if CPSR version 2.0 does get off the ground somehow,
> the focus on computers in war should be prominent. On the other
> hand, I still believe (as I have over my 20+ years of work with CPSR)
> that CPSR should be a "big tent" organization. I also think there is a
> place for an organization in which its *members* play strong role.
> 
> This is where I'd like to go -- but of course there are other
> possibilities!!!
> 
> In general, I'm very excited this discussion is happening.
> 
> -- Doug
> 
> 
> On Jan 25, 2011, at 7:26 PM, Jacob Appelbaum wrote:
> 
>> On 01/25/2011 06:44 PM, Chris Palmer wrote:
>>> I am a big CPSR fan --- I moderated a panel (poorly!) at the
>>> Technology In Wartime conference, which was a great conference.
>>> 
>>> One thing I'd love to see CPSR do is to take up its original mission
>>> once again: establish a professional ethic against the development of
>>> weapons. In the 1980s it was nuclear weapons and other physical
>>> weapons controlled by software; nowadays, the weapons themselves take
>>> the form of software: censorship systems, surveillance systems, and
>>> software to break into other people's computers to censor, surveil,
>>> and destroy them. (For a good set of sales demos by a prominent
>>> weapons dealer, see http://www.immunityinc.com/webex.shtml.) We've
>>> seen these weapons in action in Tunisia, China, Iran, the United
>>> Kingdom, and the United States --- and that's just recently.
>>> 
>> 
>> I'm entirely behind Chris on this one. I was a member of CPSR long ago
>> and I'd be a member again if this was the focus.
>> 
>> All the best,
>> Jacob
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> 
> Douglas Schuler
> douglas at publicsphereproject.org
> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Public Sphere Project
>     http://www.publicsphereproject.org/
> 
> Liberating Voices!  A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution (project)
>     http://www.publicsphereproject.org/patterns/
> 
> Liberating Voices!  A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution (book)
>     http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11601
> 
> 
> 
> 
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